In life, I’ve never been very good at sitting in the middle section of anything. Grades, sports or boys – I was either all in or nowhere to be found, there was no middle ground. I am either bizarrely passionate or completely disinterested. So, when I made my transition in running, it only made sense for me to go from being a 100m sprinter to being a marathoner. Yes, I realize that to get to that point I would have had to have run all the distances in between, but I certainly don’t specialize in them. The thing about mid-distance running is that it’s hard. Like, really hard. Like, harder than people give it credit for. If I ever hear someone say, “oh, I’m just racing a 10k.” I’m the first person to tell them it’s anything but “just”.
The thing about mid-distance running is that it hurts the whole time, because you have to run hard THE WHOLE TIME. I’m intimately familiar with the marathon; I know how to break it down and what to expect. While it’s true that you never know what the day will give you, you usually have a safe bet at the first two thirds not having you begging for mercy. Not so with its shorter distance cousins. Stick me in a 5 or 10k and I know I’ll be spending close to the entirety in the hurt locker. Fun. Many runner friends and coaches alike have imparted words of wisdom such as “once you get over the fact that you can run in that much discomfort, you’re fine…” and “you can always give 20% more without dying” (Safe!) None of these make me feel better.
When Megan gently convinced me to sign up for the 10k portion of the Fall Classic, I figured now was as good a time as any to start facing my fears. The fears weren’t necessarily alleviated by the fact that Megan is one speedy gal and I had agreed to try and keep pace. 42 minutes? Um, what? I’ve been more excited about my yearly appointment to place my feet in both stirrups, but I decided to cowboy up and get on board anyhow. The universe had different plans for me and decided to knock me on my ass with the flu. I get sick about once every two years and when I do, it’s not pretty. 10 days of fever and chest cold = no running = no fun = 1 very unprepared runner girl. Needless to say, I had to adjust my original goal if I didn’t want to wind up in the medic tent on course. I decided if I could go in 53 minutes or under, I’d be pleased. I wasn’t even sure I could manage this.
Race morning was cold and wet (what up, YVR?) and Megan and I spent the drive to the start line talking about how nervous we were and how excited we were for it to be over while our respective other halves wondered aloud why we would ever willingly sign up for something like this. “Because it feels sooooo good when it’s over!” we both chimed in. This response was met with blank stares mixed with confusion so the topic was dropped.
After a quick warm up run, a bathroom break and the obligatory removal of the 10,ooo layers I’d decided I needed to wear, it was time to get down to business. I told Megan about my time goal as we stood at the start line. She had different ideas for me. “I bet you do it in 51 -52” she told me as we watched the start clock count down. My brain was too preoccupied with the imminent pain to really argue with her, but a little doubt crept in. I’m not fast enough. I don’t push hard enough. I’m not good enough.
The gun went, and I took off. I knew I’d have to hold a 5:13 pace (this is in km, my Yankee friends) in order to come in at 53 minutes. 500 meters in I looked at my watch and saw I was clipping along at 4:12. Time to back off. I dropped down to 4:50 and held it there for the first 5k. The course is 50% downhill and 50% up – bet you can guess which half you finish on. My breathing was laboured and at several points I thought my heart might very well beat out of my chest. Keep holding it, you’re not dead yet. In fact, part of you actually likes this. Hold steady. The turn around was at the 5k mark, at which point you start heading uphill for the rest of the way home. Here’s a dirty little secret about me: I love running uphill. I was born to climb. There is something so immensely satisfying about taking on something that is supposed to slow you down and telling it “No, I don’t think so. Not today.” The next 2k felt amazing. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement, but they didn’t make me hate my life so I’m calling that amazing. I knew if I could just get to kilometre 8, I would feel like I was on the home stretch. My body was weaker than I would have liked and I was starting to feel it. I dropped down to 5:01 and kept pushing. My lungs hurt. I tried to smile and I couldn’t keep it. I started asking myself just what the hell I thought I was doing. I’m never going to be good at this distance. It’s always going to hurt. Why is everyone out here stronger than me? Am I ever going to get better at this?
Instead of asking myself what I was doing, I asked myself why I was there. I love the person I am when I’m running. I am the best possible version of me. I earn my own respect every time I want to quit and find it in me to dig deep and push through. If learning to love yourself isn’t reason enough to lace up, I’ll never know what is. At this point, I looked down at my watch and realized that Megan would be crossing the finish line right then. I smiled. Then I looked at my watch again and knew that I’d make it in 51 minutes. She was right. I smiled again. As I came around the bend towards the finish, a familiar face wearing a bright pink toque jumped out of the crowd and told me to keep going. I smiled at her. I smiled at her boyfriend, Brad and at OK (both of whom got up at an ungodly hour to stand in the rain to cheer us on, both of whom were so proud of us) and kicked it in to the finish. My goal was to leave it all out there and as I stumbled into OK’s hug, I felt like I’d done exactly that. 51:35.
“How was it?”
“It sucked and I loved it.”
This photo depicts far less suffering than was actually present. Megatron, I love you. I needed you out there. You are a machine. With a super big heart.
51 minutes in the hurt locker made worth it by this. And a hot shower and a nap. But mostly this.