Sunday, March 17, 2013

Canyonlands Half Marathon

Disclaimer:  This is not a plea for sympathy.  I'm not throwing myself a pity party.  Sorry if it comes across that way.  This is a honest reflection of my experience and the lessons I've learned from it.

Goals are tricky.  As a missionary, I learned that it is virtually impossible to achieve a goal unless you make specific plans for how you intend to accomplish it.  And obviously you have to then follow those plans, measure and evaluate your progress, and make adjustments along the way.  I have experienced great success in reaching my goals by following that model.  But what if you believe you are following your plan, and your measured progress seems to validate that belief, but somehow you fall miserably short of your goal?  Well, to be honest, it's confusing and extremely disappointing.

When I decided to run the Canyonlands Half, I had a very specific goal in mind.  I wanted to finish in under 2 hours.  That would require an average pace of roughly 9 minute miles.  I knew that this was an ambitious goal -- it would mean a 15 minute improvement on my half marathon P.R.  So I designed an aggressive training plan to help me get to that pace.  And I stuck to it.  And things were looking great.  As race day got closer, I was averaging about 8:45 miles.  Everything was right on track.  I was not only going to hit my goal, I was going to be even faster that I hoped!

Nope.  I ran an average pace of 10:22 per mile.  I finished in 2:15:20  (that's by my watch -- my official time was even slower.)

So yeah, I'm disappointed.  I felt like I had really pushed myself hard in training, but it didn't pay off like I hoped.  However, hindsight is 20/20 so I'm trying to take this as a learning experience.  Here's some things I learned:
  • The treadmill is a liar.  I already kind of knew that.  I knew that you couldn't trust the number it gives you for calories burned because it ignores several important variables that factor into that calculation.  However, all the research I did seemed to indicate that most treadmills are fairly accurate on distance and speed.  In fact, most treadmills will err on the side of short-changing you -- meaning that it will tell you you're running a little slower than you really are, or that you haven't gone quite as far as you really have.  But that must not be true of this particular treadmill.  I think this particular treadmill is a big time liar.  And due to several factors (disgusting inversion air, cold temps, boatloads of snow, convenience...), I trained for this race almost exclusively on the treadmill.  Which brings me to my next lesson learned...
  • Running on the treadmill is not the same as running on hard pavement.  It may be convenient, but it's just not an equal substitute.  Truthfully, I much prefer running outside anyway.  Part of the fun is planning out your course and finding cool new places to run.  I have missed doing that, and I'm looking forward to getting back to training that way.
  • If your race is downhill, at least some of your training should be downhill.  I knew this already too.  I just hadn't learned it yet.  
  • If your race has any uphill at all, you need to do some hill running in your training.  The general trend of the Canyonlands Half was downhill, but it sort of meanders up and down, including one hill that was a beast.  And I am much slower on uphill stretches than I am on downhill/flat stretches.  That was amplified by the fact that all my training was done on level ground.
  • Listening to books while running is risky.  I usually really enjoy listening to audiobooks during my runs -- it helps distract my from my aches and pains and fatigue.  And its entertaining.  But during my half marathon, one of the main characters was taken prisoner and was being marched through snowy terrain to some unknown location.  She kept going on and on about how bad her feet hurt, how exhausted she was, how it was all she could manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other, etc.  Psychologically, not real helpful.  (although it's pretty funny thinking back on that...)
Yeah, coming up short is pretty discouraging.  But there's no reason this shouldn't be a positive experience.  I am just as motivated as ever to reach my goal.  And I learned a lot of valuable lessons that will help me get there.  Here's some things I loved about my Canyonlands Half Marathon experience:
  • It was by far the most beautiful course I have ever run.  The red-rock cliffs and the Colorado River provided spectacular scenery that made this race awesome.
  • I got to escape the cold and spend a few days in the mid-70's!
  • Moab might be my most favorite place to visit -- I love it.  I want to own a vacation home there someday.  
  • Spending the weekend with my awesome wife and some of my best friends was a blast.  Seriously cool people!
The Canyonlands Half Marathon was awesome.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot from it.  Now it's time to pick my next race and take another crack at hitting my goal!  

This is exactly the type of blog post I would typically scroll past and not read -- super long and no pictures!  Sorry folks.  If you read it, thanks!


mary elizabeth said...

i'm so proud of you and think you're a rockstar! the weekend was an absolute blast and i think you did great (even if you don't)! can't wait for the next race! :D

Samantha Kennicott said...

Great job for running another half and finishing it well, even if it wasn't in the time frame you hoped. You are awesome! (and the thing about your book on tape made me laugh. next time maybe just blast some upbeat music. haha!)

Talmage said...

I trained on the treadmill and flat trails for a 5k in Suncrest. Little did I know before the race, that course is not just hills but also dirt trail. I understand the shock of not performing as well as you thought you might.

The air in this valley has been terrible. I feel that we as a community would be healthier if we could do more of our athletic activities without permanent lung damage.

Don't dwell on what you didn't do. You ran 13.1 more miles than most people ever do. And you did it in pretty good time.

Paul said...

Sorry you weren't happy with your result, but that is a good time! I understand that feeling though. I have had it many times! I am still trying to figure it all out. I have learned that preparing yourself mentally is just as important as the physical training. Keep up the good work Vince. You'll get your goal next time.