Saturday, 31 July 2010

Learning from Failure

I've started a number of races I didn't finish, something I always hate to do - not finish, that is.  One was a 20 mile fell race over the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland.  I'd just been diagnosed with asthma and been put on a course of steroids.  Distance runners will understand the habit of counting to 100 to pass the time, 100 steps, 100 breaths, 100 bus stops, 100 empty soft drink cans.  I was counting breaths - to 10 - when I gave up on top of the second hill.  I went back and had another go a couple of years later.  I was so relieved to have done it, because it meant I never needed to do it again!  I'm not fell runner material.

I attempted the Rotterdam marathon once.  I'd had a cold and though I was over it, I was still coughing hard,  another complication of my asthma.  After a particularly long coughing spell one day at the office, and seeing the look of concern on my co-worker's face, I remember telling him that in my next life I was going to have better lungs.  The marathon course had a loop at 20 miles that brought one back to about the same point 6 miles later.  A bus was standing there to sweep up waifs and strays.  My ribs were sore from coughing and it was too easy to climb on the bus.  I might have been able to finish, but 6 hour marathons are no fun.  I'd not experienced that particular form of hell at that time, but some things you just know.

There was a half marathon in Scotland in which the first mile was straight up and I struggled to keep anyone in sight, there were so few runners.  I'm not unhappy running on my own, but in a half marathon race in unfamiliar territory it can be disconcerting.  I found myself struggling just after half way when a nice old guy came along and started talking to me.  He was a cheery kind of person and happily admitted to having just celebrated his 109th birthday (I exaggerate, but it was an age in the late 60s or more).  He was going to keep me company and volunteered to be last in the race to save me the pain.  I didn't care about being last, but I was worried about making my friends wait for me, maybe as much as an hour or so after they'd finished.  When the sweeper bus came along I heartlessly abandoned that nice man, which I felt bad about.  I've never attempted the race since, feeling it was too small for me to enjoy.  

The most recent race was about a half marathon, but as it started and finished on a beach, there isn't an exact distance.  It varies with the tide each year, so there are no mile markers.  It's a beautiful course, but one of the tougher races around, with the hills and the beaches and, this year, a 20-mile an hour wind in your face.  It was a dull sky and not too hot, but humid.  

My main problem was being unfamiliar with the course.  I knew it finished with a mile or two a beach and I knew where halfway was, but when I came to what I thought was the last village I couldn't remember how much further I had to go.  I had no way to pace myself and I was running out of steam.  When I came to the marshalling point they were really worried at how I looked and I caved in at the offer of a seat in a car out of the wind.  Wouldn't you know that the final beach was in sight just around the corner, but once I'd stopped, that was it.  I was pretty annoyed with myself, having given up at around 11 miles, but not quite to the point of throwing the running shoes in the sea.

On reflection, I remembered that when I was running well a few years ago and really keen, I would drive the route of the race several times, particularly if it was new or I'd not done it in a while.  I would especially note the last few miles when I would have to dig deep to keep going.  Knowing the landmarks and the terrain can help pull you along bit by bit to the finish.  That would have been really valuable information this time around, but I'd not bothered as the race was not close to home.  I could have studied it on the internet more than I did.  I did do the long runs I needed, but no hill work or speed sessions.  I can't remember the last time I did a speed session...

What did I learn?  Get serious and be keen or don't go to the harder races.  I may focus on 10Ks for a while, too...


Katherine ( Katie) Corrigan said...

one step at a time :-) Hugs!

Struggler said...

Thank you for sharing this, I'll find it such a comfort if I have to give up on my (potential) 6-hour marathon!
I suspect the impact of fells/hills/wild weather on a runner is more than any of us 'amateurs' really allow for. I've only done a couple of timed trail runs and I was horribly slow - the distance felt like double, too.

Boywilli said...

When I was young and fit I gave up on loads of races, mostly because I thought that I should do better or because I had run so hard I was exhausted. Now I am old and slow, I am still unhappy with my race times but I am mostly pleased that I can still do it. I struggle on to the finish just because I can. At a half marathon recently I ran past a group of my old running buddies. Most of them used to be faster than me but none of them are able to do a 20K race now. They were out for a walk instead. After the abuse I gave them, I have to keep running now!