Sunday, January 8, 2012

Taper Thoughts Part II

Abrahams doesn't like losing.....

When the new issue of Runner's World showed up late last week, the first article I devoured was the one about Chariots of Fire, my favorite running movie. My favorite scene? The one where sprinting phenom Harold Abrahams, having just lost to his Scottish rival Eric Liddell, is sitting in the now-empty grandstand reliving every nano-second of his defeat.

His soon-to-be fiancee, Sybil Gordon, tries to coax him out of his funk, noting that he's lost a race, not a relative, and that he still ran like a god. Harold's having none of it. He cries out:

If I can't win, I won't run! 

I'm really relating to that right now as taper madness starts to touch me. It's not that I will ever "win" in the absolute sense (which was of course the sense Abrahams meant--he goes on to become an Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters). But sometimes it seems like this running thing comes easy to everyone but me, and that I never will "win" by the definition I've written for myself.

This could be because I read too many blogs, and too many of you bloggers are awesome runners. The PRs flow, no matter how tough the circumstances (or so it seems). Same thing for qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I've read several blogger accounts of BQs happening on second (or even first) marathons. Because I, like many others, like to read about success, these seeming-overnight success stories are the bloggers who become popular. They are inspiring, and, consciously or not, our standards for ourselves rise as we read about them.

High standards and lofty goals are good. But the downside is that if it doesn't happen for us like it did for them, we can start to feel like failures. Yes, I know even the people who look like overnight successes work hard, putting in lonely miles and grinding speed work day in and day out. You can't NOT work hard and be a successful runner by any measure. But the hard work yields results faster for some people than others. It's just the way it is. That's a hard thing to teach kids. And it's a damned hard thing to teach ourselves.

For me, with my history of giving up, wanting to quit when I can't quickly achieve something is still an attitude that I struggle with. As a young person, I was able to enjoy only activities that came easily, that I was a natural at. I didn't mind working hard, but if hard work resulted in an outcome that put me at merely average in any kind of ranking, I simply wouldn't play. That meant that I poured myself into two things: writing in particular and school in general. At these things, I could be at least a best (if not always THE best). Avoiding everything else was my equivalent to Abrahams' sentiment...if I couldn't win, I wouldn't run.

Then I discovered that I actually love running, good at it or not. It helped that in the early days, I didn't set goals that were particularly tough. When I realized I could finish a marathon, I trained for it and did it. I didn't care that it took me five hours. I just liked being out there and telling people later that I was a marathon finisher. And in the middle years of my running, I actually had some success of the ranking variety that kept me going. I won my age group in one 5K race in 2005 and placed in it in several other races. I even took third woman in a cross-country race (because there weren't many other runners in it, but hey! it was still success at the time).

This go-round, though, with my BQ goal, things aren't happening fast enough. And on the eve of my second marathon since I set this goal (my fifth marathon overall), the specter of failure-phobia has returned to haunt me anew.

Yesterday I ran 10 miles with four miles at a fast-finish pace, as directed by my plan. I did those last four miles in 8:40, 9:05 (uphill), 8:30 and 8:24. I felt just fine at the end of that. But to qualify for Boston, I have to average 8:34 miles over the marathon distance. The objective information from my training tells me that it would have to be a VERY good day for that to happen. VERY good days--where weather, rest and training converge--don't come along very often.

Even if I PR in Houston, which unlike BQing doesn't require perfect conditions, I'm going to have to wrestle with myself to not be disappointed if I don't get the Boston standard. Part of the reason is that flaw of mine, the giving up thing. The other part is that I can't train for another marathon until fall. Which means the hard work, the bearing down, the chipping away will have to go on. There will be no moving on to the next thing until this thing is done.

This has one rather loud corner of my tapering mind echoing Abrahams: If I can't win, I won't run! Why work so hard, if I don't achieve what the dream really is for me and if I can't do so in a dramatic winning fashion?

The answer lies in what Sybil, Abrahams' future wife, zings back at him as he sits there wallowing in his loss:

If you don't run, you can't win.

I think I need to type that sentence again. It is the reason the scene is so good. It is the thing we all have to tell ourselves when the going gets tough:

If you don't run, you can't win.

Regardless of what the Houston Marathon brings this weekend, I must keep on, even if I have to change the name of this blog to BQ by 45. Beyond becoming a better runner, it has everything to do with becoming a better person. I clearly have some work to do on that.

If you don't run, you can't win.

If you don't run, you can't win.

If you DON'T RUN, you CAN'T WIN.


  1. Wow! I can so relate to this. I LOVE running, but I can't help but compare myself to some bloggers I follow. You're seems to come so easy for some. All I can say is, from what I've read on your blog, you WILL one day qualify for Boston. If it's not this time, it will be another time. And, for runners like me, whose radar doesn't even include the possibility of Boston at this time or probably EVER, your story is more inspiring than the story of those who can just go out and do it the first or second try. It shows us that hard work and determination DO result in our goals being achieved, no matter how big or small. Keep up the good work! :)

  2. This is so well written! I love that you're so in touch with some of those thoughts/emotions swirling around... I think we can all relate to these feelings! It's hard to put in all the hard work and still know that there is some unpredictability in what will come of it on race day. All you can do is know that you trained well and trust your body to do its best... and we'll all be cheering and hoping for the best! You've already come such a long way-- I know you'll get there, and if it's not this marathon, you'll get that BQ at the next one.

  3. Taper is the worst time for doubting yourself. I always have a horrible run the week before a big race and it can make me doubt my whole training plan.

    You're going to have a great race. :)

  4. You will do it! Will it be this weekend...only time will tell, but you have the determination and the will and it will happen.

  5. I totally hear you!

    Although I am tall I never played basketball because I doubted my abilites... in all sports.

    My how things change for all of us.

    You have the confidence in you. Dig deep and you will get there.

  6. Just look at where you are - here - today - compared to last year and the year before. You are doing amazing things. The BQ will happen. When? Maybe next week, maybe this fall. There are so many factors that affect it. But it WILL happen. And I DO plan on being there when it happens!

  7. I have never seen Chariots of Fire. (Does this mean I'm out of the runner's club?)

    I am among the very-not-fast runners. A few months ago I realized I'm just not going to be fast, but I could go a long ways. The ultras have seemed better suited to my un-fast-ness.

    I really think you have it in you. The BQ will be yours. Keep up the good work!

  8. I need to watch that movie again...
    ah taper time, it can mess with us

    if you don't run you can't win
    if you don't run you can't BQ

    you DO run
    you WILL run in Houston
    and you will BQ, you will.

  9. I LOVE this post. It totally speaks to me. The fear of not meeting my goals definitely plays into the way I set them...mine are typically "do this" not "do it this fast" bc I'm not very fast and I'm not at a point to do the work to get faster. But at the same time, I think the glory and joy of meeting a goal lies in the risk of failing and struggle to get there. And knowing that you truly put yourself out there.

    I'm excited for you and nervous for you. Believe in yourself! :)

  10. Sweetie, just read my blog and you'll feel better about your running and think, "thank God I'm not in her shoes...." :) You are witnessing how difficult this is for me to get back into is NOT easy for everything!

    I remember when I hired a trainer to get my to that illustrious BQ. I had just ran the 2007 Dallas WR Marathon after taking 5 years off of marathon racing (long story) and I did a whole lot better in Dallas than I ever thought so I hired this guy to get me stronger and fitter so I could get to Boston. Well, I hired him in January and thought I'd try to BQ in the fall....but in the meantime, I registered for the Big Sur Marathon, just because a friend was doing it and it had been on my radar for eternity thought this would be a great training run to prep me for the fall BQ attempt. But, my stupid trainer had other ideas and thought I could BQ in Big Sur. I didn't, of course, and it took me about 3 months to figure out that I didn't fail that race. 3 months I couldn't even talk about it but one day I was up in the mountains and I had one of those really great runs (unlike anything I can run now :P) and thought: This is crap, I CAN BQ and I will one day and I am ready to do the work to get there...and I let go of Big Sur and finally was able to smile about that race and the good time I had with my friend.

    You are an amazing runner. You have so much time ahead of yourself. You set a lofty goal for yourself because you knew the sacrifices it takes to get there. It will happen, I know it will. It's inside you!!


  11. my favorite definition of "luck" is as follows: luck = preparation + opportunity.

    you are prepared - you have a ton of deposits not only in the 'fitness bank' but in the 'mental toughness bank' too. your opportunity is Houston and making the best of it.

    once I had the most amazing results at a competitive event. I performed WAY above my skill level and I achieved that by way of a fine balancing act. I cared about doing my best but at the same time I didn't care about the results.(i know easier said than done) The byproduct was I 'got out of my own way' and I set myself free to perform better than I *thought* I could and even others (as they stood by in surprise) thought I could. I was in a bubble of freedom. In that bubble all things are possible.

    I hope you find the 'bubble of freedom' in Houston.

    AND in my eyes you have already WON.

  12. I always have to remind myself that the only person that I'm racing is myself!

    All I can do is go out and do the best that I can do, given the training that I've put in.

    And you've worked super hard and you deserve to have the best race you possibly can...and you will, I am so excited for you!


  13. From: Running from Mediocrity

    I think your post has touched a nerve with many a runner. I know the feeling. I set a goal to qualify for Boston as well but I need to improve...a lot. I've set PRs in every conceivable distance I've run this year (I'm 42), but it's not nearly fast enough (yet). No pressure, but I'm counting on you to inspire me.
    Go kick butt in Houston.

  14. This is such a well written post and I can also relate. This is a funny sport where you are mostly competing against yourself at any given time but also measuring yourself against others as well. But think how far you've come from the days were you wouldn't even try something that didn't come easy to you (I was the same way!). I believe you've got the BQ in you -- whether now or at some time in the future. My wish for you this upcoming weekend is for you to have a fantastic time and enjoy the heck out of the trials and the press credentials. Sunday will just take care of itself!

  15. I also have room for self doubt right before a race....and honestly, I would love to run as you do on a bad day. ;) I can't even put that BQ goal on the list yet - maybe some day.

    I love the phrase...and I'll be rooting for you on marathon day!

  16. Kick butt in Houston!!!

    As my triathlon coach always tells me during my runs....Go Go Go!!

  17. it would be totally fair to be disappointed after all the work that goes in to it, but only if you feel like at the end of the race you let yourself off the hook. some days you can't control what happens so you have to be willing to let that go...but like me...well I am going to not look at my watch so I don't slow myself down by not believing.

    MAJOR GOOD LUCK!!! I hope we have amazing weather and all PR!

  18. Great post. I have never done a marathon but I know when I do halfs I have to remind myself I am not running against anyone else and I need to run my own race. and I sat to myself over and over variations of this. Really helps.

    You are ready for this. This is what you have been training for. Your body is ready. This is what you have trained for.

    although I love
    If you don't run, you can't win.

  19. I've been thinking about you all taper long and look: it's race week! The others have already said so many great things. You know Im one of those runners the BQ came quickly and 'easily' to. I say easy in that it was never on my radar as a possibility for me, even though the numbers were there in training, so I never agonized over it.
    I love what someone said above: luck=preparation+opportunity.
    I truly believe you have that BQ in you. You've prepped more than adequately. God willing the conditions will be right. Promise yourself whatever happens, whatever pace you're averaging, you will not give up. Your best is what you have and its more than enough. More than enough. That was my mantra.
    I'd love tracking info if you have it.
    Go kill it girl!

  20. This is a great post. I feel like this sometimes, I really think most runners do. You've been working hard, & I really hope it pays off for you. Bit if not, I hope you take some recovery days and then get right back to working toward your goals. Did you read the Davila story in RW? She's been overlooked her whole life, worked her butt off, and now it's finally paying off. Though you & I will likely never be pros, we can still reach our own victories.

    Best of everything in Houston! And, enjoy that press pass. Sorry I haven't come up with an insightful questions. If you get the chance to ask some, I say take a risk. Do it, and ask what's really pressing on your mind or heart at the time. Oh, and maybe ask them about what keeps them working hard and motivated during rough times.when things aren't going well and they're not running strong races? Hope all goes perfect. :-)

  21. I am not a seasoned runner- I don't have major awards or races under my belt. So I don't have any words of deep wisdom to convey to you...other than my true are an amazing, inspiring, phenomenal runner. You inspire ME. You have accomplished SO very much with your running- and you continue to astound me!
    I have no doubt, no doubt at all. That you will accomplish all you set your mind to. You are well trained and motivated, you can do ANYTHING you set your mind to.
    I have found that I often feel "runners envy" when I read other peoples running blogs. I am just some piddly little Mom runner- nothing fancy- nothing big- I am barely what anyone would even consider "a runner". You are the runner I would LOVE to be. Remember that.
    and keep on running.

  22. The thing of it is, unless you are the current world champion, there is ALWAYS someone faster than you, no matter who you are. It is so easy to read blogs of what others are doing and how fast others are and be discouraged with your own accomplishments (yes, for me too), but you just can't do it that way.
    You are doing such a great job and you have ROCKED this training, so be proud of yourself and be confident. Believe in yourself and what you do. I believe in you! Hugs my friend! Wish I could be there to cheer you on. :)

  23. I just keep reminding myself that I trained for this & you did, too, and don't forget it!

  24. Good luck!! Having faith in your training is the hardest part of this whole sport, I think. I know there's some running quite that says "when we toe the starting line we are all cowards" or something along those lines.

  25. Beautiful post. You are ready for the race and you will do it.
    If I can't win, I won't run ..... well I used to think "if I can't give 100%, I won't run" and that was my biggest mistake. Sometimes we can race only for the pleasure to run in the pack.