Friday, March 11, 2011

Minimus Maximus

Nathan cruising in to the Finish of Napa Valley Marathon in 3rd place, 2:33:07

This past weekend I witnessed something awesome, something inspiring and something that made me think. On Sunday, I was up at the Napa Valley Marathon cheering on The Baker as he raced his first marathon since October 2009. This was a race he had been really training hard for, at the expense on time on the trails which is really saying something, and was seeing what he could really do if he specifically trained for the marathon. I set him up with a training schedule and a set of paces to workout at. His key runs were based off of a 2:35 marathon time pace chart and routinely in his track workouts he was well ahead of his splits. This pace was also well ahead of his 2:43:xx PR but was also the first time he had actually trained for a marathon since starting ultrarunning. This time, it wasn't a marathon followed by a 24 hour race or some such deal. He seemed primed and ready according to the workouts he was clocking. A few times on long runs our paths would intersect but he would leave me in the dust like I was clocking a 9 minute mile instead of a low 6 which I was actually running at. He would say his workouts were "ok" or "not bad" but I never got the sense that he was really confident in his training (admittedly it was a short training schedule with a hard load, not exactly confidence inspiring, but nonetheless).

When we headed up to Napa on Sunday in the dreary rain, I was not sure how he was feeling. He didn't seem nervous or excited, just his usual more stoic self. I flashed back to Burning River 100 miler last summer where his sister Kristin and I had to kick him out of the car practically and wondered if I would have to do the same in order to entice him out in the rain. But he hopped out of the car and off he went. I went on my own run, met Brett and Larissa for coffee and then headed out to mile 8.5 to wait and cheer.

I can't say I am surprised by what I witnessed. Nathan came cruising along, smiling and being goofy with the little crowd at the bridge there. He was flying, zooming past us less than 49 minutes into the race. In fact, I think it was less that 48. We zoomed to our next appointed spot, mile 18.5 where we barely had to wait for him (especially since I went WAY past where we needed to turn). Again, he came up smiling and being goofy and moving seriously fast. He was not slowing down and I hastened to make it to the finish line to cheer him in. 

It was like crewing for an ultra on hyperspeed. The race was over before my hair was even dry from running at 5am in the rain. He zoomed into the finish line in 3rd place having consistently moved up through the race and PR'd majorly running 2:33:07. It was astonishing. He smiled the whole way and while the first thing he said was something like, "I am so happy I get to go back to the trails now", I don't think he spent the whole race or all of his training miserable and suffering. He did what he loved: he just ran. It was beautiful to watch.

Admittedly, watching his race made me feel a whole host of things: pride, happiness, love, joy as well as some mixed emotions. The mixed emotions are a product of my experience at Houston. Watching Nathan, I said to myself, I want to have a day like that. Not just a day where I run seriously fast, but a day in which I don't spend the entire race fighting with something whether physical or emotional. I had been hoping that Houston was going to be my day but it was quite the opposite. It was a lesson teacher, an equalizer and has made me think a great deal about where my head is and will be leading up to LA next week.

Nathan's run was inspiring to me because it reflected something that I DIDN'T have going into Houston. Nathan didn't have any expectations ostensibly, he just went and said, I'll see the day I have, hope its good. At Houston, I had great expectations. My training had been going good, I had been running fast and Strands kept telling me I could run a 2:42 marathon. I felt like I was ready to run well under the standard. I felt that despite getting sick race week and having stomach issues the day before the race that come race morning, everything would suddenly feel easy. 


Though I hadn't raced a road marathon in a while, I can remember the feeling of starting CIM back in 2008 and thinking for mile after mile after mile "wow this feels easy". I built up this expectation that come race day things would click and I would have a "Devon Day". I think this expectation even a more diluted simmering under the surface version of itself was hugely detrimental. When the going got tough when I didn't think it should be, it mentally screwed me. I became hugely reactive in that race. I recently read a great article called "Why You Should Expect the Worst", which basically summed up my experiences at my best and worst races. At my best races, I came in genuinely uncertain about what the day would hold for me. I usually had diminished expectations for one reason or another. I always felt a comfortable uncertainty, I relinquished my control over what would happen and hoped for the best. I genuinely didn't expect a thing and was prepared for the possible outcomes. At Houston I wasn't. I wasn't prepared to navigate a bad day, I was not okay with any outcome other than meeting the standard. Ultimately, I derived very little pleasure out of running my second fastest marathon ever and my fastest in more than 2 years. Matt Fitzgerald writes: 


Sports psychology as it is commonly practiced is a form of positive psychology, based on happy talk and can-do spirit. That stuff has its place, but widely recommended techniques such as visualizing yourself performing perfectly in races and feeling supremely awesome while doing it may actually hinder performance instead of helping it, because they may send you into races with unrealistic expectations. Going into races with confidence in your ability to achieve your goals is a good thing, because true confidence is inherently realistic. But going into races expecting to feel any better than wretched in pursuit of maximum performance is a form of self-sabotage. Expect every race to hurt like hell and you will race better.- Matt Fitzgerald "Why You Should Expect the Worst"


On Sunday, I was excited to watch Nathan run the race he was prepared to run. He was fit, he had prepared well, he didn't come with any predetermined idea of how things were going to go. He just ran. He smiled, he enjoyed, he challenged himself. Reflecting upon watching him and looking forwards towards my own race I am faced with those whirling set of mixed emotions that came about from watching such an inspiring race. I was faced with the reality that I have lost a great deal of confidence after Houston. I am faced with the reality of struggling with keeping up the same intensity of austere living, though by most standards I am still a monk (or ninja). I am struggling with the toll of so much hard training and so little downtime. I actually understand what it means to consider that I might not reach my goal. I have finally minimized and destroy my expectations. I've maximized view to be okay with a whole host of outcomes. I have finally gotten back to believing one of my mottos from one of my favorite authors, Dan Millman: "No Resistance, No Stress".


Think about it: when we have expectations, and things don’t go the way we expect (which happens quite often, as we’re not good prognosticators), we are disappointed, frustrated. It’s our expectations that force us to judge whether something is good or bad.Leo Babauta "The Elements of Living Lightly".


As I sit here, tapering away, thinking towards race day, I am thinking about last Sunday. I am holding the image of Nathan's joyous smile as he clipped along. Ultimately, at this point, what happens on race day will happen. I have done the work, I have fueled and slept, run hard and easy, stretched and sat in ice baths.  And now, I just have to do my best to be present, take it as it comes and most importantly, enjoy the hell out of the ride. Race day is a celebration of all that has come before it. It is the ultimate practice in being present and frankly the only thing that can truly disappointment me on that day is if I forget that.

4 comments:

  1. Nathan looked amazing out there. And i think you're right - the best you can do at the start is know you are capable of a PR and run from your heart.

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  2. I've always found my best races tend to be when I stop pressuring myself and just go for what feels right on the day. I've smashed PRs several times when I was convinced the weather/training or some other factor meant the PR attempt was off and it was just a chance to go for a decent fast(ish) run. Plus then you don't limit yourself to a particular pace...which may be faster OR slower than you're really capable of.

    Am sure you'll pull out a great result at LA, but it'll be more fun if you ignore the clock and just go for it.

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  3. Good luck Devon. Have fun day out there.

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  4. Great reflections, I always take away something valuable from your blog.
    So true that expectations too often set us up for disappointment.
    Reminds me of how the Buddhists counsel against Hope. Sounds like odd advice but hoping (for something) just means you are not accepting/enjoying/experiencing what is happening in the moment.
    Good luck and enjoy your race!

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