I have run a decent number of races in my running years, and I’ve experienced many of the myriad race-day and training variables that either throw you off or boost you up. This month, however, I had a brand new experience. The half marathon I had signed up for in September was canceled only days before the race! And it wasn’t some fly by night impromptu race. This was a reasonably sized race with an experienced race director, but, so they told us, despite their best laid plans, the city revoked their permits at the last minute, requiring them to call it off.
It made me think about all the people whose plans were changed by the decision and made me wonder how everyone handled the change of plans differently.
For starters, I’ll admit, it was easy for me to have a neutral, almost bystander’s reaction to this news because of all the races I’ve entered in my life, it was for this one that I was the most poorly prepared. After a wonderful spring racing season, I had to reduce my mileage dramatically over the summer to accommodate my ailing Achilles tendon – no speedwork, no long-runs. I had already contacted the race director in the week before the race to request a switch from the half marathon to the 10k. The race was in my own town, so I didn’t have to change travel plans. I just gained a free weekend and a t-shirt that represented a missed opportunity. Learning that the race had been canceled was almost almost good news because it granted me a free pass on what would have inevitably resulted in my posting a poor race time for all the world to see, embarrassing and disappointing myself at the same time. On race day, in lieu of going for a long run or trying to simulate the race, I went for a slow easy 30 minute jog and called it a day.
But with that said, I know that my reaction was a far cry from that of most of the participants. How many people, I wondered, had to cancel hotel reservations at the last minute? How many had flights planned that they couldn’t get out of? How many decided to head into the city anyways and make the most of it? How many people were running their first half marathon, had trained diligently all summer, and had been nervously anticipating how they would perform? Surely lots of people had put in more miles than ever, done their speedwork, cross-trained, and fueled just right and had high expectations for the best performance of their lives? And of those, how many will be lucky enough to duplicate the same sequence of events, with months of successful training uninterrupted by illness or injury? Maybe it would have been their only chance.
I believe that most of the participants were understanding. We had the option to choose a refund of our race entry fee, or to allow our fee to go to the intended charity anyways and accept our t-shirt, medal, and beer glass as souvenirs. When I went to pick mine up, my fellow would-be participants seemed disappointed but not angry. I know this wasn’t the universal reaction, however, because social media posts proved otherwise. I noticed several people react to their disappointment with anger directed at the race, the director, the city, anyone who could possibly be implicated in the blame. And I understand. While it worked out well for me this time, I would have felt very differently if I’d been one of those people prepared to run the best race of my life, peaking on just the right day, then being thrown off course. Hopefully I would have managed to react with a little bit of understanding, despite the disappointment.
Even in the face of disappointment like this, however, there are a few things to consider that help take away the sting a little bit. Luckily, this wasn’t the Olympics, and while someone’s lifetime personal best may have been on the line, no one’s career was. No one sacrificed their job to train for this race (I think), and it wasn’t like that anyone was going to use this race to launch their professional racing career. (If they were fortunate enough to be that talented, then hopefully they’ll shine in their next race.) Luckily, we all retained the right to go out on Saturday morning and run 13.1 miles with or without a race bib. And luckily, there are more, many more, races to run. It may have messed with your training peak and taper, but there would be plenty of opportunities this fall to register for another half marathon without seeing all that training go to waste.
So what’s the point of rehashing it? Well, happily, this was one of those cases where I was able to take a relatively objective point of view regarding an unexpected change of plans. I’m often less objective in such circumstances, and I’m hopeful that I can use this lesson and the observations I’ve made about the other runners the next time my plans are changed and I’m the one who’s most disappointed. Hopefully I’ll accept the disruption and make the most of it! Here’s hoping that I’ll be better prepared for my next race regardless of the outcome!