One of the reasons I love running is that it gives me long stretches of time alone with my thoughts. I have designed retreats, planned events, and written lots of posts and poetry while thumping along on my training runs and races. Yesterday I completed the Hartford Half-Marathon for the fifth year in a row. Usually finishing races yields some of my trademark Profound Thoughts, but yesterday was an anomaly – a more difficult course added to poorer preparation yielded a distracted and miserable race. Still, there were a few takeaways. What I learned from this race:
1. Spectators never expect you to cheer for them first.
Without going in to great detail, I would like to apologize to the meek young woman in the Boston College sweatshirt who I apparently scared out of her mind. My bad.
2. “The new course moved all the hills to the front of the race” is code for “the first nine miles are hilly as hell!”
So yeah, this course was hilly, and hilly in all the worst areas. We would turn onto a residential street, suddenly be all crunched together, and hill would come up and everyone would change their pace in a different way. Chaos. I honestly don’t know why they even mentioned the hills when they were explaining the new route. What would have just been a more difficult route now feels like a bait and switch since they tried to convince us it was going to be easier. I should admit, some of the blame falls on we runners – did I really think that the run into Asylum Hill between miles 11 and 12 was going to be flat?
3. Sometimes the most trying experiences result in success, not failure.
OK, I know I promised not to get all Profound Thoughts ™ about this, but it can’t be avoided. I was miserable yesterday. Everything hurt. I hadn’t trained enough, I hadn’t done enough hills, my feet, thighs, knees, and hips were all screaming by the mid-point of the race. As I stumbled through Elizabeth Park , what was supposed to be the most beautiful part of the race, I was mad at everyone: myself for not training enough, the people who kept me late at work Friday so I had to miss packet pick up and go in at 6:30 am on race day, those organizers who changed the course, the other runners who kept me from starting off at a comfortable pace, and God for making everything athletic so damn hard for me my whole life. I wanted to show everyone how badly I’d been wronged. I wanted to punish them by failing.
But then I checked my timer. I was making better pace than I ever had, and that tiny part of me that had enough energy to be positive said “don’t waste this by crapping out now”. I did my best to turn my brain off and keep running hard. In the last two years or so I have cut almost a minute off of my mile and my body still doesn’t know what to do with that – it knows it is working harder than it is used to, but also knows it can’t slow down.
I thundered across the finish line without having cried once – quite a feat for me during my most difficult runs. I finally was able to check my time today and it was 20 seconds faster than my time on my last race. Barely a PR, but I’ll take it.
I run because it is hard for me, and when I succeed I know it is not because I am just doing what comes naturally – it is because I am striving to accomplish something in the field that challenges me the most. Sometimes I want an excuse, a reason why I can’t do what I’ve set out to do, and it is tempting to give in to the frustration of not being naturally gifted. Then, just as I think my body and my pride can’t take any more challenge I turn the corner into the park, run through the crowds to the Arch, and have something else of which to be proud.