I’m a short, stocky, beginner runner. Full disclosure here. I make my runs sound epic, but they’re only as epic as a nine minute plus miler can make them. I am a competitive, stubborn son of a gun who knows just enough to make me dangerous. Dangerous to myself, that is.
I learned this the hard way on Saturday.
It was technically my third 5K, but the previous one, with the dubious title of ‘Electric Donkey’ was fun but not timed. I was determined to prove myself this time around, and show myself what I could really do. I visualized shaving a minute and fifteen seconds off my previous time. Simple enough. I’d been working on my speed and stamina. 5K was now a short run for me.
But practice and theory can only go so far. After warm up I was amped and ready to go but everyone else was milling around by the registration tables and quibbling about where the inflatable finish line was supposed to be. Time dragged on, and forty-five minutes after I’d been told the race was to start, we lined up. I was a bundle of nerves by that time. The air horn blared, and I bolted.
I was out of breath in minutes. I thought it was nerves. I’d settle in and find a rhythm. But five minutes passed, then ten, and I was still struggling. I know now it was because I was pushing myself far too fast, but I had nothing to gauge my pace by. As we ran past a race marshal, I faintly heard her over my music: “Halfway there.”
That was when I knew I was in trouble.
In the final mile, my legs were so heavy I could only keep them moving by force of will. My chest was ready to burst, and I was angry. I ripped my headphones out of my ears and choked back tears. It didn’t matter. I was finishing, damn it. These legs wouldn’t stop.
I saw the finish line and the clock. The time was still under my goal time. I tried to kick into a sprint, but all I could muster was a laboured trot. I made it, just five seconds over my goal. My sister told me, after the fact, that I looked pretty bad. She has pictures to prove it–me, with my head back at an awkward angle as I stumble toward the line.
I’m so embarrassed, but mostly I’m scared now. I have another race next weekend. What if I crash and burn at that one too?
Despite my pep-talks, research, and strategizing, my training run this afternoon was no better. I was so angry and discouraged as I walked home afterward. I had to force myself to quit beating myself up. I had a bad day. No, I had two bad days. Live and learn, right? I’m not good enough to be this mad. But I am.
I have this term that I learned way back. I call it ‘the wall’, or sometimes ‘the pain threshold’. It means that point in which the mental or physical pain reaches a level that can no longer be ignored, and you have to decide to gut it out or quit. In running, mental and physical seem to converge to create a perfect storm of torture. And that’s just at my pitiful 3-5 mile distance. I can’t imagine what 26 miles must be like.
This is the moment where your strength has failed you, and you dig in deep to see if you have something to keep you going. This is where you win over yourself, or you become a has-been, a failed New Years resolution, a lost dream. This is where you get to decide between “I tried to do that once” and “I did it.”
I guess I’m standing at the wall, now.
It’s a good thing I dropped cash on that 5K next weekend. I’m too cheap to quit today, and too dang stubborn. I might not do a personal best on Saturday, but I need to race again. If nothing else to get over this fear and prove that this is just a speedbump, and greater things are yet to come.