Xavier Jared

TwoShay

Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

Running And Goals

Xavier,

Training

Mid-way through 2009 I set myself a goal: to run a half-marathon in 90 minutes. My PB was 101 minutes with change, so this was a bold target for me. What makes it auspicious is that it’s the first goal I ever set. Sure, I’d had vague concepts of things I wanted to do in the past, but never before had I set my sights on a specific outcome.

I’ve always been wary of goals. I figured if I was concious of working hard at things, I was bound to improve and a goal was a dangerous upper bound. As I edged my training kilometres towards 50km a week, it became apparent that the opposite was happening. I was training harder—and smarter—than I ever had before. A 90 minute half-marathon equates to one kilometre every 4:15 minutes. At the time I could run this pace for only 2km, a tenth of the distance required. I had a lot of work to do.

In truth, I was scared. I wasn’t sure I could do it. It wasn’t a fear of failure, though; not exactly. It was a strange combination of fear and excitement. When you set high goals, they inspire you. You have an experience of looking at yourself from the outside, feeling the exhilaration of seeing someone achieve something they didn’t think was possible, and then in a sublime moment you realise that person is you. You can be skeptical of something while still cheering for it.

The race I selected was the Melbourne Half-Marathon, a course I had run twice before. In the past it had started around the coast and run into the city, which meant a roll of the dice as to whether you were running into a head wind. In 2008 the course was changed to start from the city and be more of a loop, which as an easier circuit. The finish line was moved to come after a lap of the MCG, a change I have mixed feelings about. On that final lap your mind fills the stadium and you imagine you’re running for gold with one hundred thousand people cheering, even though you can’t help but notice that in its emptiness the stadium feels even more cavernous—an empty concert hall. The previous finish line was placed after a long stretch of St Kilda rd, a stretch always lined with real people clapping and yelping you home (especially if you timed your finish with the first runner in a different bracket!).

In 2009 the race fell on October 11, which happened to be just 2 days after I returned from a 6 week trip to Africa. This was clearly not ideal, though I’d had to move my trip once already to fit in with other things, and there was nowhere else for it to go. To make matters worse, I fell brutally ill 2 weeks before I left (8 weeks to race day) which knocked out my training for 3 weeks in a critical period. Goals aren’t goals if they keep changing though. Africa was hot, high altitude, and the only place to really run was sharing the highway with exhaust belching trucks. I found a training partner though and we managed to get out at least 3 times a week - not as much as I needed but better than nothing. For my last week in Africa I hiked up Mt Kilimanjaro. This was not part of the training schedule, but I hoped the high altitude and extended effort (I summited twice) would give me some benefit.

Race Day

The weather on the morning of October 11 could not have been more spectacular for running. The sun was out, but there was a cool breeze and it wasn’t too hot. I would not have changed one single thing about it, and I say this with no exaggeration. I knew that I had not trained sufficiently to hit 90 minutes, but I decided that I would be letting myself down if I didn’t have a crack. The 90 minute pacer was sitting only 3 rows back from the start line, and he set out fast. I tucked into the group that was running with him and focused on finding a rhythm. 2km out it was apparent he was running about 10 seconds per kilometre fast, so I dropped off the group and settled into 4:15 pace.

It’s an incredible feeling, eating up the distance at that pace. I remember back in one of my first races, my Dad (who I was hoping would slow down as he got older so I could catch him, but hasn’t) foretold when I raced to the finish that “one day you’ll be able to run the whole race like that.” I don’t know where the transition is, but in my mind 4:15 pace is definitely a run rather than a jog. (When I’m running 3:30 pace I’m sure I will feel differently again.) Either way, on that Sunday morning I felt like I was flying. How long would I be able to keep it up?

I ran through the halfway point only 10 seconds over the 45 minute mark. That was the fastest I had ever run 10km, by a long shot. I knew that this was the end though. My legs went on strike. They had been fading the last few kilometres, and the turn around point was distance enough for them. The last half of the race was the hardest physical trial I have ever endured. Very quickly 90 minutes slipped further and further into the distance. I was obviously struggling. Runners passing me—and there was no shortage of them—would often offer some encouragement to keep putting one foot in front of the next. For the next 11km I repeated a mantra in my head: “Don’t walk. Don’t walk. Don’t walk.”

Coming into the MCG, I picked up the pace. It irks we somewhat that no matter how exhausted I feel, no matter how much I just can’t go on, there’s always a burst of energy waiting at the end. (Like your dessert stomach, I guess.) Why can’t I get that energy earlier when I need it? I suspect that having expended all my effort too early in the race, the slow suffering for the latter portion allows my body to escape away from the mind—its attention too focused on not dying—and refuel in secret. It stashes the energy away, knowing it needs it for later, carefully slipping it into its pocket so that I can’t spend it right away. (Like superannuation, I guess.)

Whatever the reason, I was able to run a strong lap home to pass a good number of people, and hide the pain and suffering I had just endured. Mum always says as long as you look good at the start and the finish, nothing else matters. (She and her running group have coordinated outfits.)

I crossed the line in 96 minutes and 30 seconds.

Sorry, that’s not the Hollywood ending you were hoping for. 6 and a half minutes isn’t even really that close. You know what, though? 96 minutes and 30 seconds is 5 minutes faster than I’ve ever run 21.2 kilometres, and that’s a substantial improvement. Even if I’d bowed out at the half way mark, that’s still a substantial improvement on my 10km time. And even if my plane had been delayed and I’d missed the race entirely, I was still in the best shape of my life, and learned a lot that I otherwise would not have.

Aim high, and even your failure will be a success.

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