The question of whether or not to race when you are fit.
It feels fitting, post marathon with my incredible and patient fiance. It was a PR for me, but not a time I would want to run. We ran it after spending 4 days on our feet in the Disney parks, with 0 marathon training under our belts (the most we had both done in months was 14 miles), and slightly under the weather.
And yet, it is sure to be one of the most memorable races of my life.
I remember when I first fell in love with distance racing. I was a sophomore in high school, taking part in my hometown’s Turkey Trot. It was exhilarating, stepping up to the start-line, all by myself, with the hopes of running a four mile course. I had just come off of my volleyball season, one where the most I had run in a week probably totaled up to one mile. I was vastly out of shape.
At the start, I found a friend – a local, cross country superstar that was fresh as a daisy coming off a successful freshman cross country season. She asked if I wanted to run with her, and without reservation, I said “sure”.
In the first mile, I felt our bodies ascend the over 100 ft climb in the first 150 meters of the race. I could feel my lungs start to go as we reached the top, and I continued to follow her through the streets of the town. I made it to the one mile marker before I decided to part ways with her, as she was running too fast for my fitness. But damn, I lasted a mile. As I continued to weave in and out of the streets, I felt the bubble of suffering pop in my lungs, cold air screeching its way through the narrow tube currently occupied by the gigantic lump in my throat. The love/hate feeling of suffering was equally exhilarating as it was dreadful, and I counted down the miles until I reached the finish in 30 minutes, at an average pace of 7:30/miles. For me, it was blazing fast.
As Mitch and I weaved in and out of the streets of Disney this past weekend, I could feel that same bubble in my chest; at first it was panic, the kind that comes when you dread what people are thinking of you. “Ugh, she used to be fit when she was skinny”, “what a joke” and “quit now” popped into my heads like half-baked popcorn kernels. I had Mitch talk me through the tough moments, and I continued on, feeling a different kind of bubble as we continued on. Soon, the bubble turned up through my throat and into my eyeballs. They were happy tears. The happy tears you feel when you feel proud of yourself, happy with yourself, and grateful. I missed that kind of bubble.
The bubble of happy-suffering hasn’t just been in my slowest races, but in some of my fastest as well. Shamrock 2016, when I was running with some of my biggest heroes, in my favorite city, the bubble felt lighter with happiness, but was still ever present. Alamo 13.1 in San Antonio, I could feel the bubble as I pressed through the last 5k after being led off course, determined to push for the sake of doing it for myself, as the race was officially “over” for me.
I think about people that don’t get a chance to live past 16, 26, or 56. With too short of lives, I wonder what they would say about the question of “should I race when I am not fit”. As I sit here, contemplating that question for myself, I can feel that bubble well into my eye sockets again, with happy tears that press me to say “absolutely” with 100% certainty.
The thing is, memories are rarely sweet based solely on numerical values (though, running fast tends to make the deal sweeter). Memories are made when our whole hearts are out there, ready to explore everything that life throws at us. I can feel it when I go down a street I never tried before, and find my heart float up like a light bubble in my chest, as I run through my “new” favorite place. I can feel it when Mitch and I, on a good or bad day, throw away our pride and run with joy and with grit. I can feel it when I am running faster than I could have ever imagined; I don’t know I am going fast because of a split, but because I can feel the speed pulse through my feet, making my strides smooth and strong.
Tomorrow is never promised. It just isn’t. Neither is fitness. Sometimes, all the work doesn’t pan out to a positive result. Sometimes, people that don’t work at all, win the race. So what does that mean.
For me, it means show up anyway. It means put yourself out there. Life is too short to live from the sidelines. Whether the bubble of suffer pops in my chest and slows me to a pitiful 8 min mile (when I am capable of running 5 min miles) in a 10k, or lightens in my chest and brings me through faster than I could have imagined, I want to hold tight to those emotions, those bubbles of feeling that I can remember to this day. Because my love of distance running didn’t start in a time – it started in a feeling. In living life to its fullest on my feet, in the pain cave, being brave as hell.
Should we race when we aren’t at our fittest? Yes.
To try anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift – the try begins, when you show up.
Ps. Unless you are sick or injured k bye