If you are ever feeling insecure, run a race.
If you aren’t sure about the future, run a race.
If you want to feel invincible, run a race.
If you have a mind full of thoughts and no conclusions, run a race.
If you need answers to questions you aren’t willing to ask, run a race.
If you aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing, run a race.
If you believe in yourself, but only some of the time, run a race.
♣ ♣ ♣
On March 15th, I ran the Freehold St. Paddy’s 10 Miler. I went into the race fairly confident and eager to see how I would do, more as a form of self-entertainment than anything else. The
last of the snow had just melted away after a long winter. I had trained well but was mentally fatigued until a beautiful 20 miler the Sunday before, which had started out in winter and ended in spring. The optimism and contentment I felt toward running on this particular morning was quite the mirror image of how I felt toward most other things in life, meaning I was definitely going to run with my heart to a PR (simple formula).
While warming up, a guy to whom I had apparently sold shoes once spotted me and we ran together for a few minutes. I saw him again at the starting line, and he pointed out a woman who I “should stay with.” He spit out some of her credentials from Ironman finishes, times, etc., but I didn’t hear the specifics. However, given that I showed up at the race without much of a clue as to who else was coming, I didn’t completely ignore his advice. I was surprised when we got to the line and he said to both of us, “you two will be gunning for the win together,” or something like that. We didn’t say too much in reply and laughed it off, she alluding to poor mileage through the winter and I offering a cliché line about a tune-up race to go out there and have fun. The gun went off, and I did end up running alongside her until we exited the park road.
The first two or three miles of a race are always my least favorite. You’re not exactly sure how you feel because you’re not in a great rhythm yet, and the other runners around you could change at any moment depending on when they get their realizations of how their bodies are feeling. As we descended a road in the first mile, I gathered my surroundings and noted that the “fast woman,” I’ll call her, was running a few seconds ahead of me now. I fell right into her path and thought maybe I should make it my goal to keep her in sight, but then retracted the idea because it was too early on to tell how fast she would be going later on. Then, she stopped. She turned. She ran the other way, stooped down, and picked up a gel she had dropped that I hadn’t even noticed. I kept going at my pace. Now she was behind me. Since she had been running ever so slightly faster than I before she dropped the gel, I was basically counting down the seconds until she passed by me. I was not about to look behind me; I just kept going at my pace. We turned into a residential neighborhood with young trees in the yards, and white fences to match big white houses. We ran a loop through that juncture and still, she never passed me. I also never looked back. We got back onto a main road and headed onto another wooded lane. People clapped for me at the few places there were spectators, telling me I was the first woman. Still she never came up behind me. I kept my eyes set up ahead on two guys in purple singlets (see photo above) who knew every tangent like they ran this course everyday, and followed their every move as long as I could see them. On one particularly twisty road, everything fell quiet and I couldn’t see any other runners beyond the next turn. It left me alone with my thoughts and the rhythm of my feet.
For the remainder of the race, running became an afterthought. My legs and their repetitive motion were no longer attached to my mind and my heart and the rest of me; they were down below doing their thing as if they were motorized, leaving me in a seldom-acquired state of zen being. For those miles, it was okay that I was angry. It was okay I was confused, and afraid of the unknown, and regretful of my decisions or lack thereof. It was okay if I didn’t know what that evening would bring, or if I felt things to be unfair, or if I hadn’t yet learned what I needed to know to find success and happiness and contentment outside of this moment, this race. I was here now, running a race now, and it was what I needed to do. Even if everything else might be feeling out of my control, it was a great feeling to be able to control this. To have the opportunity to actually, physically run, and to experience the confidence and glory of trying to win something. Not many people can do something like that, an act of physical exertion that also transcends into the most relaxing state of being. What a juxtaposition running can be.
The fast woman who had turned back for her fallen gel had a lot of hype, at least from the guy at the starting line. We had been sized up by a third party against our will, and there was no doubt that she was a much more accomplished athlete than I. I had almost let that hold me back. I had expected her to pass me for miles. Not because I was not good enough. Because she was simply there. That really made me think. How often do I do that? I can think I am confident I am putting my best self forward, yet someone else can show up and take something away from me just because I am me and she is she? What sense does that make? If I am putting forth my best effort for me, it should not matter who else is there. If I am being myself and doing my best, and that is not good enough for a victory in the end, that is not my fault. I am good enough. I may be better next month or next year than I am today, and I hope so. But for today, I am good enough. In that ten mile race, if the woman had snuck up on me and pulled out the win, but I ran my best, that would be okay with me. I should translate that to the rest of my life too. If I strive to be my best self for me and for others and the world around me, and that is not “good enough” for someone or something, it will be good enough for someone or something else. And that is someone or something I would want to run through life with for awhile.
♣ ♣ ♣
That is what I learned during ten miles on a cold Sunday morning in March. I’m still trying to learn whether or not the Freehold Area Running Club got a better deal on gnomes in bulk versus leprechauns, as I think the garden gnome might be British, not Irish.