In just over two weeks, I’m running my first race of 2017, the Canyonlands Half Marathon! This race also checks a couple more of the “first” boxes: it’s my first race as a 30-something and, therefore, my first race in a new age group, and it’s also my first race in over 5 months, which is by far the longest I’ve gone without running a race in my 3 years as a runner.
As most of you know, I haven’t been “training” for this race, just trying to stay in good enough shape that I can complete it without falling apart. Since this race comes at the end of a vacation full of hiking, and will be run at a higher elevation, it wouldn’t have made a good “goal race” anyway. While it still feels a little strange to go into a distance race not having “trained” for it, having this on the calendar has motivated me to stick with my base building and not totally poop out on my fitness this winter. I’ve still been a slacker about running, honestly, but I’ve done enough to feel fine about running 13.1 miles.
I’m feeling excited going into this race. I’m not used to going this long without racing, and I’m feeling ready to get back onto a staring line again. While I’ve made great strides (hehe) these past couple months in learning to enjoy running again, I do hope that being back in the race environment and experiencing that “finish line high” again will help reinvigorate my passion for racing and running.
It also helps that for the first time in a long time, I’m not going into this race feeling like I have something to prove or feeling like “I’ve been training hard so I better be able to run X:XX or I’m a failure and this training has been a total waste.” I’m fit enough to run a half marathon but not to race one. That takes a lot of pressure off me to “perform” well, even if that means I don’t get to experience some of the adrenaline and excitement that comes from the possibility of a shiny new PR.
You hear about so many runners “surprising” themselves in races that they are undertrained for, and I’d be lying if I said part of me doesn’t hope that will be the case at Canyonlands. But I’ve also been working really hard at shifting my mindset away from “the race is all about the finish time I get“, and toward “the race is about going out and accomplishing something.” I have to confess that I never actually believed that “just finishing is an accomplishment!!”, at least not if you’re already an avid and experienced runner. At best, I thought it was a little cliche. But in this new post-break chapter I’m really beginning to see the grains of truth in it. You’re making a decision to go out there and do something hard when you easily could have just slept in and stayed home. And make no mistake: running a distance race, and having it actually go really well, is hard. I’ve run enough underwhelming half marathons in my day to know this.
More importantly, I am looking for some form of closure and affirmation in this race. I’ve struggled with a lot of doubt these past couple months. My fitness was a lot slower to come back than I thought it would be, and it made me increasingly frustrated and scared, especially as I saw people who would come back from time off and jump right back into their old paces. Granted, I haven’t been training anywhere near my old levels, but I still can’t help but wonder if my mojo is gone permanently and I’m just not good at running anymore. I have had a string of confidence-boosting long runs lately, but I think a well-run race is exactly what I need to start putting these doubts to bed. Even though I will get a slower finish time than I’m used to, knowing that I am still capable of running a strong, smart, intuitive race will provide a huge boost in confidence and morale for me.
So, my only goals for this race are as follows: 1) start slow and finish
fast strong; and 2) have fun and enjoy it. For this 2nd goal, I’m trying to remind myself: you don’t have to be here, you want to be here – so what’s the point if it’s not fun?
That reminder is actually a great segue way into my next point, which is that I’m really happy that I’m starting to get excited about races again. In my first couple years as a runner, I loved races. But when I became burnt out last spring during and after marathon training, I really began to dislike and even dread races. I would show up and feel no starting line adrenaline, and I could never make myself run faster than my training paces. I just wanted it to be over. Showing up on race morning felt like just as much of a chore as getting out the door for a boring easy run, which is a damn shame since I was paying money to be there.
That’s why it means a lot to me that I’m actually looking forward to a race again. In fact, my race love has come back enough that I signed up for another half marathon! I couldn’t resist pulling the trigger on the South Shore Half Marathon on April 1, the small local race that I have run the last two years.
I originally was going to pass this year because, with two half marathons two weeks apart, I was afraid of getting race burnout again. But South Shore just makes it too easy. It’s only $13.00 to sign up (a dollar per mile – so cheap!); it’s 1.5 miles from my apartment (I can run there as a warm up and not worry about parking!); it’s on the trails I do my long runs on (course familiarity FTW!); it’s put on by the local running club (#supportlocal!); and the post race party has great snacks and craft beer (…does that one need a qualifier?).
I can’t neglect to mention that part of my affinity for this race undoubtedly comes from the fact that I have PR’d both times I’ve run it. Obviously, that streak will come to an end this year. But I think it says a lot that I’m still excited to run it even though I will not be crossing the finish line with a personal best time this year.
While of course I wish I could run fast times again (what runner doesn’t??), I can honestly say that I’m just so happy that my race love has come back, that my running love has come back, and that after several months of trail and error and changing course, I have finally won the battle against burn out and am learning to enjoy running on my own terms.