in which Pooh challenges himself

It dawned on me this past Saturday that I’ve been challenging myself physically and mentally quite a lot over the last two years.  Many of those challenges have to do with weight loss, overall health, and physical fitness and it is these that I was thinking about.  You see I was in Florida to run in the St. Petersburg Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon that would be taking place the following day and for the first time I was really nervous about a race.  And it took most of the day for me to figure out why.

Let’s take a journey backwards in time to the day I got an online coupon from the Rock’n’Roll race series people allowing me to sign up for any of their upcoming races at a discount because I was already signed up for the Savannah Rock’n’Roll Marathon.  I was already training for that event and decided that since St. Pete was fairly close to my parents’ home that I would sign up for that event.  I put it on my calendar and didn’t think much about it as I was seriously training for that first marathon.

Fast forward a bit and the marathon is looming.  I’m still in training but I am very confident I will complete my challenge to finish the marathon and I look forward to what I’d like to accomplish for the half marathon and immediately I decide that I want to at least get a new personal record (PR) below 1:52:32 and perhaps as low as 1:50:00.  I share that with my friend who helped me put together my marathon training plan and gives me tips and pointers on everything about running and he and I decide to create a training plan after the marathon that will include, for the first time in my life, specific speed training.

On November 4, 2012, I lined up with thousands of other runners for the Savannah Rock’n’Roll Marathon.  I am completely at ease and relaxed because I know without a shadow of a doubt that I will finish the marathon.  I’m confident that my training has me ready and all I need to do to complete the challenge is cross that finish line 26.2 miles away.  I won’t pretend it was easy but I can honestly say that I enjoyed the experience and couldn’t wait to start planning the training for the half marathon.

At this point it is worth noting that every running challenge that I’ve set for myself has been about completion.  Not about time.  I always like to see how fast I can go and I’ve said before races that I hope to get a PR but I’d never said what those times were and I’ve never set a bar that was ambitious.  In other words I’d never set a challenge that I thought was in doubt.  And one way of insulating myself from the possibility of failure was to never tell anyone what my time desires were for any race.

That all changed for the St. Petersburg race.  I set those time goals and I told people what I wanted to achieve.  And then, with the help of my very good friend Mike, I set about putting in place the plan that would help me beat this challenge.  We knew a few things about my previous races of the same distance.  One was that I can run a sub 2 hour half marathon with little training but I peter out in the last couple of mile.  The other was that my calves start having spasms in those last few miles if I try to keep up my speed or speed up at all.  So in addition to speed work on Wednesdays we put into the final few long runs the concept of “closing” in order to get me used to maintaining my speed and actually increasing it in the last two miles.

So what does all this have to do with why I was nervous last Saturday?  Well it’s all about those time goals and the possibility of failure.  With every other race I had done when I crossed the starting line I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d finish so there was no possibility of failure.  In this case it was a very real possibility.  Oh don’t get me wrong.  I knew I was capable of achieving my main stated goal of beating 1:50:00.  I had no doubt about that.  But on January 13, 2013 I ran the Atlanta Hot Chocolate 15K on a very hilly course on a very humid and unseasonably warm day.  I wanted to run a pace right near what I would need in order to hit the 1:50 in the half marathon and that meant going at least 8:23/mile or better.  I ran 8:15/mile and one of my friends suggested that my training was really working and I might need to modify my goals for the half marathon.  So I did.  I created a stretch goal and told everyone what that was.  1:45:00 or better.

And suddenly I knew why I was nervous.  For the first time in a race I was going to line up and not know if I would meet the challenge.

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