The thrilling prospect of a personal worst

You’ll hear runners talk about PRs or PBs or BQs (personal record, personal best, Boston qualifier), but there’s one alphabet-soup abbreviation that most runners don’t like to think about, much less talk about: PWs, the personal worst time a runner has recorded for a given distance.

Runners revel in PBs. PBs mean that we’ve been working hard to accomplish greater speed and all the hard parts of our training plans are finally starting to pay off. And don’t even get me started about BQs. It’s an exciting goal to attain a qualifying time for Boston, a marathon where you must have a proven time to even get to register for the race. PWs, though? They’re just not fun.

But I have to admit: I’m pretty excited to try for a PW this weekend.

My Mizunos are ready!

My Mizunos are ready!

For the last two weeks, I’ve been running again after breaking a toe in March. I haven’t been running much or far or long. My first day back, I ran two minutes, walked two more and then ran two more minutes. Ah, the revelry in those four minutes of running. Those of you who have come back from injury will recognize this special-weird kind of euphoria.

I’ve been slowly building up my running, still in intervals combined with walking, and last week, I emailed my physical therapist and asked for some brutal honesty. My note went something like this:

Three days before I broke my toe, I signed up for a half marathon in mid-May. Is it crazy to think I can run/walk it in the three and a half hour cut-off time? I need the opinion of someone who isn’t swayed by shiny medals.

I think I expected her to confirm that I was crazy, but she didn’t. (And that’s just one of the reasons she’s an awesome PT.) She gave me a goal to shoot for this past weekend and told me if I could meet that challenge, she thought I’d be ready for the race.

When I went in to see her yesterday, she told me that she was glad I was pushing myself, “because, you know, at our age we don’t always push ourselves as hard.” I have thought of that statement at least 589 times since yesterday.

At our age we don’t always push ourselves as hard.

It’s true (for me anyway), but why is it true? Is it true because we’re willing to cut ourselves more slack under the guise of grace as we get older? I don’t feel all that old, though, and so why would I accept a mentality that allows me to act that way?

Is it laziness or resistance or reluctance to do the hard work? Maybe it’s a combination of all of those, plus having been through injuries before and knowing that the way back to full strength will take effort and grit and discomfort and plain old hard work.

If not for the half marathon—with its non-refundable, non-transferable entry fee—looming over me, I would not be nearly as far along in my recovery. I would not have been extra disciplined about running these two weeks. I would not have tapped into the scrappy part of my personality. It’s true: I would not have pushed myself as hard.

But I’m glad I did. I’ll be thrilled this weekend to set a PW. Because it’ll mean that I didn’t get the even more-dreaded DNS or DNF (did not start and did not finish). It’ll mean that I’m on the road back to trying for a new PR someday. It’ll mean that I’m mentally stronger and physically more capable than I give myself credit for. I may come in last—somebody has to finish last in every single race—and even if that happens, I’ll still be thrilled. And they’ll still hand me that shiny, pretty finisher’s medal with the trees on it.

Is there anything keeping you from trying for a PW in some area of your life? What would it take for you to view a PW as success instead of failure, as something to tackle with gratitude that you’re able simply to try?

5 thoughts on “The thrilling prospect of a personal worst

  1. Pingback: The black and white of resting | The Flourishing Tree

  2. During certain cycling events (Alley Cat races and Cyclocross) there is this “thing” called – DFL – Dead Friggin’ Last … Where prizes are awarded to the last person to finish. Because sometimes, just showing up, doing your very best, no matter the odds … Is all that matters. 🙂

    • Love it! There’s an award for the last male and female finishers in the 100-miler that my husband and I volunteer for every year. I think an award like this and the one you’ve mentioned takes the sting out of being last and turns it into a celebration of toughing it out for a finish.

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