Saturday, January 19, 2019

Ditching the Boulder

Last year was sort of the year of racing for me. After doing only the Marji Gesick 100 the year before, I decided to try to race once a month in 2018. In the end, while I didn't exactly accomplish one every month, I did end up with 12 race starts thanks to two in some months and none in others. Did they all go well? No. Did I learn from all of them? Of course. Do I plan to do this next year? Definitely not. As always, I do a lot of introspection after I race, especially when the race doesn't go as well as I'd planned. After nearly two months to contemplate my last race of the year, which ended in a DNF, I've finally been able to accept that while the DNF came because of a fall, my approach to last year was really the problem.

Honestly, it really started at the end of 2017. There was a lot of hype after Marji Gesick. When you're the only one to finish a 100 mile running race, there are a lot of pictures of you that end up on Facebook. At first, this is fun. Who doesn't like a little attention? But, as we all know, the world of social media can quickly turn negative, especially if you're a sensitive person. Those pictures had comments, and while there weren't any that directly cut me down, there was an underlying message from some of the men, which was basically, "I'm gonna go out there and easily win a buckle," which since I missed the buckle time, felt a little bit (ok, a lot) like, "If that little girl can finish that race, surely I can do it much faster. It must be easy." When I guy I didn't know (who's Facebook page shows a lot of pics of him riding a bike and none of him running) messaged me, telling me he was going to run next year and win a buckle and wanted tips, it definitely stung a little. Or a lot. Suddenly it seemed like a whole lotta biker dudes thought they could do this race easily. So of course, I started to think that perhaps my performance sucked. Or I just sucked.

And you know what happens when you think you suck? You try to prove you don't. So, as much as I wanted to believe I was doing all that 2018 racing to conquer some fear, in hindsight, I was racing to prove I wasn't just some tiny woman who can't do much. Starting Jiu Jitsu not long after only accentuated the problem, since suddenly my size was an issue, every day. Once you know Jiu Jitsu, it can help you defend yourself against someone bigger who doesn't know it, but when you're learning and you're the smallest one there and everyone else knows more than you, you get humbled. Every. Single. Day.

I get it, humility can be a great thing. Unfortunately in this case, it just added to my need to prove myself, and racing from this place is dangerous. Sure, I had a few good races, like HAMR and Night Owl, but if I'm truly honest with myself, by Nov. I was exhausted from all the racing and training like a woman with something to prove.

Of course, I couldn't see this clearly at the time so I went to the Back 40 race in Dec. with a chip on my shoulder that was starting to feel like a boulder since I'd been carrying it around for over a year. In theory, this race should've been perfect for me. 40 mile trail run Saturday, 40 miles of mountain biking Sunday. With that boulder on my shoulder, it was of course a different story.

Long story short, I was anxious from the start. Since we started with a mass of 20 mile runners, the trail was pretty crowded. I did my best to find my own rhythm and enjoy some solitude, but I found myself more often than not running with guys so close to my heels one of them actually stepped on my shoe. I should've been able to let this go. Instead it just aggravated me. By the time we finally hit this bridge and had a very short reprieve from the tight singletrack, all I could think about was that I hoped this dude would pass me so I could stop to pee without him seeing my butt. He didn't. Apparently I'm a good pacer.

Photo: adVANture photography
By the time we got to my 11, this guy was finally gone, but I had a line of people behind me, none of whom seemed to want to pass. This was fine on the uphill, but as we crested the top and headed down, that line of people seemed to add to the weight of that boulder I was carrying. I ran faster, because I wanted to prove I wasn't holding them up. I lasted about 30 seconds before I finally tripped while flying down the hill at a speed I wasn't comfortable running. Thankfully, the instincts I picked up in Jiu Jitsu saved me from landing on my face or breaking an arm. In fact, I jumped up immediately and kept running. After all, now I really had something to prove.

Of course, as you probably all know, stories like this never end well. When I jumped up and kept running, there was pain in my pubic bone. I told myself it was just a bruise, but five or six miles later, there was no denying that my hip had taken a beating. With every step, it felt like my groin was going to pull off the bone. I hobbled the last few miles to complete one lap of 20, but I knew there was no way I could tough it out for 20 more.
adVANture photography  
 I tried to smile for the photographer there for the 20 milers, but really all I had was this grimace. I called Big E for a rescue and spent the rest of the day on the couch reading about hermits and researching places to eat. Carrying that boulder around for a year had made me really hungry.

Later that night, I packed my bags to ride the 40 the next day, but I knew when I woke up it wasn't going to happen. I spent the day cheering for Big E, because sometimes the best thing for a bruised ego is seeing someone else crush a race. I tried to crush it as his support crew, but since this was the result when he said, "Meet me at the finish line with an IPA," I'm not so sure how I did.

 adVANture photography
At least he's smiling.

So, what do I do now that I tossed that boulder away? Get back to what's true to me- racing for the challenge and not to prove anything. My favorite part of racing has always been the process-that intense focus you need to get the training done, to get to the start line as ready as you can, and to race with a greater purpose than just your own accomplishment on race day. My goal for this year is, in the words of David R. Hawkins in his book Power vs. Force, "to honor the endeavor, not the personal accomplishment, which is only the occasion and expression of something greater, universal and innate in the human heart."