When Your HALF Marathon Feels Like a FULL Failure
There’s a big difference between a Difficult Run and a Bad Run. A difficult run is challenging, often pushing you outside your comfort zone, but you survive it and come out feeling like a BAMF. You have conquered! You are strong!
But a Bad Run is, well, BAD. So bad you think about swearing off running ever again. So bad you find it hard to take ANY pride in what you’ve just done.
My first half marathon for 2014 was a BAD run. It was not only the slowest I’ve ever run a half, it was painful and trying and ridiculously hard. And there wasn’t a single reason that stood out for having a bad race.
It was very ironic this was my slowest half marathon ever because I’ve run several tough races:
1. Gobbler Grind 2003 – first half marathon ever my junior year of high school. Didn’t know what I was getting into, didn’t cross or strength train, ate a bagel for breakfast, and my longest training run was 8 miles. Finish time: 2hr 10min
2. Gobbler Grind 2007 – first half marathon after 2 years of not running due to knee problems. It was cold, hadn’t run a race in years, and wasn’t feeling well. Pulled out 1:49, which is currently my PR (personal record).
3. Hospital Hill 2011 – It was HOT. I mean like 90-some heat index. Humidity was stifling. I’d spent less time training and more time drinking that spring. Pulled off 1:57 and was rewarded with a popsicle.
4. Kansas City Half 2011 – first half marathon with Jason, which we trained for in 4 weeks. FOUR WEEKS. It was a very painful half but finish time 2:11.
5. Horsetooth Half 2012 – first half marathon in Colorado. It was at altitude, the first 2 miles were up a freaking MOUNTAIN, and I felt behind on my training miles. Finish time: 2:08
6. Rock N’ Roll Half Dallas 2013 – I had a cold, knee problems, and my longest run was 8 miles on the treadmill. Also was under dressed for the weather which was colder than predicted when I packed. Still it was an impressive 1:51.
7. Rock the Parkway 2013 – My cold was now bronchitis. I ran on 4 diff medications including Prednisone and with a giant stack of Kleenexes. Despite this, I was only a few seconds off my PR so I finished 1:49 (due to being on steroids though, if I had PR’d, I wouldn’t count it. Sorry, Lance.)
8. Kansas City Half 2013 – was two weeks AFTER my first FULL marathon; def was tired and sore but the half flew by compared to the full. Was slow but never had to walk. Finished a few minutes after my 2-hour goal time, 2:02.
So I’ve had very physically painful and tiring races. I’ve run with injuries. I’ve run at altitude up mountains. I’ve run on little training. I’ve run with bronchitis on steroids. All of those races that should have tanked my finish time, but for some reason I still overcame all of that.
Rock the Parkway this year? Not so much. Finish time was 2:14. If I’d run my 1:50 goal, I would have been top 50 in my age group instead of in the 50th percentile. I was NOT happy with myself.
I couldn’t think of a reason why it happened. The weather wasn’t extreme. My shin splints didn’t hurt during the race. I’d eaten well. No drinking. I wasn’t sick. My training was more consistent this year. My muscles weren’t sore.
But I was tired – my body and my mind. Mentally I broke. I started at 9:40 min/miles for 6 miles. It was slow but being the first half of the year, there were some kinks to work out. Changing my goal to 2 hours was acceptable.
But mile 7 it went to hell. 11:40 minute mile my Garmin told me.
Wait…what? I looked at it again. F*ck.
Well, this race is only half over. So I had a bad mile, time to take my Cliff espresso gel shot and get some calories and caffeine kicking.
Still 11:40 minute mile for mile 8. And my legs just hurt. It just hurt to move. Not a sharp pain or a you must stop now pain. Just a tired we don’t want to do shit today pain. I walked for a few seconds. Didn’t feel any better. In my head I was thinking
If Jenny has 13.1 miles to run and is at mile 8 then she has 5 miles to go. If she starts walking and does a 15:00 minute per mile pace for the next 5 miles that means it will take, roughly, A REALLY FREAKING LONG TIME TO FINISH.
So I started jogging and dying on the inside again. Waiting for my espresso shot to kick in.
I saw a girl lying on the side of the road with people around her. They were calling for a medic. I felt really bad for her, but it also sobered me up. At least I’m not there yet. At least I’m still moving, still breathing, have all my limbs. I can finish this. It might take forever and it might suck big time, but I am fit enough to finish. And I’m thankful I can even do this right now.
I then saw a daughter and her mom. They were in the starting chute with me where I heard them say they were running together. One of them wasn’t doing well, so they were walking. I saw them off and on walking then jogging then walking. But they were still going. We started together, I thought, we can finish together. I tried to keep them in sight.
I was pretty furious though when the 2-hour pace group passed me. Then a mile later the 2:05 group. This race is horrible! Why can’t I move? Why am I dying? I started thinking of all my other races and how I’d managed to pull those off.
I never run races with music (except the full marathon because that was A LOT of time inside my head). Jason wasn’t at my pace this year. I hadn’t run into my friend Sam. It was just me. Alone. And the angry voice inside my head. The crowd support was what kept me going now. The funny signs. People seeing my name on my bib and shouting “Keep it up, Jenny!”
It was not quite mile 10, and I was about to cry. I was SO MAD. Why can’t I do this? What is wrong with me? I LOVE half marathons – or so I thought. During full marathon training I couldn’t wait to do a half again. Well, here’s your half. How’s it going?
The 2:10 pace group passed me. Wait, 2:10. That’s not bad. I’ve done a few races around that time. I haven’t totally blown my race yet. Just keep moving, moving, moving, what do we do, we keep on moving, ah ha ha ha ha, I thought in my Dory voice. But it was only a matter of time before they slipped from my grasp.
But once you cross the 10 mile mark, you can’t quit. That’s only a 5k left. You think, Only a 5K?! That’s 3.1 miles! That’s a lot! Well, to the half marathon junkie it’s JUST a 5k. And this mental boost can do A LOT for your morale. Of course, once I converted that just 3 miles into time, it came out to 30 minutes or more at my current pace, then it sounded really bad. (as an English major, I am proud of all the math I did during the race, both with and without using my fingers.)
I thought about all the things I’d rather be doing then running. Usually it’s the opposite. Usually it’s I’d rather be doing this 5-mile run then studying for a test or sitting through a long meeting. Today it was maybe Jason should knock me up so I can’t run ever again (this is why I shouldn’t leave the kitchen). I’d rather be running the full marathon (almost). Hell, I’d rather be doing burpees in Cross-Fit (I was obviously in a VERY dark place at this point).
But I had to finish. I walked for a few seconds again. I was so worked up that I was doing that heaving, trying not to cry thing. I am going to finish this. Remember that GIANT ASS finisher medal? Yes. You want that. And beer. You can have whatever beer you want today but you just must FINISH.
There were more spectators now. We got a few downhills. But we also had a lot of uphill. The uphills sucked, but I love hills, and it gave me something to focus on. One hill at a time. I started watching the street signs and thinking about how many blocks we had left.
Finally it was 2 miles left. That’s 8 laps on the track. So I started focusing on finishing each 1/4 mile. The finish line was in sight for the last 1/2 mile of the race. That was torturous. It stretched on forever.
I saw the Chik-Fil-A cow on the sidelines. I waved, and it waved back. That cheered me up, but then I wished it was throwing out sandwiches. I would have run much faster if cows threw Chik-Fil-A sandwiches at me.
Then, the finish. I kicked it in. Leave it all on the course. I got my arms swinging and my legs flying as best they could. Finish, finish, finish, finish, finish, finish, finish. I passed about 20 people. Don’t you see the finish? It’s right there! You can breathe after you FINISH!
DONE! 2 hours 14 minutes. But I was DONE. I was so done with this race. I didn’t want to ever think about it again.
But Jason pointed out something very important to me. It’s still hard for me to accept, because I expect a lot out of myself. I’ve been running for years, and there’s a certain standard I strive for. There’s a lot of pride that goes into trying to beat my times each year.
He said it’s hard to run no matter what, but it’s even harder on the bad days. But those days test our character the most. It’s a true test of your love for running if you can finish on the Bad Days. It says a lot more about who you are as a runner when you don’t quit despite how difficult it may be that day.
So with that in mind, we have four more half marathons this spring. That’s 4 more chances for a PR. 4 more chances for a fresh start.
My runs still are a struggle, but I do have some ideas to help the next few half marathons go better. And the motivation to not have a race like that again is a huge help. It helped me on my 5K the next weekend.
That race also wasn’t going well, but it’s only 3.1 miles I told myself. I can do this. I didn’t get my fastest 5K time, but I got 3rd place in my group out of 84. THAT was pretty awesome. It reminded me that my hard work does pay off. And I appreciated it so much more after having that awful half marathon.
So when you have a Bad Run, remember it will make you stronger and better in the end. And when a race does go well, it will seem that much sweeter. As long as you give it your best, even if your best doesn’t feel that great, you are NOT a failure. 🙂