That feeling of hopelessness when a race you’re in just isn’t going your way. Do you embrace it and see how tough you are or do you cut your losses and call it a day?
This was the situation I was faced with on Saturday in the 23km race of the Marathon du Mont Blanc weekend. After only half a mile my stomach was churning, my arms and legs felt like lead and I had to make a couple of quick escapes behind a tree to avoid an ahem accident. A whole new experience for me. Never before have I had this issue in a race. In my previous road running forays I was told to drop out of marathons if I was significantly off pace or having a bad day but it never did anything for my confidence or self belief to just give up. It’s pretty common in road racing for people to say “well I should be running XX time” but the reality is, you need to have that perfect day to do that so shoulda, woulda, coulda is all very nice but you don’t learn from that. In trail running you play to your strengths on sections of the course, or if you’re really talented you just boss the whole thing, but usually people are good uphill or technical downs or those bits of flat, in the rain, heat…what I’m trying to say is that anything can happen.
On Saturday being less than a mile in and feeling like I was going to keel over or explode was a crappy situation (excuse the pun) in many ways. Was it the “new” breakfast I had to go with due to lack of bagels in France? Was it a bug? Stress? Who knows, but by half way I knew I was cooked and it was a case of carry on and enjoy the views, the course and have a good workout or simply give up. I saw Robbie, my coach, at the first aid and explained the situation to which he let me decide what to do but first perhaps have a drink, sponge off and a bit of fruit – snacks always help gain perspective. Ultimately, although I had a bad stomach and felt like I’d fallen in to a concrete shell of myself it was only my ego that would be damaged either by a poor result or by dropping out and by giving up I knew it would open that door to make it easy to give up on something hard.
The rest of the race, I took my time and ran to the effort my body could cope with, focusing on small sections of the course as practise just trying to stay positive and move forwards to edge towards that finish line (man, it was a long way away). If only the race was 30/40 miles longer because after 10 miles I was ready to go again; legs started to move and the brain fog cleared and the usual Julia who can plough uphill was appearing from the mist. I even managed a GU at the point without fear of immediate reappearance. C’est la vie.
By toughing it out and accepting a bad day for what it is I now know I am mentally and physically more robust. In a longer race I could well have had a hero come back and got back in to the mix! Nothing comes from giving up (unless you have a significant injury) because either way you’ll have to pick up the pieces from a difficult day at the office and work out the root cause and if you finish the race you’ll have learned so much more about yourself.
So, what were my positives and what did I learn?
- A bad stomach at the start may not stay for the whole race
- I am tougher than I thought
- On a tricky downhill I actually over took 4 people (a huge first)
- I can run in heat
- I am made for much longer distances
- I bloody love running in the mountains
- No matter how hard the day out, that finish line is just as sweet
Breaking it all down, on reflection, I think life and work stresses can carry over to areas you wouldn’t expect. I thought a few days of unwind before the race would get rid of that pressure but it’s going to take a big life change to eliminate the huge stress I feel from job dissatisfaction. Stress can manifest into bad digestion, extra emotional baggage and less mental capacity to deal with those race day stresses. I’m proud that I saw it through and reached that finish line. I’m working on the “now don’t doubt yourself” thing but hey, that’s human nature to be a little hard on yourself. Keep showing up, keep that self belief and maintain the positive self talk because that’s the only way you’ll enjoy the ride for the ups and the downs.