Performance Anxiety and Redemption

Should an upcoming race require therapy?

Time on yesteray’s half-marathon: 1:56 (a PR by one minute!)

Years ago I ran a half-marathon: 6

Years I can now subtract from my age: 6 (I am not growing old, just improving like a fine wine)

Hello, darkness, my old friend.

I am not a person who thrives on racing. I love to run, but (don’t tell anyone)… races stress me out.

No one cares whether I do well. If I didn’t finish a race or bombed or peeled off down another street to IHOP for a pit stop, I am not an elite racer; no one would notice. My mom would probably be very excited that I had come to my senses and given up a silly hobby that will inevitably wreck my knees or hips. (Never mind that she has several friends who are lifelong non-exercisers who are having their hips replaced.)

Although I love running, races tend to bring out my dark side, like if I were crashed out in the wilderness somewhere, and cannibalism suddenly seemed like a nifty idea.

Before last year’s marathon, we did all of our miles; we followed the training plan to a “T.” I still arrived at race day with an overwhelming sense of dread. Maybe I wouldn’t finish. Maybe I would be one of those people they carried away on a stretcher. Maybe I would cry and have to walk and get annoyed at my running partner for her boundless energy at mile 23.

Yeah. That happened.

They say that you should do things that scare you. I agree… but you may not like what you find.

Underneath the positive mask you wear for your adoring public, there may be an evil beast that says mean things to you like when you are trying on bathing suits in bad lighting in the springtime. Things like, “You look like a pile of Pillsbury crescent roll dough.” Or when you are about to speak in front of a crowded roomful of people: “There is an accounting seminar on H143 quarterly closing, and the people in this room would rather hear about that than what you are about to say.”

You might think I’m a coward. But this year, I went for a more reasonable goal: the half-marathon. Yes, I’ve run them before. Yes, I know I can finish one. Yes, we were as trained as we could be. We ran 11, 12 and 13-milers for fun… for weeks before our race. We talked and laughed and didn’t get nervous.

When the evening before race day arrived, I was nervous. But only in the way that made me lay out each item, set the alarm clock and maybe keep waking up to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Race morning dawned, and the weather was cool but not cold. Parking was easy. Bathrooms were inside an arena, not port-a-johns sitting in mud. I wasn’t nursing any injury, and my stomach was fine.

I jogged over the start line and loved the way the day felt. I ran–fast for me–and even tried to hold back so I didn’t run out of steam. The memory of bonking in the marathon was still fresh enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. By mile 11, I was still wondering how much I should hold back. And then I realized: I was almost there.

No cannibalism thoughts (the guy in front of me with change jingling in his fanny pack was a little annoying, though), no growing awareness of my own mortality, no hateful thoughts about the limitations of my aging body.

How refreshing.

Maybe I’m a coward, but I would run 20 more races like yesterday’s before I’d run another horrible, disappointing marathon. I’ve seen the evil beast lurking deep down inside, and I am not fond of her. I’ll take the sunny-side-up version, the one who smiles in the face of slight discomfort. The one who looks like she’s having the time of her life as she crosses the line at mile 13.1.

Me. Having fun.


14 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety and Redemption

  1. L.S. Engler says:

    Pfft. There’s nothing cowardly about being able to understand yourself, how you work, and embracing the things that you enjoy rather than pushing for the things that just stress you out and make you miserable. In fact, I think it’s pretty courageous to accept what makes you happy and revel in it, even if it’s not pushing yourself toward the next bigger thing.

    Of course we should always push ourselves to try new things, step out of that comfort zone, and see more of what we’re capable of. But there’s nothing wrong with stepping back ocne you’ve stepped forward and realized that stepping forward just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

    I’m glad you had fun. Stick with it, because that’s what’s really important in the long run.

    …Pun so no intended, honest.

    • annewoodman says:

      Yes, so true. I am definitely glad to have written a novel. In that case, it’s only made me want to write more. I guess you have to find your sweet spot.

  2. Daryl says:

    It’s funny how that monster lurks when running 26.2, and perhaps even more so the shorter the race becomes. Let me tell you, the monster is very prevalent at 100 meters. Perhaps we all have a sweet spot. For me, it’s the 10K to 10 miler–not a full sprint, but just below the Lactic acid threshold.
    We are proud that you and your BFF running partner both achieved PR’s.

  3. Melissa says:

    I admire and respect everything about this. For facing fears and conquering them but for also realizing that you don’t have to obliterate them. A little fear is healthy. Congratulations on your new record. I’m just going to sit back and bask in all your glory since I know that the only running I’ll ever do is to run away from something – I promise it’s big and scary if I’m moving that fast 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Running definitely isn’t for everyone. Just like you would not appreciate anything I might attempt to knit for you. In fact, you would probably need an apology. ; )

  4. crubin says:

    Running 13 miles is nothing to sniff about. Think of the tiny percentage of people in this world who can do that! It is a great accomplishment, especially since you felt so good doing it. Why push yourself to go more only to lose that glorious feeling? Congratulations! Now go enjoy some ice cream. You’ve earned it. 🙂

  5. Stephanie says:

    There’s nothing wrong with knowing yourself and focusing on the things that make you feel good! You’ve run a marathon. You’ve ticked it off your to-do list. You’re a bad-ass. And now it makes sense for you to decide that it’s not worth doing it again if it didn’t make you HAPPY. You haven’t lost a lick of bad-assery in my books!

  6. Holly says:

    I’m so glad you had a good race. As the other commenters said, 13.1 is no small feat. It’s super impressive to not only finish that distance, but finish it comfortably and FAST! Dang, you’re fast. Love the photo of you at the end!

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