We all go into our races with some sort of goal. Whether it is just to finish, to set a personal best, or to qualify for a prestigious event, endurance athletes seem to be hardwired for goal seeking. We train for the goal, write it down, tell our friends or sometimes, just keep it to our selves. But it’s there in our head, and usually at the forefront of our mind on race day.
Then there comes a point in the race where the we will question our ability to hit that goal. I’m sure it happens to you, just as it happened to me at the Philadelphia marathon last week. I knew I had the training for a personal best, and had trained with a goal time in mind. When the weather began to cooperate, I began to really believe I could set a PR and possibly a stretch goal 5 minutes faster. As the race progressed I focused on each mile, tried to stay loose and smooth, and maintain my fueling and hydration strategy.
Then around the 20 mile mark, I hit the point where fear took over. I knew that I was not going to be able to hit my stretch goal, and a PR would require me to maintain a pretty aggressive pace. I was hurting, but I was moving, yet the fear of having to hurt that much, or even more through the end of the race was daunting.
Facing our fears is a big part of why we all do these events. We know that at some point that we will hurt and have to push through that discomfort to reach our goal. Doing so is about facing the fear of the pain, and pushing back.
The fear is always much bigger than the reality. You know it when you sign up for the race, but it seems to grow with each passing mile until you face it and push through it. It doesn’t take a huge mental effort, tribal scream or some personal mantra to overcome the fear, (though these can help). Sometimes it’s simply recognizing the fear, acknowledging it and bringing it along for the ride.
So at mile 20, the fear rose up and asked me a question. It told me that there was no way I could reach my stretch goal, so what was the point of pushing on in pain. I could give up, jog/walk the last 10k and finish, or I could keep my pace, pick up the last 5k and get a PR.
The fear lies to us and steals our dreams. It’s up to us to pull back the curtain and reveal it’s insignificance.
I decided to own the fear, and the pain. I decided it wasn’t “all that” and I wanted the PR more than I wanted to slow down. And as I made that decision, I knew that that hurt wasn’t going to get worse, that striding out a bit and picking up the pace was going to get me to the finish faster, the fear began to shrink and the pain wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the fear had made it out to be.
I ended the race completely spent, but very happy with an 8 min PR. And the fear was left standing along Boathouse row, dropped like a sack of rocks.