PBJs’ and Character Flaws

February 4, 2010

Buy LCD TVs . uk casino online . I don’t know if it’s a good thing.  It’s just how I’m wired up.  It’s how many runners are wired up.  Put us in a tough spot and we’re liable to admonish ourselves to push even harder.

I remember the 10k race in which, unbeknownst to me, the splits were being

In the midst of a struggle, undoubtedly wondering "What's wrong with me?"

called out every two kilometers.  Assuming I was hearing mile splits, I knew I was running much too slow.  And so it went.  Split after split I grew angrier about my apparently poor performance.  Then I rounded a corner and saw the finish line in sight.  I ran a P-R that day.

Another time my wife was running and pushing our first child in the baby jogger.  After two or three miles she came up to me and expressed her displeasure at how out of shape she was.  It was more of a struggle than usual.  I looked at the baby jogger.  The brake was on!  It had been on the whole time!

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people:  Those that blame others for their faults and those that blame themselves.  I’m convinced runners fall into the latter category.  This is not always smart.

Ultra marathons demand that you look inward.  That you “dig deep.”  That you keep pushing when you think you have nothing more to give.  But I’m also learning that they demand honest and accurate self-assessments.  That’s what I took away from a memorable ultra in 2007.

Things start to go wrong

Runners began showing up at five in the evening on a Friday in November, for Nathaniel’s Run 6/12/and 24-Hour Ultra marathon in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  As the Race Director and 24-Hour participant I had been busy all day taking care of last minute details.  It wasn’t until the race actually began at 6pm that it crossed my mind that I hadn’t had dinner.

The setting was ideal; a cross-country course loop through a tree-lined field, over a couple moderate hills and back past the aid station every one-point-three miles.  By local trail runners standards this was an easy course.  There were no rocks or roots or anything substantial really.  That’s why I decided not to waste money on a new pair of trail shoes.  The racing flats I’d used on the roads would be fine.

The weather was perfect too-About 50 degrees daytime, 38 for the night.  I’d suffered through some terribly hot and ridiculously cold races. The fact that my training had been minimal with the recent birth of our third child wouldn’t make a significant difference, I presumed, under these conditions.

Best laid plans, right?

I consider the first 30 miles of an ultra to be the “honeymoon period.”  But my ankles were surprisingly sore by mile 28.  The uneven surface characterized by little tufts of grass on hard dirt patches was much different than the roads I’d been training on.

My mental state was tenuous by mile 32 and I was downright sullen by mile 35.  “What is wrong with me?”  “Why am I wimping out, and so early?”  This was the same angry mindset that had pushed me to my 10k PR.  It was the same mindset that had caused my wife to question her fitness when, in fact, she’d had the parking brake on.  Rather than analyze the information in front of me, I chalked up my struggles to a character flaw.

Interestingly enough, the character flaw disappeared after I changed into a new pair of socks and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Yup, all that handwringing between miles 30 and 40 was unnecessary.  I wasn’t weak.  My body needed fuel.  I wasn’t failing.  My feet just needed some breathing room.

And then I began to cruise.  I had that effortless stride and confident disposition that makes you say to yourself, “God, thank you for a healthy body and fresh air to breathe.”

When even a PBJ won’t help

A few miles later the euphoria was gone again.  Around mile 50 the truth was setting in on a number of levels.  The core truth; my body wasn’t conditioned for a challenge of this magnitude.

Generally speaking, we as runners are harder on ourselves than we need be.  When our splits are off considerably then it’s probably not us.  It’s probably that the splits are being called out every 2k rather than every mile.  If our fitness seems to have inexplicably dropped off we should probably check the parking brake on the baby jogger.  And if we begin to wonder if we have a terrible character flaw we might be well-served to eat a PBJ before we settle on that conclusion.

But it works the other way too.  If you enter a 24-hour trail ultra on minimal training, if you’re wearing racing flats rather than trail shoes, if you fail to eat prior to the race…then those facts should be taken at face value as well.  You DON’T deserve to do well.  You’re NOT going to have the results you want.

Summing up

See the truth in front of you and make the changes you need to make.  Then you can be successful.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, November 17th, a good friend looked down at my feet and shook his head in bewilderment.  He went to his truck, grabbed a pair of size 11 trail shoes and told me to put them on my size 9 feet.  They fit perfectly.  I could actually hobble and run a little.  I threw my racing flats aside and left the aid-station with a sandwich in hand.

On this day I wouldn’t log more than 100 miles as I had hoped.  My swollen ankles wouldn’t allow me to get past 70.

Part of me was embarrassed by the effort.  But the larger part of me knew that I had received the exact result I deserved.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

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