But it was taken post-race, when I was feeling an exhausted high just for having completed the damn thing. Also, I was chilled and needed to get into the car and turn on the heat, quickly. Honestly, it was not my best race ever. It was probably the hardest race I’ve done, not for distance, not for weather, not for any external circumstances, but purely for the mental effort it required of me. I’ll be honest: all along, I just wasn’t sure I could do it.
First, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to train enough to complete it. But as last winter’s hip injury resolved, I was slowly able to add distance runs back into my training. Still, I ended up swimming more than running most of the summer, and had only done one really long run (ie. over 20km) leading up to the race. That said, I knew I could complete it, given the work I’d done. I just didn’t know if I could complete it very fast.
Last year, I was fast.
This year, well, I did my best, I’ll just put it that way. I gave what I had to give. I haven’t seen the official chip time yet, but it looked like I came in about two minutes slower than last year: 2 hours, 20 minutes (over 25 kilometres of trails). I know it’s not a time to be ashamed of. But.
The thing is that I ran the first half faster than last year — I was on a tear. And then I hit the proverbial runner’s wall, which I can quite honestly say I’ve never hit during a race before. This is a course with many hills, many of them very steep and long. On my second lap, I actually walked some of them, head down, struggling; in fact, there were moments when I wondered whether I’d have the energy even to continue walking, let alone get running again.
Thankfully, I always seemed to find more. I told myself that the only way out was to keep going forward. I told myself to be grateful that I could run again. I told myself to stop fantasizing about the finish line, and stay in the moment: be here now, it’s the only way to keep going.
All great metaphors for life, I suppose. But no fun.
I ended the race with a long sprint that kept me in front of a group of four men I’d passed with about 500 metres to go. That felt good, and one of them came up to congratulate me afterward, saying he just couldn’t catch me although he’d tried. I thanked him for putting up a chase, because at that point I had very little motivation to push myself beyond just crawling to the finish line. I have no idea where the energy came from to maintain the speed, and the first thing I said to the woman who put the medal around my neck at the end is: I almost died! Slightly melodramatic.
This felt like it should have been a learning experience. But I’m not sure what I’ve learned.
From a race perspective, I really should know better than to go out so fast. After all, I started all my races slowly last year, with much success. It’s frustrating to have to re-learn things I should already know.
From a life perspective, I can see how my competitive spirit just won’t give up, no matter what. Maybe that’s good. But it can also make situations more difficult than they need to be. I could have paced myself more slowly once I realized I was tanking. Instead, I took breaks to walk, then ran at as fast a clip as I could manage. When I was running, I was running hard. I also spent a good deal of the race reminding myself to be kinder — to myself. Reminding myself: September has been busy. I’m stretched a little thin. Just dragging myself out to a challenging race should be good enough. Finishing? Even better. Instead of judging myself against last year’s numbers. Instead of judging myself against numbers, period.
Always more to learn. And that’s a fact.