It can be rocket science

My biggest fear – slotted somewhere between death, hospitals, and tucking the back of my skirt into my underwear after visiting the ladies’ room – is being overwhelmed. Any situation I can imagine where my knee-jerk instinct is to control everything so that nothing changes or happens can be reduced to my fear of feeling overwhelmed.

When I feel overwhelmed, nothing is rational and anything (tragic, scary, or painful) can happen.

And I am feeling anxious lately. I’m going to say it’s because I have a half-marathon race coming up (in a few weeks). It’s a lot of sleeps away. Still, I’m using it as my focal point and am nervous about my training runs leading up to it.

A friend asked how things were going with my new run coach and how my anxiety levels have been in my races so far this year. My running anxiety is vastly improved, but I still feel it. Each race I am given another opportunity to face deeper levels of my fears.

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Race start: what do you think about?

Will I be fast enough? Will I run as fast as I want to? What if I run too fast? What happens if it starts to hurt? Will I beat my previous time?

I made the biggest shift of my running career recently: I want to Run Happy. I know that the feeling I have after a race is far more significant to me than the time on the clock. I can suffer through the whole run and run faster than some, but still feel dejected and overwhelmed when I’m done. That is not happy.

Earlier this year I watched two friends run a race. It was just after New Year’s day – when most of us are still basking in late nights, rum balls, and over-enjoying baked goods, and no one is ready to really run races. They were very fast and ran really well. I expected them to complain about how much they suffered and how much they hated the level of exertion it took to run as fast as they did. When I caught up to them as they were munching on cookies, I asked how the race went. “It was fun!” said one of them. My overwhelmed-self wanted to punch my good friend in disbelief. FUN? Seriously?!

I didn’t understand. I drove home thinking that she was happy with her time. If I ran as fast as she did, would my race be fun? I thought of the mammoth effort of training it would take me to run as fast as she did. If I was faster than her, would that give me bragging rights? Not once has anyone EVER said to me that they ran faster than I did in a race: it’s simply irrelevant. We are not professionals or elite athletes or Olympians. No one will be following our results in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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Running girls: fast, fabulous, and happy.

Lately, I think I’m figuring it out. She ran happy. She may have overcome some pain in the run, she may have pushed herself more than she expected to, she may have run the distance faster than she ever had before – and those would all have been nice perks. But the way she felt about what she was doing was happy.

I’ve been running for a few years: compulsively, determined, stubbornly, and at times to my detriment (over-training, anemic).  I like/enjoy it in equal parts to the amount of stress is causes me. I have always thought that if I could get to an end result – be it a certain time, placing, or running faster than whomever I happened to see that day – I would feel immense relief and be a changed person. It hasn’t happened and I’m slowly learning, like it’s rocket science, that it won’t happen. I am running for myself, for fitness and enjoyment and to be outdoors and be part of the community – I am not running for a finish line. I am going out to run happy every time I put on my shoes.

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Psych me up

Nothing we do is ever done in a vacuum. Whether you are an author, a runner, or a patient finishing their last treatment of chemotherapy, there is a team of support that helps to make things happen. Sure, one person is the individual who actually completes, leads, and wins  – but along the way there are many, many others who assist the process.

People who are at the forefront of these events have the determination, the drive, the natural talent, special abilities, or -in cases- the misfortune of a disease. They differ from the rest of us simply because we are not the one in their position. Everyone has their own personal goals or challenges to master.

We don’t necessarily need to be at the forefront of something, either, to benefit or need the support of others. I will never win a race or be as fast as some of the people I run and train with. But my goals, and pursuit of them, are my own challenges. As I progress towards these goals, I realize how much support means to me and how much I need it.

When I recently wrote about my friend Matt what struck me the most were his comments of how much he fed off and appreciated the support of his team. [Matt ran the Zion 100 mile race and finished third, with an amazing push in the last 15 miles from 9th place]. Given that running for almost an entire day (and night) gives you a lot of time to think, Matt mentioned how much he thought about all the support he had not only on the course, but at home as well. A lot of people knew Matt was running this race and were keenly interested in his journey – people he works with, who saw him run, who trained with him, or read about his mission of running for the greater good. A collective and physical energy followed him through his race.

I run a lot of my runs solo now; I’ve moved away from the group dynamic because of choice and circumstance. What I miss the most is the companionship and, through this, the encouragement. Something as simple as having another body present, doing the same thing, is both motivating and comforting.

I do have other external supports though. There are random strangers – there is the lady I see with her dog most days I go for a run. She smiles and waves; sometimes she says “Good job.”  My husband is my biggest support. He asks about each run, makes time for my runs, and encourages me in my process. He is also supportive of another support: my coach.

progress

My coach provides not only my training routine, he also provides support. A good coach finds an athlete’s strengths and works on nurturing those aspects. They find what works for an athlete’s physical potential, but also how they can excel mentally.

There now exist these kinds of mental supports in races as well. Much like having your own cheering section, some races have volunteer sports psychologists who monitor athletes as they run. They provide motivation and encouragement to help alleviate stress and anxiety. They give external feedback to support the best in everyone.

While we each must meet our own challenges and overcome what we fear, it’s nice to know that a complete stranger can believe in our ability. It’s comforting to know there are those along the way to guide us and give us confidence when we may find that lacking. At very least, someone yelling in your general direction is enough to lift your spirits. You may not know them but you can draw from their goodwill. Thank goodness for spectators.

I am inspired

I am easily emotional. I cry at sad movies, tragic books, and watching people run across a finish line. I am swept away by a feeling that touches me in a way that defies my logic. I am a no-nonsense, practical person, so being so moved by somewhat ordinary things seems contradictory to me.

Nevertheless, I am emotional and beaming today after an amazing weekend. It has nothing to do with me – perhaps it is pride by association. When seeing someone’s dedication, determination, love, friendship, and spirit come through so strong, I can’t help but feel proud and inspired.

bostonbib

Boston bib: 2011; Zion 100 bib: 2013.

This weekend was the Zion 100 footrace. For the rest of us more sane than this bunch of participants, the Zion 100 is a 100 mile race through the Utah desert. It is hot, is it long (obviously), and it is hilly. It is not for the faint of heart or physique.

The (WordPress!) website describes the race as such:

“The total elevation gain for the 100k will be in the ballpark of 6,000ft and around 10,000ft for the 100 miler.  For this year, we can only give an approximate estimate of the elevation gain prior to the running of the event. Be warned: your body will feel a lot more beat up than the elevation profile tells you.  Sections of the course (Gooseberry and Guacamole) are especially difficult and leave experienced runners scratching their heads afterwards wondering why they feel so much more exhausted than the elevation and distance on their watch reads.”

My friend Matt, from Project Talaria, ran this race. (I have written about Project Talaria when the boys ran the Leadville 100). Matt is an amazing guy: humble, determined, dedicated, and a great ambassador for running and endurance racing. The more amazing thing about Matt is that he only started trail running 5-6 years ago. When he started running in general he was not a track star or captain of the basketball team. Matt lost over 60 pounds as he started running.

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Matt and Alex (his girlfriend) enjoying the desert roads.
Photo courtesy Myke Labelle.

Matt runs because he loves to but his focus is always on his community and the greater good. He carried his 2011 Boston Marathon bib with him over those 100 miles. He brought along his girlfriend and good friends as pacers. His family came to help as his support crew.

A few years ago I spectated my first race. I was watching friends run and felt the other end of emotions I feel when I race: instead of feeling nervous, I felt excited. I didn’t have to do anything. I watched, I clapped and cheered for strangers, and I saw the winners come across the finish line. Most of them were elated and very tired. They were also very humble. They had done a task they had set out for themselves and were quietly pleased but showed enthusiastic support for others crossing the finish line.

Seeing runners exert themselves for the last few hundred meters of the race made me emotional. I know how good it feels when you can hear the crowd and know your race is almost done. The energy from the spectators gives you that little bit more strength to keep going. I knew how much the runners were hurting as they approached the finish; I could only imagine how much they’d trained and what a joy crossing the finish line would be. I felt so proud of these strangers – it brought me to tears.

Matt not only went out and ran the 100 mile distance, he also finished third. I didn’t do anything to help Matt run this race. I am just really inspired and proud by association. He crossed that finish line. He has shown me that when we have passion and determination, we can achieve anything.

Matt, with winning trophy, at Zion Visitor Centre.

Matt, with winning trophy, at Zion National Park Visitor Centre.
Photo courtesy of Myke Labelle.

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Matt with friend Myke after a long day of running. Bare feet and beer!
Photo courtesy of Alex G.