Run to the beeps.
That was the plan for race day. It was a perfect tune-up opportunity for my upcoming fall marathon. The Fleet Feet Run Into Buffalo 15K was a chance to be in a race environment, practice my nutrition and give my race-day outfit a test run. It was also a chance to work on my mental game which usually needs more of a test-run than my sports bra.
As I walked over to the start line I knew this was going to be a difficult day. It was warm and terribly humid and the wind seemed to be picking up. These are not my best conditions. This I know. And there is power in that knowledge. Especially if I use it to my advantage.
While I had no time goals, no paces to hit or final time to strive for, it was still a race. Which meant I was nervous. The only person I knew running was out on his warmup run and I was left to pace around the start line. I was trying to keep myself calm and focused on what I wanted out of this race and not get caught up in the bits and pieces of overheard conversations of what others were expecting out of the day.
Luckily for me, I ran into my friend Belinda. Sidelined with an injury, she was there to spectate. It seems like every time I have a big running race, I end up seeing her while I’m waiting around (because I have a habit of arriving ridiculously early for events). Belinda immediately calms me down. She helps me recommit to believing in myself, in my plan and trusting my training. I seriously would like to have a hologram of her come to all the big events in my life, racing and otherwise.
As I lined up for the start I looked down at my left hand. My friend, Tracy, gave me the words I wrote in green Sharpie, my mantra for the race. I am enough. There was nothing I needed to prove. This was not a referendum on race day. It wasn’t even a referendum on my training. It was an opportunity to explore my fitness, my running and race mentality. I already was enough, even before the gun went off.
But alas, the gun did go off and I started to run. The first 10 minutes was planned as easy. I didn’t try to kill it. I ran comfortable and easy and allowed my body to settle into the race. After 10 minute the plan was to run to the beeps: five minutes hard, five minutes recovery. I like running this way because really, you can pretty much do anything for five minutes. My goal was to be steady and strong and relax with the weather conditions. And that meant reigning in the gremlin who thrives on impatience. See that guy ahead of me? I want to pass him. But here’s the thing. I don’t need to pass him right now. I have five minutes to work to pass him. And guess what? I did.
By Mile 3, I knew this was going to be tricky run. There was a member of the Lollipop Guild poking me in the stomach and another one seemed to be whacking my legs with a baseball bat. Ok, maybe it was just a whiffle ball bat. But you get the idea.
At Mile 6 all bets were off. I was drenched in sweat. My body was aching. The run was breaking down. My watch beeped every five minutes and while it was a struggle, I did the best I could. Recovery interval? All right. Walk for 45 seconds to break it up. Hard interval? Hard is a matter of opinion; just pick it up and stay steady.
It was at this point in the race I needed to change my mindset. So what if the run was falling apart? The goal was not an end time but to embrace the process. How could I rally myself? I did what I do best. I was myself.
I started asking volunteers if I could get a high-five. Because really, who doesn’t love a high-five? Special thanks to the woman from Medaille College who was just before the 10K mark. I got a high-five from her along with encouragement and advice (relax your shoulders!). Seriously. Thank you.
As we continued down the homestretch I was taking a mentally necessary walk break when I came up to another woman. “It’s hot and humid, right?” I asked her. “It’s not just me?”
Relief flooded between us. No, we weren’t just making excuses. It was a difficult race day. Her name was Julie and for the better part of the next two-and-a-half miles we leapfrogged each other. Which was awesome. We’d encourage each other each time we passed each other. For 20 minutes, she was my absolute best friend on the planet.
I finally came up upon the finish line and gutted out the last quarter mile with as much effort as I could muster. I heard my parents cheering for me. I heard Belinda cheering for me. I think even the race announcer caught my number and looked up my name to cheer me in. I crossed the line and grabbed my knees. Well I tried to grab my knees. My hands were having difficulty finding traction on the sweat.
My final time was nothing to write home about. In fact, I was little disappointed. Even though I had no pace goals, I secretly was hoping for a certain pace range. I did not hit that. It took a few hours, but I let that go. (Thanks to my friend Nate for reminding me to give myself some credit. It was a much needed head slap.) Even though my run crumbled in the last three miles here is what I know: I didn’t crumble mentally. I took what the day gave me and made the best of it.
I was already enough before I headed to the starting line. And nothing that happened during the race was going to diminish that.