The race isn't over til you cross the finish line

It's been over a week since I ran the 10k in Boston at the US 10k Road Championships. 8 days have come and gone and I've put off writing a blog post about the race because I wasn't quite sure what to say about it. The conditions were rough (can you say HOT?!), the times were slow, and it wasn't the stellar day I had trained for. I was 20th overall (17th American) in a frustratingly slow time of 35:39 (I ran faster in a workout back in August). It'd be easy to just blame the time on the conditions - which were indeed tough - and move on.

But to walk away without learning something from the race would be a failure on my part. Every race, good or bad, is an opportunity to grow as an athlete. Sure, it's easy to find takeaways after a good race. But the real learning and growth comes on the hardest of days. Great athletes are born in the wake of DNFs, defeat, and dismal performances. How you react to less-than-stellar days and the conclusions you draw from them are what really matters. As Robert Ingersoll said, "The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart."

It'd be wrong to call my performance at Tufts a failure - there were definitely some bright spots. But overall, it wasn't great, so I'm trying to learn some lessons from this race. Here goes:

Lesson 1: No pity parties

I've tried to learn this lesson many a time, but the message just hasn't stuck yet. 5k into the race, when I saw my split and knew that we were way off pace, things started to go downhill. Somewhere between mile 3 and 4, I let the pack get away from me and found myself in no man's land... Let the pity party begin.
Still with the pack, pre-pity party
Pity parties serve no good. Scratch that - they actually do a lot of good for your opponents. When you're running along feeling sorry for yourself or thinking negative thoughts, you're in fact handing the race over to the very people you want to beat. Would you ever score an own goal in soccer? No way! So the logic goes that you shouldn't hand the race to your opponents on a silver platter by allowing yourself to go down the pity party road. Hopefully this time around I've learned my lesson...

Lesson 2: Conditions are the same for everyone, so shut up and deal with it

Not gonna lie, the conditions in Boston were rough - it was freaking HOT on race day: 82+ degrees at start time with the midday sun bearing down unrelentlessly. It was so hot that at the last minute I changed out of my full-coverage singlet into my bra-top uniform. I'm not a huge fan of displaying my not-quite-6-pack stomach (and gallbladder surgery scars) for the world to see, but it was too damn hot for me to care. 
Runners braving the heat on the Mass Ave Bridge
Midway through the race, when I saw that the pace was slow, I started to make excuses: "It's hot, it's windy, the conditions are bad." That was mistake #1. Yes, the conditions were bad, but they were bad for everyone, not just me. Be it rain, wind, heat, or hail, everyone faces the same conditions on race day, so it's not a viable excuse for a bad race. In some ways, that's the beauty of running - everyone is on equal footing. There are no refs to make unfair calls, no umpires calling out when you were clearly safe - it's a level playing field. So instead of using bad conditions as an excuse, remind yourself that everyone's in the same boat - and get back to focusing on the race!

Lesson 3: The race isn't over til you cross the finish line

With 2 miles to go, I'd allowed precious distance to come between me and the top 20. In no man's land with no one to race, I settled in for the remainder of the 10k. That is, until my teammate Rachel passed me on the Mass Ave Bridge. As Rachel went by, my competitive fire flamed to life again and something inside me screamed "WAKE UP!" Looking ahead, I trained my eyes on the back of Megan Duwell of Adidas/McMillan Elite and set to work closing the gap.

In races, one of the things I struggle with is focusing on the race in front of me, not behind me. In the pain of the final miles, I often worry about getting passed, when instead I should be trying to run people down and pass them! This time around, I stayed focused on shrinking the distance between Megan and myself. With 400 to go, I pulled even with her and as I made the final turn toward the finish line, I put in a burst of speed and moved into 20th place. Megan is an incredibly accomplished runner whom I greatly respect - we shared a handshake and congratulations after the race. I'm grateful to her for helping me learn this important lesson - that the race isn't over with 2 miles to go, no man's land or not. A lot can change in the final miles - don't count yourself out til you cross the finish line.

Lesson 4: Have fun!

Sometimes in running we get too caught up in the stressful parts of our sport and forget that we run because we love it - we run because it's fun! A certain amount of nerves and pre-race anxiety is normal, even productive; but when we get so stressed out that we lose the fun in it, you're bound to run poorly. In the days before the race, I got many good luck notes and well-wishes from family and friends, and included in nearly every message were the words, "Have fun!" 

So when I arrived in Boston, I tried to do just that. I spent time with my childhood friend Megan, hung out with teammates, and caught up with former college teammates and friendly rivals. I shared delicious meals with friends, explored the beautiful city of Boston, and reveled in the fact that I have the incredible opportunity to do what I love - run. Now, if only I can learn to love to compete - but that's a lesson for another day...
Beautiful Boston - photo courtesy of Megan Wall

2nd Place team NBSV with Joan Benoit Samuelson
With the best running fan a friend could ask for! :-)
As always, thanks to everyone for your love and support! Run joyfully!

I want to hear from you:
What running lessons have you learned? What racing challenges are you still working on?