Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anatomy of a Failure

9/11/2010 Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K
Official time: 43:07 (ran a little over 2 miles, walked the final mile)

I feel like I owe it to all of you to explain what went wrong yesterday, even though I don't fully understand it myself.

I can pinpoint a few decisions I made that may have contributed to my miserable experience and thus my failure, but there's no way of knowing for certain if the outcome would have been different had I made better choices.

Here are my key mistakes:
1. I did not wear sunglasses. It didn't even occur to me that I might need them until I noticed some other runners wearing them but at that point it was too late.
2. I did not carry water with me. I assumed there would be 2 or 3 water stations along the course, but there was only 1 and that turned out not to be enough. Though I hydrated well before the race, once it started I was immediately parched and that bothered me immensely.
3. I decided at the last minute not to take my ipod. I foolishly allowed myself to be swayed by friends who suggested that I "take in the sounds of the race" even though I knew it wasn't smart to make any major changes like that the day of the race. You don't wear new shoes or new clothes on race day, and you really shouldn't suddenly stop running with music when you have trained with music all along. I was not mentally prepared to push through rough spots without the aid of music, and I really should have known better than to make that change at the last minute.

The race started out fine but then immediately I started to feel incredibly nervous. It probably took a good half mile for the butterflies in my stomach to settle. Meanwhile I did manage to find a comfortable pace pretty easily and finished the first mile just about 30 seconds faster than my usual pace. I already felt awful by the first mile marker though, and couldn't believe there were still more than 2 miles to go. Then I reached the water station, and my small drink was so refreshing! I felt briefly re-energized but it didn't last long because I was quickly parched again.

As we headed over toward the Pentagon, I was utterly miserable and desperate to hit the second mile marker. I thought that once I got to where there was only about a mile left, I'd be able to push through and keep going. Not so, unfortunately. The route through the Pentagon parking lot was ever so slightly uphill, and the sun was directly in my eyes, so I had my head down staring at the ground, barely able to breathe and wanting with every step just to quit. I tried to tell myself that quitting was not an option, tried reminding myself of what I was capable of, tried reminding myself of what I was running for and what the event was all about. Nothing worked. I quit. I slowed to a walk and it was all over. I could have started running again once I caught my breath, but I didn't see the point. I had already failed and given up. Honestly, the only reason I walked all the way to the finish line was because I HAD to go back to the hotel where I had checked my bag. If I could have gone straight to my car and driven away instead, I probably would have.

I take no pride in just finishing the race. To me, I did not finish. From the very beginning, my goal has always been to run a 5K without walking. It's a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal when you put in as many months of training as I have. I even completed the distance on my treadmill last weekend, so I knew I was capable. I fell very very short of my only goal...I cannot classify that as anything other than failure. I'm not making any excuses, and I have no one to blame but myself. My body did not let me mind did. Throughout this journey one of the biggest things I've been battling is my tendency to give up when the going gets tough. I thought I was overcoming it, but at the critical time, when it mattered the most, the going got tough and I gave up. I refuse to take any pride in that.

So now the question is "where do I go from here?" I honestly do not know. I'm left with nothing but negative feelings from my first race experience. The truth is, I wasn't having fun even before I quit. From the moment I got there, I felt very alone and out of place, like I didn't really belong. The start of the race was sort of exciting, but that feeling didn't last long at all. Perhaps I assumed too much when I expected to like the world of running races. Right now I have no desire to run another race. I actually have no desire to run at all just yet. I was supposed to take a couple of days off and resume training on Wednesday...we'll see if that actually happens. I'm not going to make some melodramatic statement about being done with running forever, because I just don't know right now. Maybe the negative feelings will fade. Maybe my goals will change. Maybe I'll fall back in love with running, but at this moment the romance is over.

I don't know where to go from here in the rest of my life either. It's not a good feeling to look deep down inside yourself and discover a quitter. My confidence has been obliterated and I'm questioning everything I do, every decision I make. We all dream of improving our lives, but maybe my dreams are pointless if I can't trust myself to persevere through challenges. It's easy for people to say encouraging words about how I have to just keep going now and blah blah blah. But I just don't know if I have any fight in me anymore. I worked so hard at this one thing, focused so much time and energy on it. When I ran out of energy to run, I think I ran out of energy to do anything at all. It might help to take a break from running and focus on other things for a while, but I kind of don't want to focus on anything. I wish it were possible to take a break from life, and just pick up where you left off when you're ready. Spoken like a true quitter, huh?

If you don't feel like following my journey anymore, I don't blame you. I probably wouldn't follow me either. I'm sorry I led you to believe I was someone tougher, stronger, better than I turned out to be. But thanks for believing in me just the same.


  1. Hey I stumbled upon this while looking for pictures of the race. Don't you worry and don't take it too personally. My 5K time can vary based on who knows what? My wife and I are in our twenties and she has raced 40+ minutes and this week she raced under 35 minutes. It was for a great cause and although I don't know you, I have to hope you'll keep it up! That was a tough course and not much water. Bring your ipod next time and I'll see you out there!

  2. Thank you so much for caring enough to comment! I'm a little embarrassed that you found this blog...I feel bad for inflicting my melodrama on anyone other than close friends and family. Actually, I feel bad for inflicting it on them too! :) But as I was sorting through all the junk in my head today, your encouragement came out of the blue and really meant a lot to me. Thanks!

  3. April, April, April...

    I have run a lot more than some and less than others. Here is my take.

    You are taking this WAY (WAY!) too hard. I believe this was your first race EVER...and you finished. Your goal is to run a 5K start to finish right? So..that should still be your goal. You know you can do it. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the lack of an ipod, maybe it was hydration. The only way to sort things like that out is to keep running. Do those things the way you want next time and see what happens. If it still doesn't work out the way you want, make some more adjustments.

    Bottom line, don't make a single race the be all and end all of your running career. I have had races/runs where I ran faster than I thought I could and races/runs where I had to stop and puke in the middle and finished with times that were embarassing to me.

    remember those people watching you as you ran by? For the most part, those are probably people that have never and will never run ANY are far far ahead of many people already just by training and running this race.

    Just keep going!

    Matt Fogelson

  4. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Matt! I have not given up my goal to run a complete 5K...I'm just still regrouping my energy and my focus. Will be registering for my next race soon!