Confession: I don’t know what to do now that my goal race is over.
My goal race, the GoodLife Half Marathon, is over. After months of training, I can’t believe I can finally say that. I could tell you every detail of my race: how I thought I was on pace, then I wasn’t, how I stopped at one water station or how I don’t really remember the race between 10 and 15K. Instead, I’d like to talk about what a “goal race” meant at the end of my four months of training.
This was the first time I realized that there’s a difference between a running a race and racing one. Leading up to the race, friends and family kept saying “you’ll be fine!” whenever I said how nervous I was. What dawned on me was that for the first time, for the entire race, I would be fighting to run as fast as I could.
Before I signed up to run with the Adaptive Running Academy (back when I described myself as a “middle of the pack runner”) I assumed that when I toed the start line I’d be able to comfortably run a faster half-marathon because I’d be properly trained. Of course, that’s not the race I decided to run. While I could have run a 1:40 half and high-fived spectators, I chose to push hard for the entire 21.1K.
Did I enjoy the race? Confession: Not really.
At eight kilometres in, I was hit with a staggering stitch and I had to stop and walk for about a minute, but other than that, I felt like my training was on point and I ran the best race I could. Why then was it not enjoyable? I still don’t know.
I crossed the finish line in 1:36:37– a full ten minutes faster than my PB before working with my coach. I came ninth in my age category and I was the 27th woman overall. It’s an incredible achievement for me on many levels – those are certainly not numbers I thought I’d ever see. The thing I’m most proud of, however, is the five times a week I ran from January 1 to April 30. These include those 6 a.m. runs when it was -25 outside; the evening hill repeats at breakneck pace when I wanted to throw in the towel; and the early bedtimes night after night when I would rather have been out with friends.
That “finish line feeling” didn’t come on race day. I realize it came during training. I felt it when a small group of us ran through one of the winter’s worst snowstorms, we took a detour to run along the boardwalk as the waves crashed in through the dark. I felt it when I did speed work with my fellow teammates matching me stride for stride. We were pushing each other to do our best. I felt it when I was sprinting around Woodbine Park and the sun was setting behind the CN Tower on one of the first warm days of the spring.
We can’t choose when running will reward us. If we work for months and put all the pressure on one event to prove our worth, we may be disappointed.
At our carb-o-loading brunch the day before race day, a fellow runner reminded me that it was about the journey. “Don’t think of it as a final exam,” she urged, “It’s a graduation party.” When I crossed the finish line and I didn’t actually cry. I expected to feel a wave of relief, pride, joy, and accomplishment crossing the finish line. I simply felt tired. Physically, my body was near-broken from running as fast as I could for over 90 minutes. Mentally, I was tired of keeping running in mind every time I made a decision over these past few months. I was relieved to know that for now, I would be able to get a chance to just relax.
I’m a different person after my training. I am extremely grateful to my coach and my teammates for being genuinely invested in my improvement as a runner. I would recommend working with a coach to anyone – I was able to accomplish things I didn’t think were possible. I had so much fun, I met new people and I realized that I can be extremely disciplined if I put my mind to it.
So am I still a middle-of-the-pack runner? It appears that I am not. But here’s a confession: I can’t wait to run a slower race. On June 25th, I’m pacing the new Waterfront 10K race in Toronto at about 15 minutes slower than I would normally run 10K. I’m looking forward to enjoying the race by chatting with runners and helping them accomplish their goals. I’ll high-five spectators, smile and remember that I’m lucky to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.