I think weird things during races. Sometimes it’s about the race, sometimes it’s about something entirely different. Either way, while pounding out mile after mile at speeds that leave the general population open mouthed in disbelief, I can actually be relatively calm in my thoughts, holding ideas to their logical conclusion. When I think back to how I feel after a race and what I was thinking during that effort, I can’t help but laugh at myself for the absurdity of remaining so calm while on the verge of physical exhaustion.
At this last race an interesting consideration formed somewhere during the mid-point of the race, probably before I started to completely die. I wondered if the joy of running has more to do with NOT running than anything else. See, during the race I can feel like absolute crap, on the edge of exhaustion and wanting nothing more but to stop, yet every moment of training and every second of mental preparation is about gearing up specifically for those miles of racing. But during the race, all I want to be doing is NOT RACING. So, while I was struggling to keep my heart rate at a manageable BPM, I was thinking about all that time spent at work, feeling uber-confident and relatively special in the potential of my abilities. I thought about how great it felt to be comped for the race and hotel the night before and while waiting for the shuttle with all the other awesome runners. I thought about how much time I put into blogging about running, talking about running, thinking about running, preparing for running, yet when it actually comes down to the act of racing, all I want to do is stop! It was all very silly.
I wish I had the exact quote from the near-holy book status of the race novel, Once A Runner, or was it Again To Carthage, where the author says something to the effect of, “The runner wants nothing more than to stop running.” Trust me, the book puts its much better.
Of course, this whole consideration is only partly true.
When a race starts, no one wants to stop. When we hit 3 miles, no one wants to stop. When you are cruising along feeling unstoppable, brimming with an unseen force of speed and strength, no one wants to stop. But then you hit that point, without even realizing it, like a frog in boiling water, and suddenly you crave the finish line like never before. It’s not necessarily that you want to stop then and there, but rather that you want to reach that finish line and THEN stop.
At the race this past Sunday I was struggling hard after mile 9, way before my usual fighting point. I desperately wanted the rest of the miles that lay ahead to magically disappear and somehow get transported through a secret wormhole straight to the finish line. But then mile 10 came, and then mile 11. And something happened. As I weakened more and more and mile 12 never seemed to come any closer, I started up a speed sapping hill and became conscious of just how slow I was running. As I tried to pull myself over the top of the incline an extremely strong feeling overcame me.
“Maybe you should just walk. You’re totally defeated. Just admit this race beat you and start walking.”
The reality of the thought itself became so tempting that I had to fight it out of my head. At that point I WANTED to walk SO BAD and just thinking about it nearly made the effort come true. I don’t know if that was a small taste of “the wall” that is so often talked about in relation the marathon, but boy was it tough. Fortunately, my own awareness of just how incredibly guilty and disappointed I would feel if I did walk was far more powerful than the pull to actually do it. And good thing, since I actually wasn’t running that poorly considering I PR’ed the course and all.
Then there are days like today. Still recovering from the race on Sunday, we were instructed to just go out for an easy run. We all had various soreness and aches and it took us a handful of miles before we loosened up enough to run smooth. A few of us peeled off early and a few more called it quits a little later, but I was feeling the groove and wanted to get in a full 10. A much faster runner than myself continued on with me and as I fell into a rhythmic pace I felt my speed increasing ever so gradually, then more, and more, and some more still. Suddenly, without effort, we were flying up our rail trail, hitting the turn around point, and then flying right back the other way. I was surprised at the ease with which I could kick it up another notch and continue on without faltering. Faster and faster we ran until any increase in speed could only be nominal. And as we neared the finishing point I realized something, I DIDN’T want to stop. Not at all. I wanted to keep running as long as my body and lungs felt as smooth and strong as they did. If it meant I could run all night at that pace, well that’s what I wanted to do. Of course, that would have been a bad idea, what with tomorrow’s predator run and all. Regardless, I love to run and although a large portion of my joy of running comes AFTER the fact, when I’m thinking about what is to come or what has passed, instead of during the act, there are those special days where I feel like a modern god and nothing compares to how I feel DURING the run.
It’s then when I can’t even imagine stopping.
10+ miles – see above
Breakfast – English muffin (w/ peanut butter, almonds, raisins, flax seed), coffee, soy yogurt w/ granola
Lunch – Peanut butter and jelly, Peach, Sloppy joe TVP, water
Dinner – Black bean burgers w/ veggies
Snacks – Orange, coffee, lara bar, clif bar, gatorade, Vegan jerquee, soy yogurt w/ granola
Bring Me The Horizon – Pandora station