With Newport Marathon race day approaching–16 days (?!)–and now that I’m slooooooooooooowly getting in taper mode, I’m finding that a lot of my running-related thinking is transitioning from focusing on the training I’ve done to get this far to the actual race day, what I want to accomplish (my A, B, C, and subsequent goals), and race day execution. Soon enough, I will begin binge-reading Newport race reports, studying the course map, and excitedly begin to count-down how many “sleeps” are left between now and when I take off for Portland…and surely, probably have an overwhelming, if not also somewhat fleeting, sense of holy shit! another marathon! here we go! am I prepared? why am I doing this again? is it too late to bail?? pre-race minor and mini-meltdown coursing through my body.
Anticipatory potential and minor meltdowns aside, I can say that what I’m noticing right now, being relatively close to race day, is that all things considered, I’m feeling pretty calm…still. As I wrote about earlier, I really don’t feel any sort of self-inflicted pressure about this race, unlike how I felt going into Chicago or Oakland, and whether this lack of pressure or being “strategically unfocused” will be to my benefit remains to be seen.
I’m definitely attributing my relative calmness going into mary #23 in part to the “funning”-but-still-working training I’ve done in the weeks since Oakland, but I think perhaps a larger attribute responsible for this sentiment is that I feel as though I’ve slowly but surely embraced the F, or, as it were, a series of Fs, going into Newport, in an intentional way that I’ve not done before a marathon–and especially not before a goal race. The Fs, because I like to make arbitrary alliterative lists (see what I did there?):
- fuck (it, ‘em, whatever. I’m not picky)
This might make little sense to anyone but me, yet I still insist on trying to elucidate. Hear me out.
Embracing the F(s) can be liberating and thus far, has been for me. Personally, this isn’t saying that I’m letting myself off the hook–I still very much want to have a strong race performance at Newport–but I think I’m acknowledging now, relatively early, that that which I can control going into the race, I will… and conversely, that which I cannot, I won’t. Yin and yang. These things have a way of working themselves out.
In the grand scheme of things, in order to have an excellent or picture-perfect race, seemingly the cosmos has to be on our side that morning, and if it’s not, well, that sucks, but try again next time. Good thing there is no shortage of races.
Anyway, acknowledging and embracing whatever fear(s) I have going into this race has been important to me because by acknowledging their existence, I feel as though I’m allowing myself to admit that yeah, I actually do have some trepidations going into this race but none that could derail things unless, of course, I let them. I guess this is like getting over some semblance of denial and acknowledging that… yep. I’m still not invincible.
Naturally, the biggest fear that’s worth my time to acknowledge and embrace is the fear of failure, and of course, how we, how I, define what constitutes failure varies.
Sometimes I think that a time on a clock is what epitomizes failure to me–and especially (especially!!) if the time is significantly off from what I wanted.
Other times, I think failure is more of an effort-based thing. Thoughts along the lines of Did I race intelligently? Did I follow my plan? Did I throw in the towel early and slog my way through the race? Did I remain mentally tough? make me define failure in ways deeper and arguably, more meaningful than a time on my watch.
In other instances, I define failure as something even more personality-based, as I assess my attitude and character (yes, character) throughout a race. If another runner or spectator saw me mid-race, during a rough moment, how would this person describe what s/he saw? When the going gets tough–and of course, there will at least be one moment during 26.2 when I question why I continue to do this stuff–I think it’s critical to remember that by virtue of voluntarily participating and competing, I’m representing the running community. That said, it’s not cool to act douchey or entitled or pissy, even during the tough parts. I think it’s super critical that I exemplify an attitude of gratitude to not only the people on course–the people who allow us to run their neighborhoods and towns, the folks who stand outside for hours on end so they can help hydrate or feed a bunch of strangers running through their hometowns–but also to myself and my family, because it’s really easy to take my ability to do this stuff for granted, much as it is my family’s support of it.
Thus, acknowledging that I might fail at some point during the race, in terms of realizing my goal, having a shitty attitude, or not sufficiently embodying some sort of gracious attitude, makes me hyperaware of it and thus, more likely (I hope) to succeed. Just because I’m acknowledging that I might fuck up doesn’t guarantee that I will. I’m just… aware, I guess. Moreover, when I acknowledge and/or embrace my fear of failure–whatever failure that may be–I feel like I become much more receptive to feedback, I become even more driven to pursue the physical and mental challenge inherent to realizing my goals, and if nothing else, my insatiable desire to succeed makes me run and race without regrets.
Taking the plunge and chasing after big unicorns is scary, no doubt, but to me, the shitty feeling that accompanies the regret of wondering could I have done better? what if I had done X differently? and the like is far, far shittier.
Another aspect worth embracing and acknowledging, for me, is the somewhat futility of marathoning and marathon training. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely love doing this stuff and have no intention of voluntarily backing off anytime soon–but at the end of the day, it’s just running, right? My running and training isn’t going to feed my family, so what does it matter I do this stuff day in and day out? The futility of every day, putting one foot in front of the other, propelling ourselves in a generally-forward motion, with as little vertical oscillation as possible, to cover a measured distance as efficiently and intelligently and strongly as possible, can be unnerving and frustrating and LOUD when our mental demons, common sense, or naysayers insist that we could better spend our time elsewhere.
Here’s the thing. Running and marathon training is an exercise in futility, no doubt, but that’s why it’s beautiful. Here comes some hippy dippy runner banter, but again, hear me out.
Putting one foot in front of the other gets old, and sometimes it sucks, yet sometimes, a lot of times, it doesn’t.
Sometimes, it’s invigorating; more often than not, it’s challenging; and acknowledging, embracing, and navigating the sea of futility that seemingly marks our unicorn pursuits from the outside-in, from ourselves on our loudest days of doubt, or from naysayers who just don’t get it, is part of the process. If this stuff were easy, everyone would do it.
I think it’s worth acknowledging that running and training can be futile efforts, yet they need not be.
For many, myself included, running and training allows us to become better versions of ourselves, in no small part because the actual act of running–of covering a distance as efficiently and strongly and intelligently as possible–teaches us that running actually isn’t all that futile.
A lot happens between each footstrike when we run. The futility of it might lie in the motion, but the value and worth of our unicorn pursuit of choice comes out in the process of running.
Finally, after we’ve embraced and acknowledged our fears, the chance that we’ll fail, and the futility of running, I think it’s important that we finally embrace and acknowledge my favorite F of the quad (quartet? tetrad? foursome?), one of my favorite four-letter words, fuck. (teehee)
Friends might laugh at me for including this one here because they allege that I have a potty-mouth–not necessarily true, but hey, tangential–but after acknowledging and embracing our fears, the very real possibility of failing, and the somewhat futile nature of running, I think it’s critical that we ultimately take a deep breath and say
I wholeheartedly believe that we’re mentally and physically stronger than we think, than we know, and that sometimes, the biggest contributing factor to a sub-par performance is that all our precious mental real estate has been taken over by a bunch of head trash that somehow convinces us that we’re not capable of realizing that which we’re after, that the cards are stacked against us, and that ultimately, at the end of the day, what we’re doing, what we’re going after, essentially doesn’t matter — so basically, everything I just wrote above.
To all of this mental trash that can (and does) sabotage our game, I say fuck it.
As after-school special as this sounds, believe in yourself.
Trust your training, your coach, the people whom you’ve kept in your back pocket who insist that you’re well-positioned to perform when it matters most.
Having some doubt going into a race is important, I think, and surely fuels some people’s performance–think eustress, not distress–yet I also think it’s important to learn how to acknowledge the mental demons, to acknowledge their existence in a way that is more validating than anxiety-producing for us, as runners, and ultimately, to say fuck ‘em and change that distress into eustress.
If you’ve trained well, if you’re toeing the line prepared and healthy and ready to go, then the “coolly calm and confident” demeanor radiating from you should speak for itself. No demon, no doubt, can derail that.
I’m not a sports psychologist or mental health expert or really, anything pertaining to a field remotely in line with anything I’ve written here, so I guess I’d encourage you to consider my rambles here cautiously. I can’t guarantee that embracing and acknowledging basically every mentally-negative aspect can lead to a race day breakthrough, but for me, at least right now, this seems to make an awful lot of sense, and I think it’s contributing to my strangely calm feelings about this next little mary adventure at the OR coast. Time will tell.
What’s your mental game like before your goal race? What is your next goal race?!