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On Disappointment

January 11, 2012

Whenever you finish a marathon, I think everyone assumes the first feelings they will feel is both pride and relief. Last year, when I crossed this finish line at the New York City Marathon, I felt sadness and disappointment. It took me almost a week to feel proud of my efforts, and still that is spotty.

November 6 was a tough day for me. My race was really bad, and I struggled throughout the entire thing. My legs felt tired pretty much out off the bat—not a good thing when you have 26 miles to run—and I only had one (one!) good mile, around mile 6, when I heard someone playing Empire State of Mind, and I felt a magical surge of adrenaline. Besides that, though, it was a true struggle of a race. I first saw my parents at mile 8, and between the start and seeing them, I truly considered dropping out when I reached them. How I kept going after that point, I don’t know, but I just made myself go. I was not happy, though. I was not having fun, and I was not enjoying myself.

My mom took this of me about to give a giant hug to my dad at mile 8. I was so happy to see them. Not happy with my race.

One thing that makes NYCM so special and different is the crowd support and energy you get from running through constant cheering. Last year, it was amazing, and I loved (almost) every minute. This year, however, I couldn’t enjoy the crowds and the people yelling my name. I was fighting an internal struggle to finish every single mile, and there was no excitement on the sidelines that was going to help me.

My apartment is on the course, right at mile 17, and I knew my amazing roommate would be there waiting for me, offering me a quick hug and a GU. The second I saw her face, coming up first avenue, I ran right over, and all but burst into tears. I was sad, and I had no desire to keep going. Poor thing had to listen to me talk through my emotions for five minutes, about how hard this was, how much I did not think I could finish, how I didn’t care if I finished or not. I finally kept going, but only because I knew my parents were waiting for me, and I didn’t want to let them down.

I saw another friend, Jeff, around 18.5, and my friend Hannah, at 23, and both times I was the same: fighting to hold back tears, struggling to take the steps to leave them and continue. I saw so many other friendly faces in the last few miles: my friend Talia right before the turn into the park, Jess at 24 (who later told me when she saw me she could tell I was struggling and wanted to jump out and give me a hug), my friend Amy at 24.5 (oh Amy…your face helped so much), and my parents again at 25. Those faces were the only thing that got me to the finish line. (as I’m writing this, I’m tearing up. This race evokes a lot of emotions).

And when crossing that finish line at Tavern on the Green finally happened, I cried. Not because I was happy I finished, or relieved I didn’t have to go any further or proud of my time. I cried because I was sad. I hadn’t run a good race. I hadn’t enjoyed myself or the race. I was pretty sure I had disappointed my parents.

Going into the race, I knew I was not going to have a physically strong race because of my injury and complete lack of running three weeks beforehand. Therefore, while waiting on Staten Island, I took Meggie’s sharpie and wrote on my right hand “Enjoy The Day.” If I wasn’t going to have a strong race, I at least wanted to have a fun one. When I crossed the finish line, I looked at my right hand and realized I had failed on my one other goal besides finishing. I was disappointed in myself for letting the physical struggle my body was fighting overtake everything else, and not allowing myself to have at least a little fun.

I was actually nervous to see my parents after I finished. They had made a special trip to watch me, and my dad had been especially excited. He’d run NYCM a few times in the 80s, and I grew up watching him run, and he’s a big part of the reason I run today. They were so proud of me, though, even after my less-than-stellar showing, and gave me big, sweaty hugs after. Even if I wasn’t proud of myself, they could be proud of me.

Me and my dad post-race. He's wearing his NYCM medal from 1982 that my mom brought along, which he ran when I was 6 weeks old. Happy on the outside. Disappointed on the inside.

When everything was said and done, and I was back at work and school the next day, I was still disappointed, still sad about my race. I had failed at PRing, I had failed at running a smart race, I had failed at enjoying the day. I had to deal with coworkers and classmates coming up to me the next few days, asking me how the race went (“it went fine.”) and what my time was (“it was fine.”) Everyone else was so proud of me, but I was not proud of myself.

And guess what? That is fine. The race was my race. My effort. My struggle. My disappointment. My sadness. It didn’t matter how many times someone told me to be proud of myself, and proud for finishing, it wasn’t going to change how I felt, and that’s okay. I don’t have to be proud of every effort I complete. A marathon is not a bucket list item for me. I’m not just finishing and calling it a day. Each one is different and have different emotions along with them. This one has a lot of disappointment attached to it, and that’s just how it’s going to be.

As runners, we do not have to be proud of every effort we put out there. To do that would be undermining a well-deserved PR or new running accomplishment—like a particularly hard race or new distance. If we were obligated to be nothing but proud after every race, then we wouldn’t want to put in hard training to get that next PR or run a smart race. With lifelong running comes a boatload of emotions, different ones for every race we run. If you didn’t have negative emotions associated with some races, then the ones with positive emotions wouldn’t feel so great. I have races that I am so incredibly proud of, but NYCM 2011 is not one of them. This is something that is hard to describe to non-runners, but I think as you fellow runners, you get it.

Until my next marathon that I feel proud of, I have my parents to be proud of me. And crossing the finish line at that next marathon will feel that much more incredible.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2012 5:27 pm

    nodding my head in agreement throughout this whole post. We had similar race experiences, for sure. I was/am pretty disappointed in my performance, but now when I look back to the race I think of other things – how I mentally got through it, my mom and sister cheering for me and being there – instead of my actual time and failure at PRing, you know? But, I can’t wait to finish a marathon and be proud and excited about the accomplishment. NEXT TIME! What’s next for you??

    • Betsy permalink*
      January 11, 2012 7:09 pm

      Thanks kelly! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the disappointment I felt on that course, but seeing my friends and family out there was absolutely the highlight. I’m so thankful I got to see their smiling faces. The only thing that got me to the finish line.

      I don’t know what’s next! I’m slowly just getting my running legs back. I think I’m going to take it easy this spring, do some shorter races, and see what I’m ready for for the fall. I’m psyched for a clean running slate!

  2. January 11, 2012 10:16 pm

    GREAT post betsy!!!

    “As runners, we do not have to be proud of every effort we put out there. To do that would be undermining a well-deserved PR or new running accomplishment—like a particularly hard race or new distance.” <— love love LOVE this quote. you should patent it or something.

    it is so true and i know i forget that when i have a bad race. it's tough when you know what you're capable of and can't get there. i give you EVEN MORE credit, kudos, and hugs for running your race until you crossed the finish line.

    truth: i'm scared of nycm. i have my entry but haven't signed up yet because of the $$$. i'm gonna do it, but i'm still a lil frightened of the course. knowing how much you worked that day to get to tavern on the green makes me feel a lot better about running it this year. i can do it too. 🙂


  3. January 12, 2012 2:08 am

    I felt the same way for my NYC Marathon. I think that there is so much hype around the entire race….getting in, and everything leading up to it in the city that it is hard to live up to that hype.

    But remember you DID run a marathon! So no matter how bad you felt….keep that in the FRONT of your mind!

  4. January 13, 2012 3:46 am

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. I’m sorry it wasn’t your day, but I can’t wait to see what’s next for you — what is next?!?

    And glad I could provide a sharpie!

    One of my biggest disappointments with Jersey was my attitude – so I wanted to change that about NYC. I didn’t have the best attitude the 2 weeks after the race, where I was bitter about what happened, but I do think that during the race I did my best and had a pretty good time, still. I had to work on my attitude and mindset though in training as well, and I think that really helped.

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