Failing at Bloomsday; or, How not to measure your progress

May 11, 2017


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When you’re a runner living in a small city with the country’s fourth largest timed road race, folks generally assume the event is part of your annual pilgrimage. But due to a general antipathy toward crowds, it took ten years of living in Spokane for me to finally run the 12k Bloomsday in 2015.


To my surprise, it was a lot of fun. It helped that my time was almost as good as my unrealistic expectation. The race came four months into serious training for a 50k, with running and Nordic skiing regularly for the year prior. The fact that my coveted Bloomsday shirt shrunk to toddler-size in the wash two days later wasn’t enough to dampen my favorable disposition.


So two years and a whole lot of not running later, with only four months of training under my belt, I registered for my second Bloomsday. I had four months of intense training last time and four months this time so naturally I should get the same time, right? Or at least within a couple of minutes. Idiot!


I’ve run quite a few races of varying lengths. Some have been a struggle – particularly the half-marathon when I ran a 2.5-mile loop an extra time and got so mad I pushed myself almost to fainting by the finish line. But even that time, there was at least a little gas in the tank to pick up the pace at the end.


Not this time. The whole last two miles, I literally could not pick up the pace. My legs were deadwood.


Keep in mind this is 10k (six miles) into the race. And the end goal is a 50k (31 mile) race. Four months from now.


There’s a saying that disappointment stems from expectation. That was certainly the case here.


My problem was two-fold. First, rather than letting my body do what it was able, and enjoying the race for what it was that day, I tried to turn it into something it had been two years ago. In the process, I turned what could have been a slightly disappointing but still enjoyable outing into a struggle and failure.


Second, rather than letting myself be at the fitness level I’m at, I tried to force myself into the fitness level I think I need to be at to keep on schedule. By doing so, I had to focus all my energy on keeping my body upright as I collected my shirt while the people around me basked in the joy of taking part in one of the community’s hallmark celebrations.


Don, an ultramarathoner I’ve met a few times, says that if you enjoy running, the distance will take care of itself. I’ve always felt that to be true. I hope it is, because that’s going to be my guiding light from here on in.



The existential psychotherapist Viktor Frankl knew he needed a goal to make it through the holocaust concentration camp. He watched those who had no goal die or worse yet, turn against their fellow inmates in an effort to survive. The goal he set was to see his wife alive again.


It worked. He made it. But she didn’t. Still, terrible as the loss was, in terms of his survival, the goal did its job.


For me, the goal of running the 50k in September came about as a sign of hope during the despair and near-defeat of treatment, and to keep me from getting depressed when chemo ended. Going forward, it’s a way to embrace life in the face of an open-ended return date.


Whether the 50k in September is successful is laughably insignificant when compared to the goal of seeing one’s wife alive again. It truly is just a marker. In fact, it’s not an end in itself. There are already a half-dozen longer runs, most in wilder places, bookmarked in my web browser.


Which means if September 9 dawns and my legs carry me 50k at a good clip, or if they decide I need to throw in some walking along the way; or if they force me to downgrade to a 25k or even (heaven forbid) a 10k, that’s going to have to be okay. It’ll have to be a great day anyway.

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