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Toeing the Line


The good news is that I only threw up five times. I felt like it easily could have been more. My first race of any distance longer than 13 miles in two years was a complete and total disaster. Absolutely everything went wrong, which was augmented by some damned fool behaviour by me.

Let's have a look, because, as Plato said, "An unexamined race is not worth running."

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A month back a friend had hernia surgery, which meant that our planned rim to rim to rim attempt [for the uninitiated] would need to be delayed until fall or the following spring. At this point in the year I have run 750 miles. I wanted those miles to be worth something, and that value (too) often comes in the form racing. So I put a 50 KM race on my calendar. It was just two hours away from my home of San Francisco in Folsom. It was relatively flattish, the fees manageable, and importantly the event wasn't sold out.

I have pulled back from participating in a lot of things over the last two years. Not toeing the line in a major race distance is a proxy for this in a lot of ways. I'm not content to remain here, though. Getting back to racing form is one way in which I am pushing myself to re-engage.

But fuck-all is it fantastic hell climbing out of this hole I've dug for myself. The biggest enemy to success is self expectations. I am a person of a certain age, with certain expectations, and a certain amount of metrics of previous success for which to measure myself. I'm two years rusty, but I want to be the dude who was standing on podiums. My memory goes back to standing there, not any further back when I first began, overweight, and just pushing towards the finish.

I had a good enough plan for the race. Get good race week sleep, be wise with nutrition. As far as the race, I would take it as five 10 KM races. The first 10 KM would be nervous and too fast, but we would find a speed that was comfortable. We would live in that comfort for the second 10 KM, and then increase effort by five to ten percent for 10 KM three and four. The final 10 KM would be about using whatever was left to get to the finishing line.

Three really big things got in my way here.

One: UltrasignUp.Com has a super unhelpful feature where it projects your finishing time. My projected finishing time had me winning my age group. Letting your mind believe a race in excess of 20 miles can be projected is the dumbest possible thing one can do.

Two: Beet juice has been believed to increase endurance capabilities when ingested before vigorous activity. So I juiced two beets and chugged it (approx 300 ML) one hour before race time. Additionally, I have a condition known as ulcerative colitis. It has been in remission for four years. But a month ago it came roaring back. I do not know if it was the beet juice. I do not know if it was the colitis. I do know that I was feeling fine and then I was not feeling fine. And I do know that nothing new on race day is a golden rule that I violated here.

Three: In all my instagramming of my kit before the race, I went ahead a forgot my hydration vest. This was (by 5 miles) my longest run of the year,and (by about 15 degrees) the hottest run of the year. And I forgot my hydration vest. Plus whatever was going on with my stomach meant I would vomit five times through 17 miles. So whatever hydration and food I was able to get down (I estimate it was roughly 800 calories total) likely came right back up.

In summary, I'm back at square one. I acted like I had never done this before. I want the results of a seasoned veteran, but I acted like a rookie.

There is a quote circulating the internet right now from 2018 Boston Marathon Champion Desiree Linden. It goes:

"Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better. My advice: keep showing up.

I like this quote quite a bit. I've definitely felt this, though on a drastically reduced scale. But I sense the meaning of this quote can be slightly misinterpreted. In our instant gratification times, of which I am more than guilty, this could be interpreted to imply that success is like some lotto ticket. You just have to keep buying the ticket. Some tickets lose. Some win. Keep buying.

Rather, success is about developing habits. Learning, remembering, doing better. Trying to be better is crucial here. For years I signed up for plenty races and events, I just didn't bother show up.

At this, my first 50 KM in two years, I showed up and what I had was garbage. At the mile 10 aid station I had the Lyft app open. I had a spot picked out and was entering the address for drop off. But I closed it. I pushed forward. I would throw up three more times after that.

I failed because I fell out of the habit of giving it my all. I finished because I want to be in that habit again. I got home, I fed the dog, took a shower, and signed up for another 50 KM in three months.