14 September 2010

i fought the wall, and the wall won

"To hit the wall" in running means that, mid-race, you come to the end of your physical abilities.

Thighs screaming like a 3-year-old who's just had her well-loved teddy bear snatched away by a bigger kid {with hands covered in snot} who told her, as he ripped out a little bear eye, that Santa doesn't exist and there's a good chance that the Tooth Fairy doesn't, either.

Joints whining like a 97-year-old who has arthritis and can tell you how much it will rain just and what direction the wind will come from, just by bending his knee.

The labored breathing.  The dry mouth.

The desperate-eyed straining ahead to see if maybe, just maybe if you squint hard enough, you can see the finish line.  And then you can will it to come closer to you.  By that point, you're convinced you have super powers.  I mean, if you can't run anymore, perhaps you've suddenly developed the ability to shape-shift or something.

This wall-hitting thing has never happened to me before in a race—until Sunday.  In fact, just to make sure I was talking about the right thing, I googled "hitting the wall" just before I started writing this.

Wikipedia tells me I'm right.

Also, should you be interested, there's a WikiHow about running up to a wall and flipping that shows up when you google this wall concept.  Google may have been a little off with my search results.

Or perhaps they were just eerily prescient:  ever since I saw Singin' in the Rain, I have wanted to run up to a wall and flip, just like Cosmo does in that "Make 'em Laugh" song.

Google, get out of my dreams.

But back to the wall, which attacked me on Sunday at a half-marathon.  And even though the title of this says that the wall won, I really only said that because it's part of the song I'm parodying. 

The wall didn't exactly win.

That doesn't mean I won, though.

I finished.  It was the hardest race of my life, and I finished. 

A more exact image would be:  during the race, I bumped into the wall.  Hard.  And I was dazed for awhile, but then I figured out that I just needed to turn to the right, and I could avoid hitting the wall more.  I was by the wall the whole time, running my hand along it, actually, for support, but I didn't hit again.

My race on Sunday got me thinking about what I've learned from running.

And yes, of course I'm putting a positive spin on this very dismal experience.  My friends tell me I have a sometimes-helpful habit of pretending to be Pollyanna playing the Glad Game—always looking for that twist of happy excitement you can find in any dismal experience, if you let yourself stare hard enough.  It's not lying to yourself. Nor is it about repressing disappointment, anger, or frustration.  It's about recognizing those emotions are there, but being able to move on from them.

That's what I've done with Sunday's half-marathon.

Was I disappointed?  Um, yes:  I was going for my best time ever, and instead, I got my second worst time.

Am I angry?  I was a bit, but it's hard to know where to point that anger and unpointed anger tends to dissipate rather quickly.

Was I frustrated?  Well, yeah:  I did everything just like I normally do before a race {runners are kind of superstitious people when it comes to pre-race rituals}.  I had pasta carbonara the night before {or, as my mama calls it, poor man's spaghetti}.  I slept well.  I had a banana with peanut butter for breakfast.  I'd put in my time training.  So why, dear body of mine, did you decide to bump into the wall? 

Focusing on all the negative, "Kamiah, you should've done better" thoughts running through my head gets me nowhere but bitter, a place I never want to be. 

So—here comes Pollyana, or as I prefer to think of my streak of optimism, a blend of Pollyanna and Anne Shirley—I've started this list of running lessons.  And I'm not going to give this list now, mostly because it's not done yet, but I just wanted you to know about it. 

And that I had a horrific race on Sunday—but that today, I was smiling on my 3-mile jog.


  1. If you finished the race, you definitely won. Kudos.

  2. Sorry you had a bad race, Kami. But it's great that you were able to keep going and finish! Far more than I'd have done in your place. Of course, I probably wouldn't have gotten to the registering part :)

  3. After hitting 'the wall' in my Austin marathon, I came away with another theory...

    Long distance running is terrible for your body and when you hit the wall, your body is asking "what the $&@! Are you doing??". But we don't stop do we? We just keep on running. Congrats on finishing Kamiah. See you at a future race. :)



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