A little bit of perspective goes a long way
After dragging my feet for more than a month to publish my second blog post last Saturday, I challenged myself: publish blog #3 in less than a week! I’ve quickly learned that the hardest part of blogging is not the writing of the content, but rather finding the inspiration behind the content. As luck would have it, by mid-morning Sunday I had stumbled upon my inspiration. Apparently, if you routinely place yourself in interesting situations, compelling content is bound to arise. Who woulda thunk it!
On Sunday I decided to participate in Inside Trail’s Woodside Crossover 35k. You see, I occasionally (almost always) have a hard time getting motivated to start my runs. On a typical day I wake up at a reasonable hour, fire up some oatmeal and coffee, and then snuggle back under my covers with my laptop for a couple of hours. One round of coffee turns into two or three and oatmeal escalates to almond buttered toast or choc chip pancakes. And those extra carbs take time to digest, which means more laptop time, early-onset-Strava-jealousy when you start seeing uploads from completed long runs (it’s a real condition, I swear!), and further delays to your own run start. Registering for low-key races gets me out the door, adds purpose to the day, and provides an opportunity to rehearse racing (shameless plug for my last blog post on this very topic). Sunday’s race became much more.
Following my own advice, I remained disciplined in my meals the day before, left my house in the morning with plenty of time to spare, and conducted a thorough warm-up in the hour leading up to the gun. My plan for the day: run hard but under control, knowing that a key 50-mile race was just 6 days away (Lake Sonoma, baby!). And for 16 of the 20 miles, I followed the plan precisely. I reached the final aid station of the day almost 15 minutes ahead of course record pace with four easy downhill miles remaining. But then something went wrong. TERRIBLY wrong.
Skyline Aid Station is the Shibuya Crossing of trail racing. Runners competing in three race distances all met at this critical juncture to head out in five different directions. Given the chaos anticipated at this perfect storm of race routes, one of the race organizers, Will, was manning this aid station to direct runners. As I eclipsed the final climb of the day and filled up on Oreos and electrolytes, Will instructed me to follow the purple ribbons. A bit skeptical (I remembered something about following yellow ribbons?), I heeded his advice and chased after purple. I eventually corrected myself as I found the yellow ribbons once again (I confirmed with another volunteer that purple was in fact for the 50k), but this was the wrong yellow — and I rapidly descended to the finish line…a mile or two ahead of schedule.
Realizing I had made a huge mistake, I was left with a couple of options:
- Stop for the day. Accept the DNF (Did Not Finish). And move on.
- Get angry. Huff and puff. And cause a scene. (easily combined with #1)
- Compose myself. Grab a slice of pumpkin pie. And re-trace my steps to finish the race.
At any point during or after the race I could’ve regressed to #2 and gotten angry. Angry at myself for not studying the map more closely. Angry at Will for leading me astray. Angry at the way my thighs clapped against each other as I summited each climb. But where would that have gotten me?
Instead, I took a step back.
I have close friends dealing with legitimate problems at the moment—the loss of a loved one, a battle with a serious illness, a gambling addiction. Am I really in a position to be complaining when my hardest problems are missing out on free shoes and dealing with long free sample lines at a congested Sunday afternoon Costco?
The worst part of this experience? While I was deliberating over my options at the finish line, one of my chief concerns was the reaction I would get from others over my poor performance. I had this dream of compiling a long string of race victories to tell an epic story (a la “Mocko, so hot right now. Mocko.”) and winning this race, albeit low-profile, was part of that tale. And worse than the fear of the reaction from my peers, I questioned the impact it would have on my trail ranking. My trail ranking! There are a number of sites (including this one) that utilize a fairly arbitrary algorithm to assign points to race performances in order to rank athletes. And much like a lesser Kardashian sister, they don’t matter. Nor provide any utility to society. And yet here I was, caring about a frivolous metric that I’ve openly mocked. And that’s when I had my epiphany, my Aha! moment — Who. F-ing. Cares.
For the final six rather painful, unplanned miles I channeled my inner-Fred Armisen as I repeated his mantra from SNL: “So what? Who cares?” And before I knew it, I exuberantly crossed the finish (for the 2nd time) and proudly collected my finisher’s medal that I couldn’t accept the first go-around.
This particular race — doesn’t matter. My Saab-performance Mountain Ultra Trail Ranking™ — so what? The third slice of pizza I just devoured while writing this blog — who cares? What does matter: enjoying the sport that I love, finishing what I started, and having an appropriate perspective on the situation. I could’ve given in to pride, laziness, fatigue, glamour stats, or the finish line cinnamon rolls. But I didn’t. And I’m much stronger for it. 💪🏼