I mentioned in my C&O Canal 100 Race Report that I was equally happy with my race as I was with my Oil Creek finish, however this shouldn’t be the case.  I ran an awful race from a performance standpoint.  This course was pancake flat vs. 17k+ of elevation gain so I should have run closer to 4 hours faster rather than the 4 minutes faster that I actually accomplished.  I’ve had bad races before and I’ve never been happy with them.  That’s not really the kinda person I am.  While I won’t let a slow time overshadow the enjoyment of running a race, it will definitely factor into how happy I am with my run.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with my latest race though.  Maybe I now realize that time and place isn’t everything when it comes to running.  Maybe I’m actually starting to get all mature and whatnot.  Ha!  I can’t even get that out with a straight face.  That’s definitely not it.  I want to run well, place towards the front of the mid-pack, and prove myself against the other 100 mile crazies out there.  Instead, I think I’m happy despite my time rather than because of it for three reasons.

Strength Through Adversity

Part of the allure of running 100 miles is overcoming adversity.  If I wanted a quick, easy challenge, then there are plenty of shorter races that I can sign up for and complete.  I want to be challenged.  I want to be tested.  I want to be surprised by what the race throws at me.  And I want to beat all obstacles that are placed in front of me.  Even those I create for myself.  I’m going to have to deal with my own stupidity for the rest of my life so I better learn to handle it.

I don’t want to imply that I faced a huge amount of adversity in the race.  Yes, I went out too fast so struggled physically in the second half of the race.  Even at the end of the race though, I was still moving along at a 19-20 minute pace.  Slow for sure, but nothing approaching death march territory.  I was definitely more sore than during my first 100 mile finish.  And the discomfort started earlier.  So it was nice that I was able to grind out a finish.  The weather wasn’t nearly as bad as last year, however it was still cold and wet for 9+ hours.  A walk in the park literally, not figuratively.

Frame of Reference

Or maybe I’m happy with my race because I ranked my goals in the correct manner.  My primary goal was to finish the race, not to finish it in a certain time.  If I had listed a time goal first, then I would have been less happy with the outcome.  I believe this is referred to in psychology as the framing effect, which is a type of cognitive bias.  Here are two scenarios as an example.  Imagine I came up and told you that I would give you $10 the next day, however instead I end up giving you $5.  In the second scenario, I tell you I’m going to give you a dollar and instead give you $5.  In both cases, you end up with the same outcome (you get $5 for free), however you’re disappointed in the first scenario because you didn’t get as much as you were expecting.  You had already baked that $10 into your life even though it wasn’t yours yet.  I didn’t establish a baseline expectation that I’m a sub-24 hour 100 miler so I’m not upset now that circumstances ended up proving that to be false.

I think I’m going to end up getting rid of time goals altogether going forward.  Partially because they’re more likely to lead to disappointment than to happiness.  Mostly because there’s no way to come up with accurate goals.  I knew I should have run the race faster than my previous one, however my limited experience with 100 mile races hasn’t prepared me to be able to quantify that.  I like doing these trail races because each one is unique with different terrain and elevation profiles.  Heck, most of them are even different distances (100.6, 100.8, 102.9, etc.).  And this doesn’t even account for the impact of weather (rain requires constant gear changes, heat slows you down).  The longer the event, the more these factors can weigh on performance. And there’s so many of these variables that I could drive myself (more) crazy trying to figure out the implications.  So I’ll just take a pass on figuring out times.

But while properly framing my result also helped how I felt about my results, the third reason is probably the real one.

Dude, It’s 100 Miles!

Or maybe it’s because there are no bad times in a 100 mile finish.  This is only my second completion of the distance and I’m not quite so jaded yet to be able to take it for granted.  A lot of time, effort, and planning went into my race.  It didn’t go exactly how I dreamed it would go, but then again that’s life.  I’m sure a lot of people put in similar levels of effort, but weren’t able to get themselves a buckle.  It is an epic distance and I’m honestly still surprised that I’m able to accomplish this.  It still doesn’t seem real.  26 hours is an insane amount of time to be continuously physically active.  I spent years reading books and blogs of people who can cover 100 miles.  I idolized all of them (front, mid, and back-of-packers) as these elite athletes who could endure anything.  I will never consider myself an elite athlete, but just to be able to do the same runs provides a strong sense of accomplishment.  It’s that sense of accomplishment that will provide my motivation to train for my next challenge in August: Eastern States 100.  And boy, will that be a challenge.

How do you deal with subpar performances?

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