Sometimes there are downsides to sharing your running achievements, your aspirations, your goals. When people know that you have run a half marathon, a marathon or an ultra, they base any other distance off that event. “You ran a marathon and are now training for a 10km? What do you mean you haven’t trained, you just ran 42km you can run a 10km EASILY!”
The first thing going on in your head is “oh my god stop talking…it is sooooo different.”
People don’t do it out of spite or ill will. But if you don’t run, if you haven’t trained for different events, it is difficult to grasp the concept that just because you ran a 60km or 100km event one weekend does not mean that is a normal occurrence for you. That was the goal. Now the event is complete, it won’t come around for a while. It doesn’t help your training, confidence, or general happiness to hear “How many thousand kilometers did you run this morning?” when actually you slept in and didn’t do any exercise because you are no longer having to adhere to a regimented training plan. And when you change from 100km to 10km races, it is a completely different ballgame. Yes, you go into a 10km run without fear of whether or not your legs will hold for the entire 10 kilometers. You know that they will. But you want to run fast. To do well. To RUN a 10km race, not simply run 10km as if it was a warm up for the 100km option.
And this is one reason that for some people, it is difficult to bounce back after an event, why the post-race blues are a real thing. People’s expectations are all around you. No matter how hard you push them away, they nag at you, they find their way into your thought processes and affect your confidence. Of course, when you are training, all you can do is talk about that, and you are proud when people ask how your training is going, what you did that day, giving you opportunities to show off. So we should expect that to continue, for people to be interested and make conversation out of it. For three or so months leading up to an event that was ALL you talked about. Seriously, the only thing. When asked your plans for the weekend, you say “Well I have a friend’s birthday party on Friday but because I have a 7 hour run on Saturday morning, I am going to have an early night on Friday and pop in for one, non-alcoholic, beverage. I will then have a sports massage, go to yoga, the boy and I are having a date night on the couch (again, because I will likely be tired from my 7 hour run) and on Sunday just the vege market and chores, and a 45 minute recovery run.”
However, when that is no longer your life, when you have a break, your response is much different…and when people expect you to go on a long run, to still be an ‘athlete’, it changes your perception about yourself. You are no longer living up to the expectations of others. And their expectations, the expectations of third parties, become your own expectations. “Hell yeah I was a hard-core runner, I was an athlete, I was a machine. I wish I was like that…I wish I looked like that…I wish I could do that still.”
This is something I struggle with after every event, and post-Tarawera, it has been a long struggle. I have tried to focus on other things apart from running, but the expectations still linger. I’m currently lucky to run twice per week and gym twice per week, whereas when I was training, I was exercising about 10 to 12 times per week (running, gyming and yoga). Part of that is life being busy, part of that is my attempt to focus on other aspects of life, other priorities that fell to the side when training took over. Trying to have a more balanced life, see friends, spend time with family, travel, and not take life so seriously. But still, the guilt and the sense of shame that I am not running as much, lingers.
But you know what…who cares. Who cares about what others think. What their expectations are. Be happy that people ask, that they care, that they are making conversation about one of your passions and hobbies. That they actually listen and keep up to date with what you do. And take pleasure in the fact that you did something amazing, you ran 5km, 10km, a marathon…you did that. And you can do it again. When you want. When you choose to. Don’t let others get you down, focus on you and what you want. And learn to confidently say “Oh I didn’t go for a run this weekend, I’m having a break” or “I’m focusing on other things”. And don’t be scared of starting again…of living up to your expectations and the standards you set previously. It is a journey, it will always be, whether you have a break or keep going. For me, I am jumping back on the train, slowly. Slowly learning to deal with my own expectations and the pressure I put on myself to be the best. Because at the end of the day, you only need to care about how you view yourself, what you think of yourself, not what anyone else thinks.
So, where is this rant going? That’s right…training for a 10km. Yes. I ran the 10km event in the Wellington Marathon a few weeks ago. I had planned on training hard for it, to aim for a PB of 42 minutes. My fasted 10km was in February 2014, the Round the Bays, and I completed it in 45:35. It was tough but good. I had completed my first marathon two months prior, had a few weeks off, and then did a few weeks of speed training to try to improve my speed for the event. I wanted sub-45 minutes, so I was thrilled really.
This time, work and life took over. In the three months leading up to the event, I ran probably a handful of times. I hadn’t done much speed work at all, and most of my runs were longer trail runs on the weekend. I got sick the two weeks before, and it was cold, so my asthma was acting up more than usual. And on the morning of the 10km, I didn’t want to do it. I stood in the living room, looking out the window, and said to Rob “I don’t want to go. But I have to, because people will ask how I did, and I don’t want to say I didn’t do it.” That was one reason I went. But the main reason, the main way I convinced myself to go out the door, was I finally got to that point of thinking “Who cares.” I decided to just treat it as any old run, put on some good music, go for a run, enjoy it, see who else is out there running and wave to them. Don’t feel pressure, just go and do it for the love of it. (Of course I had to set a small goal – just keep running, don’t stop, even if it hurts, slow down, don’t feel any shame).
And that is what I did. It was glorious. I ran with feeling, not according to my watch (which was good because my watch decided to stop working around 2km in, joining the 2nd and 3rd km as one, so my total distance ended up being 9.10 km instead of 10km, skewing my pace slightly!). I looked at all the other runners around me, played mind games about keeping up with certain people, saw a number of friends out there running and waved to them and cheered them on. I listened to some music, bopped along to the beats while running, and when I turned around at the half way point I thought ‘Game on.’ I finished with a negative split, I ran my heart out on the way home to the stadium. I enjoyed it. I ran with a smile on my face. I didn’t care what the world thought of me, what my time would be, all I knew was that I was running in a sea of people and it felt wonderful. I was alive. I was flying. And the best thing of all, I was back. Jen Howes, running machine (in my mind at least) was back.
And a nice surprise – I finished in 48:07. I was the 35th female finisher out of 638 (in the top 5%) and 140 out of 1,091 overall finishers (top 15%). And 18 out of 135 in my age group (F20 to F39). So I was slower than my PB, but I still ran a mean race. And still finished in the top.
Keep in mind split my watch played up during the first few km, so the first two km are actually 3…I didn’t run the 2nd km in 8:44…I probably wouldn’t have had that finish had I gone in with all the pressures I had been feeling. But I tried to let it all go, I went back to basics, running because I wanted to, and I believe that is why I got that time. I also know that I can do better, and 48 minutes without much training is epic. If I put my mind to it, i can definitely get below 45 minutes, and who knows, 42, 41 or even 40 minutes one day. But for now, I am happy knowing that mentally I overcame that roadblock. That I went out there and just did it. And hopefully, I can hold onto that feeling, and hold onto what it resulted in – a great time in the scheme of things, in the scheme of all other runners that went out there, that believes in themselves and truly pushed themselves. I was part of that, and that is something truly special.