My big 10-mile race is this coming Sunday. One of my favorites, one that I do and have done every year. The one that used to mark the ‘end’ of my racing season each year. The one I set as my goal when I started running again in earnest this summer.
I wanted one more solid long run before I went into this race. After the last time I came in just over my previous PR, knowing I wasn’t trying very hard I felt confident enough that I would meet the second goal I set (the original goal was to come in under 2 hours, the second was to beat my PR), but I just wanted one more run. And as awesome as running has been for me lately, I also knew there was another level that I wasn’t even scratching the surface of and I couldn’t get there on my own. All the best athletes have coaches–that’s how you get better, that’s how you improve, you need someone to push and challenge you. I’m fortunate to have a buddy to step into that role when I need it.
So I headed out, and met up with one of my buddies, whom I hadn’t actually run with in forever. I’m usually resistant to running with people–when it comes to a group I have always lacked the confidence that I can keep up. I’ve never officially run with a pace group for that reason. And I’m an introvert–I have a hard time talking to people I don’t know, and I like getting lost in my music and my thoughts. So I tend to avoid it. When I run with this particular friend we each have our headphones on and we don’t talk much, so it’s a good match. Plus when I run solo, I’m in control, which I like. And as we started to run it was clear that I was not in control of this run. I had no say. I protested about the pace we started at. I was basically told to shut up, stop looking at my watch, my job was to run and breathe. Yup. Not in control. Which irritated me, but fine, whatever. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this off, but the thing about running with him is that I won’t quit. I won’t do it. I don’t want to be the one to cave or show weakness. He’s a lot faster than me, and until this weekend, I would’ve argued he’s a ‘better’ runner–but he also knows me well, he knows how to push my buttons, and somehow when we’re running I become competitive with him. I don’t need to win, but I will absolutely not quit on him the way I would (and have) quit on myself. And he knows all of this, so he pushes me.
Then he tells me I’m not walking unless I can’t talk or breathe. Including hills.
Did I mention he calls me on my bullshit? I’m sure I groaned, but I didn’t protest. I knew by this point it wasn’t going to matter, I wasn’t in control of this run. Again, I was irritated. I don’t like not having a say. In my head I was calming myself by saying I could just openly defy him if I wanted, what was he gonna do about it? He couldn’t stop me from walking if I wanted to. But I also knew I wasn’t actually going to do that. I kept running. I was mostly keeping up with him. A stride or two behind at times, but close enough to count. I kept looking at my watch, because how do you run with a watch and not look at it? And I’m one of those that if I don’t have my watch on did I even run? No. Much like I don’t count non-race runs as PRs, if I don’t have a record of it, it doesn’t count as a run.
We hit the 5k mark. My fastest to date. He tells me to stop my watch, we’re taking a minute. I do. And I approach him with my fists raised because all of the irritation from those first three miles is welling up and I want to punch him. It was involuntary–and completely out of character for me to actually approach like I’m going to hit someone, let alone a friend. Before I could swing, he gave me a fist bump, said way to go, knew you could do it. It disarmed me. I was still irritated, to be sure, but the moment had passed. I couldn’t hit him now. We chatted for a minute, decided on the plan (distance had been up in the air at the start, finally, I get a say), then started running again.
My hips started acting up around mile 4. Had I been alone, I probably would have called it, walked some, started heading back to the car. I generally only run through pain when I’m in a race and even then sometimes I fold. But I wasn’t alone. I thought about asking to turn back at 4 and a half, we’d still get in 9 miles, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I kept going. We stopped for another minute at the 5 mile mark, I stretched. Confessed my hips weren’t happy, he told me his knee wasn’t either. But hey, gotta love an out and back–no choice but to finish. We set back out. Stopped around mile 7, realized I should take a gel (I usually use 2 on a 10-mile, but had been too distracted), realized I lost one of my little water bottles (oops). He asked what my PR was, I told him. He said I could probably beat that if I hustled on the last three miles. I shrugged, not sure how much ‘hustle’ I had in me, not sure if I cared. He told me the pace he wanted for the rest of the run. I told him to run and I’d do my best to keep up. We got back to it. I was starting to lag behind him, but he didn’t leave me, he kept tabs on where I was, would slow down to let me catch up. Then we got to the last ascent of the route. Not even the worst of the hills on the route, but he could tell I was struggling and hell, maybe he was too, I couldn’t tell you. I just know I wanted it to be over with, and clearly he could tell. He started going through the motivational spiel he uses on himself when it gets rough. Parts of it amused me, parts of it were definitely for him, but mostly it irritated the piss out of me for some reason. Still I stayed in stride with him. Then he started one of my favorite quotes and I recited it with him (the short version, just the first two lines):
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure; It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us”
I was prepared to continue the recitation, but he moved on to other words of inspiration and I went back to being irritated. We got up the hill, and chatting at the top (while still running) I told him he was ‘f***ing annoying’. He laughed, pleased I was pissed because it meant he was doing his job. To be fair I also told him I loved him for it, as he kept me distracted and I never stopped running.
Homestretch. He takes off. I’m dragging. But I don’t quit. When I’m aware of the ache in my hips, I remind myself that his knee is killing him. When I check my pace on my watch, I know I can do better and pick it up. I keep running. And I finished with my best 10-mile time to date.
I was ecstatic. Elated. On a serious runner’s high now that the damn thing was done. But the magnitude of it all really hit me a little bit later, with some time and space and distance. I have zero excuses. The sky is the limit at this point. I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. And now that I have that knowledge, I can’t un-know it. And it scares the crap out of me. Big goals. Big dreams. Big plans. And I am more than capable of all of it. I don’t get to doubt myself ever again. And the rest of the weekend just continued to echo that theme–I decided to run a 5k the next morning at the school my best friend teaches at. I wasn’t sure how it would go going in, I was sore from Saturday, and I was definitely not trying to PR, I just wanted to have fun. I didn’t push, I even walked a couple of times, and I finished in 34:51. My race PR is 34:12. I came close without trying. I have no excuses, none. And anything I come up with is just that–an excuse. And I need to get over myself and out of my own head because I can do this. And the more I thought about it, the more that quote resonated with me in a way it hasn’t since I was a teenager. Here is the quote in it’s entirety:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
And that’s the crossroads I am at. I’ve caught a glimpse of my light and nothing has ever scared me so much. I’ve been close before, and then I’ve backed off. I’ve said before that running and I have a symbiotic relationship, and that for better or worse I’m entwined with it in a way I can’t escape. And it works exactly in this situation: I run hard, and then I walk. I get scared and I back off. But Saturday I ran, and I didn’t walk, I didn’t back off. I kept going. And the doors opened. There’s no going back.
I have a new goal for Sunday, because I’m going to PR no matter what. It will be tough, but I know I can do it, or come real damn close. I’m going to shine.