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.



Tricking Yourself… It’s Called Denial

It's actually Mile 21... on the way back.


Miles we planned to run today: 11

Miles we ran today: 12.5

Number of ways my running partner could have beat me up but didn’t have the energy: 35

I’ve hit upon a trick to get yourself to do stuff you don’t want to do: trick yourself into thinking you only have to do a little bit, then go farther. I know, I know. It’s been done before. Hasn’t everything? It was the old, “Swim to me” story for my running partner today. It is a credit to her exhaustion that I am still alive to write this post.

If only I had told myself for my marathon last year that I was only going to do 13.1 miles, maybe I wouldn’t have bonked so hard at mile 21. See that picture up there? It tricked you into thinking I was completing mile 17, didn’t it? My swollen hands and annoyed face can clue you into the fact that it was actually mile 21.

We set our sights lower this spring: the half-marathon. This is to give us a few months off to forget the pain and torture that is the marathon so that someday we may want to try it again (I’m shaking my head).

So we have this problem around the town where I live: the sidewalks don’t connect up. You may think this is a tiny suburban problem, and if we only ran out in places where there were mountain lions and fresh air instead of rattling trucks and exhaust fumes, we wouldn’t have this problem. You would be right. But we have not yet found a place where there are mountain lions to concern ourselves with.

See, when we start plotting out a course on MapMyRun, we have insider’s knowledge. The street may keep going, but the sidewalk doesn’t. All of a sudden, you are running towards a goofy dog and his owner, and then you have stepped off the pavement onto the nothingness that is a pile of mud. This makes figuring out a course slightly problematic. The cars don’t much care if you’re needing a place to run. You are an icky, sweaty exerciser who is in the way when these drivers have somewhere important to go.

This morning, I sat down to figure out a new, different, exciting 11-mile run for us. The fact that one does not exist did enter my mind. Nevertheless, I went to MapMyRun and started mousing out a road route for us. Really, and I’m not kidding: it lied.

I am now pretty much an expert at guessing how much more mileage it will take us to get home (despite my math phobia). But when we were out running, my calculations failed me. We kept going as we passed our goal (oh, there went 11) and considered stopping in at the Target Starbucks for an orange scone and venti latte. My husband doesn’t work too far away, and we could always call him to come pick us up, we decided.

But we kept going. Then, the benevolent clouds that looked so gorgeous and springlike started to look kind of threatening. But we kept on running. Then, cold raindrops started hitting my sunglasses (!), although my running partner denied it. I looked over, and every inch of her face was covered–visor, sunglasses, hat… there was no rain getting to her, no sir. But we kept on running.

We almost did a half-marathon today. It wasn’t intentional, but we were victorious.

Next time I have to sit down and work on paying taxes, I’m going to tell myself I only have to do the first three months. Oh, and please tell my running partner that we have to pay a steep penalty for running an entire marathon if we only signed up for half.