There were two thoughts engaged in a duel for the dominant place in my mind as I ran in the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon last weekend. The first thought was regrettably, “How did that backstabbing bottle of Pinot Noir somehow convince me that signing up for this race on a whim, with no time to train, was a good idea?” On the other hand, as I looked around, I confidently thought, “Therefore, since there are so many effing people watching, I need to lay aside every mental and physical encumbrance and run this race with endurance.” (See, I totally paid attention in Sunday school.) It was a mental battle between “WTF?” and “You got this!” My positive outlook and my sense of despair seemed to flip-flop with each passing mile marker.
Sadly, my pace resembles that of a water buffalo more than an actual athlete, and accordingly, the idea of running competitively is somewhat lost on me. But I do enjoy running, or what is more commonly referred to in my case as “labored jogging.” Running is one of the few things that can change my mood, eliminate anxiety, and ground me when I feel as if I am about to spin out of control. It is also the mental space in which I come up with my most brilliant ideas, diabolical plans, and ponder the things that everyday life so often crowds out.
My day-to-day schedule is packed, which makes it difficult to maintain running (or exercise in general) as a priority. Having a goal to focus on is a good way for me to hold myself accountable and push myself beyond my slightly lazy tendencies. I’ll be the first to admit, after a crazy day at work, a glass of wine with friends (or a bottle by myself) sounds like a far superior way to unwind compared to dressing in my uglies and pounding the pavement. This is a key reason why I started signing up for different events, to keep myself in motion.
It really began about 7 years ago when my friend Nicole and I decided we wanted to conquer the hills of San Francisco and run in the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon. I’m pretty sure bragging rights and the nearby wine tasting had something to do with our event selection. However, the primary reason we chose this race was the promise of a Tiffany’s pendant guaranteed to all participants (we had our priorities straight!). Nicole and I trained together for an extended period of time, but when our lottery numbers weren’t chosen for the Nike event, we lost some of our inspiration. As it turns out, the idea of heading outside on cold rainy evenings in the dead of winter had lost its appeal once the shiny piece of jewelry dangling at the finish line was removed.
No big deal. I’ve learned that no matter how well-trained or ill-prepared I happen to be; on race day I can always seem to find plenty of motivation. If you mix my stubbornness with race day adrenaline, it becomes a potent blend. Often, this wonderful combination is what carries me through. My fatigued muscles/blubber might be waving a white flag in surrender, but my mind will not even entertain the idea of conceding to my body’s plea for relief. Mental toughness has rescued me time and time again when I have showed up to battle otherwise unarmed. If one stops to think about it, it really is extraordinary how the mind has the ability to require more than the body has to give.
The other aspect to me being able to perform beyond my ability is the energy of the audience. When thousands of people are running alongside you, and thousands more cheering you on from the sidelines, the collective result is invigorating.
All that said, for me, the most crucial ingredient is having running companions. Last fall Nicole, Colin and I participated in the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon (no need to mention why this event was appealing). I thought it was a suicide mission. No training, the hot humid Florida weather, a recovering hamstring, stuffing ourselves with food and drinks in the days/hours leading up to the event… this is not exactly a recipe for success! Towards the end of the race, when my pace was slowing, Colin said that the boardwalk we were approaching was the end of the race, and that we should sprint the last leg to improve our time and finish strong. I agreed. Unfortunately, Colin, my life long friend, was a liar. We still had over half a mile left before this hell-path ended, and my jello legs were now committed to a dead-run. While the betrayal is unforgivable, the end result was pretty spectacular. I had a similar experience with my friend, Tina, with the 15k Shamrock run. I had not done anything physical or remotely healthy all winter when we signed up for this annual March tradition. Being the flaky, irresponsible person I am, I never even looked at the course. Tina, being the intelligent, clever person she is, failed to mention that on this particular snow-and-hail filled day, that we would be running uphill for the majority of the race… Again, maybe I need to make new friends, but I must say, it did feel gratifying to storm a hill I don’t even like to drive up.
Being able to produce under pressure is not the same as being prepared and strategically working toward achieving a goal. While I was able to bust 13.1 miles out of my ass with no real training or preparation last weekend, it came at a cost. For instance the chaffing that occurred from my larger-than-I’d-like-thighs rubbing against each other, and against the seams of the new clothing I had never worn was dreadful (big no-no to wear something for the first time on race day). At one point there were volunteers passing out sticks of Vaseline. Let me tell you, I wasted no time smearing that all over my inner thighs and underwear line.
P.S. I’m sorry to all of you who were inadvertently flashed as I lubed myself up mid-jog.
Also, I’m pretty sure the runners who trained for the race also recovered much faster and had less overall soreness throughout the next several days.
My accomplishment did however give me a profound sense of gratefulness… for having a cardiovascular system, lungs, and body that is healthy enough to even participate; and for having friends that cheer me on and push me when I’m growing weary (Tina, you rock!).
All in all, it was a good reminder of how important training is an all aspects of life. We need to do our work ahead of time, so when the moment arises, we are prepared. Even though we may obtain the goal by sheer adrenaline and mental discipline, when we go about things the right way, the journey is substantially more enjoyable, there is less chance for injury, and the recovery is quicker… or at least you can avoid rashes on your thighs and showing your vagina to all of Portland.