In every race, we try to control the things we can and put some degree of faith in what we can’t in hopes that we tip the balance in favour of the positive. When it’s all over, the one question we don’t want to ask ourselves is, “What the hell went wrong?”
Last year’s experience at the Mississauga Marathon was defined by what went wrong–the anxiety attack that ruined a race plan and killed the momentum of a great training cycle. This year, I’m grateful to look back on the Mississauga Half and have far more responses to the query, “What went right?”
When the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m., there was no race day adrenaline coursing through my body. A quick phone call with Coach Michelle Clarke the previous day provided the opportunity to go over the recent cycle of training, which confirmed that I had already done all I was expected to do on race day. She gave me a simple race plan that I understood and thought no more of before I was in the start corral. I believe this is what’s meant by “trust the training.”
I deleted social media apps from my phone–and don’t actually see them returning–and kept any kind of chatter from invading my mindset. I reread the previous three months or so of my training journal, which highlighted the consistency I miraculously maintained through one of the longest and harshest winters in memory.
I saw through my own words how much stronger I had become and how well I managed and adapted to the training load. I also saw the mistakes I made and the corrections that followed. By a happily wide margin, more had gone right than wrong. I also picked a single goal an gave it my entire focus, only chasing one rabbit at a time as Eliud Kipchoge advises. I avoided overloading my schedule with too many races that would take the focus away from that goal.
In the morning, I was shocked at how casually I moved through my routine, almost as if I was going about any normal day. I wasn’t replaying my race plan in my mind constantly. I wasn’t thinking about what could go wrong or preparing excuses ahead of time. I just sipped my coffee as selections from Beyonce’s Lemonade and Mastodon’s Emperor of Sand came through my headphones. Eclectic tastes keep things interesting.
In the start corral, I wished a few friends luck and they returned the sentiment. The temperatures were expected to stay moderate, so I wasn’t worried about overheating.
The gun went and I locked into the “warmup pace” my coach had assigned me to maintain for the first three kilometres. Keeping my ego in check, I allowed runners who took off out the gate to pass me. I managed the course as I was told to by locking into a range of pace that would secure my goal. I gave up a few seconds on some of the course’s rolling hills, especially a real nasty one at the halfway mark (quarter of the way for full marathoners), that I could make up for on the downhill and flats. Volunteers along the course made it easy to keep focus and aid stations were never a struggle to get through.
The final five kilometres were a constant negotiation of turns that made it tricky to maintain momentum and I admittedly felt the wheels coming off. Mentally, the race was beginning to test me, so I forced myself to recall that I had powered through on tired legs several times in my training. I looked at my average pace and saw I was within range and gave myself over to the challenge of maintaining in order to reach my goal rather than picking up as I had initially hoped to. I was fine with that; things were mostly going right.
The first feeling at the finish was relief that I didn’t fall apart and that I locked into a strategy and maintained and adjusted accordingly for 21 kilometres. I shook hands with the runner who became my impromptu pacer and congratulated him on a race well run, however incoherent I may have been.
Relief unfolded into gratitude. I had a long, consistent buildup to this race and a training plan that emphasized a single goal. I was uninterrupted by injury. I had spectacular conditions on race day. My mind cooperated every step of the way. My coach believed in me. I showed up confident and not fatigued. So much had gone right and I had the sub-1:35 that I had craved for so long.
The race wasn’t perfect, but runners often cite the commandment that you can never complain about a race where you run a personal best because on that day you ran better that you’ve ever run in your life. So I won’t complain, but celebrate the things that went right.