Then the Wheels Came Off

This post is being published on a Monday morning.  For the last five years I have published my blog post on Tuesdays, so a Monday post is new territory for me.  But I ran in a half marathon yesterday, and since I have so many incredibly supportive people in my life, I keep getting texts and emails asking how it went.  I thought I’d write a post to give you my summary of the race, and how I fell way short of my goal…..

I tried to write part of this post ahead of time, you know, before I had even run the race.  I had some time mid-week last week, and because writing time is such a rarity, I pounced on it.  But the words didn’t come easily.  I knew what I wanted to write about, I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.  What I wanted to write about was the half marathon that I had been focused on for months.  I wanted to set the scene for you.  I wanted to talk about my mindset, my training, and my race prep, but my headspace wasn’t right.  I had doubts about my performance, anxiety about the forecast heat, and superstition about pre-writing even part of a post before the end result was known.

And so I write it now, with emotions running high and fatigue pulsing through me.  It’s 9:00pm on Sunday night.  My feet are up on our coffee table, there is a mug of Rooibos tea steaming, the hockey game is on, my tablet is laid before me, and I have had time to process what happened this morning.

Sigh.

You see, I’m trying to qualify for the 2018 New York marathon, which is traditionally built around a lottery system for participants.  Last year, more than 98 000 people entered the lottery, and roughly 16 000 were accepted- that’s less than a 17% chance of getting in.  The other 34 000 runners (yes, there’s 50 000 runners that run this race) come through various other means- 9000 charity spots, paid tour company entrants, New York Road Runners members, and NYC race volunteer spots.  The tricky part of these logistics is that my dear friend and training partner, Michaela, has never run a full marathon and NYC is at the top of her list.  So the best sure-thing option for both of us to get into the race is to meet the tougher-than-Boston qualifying standard; for our age group, that means running sub-1:34 in a race sanctioned by Athletics Canada.IMG_6581

Now, Michaela is much faster and a much more natural runner than I, and in fact, she ran 1:27 at the Hamilton half marathon last Fall on only two days/week of training.  She’s a natural, and her effortless pace still astounds me, as I huff and puff beside her on our weekend long runs.  In that same race last Fall, I ran 1:37, and battled stomach issues and under-training.  I felt old and slow and defeated and the doubts creeped in.  Could I manage to shave three minutes off my time?  I have a 1:23 personal best and I’ve run under 1:34 dozens of times, but with an extra 13 years and 2 kids under my belt, my abilities have changed.

So for the last few months, I’ve been focused.  I’ve run early.  I’ve run late.  I’ve run through blinding rain more times than I can count and an early-morning thunderstorm on the NorthShore hills.  I’ve run with my daughter in the Chariot, with tired CrossFit legs, with to-do lists in my brain, with sunrises and skunks and solitude.  And I remembered why I love this sport so much- this sport that’s been a huge part of my life for twenty-five years- sometimes in foreground but always in the background, a common thread through my teenage angst, my insecure twenties, my schooling, my cross-country move, my marriage, my kids, my career, my life.

But 1:34 still seemed seemed impossibly far away, my goal unreachable…. and then my training came together.  Fitness is like that, at least for me; weeks of effort will come together in a single run, and all of a sudden it clicks.  It clicked for me last weekend, when I tested my speed at the Moon in June 10k and surprised myself with a 41:46 and a first-place finish; my 4:11/km pace felt tough but manageable, painful but attainable, gritty but realistic.  Perhaps 1:34 wasn’t a carrot on the end of a stick I couldn’t reach.  So when I toed the line at the race this morning I had the usual doubts mixed with a taste of confidence and a sprinkle of hope.

Then the wheels came off.  I didn’t just miss my goal, I missed it by nearly six minutes, and I was the closest I’ve ever been to walking off a race course and calling it quits.  I went out way too fast, and ran my first 10k recklessly faster than I had planned.  But distance-running can be risky like that; it tricks you into thinking you’re feeling well and then it pulls the rug out from underneath you.  I hit the proverbial wall at 13km.  I stopped, I bent forward, my head between my knees.  I felt dizzy, my legs felt heavy, and I started to panic. I could feel my breath catching in my throat and tears came to my eyes.  But Michaela was there to talk me off the ledge.  “One foot in front of the other,” “you can do it,” “you’ve got this.”  I cried and ran and cried and walked for the next few kilometers, the heat becoming oppressive, and my mind jostling between pain and anger and frustration.  I wasn’t wearing a watch, I was running on feel only, and at the 17km mark Michaela looked at her Garmin and said “I know you won’t believe this, but we’re still on pace.  You banked enough time in the first half, you can still do this.”  Only four kilometers to go.  Four kilometers to reach a months-long goal and I just couldn’t do it.  I had nothing left in the tank, I couldn’t dig any deeper, I was running on empty.  I suspect we walked 2km of those last 4km and I hobbled across the finish line at 1:39FullSizeRender 16

But I hope this post inspires you.  I hope you don’t see failure, but rather perseverance.  I hope you see grit and determination and I hope you see that big goals achieved are that much sweeter when there’s been big struggle endured.  I hope my kids see that too- they saw me win last weekend and they saw me cry when I got home from the race this morning….. the ups and downs of sport and life.

I’m going to lick my wounds and nurse my ego for awhile and I’ll try again this Fall.  And if the wheels come off then too, well, I’ll try again.

 

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4 thoughts on “Then the Wheels Came Off

  1. George McMenemy says:

    Ashley: Congratulations on finishing the Half. Not a bad time from how I see it. I have always found one of the many interesting and fun things of running is the ability to see why the wheels fell off, how to fix the wheel problem and then at the next race (Half Marathon), you have replaced the wheels on the running legs. Good luck at your next Half Marathon. George

  2. Martha Cousins says:

    Thanks for posting about your own pbs and struggles. Reminds me at all levels we can feel disappointment when we don’t reach our goals and why we have to get back up and try again. That’s life. Bomba coaching has been getting me down and this has inspired me to keep trying

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