Not long ago I mentioned to someone that I follow a local runners blog. Right away she responded, “I’m sorry, but to me she is way too self-absorbed. Get over yourself” I have learned to let people judge without feeling the need to defend, however, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this what people think about me when I write my blogs?” Maybe. Probably. But as I drove out of the parking lot of Gay City State Park on Sunday, after racing the 5.5 mile Summer Solstice Trail Race, I thought, “I need to get my thoughts out there. I need to blog this.”
So, why do I blog my experiences? For a few reasons. One, I love to write. Whenever thoughts overwhelm my head I write them down. More often than not it is in my personal journal, however, when I think it is a topic others may benefit from I put it out on the world-wide web. I know there have been so many times I have read others blogs and thought, “so, I am NOT the only other person who feels this, thinks this, etc.” So, here are my thoughts about Sunday’s race.
Like almost every race I do, I went into this race thinking I set the bar too high last year and would have a hard topping that performance. (You can read about that race experience at the blog I wrote for mission FITNESS, “Who Was Pushing Who”). I came in 3rd place with a 7:29 pace for 5.5 miles. For the TRAILS, this was a stellar pace for me. However, upon checking in I knew one of the top finishers from last year was not competing, since she was working the event. This was the girl I CHASED last year the whole race and placed 2nd, right ahead of me.
This year was nice because we had A LOT of mission FITNESS people running the race, many of which did my Intro To Trail Running Series. It was also nice because toeing the start line next to me was my brother, the owner of mission FITNESS. My childhood hero, my fitness inspiration. Whenever I do a race knowing he will be at the finish line, it drives me a little harder. I want him to be proud of me when he sees me finish.
“Racers ready?” BANG! We took off. I found myself at the front, staying with the leaders of the pack for the first half mile, as we ran up the pavement park road that would lead us to the trail head. Doing a quick pace (6:45ish) up a gradual hill, mixed with the anxiety of the race, left me short of breath as we entered the woods. As usual, once I hit the single tracks I calmed down a little and settled into my pace. At about 1.5 miles in while on a double track, I ran along side another runner for a while, who complemented my pace and told me I was in first (I knew this) and he had just passed the 2nd place girl, who was a little behind me. I felt good. My stride felt comfortable, and my heart rate was starting to settle. I had a confident feeling that I may win this race. However, I kept thinking of the blogs I’ve read….”it is mentally draining to be the one being chased.” I knew I would have to maintain the lead the whole race, and that would be tough.
On the access trail I opened up my stride, and felt like I was doing a good pace. I didn’t look back, but just hoped I was opening up the gap between the 2nd place girl and myself. We detoured around a pond, and took a turn. As soon as we took the turn, it didn’t feel right. I didn’t pay attention to the arrow (rookie mistake) because I was just following the guy in front of me. I panicked. I stopped dead in my tracks, and as I did about 5 people who were right behind me, including the 2nd place female, passed me. Urghhh. This was the start of my mental “breakdown”.
I quickly continued running, and passed her again. Looking back, should I have held back a little? Maybe. But I was pissed and charged ahead to get back ahead of her. So, the race continued with her on my heels. I could LITERALLY hear her breathing for the next 4 miles. My legs started to get tired, and as we hit the muddy, swampy areas I was losing my footing easier than I should have. I was mentally breaking down. I started to think about the 12 miles I ran that past Wednesday, which shouldn’t have been a factor. With each hill I fought the urge to just let her pass and let this mental game of being chased end. I felt like Katniss in the Hunger Games. I battled with the thought of trying to pull ahead with a mile to go, or easing back and trying to “recover” to give myself enough energy to pass her at the end. However, I knew a “slower” pace would hurt just as much as my “fast” pace, so I decided: go as hard as you can for as long as you can, and hopefully that will get you the win.
I have never WON a race, and I wanted this so bad. I wanted it because I felt I deserved it. I’ve had the lead the WHOLE race. I wanted it because I knew all my MFers who ran the 3.3 mile course would be at the finish line. I wanted to win it for them. I wanted to see the look on my brothers face when he saw I WAS THE 1ST PLACE FEMALE!!!
A t mile 5, with 1/2 mile to go the girl who was on my heels the whole race passed me. I stayed about 5 feet behind her, thinking that upon exiting the woods and hitting the pavement I would sprint to the finish, beating her. I kept telling myself, maybe she made a push too soon and you will repass her. We hit the pavement, for the last .2 miles to the finish. You dream of this moment. That moment that “something takes over you” and you go harder than you knew you could. Well, I went as hard as I could, but it wasn’t hard enough. Nothing “took over” but a downhill finish, making it tough to do anything spectacular.
As we sprinted down the hill I heard a Mom tell her young child, “Look! Cheer! That’s the 1st Place Girl!” It hurt. I was the 1st place girl in the woods for 5 miles. Then she stole my thunder for the crowd. Irrational thoughts, I know. But, I’m a competitor. It hurt. Then the second punch to the gut….they were holding up the banner for her to run through when she finished. This never even crossed my mind during my daydreams of winning. Dammit.
I ended up finishing 2 seconds behind her, for a 2nd place finish. I ended up with a little slower time, a 7:31 pace, but the WET trails mixed with my moment of being turned around may account for this. This last 24 hours I have had a lot of “what ifs”. What if I didn’t stop and let her run by. What if I allowed her to keep the lead for a while? But, these are all learning experiences. I am new to this trail race world, and I will take all of these thoughts and images with me while I train for my next races.
I will dream of that 1st place banner being held for ME, while my brother cheers me on, and I will do what it takes to make those dreams a reality.
“Some wish for it, others work for it”