Monday, March 28, 2011
Going to the well
Six days after the LA marathon, I was still sore and tired. Very few races in my career have left me in that condition for so long. Before you jump to the conclusion that age is wearing me down, hear me out on another explanation. I believe my post-race torpor stemmed from my actions on the race course: I went to the well.
Going to the well, entering the pain cave, giving it your all. All of these expressions represent the single notion of leaving a part of yourself on the playing field. It means that, regardless of the outcome, an athlete pushed through pain and self-doubt to cross the finish line, usually hobbled and incoherent.
One can go to the well under any number of circumstances: bonking, too hot, too cold, under-trained, over-trained, started too hard, cramping, pushing for a PR, trying for the win, aiming for a Kona slot. You know you have been there if you started bargaining with God or whatever deity you believe in and you promise yourself that this is last time you will ever do this (the irony, of course is that time heals all wounds and we all head right back for the start line just knowing it will be different next time). Yes, this is the miserable feeling of pushing through when your body just wants to collapse.
In my own career, I have been back and forth to the well, withdrawing plenty of water. Thank goodness, my well seems deep and it has been spread out over many years. I have been to the well during Ironman on plenty of occasions, but I have also visited on short races when the intensity and the weather have been steaming hot.
One never forgets their first trip to the well. Mine occurred during my first half Ironman race, the Muncie Endurathon. A combination of factors led to my demise on the race course. I was a newbie trying out a trick usually reserved for veterans; I raced an Olympic distance race the weekend before. I subsequently contracted a sinus infection. Additionally, I was grossly under-prepared for such a long race. Race day was hot enough to melt the pavement and the soles of my shoes. I was so tired entering T2, I wanted to nap underneath the tree outside transition instead of running 13.1 miles. I forced myself out on the course and trudged through the sauna, walking and running until I finally finished. I was bonked, dehydrated and miserable. When my name was called at the awards ceremony to claim a Kona slot I ran hard the other direction and let someone else sweat it out in Hawaii.
Going to the well is usually unplanned. Of course, we all believe that we can “go there” at any race. But, most races do not require such drastic measures. Usually, you can race hard and achieve your goals with some discomfort, but without extreme suffering. Going to the well takes a physical and mental toll. Use your trips wisely, under circumstances that really count. One cannot make multiple trips to the well in a season and only a finite number of times over a career.
And that brings me back to the LA marathon. The driving rain and cold temperatures affected me badly. I became disoriented during the race and my quads were burning. Yet, I pushed through. I went to the well. Interestingly, I did not even realize I was going to the well while I was racing. My brain had shut off and I was running on autopilot.
Next time you approach the well, ask yourself “Is it worth it today?”