16:55. That was my finishing time at Music City Distance Carnival, the track 5k I raced two weekends ago in Nashville, which works out to be about 5:27 per mile.
To put this in context, it was my first track 5k in three years, and 40 seconds faster than any road or cross country 5Ks I’ve done in this time as well. It felt great; I’ve run slower races that are much more painful than this. This also capped a full season of consistent training and competitive racing, which I haven’t had since 2012. These are big wins for me.
At the same time, a 16:55 5k was 15-25 seconds slower than my realistic goal, which I’d been training for all spring. It was also 42 seconds off my personal best, and over a minute away from what I would need to run to qualify for the USA Track and Field Championships in 2016.
I’m trying to figure out if it’s possible to be simultaneously thrilled and crestfallen at a performance. Did I win or did I fail?
I love how running forces you to measure yourself against a standard, to lay it all out there with a concrete objective that you either hit or miss. But I also hate it.
It bites when you don’t meet your goal, which I didn’t last Saturday. Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you can even begin to experience the feelings of disappointment at failing BEFORE THE RACE IS OVER! This delightful condition doesn’t do a lot to spur you on to work any harder, and is probably best ignored. I’m both fascinated and flummoxed by the mental techniques of racing and do not consider myself great at them even after being in this sport for 8 years.
There’s an upside to failing too, though: it instills a fire in you to keep going. Squandered opportunity, or “missed” to speak more lightly, is motivating, and shows you where you can improve.
I know I can improve by turning off my brain during racing much more. At the Nashville 5k, I was with a pack of girls who were running consistent 78-second laps (16:15 pace). This was just a hair quicker than my goal of 79-80 second laps, which is almost exactly a perfect race set-up.
But about halfway through the race, with 6 laps to go, I let that pack go and slowed down. I was mentally fatigued from hanging on to a faster pace than I wanted for the first half of the race. Logically, if I would have run with them longer, they could have pulled me to a faster time – as long as I could have hung on. We won’t know how long that would have been, but based on how easy I felt I think I could have made it a couple laps longer, at least. Running with a pack has myriad advantages though, and getting a pack of competitive runners was exactly why I traveled to Nashville in the first place. I’m upset I didn’t make it happen when I had the opportunity.
An aside… As I’m about to apologize for that whole last paragraph as “pardon my track geekiness here, distinguishing between 78 and 79 second laps on a track,” thinking an average person wouldn’t distinguish between these paces, I realize maybe I shouldn’t try to distinguish between those paces either. Extra proof for “quit thinking so much, Cate!”
I’m tempted to think I’m weak, that I’m not as tough as other runners, but after about five years of thinking that about myself when I don’t meet my racing goals, I’m sick of believing that. I’m sick of believing there’s something that other people have that I don’t. I just need time, and as cheesy and simple as it sounds – belief.
Outcome – maybe failure. Learning from an experience – win.