Don’t judge a run til its over

There is an old saying-“don’t judge a book by its cover”.  Some things aren’t very appealing on the surface but dig in and they tend to come out great.  Maybe it’s that our perception of the journey changes somewhere along the way, or that looking back our journey was worth the struggle.

I have had many runs where I just didn’t want to go. I was tired, lazy or did not feel 100% at the time, as I’m sure we all have.  Somehow, I usually find a way to fight through the grogginess and head out the door. It seems like after a few miles, I settle into my rhythm, my muscles get warmed up and joints loosened, then those feelings are gone.  When all goes right, I get to my target mileage and I don’t want to stop, despite the fact that I didn’t want to be there to start with.  Maybe knowing this will probably happen is what keeps me motivated when I have one of those days.

Then there are the days where I take off and feel like I could take on a 100 miler.  Everything is ticking along, the world is right and the stars are lined up for me…and then it happens.  That “IT” could be any number of things, a slight muscle twinge, a car that gets to close and throws off my mental focus, There are hundreds of things that could happen and cause my focus to rabbit trail off the main thing, my run.

The biggest example of this in my life was at a local marathon, I felt good to start, but I had not slept enough due to some sudden changes in my wife’s plans. Originally she was going to spend the night with a friend and they would do the early start together.  On my way to drop her off, the friend called to inform us that she had a family emergency and would have to back out of the race.  So, I was left with no other choice but to leave over 2 hours earlier than planned.

After watching the early start, I wanted to find a place to sleep, but I was awake and that was all there was to it. There would be no more rest before I tackled the 26.2 miles before me, just waiting. Slowly other runners started arriving and the pre-race excitement started to take over, any desire for sleep evaporated.

I started off with a few of my friends, but their numbers dwindled quickly as a few dropped back. This wasn’t a concern, as I usually ended up in front of them on our training runs.  Around mile 8, I started to feel a little more tired than usual, so I took a walk break.  Afterall, this race wasn’t about PR’s, I had only signed up because my training plan for an upcoming 50k called for a 26 mile run. Why not get a medal and a t-shirt from a training run?

By mile 10 or 11 the weariness was getting to be almost too much. I resigned myself to run/walk the remainder, my legs got heavier and heavier.  My only thoughts were to finish. I wasn’t thinking about my nutrition, which added to the problems. Without realizing it, I was sabotaging my own efforts.

Around mile 14, I heard some runners coming up on me pretty fast.  As they got closer to me they yelled. As it turned out, it was my running buddies that had dropped back. I was moving so slow they caught up to me.  They were running for 3 minutes and walking for 1 minute, so I decided to try and stay with them as long as possible.  This was my first good decision of the race. Soon we were encouraging each other. The three of us all hit low points, but the other two would pull the one through it.

At the 20 mile mark we caught up to my wife and one of our other running buddies. Both of them had been fighting injuries for a few weeks and had decided to walk/light jog the whole way. I was still hurting at this point, but I was managing it much better.

The last 5 miles or so of this particular marathon are somewhat arduous.  It is a loop through a very flat and open area. On the surface a flat stretch might sound appealing but, it gets monotonous.  Hills allow you to use different muscle groups, giving others a rest.  Mentally, your mind starts to drift and then it zones in on the pain.  Luckily, I had my friends there and we were able to help each other along.

As we came up to the last half mile, we had to cross a pedestrian bridge over a small river.  I was spent and the thought of running up this one last bit of torture on the course, turned my legs to lead.  As I dragged myself over, one of my friends turned around and asked if I had been keeping an eye on my watch. I had been trying to avoid looking for many miles now, knowing that it would only toy with my thoughts.  Not looking had seemed like the only successful fight of the day, so just let me have that one victory I thought to myself.

Crossing the finish line

She yelled to me “You’re going to PR!” WAIT, WHAT?!?! PR, when I felt this bad for this long? I looked and realized that yes I could PR! Suddenly, I had more energy that ever. The thought of a personal record revived me and I began to jog at first; then it became a run. By this point we had reached the crest of the bridge and my speed only increased. As we came down the bridge to the finish, somehow, I actually passed the friends who were feeling better than me.

As I neared the line, all I could see was the official clock ticking off the seconds. This pushed me even more.  With all I had, I crossed the line and took 6 minutes off my best time. Some may scoff at my overall time but, I had done this with less than 2 months since my previous PR and no break in training.

I had almost gave up on myself and my run that day. If I had listened to that voice in my head that kept telling me why I should just stop trying to go so hard, I would have never made it to the finish. The run wasn’t over, but in my head I had given up on it. Luckily, I had some people there to show me otherwise.

A good run does not become a good run in the first mile, and a bad run is just mental conditioning.

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