Steps Back

As I sit on an airplane homeward bound, my mind is focused on yesterday’s race. Having run a mediocre race, at best, I start to wonder why.

Was it the travel? Sitting on a plane for 7 hours before hand?
Was it my training? Did I peak early, run too hard in a workout, or run too much the week before?
Have I been going for too long, it’s been nearly 11 months without a solid break?
Was I not as mentally prepared for the race?
Was the sickness I had last week still lingering?

In reality it could be one or a combination of all of these questions, but sometimes there is no explanation. Right after the race, I could not explain what happened. I thought, no I knew, that I was ready to run fast. A resounding “NO” would have been my answer to all of the questions above. But with some afterthought, they say hindsight is 20/20, I am not so sure that “NO” is the correct answer. Running is a fickle mistress. Some days you feel like you are invincible, while others will knock you on your ass. Training could be going fantastic for a few weeks, only to run a sub par race. But there are two sides to the coin. Training could be terrible, your confidence low, but against all the odds you hit one out of the park.

If you have been following my training log, you know that I truly believe I am in good shape and expected to run fast this weekend. Particularly when my whole training cycle was geared towards this race. Coming in with such high expectations makes this race that much more frustrating. I went in brimming with confidence and came out much more humbled. Having been running so well with such good results, I seemed to forget that not every race is going to be fantastic, awesome, or great.

Thinking about this takes me back to last summer and what a ZAP guest speaker said, that in a 10 year career you may get 20 races where you feel invincible. If you break that down, it comes out to 2 races a year. I have had many of those “invincible” races, and recently it has been more often than not. The chips have been falling my way, and I have been cashing them in. I have had a string of performances that many young runners right out of college would give an arm for, not a leg of course. I need to remember that one bad performance does not define a career, while a one good one can. As long as my bad races are few and far between, I know that I will have a successful career.

The other day, I came across this blog from Alisha Williams (Also you can follow her on Twitter). Alisha is a Western Alum, and pretty good runner. She holds the Western State record in the 1500m (4:16.42) and was a 6 time National Champion. Ali was also 5th in the Olympic Trials two years ago in the 10000m. Over the last year, she has been fighting injury, and due to a foot injury, she was unable to finish her race this weekend at Stanford. While reading her blog, one quote struck me as explained why she is not going to hang up her spikes after a year of injuries:

“But, here’s the thing, I love the challenge of running. I love doing workouts and pushing myself. Not one to choose the easy route, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and move forward. The thing is, I’m not going to know when I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career until it is well behind me, so I might as well stop trying to time it. Meb’s Boston win is a great example of why you shouldn’t give up if you still have the fire.”

This sums up how I feel about running. I do not run because it is easy; it is the opposite in fact. I like to see how far I can push myself, how far and fast I can go using only my own power. Eventually I know that I will slowdown, but until then I will keep running with the dream that I can run faster.

One last thing that came to my thoughts was what Pete said to me right before my race: “Have fun out there. Not many people get to do what you do for a living.” As a group we have discussed the number of people in the United States that get to call themselves a professional runner. That number is high, most likely into the thousands, but most need a part time or full time job to support their running addiction. It is really only around 100 Americans that get to live and train like myself. What I do for a living is a rarity in this world, I get a chance to chase my dream. Most people had a dream at one point, whether it is to become an All Star Baseball player, the next Michael Jordan, or an Olympian, but most people do not get to opportunity to go after those dreams. I feel fortunate to get the chance to pursue my dream. I also have a great supporting cast behind me. I know that my parents, who came out to watch, family, coach, teammates, and friends are all there propping me up. I am grateful for their encouragement while I put life on hold with the hope that I can represent the United States in the Olympics.

With all that said I want to finish with a quote. It’s not going to be a cheesy one about coming back from failure; you can just Google “Quotes on failure” for those. It is a poem from Charles Bukowski. Lately I have been reading some of his work and he is extremely raw and unfiltered. His works, often autobiographical, are very mundane and crude. You do not read his novels to feel good and happy, but nestled his words are some great insights.

“Roll The Dice”
By Charles Bukowski

 If you’re going to try,
 Go all the way.
 Otherwise, don’t even start.

 This could mean losing girlfriends,
 Wives, relatives, jobs and
 Maybe your mind.

 It could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
 It could mean freezing on a
 Park bench.
 It could mean jail,
 It could mean derision,
 It could mean mockery,
 Isolation is the gift,
 All the others are a test
 Of your endurance,
 Of how much you really want to
 Do it.
 And you’ll do it
 Despite rejection and the worst odds
 And it will be better than
 Anything else
 You can imagine.

 If you’re going to try,
 Go all the way.
 There is no other feeling like that.
 You will be alone with the gods
 And the nights will flame with fire.

 You will ride life
 Straight to perfect laughter,
 It's the only good fight there is.

Now I am back home in the isolation of the Appalachian Mountains with a renewed sense of motivation. I will keep on training, putting in the 100+ mile weeks, and move on from one shitty race.


A cool cartoon using Bukowski’s “Roll the Dice”. I recommend looking through his collection of other drawings.
Zen Pencils – “Charles Bukowski: Roll the Dice”

Another good blog fromm Phoebe Wright, a world class 800m runner, about “Dealing with Post Race Depression“.


As I was writing this blog I did not have a title. Eventually I came up with the title, “Steps Back”. I see it contrasted to my first blog about my race at the USA Half Marathon Champs, “Forward Leaps”. Both disappointments and triumphs are a part of running, but as long as you take leaps forward and only steps back, success is inevitable.

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  1. Pingback: Training Log 3/29-4/4 | Website of Tyler Pennel

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