Sunday, December 5, 2010

why I no longer race

Look! I'm a skijorer! That is my new Omni-Heat jacket I got from Columbia to field test cause they read my blog. More on the jacket later (it rocks). Hey! Hot Springs! I want to field test a hot tub!
I've been thinking a lot about why I don't race anymore (thanks Jill for the inspiration). It's easy to toss off a flippant "Hello! Knee surgery, 2007!" or "Hello, stretched PCL from a fall on green slime, 2008!" And it's true that after both of these events, and my last marathon, my knee swollen like a spongy, past-its-prime grapefruit, I made a choice: Hike at 80 or qualify for Boston. It was an easy decision. Mostly.

But there are other reasons. Racing was a phase of my life for about twenty years, maybe more. There were numerous five and ten kilometer races, one speedy half marathon I am still proud of, and two marathons. I never branched out to any other kind of racing, which may have made things different.

I liked racing because it gave me a structure. It was like building a house. The first tentative steps, the foundation, was already there, but I had to build on it with speedwork and long runs. I remember running six  miles at the beginning of my ramp-up for Napa, thinking, how will I ever be able to run twenty-six miles? But I liked the way my body responded. I liked how I could surpass what I had ever thought possible. I liked how I could look up what I was supposed to do that day, and seeing that it was a sixteen mile run, think only sixteen!  I liked gutting it out in horizontal rain with Julie, Brian and Ken, driving back along our route to pick up our Gatorade stash. I liked making it through the first creaky, horrible miles to a calm, mediative state, where I just flowed along, my mind nearly blank. I liked waking with a purpose. I was in training!

Then on a fire assignment at the Black Cat helibase just outside of Missoula, my knee shifted and locked. A floating piece of cartilage had lodged itself into the joint. It took three months post surgery before I could take my first tentative running steps.

When I did I found things had shifted in me too. I was so grateful just to be able to hike and run again, to be mostly free of pain, that I started noticing things around me. I had to: my pace was a full minute slower as I retrained my body not to favor the stronger side. The restless movement of the ocean as I ran through Totem Park in Sitka. The chuckling of water from the sky, the trees, the alder. I had noticed these things before of course, but only as a secondary thought. My primary thoughts were always: This sucks. Why am I running so slowly? I'll never break four hours at this pace. Or: I feel pretty good today. But three more hours? Should I eat another powerbar bite thing? Where did we leave the next Gatorade? How come Ken always passes me on this hill?

I abandoned pavement completely and ran only on trails. I had to slow down or faceplant. I ran only as far as I wanted to. A lot of days I didn't run, but kayaked, swam or hiked.

It's never easy to give up something that you love, that has been a part of your life since you were a teenager. I don't miss the limited trophies I acquired. I don't need any more finisher medals. But I have to work harder though at pushing myself past a boundary. I no longer have racing as the primary force to help me do this. So I make up challenges for myself. I'll do a 17 mile day hike. I'll ski the big hills on Hurricane Creek. It's a race with myself, but on my own terms.

I used to cringe when someone referred to me as a jogger. Nooooo! I was a runner. I felt sorry for those on the other side, who had given up racing and now just ran for fun. It didn't seem serious. It seemed old.

Getting past some of these used-to-bes takes some digging in. I'm a marathon runner. I'm a firefighter. I live in Alaska. Each of these statements made people think of  me in a certain way. I think we all define ourselves at different points in our lives and when one of those supporting beams is gone, we have to hunt to find another meaning.  I'm still working on that one.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting topic, as I've been pondering the future role of racing for me after my slower-than-snot half marathon run race yesterday. I'm not really winning medals or anything, so do I really need to race? Could I not come up with other challenges to keep me busy, keep me training? Anyway, something I'm wresting with, too, right now.

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