How to Fail Successfully: A guide to coping with those races that we'd rather forget, by James Rasch

May 22, 2015 5:34 PM | Deleted user

Hi FTCers!

I have been reading through past editions of our club's newsletter and came across this great article from club member James Rasch.  Published in the March, 1991 edition.  Its message still applies- enjoy!

Sometimes it happens.  You're ready for a good race. Well trained.  Well-rested. No nagging injuries. Perfect racing weather. You go out steady, controlled. Feels good. Could be a PR time . . .

Suddenly, everything falls apart.

It's as if your body suddenly loses interest in this whole idea of 'racing'. Every step becomes a painful exercise in slow forward motion. The brain says, "Whoa, I think I'm in trouble.' The legs counter: 'You're in trouble? You just sit up there, we do all the work.' Some small part of the psyche tries to drive things onward. Another small part, which gradually assumes dominance, says, "This is ridiculous!". You become Living Proof of The Theory of Running Relativity, which states that: As speed decreases, Time slows down. Eventually, Times comes to a complete stop, sits on the curb, and waits patiently for you to catch up again.

As you might have guessed by now, this happened to me recently.  I thought I was ready for a good marathon in Jacksonville - if not under 2:30, then at least close to a PR 2:32. The weather was right and I didn't think that I'd overdone my recent training.  I got to halfway right in line with my goal pace, and then things just started to go astray. "Why?", I wondered. (Or, more specifically, "why now, at 14 miles!?") The Wall? Not this early. Glycogen depletion. No, I carbo-load every day. Insufficient fluids? Doubtful. I never drink as much as is recommended, but I was taking in about as much as I do in any long race. I was faced with two tough problems: 1) I didn't have a single good excuse, and 2) I still have 11 miles to go.

I considered a few options, the kind that always visit during periods of prolonged, self-imposed suffering. I could drop out. No, it was way too cold to walk.  Well, then, I could get to the finish line somehow, and then disgustedly swear off racing forever. This idea was momentarily appealing, but I knew it wouldn't work. How would I write stuff for the newsletter, for instance, if I didn't have races to talk about? There had to be another way out...

I turned my attention away from my lousy race in particular to the subject of lousy racing in general. ['Lousy' is not quite the right descriptive term. It has a lot of negative connotations.  How about "slower than expected"? No, too unwieldy. How about some snappy buzzword, like RICE (Really Inadequate Competitive Effort)? Or one of my all-time favorites (from Neil Cusack): "Runnin' like a dead sheep"? Take your pick; I've got to keep moving along, or we'll never get out of the introduction.] As I said, dealing with slow races in general - slower than we'd like them to be, anyway - was the problem. There must be some set of handy principles, I thought, some sort of instant attitude fix, to deal with, and maybe even enjoy, a semi-disastrous race, while allowing the runner to stay somewhat enthusiastic and ready for the next one. 

Naturally, having made up this problem, I proceeded to make up some answers. I came up with some easy-to-remember, easy-to-use, take-one-as-needed ideas than can help one through the down times that go with inexplicably poor performances.  By the way, these aren't 'excuses'. An excuse is any reason which (and let's face it, we rarely even believe it ourselves) we use to justify a slow race. My program doesn't care about explaining; it assumes that you've already accepted the fact of the race, and can still finish with a smile (or at least looking like a somewhat live sheep).

Feel free to accept, reject, and/or experiment with any of the following ideas. You don't have to give me credit (I stole most of them, anyway)

Quotes to Live By (occasionally):

1. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

Races always involve some degree of hurt, but that's to be expected.  We're used to it. "Suffering" is all the mental garbage that we attach to the pain.  That's what drags us down.  Pain happens in the body; suffering resides in the head. Pain is in the here and now; suffering is in the past and/or future - whether it's in mulling gloomily over the last mile split, or balking at the thought of how many miles are still left to go. To broaden the application of this idea: A bad race ends at the finish line.  It doesn't have to mean a bad day (or month, or year...). You can't do much about pain, but suffering is wholly subjective.  Just drop it.  Keep going.

2.  There are no such things as bad races; some races are just faster than others.

This quote is from a 70-plus Hawaiian Ultramarathoner.  At first glance, it seems like the ultimate attitudinal cop-out, but the principle has its uses. There is a particular mental flip required to distinguish between thinking of a race as "poor," and just "slower than expected".  Why do we race, anyway? (I'm speaking here of those who aren't making a living from the sport, which is just about everyone.)

I'm not even sure why I race. Improvement? Sure, but it doesn't happen every month. Or year. I don't want to get too deeply into this area, or I'll never get out, but: There must be something intrinsic in races which lets them be valued for their own sake, regardless of the personal result.  There is more to it than the rate at which you cover a given distance and how it might compare to what you've done in the past, or since you turned 40, or whatever. This idea does not degrade one's good races; working hard to achieve goals and enjoying the feeling that comes with such accomplishment is a good thing, and worth doing. That's the icing on the cake. But the cake by itself is pretty good, too. And, without the care, there would be nowhere to put the icing, right? How about running for its own sake, without the racing? Maybe that's the batter before it goes into the over. (Yes, folks, I think we've just hit a new low in the brief history of running analogies.) At any rate, I once fit the last category. I was a regular runner who stayed away from racing for over ten years because I didn't think I was in good enough shape to improve on my times. Believe me, racing - even with its attendant pain and occasional frustration - is a lot more fun.

3.  The process is the goal.

Simple enough.  "Process" not just preparing for the goal of racing, but the overall idea of how Running and Racing fits into your life. The goal is different for each of us, but it involves more than just running faster than you have before.

This philosophizing business gets a bit tedious after a while. I keep writing circles around myself and never seem to get anywhere (and I refuse to explore the possibilities in that analogy, thank you very much). Besides, it's hard to work any good jokes into philosophy. Let's go on to some practical considerations regarding our topic.  

Training Considerations

This is not the time to outline the Rasch Total Training Program.  First, it still needs some fine-tuning.  Then I need 4-6 months to test it (even if it was a 2-month program, I'd need 4 months, since I can never follow a schedule more than two days in a row).  Plus, I should learn more about physiology and things like that. Then again, maybe not. The few books I've read wherein the author does understand physiology are full of very unpleasant workouts, such as 3x2 miles at race pace.  Ouch.

1) Races as Training

This one you already know, I'm sure. Nevertheless, I'm still going to spend a couple of paragraphs on it.

No matter how poorly you race, you can always justify it with the thought that any race is good training. Nothing prepares you for the physiological demands of racing quite like racing itself. In my own case, then, the "poor race" could be viewed as a 1/2-marathon at race pace followed by a 1/2 marathon at a fast shuffle, with no rest interval. This is great training, except for the fact that now I don't want to run another marathon for at least 9 months. Good tempo work for that Ultra I'm going to do when I stop improving (scratch that, I meant "when I turn 40").

2) As I try to put together the elements of my training over the past year, it strikes me that I'm well on the way to formulating the definitive, can't miss program that virtually guarantees a 3-hour marathon (Jeff Galloway, eat your heart out).  There's only one catch: You have to be a 2:35 marathoner to start with.

3) Physiologically, things go in cycles. 

No matter how "smart" or thorough your training happens to be, or your attitude; no matter how much you can improve on yearly basis, there are still up days and down days.  This applies to everything in life, not just running.  (Well, okay, almost everything.  Rent, taxes, and insurance premiums seem strangely immune to the cyclic effect).  There is no established reason for these "on" and "off" days, and that's good thing. Slumps are common in all sports; even baseball batting champs have entire games where they don't get a hit (for that matter, even at the top, they're failing over 60% of the time).  Entire teams go in slumps (the Super Bowl team of 1986 combined for 13-21 record last year).

The intelligent program is one that recognizes the inevitability of slumps and plans for them accordingly. That's where, as runners, we're lucky. We don't have a four or five month season where, if things go wrong, we have to say "wait till next year." We can just say we're training through for something a few months down the road. Plus, the wide variety of events available works in our favor. A series of shorter races that don't live up to expectations can always be part of a buildup to longer races, and vice-versa. In short, no matter how badly we race, we can always say we planned it that way.

Putting things in Perspective

1.) The Universal Perspective (aka The Big Picture)

Consider, for a moment, the cosmic scale of things. A few zillion miles going out in every direction. A few million years on this particular piece of rock orbiting the Sun. (I don't want to get into any scientific disputes here. If you don't like my numbers, just lop off a few zeroes.) Given a universe of this magnitude, does one's own lousy race performance really amount to a significant event?  Of course not. (A PR would be a different story, but that's outside the scope of this article.) The cosmos is too rich, too varied, and too interesting to let oneself get bogged down by a lousy race or two. Well, ok, three. Sometimes you just to look at the big picture.

2.) The Particular Perspective

Consider the overall trip itself. Even if the race was slower than you wanted, there's always some redeeming feature to make it all worthwhile. Some people meet Significant Others. In my own particular case, the redeeming feature of the race was that it was a Cheap Trip. One of my two marathon trips for the year, and the total tab was about $70.  

I could go on, but you get the idea.

The moral:  Whatever the race - Do it, reflect upon it (a little), laugh about it (a lot, if necessary), and then forget everything except the good parts.  It's never a "failure" unless you insist on treating it that way.

Happy running!

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