5 of the Best Lessons I Learned from My Worst Race

As many of you know I set a goal of running a half marathon every month leading up to my 40th birthday.

Going into the process I said all that mattered was that I finished every race. I wasn’t going to be concerned with finish times, but rather enjoy the experience. But along the way I have battled my own competitiveness.

Last Sunday I ran #8 in Sandusky, OH. It turned out to be my worst race of the series. There are a number of factors that lead to my finish time, and in looking back this race taught me more than any of the others I have ran. So while it maybe was my worst finish time, it was my greatest victory so far.

Only 13.1 to go!

Only 13.1 to go!

I’d like to share with you some of my lessons learned from this race…some of them may seem like ‘no brainers’ but even as someone who lives and breathes fitness and healthy living, they are a good reminder.

Nutrition

In general, my family eats a healthy diet. Of course we enjoy pizza or a restaurant burger and fries from time to time, but our diet consists of lean proteins and veggies. After 10 days of travel and numerous meals out, my body was pleading for it’s normal food intake.

Surely I did my best to make the healthy choices when available, but between the numerous hours in the ‘Mothership’ (our family suburban), multiple meals out and a visit to an amusement park there’s only so much control one has on their food choices.

My eyes were opened to how lethargic the body becomes when fueled with ‘junk.’ Sure I ate salads, grilled fish and found a stand at Cedar Point that sold fruit cups, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the other meals. I lacked the energy I needed to sustain the 13.1 miles.

We have been home less than a week and now that I am back to my regular food intake I have more energy and feel stronger.

Lesson learned: a consistent healthy eating lifestyle is necessary to achieve physical gains. I don’t believe this is a change that can happen overnight, but with gradual changes and true commitment to it being a lifestyle and not a diet anyone can adopt healthier eating habits.

Training

Because I teach numerous classes throughout the week (and do them with my classes) I don’t often have time to get in the long runs necessary to train for these races. I am fortunate enough that my cardio and interval classes give me the endurance to run for 2 hours at a time.

Over our 10 days of travel, 5 of those were spent in the Mothership. Each of those legs of travel (but one) was close to 500 miles. So as you can imagine, the 5 days spent ‘vacationing’ were focused on having the most fun as we could as a family. I didn’t want to take time away for myself.

We spent time in the ocean boogie boarding and swimming, we walked an entire day through downtown Nashville, we spent an entire day walking an amusement park – but none of this could replicate a true workout.

I do believe at times that my body needs rest. But as someone who doesn’t sit much throughout the day, 8+ hour car rides not only made me stir crazy but dramatically affected my strength and endurance.

Lesson learned: exercise has to be consistent and intentional. Even if you can just fit in 20 minutes – it’s worth it! You have to make it a priority and in retrospect, my family wouldn’t have ‘missed’ me for 20 minutes or a half hour. I could have taken advantage of the time they were showering or I could have let them know how important it was for me to take a break – they would have understood. Don’t cheat yourself out of a workout – ever.

Rest

I’m certainly not the best at a consistent bedtime. I preach about it often but my bedtime often varies which sometimes makes early mornings that much more difficult.

On vacation bedtime and waking times become unpredictable for our family. We stay up late enjoying activities and time with each other. We sleep in and enjoy not having the pressure of daily responsibilities. On the other hand, there are nights we crash early from exhaustion and get up at dawn to head out on our next adventure.

Between inconsistent sleeping patterns and rotating beds and pillows, it goes without saying our bodies were exhausted.

Between poor nutrition, lack of intentional exercise and inadequate rest – I had created a trifecta for reduced performance.

Lesson learned: our bodies need rest. Whether it’s a rest day from exercise to heal muscles, or mental downtime from the responsibilities of life, or actual sleep, we need to recognize the impact fatigue can have on our abilities. Improper rest from working out can lead to injury, improper rest from ‘life’ can lead to mental and emotional fatigue, and lack of sleep can lead to all of these things.

Reality Check

I started out the race really strong – too fast, in fact. But I felt good. I went into the race with little expectations because of all the things I mentioned above, but began to think, ‘What were you so worried about? You got this!’

Then the wind hit, followed by hip and knee pain, then bring on the shin splints. Before long I was physically beat. I am used to ‘hitting the wall’ halfway through the race. It happens every time. But this was different. I wanted to quit.

I was disappointed in myself and my performance. But I’m not a quitter.

So I walked. Ugh, I was w.a.l.k.i.n.g. But as I looked around I saw other people walking too. Maybe they were feeling as broken as I was, or maybe they were feeling strong. Either way each of us was doing the very best we could. And one way or another the finish line was going to be in the same place whether I was running or walking.

I decided this would be the perfect time to do some interval work. If I can’t continue to run into the wind with the physical pain, it was time to set some goals. Push through a song with a steady pace. Then slow it down, catch my breath and regroup for another push. That lasted for a while until about mile 10 or so.

I knew I had a day ahead with my family at the amusement park. Was I going to risk ruining my day of fun with them just to run more of the race? I knew if I walked more than ran at this point I would be able to keep up and enjoy the day. So I walked.

Lesson learned: Don’t quit. A setback is just that. It’s not the end. Find a way to push yourself, and do the best you can. Don’t ruin an experience just because you are meeting the expectations you had set. Evaluate those expectations and adjust them if necessary. Keep moving towards the finish and know that this experience is going to make you stronger for the next time.

Family

I continued to walk. Pushing myself into the wind, knowing every step was closer to the finish, closer to my family fun day at the amusement park.

My family has played such a major role in my races. They get up early to watch me start, then they bounce around the course to meet me and cheer me on at various checkpoints, always making it back to the finish to congratulate me.

This course was different. I saw them at the start, I saw them about mile 4 and I wasn’t supposed to see them until the end.

About mile 7 or so I called Don. I told him I was struggling. We talked he encouraged me, then put me on speakerphone and the Schindlings cheered me on. That’s about the time I put on my ‘girls’ playlist and started running intervals.

Just after mile 10 I stopped running. My head was hanging. I knew I was doing my best but I was still disappointed. Just after mile 11 I looked up and saw Don and Ella just ahead of me.

They carried me to the end.

They carried me to the end.

Maybe I’m getting sappy as I age, because again I cried. They knew I was having a tough day and even though they weren’t dressed to run, they were going to get me through my last mile and half to the finish. We ran some, we walked some, we did it together.

At the finish line we met up with the other two Schindlings – in a big group hug they all told me how proud they were of me and what a great job I did.

Lesson learned: even though this is a personal goal, I need the support of others. Achieving a goal means absolutely nothing if you don’t have people to share it with. Never underestimate the strength that comes from loving and being loved.

So while you may not be a runner, I hope the lessons I learned while running will help enrich your life.

I know that going into race #9 I will have a much better perspective on what it means to successfully reach the finish line.

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