Monday, April 29, 2013

What I Learned From the James Joyce Ramble

When I started this blog, I said I wasn’t going to post excruciatingly detailed, self-congratulatory recaps of every race I run. I race often, for starters. I also do a lot of small local races, so those of you outside Greater Boston may not care. Finally, I loathe few things more than the “yay, look at me!” tone that so many race recaps take. (If I ever pose for one of those “smiling with my friends as we wear our bibs and get ready for the big race!!!” photos, you have my permission to find me and kick me in the shins.)

That said, the typical introspection that followed every race -- in this case, the most recent James Joyce Ramble -- compelled me to share a couple lessons that are worth (re)learning.

Runner, know thyself. I got boxed in at the start, crossing the mat a good 40 seconds after the gong went off. (Yes, gong. The James Joyce Ramble promotes a mission of peace, so there’s no starter’s gun.) I was stuck for a good half-mile, and it threw me off. I was behind the guy juggling while he ran, for cryin’ out loud.

At first, I was mad at all the people who, in my mind, treated the event as a Sunday morning stroll instead of a serious 10K they intended to PR. It wasn’t until I saw the race results -- I finished 80th out of 1,948 -- that I realized it was my own damn fault. Why the hell did I lollygag in the middle instead of pushing my way to the front where, frankly, I belonged?

Every race needs a plan. Whether you’re running for fun, to represent a charity or to push further than ever before, you need to be prepared. Even if you eat the right breakfast, snag the right parking spot, hit the Porta-Potty at the right time and get in the right mental mindset, it can all fall to hell if you’re standing in the wrong damn spot.

Dress the part. I wore a wicking shirt and shorts. My shirt is from the 2009 Reach the Beach (New Hampshire)  relay, and every time I wear it I encounter at least one person who has done RTB and thought it was awesome. (It was.)

That said, I was hot. I’d checked the temperature the night before but hadn’t heeded the conditions. I knew it’d be warm -- high 60s -- but hadn’t realized it would be so sunny. After about two miles, I envied everyone in a tank top and questioned the sanity of anyone in a long sleeve shirt and/or pants. (At least I remembered sunscreen.)

The general rule of thumb for any run, and especially a race, is to dress as though it’s 15 to 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. I don’t often abide by this rule on winter training runs, because my thermoregulatory system hates me and I get cold almost instantly, but I relearned this weekend that I need to be careful now that spring is here.

Cheer up. My goal was breaking 40 minutes (6:27 pace). I finished in 41:12 (6:38 pace). Even though it was my 10K PR, and even though my body never got accustomed to the heat, and even though I recovered nicely from the slow-ish first mile, I was still disappointed.

Then I saw a friend cross the line right in front of his wife and daughters. I saw the masters’ division runners file into the finish. I saw the juggler finish, form intact. I saw a guy in a pink skirt finish. I saw the iced coffee tent, and the beer tent, and the food tent, and the cloudless sky, and I realized I should stop being a brat. 

Above all, this weekend I discovered that you’re never too old, or too experienced, to learn a thing or two (or three, I suppose) from a road race. I also discovered that race recaps aren’t that invaluable after all. Next time I have lessons that seem worth sharing, I won’t be shy -- even if I will forever be shy in front of the camera, especially while wearing short running shorts.