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3 Running Lessons I'll Take to My Next Race

 

Well, I survived 10 weeks of hard training, plus 1 hour, 53 minutes, and 8 seconds of running from Prospect Park to Coney Island at the Brooklyn Half Marathon this weekend! I’d love to report that I breezed through the course and finished with a crazy strong kick, passing dozens of people in the final stretch. Instead, I ran great through mile four and then my legs fell off and took my head and heart with them.

I had a tough race physically and mentally, and I didn’t hit my sub-1:50 time goal. By the time I made the very long trek back from Coney Island to the Upper East Side, I was feeling pretty bummed and discouraged. I was fully prepared to order 12 Nutella crepes with a side of six mac and cheeses, and to bask in my sorrow for a while, disappointed that I hadn’t been able to run the race I wanted—and the one I felt I trained for.

But a certain someone—my fiancé, Brian—wouldn’t let me sulk or dwell. Instead, Brian, the President of the School of Hard Knocks and Tough Love, didn’t coddle me (this wasn’t my first race, after all), and instead asked, “OK, so what can you learn from it?”

In the moment, I wanted to wring his neck with my still-sweat-soaked short shorts. But 48 hours after my 13.1-mile journey through Brooklyn, my race takeaways are profound and they’re screaming at me just as loud as my quad muscles. (See: 7 Running Lessons I Learned the Hard Way.)

1. Your legs matter, but your head and heart might matter more. 
I think running is something like 50 percent mental and 50 percent physical. You need to be all in with the right math to have the race you want. When I got to the start line, I was lining up with something like 16 percent of a solid mental game and 19 percent of a race-ready body. Needless to say, that doesn’t compute—and didn’t really set me up for success.

I was excited to run this race, and to do it with 70-plus November Project teammates. But I had so many doubts about my physical capabilities, and I put a lot of energy into thinking Icouldn’t run a sub-1:50 rather than confidently telling myself I had it in the bag. On the physical side, I should have rested more along the way instead of always following my training plan (that old “listen to your body” adage). Plus, I got a 24-hour stomach bug complete with fever and chills two days before the race. Not ideal!

When my legs started to give out on me during the race, I let my head and heart drop out too. I’m usually such a positive thinker, but I struggled. (You should know these 17 Things to Expect When Running Your First Marathon.)

2. Being a part of a team is magical. 
Yes, I wish I could have had a stronger showing for my debut as an official racing member of team November Project. But guess what? No one on my team cares about my time. No one is disappointed in me. (Right, guys?) We had more than 70 racers on the course boasting the November Project logo, plus 30 manning a water station around mile 3.5. Knowing there was so much support on the course kept me running when I really, really wanted to stop.

I got to see so many teammates flying by on the race course, and it filled me with pride knowing I was part of something so special; that no matter how my race went, there were so many people to cheer for, to support, and to celebrate with 13.1 miles later.

3. It’s OK not to have a perfect race, and it’s OK to be upset about it (for a little while).
I never stop re-learning this lesson. No matter how you train, no matter what you eat for breakfast, no matter how much Imodium you take before lining up at the start (yup), you can never fully predict how race day will go. I didn’t train perfectly for this race—my mileage was fairly high for a half-marathon, and in hindsight I wish I had done more cross-training and resting and a little less running—and I didn’t execute a perfect race strategy.

Bad races happen. It’s part of running. Running can lift you up high and it can break your heart. That’s part of the game. I love running and I love racing, so I’m not quitting just yet—instead, I’m enjoying my crepes and mac and cheeses, and I’m taking some time to learn about what to do better next time.

I also know by now not to dwell on a bad race for too long. It’s OK to be upset or disappointed, but it’s important to eventually move on, whether that means signing up for a redemption race or taking some time off to reevaluate your next goals. (Having no regrets one of the 9 Smart Running Tips from Shalane Flanagan.)

Thank you for following my journey leading up to the Brooklyn Half Marathon. We got slammed with rain for about 30 minutes during the race, which kept things exciting, and it truly was a great day for running and racing. Congratulations to all the finishers—I’ll see you at the next start line!

Alison Feller is a writer and editor in New York City. She has completed five marathons, 11 half-marathons, and many shorter distance races. When she’s not writing or on the run, Alison can be found in the yoga studio, on a spin bike, or (on very rare occasions) cycling outdoors with her fiancé. Keep up with Alison on her blog, Ali On The Run, or on Instagram and Twitter@AliOnTheRun1.

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