What does fear smell like to you? Does it smell like freshly sharpened pencils, crisp final exams, and sweaty, gum-ridden lecture halls? Does it smell like recycled air, stuffy perfume, and airline peanuts? Does it smell like coffee mixed with freshly cleaned carpets inside a conference room?
I’m not afraid of test-taking, flying, or even public speaking. Oh no. To me, fear smells like the city exhaust, Gatorade, and nervous sweat at the starting line of a marathon. I can imagine no greater fear than training for five months, making numerous personal sacrifices, running for three hours most Saturdays, running six days a week to face the inner fear of failure.
“After all this time and effort, what if I don’t reach my goal? What if I dehydrate? What if I bonk at mile twenty? What if I can’t maintain my pace? What if I don’t finish? What if I fail?”
Scientists recently discovered the smell of fear is real – even contagious. I smelled fear last Tuesday when I looked up my group workout on Rogue’s website. It read, “Drills, warm-up, time trial, cool down.”
TIME TRIAL! Do you know what that is? It’s when you run as fast as you possibly can for a mile or two or three to determine if your fitness level matches your marathon goal.
Instantly, I smelled fear. I began creating excuses in my head for missing the workout. “No way! No way can I run a time trial tonight. I’ve been on my feet all day. We have company coming tomorrow for Christmas. I have a million things left to do. I’m tired. My back hurts. I haven’t eaten well.”
The reality of the situation – I feared failure.
“What if my time trial shows I’m way off in my marathon goal (qualifying for Boston with a 3:40)? How embarrassing. How disappointing.”
I didn’t go. I skipped the workout. I felt terribly guilty. You see, I’m not one to miss a workout or a deadline or an assignment.
Once at the end of a semester in graduate school, a friend of mine mentioned she hadn’t turned in her final paper. I didn’t understand, “What do you mean you didn’t turn it in? It was due two days ago!” I started panicking for her.
She flippantly replied, “Oh, I’ll just ask for an extension.”
What? An extension? The idea had never crossed my mind! How could someone ask for an extension? The concept was completely foreign to me!
To compensate for my guilt, I e-mailed my coach straight away the next morning listing my excuses. He replied soon after with a better description of what I missed: 1.25-mile warm-up, 2-mile time trial, and 1.25-mile cool down. I promised to fit in the time trial amidst the holiday rush.
The next morning, I found myself running on my favorite trail in the chilly, drizzle of an Austin, winter morning.
I love running in the rain. Of course, I’d prefer a nice warm rain on a summer day. Nevertheless, even the cold drizzle put me in a good mood.
“What about now? What if I run my 2-mile time trial now – on the trail? No one’s around. No one will see if I fail. It’s just me, the trail, and the drizzle. A perfect combination for testing my limits,” I thought.
I had worn a few too many layers, so I looked for a good hiding place. I stopped my watch, removed my car key from my vest pocket and tucked it into my waistband. I wrapped Mister’s favorite red, Chicago Marathon sweatshirt inside my black vest leaving only a container of pepper spray and my gloves in the pockets and hid my things behind a rock twenty feet off the trail.
“If someone steals my stuff, Mister will surely miss his favorite sweatshirt, but at least I have my car key and cell with me.”
I picked out a good starting point, programmed my iPhone to play my “RunHard” playlist, turned on my watch, and started to sprint. I felt free and swift. How exhilarating to run as fast as possible! I looked down at my watch. “What? I’ve only ran one tenth of a mile!”
I continued to run and keep an eye on my watch. At one mile, I turned around to race back. My body slowed to make the turn and fought my desire to accelerate. “Do it right once and you won’t have to do it again,” I thought.
I kicked harder to make up for the slow turn around. Half way through the second mile, doubts crept into my psyche, “Time trials are so dumb. What does this really tell me? I could make myself run a lot faster if I wanted. I’m sure these aren’t very accurate. I mean we all have different levels of pain tolerance.”
“Keep going. You’re almost done. You can do this!” I coached myself trying to counteract the doubts.
Finally, I finished- 13 minutes and 40 seconds.
Definitely not my fastest time. I remember running a 12:22 as a high school freshman, but now it’s twenty years and two kids later.
In reference to the marathon, the time meant nothing to me. I hadn’t planned to run the time trial. I didn’t know what time I needed to match my goal.
I called Mister and asked him to boot up my computer so I could check the race calculator on Rogue’s website as soon as I got home.
What did it say?
A 13:40 2-mile time equals a 3:36 marathon time. I’m on track. Failure avoided (at least for now).