One of the many things I have learned over the past years as an athlete is that we cannot paralyze ourselves with a fear of failure. If we let ourselves go there, we are finished. It is no different than quitting a session or a race because things are not going as we had planned (or hoped) and we begin to envision the dreaded ‘failure’ ahead. We start to walk the line of ‘I may not do as well as I know I want to, and how will I handle that’…which can be scary territory; but it’s realistic territory. I know I seem to bring the F word up a lot in my blogs, (in my blogs people, not in my vocabulary; two different words!) but there is a good reason. No matter how much you win, no matter how many times you accomplish your goals, it is human nature to ‘not want to fail’ and to worry about failing; yet the reality is that every single one of us will fail to reach a goal more often than we will ever succeed. One cannot happen without the other.
This year officially-unofficially kicked off last weekend (January 13) with the local 3M Half Marathon. Last year, this race was very good to me. I managed a gigantic PR (1:14.42) and it gave me a huge confidence boost to kick off 2012. I was running very well at the time, and I knew that time was possible, but when I did it, I was still a bit shocked. Needless to say, even though circumstances may have been different this year, there was a part of me that wanted to repeat that performance. I’d be lying not to admit that, and in my opinion, I would not be a fierce competitor if I didn’t seek to repeat that 1:14 performance. The lead up was somewhat different. Last year, I finished my season with Ironman Arizona in November, took a few weeks of rest, did some 5k’s in December, and on January 1, kicked off a solid 3-week training block to prep for Panama (and also 3M). This year, I finished in October with Kona, planned to do Ironman Arizona in November but backed out as I felt ‘overly tired’; it just didn’t feel right. Ironically, I got strep throat in November which didn’t seem to knock me down too much, but I think it was a sign that I was wiped out. December greeted me with my 5k’s but also in the thralls of a newly implemented 8-week cycling specific strength program (courtesy of Anthony Falsone at Memorial Hermann). Our 2-week holiday trip to see our families and friends was great, and I maintained my training, but it suffered a bit the latter half in Indiana when my parents got nailed with 15-inches of snow; put a small damper on my intended running in Southern Indiana. We got home on New Year’s Eve and when Tuesday Jan 1 rolled around, I realized that 3M was a week from the coming Sunday. Ouch.
One of the many things my husband (and coach) Derick has taught me is that when you are at a certain level of fitness, you can take short breaks, and that fitness will often times come back pretty quickly. Yet again, he is right. This is one reason that I love those off-season 5k races. I like to stay in touch with that speed, but without really putting much overload on my body or inducing any unnecessary fatigue. It allows me to mentally remember what it feels like to go fast. (Additionally, they are FUN; just something I really enjoy). As we put my training plan together for the first few weeks of January and leading up to Panama 70.3, I got a bit skeptical of this 3M race. It would appear I had enough time to squeeze in one tempo run, one longer run, and one speed run; then it would be time to rest a day or two for the event. By the first weekend back, I was tired. The excitement of being ‘back at it’ fully for the first time in 2+ months took a small toll and I was fatigued. Yet again, I brought up the idea to Derick that maybe I should just train instead of race the weekend of 3M. His response was “No, I think you need to race it. Kelly if you run a 1:14 or a 1:17, who cares. Get the fitness out of, put the effort in, and blow the cobwebs off. It will help you for your early season.” Yet again not the response I was seeking! The tempo run race week included 3-4 miles at a faster pace, the final 2 of which I clocked in at 5:47 and 5:56. They hurt. A lot. It made me nervous.
Truth be told, I was 50/50. I wanted to race because I believe anything is possible and I thought maybe I would surprise myself; and, I love to race; I love to toe the line. I didn’t want to race because I was afraid I may fail, scared that not only would I not run a 1:14 but what if I ran truly slow…what if I sucked? The thought of holding a 5:50 pace for 13 miles (a 1:16+ which I had decided I would be okay with) seemed a bit overwhelming given the effort it took me to run 2 miles at this pace just a few days ago. The days leading into the event, I had quite a few conversations with my conscience. What I finally had to tell myself was, “Kelly, remove your head from your ass. Stop over thinking. Let go of your expectations. This is one of the most low key events you’ll do all year long. Enjoy it, race it, and finish it. Do your best, that’s it.”
Race day came. I found myself a little excited. I warmed up and my legs felt a bit springier than they had in awhile, a good sign. I was still a little jealous of Derick (there as support, not racing), as it was very cold, very windy, and I knew it would hurt. But then I reminded myself that you always want to be on the other side; if I were not racing, I’d want to be racing. The gun sounded promptly at 6:50 and we were off. Mile 1: 5:41. Whew, not bad. (But that could have been in part due to trying to get warm!) Calm down, Kelly. Mile 2: 5:50. Better. I felt strong, controlled, relaxed. Mile 3: 5:45. Alright, maybe this won’t suck too badly. (Counter thought: Easy killer, not too fast. You still have 10 miles to go. There’s still time to blow up). I tried to relax at this point, turn my head off a bit, and just settle into my pace. I rolled through 10k in 35:45 and by calculations figured I was still in the range of 5:45’s. My left leg felt like it may cramp up, so I began trying to use my right leg more. (Oddly enough, a few days post race, my right leg was more sore; the human body never ceases to amaze me!). The miles clicked off and I tried to stay calm, relaxed, and positive. I came through Mile 11 and saw 1:03.30, which amazingly enough was still about 5:46 pace. This could be good!! Unfortunately, the course had a small change from the previous year, and mile 11-12 was brutal; it seemed this mile was all uphill. I tried so hard to attack this, as on the previous rollers (though they were minor) I had felt very strong; but I started to crumble a bit. Mile 13 came and I saw a 1:15.30 on my watch, and I knew sub-1:16 was going to be tough. But honestly at this point, I said to myself, “Whatever… you did well today…give it all you’ve got and be proud of your finish.” I crossed the line in a 1:16.19, and all in all a very happy camper. Not a PR, far from it, but on a day when I was truly battling with the fear of even having the nerve to TRY, I was damn glad that I had not backed out.
I have always tried to be conscious of not being an ‘excuse-maker’. But often times, it is not so much excuses as circumstances. I was quoted post-race as saying “I didn’t even train for this race”, which was far from the truth. (I may have said it, but what I meant was, I didn’t feel I had the time to train the way I would have liked to for this race!) I am always training in some facet. The 5k’s in December probably helped out on race day. I probably had maintained more fitness over my extended off-season than I thought I had. In the big picture, the time doesn’t matter…what did matter was that I faced the worry of ‘not running well enough’ and did what I had feared I may not be able to do, and that was run well. I was nervous to race for fear of not being perfect, and that fact scared me, because I know that we cannot think that way; and I usually do not think that way. I love to compete, I love to see what my body is capable of on any given day; for better or for worse. I also realize that we cannot have the perfect race. In some strange way, this 1:16 made me happier than the previous year’s 1:14. I felt ready for that one…this one I was unsure, and I dealt with a lot of self-imposed pressure; but was able to shake it off. In short, this one is summed up by simply saying that failure to try will always result in failure; we will carry that with us… but the potential for success will always involve risk. Ultimately, living your life and trying new things is one big risk. So get out there and risk something! And don’t forget to have fun in the process.