A couple of months ago I ran in the San Jose Rock & Roll Half Marathon for the 2nd year. Ran in 1:49:40, which was about 2 minutes better than last year’s time, broke 1:50 (which was a goal), and fell a little short of my 1:47ish target. I have a bunch of things to work on — some mistakes that I made — but on the whole, am really happy with the effort, and that I was able to compete at all.
I have a fair number of insights into my own performance and psyche that will probably be of limited interest to anyone but me, but want to capture them before they’re lost and I get too much back into my normal routine.
Here’s why: I’ve never exactly been what you’d call an athlete. I played soccer some when I was very young, but really mostly focused on other stuff (grist for another cathartic post sometime, maybe). I didn’t really learn to play basketball until college, and I didn’t start exercising regularly until right around the time I turned 30. (co-incident with my first startup, Reactivity, and the body shape that comes from working all the time.) So for the past several years, I’ve learned how to lift, how to do some aerobics. That all got a lot better, even, when I left Reactivity and took 6 months off — I managed to get to the gym most days, learned how to run a little bit, lost some weight.
Last year, I was really unsure how I’d do, and ended up doing great. Very consistent each of the 13 miles — between 8:27 and 8:31 each mile. So not all that fast, but very very consistent. And looking back on it, it was a very mental race for me. I was mostly in my head the whole race, thinking about a lot of different things, and it was great. (My brain tends to have non-linear thoughts when I run, connecting lots of things that I don’t usually connect, and generally being more generative than usual.) This year, though, was a bit of a crapshoot. My back had been giving me trouble the couple of months before, and I was unsure until race day whether I would run at all. I’ve had back trouble dating back to 2004 or so — I’m pretty convinced it was the 200k miles I flew that year (all domestic!) for Reactivity. It had been doing better, but had a real setback around August. I have a feeling that this time around it came from a combination of gaining weight, running too much, and not taking care of my core strength.
Anyway, the race this time, even though it was a bit faster, was not mental at all — it was just a physical grind. I wasn’t sure I could make it at all, and ended up walking some in the last mile — otherwise I think I could have done right around 1:48, or maybe better. While I didn’t find the physical grind type of race as fun to do, I am immensely proud of it — really, truly, I was having trouble walking the days leading up to the race, and I just wasn’t at all sure I could get the first mile done. So that was really great.
I think the 2nd contributing factor is that this year, because I knew I could run faster than I knew last year, I was in a faster starting group, nearer to the front of the race. That had 2 implications. First, I started off faster than I probably should have, because I paced like the runners around me. Second, as I started to slow down around 8 miles, people started to pass me, and I think that was damaging to my psyche & motivation. I’ve noted elsewhere that I seem to run better from behind — when I’m chasing after someone else — it’s a little demoralizing to me to watch people pass me.
So anyway, I learned a lot this time around — both in the specific race and in comparison to last year’s. I’ll definitely do one next year — and probably 2 if I can find one that I like. In the meantime, though, I’m spending a ton of time working on my core strength, and my glutes & hips, and not really focusing on my running at all until sometime in the new year. Working with a trainer has helped me to figure out that I am like the opposite of flexible in my legs — I seem to live my whole life without actually bending my knees. Surprising. 🙂
So I’ll work on that for a while, then work on my running again. And I hope to be writing in 6 months or a year about how I accomplished some new things, but have figured out some others that I want to work on. I’ve mentioned this to a lot of folks, but Murakami’s book on running has been really influential for me this year. He talks a lot about how his running reminds him that he’s an imperfect man living an imperfect life — and how that’s life-affirming for him. That really resonates for me, and I think it’s why running is really helping me understand myself, even though I’m not particularly good at it, and have found it relatively late in life.
Anyway, I’m proud of the result, and wanted to capture the reflections. Meant to write this 2 months ago, but it’s been a busy time. Looking forward to writing the next one.