The Psychology of Racing/Running

IMG_4565Until the NYC marathon, I had believed in progression and improvement.  That if I invested the time and energy and followed the plan, I’d be set. I’d see results.  Maybe I wouldn’t PR exactly, but I wouldn’t crash and burn.

Last fall, though, this was not the case.  The Staten Island Half Marathon was a preview of how well I could crash and burn on a course, a preview of the New York City Marathon that wasn’t pretty.  The thing is, the Staten Island Half Marathon felt like a reversal of all the work I’d done over the previous 2 years. If I didn’t PR a race, I usually got within 10 minutes of my PR.  I was in a certain range, which I’d come to believe was normal for me.  Yet at the finish line of the Staten Island Half Marathon, I was off by half an hour.  My time was the closest I’d come to matching my first half marathon in May 2012 ever, and not intentionally because I was stopping to see characters.

And the New York City Marathon reaffirmed this for me.  I came close to matching my first marathon time, not my second or third marathon time.

The linear march of progress towards improvement seemed to not only become stagnant, but it had actually slipped and declined and I’m still trying to deal with that.  As the people around me improve, I’m still trying to figure out how I went so wrong a year ago.  It’s hard to have faith in a training process, to log a lot of miles, to dedicate so much time and energy to training for a marathon, when you’re not even really sure it’ll pay off anymore.  I know you never really know what’ll happen on race day, but I feel like I just don’t know anything anymore.  Like before, I could have faith in improvement, that I’d always worked hard and improved and now…

Now to work hard with no improvement has been… well, disconcerting to say the least. I skipped spring half marathons and now I feel adrift, like I don’t know where I stand relative to my past selves and perhaps that’s even more bothersome than anything else.  Much like going awhile without weighing yourself, you can only delude yourself into thinking you’ve lost weight for so long before you get on the scale and realize you’ve gained back all the weight you lost.

When the weight loss and the improvement stops, where does that me?  Without realizing it, these things have been defining features of my life for a few years now.  I felt control, I felt in charge.  In the literary tradition of the fitness story, the fitness blog, the before and after, there’s just always progress. Improvement. A new goal to chase.  There’s the before and after picture with an implicit, “And she lived happily ever after” but what about when weight loss doesn’t bring the happily ever after, just like there’s no guarantee a prince would?

Now I don’t have my control anymore and I have to just go out and train and trust that if I work really, really hard I’ll see some kind of improvement because without improvement, where does that leave me? I guess part of getting over the NYC Marathon experience is figuring that out.  A year later, I still don’t have the answer.


5 thoughts on “The Psychology of Racing/Running

  1. I think the question is, what do you need to do to get back that control? Or, is having that control all that important in the first place? Only questions you can answer chica. But you know we’re all here to help you figure it out. XOXO Now. Go have some funny looking green flowery things and feel better. 🙂

  2. I wish I had advice, or words of wisdom to make you feel better, but since I’m struggling as well, not just to improve, but to maintain the slow speed I once had, I’m just as bad off as you (mentally, physically, you’re still MUCH better). But running with someone, even if that someone is waaaaaaaaaaaaay slower than you (like, me, for example) will help make the miles fly by!

  3. I can, in all honesty, attest to the fact that weight loss does NOT give you a happily ever after…and that it is always something you will have to work at and ignoring it will just lead to bad things.

    As for training…maybe you need time off from the longer distances. Maybe try doing 5Ks and 10Ks to find some fun in it and not have training be such drudgery? There is something far more enjoyable about running a a nice 3 miles and being done and still being able to enjoy the rest of your day vs running 20 miles and feeling like shit during and afterwards. Maybe this is what you need?

  4. Progression isn’t always linear, and achieving a goal isn’t always the beginning of happily ever after. At least by continuing to try, there’s the possibility of achieving something. If you stop trying, you have no chance of getting better.

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