I did it. I made it happen. Not only did I finish the race, I won the damn thing. Just two weeks after a heartbreaking DNF, I attacked another race and avenged myself. But the problem was – I didn’t feel better.
It feels crazy to admit it, but I didn’t feel satisfaction from the win at Goodwater.
What was wrong with me? I trained my ass off for months and came away with a victory, yet I barely found any solace. I began to examine myself, and realized that I felt a similar disappointment after Boston. I ran a marathon PR on a difficult course in bad conditions, but I feel a painful longing when I look back on that day. These are two very different races with very different results that leave me with a very similar after taste.
In Boston, I felt that I was in the best shape of my life. I was nailing workouts that I can’t even dream of completing now. I was chasing a goal that was ambitious, even suicidal, but I believed in myself to do it. I put all the pieces together to win the day, but the marathon won that battle. On paper, my resulting 4-minute PR should have been celebrated. I smiled and laughed and patted myself on the back, but I just felt sad. It was the first race since I started running that I didn’t walk away proud.
I’m still reeling from that day, more than 2 years later.
After Bandera, I just felt shame. I couldn’t understand why it was so strong because I had worked hard to guard any goals I had from anyone other than my crew/pacers and coach. I was protecting and preserving my power by preventing anyone from setting expectations for me outside of myself. But I believe there was at least a base expectation that I would do well to some degree. The time I ran would be inconsequential – everyone’s definition of a good performance is different, but simply finishing is bare minimum. I didn’t even accomplish this part, and I was embarrassed.
So when I snuck off with my tail between my legs, I desperately wanted to rewind and record over this memory. Everyone understood. Everyone has bad races. My self consciousness, however, was loudly screaming that people were looking down on me, pitying me, disappointed in my vulnerability. I think that’s partly why I don’t race more than I do – I have a fear of exposure. By limiting that exposure, I’m able to control the image that I project and the things people see. I wanted to return to the safe place where I was seen as a strong runner, someone who knew what they were doing, who raced smart and the results showed it. So what did I do? After ensuring I was medically safe to run, I signed up for another race. Fast.
So I ran Goodwater. I had a good day and won. I ran smart and hit a negative split in the second half of an ultramarathon. But the shame remained. Perhaps if I had set this as my goal race from the very beginning, I would have taken more pride from this experience. But I hadn’t, and so I didn’t. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to choose a great event put on by good friends at Spectrum Trail Racing, but this one was second fiddle and I knew it. Runners are really hard on themselves and, honestly, disproportionately sensitive to the meanderings of the experience. Good races are CELEBRATED! Bad races are mourned. And mourned. And mourned. It seems that the only way to prevent an overall poor outlook as a runner is to match every bad day with 2 or 3 good days. But when you’re running marathon distances or longer, you can’t just go race every weekend and hope for good results. So maybe it’s not surprising that with Boston being my last road marathon and having completed only one ultra since Bandera, I’m still feeling it.
Maybe the trick is to just get back out there, train like hell, try my hardest, and make those bad days more and more a distant memory. We have a choice today to make it the best day yet, or we can spend the time dwelling on what came before. I know which one I’d rather choose. With that in mind, I’ve decided that I will return to Bandera in 2018 and seek to re-wire my perception of that race. I will re-qualify and head back to Boston someday and try again. And every time I put my name on a registration sheet and toe the starting line for a race, I will remember the shame and anguish I felt on those days, and do everything I can to not repeat them.