There's that old saying: I never make the same mistake twice--I just make new ones. That is so me and the River Bank Run. I am totally going to conquer this 25K race! But not this year.
Careful readers of this blog may recall the River Bank Run. Brian's hometown of Grand Rapids puts on this big ol' race every year, and he has run the 25K a bunch of times, and I myself had previously indulged twice, but the third time was not my charm at all. From the first time to the second time I ran it, I improved by seven minutes, but this time I did a major backslide. Just how displeased are we with my race results? Well, naturally I say that with all the sarcasm I can muster; I'm not particularly "displeased" because I enjoy doing things, regardless of how "successful" the outcome is. Let's just say that after the race, one person I know, upon walking up to me, gave me her pitying look and an accompanying shoulder stroke/pat. Yikes! (I know, right? It's like, hey spectator--what was your race time this year?) Most people took a bit of a higher road with the "hey, you finished the race! that's all that matters!" approach, which is much more to my liking.
But what went wrong, exactly? Did I wear new running shorts on race day, like the first time I ran the 25K (which was totally Brian the seasoned runner's birthday gift to me the day before the race, by the way)? Nope. Did I go way too fast out of the gate, running the first couple of miles above race pace and then hitting a serious wall around mile 12? Nope! Did I screw up my eating and water drinking and have to stop and use the bathroom once or even twice along the race course, as in my first and second attempts? Nope. No, this time around was some entirely different failure. My stomach and clothes and early-miles-time were just fine, but my legs and body just lost the battle. Pretty much at mile 1, really.
So what were my new mistakes? For one thing, we didn't do the complete 25K training schedule, because we didn't start until we returned to to the U.S.A., so I tried to do the training in half the time, and I obviously failed at doing the accelerated version that I kind of invented. Because of that, I thought about doing the 10K instead, but then my 13-mile training run went all right, so I registered for the 25K. I obviously didn't do enough preparation, though. I tried to rectify that by eating all the right carbs in the few weeks before the race...but I really failed at sleeping well the two weeks prior. And then, spectacularly stupidly, I ran really fast -- don't know why! -- on my 3-mile run two days before the race, in what should have been my totally tapering nothing-but-easy week. I looked at my time at the end of Thursday's run and was like, Hmmm, that was really fast. Would that be enough, going too hard for only three miles, to really screw up my resting up for race day? Maybe. Finally, I ran out of time to properly stretch before the race--we had a longer walk from where we got dropped off than we had time for and so I even failed at fully stretching. That's pretty terrible. Seriously, in the first minute of my race I thought, "Gee, my legs feel tired" as if I had done an intense workout a few hours earlier. Is that from the too-fast Thursday run, the not sleeping enough every day that week, the failure to fully stretch, or some other bonehead move? Who knows?! Here's what we do know: during the second half of the race, I walked a lot. Like, a couple different times. For maybe four or five miles out of the 15.6 miles. Quel désastre, n'est-ce pas?
I was totally mulling over my options as I willingly gave in to giving up, too. When the paramedics came by in their van and on their bicycles to check on the slowpokes, as they are wont to do for the last fourth of the people in these races (well, technically they're available for all the people, but this is the riding back and forth looking for dying/collapsing people in the last part of the run that I'm talking about) and I would be walking along, fine, but thinking, hmmm, if I take a ride back from them, will they still let me go get my free drink in the post-race beer tent? Then I would chastise myself, no, just finish the course, silly! So I'd make myself play little run-ten-minutes-walk-five games, but I even failed at a couple of those. My legs (left hamstring and feet) were just not having it. (Oh yeah, that's another fail: I should have got new running shoes this year, seriously. But we didn't have our money from China..and...ugh...) Being back with the 12-minute mile peeps (and eventually, listening to some fellow half-running/half-walkers next to me lament that the 12:00 pacer was about to pass us) means I get to see a lot of strugglers who are encouraging each other and digging deep to find what's in them to make it up that hill (screw that dastardly River Bank Run hill that starts between miles 9 and 10! I walked it) and to tell each other, "There's mile 11! There's mile 12!" and so on. I wasn't buying any of it. I even had my mp3 player with me --also a new idea this year, as I had not brought tunes on my previous two 25K races--and my go-to playlist songs just pissed me off.
Another thing that I have seen every year, hanging out as I do (even in the good part at the beginning of the race before I start dying) with the 10- and 11-minute mile people and not the elite runners, is someone on the phone. Yes, on the phone. During the race. I freaking hate people jabbering on their cell phones all the time, but while running a 25K it's just plain amusing. Usually it's something like, "Hi Mom! I'm at mile 4!" or "Honey, I'm halfway. I'm alive!" and so on. This year, as the aforementioned twelve-minute mile pacer was about to pass us, a random runner was on her mobile leaving a message. 12:00 pacer said, "Never seen anyone leaving a voice mail during their run before! Sorry, had to call you out there!" Voicemail responded, "My dad called me! I had to call him back." 12:00 pacer said, "Oh, well, okay, if it's Dad" and was prepared to leave it at that (as she left us, in the dust) but then Voicemail's running buddy chimed in, "She just passed a big test for her work as an insurance actuary; she had to let him know." WTF?! Are you serious, lady? You're running a 25K right now! Can't you focus on one accomplishment at a time? And seriously, this race started at 8 a.m. You have to have had at least a day since you passed this exam. You couldn't leave him a voice mail yesterday? Are you going to call him next weekend and be all, Hey dad, I was at mile 8 a week ago? ?!?!
You know what's fun, though? The people who cheer (including actual cheerleaders) and dress up and hand out water and Gatorade and pump you up and sing in bands with an accordion and write bluesy songs about the race ("You're in the River Bank Run, da-duh-da-duh-duh, you started training in January, da-duh-da-duh-duh" etc.) and also: make signs. It's always great to see signs like "Pain now, beer later" and "Your heart is in your soles" and whatnot, but my favorites this time around were two guys, maybe thirtysomething, just standing there in their t-shirt and jeans kind of style (wouldn't have surprised me if they'd had beer in a cooler) around mile seven.. The signs were simply marker on white poster board. The first guy's said "Worst Parade Ever." The second one was, "Making this sign was hard too!" That's awesome. They were super duper fun. Way to go, random fun sign guys.
Ahh, slowness. I had an 11:40 mile pace the first seven miles, but my race average was 13:17, so you see where slowing down and dying and giving up will get you. That whole walking-a-few-miles thing made me so pathetically far behind that one of the running-coach-race-y-people jogged to me to motivate me at the final turn (which has one more stupid !@#$% short mini-hill before the sprint to the finish) and ran alongside me for a bit, making me run with him. (I was, frankly, considering continuing walking, which I had been doing all through miles 14 and 15, thank you very much, all the way until that sprint-to-the-finish, but he made me run up the mini-hill, too, silly inspirational-dude.)
Running is so very interesting to me. I love it. I love the things I think about while running, I love the things I learn about my body, and I usually love pushing through the hard times to pursue the goal. This weekend, I skipped the whole pushing-through thing, but I'll get back to that one again, later. The worst thing was that I didn't get to hang out in the beer tent and have fun after the race because Brian (who finished the 25K an hour+ faster) and his friends (who did the 5K and 10K, starting and ending much earlier) had long since finished hanging out by the time I rolled in. And we didn't make a plan with his parents (yet another mistake) for them to, like, go home (although I know I had vocalized the idea that no one should be responsible for waiting for me, but I failed to make a plan) so they hung around watching the race and waited for me and then I had to, like, skedaddle pretty quickly with them because they'd been there spectating for hours and were so ready to go and I was like, Oh. OK. No fun times.
My next 25K is going to be so awesome. Things are going to change, I can feel it! (said the perdedor...)