That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger.
Have you ever been caught in an especially tough race, training run or competitive/endurance event? Were you able to dig deep and persevere to the finish line? Did you have enough grit to keep that proverbial white flag from flying?
I have had races where everything fell into place... the weather was optimal, my energy was on-point, the race course wasn't especially hilly or difficult. And, there have been many other races that took more work than usual to stay on course (no pun intended). These were challenging races that forced me to tap into my "grit reserve."
Thankfully, these tough races have made me a much tougher runner...and stronger for the fight.
In no particular order:
DAM to DSM 2021 (recap HERE)
Most everyone knows this is my absolute favorite race (and I have run a lot of races). With the Covid crap of 2020, last year's race was postponed and, eventually had to go virtual. The 2021 event was postponed from its usual early summer date (the first Saturday after Memorial Day), but was held at the end of August. I had spent the past two months training for a marathon (that had recently just been cancelled), so I was in decent shape. I was so excited to be back on the D2D race course...but things didn't play out as I'd planned. Granted the day got really hot really soon, but that usually isn't a factor for me. Maybe I was feeling over confidant (after all I'd run this race 12 times prior)? Perhaps I was (arrogantly) expecting a PR (because I'd been training for a much longer distance). Or maybe it was just one of those days when things were not going to go my way. I had to walk numerous times, and I felt light-headed on occasion. I never felt like quitting, but I knew I had to take things much easier than I'd hoped.
The thing is, despite my frustration with the circumstances I'd been given, I still had immense joy in simply being there. I also was quite grateful that I had the ability to persevere and finish with a smile, even with one of my slowest D2D finish times.
Marine Corps Marathon (recap HERE)
This was an event that had long been on my bucket list. But Momma N wasn't letting it happen nicely. Race day blessed us with torrential rain for most of the morning, for myself that meant the first 19 miles. There was standing water in numerous places along the course (one such place it was knee-high for the length of a couple city blocks!). I had trained well, but I had not trained in torrential rain. Then, the rain stopped, the sun came out and the air got very humid (from all the rain, LOL). My feet were so sore from the wet socks (even SmartWool socks were no match for 3-1/2 hours of rain) and my clothing remained a heavy, saturated mess (nothing was evaporating with all that humidity). My legs grew tired from the extra effort it took to keep my sore feet moving.
But the course was so scenic. The crowd support was nonstop. And the Marines were most gracious. That finish line was like none other after the long, wet, tough morning I'd endured to get there. If I can look back on this with fond memories, I know I can truly find joy in the most unlikely places.
Cannonball Marathon (recap HERE)
A few years ago, I found myself in another frustrating situation as I made my way through a hilly and rather difficult 26.2-mile race course in Greensboro, NC. Unknown to us (I was with a few friends), this race course had hill after hill (and had not provided any pre-race information on the area or the route). The crowd support was practically non-existent, and the back half of the route had us on highways with minimal course markings. Although I made it to the finish line, it was tough (physically and mentally) battling all the frustrations of the race. Ultimately, though, I came out victorious and made it across the finish line.
Ironically, I can honestly look back at this marathon as a great experience. That's right. Even though I finished a good 30 minutes longer than I was hoping, the feeling of euphoria in conquering (instead of succumbing to) that race was like none other. I proved to myself, yet again, that I'm one tough cookie when I need to be.
Route 66 Marathon (recap HERE)
Another especially tough marathon was Route 66, a marathon famous for non-stop rolling hills through numerous scenic neighborhoods in Tulsa, OK. I knew this course would be hilly, and I knew there would probably be some wind. What took me by surprise on race day, though, was a strange hip/groin pain that persisted from the 2-mile mark all the way to the finish line. I spent most of the first 13 miles considering stopping at the 13.1 finish line. When I chose to keep going, I spent another five miles debating about turning around and going back to that finish line. Thankfully, I was well-trained (possibly over-trained), so my endurance was spot-on. I was able to run at a decent pace, but had to keep taking walk breaks due to the persistent pain.
It really was a fun and festive race course, so I'm glad I was able to push through all of the pain and frustration. I nearly cried at the finish line because I was so exhausted, yet proud, from the battle in getting there.
Fight for Air Climb-Chicago (recap HERE)
A favorite event I have done every year, since 2013, is the Fight for Air Climb (in Des Moines, IA). When I was offered the opportunity to do the Chicago Climb, I was all over it. So what if it involved the four Presidential Towers and encompassed a total of 180 flights of stairs (45 flights in each building)...I was up for the challenge! The Des Moines venue (at the time) only had 66 flights of stairs...so when I had finished the first Presidential Tower in Chicago, I really wondered if I'd be able to climb three more towers of equal height because my legs felt like over-cooked pasta and I was so out of breath.
I'm a strong believer in "go big or go home," though, so quitting was not an option. Each tower seemed more difficult than the previous ones, but I just kept climbing. I took periodic breaks on some of the landings, and I drank plenty of water. I finished all four towers with a time of 35:44, and felt like a champion when they handed me my finisher medal.
Christmas in July 12-Hour Ultra (recap HERE)
In 2015, a group of Facebook/blogging friends (and myself) met up and ran the CIJ 6-Hour ultra (recap HERE) in Lisle, IL, and decided to reconvene a year later and take on the 12-hour race (again, go big or go home LOL). The race began at 11:00 p.m. and ended at 11:00 a.m. the following morning. Yes, we ran all night long and most of the next morning as well. The course was a 1-mile loop around a lake. Some of those loops were run with others from the group. Many were run on my own. There were intermittent loops of walking. There were lots of laughs and chit-chatting. There also was total silence.
When the 12 hours had ended, I had 37 miles done, which is a 60K. Oddly, I never felt tired, but my mind did get a little loopy at times. That 1-mile route got repetitive, but was oddly comforting in that we knew there would be a spread of food and drink right before the timing mat (that would record our laps each time we crossed it). I was giddy with endorphins at the finish and didn't actually sleep until a good 12 hours later. Truth.
Flying Pigs Duathlon (recap HERE)
Always looking for a new adventure, I took on the challenge of a duathlon a few years ago. Why not? This took place in Washington, IA a few weeks after my 6-hour ultra (early August 2015). As if riding a borrowed bike wasn't scary enough, there also was the challenge of staying on said bike for 20 hilly miles (my longest ride ever at that point in time)...through the humid Iowa air (on a hot day) with several pig farms along the route.
The 5K run, before the ride, was a piece of cake, but the 1.5-mile run afterwards was like a death march. My legs did not want to move and I could barely lift my feet off the pavement. Several racers were walking; the ones who were attempting to run looked like zombies with no muscle control (myself included). But, my goal was a 2-hour finish, and I crossed the finish line in 1:58:28. Mission accomplished.
What all of these events have in common is the joy and pride in finishing a tough race. Sure, there's a great deal of satisfaction in running an "easier" race, but what is there to learn from it? Gritting it out in tough conditions, at least for me, is far more rewarding because nothing is taken for granted. Having to fight to the finish line makes it even more sweet when you finally reach it.
Oh wow, these are some tough races, Kim!ReplyDelete
Especially that Marine Corps Marathon seems tough. I have crossed a few streams in trail races, but running in knee-high water for the length of a couple of blocks is insane! Especially since the shoes are not going to dry out in that kind of weather.
Well done for persevering!
I have had some bad races - we once did a relay over the marathon distance. We had to wait for each other in icy cold weather with snow. I was never so cold in my life!
The tough races really teach us a lot about ourselves and our attitude (and/or gratitude). It's much better to respond to the challenges than to react to them ;-)Delete
A lot of tough races! I like your attitude to persevere: every new tough race is another lesson learned and another important experience.ReplyDelete
I had 2 really bad experiences: 1) my first marathon that I ran without training: we planned (with other 2 friends) to make a 30 km test but we made the decision to finish: indeed it was both a bad and a beautiful experience; 2) Interforce military championship that I ran with a terrible stomach pain.
Honestly, if we gave up after every tough race, we'd never be able to enjoy the easier ones.Delete
What doesn't kill us makes us stronger indeed!!! I've run some tough races--some with bad outcomes and others that turned out well in spite of the conditions. That would be my favorite 10 miler along the Chicago lakefront--one year it was 40 with rain and wind blowing off the lake. I don't know how i finished, but I did and with a time I could be proud of.ReplyDelete
On those races with crazy cold (and wet) weather, I want to yell, "Oh c'mon, Momma N! IS that all you got!" She doesn't know what kind of perseverance runners have!Delete
I'm with you, quitting is not an option (unless I'm risking injury) and we learn so much from difficult races.ReplyDelete
Enough said on riding by pig farms on the biking leg of your duathlon. No farm animals are as smelly as pigs. I want to do a duathlon sometime, but not past a pig farm! LOL
My one and inly DNF was the result of a weird wonkiness going on with my hip (and vicinity). I shouldn't have even started the race, but one mile in, I knew I had to pull out...and had ZERO regrets in doing so. It actually was more empowering to quit than to suffer through the awkward gait I was having to assume...and I would have nothing to gain by pressing on and risking further injury.Delete
Yes, if you just push through and don't give up, every race is a great experience. Sometimes a little time has to go by before you can appreciate it in retrospect though!ReplyDelete
I love the picture from your duathlon- yes, it looks like you can barely lift your legs! Running off the bike is so hard. But it makes me think- maybe you should do more of those. With your love of cycling, it would be perfect!
I definitely agree. I'm not usually thinking, "Gee this is really fun fighting this 100th hill in all this rain," LOL. But, after the finish line (and sometimes not until a few days later), I do feel a lot of pride and gratitude for having persevered and finished, especially if it's a long race like a half or a full marathon.Delete
Truly is there ever an easy race? I've run so many tough races -- hilly, hot & humid, Nor'easter, a very few cold, LOL! Finishing is always winning, indeed!ReplyDelete
Easy is a pretty relative term, LOL. I guess some races just feel "easier" than others.Delete
Taking a DNF is one of the hardest things to do because you are always wondering if you quit too soon or if you could have just struggled through to the finish. I pulled out of the 2019 Chicago Marathon at the 18 mile mark because I kept having feeling light headed after being sick the previous week. But to this day I know I could have finished if I had just stopped feeling bad about my obviously dreadful finish time. I've never taken a DNF since, even though there have been some really tough races. 15k in a foot of snow, anyone?ReplyDelete
Ugh, a foot of snow would not be fun! A friend told me that they knew someone who pulled out of a marathon around the 20 or 21-mile mark because they knew they weren't going to make their BQ and didn't want their finish time published. Isn't that crazy?Delete
You've done some challenging races. My toughest was probably the Hot n' Hilly trail series which was exactly what the name implies. Temps were in the 90's for each of the 3 races and the hills were killer.ReplyDelete
Always proud of the accomplishment though.
This is just a sprinkling of my "tougher" races...there have been many others that weren't as dramatic. Yes, I'm always proud of the accomplishment of finishing, no matter what the clock says. It's rather empowering to not give in to the frustration(s) of a bad race.Delete
you have had some tough races! Those runs after biking are not as easy as they sound! And, your MCM was brutal! They all teach us something and make us mentally strongerReplyDelete
I agree, every bad race will teach us something if we can get past the on-course suffering and frustration. That duathlon...the 20 miles of biking (which was a major feat in itself at the point in my early biking "career") really took a lot of mojo out of my legs. Trying to run was almost comical!Delete
Crazy!! Like literally crazy. Have you ever read the book Grit by Angela Duckworth? You definitely have lots of the qualities she mentions.ReplyDelete
As a new reader here, I'm amazed at how many races you've run (and many of them multiple times)! What's your current tally of timed races at this point?
Oh, thank you ;-) Honestly, I have no idea on a race count...I've done upwards of 50 half marathons, numerous 20K's, nine marathons (a couple of which were actually ultras) and many many 5K's and 10K's. I just enjoy running, and the excitement on a race course is awesome ;-) I just can't stay away....Delete
The tough races really do make us stronger! Route 66 was a tough course but I felt pretty good when I ran it- except for the hills and wind! I think my last marathon was one of my most challenging and I'm glad I was able to push through and finish it.ReplyDelete
At least I was prepared for the hills and wind at Route 66, but that annoying hip/groin thing totally blindsided me. I'm thankful the crowd support was so great, especially all the makeshift "fueling" stations in the neighborhoods ;-)Delete
I remember when you ran MCM and I just felt so bad for you - that weather was horrendous. But in true Kim fashion, you gutted it out and finished!ReplyDelete
Oh yes, races like those are character builders for sure. My first marathon, the hot and cancelled Chi 07 was one for the record books. The silver lining was I had no other marathon to compare it to at the time so I didn't fully realize just how ridiculous the conditions (93 degrees, 90% humidity) actually were. I've run races that became death marches due to runner error as well. Live and learn!ReplyDelete
Oh dear, you are making me regret signing up for Route 66- too late night, we're on a flight to Tulsa, ha!ReplyDelete
I have definitely had some hard races, and they have all taught me something. i'm grateful for the lessons, and the ability to get back out there.
I love all the tough experiences and challenges you've had! And the positivity with which you have approached each one and pushed through when things were not going as planned. When I look back, my toughest challenge was definitely the 3rd Half Marathon I did. I had trained really well - in fact it had been the perfect training cycle. The first half of the race was brilliant, the weather was good, the course was one I was very familiar with as I'd done so many training runs in that area. But at some point, I realised I wasn't running the pace I wanted and I think that's where I lost my mental game and it just went downhill from there. I was one of the last to finish BUT the whole experience taught me so much and I'm glad I went through that. It just made me a stronger runner (and person).ReplyDelete
Wow! So many tough experiences for you! At least you do not let that stop you. :-) I remember the MCM Marathon. At I've always wanted to do the Christmas in July race but never did it.ReplyDelete
Thank you for linking up with us!
Torrential race would make any race tough, but it sounds extra awful for a marathon! Bad races are rough during but can also make for good stories after (if they weren't too bad!).ReplyDelete