Race report: Colon Cancer Challenge 15k

Image via NYRR

I mentioned on Saturday that I was going to be running a 15k race the following morning, and that I was hoping to PR.  On Sunday night, I alluded to the fact that things didn’t really go as well as I’d hoped.  Here is the story of what ended up happening.

The Colon Cancer Challenge is actually made up of 3 events: a 1.7-mile walk, a 4-mile run, and a 15k run.  I guess there was another event in Central Park on Sunday morning (they announced something about this while I was waiting for my race to start), so my event didn’t start until 11:15 am, which was actually pretty nice.  I was able to have a relaxed morning, and feel less rushed than I usually do the morning of races.  I don’t think I fueled or hydrated particularly well, though.  While I was getting ready for the race, Nat and I talked about where he would spectate, and where we would meet up afterward.  Because the race was made up of two loops in the park, I figured I would see him about halfway through and right before the finish, just based on where he had decided to stand.

I got to the race at just the right time, so I didn’t spend too much time waiting in the corral for things to get started.  I was pretty nervous, and I really wasn’t sure if I’d be able to PR.  I kept thinking about what my pace would have to be in order to do it (below an average of 8:45), and the fact that even though I’d been running faster lately, I really hadn’t run any mileage under a pace of 9 minutes per mile.  This would also be my first race since the Philadelphia marathon in November, which didn’t really go the way I’d hoped, and sort of made me feel like I’d lost my mojo for a while.  As I waited for everything to start, I felt okay, but I didn’t feel great.

The first four miles were hard.  My first mile was slower than I wanted it to be (it was about 9:11) and I got nervous that I would blow my chances of beating my previous time.  As a result, my second mile was somewhere around 8:20.  Dropping about 50 seconds over two miles in a 9-mile race is probably not the best idea, unless you’ve started out a whole lot slower than you planned.  I kind of freaked out a little after that, even though I managed to even my pace out a bit more in the next two miles.  Once I got to the fourth mile, I was feeling pretty tired.  I don’t know if it was because I had run so unevenly, or if it was just because I was pushing too hard.  Maybe it was a combination of both.  I kept telling myself that at least I would see Nat soon, and that would give me the boost I needed to stay strong during the second half of the race.

But the fourth mile came and went, and there was no sign of Nat.  As I got into the fifth mile, I kept looking for him, but also kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to see him at that point.  And I don’t know exactly what happened–maybe I was looking for an excuse to give up–my mind just quit the race.  I tried to keep going, but mentally I checked out.  I just couldn’t tell myself anything positive.  All I could think about was how tired I was, how it didn’t matter what happened because Nat wasn’t there, and how I probably wouldn’t have been able to beat my previous time anyway.  I didn’t even manage to run the entire time, and eventually I just started crying because I felt so defeated.  I stopped my Garmin somewhere during the seventh mile, and wasn’t even entirely sure I wouldn’t just drop out entirely.  For the last couple miles, I managed to run, but I felt like I was just hobbling.  My heart wasn’t in it.  Nat was at the eighth mile, but I didn’t see him.  We met up at the finish and headed home.

Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience.  In retrospect, I don’t care much about the fact that I didn’t PR; it’s enough to me that I finished.  But it upsets me that I let myself fall apart the way I did.  The same thing happened to me during my last marathon–I let my mind completely take over with negative and self-defeating thoughts.  It’s almost like I’ve learned that this is okay, and it’s becoming a habit.

I have a few more long races planned this year, and it’s clear that I’m going to have to work on how I mentally approach a race, as well as how I talk to myself during the race, if I want to run those races well and finish feeling better than I did on Sunday.  Rather than dwell on how negative this 15k was, I want to view it as a learning experience, and start working on ways to avoid having this happen in the future.  So much of running can depend on your mentality, and I think mine needs a bit of a makeover.

How do you prepare yourself for a race or a difficult run?  How do you keep yourself mentally strong and focused while you’re running it?

Embrace:Me 30-day challenge, day 24: This time last year (or even a few months or weeks ago), after a race like the one I just had, I think I probably would have found some excuse not to run today/this week/for the next few weeks.  So today’s nice-thing-I-did-for-myself was to not give in to that urge to just throw in the towel.  I had hill repeats on the training calendar, and that’s what I did.  Not necessarily everyone’s idea of a treat, but it felt right for me.


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  1. Staying mentally strong during a run can be really tough. Negativity seems to have a snowball effect that can start with just one negative thought. I struggle with this quite a bit myself during runs and my best way to overcome it is to set mini goals… “just make it to the next lamp post and then start walking” usually I am able to keep setting mini goals to make it the whole way through the run. If I don’t then I’ll just quit completely.

    1. Mini goals are a great idea! I’ll have to try that approach during my next race. Central Park (my races are, inevitably, *always* in Central Park) has a ton of lampposts, so picking a landmark shouldn’t be too hard!

  2. i think this is sort of what happened to me in my recent dnf (an 8k). i played it off on being sick that week, but i am certain i could have ran/walked easy for 4.98mi. instead, the mental games got to me and i dropped out.

    anyway, at least you finished – that’s a victory in itself, especially with the mind games. mental toughness is a huge part of running — i am trying to “build my brain muscles” as well right now.

    (and definitely about meeting up in august! that is why i told you 🙂 we will have to remember to discuss in a few months once plans are more detailed)

    1. Building brain muscles is a good way to think about it–not just like “I should change my mind” or “I should just think differently” but a reminder that it can take time and effort to build a positive way of approaching racing and running in general in the same way that it takes time to condition our bodies.

      Haha, great! I am looking forward to seeing you in August!

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