Training feels like a faraway memory. I often joke that these days I’m more into Netflix and drinking marathons than running marathons. But on a Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I found some time and energy to fit in a race.
For an October morning, the air was warmer than I expected as the sun peeked over the horizon greeting us on a strip of seaside road in downtown Victoria. It’s race morning and not unlike other race mornings, I am immersed in my surroundings, absorbing the overload of familiar senses, from the sight of intermingled bodies, to the smell of sweaty skin and the sounds of excited chatter. There are thousands of us all huddled together like a herd of sheep. Despite the same feelings of any other race morning running through my nervous hands, this morning felt different. Waiting for a race start usually means I’m standing on the shores of a body of water peeing one final time into my extra tight neoprene wet suit. Peeing in my race shorts in the middle of the street was not an option. I hadn’t run a road race in over two years and standing there on dry land with my running shoes on felt awkward. Needless to say, thanks to a not-so brilliant idea from my sister-in-law for a family race, here I was at the start line of an 8K road race with the intention of running a personal best time.
Over the eight weeks leading up to the race, I tried to get out for a run four times a week. It usually ended up being two, maybe three times, with the excuse that I was still recovering from Ironman. As the weeks went on, I just started telling myself that it was ok to not want to run, and it was ok to want to drink a bottle of wine instead, and so I did. Slowly, I started to become a shell of my former fit and dedicated self. My collection of empty wine bottles increased and so did the numbers on my scale. Still, I was convinced I would pull off an 8K PB. Race day would bring some hard realities to fruition.
As the gun blasted to start the race, I headed off feeling strong and confident. Unfortunately, that only last for just over five minutes, or until about the first kilometre marker. My pace was on track, but my heart rate was skyrocketing and so was my breathing. I screamed curse words silently in my mind. First it was directed at the extra 10 pounds I had gained, then at all the wine, gin, beer and coolers I had consumed over the past couple months, then the silent screaming turned on all the other runners who were slowly but effortlessly passing me.
The first 4K felt like torture. It was a gradual climb – and by climb, I mean a very slight incline, but I could feel it in my legs as I stomped along like a lame horse. As I approached the 3K marker I saw my brother already heading back to the finish, looking fresh and strong. The silent cursing started again. Of course he has the running genes in the family.
Shortly after, I hit the turnaround point and rounded the cone and I actually started to suffer. At this point in the run I had planned to kick my pace up and kill it back home, but my plans were all but an impending failure. I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks and could hear my exasperated breathing intensify. Other runners must have looked at me and thought I was dying. In the near distance, I could see an aid station approaching and I had to think about what I was going to do with it. Normally for anything less than a half Ironman I wouldn’t even think of using one, yet on this day, things were different; things were getting ugly. As I approached the table, I desperately reached for a cup of water, which I threw on my chest, and then a cup of some sort of electrolyte drink, which I ineffectively, spilled half down my front. I felt foolish and if I wasn’t hurting so bad, I would have laughed. Everyone else around me seemed like they were on a Sunday stroll, and every few metres, out of the corner of my eye, I would see all sorts of people moving in unorthodox running styles, moving past me. They looked clunky and terrible, but they were not red in the face from laboured breathing, nor ready to fall down flat on the pavement. That was me. At one point, just a few metres in front of me, I could even see someone taking a ‘selfie’ as they jogged along. This is when the self-talk kicked in. “Just be grateful you are able to do what you do, Aly, you are out here doing it.” Then I thought, “no, you don’t get to have excuses!” Again, I cursed my last couple months of indiscretions.
Rounding the final bend of the route, I saw the finish line off in the distance, which, in fact, was not where we started, but about 200 metres beyond that. I didn’t really feel like taking another step. Then I looked to my left and saw my parents cheering me on with my bright eyed 5 year old niece. OK, maybe I could take another step. I tried to smile and wave and look strong, but I feared that I ended up looking like I was in awkward pain.
After crossing the line and receiving my medal, I found my family. I tried to play it off that I was cool, but quickly resigned to the fact I was near death and sitting down was a high priority. They laughed in spite of my defeat.
I was nowhere near my 8K PB but I did beat my course PB from two years ago by over three minutes. It was my consolation prize and a lesson learned in expectations. You can’t set the bar high and expect to get there without hard work and commitment. Heading into race day, I had neither of those. But it was fun to laugh at myself.
Since race day I’ve continued to allow myself to have late nights at the bar and otherwise indulge in non-training activities, with the caveat that November 1 is the deadline for getting back on track. I’ve had my fun, but I have a different kind of fun that I’m longing to get back to. So, back to the grind I will go, ready to commit and work hard.