Three weeks down, 13 to go…
In the 12th paragraph of this post, I’m going to confess something that very few runners ever admit. Something that has reinvigorated my running. Something that served as the wake-up call I needed if I’m really going to race, not just run, the 2010 ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7.
Runners are generally a stoic bunch of achievers who will run to exhaustion or almost pass out from heat stroke. I’m often one of those runners, pushing myself to my limit for the greater glory of a personal record. And because I’m still on the cardiovascular upswing, I PR every time I race. And I mean every time. Of the 25 odd races I’ve run in earnest in the past three years (I’ve run another five at a jog for fun), I’ve set a PR in all of them.
Until last Saturday.
This past weekend—in my third week of training for the marathon—I ran a 5-mile race in Central Park. It was the New York Road Runners Team Championships, and as a proud member of the New York Harriers I was excited to get some speed under my legs and remind myself what it feels like to race.
But there was one problem: I was exhausted. I’d been sick with a fever and chills a few days before and missed a few runs, as I chronicled in my last NYC marathon training post. Come Saturday, I’d only run once since getting sick, and was feeling low on energy.
So I took the first mile pretty easy. I looked at my first mile split and thought, “Good, okay, now just pick it up.”
I pushed harder and my second mile split was 10 seconds faster. “Good, okay,” I thought. “Now just pick it up a little more.”
I pushed even harder, but my third mile split didn’t budge, and I was quickly going anaerobic—you know, the one breath in, one breath out panting you usually suffer at the end of a sprint. Well, I still had two miles to go, and I felt awful. And when I say awful, I mean awful.
Then, I did it. I did the thing runners aren’t supposed to do, the thing I’m not supposed to admit.
I gave up.
It went a little something like this in my mind:
Ring, ring. Ring, ring.
“It’s me—Karla. Time to call it. I can’t do this.”
“Really? You’re sure? It’s just two more miles.”
“Nope. No can do. I’m officially phoning it in.”
“Okay, I mean, if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. But are you sure? You want to give up? No PR? Just finish?”
“Okay, I’ll slow it down. But, Karla, this is your wake-up call. We’re running a marathon in three months. If we can’t race 5 miles how are we supposed to race 26 miles?”
“I know. Time to get real.”
“You said it. Okay, Karla. Thanks for calling. Bye.”
And just like that, reality in check, I cruised to a walk as I came upon Central Park’s famous Cat Hill—named after Still Hunt, a bronze sculpture of a panther that’s perched near the top. As I walked up the hill, I relished the fact the marathon course approaches the hill from the opposite direction; that is, I’ll get to run down it.
I walked just enough to get my breath back. Then I jogged the rest of the race, finishing with my average pace far slower than even my 10K time. Basically, I did the 5-miler at my tempo pace.
Was I disappointed that I didn’t PR? Sure. Was I disappointed in myself that I gave up? Sure. But I also know that I gave those first three miles everything I had. It’s just that I didn’t have much to give that day.
So I called it. I gave up. I phoned in the rest of the race in. I wasn’t my usual stoic self. I didn’t push myself to the brink; I slammed on the brakes instead.
The funny thing is having had an awful race, having given up, has reinvigorated my running. It was the wake-up call I needed. Instead of getting me down, it got me pumped about my training. It reminded me that 26.2 miles aren’t going to run themselves. Suddenly, I was excited to attack running with a new ferocity. The next evening, I laced up my shoes and knocked out 7 miles along the Hudson River.
I have two more races on the calendar in the next month to redeem myself: a 5K in three weeks and a half-marathon in four weeks. Until then, you better believe I’m going to be hitting the pavement with renewed gusto. As the old adage goes, I may have lost the battle, but I’m going to win this war. New York City Marathon, you better watch your back.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes.