Interests include: setting unrealistic expectations for myself and then being disappointed with myself that I haven’t achieved an arbitrary (and always moving) standard.
Enter: agreeing to take a friend’s bib to do a 25k trail race that I haven’t trained for.
Now there is no reason to think that I would do “well.” I am not in race shape. I have been do three 4 miles runs (2 easy, 1 tempo) and one long trail run that’s about 8-10 miles with 1200’ of elevation. I didn’t even know about Red Newt’s Iron Mines 25k/50k until 10 days ago. Alas, that doesn’t stop me. But I agreed to do this race, because I knew it would be good to counter these tendencies that I have (and I know so many people share.) I knew that I could at least hike a 25k. So I agreed to do it.
I wanted to share my experience, because it’s one that so many can relate to. It’s one about unrealistic expectations, fear of failure, perfectionism, and acceptance.
I met my friends, Diana and Wanda, at a Waffle House at 4:58 AM on Saturday to head to Ringwood, NJ. The course started at the New Weis Nature Center and went throughout The Norvin Green State Forest. When we got the course map and cues, I knew that it wouldn’t exactly be intuitive in terms of finding my way. I also knew that based on the course map, there would be about three climbs with some nice downhills. At the end there would be some “baby” hills. That’s what I knew going into it. So I knew what I physically had to do (kind of), but more importantly I was preparing myself for what I mentally had to do.
Prior to the race, I kept having to challenge my tendencies that I previously described of setting unrealistic expectations for myself. Oh and that is coupled by the fact that my expectations are always a moving target. If I achieve the desired goal, then it must have been too easy. I kept reminding myself, with the help of John, that it doesn’t make sense for me to think that I would do “well” on this if I’m comparing myself to when I prepared for Naked Nick 25k in December 2018. Like I said, I haven’t trained for “racing.” I knew that I could definitely hike and run at least a bit of the 25k. So I kept reminding myself of that and challenging my narrative of unfair expectations.
I also decided to do it, because I know that I have previously been immobilized by fear of failure. A year ago, I would have never agreed to do this. But in some recent months, i’ve realized that failure is only based on how I define it. I couldn’t actually really fail in this case when I thought about worst case scenario. Worst case is that I got hurt. I feel pretty comfortable on trails, so I wasn’t too worried about that. The other worst case is a mental one: I DNFd (did not finish), because I was too tired. But even not finishing because I was too tired would give me an idea of the shape that i’m in. Then I realized that there’s so much freedom if I change my definition of failure. Throughout the week leading up to the run, I kept challenging the fears that I had, because I knew that they were a construct of anxiety and my perfectionism.
So the ruminations of unrealistic expectations and fear of failure kept resurfacing throughout the week, but they pretty much subsided by the time I got my bib. I knew that this was going to be a really cool race in terms of terrain and overlooks. And it was going to be great weather. I kind of got an idea of what to expect in terms of climbs. I knew that I was supposed to do 15.1 miles with 2800’ of elevation. I knew to follow the little pink flags in the ground. Got it. Well kinda...
My heat started at 7:45 AM, and I went out pretty easy. Within the first .5 miles the one part of the pack went off course. I should have realized that that wouldn’t bode well for the future. Within 1-1.5 miles I was lost after following a group of hikers that said they were doing the 25k course. Well, they thought they were doing the course. But then I didn’t see any pink flags for a while and new something was wrong. So add about 1-1.5 miles and I’m back on course. Immediately my perfectionism felt crippling. I was thinking “I’m not going to have an accurate gauge of how I did. This won’t properly represent the shape i’m in. I wonder how I would have done without being off course.” I just wanted to call John, but I knew what he’d say: It doesn’t matter. The real problem would have been if I stole the rest of the experience from myself. I was going to be running through the woods, climbing on boulders, and hopping from rock to rock. That’s what I love. That’s what makes me feel free.
After that point, I slipped into a meditative state. I remember certain pieces.
-I remember thinking around mile 5 that I was so happy to be out in the woods, looking at the moss, hearing the water, being able to physically do this.
-Around mile 7 I was thinking about how I need to keep hiking and focusing on using my glutes. (See, I practice what I preach to my patients.)
-Around mile 8-9 I remember thinking about how typically I would be close to finishing my long run.
-Around mile 10 I was reminded of hiking down from the second highest point of Lake Como with John (as he complained incessantly haha).
-Around mile 11 I was at the last aid station, and I had a moment of panic when I found out I still had 6.5 miles to go. But then I got excited. I knew I was going to run the furthest I ever have.
-Around mile 12 or 13 I was going to be going up to High Point. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t going to be so bad. But I remember the graph. I remember how much I just went downhill, and I knew I had to go back up. So I knew this was going to be critical. I knew that this is when I could really burn out. So as I started to climb, I remembered the sage advice of a patient: eat, drink, rest. I did just that. I knew that when it leveled out for part that I would keep walking quickly, because it was better for me to rest and let my heart rate come down.
-Around mile 14 I was speculating about how much more I had to do. I knew there were two “baby hills” left. Then I kept going up and down, and I kept thinking that that was the two. But then I kept going up and down.
-Around mile 15 I followed a group of runners ahead of me instead of following the pink flags. There was a moment of impatience; I just wanted to be done. But I knew the impatience and frustration wouldn’t have me finish faster. Then I thought of my crazy patients that run 100 miles. I would be in the infancy of my race. Then I thought that I’m going to stick with 25ks.
-Around mile something-near-the-end FINALLY I saw a volunteer, and they said 1.5 miles left.
-Around mile something-nearer-the-end I saw another volunteer that said 1 mile level when I swear I saw that other volunteer 1 mile prior.
-I began to recognize the course vaguely from the beginning. Then I got excited. I did it! I made it!!
A few (several) things I’ve learned:
So let me ask you:
What is one of the most important things you’ve learned from training or racing?? Comment below!!
The Mobility-Doc Blog
Drs. Chloe Costigan and John Giacalone are both physical medicine specialists, former competitive athletes, and strength and conditioning coaches.