Monday, May 2, 2016

I'm a wus (and might like it that way)

For days before the race, I dreamed about an epic performance. With surgery looming in a few days to have a tumor removed, I wanted to battle the challenging course with all I had as it led me up, over, around, and down the mountains. I wanted to collapse across the line totally spent, exhausted, hauled away from the finish line fray by concerned onlookers. Then, I wanted my legs to be so trashed from the extreme effort that it would force me to limp my way into the hospital, embracing a great anesthesia-induced sleep. It just seemed to be the right approach under the circumstances. Perhaps a bit melodramatic, but the way it should be.

Pre-race fun
So why was I smiling when I crossed the line? Why was I not hurting badly on the final four-mile descent, despite a respectable pace? And now, why am I able to stand from a seated position without difficulty or use of my hands? Why am I able to do stairs without grimacing? Why, oh, why?

One possible answer to the question is that I went into the race finely trained and conditioned. Hence, no incapacitating soreness in the aftermath. While it is true that I put in a number of long runs in the weeks prior (and I have lots of pictures to prove it), I didn't particularly leave a blazoned path behind me. We Shindigglers (or sometimes just me) stopped to enjoy overlooks and photo-ops. We always relished being done with the run but seldom dealt with the consequence of pushing hard and strong throughout. So nah, conditioned protection from relentless pounding is probably not plausible.

Another possibility is that I ran a tactically perfect race, monitoring my body and responding to it with calculated precision. Indeed, I ran when I was supposed to run. I hiked when my heart rate and breathing jacked too high. I doubled up on electrolytes when calves quivered or a hamstring felt tight. I anticipated caloric needs dependent on the section coming up next. I was intentionally mindful of posture on the relentless climbs to avoid lower back issues. My mind was a constant whirl of assessment/response microcycles. Indeed, I ran a smart race based on well over twenty years of experience. I suspect these things contributed to an uneventful "recovery." However, it's not the complete story.

For much of the day, I was alone, seldom having opportunity to speak with fellow competitors. I loved the solitude, preferring the sweet songs of birds that filtered through the mist to human chatter.  With plenty of time to think as I rolled along, I recalled more frantic years of racing. Those years were fraught with angst about who was in front and who was behind me. It was push, push, push. The pressure to be in the hunt was palpable with every heart beat. I had expectations for myself. Others had expectations for me. My identity was bound to a position and measured time. And that, dear friends, spells P.R.E.S.S.U.R.E; a pressure that seeps into life's every nook and cranny.

I kept telling myself that I must do my best. But had the definition of "best" changed for me? I don't feel I slacked off into a lollygagging world. I ran appropriately in each section, especially for the last twenty miles. My mind drifted to my Shindiggling girls who were in front of me. I thought about a few ladies in my age group who were also out in front. (I would find out Martha, another trailrunning grandma, had adopted my Shindigglers over the miles.) Anyway, I knew I was moving well since I passed quite a few runners and rarely got passed back. My desire to be striving and steady remained strong knowing I might be able to sneak up on one of those gals. Still, I felt no do-or-die compulsion to run anyone down.

Rebekah, Abby and Kendal, Martha Wright
Yes, I got tired coming up Apple Orchard Falls. Yes, running across the parkway felt difficult after all that hiking up the miles-long steep grade. Yet I forced myself to get the job done; I finished strong. The miles of gravel road leading to the finish rushed by quickly. I was strong and in control without a lot of pain. I finished a couple minutes under 7:30, the time I thought was doable this year. Though I never caught the girls or age-group competitors, I didn't really care. I started. I finished. I was glad to be in the mountains. I was no worse for wear. Is that so bad?

I think I may be have fallen into a self-inflicted state of "wus-endom". It's not an evil state to be in. It's just very different than where I lived for many, many years. I've lost- or perhaps, surrendered- my "come hell or high water" competitiveness, at least in this season of life. Rather, I am content to face challenges on my own terms; do my best for the day and enjoy the journey.

I'm not saying I'll never be a focused competitor again. (The new age group of 60+ is right around the corner and with it may come new goals.) I know the courage it takes to run on the brink of disaster and failure. I've been there and done that. It certainly has its rewards and being at the top of your game can be a worthy undertaking. But I have to admit, being a contented, laid-back wus is a lot less stressful and a whole lot more pleasurable nowadays. So on April 30, 2016 at the Promise Land 50K, I embraced my wussiness.

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