Fear---I always manage to talk myself out of racing at some point before toeing the line. It is a strange feeling, I run hard, I run long and I run often, but no matter what the race, at some point before toeing the line I have a moment of fear, where I question what I am about to do. I know how much it is going to hurt, but mostly, I set high goals for myself and in doing that, I risk failing to achieve those goals.
The easiest way to avoid “failing”, is to simply not show up. However, unlike a lot of pursuits, racing is unique in that you have one day and one opportunity to perform. If things go south, you can’t just “try again tomorrow”, so inevitably, I face the fear of failing, I step up to the line, my heart racing and I wait for the gun to go off.
The funny thing about this pressure is that it is entirely self-imposed. No one depends on me achieving my goals, it has no social utility, it is entirely me facing my ego and I have a GIANT ego.
Three weeks ago, I raced the Canadian Mountain Running Championships and had an epic failure. Despite being fit and ready to go, I simply could not perform to the standards that I expect of myself.
Through training and prepping, I usually have a good idea of how a race is going to go, so I generally don’t have unreasonable expectations. Rather, I set goals that will challenge me, but if I am able to express my fitness, then they should be achievable.
It is hard to set outcome specific goals, rather, especially with long races, I choose to establish process goals. How will I manage the inevitable rough patches, I take care of nutrition, pacing…all things that I can control. I cannot control other racers performances, so why worry about them? If I have trained hard, controlled what I can control and race hard and they beat me, well I can live with that.
However in Canmore I was disappointed, because I felt that I let myself down. I raced as hard as I could, but I did not rest enough going in and simply felt flat and I got an ass whooping. Although my ego doesn’t like it, it happens and I was left to lick my wounds.
So last weekend, as I was driving up to Whistler to race the 25k Comfortably Numb trail race, I was extra nervous. Would I fail again? Have I lost the edge, the will to push myself? The athlete psyche is a fragile thing.
So I spent the day and hours before the start talking myself off of the ledge, reminding myself that I was in fact fit, that I am a good runner and that I love suffering in beautiful surroundings.
I still had apprehensions as the time ticked away before the race. I did my usual hundreds of visits to the woods to water the plants (I pee a lot) , I jogged easily and then did some faster strides. I eyed the competition and sipped from my drink, but mostly, I tried to internalize my emotions. I played through the cues and words that I would say to myself to get me through the race. It is good to be kind to yourself when you are asking so much from your body. I also remind myself that it is good that I am nervous. It shows that I care.
I was still fragile from my ass whopping, however, when the gun went off and I took my first few steps, my fears seemed to disappear and instead I smiled. I F*$*ING love this. I was able to dance my way along the trail, taking in the scenery, but mostly focusing on my next foot strike and how I would have to change my stride as the terrain changed. It was a little under 2 hours of pure meditation.
I had some lows, but I accepted them and talked my way through them and kept on my way. I ran by myself for the entire race, ghost racing other competitors, but mostly challenging my own goals.
After rhythmically running switchbacks on single track, and running up and over climbs, the trail opened up and I made my way across the finish line, my ego fed.*I know he secretly wants me to point out that he won (DOMINATED) the race :)