Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fail Once, Fail Twice, Fail Many a Time

It has been a rainy couple of days here in Houston. We're talking two-hour rain delay, it took me two tries to get to school Wednesday rainy. Actually, all of Houston and Fort Bend ISD were on weather delays that day, and many of my students didn’t even make it to school. Whether it was because they legitimately couldn't make it in, or whether they heard the absence would be excused, I don't know. I do know that all HISD employees were encouraged to get to school at the regular time. Because there are secret back roads for employees that aren’t affected by the flooding, you know?

Anyway, Wednesday’s really chill day at school allowed me to be pretty productive in terms of crossing a few things off of my school to-do list, and it also allowed me to sit down and start in on a little bit of writing. And thinking. And processing. And Google Cardboard experimenting.

But I digress. I knew I was going to have to sit down and write a race recap eventually, because for me, writing is a way to work through my thoughts. And I had a lot of them following this past Sunday’s race. I went into this half marathon after almost six months of pretty solid training. Now, don’t get me wrong, not every run was great, far from it, but in the grand scheme of things, I felt as though the work I had put into this training season was of a pretty good effort. This was the first half marathon in which I had actually trained with a real goal time in mind. My runs were planned for that particular time, and my successes and failures were, again, based on how close I came to a particular pace.

So, imagine my frustration when we get an email just days before the race warning us that this race was now a “yellow flag” on the Event Alert System scale. Meaning runners should slow their pace and not expect to PR. The humidity was going to be at 96% at the start of the race, the temperature approaching 70 degrees, and it wasn’t going to get any better as the day went on. I was hearing and reading all of this, but was I really internalizing it? No. In my mind I was telling myself that I had trained for this sub-1:45 time, and I really don’t care what the weather is like, I’m going to get it. If I think positive and I have confidence in my training, surely the humidity won’t get to me.

Humidity slows my pace significantly
Because the humidity has never bothered me before (sarcasm). I’m typically a warm-weather fan, but temperatures in the high 40’s and low 50’s – that’s my ideal running weather. Humidity also really affects me, so I’m not sure why I thought January 15th, 2017 would be the dawn of a new era. Regardless, I went into this race feeling nervous, but still fairly confident. I was told that I may not get that sub-1:45 with the weather the way it was – I can – but that I should be really pleased with a 1:47 or 1:48. I was cautioned, by my coach and by many others, that the most important thing would be not starting out too fast.

So what do I do? Start out too fast. Much too fast. My first mile was what my last few miles should have been had I done this correctly. And I honestly tried to slow myself down. I didn't dodge and weave as I normally do at the start of a race, using up unnecessary energy and logging more tenths of a mile than I should. But I would look at my watch and I was surprised to see how fast I was going even after I thought I had slowed. I felt comfortable at the pace I was running, and I felt pretty good through about mile 8. And that's when my legs started feeling it. And that's when my pace started slowing. And that's when I told myself I would really slow it down for a couple of miles so that once I hit mile 10, I could turn it back on and finish really strong. I still had hope of hitting that sub-1:45 time, but I would have to really rock those last three miles.

Not rocking the last three miles
And then I hit mile 10 and it was all I could do not to walk. I started feeling nauseous, I got a little bit dizzy, and to be honest, I can't really remember much of miles 10-13. I remember running by some fast food restaurant that just about did me in. I remember not yet completing mile 11 when my Garmin hit 1:32, and that’s when I was mentally out of it. There was really no way I was going to hit my 1:45 goal, and I had next to no confidence about even coming in before 1:48. I was pretty physically done, and I was clearly mentally done, too. I crossed the finish line at 1:50.24, and I recognize that a time like that is nothing to be ashamed of. I did pout about it a little bit, I sat down and talked it out almost first thing Tuesday morning with two - very wise, very knowledgeable, very goal-driven - fellow runners, and what I’m most frustrated about is the way I shut down mentally.

Educators that run
Yeah, I’m upset about my lack of pacing, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a terribly difficult fix. It’s the mental aspect that isn’t sitting well with me. It’s the “what if” factor. It’s the “did I leave anything out on the course” factor. It’s the fact that I didn’t seem to believe in myself and my training when it mattered the most.

If I can maintain this pace for 26 miles, I'll be golden
I've mentioned on the blog before, I am sure, how much I dislike failing. I would even go so far as to say I fear it. Anyone made the FEARLESS connection yet? Anyway, I don't handle failure particularly well, nor do I take losing lightly. BUT, I’m also a fairly positive person, much to the amusement of others, and I think there was a lot of good to come of it. I think it’s kind of a wake-up call for me, really. See, I preach and preach about how I believe it’s such a good thing for my students to experience failure. Because they can learn from it and grow from it and use it as their motivation. So, I say all of these things in relation of the high school freshmen I work with, but here I am feeling sorry for myself for missing my goal time by five minutes. And I could go on and on about the parallels between education and running, but for the sake of people who are not in the field of education, I’ll stick to the 26-line expository essay.

One of the statements we ask our students to respond to each year is, "Write an essay explaining whether or not failure can strengthen a person." And every year I get some really fantastic essays. I love reading their stories of triumph, and how they, or someone they know, rose above failure. And one of the most commonly read phrases is how failure is a motivator. And that’s something I wrote about here. And that’s exactly my thought process going forward. As I look ahead to the next race I plan to run – a half marathon in Portland, Oregon, and ultimately, the Chevron Houston Marathon next January, I'm not going to forget this particular run. I'm not going to forget the disappointment I felt as I crossed the finish line. I'm going to let it motivate me to put everything I've got into every run. No excuses, no sob stories, no pity parties. It's not supposed to be easy, which is true of so much more than running. Failure(s) make the victory that much sweeter, and from here on out, I’m going to run humbly, hungry (literally and figuratively), grateful, and focused.

Ultimately, I love running. I love the freedom I feel when I’m running. I love the “me” time I get when I’m running. I love the endorphins and joy that come from it. I love the discipline it has taught me. I love the grit. And one less-than-ideal race – because Lord knows there will probably definitely be more of them – is not going to take any of that away. Running, or any sport or activity, should never define me. I love having goals. I love meeting those goals, but ultimately, what I love the most is the feeling that comes from meeting a goal after knowing what it took to get there. It's all about the journey. It's not about race day. Well, it is. But it's about the work you put in the days, weeks, months, years leading up to race day. And I'm ready to get after it. And I've absolutely got my eye on the Boston prize. Whether that's 2019, or 2029. But for now, I'm going to enjoy a few Garmin-free runs, and just run the pace at which my body feels comfortable. And take time to remember why I run, and all that it has taught me about life.

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