The risk of in-race overachievement

I’ve always ran mostly on my own. Running allows me to have moments to share with the self and no one else. It makes me feel active, alive and in motion. It gives me the opportunity to seek the void and to touch the world around me in blissful moments of exploration.

Recently I’ve been running on a regular basis with fellow runners. Over the years and regardless of the location, the community has grown larger and larger, especially at work. Weather has long ceased to be a constraint and we challenge ourselves to disrupt the daily routine with a lunch running break. It… just… feels… great!

Throughout the years you get to play, to challenge yourself, to challenge others and to get challenged back. You run fast, you run slow, you take intervals, fartleks, long runs… and you naturally start playing with time. You start tracking your achievements (no matter if small or superb) and to have a good understanding of your where your personal bests are.

This usually all comes down together in running races. I’ve started joining them initially because they’re a very good way to get to know new routes, get yourself in a motivational sporting environment or to run in places where you’d usually not be able to run on your own.
If you’re used to train alone or with friends, a race is a completely different beast. The atmosphere is absolutely contagious, there’s an unexplainable empathy with the people around you, as everyone shares the same energy and operates in the same wave length. Everyone’s excited to be there and to have as much fun as possible. Inevitably there’s a lot of runners which hope to beat their personal bests, as an organised event paves sets the right conditions for it.

Setting a personal record is an inspiring moment. You feel beyond greatness and the sensation of achievement makes you utterly feel complete. Raising the bar creates however a difficult challenge: that it is going to be difficult to beat that same achievement next time 😉

Yes. Sooner or later your mind will set a new target again and you’ll want to inevitably beat your own personal best. And to do so, your going to fail in several iterations until your finally make it.

Meia Maratona de Lisboa 2013 @ Câmara Municipal de Almada

Meia Maratona de Lisboa 2013 @ Câmara Municipal de Almada

Whenever seeking to go beyond limits, I’ve always been challenged by pain:

  • during training I’m either behind my goal, hence motivated to pursue it, or I’m pacing myself into uncharted territory and feeling the pain of it;
  • during races I’m pushing myself into a situation I’ve never been before, hence the body doesn’t like it a bit…

During the Benrather Schloss-Lauf back in 2012, I’ve set a new personal best on the 10 Kms distance. I remember vividly the feeling at Km 3: “I want to go home!”“I’ll just quit, go home pickup the kids and bring them to the childrens’ race”… and moreover “what was I thinking about to set such a challenging target”… I ultimately managed to get my mind back on track and just keep going. Between Km 6 and 7 I felt I was dying. Yes, like dying! An extra motivation came around I looked at my running watch and understood I was having an excellent race time so far. The kick was awesome, as I felt I was ahead of my game, even though there was pain all over.

In one other occasion though, over performing had the opposite effect: during the Lisbon Half-Marathon I was well prepared to get a new personal best on the 21.1 Kms half-marathon distance. While doing great in the first 10 Kms, I had strong head-wind after which made me stop at Km 15. I walked… soon to see the 1h30 min pacemaker pass by… My mind just broke. And I couldn’t resume running. After finishing the race in an average time, I promised myself that day I’d never quit a race again. Furthermore I started looking into ways to better face in-race fears and push away all usual self doubts. I’d get that personal record at a later point in time 🙂

How do you deal with in-race over-achievement?
How do you deal with the pain of succeeding during a race?

Dean Karnazes tackles it by setting aside all external factors and just promising himself to give his absolute best during the race. No matter what, he stays truthful to that principle.

Seeking different motivational factors, the one which I now keep with me at all times is Haruki Murakami’s quote from his book «What I talk about when talk about running»:

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”

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