How do you stay in the game when your heart’s not in it?

I ran a tough race a couple of weeks ago. Tough in that the competition was fierce and the course relentless. But even tougher in light of the fact that my heart and mind just weren’t in it. And it was a long race. It’s one thing to gut it out for the twenty minutes it takes to run a 5k – another thing all together when you’re facing ten-plus hours on the trail. I knew I had a long day ahead of me.

You might ask why I would run a race when motivation is flagging. Good question – and one that I asked myself many times over the eleven hours it took me to cover the course. The best explanation that I could come up with was that I had been psyched about the event…when I entered months ago, during all of my workouts, the night before at packet pick up, even standing on the line the morning of. But as soon as the starting gun fired, all of that excitement dissipated and I found myself thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

The first hour of the race was spent in an internal debate about quitting. Part of me really, really wanted to pack it up and call it a day. I could hang out at the finish and cheer for the finishers, and still be part of the excitement of the race. Or I could go home and take my dog for a walk. Or go downtown and while away the hours in a coffee shop. Anything but push my mind and body to do something it really didn’t want to do.

While those thoughts were appealing, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to live with a DNF, especially since nothing was really wrong with my body. So I eventually made up my mind that quitting was not an option. The debate was over and I was going to continue. My next question was how to make this as enjoyable (and competitive) of an experience as possible.

The first thing I did was to remind myself how fortunate I was to be out there. As grueling as ultramarathons can be, they are also a luxury. I am lucky to have the health, the family support, the time, and the finances that allow me to spend an entire day out in the woods. I have friends who would give anything to have a healthy, strong body like mine. To have childcare or a spouse who would support them taking a weekend off to themselves. To have money for entry fees and gas. So even though I wasn’t having the race I wanted to have, I wasn’t going to allow myself to wallow in a puddle of self-pity.