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Reflections after a difficult race (AKA Zooma follow-up)

When I shared my Zooma race report earlier this week, I got a bunch of comments I wasn’t expecting. Many were supportive, but others (vitually) rolled their eyes and said I was whining or need to toughen up. It’s always interesting to see how people perceive me through the words I write, which I didn’t think all that many people read to begin with. 😉 Fair enough. I try not to sugarcoat my experiences when I post race reports, but I recognize that this one certainly fell on the negative side.

Still, reading the responses got me thinking about how to rebound from a race that went awry. Yes, I trained for the race and the hills, but what should I do going forward to improve?

Zooma was my 17th half marathon. I’ve run about half of them slower and half of them faster, in temperatures ranging from 35 degrees to 85. I’ve run a couple when I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted (due to injury) but for most of them, I’ve done the work leading into the race. I’m slow and not a distance badass, but I’m stubborn. Preparing for Zooma, I had to miss a few days of training at the end of February due to a work trip, but other than that I followed my training plan. I’d run 3M in January, so I had the ability to complete the 13.1 distance well before Zooma. But 3M didn’t go very well either, in similarly-warm weather conditions. In my defense, a few days before that race it was 15* and schools were closed because of ice. February’s high temps were a bit warmer overall, and certainly it was humid and unpleasant during some of our quality workouts, but there were enough cooler days mixed in that I really didn’t acclimate to the warmer stuff we saw on race day.

So yeah, my performance definitely correlates to race-day temperatures. My half-marathon PR came on a day barely above freezing. I think it was actually below freezing the day I ran my 10K PR. And I ran a 5K PR a couple of weeks ago when it was in the 40s. But on the other hand, I’ve now been sick twice from overheating after a too-warm race. The first one was three or four years ago, yet despite similar conditions and post-race health, my finishing time was 30 minutes faster at Zooma. Clearly the last several years of training have been effective in the long game. But I still have work to do.

So what does my training look like? Core class on Mondays, quality workouts with Rogue Cedar Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, long run on Saturdays and a recovery run on Sundays. I sometimes run on Wednesdays–adding the second quality workout in December took some adjustment, and for a while I was recovering on Wednesdays with lighter activities like walking the dog, although sometimes I did nothing at all–but the rest I’m pretty religious about. Now that it’s staying light later, I’ll go back to running 2-3 miles in the evening after core class as well. As far as terrain, when I run from my house, it’s mostly flat; Rogue routes vary between flat and hilly, and we run on both the road and at the track. Mileage-wise, I generally run 95-105 miles per month. Not bad. But I have several relatively hilly (although not on the Zooma scale) races coming up this spring, so I need to add in a few dedicated hill workouts in addition to those I do with Rogue. Since the May event is a 5K on Saturday and a half on Sunday, I also plan to increase my Sunday mileage to prepare for that back-to-back element.

Next, can I improve time and effort? I work a full-time job (at work by 7am) and on Rogue days I get home with just enough time to change clothes and head out again. I already wake up at 5:45, and don’t have any more evening time to give. So I try to maximize my return from the workouts I do–most Rogue workouts include a 1-1.5 mile warmup, then some kind of shorter speed repeats, and the same distance back. This winter, my weekday quality workouts averaged about 6.5 miles each, and I don’t have a lot left when I’m done, except sore legs. When the plan calls for 3-4 repeats, I do four–I rarely do just the minimum or baseline, and I don’t miss Saturday long runs even when I want nothing more than to sleep late. I think I have a pretty decent work ethic, although I will cop to the rare evening when I’m just too tired and I take an unplanned rest day.

What about fuel and hydration? Well, I struggle with the latter not because I find it difficult to drink enough. It’s the effects of drinking enough. I teach 90-minute classes back-to-back and can’t just leave a room full of 7th graders while I visit the restroom, so I have to be smart about how much I drink and how often. After 20+ years I have this down to something of a science, but it’s an imperfect science nonetheless. During races I take water at every stop, but I don’t carry my own–maybe that’s something I need to start doing for warm races. I don’t usually have hydration issues on training runs, though. As far as fuel, I eat reasonably well–a protein bar for breakfast, a salad with chicken for lunch, and usually something easy like grilled cheese or tacos after I get home from my run. My sweet tooth is part of the reason I run, though. 😉 I have experimented with race fueling for a while, and I found success with Skratch gels during long runs–I guess they just weren’t enough to combat the temps of Saturday’s race. Perhaps continued tweaking is necessary in that department.

So while I feel like I do a lot of things pretty well, at least in my physical training, that’s not to say I should just throw up my hands and declare I can’t possibly do anything better because it was all the race’s or venue’s fault. By definition, self-reflection means considering my own behaviors and attitudes. For example, I’ve lived in Austin most of my life and I’ve been running here for seven years–I should be used to running in the heat, but obviously I still struggle with it. So since I can’t control the weather, somehow I need to improve my mental game–my response to tough conditions. Negativity is one of my biggest downfalls (shocking, huh?). My coach always says “We love hills!” and I growl. But the other day I was listening to Ali on the Run‘s interview of Gabe Grunewald–do you know her story? She’s a young professional runner who has been diagnosed with cancer four times. The most recent, I think she said Stage 4 on her liver, is inoperable, but instead of focusing on the zillion negatives inherent in a diagnosis like that, she has the most positive outlook. She keeps running and training through treatment because if she’s feeling well, she wants to be ready to race. She said something about no matter what happens in her future, she wants to live now with no regrets.

Sometimes it’s easier not to fight when things get tough, but if you keep pushing, great things can happen. – Gabe Grunewald

I recommend listening to the whole episode–she’s so inspiring, it humbled me that my biggest running complaint was that I felt like shit after a half-marathon last weekend.

Someone asked if I run because it’s easy or because it’s hard. And after some thought, I guess my answer is both, and neither. As a former couch potato I appreciate the physical challenge, I value the milestones I achieve in pace and distance, and I love the community of runners I’ve joined. There are days when every step is difficult, and it’s both exhausting and rewarding to finish a tough workout or race. But damn, I don’t want everything to be hard. I want to enjoy the time on my feet too. The destination and the journey.

With that, I’m going out for a run.

 

Melissa

About Melissa

About the Author: Melissa Cooper started running in 2011 with Couch to 5K. In the summer of 2012, in what seemed like a leap, she joined Rogue Running and completed her first half-marathon–San Antonio Rock and Roll–later that year. Finishing San Antonio was supposed to be a one-time bucket list thing, but these days her half-marathon total is at double digits (and climbing). Her favorite race distance is probably the ten-miler. By day, she is a middle school teacher who juggles work and life and running—sometimes even successfully.