Thursday, July 10, 2014

Defeated: Summer's Night 5K Race Report

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." The prolific Japanese writer Haruki Murakami wrote this in his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. To me it's obvious he's referencing the physical and mental duality at play every time we choose to, or choose not to, run or race. There's not much we can do as runners to alleviate the physical pain we experience when pushing ourselves to our personal limits during a race. Whether it's the extreme muscle fatigue and cramping from a marathon, or sheer exhaustion of an ultramarathon, or the searing full-body burn of a 5K, physical pain is an unavoidable component of running and racing. Mentally choosing how we react to physical adversity is where suffering becomes optional. 

Last night I chose not to embrace the pain and suffer better. For the first time in a very long time I lost that mental battle that takes place every time we choose to race, and I gave in to self-doubt. I ran a bad race mentally, and I walked, not only once, but twice.

I came into the race wanting to set a PB (sub 18:20) and break 18 minutes, which my training indicated was definitely within my physical capabilities. The weather conditions were nearly ideal. The sky was clear with a slight breeze. The oppressive humidity often associated with air temperatures around here in July was completely absent. It was warm, but pleasant. In short, last night was a perfect evening for running. And, combined with the flat terrain of the course, it was a perfect evening for a PB.  

However, from the beginning I lost focus of the task at hand. I intentionally, and in hindsight stupidly, unset my Garmin to record and notify me how fast I was running each kilometer split. I wanted to run this one by "feel." Well, I went out way too fast and by the time I passed the 1km course marker I was breathing harder than I should've been, but still manageable if I dialed it back a bit. Shortly thereafter, around 1.5km, I was passed by two older gentlemen, Paul and Michael, who run with our group at the track. These are two guys who are not only at least ten years my senior, but two guys I felt I should've been running with. I really had no idea how fast we were running because I was entering the pain hole, and rather than letting them go and running my own race I let pride take over. It's never a good idea to run someone else's race, but it's especially true when you're not running for place and instead an overall time.

As we approached the 2k marker I could tell we were maintaining a pace my body just couldn't sustain. Running that first kilometer too fast had put my body and my breathing into a shocked state I couldn't come back from unless I eased off. Paul's daughter, Sarah, a girl I help coach on Mondays, was at the 2k marker cheering us on and pride again got the better of me. I couldn't bring myself to ease off in front of her. Plus, there was a tiny piece of me that wanted to see just how far I could push it, and if I could break through the other side. 

I pushed on. Barely hanging on to the backs of Paul and Michael. Somewhere around the 2.5km point I hit a point where I just couldn't push it any further and stay upright. Paul and Michael started to pull away from me. I should've just eased it backed to a marathon pace effort for a bit until my breathing came back to me, and I could feel my arms and legs again. But I didn't. I was pissed. I wasn't thinking straight. I stopped to walk. Never stop to walk. Another older gentleman passed me. I started running again. I made it to the 3k marker before I stopped again, and another dude passed me. What was happening to me!?

At this point I just wanted to pack it in for good. My sub 18 was history for sure, and a PB had all but waved bye-bye as well. My body, my mind, and my ego were in tatters. I have never abandoned a race in my life. Mark Allen, 6-time Ironman World Champion, once said,"You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime." Quitting outright is never an option for me unless a serious injury is imminent, and it wasn't. It also helped that I looked down the road and saw Jeff - the head coach of the youth running club I help coach - marshaling a turn on the course. Pride, the good kind, kicked in again. It was time to finish this damn race.

As I ran by Jeff he gave me some words of encouragement. I was embarrassed, but not broken. I settled in about 50 meters behind the last dude to pass me and narrowed my focus to maintaining that distance. I wanted to finish this race on a positive note and with at least a shred of dignity. 

The last 2km felt like the entire race should have. It was painful, but within reason. At some point during the last kilometer I heard the pedaling of a bike marshall behind me, which meant there was a runner shortly behind him. I'm not really that fast, but at the same time, I'm not really used to getting passed that often during a race. Four had been enough, and I wasn't about to let it happen again. I focused on my breathing and staying as relaxed as I could. I rounded a turn and entered the park, which meant the finish line was drawing near. I figured it couldn't be any more than 400 meters away. I allowed myself to glance at my watch. It read 17:4something. For the love of God, I was within PB range. I legged it as best I could and as I rounded the last bend and the crowd cheered us on, the clock came into view. A PB wasn't in the cards this day, not that I deserved it. But, I didn't get passed again either.

I finished in 18:30. In the end, Michael and Paul finished in 17:24 and 17:38 respectively, which is much faster than I could've gone on the day. I was punishing myself trying to keep pace with two dudes I shouldn't have been running with. The guy who passed me the first time I walked finished in 17:57, which was right in my wheelhouse. If I'd only slowed down a bit instead of pushing myself to the point of walking, we could've raced it in together.

A friend of a friend, Sanjay, once uttered while telling a story during a long run, "There are no mistakes in life. Only lessons. And, lessons will be repeated until learned." There were lessons in yesterday's 5K race that I don't care to be repeated. I lost the mental battle in terms of race tactics. I let my ego get the best of me, and it wasn't the time for that. I also let suffering get the best of me and I gave in to self-doubt and self-pity rather than embracing it. However, I didn't give up entirely, and I finished with a respectable time, so I'm not a total loser.

In Other News...

Ricky Gates has found a way to literally combine my three favorite passions - running, traveling, and motorcycling. I watched this video the other morning with #1 and found it beautiful, honest, and inspiring. I figure it must be pretty good because it held her attention for the the entire eighteen minutes and it's not animated. I admire Ricky for his courage to live a free-spirited life that cuts against the grain. In a way, I feel we're kindred spirits and I wish him luck, happiness, and enlightenment in his life On The Road.

I started this post the other day with the intention of writing about motorcycling and how it has provided me with so many amazing adventures, lasting images, and cherished memories. However, I just couldn't find the words that merited the subject's significance. So, for now I simply chose to post some images with minor captions.

My Babies Before Babies

Moto #1 - BMW F800 ST

Moto #2 - Triumph Tiger 1050 - Crater Lake, Oregon in the background

SE Oregon desert. A place one has no business being unless on a motorcycle.

At my friend Celeste's cabin on Flathead Lake, Montana with my pops.
Part of a week long road trip with my pops from Oregon to Glacier Nat'l Park.

Big, bold, and beautiful Glacier National Park. Those are cars at the base.

Moto camping in the Redwoods as part of a week long road trip.

Stanley, Idaho with Sawtooth Mountains in the background.