What happens when you've had a bad race?
You've done the training. Your training went well. You feel well prepared.
You line up with the other runners. A little pre-race jitters, nothing more than usual. You begin to run.
But you know, after a few miles, that this isn't going to be one of your best. Not even close. What do you do?
Do you stop? Or push through it and try to salvage what you can? Maybe start to analyze what's happening and try to learn from it?
We've all been there. I've had a few bad races myself. Most recently, my Florida Halfathon, which was one of the hardest races I've ever run. Heat, humidity, and travel all combined to make it my slowest half marathon. This one didn't disappoint me too much, though, because in spite of my poor finish time, I finished strong. I found some inner strength that I didn't even know I had! So in spite of a bad day, I found something to be positive about.
Contrast that with my one and only marathon, the Chicago Marathon that I ran in 2011. I did the work and yet crashed and burned. I blamed it on the weather, which was hot and humid. I blamed on on the leg cramps that plagued me from mile 14 onward. I blamed it on my nerves. I blamed it on my lack of sleep, my parents' 50th anniversary party the night before. Oh, there was plenty of blame to spread around. But really, it just wasn't my day to run a marathon. I fell apart. I called my husband, crying, at mile 19, to pick me up. I walked. A lot. It was not pretty.
For months after that race, I was in a tailspin. My confidence was shot. And yes, I ran a marathon, but not the race I wanted to run. Not the race I envisioned. And not the race I trained for. When people asked me what my finish time was, I always gave a vague answer: "oh, 5:20-ish". I was depressed.
Post marathon depression is a real thing. Jenny Hadfield wrote a great article in Runner's World describing the 6 signs of PMD:
- Comparison shopping and minimizing your marathon accomplishment
- Lacking interest in setting a new goal
- Feelings of sadness, pessimism, and worthlessness
- Feeling lost without your training
- Not able to see the light through the fog
- Rounding your marathon time down--"I ran around 5 hours for a 5:55 finish
It took me a long time to get over myself. Adding insult to injury was a stress fracture that I developed in my foot several months after the marathon. I was in a boot for 6 weeks, and there was no running. I bought a road bike, and began riding long distances, which really helped me feel better. There's nothing better than going fast!
I was also diagnosed with Lyme disease that summer, and that really impeded my return to running. But by November, I completed my first 5 mile run. It felt great and I was ready to take on some new challenges! I signed up for the Wisconsin half marathon for the following May. The race was tough for me, but I finished in a respectable 2:01.
I've run a few more races since then. Today, I feel good about where my running is at. Yet I still have that BAD marathon hanging over my head. I'd love to redeem myself, but everytime I finish a half, I remind myself that a marathon would be another half more! I don't know if I have it in me to run another marathon. And what if that one is disappointing too? Do I want to commit to the training time, to the punishment that marathon training puts on my body? Would it be worth it?
How do I accept that I did my best, even though to me, my best wasn't good enough?
That even though my finish time was slow, I can take claim to being a marathoner?
I quote from Jenny's article: One runner's personal worst is another's personal best.
Ultimately, no matter how far we run, how fast we run, every finished race is an accomplishment.