I’m sick. I’ve got to be honest, it’s hard to give thanks when I’m feeling cruddy – especially right before a race! I’ve always known that you never really go into a race one-hundred percent, but I was really hoping to not bring my percentage down with the flu before I even toed the starting line. I can feel the anger building up in my chest. I trained hard for this! In fact, I’m already more than a little worried that my new training method might not have been the right sort of plan for me, and I really don’t need a little bit of something extra like this cold creeping into my body alongside the rest of the self-doubt.
If I’m being honest with myself (and everyone reading), I have to concede that one of the biggest reasons for me doing any of these races is the emotional challenge they provide. Signing up, following through with training, toeing the line, and finally, hopefully, ‘letting go’ of the outcome so I can give my best effort are all incredible mental-emotional tools that help me trust myself. This is especially true when my mind and body start in on me, screaming at me in their many uncomfortable emotional languages – fear shouting at me to stop this nonsense altogether, while uncertainty is certain that I have no idea what dangers are lurking in the later miles! In fact, I might as well toss in the towel now; self-doubt is very pessimistic that I will finish the race at all. Then there’s anger, and anger is, well…furious of course, that I would chose to start anything this stupid in the first place! I’m sure some of you can relate.
What I’ve learned, though, is that you don’t want to get rid of these emotions. But you do want to harness them. And there is one voice in your head that can help bring these emotions into balance. A voice that will give you the facts, not lie to you, and will not allow your head to be filled with an unhelpful adrenaline cocktail either. A voice that will burn those emotions to fuel your motivation, hone your focus, and remind you why you chose your noble pursuit in the first place. Who’s voice is that? It’s the voice of your internal coach. That’s the voice that helps you wade through the uncertainty, anger, fear, and doubt that are ever-present in the beginning, middle, and especially in the late hours of those races.
But right now my head is being filled with a ‘larger than life’ anger shouting, “This isn’t fair! We’re not even racing yet and I feel like crap!” In fact, it is so loud, I’m having trouble hearing my internal coach over the din.
I start to think about the training method I used this time around. Many long, slow miles, with an emphasis on ‘many miles.’ I have to say, especially with a sore throat and a handful of tissues in my pocket, my internal coach is having a hard time settling my fear that I’m going to be able to get through these 50 miles looming up very soon. With every sneeze jump-started by my newly unwanted virus, I feel my confidence plummeting while I listen to the race director 45 minutes before the start. The voice of my internal coach finally finds its way front and center:
This could be a blessing.
(Wry laugh) You can’t be –
Seriously you’re not gonna’ have any trouble keeping your heart rate down now.
Yeah, but my fever could spike my heart rate.
And what’s that going to mean to you? Besides the fact that you’re just going to need to go slow. Isn’t that what you wanted to make sure you did for this race anyway?
Yeah but this is going to be really slow now!!!
Well, the way I see it, you’re in a win-win situation.
Funny how you always seem to see it that –
No one, including your very incredibly judgemental self can blame you for not finishing a race with the flu. And, if you do finish it before the 12-hour time, well, you’ll be ecstatic with yourself and you will have qualified for other races. The only way you can lose is by not showing up.
Damn. I’m not gonna lie. He makes a lot of sense. It seems weird to say that since he is me, but you know what I mean.
At the end of the day, I must say, I couldn’t have been more proud of how I raced, but I also have to acknowledge that I didn’t run it alone. My internal coach was there every step of the way. He reminded me when I got onto the Appalachian Trail that I could literally run a 15-minute per mile pace and STILL have plenty of time to get under 12 hours for the day, so slow down. He was there on the flats of the C&O Canal to urge me to consider putting hiking into each mile and helped me to trust it wouldn’t significantly slow me down over the next 27 miles. And he was more than present in those last 8 miles to hold my feet to the fire to keep my tired legs firing in order to find a strong finish within myself.
All in all, I managed to keep myself in check and run a brilliant race, not in spite of my cold but because of it. My compromised immune system brought up all kinds of uncomfortable emotions that, when harnessed, helped me pace myself and trust my training. I not only came in under 12 hours, I actually broke a 10-year personal record by two minutes with a 9:45 finishing time. It seems the feelings that I was so sure we’re going to ruin any chance I had of having a successful race were the very feelings that kept me in check and focused on running within my limits. There truly are no useless emotions and I am grateful for everything that I felt during the race. But right now? I am ready to allow the pride and confidence in along with utter joy while I eat some chicken soup.