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25, here I come.
Rob Brooks (this post, my 2012 h...
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(This post, my 2012 Helvetia Half recap, has written and re-written itself in my head seemingly dozens of times over the last 3 days. Instead of my traditional blow-by-blow account, I found it instructive to cluster snapshots of the morning around some of the broad topics that have been clattering around my brain since long before the moment I crossed the finish line.)
1. Run your own race
But I didn't. I ran some other guy's race. A guy who woke up feeling great, got to the start line drenched in gorgeous sunlight, kissed his wife for good luck, started running … and realized with horror he'd forgotten to tighten his shoelaces properly (they were loosely single-knotted). A guy who immediately pulled over, took 30 seconds to get them tight, and then took off in a blind panic in an effort to catch up with the 10:00 pacer. From that moment on, I was no longer running my race. I KNOW BETTER! I know you can't run 13 miles all at once. I kept trying to tell myself to slow down. But I didn't. I saw that 10:00 balloon waving off in the distance and burned up WAY too much energy catching it (which I did by around mile 1.5), spent the next 2-3 miles desperately trying to center myself mentally and physically, and wound up running some other guy's race.
2. Play the note you're on
This is one of the mantras I often use when performing music. "Play the note you're on" reminds me to ignore whatever I may have done wrong (or right!) at any previous point in the concert/rehearsal, and to focus all my energy on making the current note the BEST one I've played yet (or ever). As somebody who used to frequently obsess over missing a particular note that happened 5 minutes ago, this has helped me become a much more relaxed performer over the years. For most of Saturday's race I was frequently replaying the notes that were long since passed or worrying about notes that were yet to come – something both simultaneously – instead of playing the notes right in front of me. Obviously I'll never know for sure, but I will always feel that if I had started focusing on the present immediately after stepping back on the course I might have had something left for the back half of the race.
3. Stop to smell the roses
Something we all fail to do in varying degrees in our lives. The top of the Big Hill (at Tannenbaum tree farm right about mile 5) is where the Coast Range comes into clear view for the first time on the course. I had managed to navigate the hill with some strength and confidence, and as I looked left out to the mountains I allowed myself to simply stop for a second and soak in the entirety of the beauty that I was witnessing. It was a perfect little island of calm amidst the thunderous storm of disquiet in my head. Over the next few miles, every time I caught a new glimpse of those mountains, and of the moon which was bright and high before the sky clouded over, I let myself enjoy those moments. It's such a beautiful course, it would have been a shame and a waste not to. I'm grateful that I was able to take advantage of that despite being so unfocused.
4. You can't PR every race
After I caught up and passed the 10:00 pacer, I (foolishly) allowed myself the luxury of thinking that this was going to be the day where I not only finished ahead of my wife (haha! She PR'd for the second time in 3 weeks and beat me by a good 7-8 minutes) but also put down my 2:12 Half PR. Despite my struggles, I was *still* thinking that until somewhere down towards the mile 7 turnaround. I had no idea that the pacer had re-passed me a short distance back (presumably while I was distractedly trying to fish out a couple of chews at the top of the second big hill at mile 6), and as I steadily approached the turnaround I suddenly saw him coming the other way past me. I let out a few furious curses (garnering at least one head-turn from a nearby runner) and made it my mission in life to eventually catch up with him, even if it took me to the end of the race. Obviously it never happened. I kept him in sight until well into mile 11, but by the time we had descended the hills he kept gradually pulling further and further away, until I had to finally admit around mile 10 that I was done for. I kept periodically asking my legs for a little more, and they just couldn't give it. They had nothing extra in the tank, and all I could do was walk/run (and eventually shuffle) my way through the final 5K.
5. Learn from the experiences of others
In many ways, I feel like I owe the last 35 minutes of that race to the magnificent Katie A. As I grew increasingly despondent, and as my legs got further and further away from me (my splits the last 3 miles were 11:06, 11:27 and 11:34, with the final .1 clocking in at a robust 13:30 pace) I deliberately started channeling her post-Eugene recap. The grace, dignity, honesty and perspective that she displayed in the immediate aftermath of a humbling and potentially crushing moment was powerful and awe-inspiring, and thinking about it gave me repeated bursts of mental fortitude and inspired me to keep looking for the positive regardless of what I was going through. Thanks Katie, you are absolutely the best. We are are very strong community, and we all push and inspire each other all the time. I was so grateful to have this at my disposal when I most needed it!
6. Cross the finish line upright/There's a first time for everything
Every single race I've run over the last 14 months (even the Portland Marathon!) has ended with me sprinting across the finish line, sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a scowl, but always with a yell of triumph and *always* at speed. For the first time, I crossed that finish line limping. Deb came back up the course to find me and shepherd me in from the Hillsboro Stadium parking lot; as we hit the turf my hammy, which had behaved SO well for 13.05 miles, suddenly decided to give up the ghost and lock up hard. If I hadn't been so pissed and in pain I would have screamed with frustration. I tried to keep running, couldn't, tried to walk, couldn't, stopped to let it breathe for a couple of seconds, then limped with Deb down the chute and over the finish line. At which point I literally threw my hat and water bottle in anger (Deb graciously picked them up for me), accepted my medal, and walked over to the main part of the field to stretch it out (it was fine within a matter of minutes and hasn't caused me any problems since). I'm not known as Captain Perspective in my family for nothing, and within a few minutes I was able to adopt an "ok, I get it, everybody has their limping/DNF/puking/passing-out moment eventually" attitude even as I struggled to process through my self-directed resentment and frustration.
7. Every PR is worth celebrating
I've said this a lot to many of you, and the significance of besting my time from last year's race by a whopping 16 minutes is not at all lost on me. That's well worth celebrating! It's a major achievement, and speaks highly to my hard work over the last 12 months. When I wear my shirt and medal and think about this race, I will always have a mixed reaction, but that means that part of the mix is pride! I look forward to lopping another 16 minutes off next year. :-)
8. Don't let your frustration own you
I saved this until last for a reason. It would be easy to let the lingering effects of this race bring me down. But as I think I've proven over and over again over the last year+, I don't tend to take the easy path. By the end of Saturday evening I was already discussing with Deb my short- and mid-term goals, and mapping out a path to reach them. This race is not going to define me. It's going to help me. Just as with last year's race (for entirely different reasons), it's going to be a day that I call back upon constantly as I ferociously re-dedicate myself to finding the athlete I was on the path to becoming in December before my injury. An injury which was pretty minor relatively speaking, but which I permitted to dominate my view and to pull me far enough away from that path that I now have to work ten times harder to get back. I've already had two excellent days to kick off this next phase – two days that have been littered with me specifically calling on the memory of Saturday in order to help me make smart choices – and I intend to make that the norm instead of the rarity that it has become of late.
I've chucked out all the races I was tentatively planning on running between now and the Pints to Pasta 10K, which is on September 9th. That gives me three solid months to KICK MY OWN ASS and get back into the kind of race form that I expect of myself. That race last year was the last time I raced for speed and it was one of the seriously impressive benchmarks in a great year, and I intend to make this one just as memorable (if not more so).
Traveling this road with all of you is an honor and a joy. Thank you for inspiring me to reach beyond myself and achieve great things on a regular basis, and for helping me shoot for goals that were mere pipe dreams – somebody else's dreams – less than two years ago. You guys are simply incredible!