We question if our best days are behind us or if we have what it takes to get the job done.
The honest answer is neither of these scenarios are true.
A bad race doesn't define who you are nor should it cause you to slip into such depression that your aims for faster times should diminish.
I have been there.
I understand completely how it feels to run painfully slow.
So slow, in fact, that you wonder what in the hell you trying so hard for.
I nearly quit the sport in 2010.
I was accepted back to the Army World Class Athlete Program in Colorado Springs in October of 2009 after having run a 2.19.35 marathon in December of 2007.
Upon completion of that race, I flew back from Sacramento to Colorado Springs to work as a staff member of the military unit.
The 2008 USA Olympic Trials were held the month before and I hd failed to qualify a little over two months prior at the Chicago Marathon held in October of 2007.
The 2.19:35 performance was good enough to be accepted to come back to Fort Carson after I had completed Army Officer Candidate School.
I needed a time of 2.22.00 or better in order to come back.
The Olympic Trials “B” standard time back in late 2007 was 2.22.00 which was the minimum standard needed to qualify for be a marathon runner in the Army W.C.A.P.
I thought having run 2.19.35 getting back to the unit after Officer Candidate School and getting under the new 2.19.00 2012 Olympic Trials standard would not be an issue.
What is 35 seconds, right?
The faster you go the harder it is to create similar or better athletic performances
I nearly quit the sport in that I was training harder than I had ever in my life yet was not improving.
The best marathon I ran from the time I returned to the Army WCAP in October of 2009 to the time I departed in January of 2011 was ‘only' a 2:36:29 (after an opening half at 1.08.33 and still at 2.22 pace at 20 miles-1.50) run on the same course I ran my 2:19:35 personal best on.
Something was wrong.
So does my heart go out to runners who are dealing with painfully slow half marathon efforts?
It doesn't matter what race distance it is, dealing with painfully slow athletic performances is tough but it should also provide a great deal of positive feedback to the athlete.
What goes wrong when we run painfully slow?
I am speaking only on my own experience but I have also seen it in other runners I have known as well.
Here are a few.
1. We are too caught up in the sport. Take some time away from the training, calculating mileage and worrying about your next race.
It wasn't until I left that prestigious unit that I realized what I was doing wrong and the above mentioned tip was significantly slowing my efforts.
2. Don't over race.
You can get just as much benefit from a hard tempo in training as you can in a race.
Races are great in that they can provide you an outstanding opportunity to get tested.
They can slo be a great way to stress you out when you aren't truly fit or prepared well enough to compete well.
I loved what Steve Prefontaine once said in regards to competition and how he handled it.
Well I can go over to Europe and race against these people, or I can stay away from them and than I can let them wonder
He was focused on training.
His mind wasn't pre-occupied with his competition or worrying about measuring up.
Frequent racing adds stress to your training routine. I am not saying racing is a bad thing because it isn't.
I thrive on it as well.
What I am saying is that when you are not prepared to compete at the level you want to compete at, when you are not at your fittest, jumping into a race and missing your objective can be detrimental mentally.
This can have long lasting effects, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a couple days or weeks off.
3. Don't overthink
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got while competing with the Army World Class Athlete Program was from one of our top middle distance runners.
CPT John Mickowski had run a 3.38 1500m while with the unit and we used to train together extensively.
The way he put training was like this.
Nate, when I get to the track all that matters is the workout, when it is complete, I leave it there. I go about my day, enjoy other things. I don't calculate splits, write down mileage. I am not like that.
John was one of our top athletes and his tenacity and work ethic always kept things in perspective for me.
4. Let go
Hard to do but the best thing you can do when dealing with a painfully slow half marathon effort or any distance for that matter is simply let go.
You can't bring the race back or the workouts you did leading into it.
What you can do is learn from the experience and change what you were doing in training, how you were thinking and how you handled yourself before and after the race.
It wasn't until after I had failed to qualify for the 2008 USA Olympic Marathon Trials at the 2007 Chicago Marathon that I went on to break an extremely difficult barrier, sub-2.20.00.
The Trials were held in November. I ran 2.19.35 28 days after they were held.
The reason I did that was the fact that I had no pressure to perform on me.
I was working full-time as a staff member of the Army World Class Athlete Program.
I remember coming back to Fort Carson after failing at Chicago and hearing my supervisor say.
This is your place of duty now, if you want to keep running, it will be on your own time.
Soldiers who are fortunate enough to be a part of the Army W.C.A.P. have the luxury of training full-time.
There are no deployments for Soldiers within this unit, although many have deployed several times to war zones.
I had run my fastest marathon ever while I was not even on full-time athlete status.
The expectations from others was not on me after I failed at Chicago in October of 2007.
Chicago was my last attempt at qualifying for the USA Olympic Trials which were to be held on 5 November of 2007.
I failed succumbing to the worst heat in the races history and practically jogged in to finish in 2.51.52 (after a 1.11 first half).
I was devastated but not done.
My point in this whole story is to instill that never give up attitude in you.
I understand how it feels to run a painfully slow performance.
It comes down to your beliefs and goals and how badly you want to succeed.
Are you going to let a painfully slow performance depress or motivate you?
Are you going to let a disappointment get the best of you or are you going to allow that setback to give you the positive energy you need to create a breakthrough?
I left the Army WCAP in January of 2011 and although 2010 was probably the worst racing year of my career I learned a lot about what I was doing wrong back than.
I went on to finish 5th in November of 2011 at the Monumental Indianapolis Marathon with my second fastest effort to date in 2.26.42 and ran one of my fastest half-marathons running a 1.08.44 at the Germantown Half-Marathon to finish second to Kenyan Micah Tirop's 1.08.28.
I did this while working full-time in one of the busiest and stressful military units in our Armed Forces while with the 101st Airborne Division.
There has been no luxuries since yet I ran faster in 2011 in much more stressful circumstances than I did in 2009-2010 while having all the luxuries of a full-time athlete.
The pressure to perform can add unnecessary weight that you simply don't need in your training schedule.
Get rid of it!
I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and had to take the entire year away from the sport I love.
2013 is a new year and I am training to better my 2.19.35 and 1.07.06 personal bests for the full and half-marathon distances.
You can never let up.
Learn from your mistakes, enjoy the sport and don't get overwhelmed by trying to live up to others's standards for you.
Competing is about getting the best out of yourself, not letting others expectations of you hinder your athletic performance.