Finding myself the hard way

I’ll be brutally honest here: I SUCKED in my race today.  There’s no way around it or better way to say it – I tanked a 5k I should have never signed up for in the first place.

I could give you a million excuses as to what went wrong: my shin felt like it was going to explode, I’ve been extra fatigued/sick lately, I haven’t raced since April, I went out too fast…but I’m not one for putting weight in my excuses.  I was exactly on pace for my first two miles (6:07 and 6:15 downhill) but once I hit the flatlands I let the dull ache in my shin rattle my mind.  The “what-ifs” flooded in, the “I can’ts” screamed louder than I expected. I’ve ran multiple 5ks in my past few weeks of training at 19:30 pace and done half mile repeats at 6 min/mile pace, so I know my pace wasn’t the problem.  My head just wasn’t in it.  It’s just fucking three miles, I tried telling myself but it didn’t matter.  As soon as the pain came creeping in I used it as my scapegoat.

I know how to run through pain.  If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s staying mentally strong when the rest of my body is whining and crying for reprieve. I’ve been doing it for 16 years and I’ll continue to do it until I cannot any longer.  There’s not a day my right knee doesn’t ache and remind me of the early arthritis there, the thin white scar from surgery always smirking up at me challengingly and knowingly.

What happened today had nothing to do with being out of shape – my heart was never in it.

It was a beautiful morning for racing.  Despite the humidity it was in the 60s and the gray sky stayed overcast – a perfect autumn morning.  I warmed up and felt good despite the shin pain.  I kept to myself as I always do and pushed away any doubts.  It was my first time racing in my uniform and it stressed me out.  The need to prove myself filled me entirely.  I took all the fun out of racing because of the uniform I had on my body, and I knew it in the moment.  I knew right then, ten minutes before the gun, my heart wasn’t in the race and I didn’t want to be there.

Over the years I’ve learned I’m not a short race kind of person, but I guess I haven’t learned my lesson yet.  I have no speed and I lack those fast-twitch muscles essential for kicking.  I do strides, tempo workouts, intervals, but ALAS – nothing.  I build strength over distance and I’m most successful when the race is  AT LEAST a 10k (and even that’s still too short).  I trust myself  with long distance running.  When I was training for my first marathon it didn’t matter I was only running four times a week and less than 30 miles a week.  I did hard bike workouts and always hit my long run.  I wasn’t surprised when I qualified for Boston Marathon off my first marathon attempt, and it’s because it didn’t matter I was low mileage – it’s because I believed with my heart I could do it, so I did.  It was that simple.  I never doubted myself finishing for one moment.

But today the first mile felt like an eternity.  I thought about dropping out.  As my feet slapped the pavement I wondered what in the hell I was doing in a 5k with a bunch of fast racers who actually trained for this?  I felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself in that last mile, but as I stopped to walk 2.5 miles in (absolutely loathing myself) I also learned what I really want these days.

My competitive edge is gone.  It’s been gone for awhile now, but I certainly realized it out on the course today.  I don’t care when someone passes me – it doesn’t motivate me, it doesn’t propel me to go faster.  What I care most about these days is having fun and enjoying my running, especially when I don’t know how many years I have left (I know I will have a knee replacement in my future – just hopefully not any time soon).  I care about getting healthy again.  I care about trying to enjoy every little moment in life.  Racing in uniform, I put too much pressure on myself to succeed because I was afraid of letting others down.  But after this morning it’s clear to me I need to stop caring about what I think everyone else is thinking, because all I do is forget myself in the process.

Lately, the woods have been calling.  I fantasize about running beautiful trails in the mountains, losing myself on dirt paths through the forest and climbing to new heights both literally and physically.  In high school and college I didn’t just love cross country because I loved competitive running (although I did then), but I also loved letting go and becoming one with nature, losing myself in the surrounding trees.  With each foot fall I’d pound out a little bit of my anger and fear, and I was never afraid to chase my dreams through the hills, fields and foliage.  Nature makes me feel strong.  Nature fills the emptiness inside of me even running can’t fill.  When I combine the two I feel invincible.

I won’t say I completely regret today’s race (90% regret) because without failure, I can’t learn more about myself.  This morning I put on a bracelet my father gave me when I broke 20:00 minutes in a 5k for the first time back when I was in middle school.  I hoped it could bring some sort of luck, spirit and competitive edge back to me.  I watched it jingle on my wrist during the race but it didn’t inspire me to go faster.  Back then, breaking 20 was exactly what I wanted.  And as much as I wanted it this morning I didn’t have the heart to actually go after it.

Big changes are coming my way.  Maybe I’ll find out what’s going on with my health (I’m in the middle of being tested more extensively for Lyme disease and other tick borne diseases after I found some abnormal flags on blood work from last year) and maybe I won’t but I’m going to make changes now.  I’m following my heart and going to be looking into trail racing.  I plan on competing in an ultra Ragnar Relay next year and perhaps even a 50 miler on my own.  I’m going to start eating a more plant-based diet to try and bring the inflammation down in my body and see if it can help not only my dismal health but my running as well.

I’m always afraid to talk about my dreams and aspirations because I’m afraid of failure.  Because I don’t believe in myself.  But I’m going to believe I can do this because it’s what my heart is screaming for me to do, and has been for awhile.  I’m going to believe I can do this because if I let my fear of failing and what others think of me shape my life, than I’ll never really live.

And all it took was a shitty 5k this morning for me to realize it.

the bracelet says “sub 20 award” 

© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved



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