Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wow, I Finally Ran a Decent Race Without (Completely) Falling Apart

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength." -- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Well, when I was studying English literature at the University of Michigan I would have never guessed that I would one day be quoting "The Terminator" in a blog. But what the hell, it works. Let me explain (eventually, a bit later in the blog).

But to get us started... This past Saturday I had the pleasure of running 31 miles in the mountains of Pacifica, California on a beautiful sunny day. The weather was perfect. The ocean-cliff views were breath taking (or maybe it was the 7,000 feet of uphill running that took my breath away). And the camaraderie was surprising, and quite enjoyable.

Usually in this type of small, local 50K trail race I find myself running alone for most, if not all of the race. However this weekend was unique in that I ran the first 20-something miles in a pack of four runners including The North Face sponsored runner Leigh Schmitt as well as Dan Rhodes from Half Moon Bay and Jason Perez from Brentwood. It was a lot of fun running together and chatting. It definitely helped pass the time. And it definitely helped me run faster than I would have otherwise run on my own.

My previous personal best on this particular course was 4:48:22 (4th place finish), but I'd also run a 5:08 (1st place) last year on a very cold, windy, rainy, muddy day. My goal going into today was to win the race, and if possible to improve on my previous time.

I didn't win.

But I exceeded my most ambitious "best case scenario". I held on to finish 2nd, just 3 or 4 minutes behind Leigh Schmitt -- a guy who has a 98.1% ranking on, and who finished 7th at Western States in 2009 and who has won dozens of races including Vermont 100. And I took over 21 minutes off my personal best on this course, finishing in 4:27:10. That's an 8:37 per mile pace over a tough course that has over 7,000 feet of elevation gain.

Granted it was a perfect day for running. And I had some great company out on the course. And my wife Amy was there cheering me on! But what I am really proud of is that: a) I ran hard the whole race, 2) I didn't do anything stupid, and 3) I didn't ever "quit" on the race, even after Leigh opened up a nice lead and had things pretty well wrapped up.

In the past I would have likely just shut things down and coasted to the finish, content to hang on to second place. But I didn't quit, and I didn't coast. I kept running (OK, it was probably more "shuffling" than running as I lumbered up the last 2 miles of mountain switchbacks) and I didn't stop fighting until I crossed the finish line. Sure, I felt like I was going to vomit. And yes, I collapsed at the finish and had to be revived with a cold beer. But hey, I raced like I meant it.

And that brings me back to the above quotation about strength not coming from victory, but from struggle. Say what you will about his acting skills, or his fiscal policy as California Governor. But clearly the guy knows what he is talking about when it comes to strength. So hopefully the next time a race isn't going the way I hoped, I will resist the urge to DNF and remember that strength comes from resisting the urge to surrender.

Here's a link to the race results. And here is the Garmin GPS data and stats:



Anonymous said...

Gosh, I love reading your running blogs! Congratulations on a race well run. You are an inspiration to your cousin who needs to get her butt running again....

willgotthardt said...

Breakout race John, big effort, well done...congrats.

John Burton said...

Thanks Julie. Though to be fair, I'm not sure even I would be running if I still lived up there in the frozen tundra. How many hundred feet of snow do you guys have this winter?

Thanks Will! It was great seeing you out there.

Unknown said...

Hi there. Found this by accident, but being a former competitive college distance runner, I wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you wrote and it reminds me that the most significant battles we have are not with others, but with ourself.