Redemption in Geneva
I’ve learned a couple of things in my 10 years of competitive racing, because no matter what happens there are always things to learn from a race. Whether you perform up to your ability that day or not, never fail to learn some lesson to take to your next race. What can also be learned is sometimes when you don’t perform up to your potential you learn that lesson the hard way. My lesson learned at the Chicago Marathon in October was that being physically prepared for a race is only half prepared. You have to be both physically and mentally prepared and I wasn’t that October day. That was not the case this past Saturday at the BQ.2 Marathon in Geneva, being both physically ready and mentally ready to not squander this opportunity to do the best I could do.
Here is where I’ll get on my soap box so bear with me for a little bit. Having a support team that is not only supportive of your activity but that includes an objective counselor that will be truthful with you is critical to reaching your potential. I’m lucky enough to have my wife Cheryl to support me and an objective voice in Coach Joe of ET Personal Coaching Services to tell me like it is. That “like it is“ conversation happened after my race in Chicago; that’s what a coach should do when an athlete has a day like I did. He knew the problem with my performance and coaxed it out of me over a 60 minute after race conversation, and he was right. Again, that objective voice.
The BQ.2 Marathon in Geneva is specifically geared to get racers to Boston. It is extremely spectator friendly as you are able to see your support team eight times over the course of the day because it’s a roughly 3.2 mile loop. This was a huge positive for Cheryl which meant that she could just sit in one place and have me loop around her. Its also a very small race, only 275 racers, so the logistics are friendly for everyone.
The smallness of the race hit us as we parked within a quarter mile of the start line and again as we gravitated toward the start line. The whole experience was awesome with short porta potty lines, the feeling of comradery among the racers all with the same goal, and the peaceful venue along the Fox River in Geneva. The day started cooler than most but the promise of sun was evident in the eastern sky and the hope of at least a little warmth for us was on my mind. Basically, a near perfect marathon race day so there were to be no excuses to underperform.
As we headed for the start line my thoughts were to stick with the plan. See, this was to be my first time running with a pace group, but the thoughts were to race smart, not go out too fast, and surge on the last loop of the race. I found our pacer, Nick, and had intros with him and the other racers in the group of 12 women and men (Men 60-64 and Women 45-49 have the same BQ goal). Nick took us through the first four loops or about the half way point. He did an exceptional job keeping us on track for a 3:49:00 expected finish. As I finished the first loop there was Cheryl taking pictures and cheering me on, something I looked forward to each time. She was also the collector of my clothing as the day warmed up. On the third loop I received some unexpected but very well received support in my friend and coach, Joe LoPresto, jumping up and down as I crossed the pedestrian bridge in Geneva. Then I was off to finish the loop and see Cheryl again with more clothing coming off. Once we completed 13.1 miles Dan took over for the final four loops with the same goal, keep the group on track for a Boston finish time. That’s another unique benefit of a multi loop course: the pacers work in teams so we had Nick for the first 13.1 miles and Dan the second 13.1 to keep us on pace and keep things fresh.
At least that’s the thought but as most know as the miles pile up on the racers fatigue starts to set in. But I kept telling myself to stick to the plan for loops five, six, and seven and things will come together. However sometimes the plan needs to be adjusted on the fly because there were a few times on laps five, six, and part of seven that we fell a little behind the pace goal. So, at mile 22 I decided to call an audible and surge ahead for as long as I could hold a pace better than the expected time. I honestly didn’t even realize what I was doing at first but after about three minutes I found my self ahead of the group and I liked it, so I just kept pushing myself. Then I ran into Coach Joe again and he yelled at me, “There is no wall!” and that just spurred me on even more. I saw Cheryl at the start of my last lap and she was yelling at me to keep going and that I looked great, another boost to keep pushing as hard as I could. I can tell you mantras do help. With “There is no wall” and “I am the storm” rolling around in my head, I just kept pushing. For the last mile the hurt was all in my legs and my body wanted to stop but the thought of failing to meet my goal, wasting over 3 ½ hours of a race that was already behind me, and enduring the mental failure of not meeting my goal was just too much to ignore.
So, I told myself, whether you stop and walk or continue to run it is going to hurt. The hurt could be for the next eight minutes and I could achieve the goal or the hurt could be for the rest of my life knowing I gave up when I should have kept going. The body pain would dissipate with time but the mental pain would be with me forever. The decision was made with this one thought and the goal achieved.
Thanks so much to Cheryl, my wife and partner, for supporting all my crazy endeavors. Thanks to Coach Joe for caring enough to have that honest conversation with me in October, for missing Run Club to come out and support me, and to the ET Cheer Crew of Amy B. (I thought you were Suzy on the first loop 😊 guess all the blood was in my legs and not my brain), Jock, Ganesh, Kendra, and Gino to call out when they saw me. I hope you know that while brief those cheers really do help us.
Jim Riga is a USA Certified Triathlon Coach, RRCA Certified Running Coach and Masters Swim Coach with Experience Triathlon. As leaders in the endurance services industry, Coach Jim and the Experience Triathlon team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Jim and Experience Triathlon at www.expriencetriathlon.com