Bad Races Have Their Place
The runners high. It's a real thing. But what we don't normally talk about is the feeling of withdrawal after riding this high. The high started with a few good workouts and escalated with a race win, followed up with a glimpse of real concrete progress, masked by a stomach issue. My 3k race at the end of February was supposed to be my turning point and in essence it was. But, at the end of the day, you don't BQ or OTQ based on the time you would have run without the ifs and buts. I was hungry to race again. Hungry to keep feeding my running high. I have raced Gate River 3 times now but this time was going to be the first time I was approaching the line feeling like I was ready. We don't always get excited to race, but this time I was.
My goal: Top 10. I know place goals aren't always effective because you can't control anyone else but this goal was less about the actual place and more about just going for it. I didn't want to let my fear of crashing hold me back. I didn't want to look back and say "I ran a smart race." I wanted to look back and say "I went for it." Going into it, I thought I was going to go for it and be gritting my teeth to finish with a PR and potentially a top 10 performance, but I didn't.
I started out up in the front pack. It felt comfortable. I thought I could hold on to it. I hung through the 1st mile and into the 2nd. As I moved through the first 5k I began to back off because I noticed my form didn't feel smooth. I reminded myself to relax and keep eye contact. Approaching mile 4 I knew my legs just weren't there and from that point on I just wanted to finish. Not even halfway and my legs were just tired. But 5.3 miles was still a long way to go.
By all accounts, I am sure it looked like I gave up in the middle. I wanted to give up, but as my mind flashed back to 2017 Gate River, I couldn't give in. Most people don't know what happened at Gate River 2017 because at that time I didn't want anyone to know how weak I felt. I approached that race a year after my biggest heartbreak as runner, dropping out of the 2016 US Olympic Marathon Trials and coming off one of my biggest accomplishments, winning my debut marathon. Going from the lowest low, to the highest high is a recipe for affirmation. That start line was filled with fear and I didn't feel fit. I was focused on pace and when goal pace felt hard I panicked. I tried to drop out around mile 4 after having a panic attack, stopping for 30 min before deciding to finish. I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face watching kids play a completely carefree game of basketball. What was I doing?? I got up and started to run. Wearing a crop top and buns I was in the middle of a sea of people, dazed and ready to just put the whole experience behind me. And then the hart bridge came. I tripped halfway up and face planted. It didn’t hurt physically but my ego took a hit.
When I stopped that day in 2017, I didn’t have a panic attack because of the reality that running is hard, but because I subconsciously didn't want anyone to know that I was not okay. Rebounding in the way that I did after the Trials was powerful but also a hard standard to live up to. Dropping out was my coping mechanism to protect myself from appearing to not have it all together. I wanted to control what people thought about me. I didn’t want anyone to think less of me.
Running through the neighborhoods where I took myself out of the race in 2017, gave me the momentum to keep pushing. I wasn't going to let fear of failure prevent me from putting all I had left into finishing the best I could on a bad day. I willed myself through 5.3 miles of uncomfortableness, constantly reminding myself that I will not give in. While I am proud that I mentally got through it, it is tough to reflect on the day without a sense of uncertainty. Arriving at the airport on the ride home left me with that sinking feeling. The fading high, the withdrawal period. The reality that the opportunity has passed. That what happened really happened and I am back to square one. I am still left with no indication that my opportunity is coming.
This week I will focus on recovery and what I need to do keep moving forward. The season is still young and I still have time to keep improving my fitness. I will take stock in all of the things I’ve done this season that indicate I am better than how I raced on Saturday. I am hopping back on the track for the 5k at Raleigh Relays on Friday the 29th. While I feel unsure of what's to come, I am, much like my race, not going to give in. Even a bad day has it’s place.