The starting line of the beautiful Dune Dash

We all have high hopes for race day – the weather will be perfect, we’ll feel great physically and mentally, we’ll get enough sleep the night before, and we’ll feel motivated to complete that day’s distance. With all things in life, but especially running, expectations and reality don’t always match up. I recently had a race that I felt great going into – then floundered horribly halfway through.

I love the annual Dune Dash. It is a 4-mile race that starts and ends at the Sleeping Bear Dunes‘ famous Dune Climb. This year, the weather was perfect; partly cloudy with a slight breeze. I was extremely well rested and had no concerns about completing the 4 mile distance. In fact, I even got there early enough to run a mile warm-up on a different portion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

The race started out great. However, I was feeling a little too good because I went out too fast in the first mile. It’s an out-and-back course, so we only had to run two miles out before turning around. At about 1.5 miles in, the sun came out in full force. For some reason, the sudden, intense heat put me in a poor mental state. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm and felt like I was pushing too hard no matter how much I pulled back. Groups of people started to pass me and that only added to my already sour mood. I felt winded, fatigued, and even took a walk break. I hate when I let myself walk during races. I find getting momentum after walking very difficult and typically spiral into an even worse mental state.

In everyday life, I am great at not letting circumstances define my mood. I believe happiness is a choice and there is always something to be grateful for. However, I just could not get out of that negative head space during this race. Part of me is irritated with myself for losing control over my thoughts, but the other part of me is grateful for the experience. This race very clearly showed me what I need to work on.

As runners, we get pretty comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s good for me that I was outside my comfort zone and was unable to regain the mental state I wanted. For me, running is just as much about improving my mental health as it is about improving my physical health. Staying positive when I don’t feel well physically is something I need to work on. I’ve officially selected my next marathon (more on that soon!) and now I know exactly what I need to improve upon – looking forward to the challenge!

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