aging · competition · fit at mid-life · running · training

The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

One month ago, I signed up for the Shape Half Marathon in New York on April 14. I haven’t run a regular road half-marathon in about a decade. I do still participate in the occasional trail running event, but some years ago I decided that I’d run enough road races. To compound my dread going in, I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to start training until March 14th(literally only 30 days before the race). Sure, I would be cross-country skiing for the weeks before then, so not out of shape, but certainly not in running form. I only signed up because a friend asked me to. The race is on her birthday, so … Before I could second guess myself, I registered.

Well, I’m remembering why I don’t do road races anymore. My head. My head. My head. I know I’ll be slower than my last half-marathon, yet I don’t want to know. I’m aging. I didn’t start running seriously until I was in my late 20s. It took me a while to find my strength. Which means that I had the good feeling of beating my younger self until I was well into my forties. Not so anymore.  A lot of days I don’t think anything of my generally slower pace. When I’m not training for a race, I’m able to think: How lucky am I to still be running? How good does it feel to travel on my own two legs? How strong am I? But these days, when I’m out for a training run, I think: Why am I so slow? Why am I so tired? Where’s my spring? Where’s my lightness? My zip? 

Pile of old wooden wall clocks, by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The looming race screws with my sense of self-worth. My mind turns on me and I can’t access my gratitude. Sigh. There’s no joy in the training. Thank you, Sam, for pointing out earlier this week thatwe are not always going to have fun in our workouts. Though I want, as Tracy pointed out, to have some kid-like funwith my body. I am not having fun with this training. I’m having frustration and self-recrimination instead. 

Also, I did not ease into my training. I decided that with only a month to train, I’d start with a 14-mile run. You don’t need to tell me how ridiculous that was. Plus, I wore not just new running shoes, but a new kind of running shoe I’d not tried before. So smart. Turns out the new shoe style did something nasty to my calf, which has taken a full two weeks to almost heal. Two weeks during which I continued to run haphazardly, because how could I not do at least four 2-hour runs before the race? More like 2-hour lopsided slogs through a haze of discomfort. Last week I was only able to run once after my long run, because my body was in pain and exhausted. And I’m not even sure that my “long” run was actually a long distance, because I was in Illinois, running somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t track distances. All I know is that I was running for more than 2 hours; who knows how far or not far. 

You get the picture. I’ve done a lot wrong to prepare for this race. I might have done better to rest for the full month and then run on the day in my old, familiar running shoes. Am I self-obstructing so I have an excuse (other than time and years) for a poor result? And by “poor” I just mean relative to my own past results.

I’m writing this with 10 days to go before the race. Here’s where I’m at: I know I can run 13.1 miles. That’s not the challenge. The real obstacle is my thinking. I’m competing with my younger self and that’s a losing battle. I need to make the mind shift. As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!). But that doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I know that how I think and what I think are choices. That’s step one. Step two is actually implementing that knowledge. 

So hard. Working on it! 

Anyone else slowing down? I’d love your thoughts and insights on how you’ve come to peace with the new normal.  

10 thoughts on “The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

  1. I have never been fast, or even moderately fast. I gave up a brief association with running fifteen years ago and for reasons I still don’t understand I signed up for a half marathon with 12 weeks to train. So from zero to 21k in 12 weeks! I spent most of that 12 weeks incredulous that I had gone from slow in ability to absolutely crawling. When I wasn’t thinking about that i was celebrating getting from a to b. I walked a lot of the course on the day, despite knowing I could run 13k. I completely walked the last 3k, waving and drinking water! I raised nearly 1000 dollars for charity. It took me 3 hours 20 minutes!

  2. Oh wow. I hope for your sake that you can let go of the spinning thoughts and take it where you are. And sorry to hear about your calf. Ouch. I’ve never been fast so I’m not slowing down yet. I’m still aiming for things that seem totally out of reach for me like a sub-60 minute 10K! You didn’t ask for advice but I find that leaving my Garmin out of the picture on race day allows me to be more in tune with my body’s rhythms in that moment and have a less “heady” experience.

    1. I totally agree about leaving the watch aside for the race day. Also—I feel like sharing my dread helped put it in its place.

  3. A guy at my company worked part time into his 90s. Every time anyone asked, “How are you?” he replied, “It beats the alternative!” I was in my 40s at the time, now in my late 60s. That answer, cheerfully delivered, always makes me smile. And it always reminds me that I am lucky to be here, no matter how slow I may be. And I am slow. Like you I started a bit late. Actually, very late. I didn’t actually begin doing serious athletic stuff until I was in my late 40s/early 50s, inspired by surviving brain cancer (which is, of course, another thing that sure keeps things in perspective – but not something I would hope anyone else would have to go through!). Well, the cancer has yet to return, and I have ridden my bike across the USA, have run up to 12k – had never run before except to catch a bus – have signed up repeatedly for an event known as The Death Ride (125 miles with 15,000 feet of accumulated climbing) – had not previously ever been on a road bike, or ridden any bike more than a couple of miles. Slow? Yes. Slower than I was, or could have been 5 years ago? Yes, sure. But really, how many people of any age can even think of riding a bike 125 miles in a day, or running a half marathon with minimal preparation? As you can see, I don’t find it all that hard to be very glad I am where I am. Frankly, I don’t have time left over to worry about what I could have/should have been able to do when I was 25. I hope you can recognize how amazing you are to be doing what you are doing right now! Because it is pretty impressive.

  4. While never fast, I was running 1/2 marathons and a couple 30Ks 5+ years ago. Then I got pregnant, and had a child (I was 40 at the time). Now, I’m working on getting back into long distances, but 10K is my limit for now. My next 10K is the same day as your 1/2 marathon, and I too have not been training like I wanted/planned to. Running a 9K training run yesterday felt just as hard as running an 18K training run those many moons ago. You are not alone in the “this-is-supposed-to-be-fun,-why-does-it-suck” feeling. Right now, for me, for this race, if I show up and complete this race I WIN. The next race (because I’ve already signed up for another 10K) will be about beating “X” time.

    1. My partner always says that if I/we make it to the starting line then we’ve won. So let’s both take his and your attitude into Sunday!! I am buoyed by knowing we are sharing this road together.

  5. Mina, I just love what you wrote here:

    As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!).

    YES YES YES! Saying no to being disappointed in your physical self seems like the best thing to do all the time. I’m so sorry you’re having pain and regrets and bad shoes and all those feelings connected with this event. Thank you for sharing, and do keep us posted.

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