Sonya Sorich: Making the most of a bad 5K race

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comJune 11, 2013 

Runners know not every race is brag-worthy. In fact, some are downright embarrassing.

For all the personal records and triumphant finish times, there are also moments in running when you want to curl up on the side of the road and disappear. You reach your required distance and immediately ensure your favorite exercise app produces no public record of what just happened.

I'm writing from experience.

Last summer, I ran a humid 5K shortly after recovering from a stomach illness. Roughly two minutes into the race, I learned I hadn't fully recovered. To make matters worse, my headphones refused to cooperate -- forcing me to complete the course against the melodic backdrop of pure agony.

Then, there was the time when I locked myself out of my house on the morning of a 5K race and ended up running in a pair of shoes I purchased minutes before crossing the start line.

But in the running hall of shame, few things beat my experience at a recent 5K race. I had an ear infection, but was intent on exercising that Saturday morning. Despite my good intentions, I didn't exactly move quickly while preparing for the race.

Maybe that's why I arrived just two minutes before the scheduled start time, according to my watch. I say "according to my watch" because after I exited my car, a kind spectator greeted me with this line: "They just started."

By "they," he meant the runners who were smart enough to arrive early.

I had a choice: I could walk back to my car or attempt to join the other runners. I chose the latter option -- because I knew I'd eventually need a column topic.

I started running and tried to ignore the organizers who were apparently disassembling the start line. I eventually caught up with a pack of walkers, then joined some runners. But I sprinted so quickly to join the race that I ran out of steam faster than usual.

My rapid start gave me no time to put on my headphones, so I was left trying to put them on while catching up with the pack. It wasn't pretty.

I crossed the finish line -- about four minutes slower than usual. The good news? I finished. The bad news? I had to accompany my finish time with a disclaimer, a story that likely only half of my audience would believe.

Go ahead, practice all you want. But the sports world is unpredictable. A November 2009 Runner's World article encourages people to handle bad race experiences by (temporarily) wallowing, then finding a positive, analyzing the race, setting new goals and managing your expectations.

It's good advice, but let's be honest. Sometimes bad races don't require complex analysis or new training strategies. Sometimes they just remind us we're not invincible -- and that's OK.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516. Visit ledger-enquirer.com/sonya to read her columns.

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