Welp, we survived the winter, and with that, we're about to be rewarded with an onslaught of awesome spring and summer races coming down the pike, the most recent being the Gate River Run/USA 15k Champs that were out in Jacksonville this last weekend.
I will start by saying that Gate River has absolutely THE BEST and most supportive race staff there is. This is not opinion, this is fact, so don't argue. There are too many names to name here, but it would be remiss of me to not give Richard Fannin first dibs on the thank you's. As the Elite Athlete Coordinator, he is the one who presents to all of us the opportunity to be there in the first place. And let me tell you, he treats ALL of them as though they are the most elite of elite runners that he's ever had there, whether they've got Olympic medals under their belts or they're straight out of college and he even thinks they may have a shot at being competitive on the national scene sooner or later. He takes nearly all of the logistics out of traveling there, which is huge and is the hardest part about traveling to races if you normally just kind of do it all on your own. He organizes everything from assembling the field to rooming to travel reimbursement to finding the best flight deals to organizing the shuttles for everyone to and from the course and hotel and the airport. I probably didn't even cover half of his job right there. And he does it all with unbridled enthusiasm. If you mention any of this to him then he will get all bashful and Southerny and shrug it off like it's no big thing. Then he turns around and he THANKS us. Dude, what?! So seriously, when Richard floods your Facebook message inbox with Gate River invites, you better not turn him down.
Then there is the race director. Admittedly, I don't know what his name is, so I'll just call him The Race Director. I've never met The Race Director, but he must be a brave, brave man to host an after-party for a bunch of runners in his backyard, where on this particular evening there is an abundance of alcohol and a pool-sized fountain and I don't really know how nothing happened involving a combination of those two things. I should add that this is an after-party of epic proportions. How often do you get just hang out with the Shalane Flanagans and the Janet Bawcoms of the running world, and not to mention meet a million others who you are usually just competing against but never actually get to know before this? Runners are pretty awesome people as a general whole. We also spent an hour or so the day prior to the race hanging out with some little kids at The Sanctuary, and their excitement to have people there to see them pretty much made any pre-race nerves evaporate for a while.
Then there's also Carolyn Mather, the sweetest lady ever who shepherded all of us around to wherever we needed to be, and who was not afraid to rock the leopard-print at the after-party. Then Wendy Shulik, who puts together some really sweet race footage and photos, also Santa Claus (I'm almost positive that's not his real name), Phil-From-Jacksonville, Dick Beardsley, and a zillion other people who put forth ridiculous time and energy to make it a great experience, but since I am horrible with names I'll stop here.
All this is to say, the experience as a whole was phenomenal.
Then there was the actual outcome of the race.
Let me hop into the Way Back Machine for a minute, "way back" to 2010, Gate River was my first experience traveling to and being at a road race of this size and this caliber. Needless to say, while I was excited, in the back of my head I didn't feel like I belonged there and for that reason went in with zero confidence even though I didn't acknowledge that, I had no experience with any race distance over 10k, no real plan or idea of what 15k race pace should be, no workouts conducive to racing 15k under my belt, and let myself get so nervous that I actually never went to sleep the night before. Sounds like a real stellar recipe for success. Let's just say it all showed: out the back door from the gun and a deer in headlights for the rest of the way. I walked away pretty rattled and pretty disappointed that my head just never got in the game.
Fast-foward four years, total opposite. I knew what to expect, I had some great workouts in the weeks leading up to it that went fantastic, I had a goal that I was shooting for, and I wasn't afraid to be there. The result however, didn't reflect any of that, it was a mere 20-odd seconds faster than four years before, which I had since thought of as my "worst race ever." It was kind of hard to wrap my head around once I realized that yes, that just happened. I assumed it would be a given that even if I had a sub-par race, it would naturally be bound to surpass what a "bad race" was with four less years of experience. But it didn't.
I told myself I wouldn't over-analyze the thing to death at least till I got home. And now I am home and so will allow the overanalyzing to commence.
On the warm-up, admittedly I felt crummy; tight and tired and jittery and sluggish, but it's the warm-up, what else is new? I didn't think much of it. I had debated over whether or not to bother turning on my watch at the gun and ultimately decided not to. I remembered from the last time that I had used it with the intention of hitting certain splits, and when I went through the first mile too fast I sort of freaked out. I didn't want that to happen this time, I see the benefit in having splits to hit, but also sometimes I feel like you sort of assume your limitations. We race at altitude all the time, so naturally going through the mile faster here than you would in a 10k race at home could lead you to panic and feel like you just flushed your race down the toilet even though it may well be a pace that could be maintained at sea-level. So I scrapped the watch and decided to hang at the back of the pack going out--since Shalane was gunning for an American Record and was likely to set a blistering pace that even in this crowd not too many could hope to remotely compete with--and with any luck gradually move up throughout the race.
That didn't really happen though, the wheels came off a bit over half way, an unfortunate place to have the wheels come off, and I don't know if I have ever felt like that in any race. Having the men roll by like I was walking just about made me want to veer off into the trees and not come back out. And by the time the bridge (AKA the Green Monster) came up, it was pretty much all about hang-on-for-dear-life-and-holy-crap-just-finish, there wasn't anything left to be able to use the downhill coming off the bridge. When I first finished, my initial reaction through the haze of feeling like I got steamrolled flat then got up and was promptly trampled by rhinoceroses was actually excitement. I thought for sure to feel like that certainly indicated a great time, but nope.
I've gone over it in my head a few times (obviously) and ultimately there are no excuses. Sometimes your absolute best on a given day is not even close to good enough, and for that reason running's not a great sport for you if you get your feelings hurt easy. And I know that I could do the whole, "Oh but I'm just so grateful to be here," thing, and I am because I've been on the other side of that more times than I can count, but that can be a cop-out. You don't travel halfway across the country to a National Championship to just show up. But I find it hard to be truly disappointed with myself given that there wasn't anything else I could have done. It is one thing to check out, throw in the towel and finish knowing there was more to give and you sold yourself short, then yes, you should absolutely be disappointed in yourself. But it's another thing to expect the body to give something it just didn't have to give for whatever reason. Maybe physically I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was? I don't know. Either way, there are always a million "I should have's" but those don't matter because you didn't, and all you can do is make sure that next time you do. One of my favorite things about running is that there is a lot of self-ownership, YOU do the training, YOU run the races, YOU get the results. But that also means YOU get to own your failures all by yourself. Running--even with as black and white as it is--can feel like such a crap-shoot sometimes, but like Brie said, if you put in the work, someday you'll have your day.
Ultimately though, while I'm horribly disappointed with the outcome, I can't really be disappointed by the effort.
Sometimes stuff like this is a good eye-opener though on a lot of levels, one reason being because you see how far you still have to go and what kind of changes you need to make if you want to get any further. I know I have some "weeding," if you will, to do in life right now in regards to eliminating things that are taking time and energy I'd rather be investing elsewhere and aren't truly all that beneficial. Sometimes I think it is too easy to blur the line between being productive versus just being busy. Somehow I've morphed into one of those people who can't say no to anything and just keeps heaping more stuff on the plate, mostly all in the name of being more "well-rounded" or being more "helpful", but all that stuff adds up and starts to nudge some of the the things out of the way that I intentionally made space for in the first place, because I wanted to devote time to them. Rather than making me feel more well-rounded, it's actually made me feel weirdly resentful toward some of the things I've said yes to doing or committed to doing that I don't truly want to do, but for whatever reason felt like I should.
I also know that I need more of a plan than what I've got now. When people ask me what's next and my response is everything from track to half marathons to mountain races, all in the next two months, then um, seriously? There's not a plan and there's not a direction (kind of like this post). And like they say, dreams without plans are just dreams.
But in all seriousness, next up actually is a track race. I retract any statements I've made about never doing track again, of which there have been many. It is in San Diego and what kind of idiot would turn down the chance to race at sea-level? Not me. So that's next, and then I'll get to work on that plan.