The above words can flash through your mind about a thousand times in a forever moment spanning all of three seconds. Before you can even go from run to walk mode your mind has already processed half a dozen conversations with fellow runners, family members, coworkers, the mailman, and the very patient family dog on just how/why this happened.
Well, walk happens.
Any Given Sunday
Football has a saying “Any given Sunday” meaning any day one team can beat or lose to a better or worse team for no good reason. It’s refreshing, frustrating, thrilling and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Similarly, a race can have those similar challenges.
Even if you are as well trained as you had hoped, each race plays out differently. Then again would you sign up for your next race if you knew exactly what was going to happen? Isn’t the challenge and unknown part of the game that keeps you signing up for events? Do you really want a run where you knew down to the second, mile-by-mile, what to expect and what it would bring sounds more like a run on a (d)treadmill!
Planning and Executing
Hopefully you had a good training cycle, had fun along the way and have a plan for your race. You’ve figured out your nutrition, you have tested out your shoes and clothes and you know what to expect with the weather. Even with all the planning and common over planning athletes can do, executing the race plan on race day can still be hit or miss and really depends on whether or not your body (and mind) acts as they should and shows up to the starting line.
The risk and adventure is not always knowing if "the perfect" race is about to happen.
Walking can be great way to save a difficult day
From a client:
At the recent Seattle Half Marathon, I went into the race and thought the legs felt great, the breathing was good, asthma was in check, but at mile ten the hip started sending out sharp not so subtle messages that things were amiss. The course was a beast and the group I’d been running with was fun and challenging, but the hip issue persisted. At the mile ten aid station with much mental anguish I decided to walk and let the group go without me.
This was not the client’s plan but he made the best of the situation and used walking breaks to make it through the rest of the race. Was this the plan A? No. But, thanks to his mental skills there were a lot of factors which helped him make it through to the end.
What is the Plan?
The same way you plan to use an aid station before you run by it, use a similar plan for having to walk.
1. Fully concentrate on what you need to receive from your time walking.
Walking can be demoralizing when you have planned to race an entire event. We get that! It is hard to not just go to the negative and beat yourself up. Instead it is important to put a new plan in place and focus on what you can control and not on what you can’t. This is one reason coach wants you to finish some of those challenging training runs instead of stopping as this can help you prepare for the inevitable race that doesn’t go your way.
The client was able to regroup and refocus with a new plan to get to the finish:
Looking at my watch I gave myself two minutes to walk at a steady, not forced, pace. Letting my heart rate slow down a bit helped me focus on calculating a game plan quicker and I rolled through my options. I went with adding 15 seconds per mile to the last 3 miles. Manageable and in no way throwing the effort of the first 10 miles away. I took the last 45 seconds of my walk to enjoy the sounds of race day on a route I run plenty when out solo on a morning run.
When things don’t go as you expect, it’s easy to let the hard part of a race dictate the whole event. That’s when a DNF can occur. Instead of letting those negative background conversations dictate the day expect to feel bad and work to get to that next mile, aid station or even tree. Use tough training runs to work on mental skills training as we’ve discussed in prior blogs (Mental Skills Part 1 & Part 2).
Not every day is going to be that "perfect race" you’d hoped to have. Planning for all scenarios will make you a tougher and smarter athlete for that next race (and we also say in life).
Pitfalls and Reminders
Keep in mind what the variables are when your day is not going as well as you would like and try and keep an honest perspective.
How you deal with having to walk during a race can lead to self-improvement and is one piece of becoming the best athlete you can become. Stay calm and positive remembering you're out there surrounded by people, at every level, risking the same basic things. Also, everyone out there on race day has run the same course and can feel what you're going through. If you feel like you're the only one walking then you probably just missed seeing others by seconds!
Walking doesn’t mean your race is over
When you need to walk in a race, it just means that it is time for plan B or C.
As the client reported: I crossed the finish line 3 minutes later than I expected at Seattle, but walked away feeling like it was a solid win because I never gave up and I didn't hesitate using plan B. The course was harder, it was warmer than expected, and my body just wasn't 100% on the day. Did I care that I walked for two minutes? At first yes but overall, no.
Some things are out of your control and you just have to react to them as best you can. Walking just gives you a bit of time to collect your thoughts and figure out your options. Also, walking gives you the chance to start running again. So, keep that in mind!
No matter what, remember how lucky you are to be out there doing something you love and no matter what (even though some moments are not fun) we are out there to have fun!