Here’s the thing about doing races.
Running is hard. "Easy runs" always appear on my training calendar, but they’re never easy.
Whether I’m sprinting and doing intervals or going easy or going long, running is always hard.
So signing up for races keeps me motivated. It’s just that simple.
Because although running only gets easier but never easy, like anything else, the more you expose yourself to difficult or uncomfortable things, the less difficult or uncomfortable they become.
By now, after 6 half marathons, 1 marathon, 2 10Ks, and one failed triathlon, I’ve settled into pre-race routines, and Sunday’s Coastal Delaware Running Festival Half Marathon wasn’t any different.
Except for one thing.
I had a goal.
My plan was to finish without making any stops.
I knew I would be walking through the hydration stations because I haven’t mastered eating and drinking while running. But I wasn’t going to make any bathroom stops. In preparation for the possibility of overhydrating (which is a habit that seems to work for me) and needing to go on the run, I made a point to wear a pair of older Brooks that I could throw in the washing machine after the race.
While I had looked at the weather report for the day, I realized by the time we arrived at the Tower Road start on the beach that I had been focusing on the temperature at the end of the race. It was cold and windy and in the 40s at 6:30 am, so I pinned my race bib onto my Under Armour Cold Gear ¾ zip that I happened to bring with me for the weekend but wasn’t planning to wear during the race.
Maybe because I grew up on the Long Island Sound but probably like many others, the beach is one of my happy places so the setting for this race was pretty close to perfection. The race route was mostly out and back, which was fine because that meant we got to run along the Rehoboth Boardwalk twice. Long Island beaches are protected shoreline so in my view the more honky tonk at the beach the better.
At the start I came out feeling great everywhere. I was on top of my pace (slow) and my breathing (relaxed), and I felt a rush of relief that I was in fact ok. I know from experience that I can do this but occasionally I still have that knee jerk apprehension about whether everything’s gonna work. At the same time.
Very quickly, at about mile 2.5, just as we approached gorgeous Silver Lake, I was uncomfortably overheated and needed to get that long sleeve shirt off me asap. Unless the weather drops into the 30s I typically run in a shell. I raced in my Nike long sleeve cropped top at the DC Rock n Roll Half in March but that shirt has open vents in the back so I was comfortable throughout the race. Under Armour Cold Gear is just that and keeps you toasty warm even in single digits. By the time the sun was shining and the temperature was rising quickly, steam was fogging up my sunglasses.
So that was Stop #1.
I unpinned all 4 safety pins from the bib, held onto them with my teeth, tucked the bib between my legs to keep the bib from blowing into the lake, unplugged my wireless earbuds, yanked the shirt over my head, and tied it around a tree so I could come back and get it after the race.
I put the buds back in my ears, and then re-pinned all 4 safety pins to get the bib onto my sleeveless Nike tank. I don’t know how much time passed but my sense was the faster I tried to move the longer everything was taking.
Now on the boardwalk, with the sun shining and families and little kids out and about and even a few bikers and with plenty of well wishers cheering us as they ate their donuts and drank their morning coffee, I figured I could pick up the pace to make up the time.
This is awesome was what popped into my head. Then of course I got emotional thinking of the professionals who’ve worked with me to get me to the place where I’m running along a boardwalk on the ocean. At that moment I might have even been listening to “Cake By the Ocean. “ Just awesome.
And then I saw it straight in front of me.
The Ladies Room.
There wasn’t a person around who was waiting to go inside and of course there was the power of suggestion. Despite the fact that I had not yet had a sip of water, I thought I could just pop in there quickly. After all it was there on the boardwalk and here I was right in front of it.
So that was Stop #2.
I got myself in and out in a flash, but, yeah, it was a stop.
In one of my PT sessions with Kevin 2 weeks before the race as we were discussing whether I should/could run it after straining an adductor and dealing with knee pain (on top of hamstring/hip issues), we got into a conversation about my goals.
“You’re competitive,” Kevin said. "But you can get the benefits of exercise without running a race."
Hmm, I remember thinking. Does having goals make me competitive?
So ok I’m a little competitive.
At mile 4 I walked through the hydration station but then picked up the pace as I approached Gordon’s Pond – the only part of the race that was on an actual trail. At the next hydration station, around mile 6, I added fuel (Swedish fish). By then it was hot and sunny so I began to drink 2 (small) cups of water at each station. Because of my hydration issues in Jamaica, I had salt packets with me and opened one and poured salt on my tongue. I’ve heard runners talk about how epic this can be. They sound like drug addicts and their eyes practically roll back into their heads when they describe the experience.
It was definitely like that.
All the while I was running with purpose, but then, around mile 8, my toes went numb. Early on in the race, I remember thinking how great my feet were feeling – nothing uncomfortable, no pinching or numbing.
So that was Stop #3.
At least taking my foot out of my shoe helps, I thought. It would suck if stopping and taking my foot out of my shoe didn’t help.
Actually I had to take both feet out of both shoes.
Then my hip cramped up so I needed to stretch my piriformis muscle (on both hips) and my left hip flexor all of a sudden had something to say, too. Kevin had given me clutch stretches for my hip flexors to do in the middle of a run. So Stop #3 was kind of the actual Cake by the Ocean.
By mile 10 there wasn’t any shade and I was feeling the same kind of heat exhaustion I felt in Jamaica. We were running through a neighborhood, and residents left cases of water bottles on card tables along the route. I picked up a water bottle and again was beginning to fill up with a sense of gratitude for the unexpected support runners get at these races.
Who are these people? Have you ever set up a card table in front of your house and put a case of water on it for random people to grab as they pass your house? (Or cups of beer, depending on the neighborhood?)
Do you even own a card table?
The campaign sign for Kathy McGuiness, who’s running for Delaware’s Lieutenant Governor, on someone’s front lawn caught my attention because all this time I’ve been quoting Kevin in my articles and posts with 2 ens – McGuinness – and it occurred to me that maybe I’d been misspelling his name all this time?
Does Guinness beer use 2 ens and 2 esses?
So this is where my mind was at - you get the picture.
I pushed hard for the entire last mile, which was lined with literally hundreds of people, and crossed the finish at 2:56:13.
Immediately after a race volunteer put that fabulous medal around my neck, the ligaments in my left ankle began to spasm and I could not bear any weight. I had met up with Bob, who’d finished the 9K (without stopping, without fueling, without hydrating, without any muscle spasms), his first race ever, and we headed over to the party on the beach. There was food and beer so we just relaxed for about 30 minutes. Even then I could not put weight on my left ankle so instead of walking to our car at the Tower Road lot, we took the bus.
One of the side effects of not moving around after running 13.1 miles is cramping and stiffness everywhere. I wasn't too surprised that I felt like I had been hit by that bus when I woke up Monday morning.
I did go for a walk before work early this week and had the opportunity to listen to a podcast interview with sports psychologist Chris Friesen. He started off his Octane Athletic Performance conversation with Jason Benavides with a quote by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
Friesen’s point (among many) was that if you know your why - your mission, your purpose - you can overcome obstacles and bear pain and suffering or anything else you have to go through to reach your goal.
It’s taken me a few days, but I had a bit of an epiphany during my swims this week. I’m in the pool more than usual because an issue I deal with when I run long is fluid leakage into my tissues that causes swelling in my arms and legs. Even today, 4 days after the race, I'm still puffy, especially around my ankles. Swimming in a cool water pool helps, but I’ve still got to wait at least another day before I can run.
I crossed the finish line on Sunday, yet I was disappointed in my performance. Instead of feeling great this week, I was feeling low.
Big deal if I make a pit stop during a race. To go to the bathroom. Or to say hello to a cheery well wisher or to a random bystander. To take my foot out of my shoe or stretch my hip flexors.
Why would running a race without stopping be important to me?
I need to get back to my Why. Which could be different from my goal. Friesan said if you can get to a place where you understand your Why you can adjust your goals so they align. In other words, make sense.
I’m a runner because I'm reaping the countless and well-documented health and well being benefits of exercising vigorously some days and gently on other days.
Of challenging myself physically and mentally to continue to dig in, to push myself, so I can experience the sheer pleasure and joy of accomplishing something difficult or new.
To have fun and feel great and be better at everything in my life.
I was on leave from work yesterday to deal with some personal issues and was on hold for an hour and a half with another federal agency. When I finally got someone on the phone, I was astounded by her helpfulness.
I told her I’m also a federal employee who has contact with the public. I thanked her and told her she simply exceeded my expectations. I could hear the smile in her voice. We talked a bit and wouldn’t you know she was at the gym before coming into her job that morning.
Exercise is simply not optional for me. It just makes me feel too good and provides a buffer for a whole lot of less than good stuff out there.
Was my plan to finish the race without stopping a stupid plan?
According to Friesen, we don’t usually regret trying and failing.
What we regret is not trying.
Would I do this one again?
See you next time!