I ran my first 5 km race of the season yesterday. Much later than I had originally planned. And, I have to say, I didn’t really enjoy it.
A grade 1 calf strain (so nothing too serious) in March and again in April set me back from running 10-15 km pretty easily to struggling to complete 3 km. Suddenly, it’s June, and I haven’t run much at all for two months; now running 2.5 km is an accomplishment – never mind that it’s super slow.
For the next 6 weeks, I slowly built up time and distance to the point where I could run 10 km again without pain or worry about retweaking things. But I wasn’t moving very quickly – the word glacial comes to mind. Earlier this week was the first time I actually tried a tempo run – if glaciers can do that sort of thing.
Just to be clear – I’m not suggesting that I was a particularly fast 5 km runner prior to this injury. It’s just that, prior to last year (with a few fun run exceptions), 100 and 200 metre races were more my thing. So, 5 km was – and still is – a long way for me. So, not surprising, I’m probably a better 5 km runner than a 10 km runner. And marathons? Well, they just seem out of the question to me. And 100 km races leave me exhausted just thinking about them.
But I digress…
Yesterday, prior to the race, I found myself feeling somewhat nervous. Not that that in itself is unusual for me or lots of other people, but this race – at Hardwood Ski and Bike – is a pretty relaxed, fun and social event. And, as a participant in the oldest age category, the stakes weren’t exactly high. What with the 30 degree temperatures, objectively I figured if we old guys just managed to finish without suffering some kind of cardiac distress, that was probably success. However, having won a number of the races for my age category in this same series last year, I was anxious, wondering just how well I would do and whether another year, a physical setback and unknown competition would leave me embarrassingly way behind.
During the race, I found my anxiety increasing – “Wow; I shouldn’t’ be so winded after that incline,” “Have I only gone 2 km?” “That person ahead is just widening the gap”, and so on.
In short, I was not enjoying the experience as much as I would have liked, and not as much as I should have. At the end of the race, in addition to feeling really hot, I was frustrated because my time was not as fast as I would have liked – even though I didn’t have the right to have any preconceived expectations given that I haven’t really done any race training.
After the race, I was speaking with a woman who did well in her category but who was saying her best race performance recently was one in which she had zero expectations because she was so busy helping get other people ready for the race (in this case, students under her charge).
Earlier that day, I had been listening to the fascinating story of Desiree Linden’s 2018 Boston Marathon win as she recounted her mental – and ultimately physical – progression during the race from thinking she was going to drop out (and therefore offering to help fellow American runners in the race) to being in the lead and ultimately winning.
Linden’s experience, like that of the woman yesterday telling me how she has done better when she’s been too busy getting everyone else ready to worry about herself, really got me thinking about how our own expectations can mess with our heads. How, by focusing too much on the desired result, we can lose sight of the moment, particularly the enjoyment of being in that moment.
In Sue’s yoga class, she often reminds her students that, “When one of us moves forward (with a particular posture, for example), we all move forward.” So, I wondered, if we purposefully apply this mantra, can it help make us better runners? If we worry less about our own success and focus more on the improvement or enjoyment of others (as well as our own enjoyment), does this alter our actual physical performance?
A question possibly worthy of more time and consideration. On the trails, of course.