Post-Race Epiphanies

Lots and lots of sweet road and track races in full-swing now, and after Gate River last month, I got lucky and had the chance out to San Diego with my college team–although I guess I can’t really say “my” college team, because compared to these kiddos I am practically an old lady–to run a 5k at UC-San Diego.

I went there with the hopes of FREAKING FINALLY running a PR in the 5k. Heck, I didn’t even care if it was a 1 second PR. I have run 16:5X in EVERY sea-level 5k I’ve ever competed in literally since I was 19 years old. Indoor track, outdoor track, doesn’t matter. 16:5X, 9 years. No joke. Sooo…come on legs, it’s about time to get after it. This seemed like the perfect opportunity, because there were a couple girls entered in low 17’s and high 16’s, so it was a pretty ideal set-up and I figured a PR, even a little baby PR, would be a given. But well, the aforementioned girls scratched and I time trialed a 5k in low 17’s. Uh, yay? Except not really.

I should start by saying that I am very grateful and thankful for the chance to have gotten to run it. Yes, I am: I am healthy, training is going well, and I got a free trip to a great place with great people, oh, and I got to see this track at Point Loma:

Look. Look at this beautiful track. LOOK at it.

I am thankful for all of that, I do not mean to sound like an ungrateful little turd just because I didn’t run a time I wanted. However, in spite of that, when I glanced at the clock as I crossed the finish I nearly had a Girl Moment and just about cried. I didn’t, but seriously I think I felt my lower lip quiver, I think, it’s hard to say. Although I wasn’t positive because I didn’t hear splits after the mile (there was a clock by the lap counter, but it’s hard to do math when your brain is in the haze of race-mode) but I thought I ran so much better than that. I figured 16:40-something would easily be a shoo-in, because how is it actually even humanly possible to train for like a decade and legitimately get no faster? It’s an icky pill to swallow.

So I ran a cranky cool-down while I attempted to wrap my head around the fact that I just ran another race, right in a row, that indicated that well, stuff’s just not moving in a great direction however much I am willing it to. Granted Gate River was just straight up painfully bad, this time I felt fine but apparently just ran slow. But in any case it seemed high time for some good, quality Re-Eval, woo! That would be Re-Evaluation. It’s all great and shiny and wonderful to win a race, but I’d rather get lapped by the whole field and run a tiny PR than win by a landslide in a time I’ve run 80 zillion other times. Some might not be in agreement with this, and that’s cool.

Sometimes, you’ve gotta face the music. Even though success doesn’t always necessarily directly correlate with effort, generally speaking running’s pretty straight forward and relatively logical, and when it doesn’t go well, it is usually from one or more of the following:

1) You’re not doing enough (mileage, intensity, etc.).
2) You’re doing too much (mileage, intensity, etc.).
3) You’re doing enough, and it is hard enough, but you’re doing it wrong.
4) Other external factors (stress, sleep, nutrition, injuries, head-case-itis, etc…)

I chewed on that for a while, and I picked numbers 1 and 4 and occasionally 3. I chose 1, and that one was the hardest to swallow, because realistically at the post-college level it is highly unlikely that you will be competitive with women running 120 miles per week when you’re doing 65-70. The other glaring error was the fact that it is highly unlikely you will run fast 5k’s when your idea of speed-work is mile repeats on a dirt loop and nothing on a track, ever. I don’t like track. I said it. I don’t. It’s flat, it’s oval, it’s laps, it entails short intervals which I don’t like, it messes with my head, and I get Mental Pussitis when I’m on one. A 10k on the track seems so absurdly far compared to say, a 17 mile long run. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. So I don’t run on it and our relationship has always been rocky. Unfortunately track races are what usually yield PR’s. I like PR’s. But how do you expect to get good on a track when you’re never ON a track? Yeah, that’s right, YOU DON’T. Additionally, track is where you get speed, cross country stuff is where you get strength, road races necessitate both of those things. Track has been a big missing ingredient for some time now, as has more volume in general. I don’t know why I had a crap-load of success in the latter part of college on SO much less volume than I did earlier in college on SO much more volume, but that was a long time ago and it doesn’t seem to work anymore, and sometimes it’s kind of pointless to compare yourself to um…yourself….at a different point in time, because for a multitude of reasons (whether you can figure them out or not) stuff changes.

Number 3 is relevant because oftentimes while I might be doing the right things, if there is no definitive direction or goal toward which to channel those things, then I’m just going through the motions and it’s comparable to being blindfolded throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping you hit the bull’s eye. It doesn’t matter how good you are at throwing darts, hoping’s not good enough.

I picked 4 because, well, everyone deals with “other external factors,” it is called Life Outside of Running. You just have to decide which of said factors you can control and which ones you can’t, and which ones are worth keeping around because they benefit something, or which ones you should get rid of because they don’t benefit anything. I know when I heap a crap-ton of stuff on my plate, I end up (grumpily) doing a really mediocre job at all of them, rather than doing a great job at a couple of them. I think being “well-rounded” is actually really over-rated, and being busy for the sake of busy-ness is also really over-rated. I know, how very un-American of me. I also know I make myself a head-case when I overanalyze and over-think EVERY. THING. See? All things that are not beneficial and yet very much within my control! Yay! Progress already!

In going forward and actually mapping out more clear-cut goals and applying some the aforementioned missing ingredients, I also got to thinking that honestly, if the next several months still see no reasonable progress, then there are other alternative avenues to pursue. I had a revelation the other day that really, no one gives a crap about how I run. I don’t mean that in a bad way or a boo-hoo-woe-is-me kind of way, it’s just that I think we all make a much bigger thing of it to ourselves than it really is. That realization was– for a little bit–really depressing, because so dang much goes into gaining so little ground, and it can be rough on occasion, and at times a wee bit lonely, but that thought was also sort of liberating in a strange way because all of a sudden you realize that you are free to do whatever you want with it and you’re ultimately only trying to beat yourself, and that failing or succeeding will only ever matter to you. So whether that will end up meaning moving on from road and track races and switching to trail and mountain stuff or ultras just to shake things up, or–who knows–maybe straight up moving on altogether, there’s not a lot of sense in driving yourself nuts banging on a door that won’t open just to prove something to an imaginary audience that doesn’t exist. But that is a bridge that will be crossed if/when I get to it.

So those were some of my epiphanies following the last few weeks’ running adventures. And going back to what I was saying before, I am thankful–even though I ran like a donkey–that I’ve had some crummy, very sub-par races the last few weeks, because sometimes there is nothing like a swift kick in the @$$ to get you to actually look at what you’re doing, if you’re doing it right, and addressing and owning up to your weaknesses.

Anyway, this hasn’t been terribly up-beat but it sure was cathartic. On to the next thing.
Meaningless self-absorbed blabber foreclosed…till next time.

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