Learning from mistakes

Needless to say I like running, enjoy the sensations of barefoot/minimalist running and don’t mind pushing it a bit during trainings. But for me, racing beats everything. Recently I was reminded of one of the reasons why I enjoy it that much;

First of, I should admit that I enjoy the fact that I am usually not doing too bad, but I don’t want to focus too much on this. Occasionally it gives me a kind of emotional  ‘kick’, which is a story on itself. But what I typically enjoy during a race is the fact that I learn a lot from racing, you learn a lot about yourself: where you are in terms of stamina,  what your weaknesses and limits are, surprise yourself about the role of the brain on your performance, how you can regain energy while exhausted, but also just learn about the practicalities of racing itself.
 I am generally rather poor at pacing, typically starting off too quick ending up having to drag me through and ‘suffering’ during the last part of the race (regardless of its length), but if I get it right once in a while I am really glad I did. If I didn’t screw up too much, that’s fine and even when I broke down during a race, I have yet to regret the ‘suffering’ part, and over time I believe it’s also part of the learning process.
A recent learning occasion was a local 13K race* for which I didn’t set any goals and just viewed as a nice intermezzo. I started in front of the pack and started off at a decent pace. As, even during shorter races I like to take a sip of water from time to time, I had stuffed a 200ml hydrapack in shorts pocket. While I had done this before, I never tried it when this pack was full and definitely never during races. The general advise is never to try something new during a race, and indeed after 100m the pack fell out. I was going “what the heck”, but couldn’t resist wanting to pick it up. However, this meant I had to go backward into the starting crowd. If I even had the slightest idea of how difficult it was to do this, I would not have even bothered trying… Anyway, I had the bottle back and meanwhile the start of the race was already 300m away when I looked up again. I couldn’t help it, but the adrenaline made me go rather fast the 1st km (3:20 including the time I lost picking up the hydrapack). I guess this event pushed me just that little bit too much and had an impact on the rest of the race. In the end I managed to run fairly good. I was approaching the runner in front of me and was thinking to accelerate a little during the last 2km to catch him. But, it seemed my brain was thinking the pace was already sufficient and I couldn’t push it to go faster. Strangely enough I was quite convinced that it was really my brain that wasn’t cooperative. At that stage -due to the mess I made at the start- I had no idea I was running in 4th position, which could have given me just that little push to fight harder. Clearly my brain needs further training here…
*Stroppenloop (9/5/2013), Gentbrugge: 13 km in 46:46, 4/63)