Friday, October 1, 2010

A Quote to Remember

Ryan hall 2009"Sometimes when you're painting a masterpiece it gets messy. When I show up on the starting line in Chicago I want to make it special." --Ryan Hall, via Twitter

If Runner's World wants to add a quote to its Quote of the Day repertoire, I'm all for adding this one by Ryan Hall. Not because he's explaining his decision to not race the 2010 Chicago Marathon, but more because it's eloquent and one of those sayings that any runner might consider leading into race day. The eloquent aspect is rather obvious but the other bit may be more opinion than actual truth. But I like to think that it makes sense...maybe not for your first marathon if you're gung-ho on crossing the finish line no matter what, but most likely for that race where you wanted to run fast and now see you're going to fall short of your expectations--even those that others set upon you. 

In a somewhat weird way, I feel like I can identify with what Hall's saying. Or at least understand a bit more why he'd throw away--as some commented--the chance of leaping into the record books once again, having a huge payday, and not passing up any appearance fees. Sometimes it's just not your day. A simple phrase but one that not all of us runners always seem to understand.

Case in point: Chicago Marathon 2007. Yes, that one where it was 90-something degrees as the race crept on and was eventually canceled and turned into a fun run to salvage the racers still on course. I had already painted most of my masterpiece in training but the race would add the final touches--not the same as knowing while training that things were drastically wrong, but related enough where you hopefully catch my drift. Long story short, my clothes were soaked by mile 10 and I was really feeling the heat effects somewhere between miles 11 and 12. Before reaching the halfway mark--and the spot where I'd see my family--I already knew my race was over. No personal best, no decent time, no run all the way but slower. It was full-on survival mode--make it to the finish line to collect medal No. 8 and save my marathon legs for the potential of running a cooler race. As I stopped to walk, I'm getting pats on the back and encouraging phrases like "Hang in there!", "You'll be OK!", "You can do it!" Meanwhile, all I could help thinking was that I knew when to throw in the towel and call off the race. Fine I was still out there, unlike Hall who won't be toeing the line, but I'm at the point where my masterpiece got smeared and the only thing special about this race was finishing.

Second case in point: Chicago 2008. Hot again, but not as bad as the year before. Except this time I'm not only contesting the heat--where I know I struggle--but also coming off Ironman recovery. Good idea to run a marathon barely a month after a 140.6-mile race? Probably not. I could have used some of Hall's reasoning then to avoid the marathon altogether. Sure enough, I hit the wall at mile 15 and mustered the energy to walk/run the last 11 miles--I can't give up now--but I know that re-qualifying for Boston is not happening.

The key, or so I think, is that I lowered my expectations. It's what I can easily do as an age-grouper but probably doesn't come as easily for a professional. The only hype I have is my own and maybe my family's--they are nice enough to watch me year in and year out, no matter how slow or fast I go--and my finish time, and place, isn't riding on the hopes of millions. But I'll still have to pocket Hall's words for the times when I'm questioning why I'm showing up to race in the first place. When I don't want to run for fun, when I don't need a Boston-qualifying time, when it's too cold or hot to enjoy myself, or when I'm really too injured to battle through 26.2. In a weird way, I can learn something from Hall, even if others currently think he's a quitter. He's really just teaching us a lesson about when to listen to our bodies and how to make races special.

Photo by By George Roberts (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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