"If life meets your expectations, you are happy. Happiness is how you think about what the world gives you. Happiness is equal to, or greater, than the difference between the way you see the events of your life and your expectation of how life should behave. If life meets your expectations, then you are happy."
In four simple sentences, he managed to summarize how I feel: when expectations are met, happiness is likely the result. From the running perspective, it couldn't be more straightforward. When you are running well, you expect to run a strong race. When those two events do not line up, it's hard to be happy.
When I toed the line in Cedar City this past Saturday, running a strong race was my only expectation. I had breezed through the course two years ago with a shiny new PR of 1:39:42, shocking the heck out of me. I didn't know it at the time, but 2015 marked the beginning of what would become my BQ cycle; I was strong and getting stronger. This year, however, all bets were off. 2017 has been one frustrating set-back after another. I feel my patience wearing thin. But the last few weeks showed a serious and legit uptick. My track times were good and getting better, my long runs were solid. I was ready. Why not?
I had set three goals for this half marathon, a tradition for all races. My must-hit goal was 1:44, my "good job" goal was 1:40, and my "pie-in-the-sky" goal was 1:37 or under. 1:37 was magical for two reasons: it got me into the elusive NYC marathon for 2018 as well as offered me better corral placement in the rapidly approaching Indianapolis Marathon in November. Running a 1:37 in my first half back from injury was audacious. It was bold, ostentatious, a bit cheeky. But I had several variables working in my favor: I knew the course. It was decidedly downhill. And it was a smaller race, which I tend to do better in.
On Saturday, those expectations, minus my "must-hit" went unmet. I finished in (spoiler alert!) a very disappointing 1:42:08. I completely fell apart in the last four miles. The bitterness wasn't about my time - technically, that's the second fastest half I've ever run. The lemon is the manner in which I finished, how I felt at the end. That is what concerns me most.
The race did not begin in ideal conditions. When my alarm went off at 4:30am, the first thing I did was peer out my hotel window. Pouring rain. The thunderstorms that had pelted Las Vegas the night before found their way north to Utah. I wasn't concerned about getting wet; I was concerned about constantly braking down a slippery road. I knew from my rainy CIM experience to wear as little clothing as possible during the actual race (wet clothes = heavy clothes) but stay dry for as long as possible beforehand. I threw on my shorts and tank, but wore two coats and carried an extra pair of socks to change into right before the start.
While I stayed dry on top, my feet did not. We had to clomp through a giant field just to get on the buses. I never had a chance to slip into the fresh socks because of general pre-race chaos. This was the first race where Johnny and I were actually running together and I'll admit, it was nice to have a buddy. While we stayed at the start line together, we agreed to go our separate ways as the race unfolded. But it was really nice to have a friendly face nearby.
I started the first three miles conservatively, 7:23, 7:28, 7:28. Totally perfect and on pace with my sub-7:30 race plan. The weather cleared up too; while the roads were slick, the rain stopped promptly after the first mile. On mile 4, there's a hill then a huge drop; I accidentally hit a 6:47. I also found myself within ten feet of Johnny. I didn't want to pass him this early in the race because I knew he would speed up to catch me. In training, we have a very friendly rivalry. We are both insanely competitive people by nature - he refuses to "get chicked" and I hate losing. Just last weekend, we found ourselves locked in this unspoken grudge match of eight miles, literally running as fast we could from the Overlook to Downtown Summerlin. If anyone saw us, it probably looked like we were fleeing a wild fire. In reality, we were just trying to beat the other to the car. This is what makes us such good partners; we push each other. Plus, it's fun.
I let him unknowingly do most of the heavy lifting for the next two miles. 7:14, 7:38...I was feeling good. My 10K split was an insane 45:10, helped mainly by the steep canyon road. Cedar City is a great half to run because the first part is so pretty; to my left, large rocks jutted into the sky and to my right, a creek burbled past. I had chosen to not wear music so I could literally hear it burbling.
Johnny was clearly feeling great because I watched as his outline grew smaller and smaller in the distance. I reasoned I would catch up with him in the last few miles so I tucked in behind a few other runners and attempted to maintain pace. The next two miles were closer to a 7:40 pace, but I reasoned I had banked enough time to be okay. After all, we were more than half way done. Half marathons are so easy...
Disaster struck right after mile 8. My attempt to drink from a paper cup resulted in an accidental waterboarding. Water sloshed up my nose, down my throat, and I started to choke. You know when someone takes a sip of water and it goes down the wrong pipe and they start choking for like, two minutes, while you politely stare in the opposite direction because you know a) they aren't dying but they need time to recover and b) they are horrifically uncomfortable because they can't stop coughing and are super embarrassed? Yeah, that was me at the mile 8. I gasped for air, coughed, and wheezed. All of the boogers in my nose came out. Just when I thought there were no boogers left to cough up, more materialized. I actually thought I was going to vomit water. Despite this, I never stopped running; I just slowed down. Must hit 7:30 miles, people! Keep those legs moving!
I never quite recovered. Despite my attempts to ingest large gulps of oxygen, I felt the energy draining from my body. Mile 9 was 8:02. I started to panic. Mile 10: 8:09. This race was slipping away from me.
The more I tried to run faster, the slower I went. I could feel the sobs rising in my chest. I had two voices screaming in my head. One was telling me to calm down, you can't run if you are crying. The other voice took great pleasure in beating me down, reminding me how worthless I am, what a terrible runner I am, how I can't do anything right and what a loser I am. Mile 11: 8:24.
The nasty voice was winning.
I was also essentially anaerobic at this point. I couldn't get a clean breath. I felt as though I was choking. My left leg began to cramp as though it was mile 22. My inner left foot, which had been hurting since mile 3, throbbed. I knew I had a BFB (bottom-foot blister), my first ever, because of the wet socks. Everything felt off. So, so off.
Just when I thought the mean voice couldn't get any worse, it did. Out of nowhere, it changed its tone. Now, in a silky, seductive manner, it offered, "...hey...why don't you just walk? You know you want to. It would feel so good to walk. Just for a few minutes..."
All I wanted to do was stop. I didn't just want to walk, I wanted to quit.I wanted to take a bus to the finish, I was so done. I HATED this race. It was the exact opposite of my expectations. I thought I was going to fly down that hill happily and without much effort. Instead, this felt like a monumental undertaking, the longest full marathon I'd ever run. And it was only mile 11 of a half. Why was this so hard?
Somehow, I managed to ignore that horrible, disgusting modulation echoing in my head. The responsible, kind-hearted Kim appeared out of nowhere and wrestled that infection for control of my brain. The tone transferred quickly. The maliciousness was replaced with "It's never as bad as you think!" "Just keep going" and "Two more miles! You can do it!" I bargained with myself that even if they were 10-minute miles, I could stop running in less 20 minutes. Anyone can survive 20 minutes of running.
So that's what I did. With quads now cramping along with my left foot and calf, I hobbled, limped, and shuffled my way to the finish. It was ugly. At times, I'm not even sure I was moving forward. Tons of runners passed me. A friend at the finish line shouted my name encouragingly, but I couldn't even muster a smile. When I finally, finally, finally crossed that line, the man who handle me my medal chided me for not smiling. I rolled my eyes. I would have sneered but was too tired.
I ran the first 8 miles of that race in 58:30. It took me almost 44 minutes to run the next five. That is an epic fade.
I managed to keep it together for the post-race pics. Some friends had a great day - lots of new PRs, goals met. Johnny had an amazing race, finishing almost seven minutes ahead of me with a phenomenal 1:35. I ended up placing 93rd overall (top 10%), 36th in my gender (top 5%), and 15th in my age group (top 7%). These are not bad numbers. Plus, it was my first race post-injury. I ran with a head cold in the rain on slick pavement in 90% humidity.
I should have been happy.
But I wasn't.
I was devastated. Life did not meet my expectations.
As we broke off from the group to begin the long walk back to the car through this giant field, I did something rather uncharacteristic. Overwhelmed by the day's events, I bent down, found the biggest rock I could, and chucked it into the distance with as much force as I could muster. To my shock, it went soaring. Guess my arms weren't that tired.
It hit a metal storage container with a resounding "BONG!"
The boom surprised me - and everyone around us. It sounded more like a gunshot in the quiet of that morning. The woman in front of us apparently turned around and looked at me with concern. I honestly couldn't believe how far the rock had sailed, let alone hitting something in the distance. I'm glad it didn't hit a kid or elderly person.
Johnny seemed equally concerned. He put his arm around me, perhaps to console me. Or perhaps to prevent me from throwing more rocks, I don't know. But that's when the torrent of tears I'd been holding back came flooding out.
I'm not proud of throwing that rock or scaring the good people of Southern Utah. But in all honesty, it felt damn good. That rock held more than just my disappointment about the race; it held the events of this whole damn year.
Having had the chance to review Cedar City in my head for the past three days, my frustration does not come down to numbers, places or percentages. It comes down to how I felt during those last four miles and quite frankly, I felt awful.I could not imagine running another 13.1 miles; I couldn't imagine even another mile. Yet a full marathon looms on the horizon in just 7.5 weeks. And a triathlon in 5.5 weeks. How the hell am I going to do this?
It's time to take a hard, honest look at all facets of my life. Diet, lifestyle, recovery are important, but I think it boils down to expectations. Are they too high? Am I being unrealistic? This is not my first rodeo; I know the work involved. I keep reminding myself I've been through worse: FenceGate 2015, DNF'ing at St. George, CalfGate 2017. I've managed to crawl out of those holes. I can crawl out of this one, too.
Part of me knows I refuse to settle; I think we all are far more capable of what we realize. At the same time, I hate disappointment and the feeling of failing. Lower my expectations to be happy? Train harder? I don't know.
I will say this - once we were safely back in Vegas, we laughed about the rock incident. Almost unknowingly, Johnny summed it up best: "I mean, if you are going to throw a rock, you better throw it well. Typical Kim."
Hmmm. Expectations and standards, indeed.
This is going to be an interesting problem to resolve.
PS - Johnny's been doing a bit of soul-searching of his own. He writes a blog and recently jotted down his thoughts about Cedar City. Read about that, this past year, and running in general at gojohnnyrun.com.
PPS - We at the BedRestBookClub.com do not condone the throwing of any objects ever. If this entry inspires you to throw stuff, well, that's on you. #legaldisclaimer