It's helpful to get your ass handed to you from time to time.
I sound like a snob, but I'm good at most things (at least most things I attempt) and generally succeed. I win. Well, maybe not first place in a race, but I set achievable yet challenging goals and I get them. So it was surprising — and wonderfully humbling — to feel like an utter failure during a trail half marathon yesterday.
Two friends and I raced the Forest of Nisene Marks half, a gloriously hilly run that largely follows a root-riddled single-track trail through the state park. I went into the race with just one goal in mind: break two hours.
This seemed do-able. Here's why:
• I raced a marathon five weeks ago and have been running consistently since then, including a couple afternoon jaunts along the trails the half marathon covers. So I figured I'm fit AND I know the ups and downs (literally) of the course.
• Plus, two years ago I ran the same race in 2:00:16. Since then, my half time on pavement has improved dramatically (hell, I was around 1:56 for the halfway point in my marathon, on flat, paved roads), so why couldn't my trail time drop too?
Yeah, so none of that mattered.
It poured. Rained. Hard. All night before the race and on through our adventure in the woods. We're talking Oregon winter rain (minus the cold factor) but the race was just south of Santa Cruz — hello? California coast — and it's June.
The trail was a mess: ankle-deep puddles where the path hadn't turned into a small creek. Anything that wasn't covered in water was a sloppy, muddy mess. It wasn't a large race, but about 80 pairs of running shoes slogged through those trails before me, so any decent footing was long-since mucked up by the time I trudged through.
Add in some sort of poor eating plan that gave me stomach problems the whole way through and I was a miserable, gassy, drowned-rat-looking of a trail runner. I even though about quitting. (But of course, that's not an option. Ever.)
Luckily, I'd handed my watch over to my buddy John so I couldn't see how far off my goal pace I was. There are no mile markers, no split readers and no pace groups in this low-key local run. So I just made my way through the woods hoping that someone in front of me would fall and break a bone so I could play heroine and get out of finishing all 13.1 miles.
I'm kidding. Kinda...
Somehow I eventually got to the finish line, soaked to the bone and far off that seemed-so-reasonable goal time. And I won't lie. I was totally dejected by my results. I get that I'm not fast but I'm also not THAT slow. Not 2:11 half-marathon slow.
A few things helped me get over this "not winning" situation:
• Ericha, the other friend running, finished in 1:55 and some change. She's a 3:27 marathoner (a full 30 minutes faster than my PR) so to have her beat me by approximately 15 minutes makes sense.
• Even in the best conditions, it's a hella tough course.
• An all-caps text message from the boyfriend exclaiming that me I did awesome considering all that rain and mud.
So some days we lose. I'm still glad I finished because I know ran hard (I was pretty darn tired later). And there's next year, and any number of races between then and now.
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"So be prepared to quit. Do it willingly and with honest resolve. You'll be back. The marvelous thing about running is that you will never become jaded by it. Boredom, injury or anguish may overtake you from time to time, but the reward that first drew you to begin logging the miles remain untarnished and available -- always. Just put on your shoes and head out the door."