Friday, February 22, 2013

Dealing with Disappointments

Running can be a lot of really positive things, but sometimes you can get really disappointed. There are varying levels of disappointment; a bad training run, some missed days of running, or a bad race. A race day disappointment is usually the one the lingers the most. Why wouldn't it be? A day after a bad training run you're pretty much over it because you've moved on to the next training run. But a race is THE RACE that you were training for and the next day you've got nothing but sore muscles, a t-shirt, and a medal to keep you company. There might be another race, but it's just far enough away to make you question whether or not you can get a refund for your entry fee.

In thinking about why race disappointments weigh on us more than training disappointments I started to think about my mentality going into a race vs a training run. In the training run you are thinking about your work and approach towards a race. Your miles are little nuggets of goodness that you bank, and on the day of the race if you did your work, you have enough nuggets to get you through (and you work hard enough that you use all of them). So if you have a bad day running, those are still deposits into your race day bank account. Sometimes bad runs are even better, because it teaches you as a runner that you can push your body through something and finish. I know I've relied on that at the end of the race, reminding myself how bad I may have felt that one training day and I made it. So a bad day running is just that; a bad day running. You take a shower, you eat some food, you move on.

A race, on the other hand, seems like so much more than just a bad day running. A race is the totality of all your running and training up until that point. So it's not so much a disappointment in a run, it's a disappointment with the weight of months of training on your shoulder. It's not one disappointing run, it is disappointment of all your runs. You question what you did or did not do. Having a bad race hurts more because in our minds we make it a lot more than just about that race. You wonder, did you invest all your foundation nuggets into sub-prime mortgages? In short, it really sucks to think you didn't do all that you could do before a race and you question any missed runs, any runs cut short, or even wonder why you skipped some of the fun stuff to go running.

How do you deal with these disappointments? As runners, we obviously figure something out because we continue to sign up for races and run in the rain so the trick is using the disappointment to your advantage. There are two types of race day disappointments; those you feel after the race and those you feel during the race. I've been "lucky" enough to experience both, and both have translated into something positive here's how:

1. Disappointment at the end of a race...

Let me first say you sort of know when you're going to be bummed at the end of the race. Something in your brain or your body knows that when you finish you're not going to finish in the way you imagined. Last year I ran the Canyonlands Half Marathon. It runs along side the Colorado River through the Canyon into Moab. It is a beautiful race and fairly easy. It is on the road and mostly downhill with a section that cuts through town. It's a great race to get a PR and I think a lot of people go into the race with that mentality. I was super excited to run it well. I had finally broke 2hrs for a half marathon the spring before so I was focused on getting somewhere around 1:50. The weather was so/so, no rain or snow but a pretty heavy wind ripped up through the canyon so that was going to be a challenge. At some points it was so strong I had to literally hold on to my hat to keep it from falling off and disappearing behind me. I didn't feel super well as I got started, but after about 2 miles in I fell into a groove. I was sticking with my pace I needed, even a bit faster so I felt ok despite my body not really feeling awesome. I remember I kept going through waves of feeling fast and great to feeling slow and tired. The last one hit as I came out of the canyon onto the road and it stuck. I knew I was cutting it close pace wise, but it didn't really set in until I saw the clock at the finish line and it was already at 2 hours. I knew I didn't have enough of a "gun time" cushion to even get me under 2 hours so I crossed the finish line feeling really bummed out. At least they had some fun chips to snack on and I nursed some of the disappointment with beers and disc golf in the evening.

At first I blamed the typical offenders - the weather sucked, the wind was really strong and it meant I had to work harder to go forward, I felt crappy to begin with so it just "wasn't my day", and that stupid section along the highway is a pain in the butt. Those are all factors that played into how I did, but I started thinking more about my training. Yes I had a goal of under 2 hours (preferably near 1:50). Yes I ran leading up to the race so I had the miles in. But...on all my training runs I never really made an effort to train for 1:50. I just trained to run a half-marathon. Most runners know that after a certain point you have to switch your training from being "just finish the race" to a goal time. This requires more than just saying your going to run it in this amount of time, you actually need to incorporate that into your training runs. So really, I finished the race exactly how I had trained for it. In fact I probably did a little better than I should have considering I never really trained to run at the pace I did. End of the race disappointments are tough, but they put into prospective what you expected to happen at the end of the race. I know now if I want to hit that time I need to do some pace runs and train to run it that fast not hope I can pull out that fast of a run.

2. Disappointment during the race...

It's really hard to get disappointed during a race and even more so when you have a lot more ground to cover before you can finish. I haven't had to face this feeling at mile 1 of a marathon thankfully, but I have gone through it and I think it's made me a stronger runner, especially with trail runs. I have heard that some people will just quit a marathon if they are no longer on their Boston Qualifying pace. I have no problem with that, we all run for different reasons. I don't think I could ever be that person just because if I've come that far I'm going to finish the race because I at least want to eat as much of the snacks at the end as I can. There are also some races where you don't get your t-shirt unless you finish and I like to hoard t-shirts.

When I was running Grandma's Marathon last year I wanted to badly to break 4 hours. I had been trying to the last couple years only to shave a minute or two off my time. I had done several trail races and felt like I was pretty strong and could do it. I started out with the pacer and was sticking with him for most of the race. But I got to about mile 18 and things started to go downhill. My legs stopped working and I was finding it harder to catch up with the pacer after the water stations. I finally couldn't do it and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to keep the pace I needed to break 4 hours. I was bummed, and I let myself feel bummed for about 2 minutes and then I kept going. I passed a bunch of college kids cheering the runners on holding out beers in a feeble attempt to get us to take a swig and I thought "what the heck" so I ran over and downed a beer. Once I did that I decided to just have fun the rest of the race and not worry about it. I'd be lying if I said my legs didn't hurt the rest of the way but the 4 hour number didn't seem to bother me that much anymore. I still managed to finish with an identical time from the year before and while I didn't hit my mark I turned the rest of the race into having fun and it worked. Yes I still want to break 4 hours, but sometimes you just got to let it go and drink a free PBR.

My point for all of this rambling is, we all get disappointed at some point running. Whether you're just out there on a Saturday going for a run or you're doing a race. You can plan perfectly for a race and get slammed at the start line with snow/rain/wind/stomach cramps/you name it. Bad races can teach us what we need to do in our training (that we might not see unless we blow up during a race). Bad races can also remind us that it's not all about your fastest time or breaking your PR it's about enjoying yourself for the 1/2/3/4....9 hours you're out running and you don't have to be anyone but you running. You don't have to make copies or fold your laundry. You don't even have to pick up after yourself (unless you're on the trail dude, leave no trace!). It's rare in life that we get that much undisturbed time to be within our selves and only for ourselves and if someone gives you beer along the way; bonus.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Race Update

In my rant against Google and their silly decision to have no way to recover draft emails I mentioned writing an update on upcoming races and mileage. So here it is.

My Mileage has been so/so. I started a new job in December and that threw my running for a bit of a loop. I took for granted the leisurely runs I was able to take anytime I wanted to during the day. But I'm proud to say I've stuck with Hill Repeats and have kept up enough of a running schedule to feel like I'm not too far behind in the marathon training. Which brings me to races:

I wasn't able to do the snow shoe race in January. It ended up being the same weekend as a hut trip. Here's a picture:

It's probably for the better since I had never done a snow shoe race and I was able to instead get out on my new skis. My new skis which are totally awesome and I love them and can't wait to ski on them more.

I made the decision not to do the Moab Half-Marathon nor Grandma's Marathon this year. The Moab race just ended up conflicting with the Salida race and in choosing between the two I wanted to focus on the Salida Marathon as opposed to a road half-marathon. Which is good considering the additional races I've committed myself to.  It was harder to not do Grandma's Marathon. It's such a special race to me for many reasons. But I know I'll be back so I'm not too bummed. I was planning on doing it if my sister had signed up, but we picked a different race instead. Again timing was a big factor. Jeremiah is running a 100 miler at the end of June and we're traveling to Virginia in July for his brother's wedding so a fall trip to Minnesota will be easier to coordinate provided I can fit it into the ultimate season...

Here is why my race outlook for this spring looks like:

Salida Run Through Time Marathon
Distance: 26.2miles
Date: March 9th, 2013
Goal Time: 5:30hours

I'm excited and nervous for this race. I haven't gotten in as much trail running as I would have liked for this race. But I have improved my uphill running via Hill Repeats so that's a good thing. I've gotten in one good 15ish mile trail run and I'm planning on getting in at least 2 more long runs between 15 and 20 miles which will be tough cause they will need to happen in the next two weekends. (news alert, I did get an 18mile road run in this past weekend so that made me feel a lot better!). My goal time may be a little ambitious considering my training, but I'll see how my next two long runs go and may need to adjust. I do think I can do it. My last two half marathon times for this course were in the 2:30hr range so giving myself an additional 30min buffer should be ok. The Quad Rock 25miler took me 6:30hrs last year, but it's a considerably tougher race. I think 5:30 is a good goal, but as long as I can get under 6 I will be happy.

Quad Rock 25miler
Distance: 25miles
Date: May 11th
Goal Time: 6:15hrs

I think this will be a really good race for me this year. Knowing the course now I can anticipate when I can run and when I need to walk. I remember there were some steep sections and it helps to know it and know roughly how long they are so I can feel comfortable walking. I just really like this race and had a blast last year. They had a local brewery at the finish and a bonfire so I am looking forward to hanging out to cheer Jeremiah on as he comes in for the 50 miler. The course will have a different look since they dealt with some pretty gnarly forest fires in the park last summer.

War Eagle Races 50K
Distance: 50K (31.25miles)
Date: June 2
Goal Time: 6:30hrs

So this is my "big race" of the season. A 50k which marks my first toe dip into the ultra running circuit. I know this because when I registered I got an offer to subscribe to ultra running. I'm actually really excited about this race. It was either this one or a 50k in Gunnison and because my sister decided to sign up for the 25k I signed up for the 50k. It's in Arkansas so I have the whole altitude "blood doping" thing to my advantage, but I'm still nervous. That's 5 miles longer than I've ever ran before and at the end of a marathon I could hardly think of running another 5 miles. It's hard enough walking the half a mile to my parents car parked at the Methodist Church. But I've already put the feelers out to people who have done some of these runs to figure out my training and my food intake for the race. Despite what my friend Ryan does, I think I'm going to not opt for the "all gu" nutrition and eat the shit out of some gummi bears and pretzels at the aid stations. I have an ambitious goal time. After the Salida race I may tweak it a bit. But really, my only comparison race is the Quad Rock and Jeremiah keeps saying that one is way harder than [fill in the blank with any race you can think of] so I think this is an ok time to shoot for. I have a while to train and I will have already bagged to long trail run/races before hand at altitude so really...what's 5 more miles between friends?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Running On Vacation: or a devil, another devil, and a demi-god

Running on vacation is hard. Basically anytime you get out of the rhythm of your "normal routine" it is hard to get back. For anyone who struggles with staying on a schedule of regular running, vacation is guaranteed to throw you for a loop. Basically there are three ways to look at running on vacation:
  1. The devil on your shoulder
  2. The other devil on your shoulder
  3. A demi-god (or demon, or idol, or joe bag o'donuts)
The first devil on your shoulder is the one that makes you feel bad for not running while you are on vacation. Of course you don't want to run while on vacation because it is much more fun to sleep in, roll out of bed and drink coffee in your pjs and hang out with your vacation friends/family/or no one. Maybe you'll go shopping, maybe site-seeing, maybe it's been an hour since you last ate so you go eat more. Basically vacations have their own timelines so it is hard to go against that timeline because sometimes you just "go where the wind takes you". You also don't want to be the buzz kill that ruins the vacation schedule because you are going out running. Sorry everyone, that trip to see the brewery sounds fun, but can you all wait 2 hours I have to go running. The devil on your shoulder says things like "you better go running, your family will be around when you get back", and "wow second breakfast, you better run that off later".  If you listen to it you probably miss out on something everyone is doing, or you pass on that 3rd game of wii bowling and a 4th Bells IPA the night before because you have to run 15 miles the next day. But that devil reminds you as you strap on your shoes while everyone else is going to wander around Main Street "go on that run because if you don't you'll feel it at mile 22 in  your next marathon".

The second devil doesn't give a shit if you run, in fact it encourages you not to run. It also wants to roll out of bed and watch that cable TV you don't get at home, those donuts that just appear on the counter from your dad, the craft beers only available in the Central Time Zone. You shouldn't run because you might miss something really really fun. Impromptu air rifle shooting in the backyard, a trip to Town to get food, a visit to some iconic place/statute/brewery. It reminds you that you can afford to miss a couple days of running so you should just live large and really embrace vacation. This devil says things like "why run when you can drink some Growler Beer and play yatzee" and "you spent all this money and time to visit your family/friends/place why do you want to spend it running?". If you listen to it you will probably  have a lot of fun, and maybe a hangover. You will also have a hard time getting back in your groove when you get back home. When you have the small inclination to lace up your shoes that devil reminds you "don't go on that run, if you do you might feel better at mile 22, but what will you miss in the process?"

The demi-god/demon/idol/Joe Bags isn't powerful enough to sit on your shoulder like a devil or an angel. Joe Bags just sort of hangs out and throws out other options. Of course you don't want to spend your whole vacation running, but you also don't want to come back and realize you forgot how to tie your shoe laces. Old Joe Bags says "hey your nephews are taking a nap you could squeeze in some hill work", or "your sister wants to go on a run so you could do that with her". Joe Bags doesn't care how many miles you run, just fit it into when you have time and it works with what's going on around you. Joe Bags never gives you a disapproving look if you have another beer, but he does laugh a little when you slog through a short run the next day because of it. Don't mistake Joe Bags for a softy, if there is a time and a place to fit the run into your vacation he'll remind you of it. But he won't try and manufacture time if it's not there. He'll be there at mile 22 in your next marathon helping you forget the pain in your legs saying "Remember when you visited such and such place, how much fun it was?"

You can really choose which one you listen to. A lot of it depends on what you are trying to get out of running. If you are sponsored by Newton and you're trying to win part of the purse in the next race then you might error on the side of Devil 1. If you still have a long couple months of training to go before your race you might error on the side of Devil 2. But a lot of us run because we like running. We sign up for races because it helps us keep running on days we don't feel like it, we love new shirts, we love to visit new places, or we love hearing 100's of watches beep simultaneously at each mile. Running and training can feel like a job sometimes, so it's not a bad thing to take a vacation from running or just a vacation from a strict schedule. I remember taking a trip to Arkansas before my first marathon for my nephews baptism. The trip fell the weekend the training plan scheduled the long run, the 18 miler. There really was no opting out of that, if you've ever run a marathon you know how important it is to knock out those long runs, especially at the end of your training. But the heat of Arkansas in the summer required the run to start early and it also got me out of having to do picnic party prep. Alternatively, I just went to visit Arkansas again at Christmas and didn't stress out about staying with my running schedule. I was still able to run a couple days and didn't feel like a total dud when I got home. The miles sort of felt like "bonus" miles that I didn't have to do, but got to do.

Missing a couple runs will not ruin your race, nor will a couple of days a marathon champ make. It's your whole training schedule and the totality of the runs you've done. No don't be a total slog and do nothing for 2 weeks just because your on vacation. But you can make your running part of your vacation and if you can you should.