Monday, September 27, 2010

Hell Freezes Over, Apparently

Because I brought this home on Saturday:


minibus profile

From a running race, of all things.

After about 14 years of running, completing two marathons, numerous 5Ks and multisport races, and going through who-knows-how-many pairs of running shoes, I still have been hesitant to really consider myself a runner.  When Lowell first got me interested in running with him, I did it mostly for fitness and for the challenge of conquering something that I initially found very difficult.  And unpleasant.  I began to enter 5Ks here and there, just to feel the accomplishment of completing them.  Eventually, since I wasn’t going particularly fast, I became more interested in going long, and trained for and ran (slowly) the Honolulu marathon in 2003 and the Detroit marathon in 2004.  After Detroit, I lost interest in straight running races for a while, and for several years have only entered multisport events such as triathlons or adventure races. 

Though I enjoyed running, I often found it frustrating.  I felt like no matter how I trained, I was not getting any faster.  I considered it my weakest leg of a tri, and developed a strategy to lay it all out on the bike, my strongest event, and then just hope I built enough of a lead that I could hold people off on the run.

In August, Lowell - whose true love is trail running - signed up for the Flower Power 5 mile race at the Run Woodstock event.  I wasn’t sure yet if I would have any triathlons in September, and wasn’t ready to coast into the off season quite yet, so decided I would sign up as well.  Just for fun.

The tri season had gone surprisingly well for me, especially after having had a year away from them last year.  I placed in two of my four races, and was one away from the podium at another.  In reviewing results, I started to see an odd trend.  When looking at time rankings by swim, bike, and run splits, I noticed that I was now performing better at the run and my swim was the relatively weakest event.   My run pace at the tris was equal to those of my best 5K times ever.  Maybe I was getting a little better? 

I went to the trail race excited to do something different.  Since it wasn’t really “my sport,” I felt less pressure.  I had no expectation of placing and I just decided I would do my best and not stress out about it.

As the 150 racers were being lined up by expected pace, I kissed Lowell good-bye and wished him good luck as he moved to the front of the pack, where he belonged.  I then tried to figure where I should seed myself.  Trail race paces tend to be quite a bit slower than road race pace, due to the uneven, loose terrain and, often, killer hills.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  I settled into the group in sort of back-of-the-middle and waited for the race to start.

I quickly began to be annoyed with the conversations I was hearing around me.  Two women introduced themselves to each other, then started sharing their low expectations for their performances:

“I should probably move back.  I should be near the end.”

“I think the ten-minute pace is just up there a bit.  Where is the 13-plus minute pace?  No way I will be going ten minute miles”

“Yeah, I’m not going to be doing this fast at all.  I’ll be back there walking it.”

I have heard of some top agility competitors who choose to listen to headphones during course walk-throughs to avoid hearing the negative chatter of their competitors – complaints about how hard the judge made the course, about how they know their dog can’t hit that weave pole entry, etc.   This negativity does not help one visualize, or achieve, a successful performance.  I knew I wasn’t setting grand expectations for myself in this race, but I wasn’t about to set low ones either.  I moved forward to seed myself higher in the pack.

The race started, and I felt good taking off.  The pack remained quite tight for the first couple miles, and I would often find myself closing in on the heels of someone going at a decent clip for me.  I would be tempted to hang in behind them for a bit and pace off of them, but then decided that I didn’t want to limit myself by assuming that my best pace would be equal to that person’s best pace.  Maybe I could go faster.  If they passed me again immediately, oh well.  So I decided on a strategy of passing every person that I closed in on.  By probably mile three I was largely alone, and enjoying the solitude of running my best through the woods, listening to the sandhill cranes in the distance, and eventually really hoping that next clearing of trees I could spot was not another wetland, but in fact the finish line.

Coming in four minutes ahead of my goal time, I crossed the finish line, grabbed water and a cookie, and flopped next to the bonfire with Lowell for a few minutes.  I marveled at how quickly my brain could go from, in the initial pain of the final push, thinking “I am not doing that again” to, after catching my breath, looking at other competitor’s event t-shirts and thinking “Maybe that race would be fun to do next year.” 

Lowell had run a great race, and knew he had a good chance of placing well in his age group.  Finally results were posted, and we confirmed that he had won his age group and come in sixth place overall.  I casually went to check my time, and was stunned to see my name in first place of fifteen women in my age group.  My immediate reaction was to declare that clearly there was a mistake, and looked to see if there was another earlier page that had been cut off.  But, nope.  I had officially won myself a toy VW mini-bus.

I never would have guessed that I would have taken first in a running race in a million years.  But this year has been an interesting journey in taking risks, and not subscribing to self-imposed limitations, both in my dog training, and in my racing.  It has been a surprising year, and who knows where it will go next.


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