Racing Scares Me

I have always said that I love running, but I don’t love racing.

So why am I signed up for the Las Vegas Half Marathon again? And a handful of other races before the year is over?

Racing is fun, sure. I like the energy on race day. I like the pre-race nerves I get. I like the camaraderie of the runners as we all pack into the corrals. I like when the gun goes off, and I love the rush I get when I cross over the start line and, hopefully not too long after, when I cross the finish line.

Oh look! A marathon photo! Shocking!

Crossing a finish line is one of my favorite things in the world. I wrote about it once, in fact.

But it’s all that stuff that happens in between the start line and the finish line that terrifies me a little. I’m an extremely competitive person and I don’t race “for fun.” If it happens to be a good time, great. I love running because it’s an individual sport — I don’t have to care about your pace, your negative splitting or your PRs. I only have to focus on my own.

That’s what scares me, though. I am afraid of failure. Big time. And that’s why I get excited about the idea of racing, but I panic when it comes down to the actual execution of it.

Running the Hamptons Marathon was its own beast. I was never particularly concerned with my finish time because it was my first marathon. I had no idea how my body was going to react once I passed that 20-mile marker.

Here I come, dragging my tired butt up yet another hill

Before the marathon, I had never really trained for a race. For my first two half marathons, I ran 5 miles or so most days during the week, and then built up my mileage on the weekends. I never tracked my pace. I never cared about time. Blissful!

I ran my first half marathon — the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon — in 2 hours 14 minutes.

Post-half massage? Sure. I'll take one. Thanks.

For my second 13.1 venture — the Las Vegas Half Marathon — I followed the exact same “training plan” and somehow managed to shave 7 minutes off my time, finishing in 2:07. I’ll chalk it up to the fact that the Napa course was hilly and it was 90 degrees, and Vegas was totally flat and a brisk 40 degrees.

I ran my third half marathon — New York City — three months later, and again shaved 7 minutes off my time. At least I was consistent. I finished in 2:00:03 and was thrilled.

After the New York City Half Marathon, I didn’t sign up for any more races. I was just happy to be out running every day and didn’t think about it much beyond that.

Eventually though, I wanted to do another half marathon. I had kept my mileage up even though I wasn’t technically training for anything, and I decided I wanted to break two hours in the half. Yay goals!

I signed up for the National Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., which would fall one year after the New York City Half Marathon.

Again, I didn’t really train. I didn’t do speedwork. I didn’t know what a tempo run was (confession: still kind of don’t understand that term). I ran in Central Park regularly, but I’d hardly call that “hill training,” and I finally got a Garmin to track my pace and distance, but it wasn’t something I relied on too heavily. I also did a ton of cross training, including spinning, TRX classes and strength training.

When I toed the start line in D.C. earlier this year, my goal was to break two hours.

My second goal was to run in leg warmers. Check!

Everything went well for me that day, and I ended up finishing in 1:44:48. Trust me, no one was more surprised about that finish time than I was. I think I blacked out during the race. I barely remember it.

I went into that half marathon with no plan. No solid training. No fuel. Just me and some sneakers and some leg warmers.

I haven’t PR’d in the half marathon distance since then. I’ve raced a few 13.1s, but they were all during marathon training, so while I of course would have loved a sparkly PR in there somewhere, it didn’t happen for me, and it wasn’t my goal. The marathon was my goal for the bulk of 2011.

What's that? ANOTHER marathon photo. Yes.

Now the year is wrapping up, and I find myself signed up for the Las Vegas Half Marathon on December 4.

This morning, I ran four gloriously slow miles along the East River. I convinced Brian that “the sunrise is so pretty, we have to go see it,” but we were out a bit too early to actually catch the sun.

The sun is down there somewhere, I swear.

My stomach was a little bitch today. I had to stop within the first mile at a Starbucks. Then, as Brian and I ran, I started to inflict myself with self-doubt regarding this upcoming half marathon.

I really want to PR in Las Vegas. The course is flat and the weather should be ideal. It’s a night race, which worries me, though I can figure that out. Minor detail.

But now I’m preoccupied with numbers. In D.C., I had no idea what kind of pace I had to be doing in order to hit a certain time. I just didn’t think about it. Now it’s all I can think about. If I want to go sub-1:44, I need to run sub-8:00 miles…the entire time.

Forget negative splitting. We know that’s not going to happen. Have you met me? I’d like to crown myself the Queen of Positive Splitting.

I haven’t been following a training plan for this race. My stomach has held me back a bit from doing speed training, and this morning I panicked about that, too.

But now I think maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I over-think racing too much. Once I started working with the phenomenal Coach Cane, my brain was auto-tuned to constantly focus on numbers. Pace, distance, splits, negative splits, super positive splits, striders, etc.

I know a million professional, successful runners will tell me that my “no training plan” strategy heading into Vegas is not wise. But I PR’d without any plan, so let’s see what happens, shall we?

I might break my own little record on December 4, and I might not. But I really don’t want to spend the next month worrying about it every day.

Oh, and I’d email Coach Cane for advice, but he’s a little busy.

Welcome to the world, Simon Cane!

Mrs. Coach Cane gave birth to this little munchkin on Monday! His name is Simon and he is 6 pounds of perfection, from what I’ve been told. So yeah, Coach Cane may not have time to waste thinking about my race day strategy. Fair enough. (And if you’re so inclined, shoot a little love message to the new dad on Twitter.)

For my next trick, I will run a half marathon without a plan. I will start running when they tell me to, and I’ll stop at the end. See you at the finish line.



0 Responses

  1. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but I fully support non-plan, zen running. Read that book by Matt fitzgerald called “Run: The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel” or something like that. I think our bodies and intuition are a lot smarter than we are sometimes and know what’s best for us. I went through a phase where I never wore a watch, not even for races. I do follow a plan for marathons just to decrease anxiety (ie “omg so far! what am I going to do!), but otherwise I probably wouldn’t or I’d make it up as I go along. Deena Kastor said at that bfast I went to that ” a joyful runner is a fast runner” or something like that. Run happy, you’ll run fast. I hear leg warmers help, too.

  2. I like this entry a whole lot! Ran my first half last year (actually my first race ever) and had no real training plan .. just lots of running and lots of cross training. Went in with no expectations just tried my hardest and finished with a time of 1:45. So I’m all about the kind of training but not actually really seriously training method. I was confident that my body was in really good shape and decided to just go with whatever pace felt right during the race. Thank goodness for race adrenaline and competitiveness and that extra boost it gives to your pace! But I’m sure you’ll do great in the Vegas half no matter what .. good luck!!

  3. 1. Thank you for the kind words. Same to all those who commented.
    2. Though I’m big on meticulous planning in training, it’s not the way for everyone. I have coached my friend and colleague Christopher Bergland on and off for 20+ years. He is the most intuitive athlete I’ve ever met, and he did much better when I loosened the reins and let him go with what felt right. I’m not suggesting that you’ll set a world record like he did, but maybe a less structured approach will be right for you. In the words of the immortal George Clinton, “free your mind and your ass will follow.”
    3. Never be shy about asking for my input if you want it. I’ve started to work on typing with one hand while holding Simon in the other.

  4. I find it absolutely f*cking amazing you ran 1:44 when your only goal was to break 2. You’re my hero. Here’s what I think you should do at Vegas- which is what I did at National… don’t rely too heavily on your watch. You never did before so why do it now? Just run by feel (fast) and chase that 1:40. I believe in you!!!

  5. I trained for my first half marathon but, like you, didn’t really know what to expect and just ran. I was very happy with my time (2:17), but now that I’m training for a second half, I feel a lot of pressure to at least shave a few minutes off of my old time. I won’t get crazy about it, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind!

  6. I’m definitely scared of the “failure” part of racing, too. I definitely have that mentality that every race I run needs to be a PR…maybe because so far in my racing career (i.e. not very long) I actually have PRed every time (I’ve only ran each distance 2 or 3 times.) However, when I ran my third 10K I wanted to PR by a lot and only ended up PRing by thirty seconds or so…and I still felt let down! Crazy!!!
    I have a lofty goal for my half coming up, but I definitely think I can do it…and I keep telling myself that I’ll be happy even if I don’t!

  7. I am just like you. I have a huge competitive side of me, it is kinda scary. I am always comparing numbers and seeing other times of people. Its bad! I am also like you in the sense I hate failure. I just had a talk with one of my friends about this. I would do anything in this world, if it meant I did not have to fail! This is also a trait of mine that I need to work on.
    Loved the post today by the way!

  8. WOW!!!! you PR’d so many times!!! that is impressive!! I totally know what you mean. I hate but love to run 5Ks cos i want to always do better… 😛 me and my own little enemy (my brain) i am much too competitive for my own good… 😛

  9. I don’t understand what tempo run really means either. I tried to look it up so I could sound knowledgeable, but just got more confused. I find that I have to have a plan-ish. I decided I wanted to run 13.1 miles so I looked at some training plans then decided to do my own thing. I think you can totally do it, plan or no plan!

  10. Transition the scared energy into determination come race day! It’s okay to go in without a plan, some of my PRs came completely unexpectedly. Remember to dig deep when it gets tough and just keep going, your body can do so much more than your mind will allow. That’s what i’ve learned especially during races where I’ve felt like I’ve blacked out, my mind is the thing that’s holding me back, my legs, lungs and core all have so much strength!

    Big congrats to Coach and Mrs Coach Cane!!

  11. I say just go out there, have fun and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. If you want to “test” some race type of strategies – actually try to run a negative split at a time you know you can make – like 2 hours. I did that at MCM this past weekend and was suprised at how well it worked. It increased my confidence.

    On a side note – how in the heck are you smiling in the pic above at the National 1/2? That is at the 10K point right after a monster hill. I was dying at that point and certainly not smiling. Ha.

  12. First sooo cute!!! So exciting. Second so exciting about Vegas. Hope we get a chance to meet. are you just going for the weekend? Third wow 1:44!!! That is amazing. MIne is 1:47, whatever but would love to break it. But it is a PR for a reason. That was set in April 2010 and I was actually not racing smart at all. Vegas will be flat but it may also be crazy windy. Did you think of maybe using a pacer? I am totally game to run with you because based on our recent tmes we are similar but i might suggest finding someone super speedy who feel your pace is comfy and not just a random person but someone who you know will push and encourage you and get you across that finish line with a PR even if they have to carry you lol. good luck!

  13. The way that you shaved off 30 minutes from your half marathon time is truly inspiring to me! I have a goal of running a sub-2hr half but as my current PR is only 2:19 taking off 20 minutes seems impossible. But hearing about your story makes me think I should stop telling myself I can’t, and try to see what’s possible.

    I agree that you don’t need a very specific plan to PR, as long as you work hard and push your limits, you will be getting faster. That said, a plan helps me out because I like to know what’s coming. But that’s just me.

  14. I’m scared of racing too! I’m preparing for my first race with a time goal (trying to break 2 hours in a half in December, barring any of the stupid injuries that have kept me from really going for it before) and all of a sudden there’s so more pressure involved. (Pressure only from myself, obviously, but still pressure.) I looked at some training pace calculator yesterday and according to it, I train at the right pace for faster races, but my actual racing is terrible! So … what do I do with that? I guess I just keep running.

  15. Your comment, “I will start running when they tell me to, and I’ll stop at the end” reminds me of the episode from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ when Barney decides to run the NYC marathon and says the steps are “1. You start running…there is no step 2.” Great episode! I could watch it on repeat!

    I’m sure you’ll be great in Vegas! Sometimes the nerves are a good predictor that great things are about to happen!

  16. First, congratulations on your National time! I think you can have a successful race with or without a plan as long as you are being consistent with your running. But I know what you mean about meaning competitive. I registered for the SF Nike Marathon and started a strict training program with a goal of running a 4:15. Then I got badly injured and couldn’t run for almost 5 weeks. Mentally so hard but it made me rethink why I run and what’s important. On race day I felt undertrained but decided to focus on enjoying the experience, the scenery, the volunteers, etc. It went better than I expected, I felt great and I had my first marathon with even splits which means I didn’t panic. At the end, most of what I felt was grateful because no matter what your goal or your eventual time, you have accomplished something that many people can’t and a lot of people wish they could. I am sure you will be fabulous in Vegas!

  17. I improved my second half by 45 minutes. Mostly because my first half was run with a nasty cold and recovering from a groin pull, but hey – progress is progress!

    As for the race – “Go that way really fast; if someone gets in your way – turn.”. (To misquote Better Off Dead)

  18. I rarely have plans for my races, I do have goals in mind but a plan, not so much. My next race is a 15K and since I have been out due to an overuse injury I’m probably not going to have any plans nor goals in mind for this race (it’s next weekend). I just want to get back out there and run, going out tonight to see how it feels!

    Simon is very cute, congratulations to the new parents!

  19. I like this post 🙂 I’m the same way about the next half i signed up for. PR or bust! It’s in April, so I have some time to figure it out, but I don’t have a plan as to how I’m actually going to PR. The race is in God’s Country (AKA Central Illinois), so the course will be fast and FLAT. I’m hoping to stick to speedwork two times a week over the winter to keep up my speed and focus on long mileage after monstrosity that is Chicago Winter is over!

  20. I totally know what your’re talking about. Actually, what’s funny is that I got a 2:13 on my first half, and 2:07 in my second half. It makes me feel better to know that you PR’d without following a strict training plan for your third. I have my goal race coming up in Jan.

  21. Hahaha! I am kind of in question about what a tempo run is, too! I’ve def read enough about them, but never really retain it. I don’t really like to think that much while running.
    Your time at the National was SICK, girl. You can totally replicate that, and then some, in Vegas!

  22. Hey Ali, what are your thoughts on the National Half course? I know they changed it to RnR this year, but they’re probably going to keep the same course and I’m planning to run the full in the spring. What did you think of the first half of the course?

    1. I liked it! I mean, I really do think I blacked out for some of it because there are huge chunks I don’t remember at all. But I remember liking the start, which was near RFK Stadium — the corrals all wind around the stadium. You do run past some cool stuff, like the Capitol Building, but overall I don’t remember it being as scenic as I had expected. Running through Howard University was fun because there were tons of students and bands out cheering, and I remember a short, steep but manageable hill around mile 6 or 7. The course was fine. Not my favorite, but definitely better than some others I’ve done.

  23. While racing scares me for different reasons, I think the common theme here is the fear of the unknown. But you have SO much experience under your belt now that no matter what plan or non-plan you follow, you will do great on Dec 4. You ARE trained. You JUST ran a marathon. You totally got this! And PS love the name Simon, what a cutie!

  24. I think your no plan plan is the way to go. It seems like the more stress I put on myself to set a PR, the less chance I have of actually doing it. When I just plan to show up and finish, I can do nothing but be an overacheiver!

    And Congrats to the Canes!

  25. I think it’s important not to overthink racing. It should be fun! You don’t want to burn out. Just enjoy your runs for now without worrying about pace or time & see what happens. I know, easier said than done. Do some more cross training, more yoga etc. You have built a good base & you’ll still kick butt in Vegas!

  26. Awwwwww Simon Cane! I love the name and the baby is adorable!!!! Mazel tov to Coach Cane and Mrs. Coach Cane! So, “Before the marathon, I had never really trained for a race. For my first two half marathons, I ran 5 miles or so most days during the week, and then built up my mileage on the weekends.” — Ali that IS training! I consider myself to have technically trained for my half marathons, and you did SO MUCH more than I ever did during training. You trained. As for your half marathons, I really like that you shared your times today because your first two are both times I’ve run myself. You’ve improved so much! As for PRing, I say do your best but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen. And I run because I love racing. . . the entire racing experience is fun for me.

  27. As most of my training plans have been of the “get to the finish line without dying” type I have no quality advice for you, but since it sounds like you’ve got this all worked out I think you’ll do just fine in vegas! Its flat, its sparkley, and you’re a vip! Pr here you come ! Teach me your magical ways, please!

  28. I’ve been feeling the same way about my upcoming second half. Glad to know I’m not alone here! You will do fabulous and over-thinking our races is exactly what we do. Again we are competitive within ourselves!

    Have fun and enjoy and rock it! I’m running RnRSA next weekend! Maybe I’ll join you in Vegas sometime!

  29. I hear ya on the PR thing…. it kind of reminds me when I would get a high silver at a dance competition and not the gold I was expecting………. psycho, much? Yes, yes I am. I haven’t PR’d in a half since October of last year (1:38) and in the 5 or so I’ve done since I have run it in exactly 1:41……. every time. And while I’m happy about the pace and the fact that I can run…. IT AGGREVATES ME nonetheless.

    Keep the marathon photos flowing… it’s impressive that you look pretty in every single one…. I always look too ugly to publish them.

  30. I think it is normal to be scared about PRing and reaching goals and not reachign goals.. I am scared I won’t be able to run 16.2 miles or that I will fail miserable at my training plan. We all have fears and it’s totally normal..

    Congrats Coach!

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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