Expectation and Hope
In typical runner fashion, I am trying to make sense of my race today and why it didn’t go as well as I wanted. I finished the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon in 1:25:04, and was the 25th female across the line in what has become an incredibly competitive race the last few years. Certain aspects of the race are specifically catered toward runners making attempts at the qualifying standards for the US Olympic Marathon Trials - pacers for the blazing fast qualifying standards, cash bonuses for Americans achieving those standards, and well-organized pre-race accommodations. Because of the talented and deep elite field, I wasn’t expecting to be a top finisher today, but I was expecting to run a PR (my previous PR of 1:25:26 is from early 2012). If you’re following along, then you’ve realized that I did run a PR, and you’re maybe wondering why I am even a little disappointed. (Answer: I am a runner.)
I expected to run a PR today because I’ve had a solid year of running. It started in February at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL, where I won the women’s race in 2:52:28, a nearly 4-minute PR. Eight weeks later, I ran the Boston Marathon in 2:56:03. I was pleased with my time at Boston in the context of the race (tough weather with rain, wind, and a temperature around 40°) and with a relatively short break after the Mercedes Marathon. Next up was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon in July. My training went well, but I suffered in a major way in the heat and humidity that day, finishing in 1:31:01. My fall marathon was the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, IN. At the end of September, it was more like a late summer marathon with moderate humidity. I had a short buildup for that race after the July half marathon, but I felt strong enough to run in the low 2:50s, which I hoped would be good enough for a top-five finish. I ended up finishing third in 2:59:54, and was ready for a true break. I hadn’t taken more than a few days off after any of my races this year, which I didn’t even realize until I started looking back through my training journal while writing this post. That is insane (and unadvisable). So, after the Mill Race Marathon, I took 4 glorious days completely off, without any running or cross-training. Then I was itching to run again, so the next 2.5 weeks included extremely minimal and very easy running, with several rest days and a few cross-training days. I spent the following 3 weeks rebuilding a mileage base with easy running (no hard workouts). The past couple of weeks of running have been some of the most enjoyable of the year. My legs have felt fresh and strong; my mind has been clear, without the distractions that hard workouts and splits can bring; my running soul has been excited about the winter training to come. In other words, my recovery was successful.
That brings us to today. Since I didn’t dedicate any specific training to this half marathon, it was difficult to identify an exact time goal, other than sub-1:25. Even that was sort of a shot in the dark, though. My training throughout the year and my fresh legs gave me confidence that I was capable of running a PR, and 1:25 was the next logical milestone from 1:25:26. But given my 2:52 marathon finish earlier this year, I hoped that a sub-1:24 was reasonable. If you are familiar with sports psychology, you likely recognize my flawed outlook for this race. I expected to run a PR, and I hoped to run under 1:24. That is not a recipe for a sub-1:24 finish. Expectation breeds confidence, and it lays the foundation for acceptance of the pain it will take to reach the expected outcome. During my warm-up, I told myself, “This will hurt more than a marathon.” And during each mile of the race, I told myself, “This mile will hurt, but you can handle it.” It sounds like incredibly basic advice, but it effectively shuts down the possibility of my mind telling my body it can’t sustain the pace. The mind has pretty basic natural tendencies during an endurance race (“This hurts. STOP.”), which calls for a basic response (“I already know it hurts. SHUT UP.”) However, what I failed to tell myself was, “Each 6:24 mile will hurt, but you can handle it.” So, while I held 6:24s through the first 6 miles, my mind wasn’t appropriately steeled against the remaining 7 miles. It was still true that each mile hurt and I could handle it (I didn’t stop running, after all), but the hurt lacked purpose and direction. It became a means to an end (literally), rather than an immediate obstacle to manage.
One could argue that my expectation was in line with reality, and my hope was a pie-in-the-sky wish. And that’s probably pretty accurate. I haven’t done any sort of threshold training, tempo runs, or intervals (except some occasional strides) in weeks, so it makes sense that I would slow down in the second half of a fast race. Running a 1:24 wasn’t realistic without dedicated training, so in my mind I allowed it to just be a hope. That can be a convenient retrospective self-preservation technique when we don’t achieve a goal, but regardless, it’s a valuable reminder that results don’t magically happen because of our hopes. Training toward a specific goal gives us confidence in the results we are capable of attaining. It empowers us to expect a certain outcome rather than hope for it, which allows the mind to develop the strength and agility to deal with adversity as it arises. Every race is an opportunity to learn about the mind and body, and I’m excited to add this one to my arsenal as I head into 14 weeks of training for the LA Marathon in February. Happy trails!