Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Confession: I Kind of Suck at Running

I promise I’m not trying to bring you down on your holiday weekend! Nor am I fishing for a flood of, “What?? You’re amazing!” messages to boost my ego. (Not that I will ever truly object to being called amazing in any facet of life.) 
This post is notmeant to be the modern equivalent of posting depressing song lyrics in my AIM away message. (I so did that. Admit it, you did, too. I actually once found out about a death in the family via away message.) 
Oops, there I go being depressing again. Sorry!
No, I’m posting this in the interest of staying true to my recently stated mission of always staying authentic, even when the truth might not be exactly what I want it to be. (And in the same vein, I promise you a much more uplifting post tomorrow! How’s that for a teaser?? Man, I’m getting good at this blogging business…)
As usually happens with big realizations, I wasn’t really seeking this one out. I haven’t been meditating, vision-boarding, or anything like that. On the contrary, I’ve pretty much just been floating along on a cloud of contentment, not giving too much thought to anything other than how incredibly lucky I’ve been lately.
Perhaps that was why I didn’t notice that this weekend was turning into a perfect storm, and those clouds were definitely going to rain on my running parade.
First, some basic facts that most of you probably already know:
  1. I am absolutely, completely, and thoroughly obsessed with running. In my world, 95% of the time, running = puppies, kittens, and rainbows all rolled into one.
  2. I am – for lack of a better word – slow.
You may be wanting to jump up and argue with me on point 2. To which I say: Don’t! This is not me being down on myself. To prove it, here’s a completely straight-faced list of what I feel are my most exceptional running qualities:
  1. Excellent long run endurance. If I’m not pushing myself on speed, I won’t hit any sort of wall, even in a full marathon.
  2. An iron stomach/GI tract. I can eat pretty much anything before, during, or after a run and not have any trouble at all. (Except bananas. Bananas make me toss my cookies. Weird, right?)
  3. Solid awareness of my top sustainable speed for a given distance. A fairly common time trial occurrence in my world is to start with my similarly-paced friends, slowly build a gap on them, and then get blown away by their closing kicks in the last 100 meters. If I want to “win” the time trial, I’ve really got to hope I can build a massive gap starting in, say, lap 2, because that kick just isn’t there for me. 
  4. High burnout resistance. Unless my entire life is going to heck in a handbasket, I will make every workout and feel reasonably happy to be there.
In summary, I have many running gifts, but speed is not one of them. (On my list of future post ideas, I actually have a line that says: “I Got 99 Problems but a Kick Ain’t One”.)
Usually – and by usually I really do mean 95% of the time – I’m okay with that. It no longer bothers me to run towards the back of any given pack. It’s often the most motivating place to be. The back of the pack is filled with people who AREN’T natural-born runners. This is where you’ll find the guy who lost 200 pounds, or the woman who decided to say a big “eff you!” to a cancer diagnosis. It’s where anyone who shows up consistently is there because they truly, truly love this sport, even though they’re never likely to actually winanything. (Besides, the party is always at the back of the bus.)
So what happened this weekend to drive me to that other 5% of the time when I’m just really really tired of being so damn slow? Like I said, it was a perfect storm:

Lightning Strike One: Zilker Relays

I think I did an adequate job in my previous post detailing the insanity I got myself into with this race. Me, a self-proclaimed slow person, signed up to do a 2.5 mile sprint in 100-degree heat. It was, as my team’s competition category indicated, “Just for Fun”.
No pressure, right?
Wrong. Rogue turned out in force for this event, and I spent the day before the event listening to some of our elite/just sub-elite guys talk in all seriousness about their plans to win the event. Like the WHOLE THING.

A pic from the Rogue Facebook page of just SOME of the people who raced.

When I mentioned that I was hoping to hold a sub-9:00 pace, these guys would just give me that sort of confused, “does not compute” look. And I totally get it. If running 9:00 miles feels as easy to them as running 12:30s feels to me, I must have sounded like an alien life form.
I know this because I almost started to sound that way to myself. You spend enough time around fast people, and your own idea of “normal” paces starts to shift. Though logically I new running in the 7s was something I have yet to accomplish in good weather, compared to their goals, it sounded like a literal jog in the park. Okay, a blue-faced jog in the park, but maybe, just maybe, a miracle would happen??
I was the second runner on my 4-person team, so I got to watch lots of the fast guys go by. Even as they were achieving speeds I consider decent on a bicycle, they were managing to do it in this kind of floaty way that made me think, “If I could just channel that fluidity, maybe I could do something special here.”
Nope. Nope nope nope.
I mean, I did hit a 7-something pace when I first grabbed the baton. It lasted about 2/10ths of a mile. Then I turned left and saw what suddenly looked like the biggest hill I’d ever seen in a race. I tried to power up it, but as I stole glances at my watch every 10 seconds or so, I saw the 8s start to appear, and suddenly I wasn’t even able to hang on to my theoretical 5K pace of 8:10. (I say theoretical because that’s an extrapolation from a 2-mile time trial done in cold weather, not anything I’ve every actually achieved in a race.)
Suffice it to say things got hotter and uglier. At mile 1.5, I really didn’t know if I could force myself to keep going for even 8-9 more minutes. One of my very wise running friends who had come out to cheer on the Rogue contingent took one look at my face and decided immediately againstsnapping a pic. She and another friend did do an admiral job of screaming my name though, enough so that one of those fast guys who had finished lap 2 for his own team realized it was me and (this part is probably in my head) still looked perplexed at how I could be so slow and yet such a funny color.
Needless to say, there was no kick left for the end.
According to the official results, I finished my lap in just under 21 minutes, so roughly an 8:35/mile pace. Given the heat and hills, I should be pretty darn happy with the combo of that and being the second-fastest person on my team. And I know I couldn’t have done more, because I very narrowly avoided passing out at the end of my lap. I remember Coach Chris trying to give me a high five and all I could think was, “Don’t fall over, don’t fall over, don’t fall over.” (He also showed exceptional wisdom and did not try to engage me in any form of conversation.)
After about 10 minutes and a combined 60 ounces of water and Nuun, I managed to trek back out to the course and cheer on the remaining runners. That was when I met another very nice, very fast guy (his bib said “Anchor Leg” and he was already done, meaning his whole team finished before our third runner had even made it halfway) who in all seriousness told me how upset he was to have been passed.

By one person.

I thought about making a self-deprecating joke, but I didn’t have the heart for it right then. Besides, he probably was legitimately as down about that as I was about my 8:35s. I truly do believe that everyone has their own reality, and no one person’s is any more or less than anyone else’s.

I managed not to mope too much, and I honestly had a great time enjoying free tacos, contraband champagne, and the company of 130+ Rogues who had nothing but positive things to say about my performance. Like I said, 95% of the time I feel like a member of family in my running group. It’s just that 5% of the time I feel like the adopted kid.

A rather blurry shot from the post-race party. As you can see, I partied till the sun went down.

Lightning Strike Two: The Sports Gene

I’ve spent much of the last few days reading David Epstein’s phenomenal book, The Sports Gene. (Of which I promise a full review when finished.) Epstein, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, pretty much went through every piece of scientific data he could find on athletic performance with a fine-toothed comb in an effort to answer the question: Is greatness the result of nature or nurture?
Naturally, the answer is a bit of a gray area, but science is definitely starting to come around to the idea that nature cannot be disregarded in favor of the feel-good, “anyone willing to work hard can win” storyline. Some people really do just have a higher baseline level of fitness, even if they aren’t active. They use oxygen better, have more fast-twitch (sprinters) vs. slow-twitch (endurance runners) muscle fibers, and so on.
So, while I’m loving The Sports Gene, I’m also having a bit of a sobering encounter with my own genetics. There just aren’t any Olympians in my family. On the bright side, my dad is still running marathons in his 60s (often beating me), so at least I have plenty of time to keep wringing every last ounce of improvement out of the nurture side of the equation!

Lighting Strike Three: No More Elites at Rock ‘n’ Roll Events

In what feels like the biggest piece of news to hit the hardcore running community since…I don’t know, minimalist shoes?…the Competitor Group, which runs all those races with Rock ‘n’ Roll in the title and is probably the biggest and most successful race organization group in history (I don’t really feel like looking up a reference, but I’m pretty sure they “own” more half- and full-marathon distance races than anyone else) announced that they would no longer offer appearance fees and travel expenses for elite athletes.
Seriously, check out how many freaking events they have.

I was a little bit sad when I first heard this. It’s exciting to get a chance to meet Meb Keflezighi or Shalane Flanagan at a race and know they’re following the same route you are. (Or rather, you’re following them.)

At the same time, I know that business is business is business, and I bet only my running friends know who either of those people are. Meanwhile, slow people like myself pay through the nose for our entry fees, transportation, hotel, etc. For any business the size of Competitor it’s probably pretty easy to look at a spreadsheet comparing revenues to expenses and delete a cell to make the ratio look better, business-wise.

I feel completely torn on this issue. The pragmatic/pessimistic side of me can’t even feign surprise at this move. But the emotional side of me feels horrible for our elite runners who, believe me, aren’t making any money anyway. According to a Wall Street Journal article that came out around the time of the 2012 Olympics:

“Some 80% of professional track and field athletes who are ranked in the top 10 in the US in their event make less than $50,000 a year.”

And that’s assuming they don’t get injured and can stay in the top 10.
Runners are no football players, and all the local elites I’ve met cobble together a living from day jobs and sponsors. The chances of being fast enough to continue competing out of college – not to mention being a big enough name to merit an appearance fee – are miniscule.

So, I 100% get that this move is a huge blow to all those who have put things like career, children, and savings on hold to chase a dream.

Note: I was particularly appalled by a report in Runners World that the group had even reneged on an agreement to pay elites to run their Philadelphia event in just over a month. You can bet those guys have been planning their year and training carefully, and to not honor an existing contract is the kind of move that does make me want to avoid this business.
At the same time, it’s inevitable that in their ire, many faster runners are talking without thinking about how the sport is going to crap because all us “slow” people are ruining it. Again, 95% of the time I can brush that kind of talk off, because I know that all the fast runners I personally know and admire really do respect us for getting out there, and can appreciate the growth we’ve brought to the sport.

But still, to the less-nice people…you are hurting feelings out there.

I’ve far from made up my mind about this Competitor issue. I definitely want them to continue supporting elite runners – especially given that they’re saying they’ll use the funds to improve things like on-course entertainment. (Give me a high school marching band over an Elvis impersonator any day!)

But I’m not particularly hopeful for a reversal of the decision. I guess it will come down to whether this can make waves beyond the group of people who recognize “Meb” and “Shalane” like the rest of population recognizes “Britney”? (Oh capitalism, you can be a real b*tch.)

I’m not really sure how to wrap this all up (or if I’ve even been coherent up until now). Like I said, I still love running 95…no, make that 99…percent of the time. And I am still determined to be the best runner I personally can be.  
It’s just that I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wish that runner were a bit faster than is likely.

Anyway, like I said, happy things tomorrow!

One comment on “Confession: I Kind of Suck at Running

  1. Anonymous
    September 3, 2013

    If distance running were football, gymnastics or tennis (where have you gone, Roger Federer?), then you would have reason to worry. But you are about 30 years away from the age at which Marshall Ulrich ran across America in daily 50-mile laps. I'd rather be in my 60s thinking my best times are ahead then remembering how fast I was in my 30 years ago. Forty-five years ago, I was known for the guy who couldn't beat out a double to first base. So come to Chicago, show us how you can run when your coach doesn't order you to pad your time, and tell Meb if he needs a lawyer, I know a good contract case when I see one. And, BTW, great time for a run through the furnace!

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This entry was posted on September 1, 2013 by in being slow, motivation, psychology, races, running news.
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