Most of the most important early lessons about running I learned from my friend Monica’s Dad. You might know the type: a sinewy, lean older man with dozens and dozens of marathons under his belt, a local legend in the running community, a pacer, a racer, a running enthusiast. The guy who’s made all the mistakes but has performed on a high level; the guy who is quick to crack a joke and quick to share a word of wisdom. Monica’s Dad. Before my first road race in 2003 he taught me a few vital pearls I still follow to this day: you never wear the t-shirt they give you at race package pickup on race day, you lay out your race gear the night before (hence you forget a crucial piece of gear), and you never do anything new on race day. Retrospectively, I never imagined those those early words of wisdom would be the cornerstone of my race routine for the better part of fifteen years.
Monica’s Dad, for all his accomplishments, was incredible humble. I remember quizzing him on this once. I don’t remember verbatim what his reply was, but it was something to the effect of remaining humble, because if you don’t, you will inevitably be humbled. I consider this piece of advice all the time, because my favourite athletes are the ones with incredible resumes who would never tell you about it. This feels in constant, stark contrast with many of the triathletes I run around with who can list every single race, pace, finish rank and their current AWA status on demand, before you even ask. (Insert eye roll here).
When my phone buzzed with an email in late January, I was laying on the couch with my sleeping baby on my chest. I was exhausted. I was still recovering from birth. I hadn’t run a kilometre since the previous June. The email was Jeremy, asking me if I would pace Stampede Road Race. I was on the email list from previous years, having paced the half marathon before. I shook my head, calculated the amount of time I had from then until now and replied with one word.
I began a very painful, very painstaking return to running where I started by walking two minutes and running for thirty seconds. Sometimes I struggled so badly I would walk three minutes and run for thirty seconds. Slowly, slowly, month over month, the running improved with my eyeball on Stampede Road Race, with the 2:05 pace bunny time sticking in the back of my brain. It wouldn’t be a race, I told myself, but a chance to increase my effort and distance to a place I could be proud of coming off of baby and working towards some faster running efforts later in the year.
I should have known at race package pick up, when I flexed my ego, that I had pretty much cemented my demise. Chatting with a guy I know from the running world I bragged,ya, I had a baby six months ago and I’m pacing, ya, I’m doing pretty good, ya, I have lots ofkilometres in these legs right now.I left the interaction feeling a bit irritated with myself. What the hell was I doing? I knew better. What on earth had brought up this sudden need to brag? I spent the rest of the night feeling ticked off, wondering why this swell of ego had come forward.
Today on race morning I more or less executed the same race morning I have for a long time. Got up early. I watched some of Ironman European Championships while eating breakfast. I put on my clothes I had put out the night before. I drove to the race in plenty of time. I parked, hopped out of the car, and realized the Running Gods did in-fact smite me for my earlier brag: my watch was registering less than 20% battery. I stared at the face of the watch willing the battery to fill up. I wracked my brain.Didn’t I plug it in last night? Wasn’t it fully charged? How long do I have on this much battery? But I need the watch for pace times! How am I going to do this without it? You bloody fool. This is your karma. You are so, so, so screwed.
On, and on, and on.
Finally I decided I needed to stop mentally beating myself up and just do my best. I started the race with my battery precariously low, and at 10K I got a flashing warning that I had very little time left. I managed to eek out all the way to 17K before the watch died. I then ran on feeling. That and plenty of conversation with my other runners.Hey guys, how you doing? What was that last km? Sub 6:00, right? You feeling good?I got an unexpected boost from chatting with some of the runners around me. I was forced to find a rhythm and sit into it. I mentally relinquished my finish time.I might get 2:05. I might miss it. I might never be invited back to pace. This one was my fault. I made two rookie moves. It’s ok. It happens.This dose of compassion is part of my self-work and has only been enhanced by motherhood: cutting myself massive amounts of slack.
I finished the race under 2:05, to my absolute happiness. I was buoyed by the runners around me. I felt so humbled by the experience, my earlier arrogance reminding me that no matter how long you race, in some ways you are always learning, forever a rookie.
Photo credit: Neil Zeller