Monday is the infamous Cotton Row Run 10K. It will be my SEVENTH time to participate in this race. It is a thorn in my side. But we learn from our thorns.
Take a stroll down memory lane with me.
Year one, 2010. I had started "running" in January that year. Well...I started walking every other day for 30 minutes, and worked my way up. In less than SIX months I finished a 10K!! Looking back, that is freaking AMAZING!! At the time I wasn't thrilled. I had gotten injured because I wasn't a runner and ramped up my time/distance way too fast. I thought I might have a stress fracture and had an MRI like the week before this race. And yet, I still ran it. I finished in ...it doesn't even matter what my time was, I FINISHED a 10K and I hadn't even been running for six months! I learned to persevere through difficulty. (There were many other lessons that I didn't learn...)
Year two, 2011. I had been running for about 18 months. I had started swimming and riding a bike and had completed two triathlons by that point. I was feeling pretty good about where I was physically. My goal was to break an hour but ultimately I wanted to run my own race and do my best. I went BARELY over an hour but I finished that race feeling good about how I had run. Ironically a friend was at the finish line and caught the EXACT moment in time I realized I missed my goal by 24 seconds... I was disappointed about not making my goal, but I didn't dwell on it in the moment. I had raced the nag in my head and I had won. Well...until a few days after the race when that nag caught up to me... That year I learned you can run from that which chases you, but you can't run from that which is inside of you! (I'm still learning that one.)
Year three, 2012. I went into the race secretly hoping I would finally break an hour. I didn't train for that goal. I didn't have a plan to meet that goal. I just had a secret expectation. One that didn't match, or meet, reality. I did have a plan on how I would run the race (keeping my heart rate below 170). I ran that plan and got the result that matched the reality of what that plan would bring. But when I didn't reach my secret goal, I was disappointed. I realized if I was going to have any hope of breaking an hour I better train and I better have a plan. I threw down the gauntlet. I said 2013 would be my year to break an hour. Period. End of story. This was the year I learned about setting goals and managing my expectations to match reality.
Year four, 2013. I had set the goal in 2012 saying "Next year I will have a plan for how I want to RACE this event! I know the course, I know how I run it. I will prepare and I will blow my time out of the water. Mark my words." I went into this fourth year with a plan on how I would run the race. I had trained (some, although not as much as I had wanted because my shoulder had been injured since the previous fall). I had my goal FIRMLY in mind. And...I did it! I FINALLY broke an hour (57:43). I learned how to balance my expectations with reality and how to push reality to meet my goal.
Year five, 2014. This is the year I got summarily schooled by a dear friend who (whom?) I have "adopted" as my brother. In January of that year I had shoulder surgery. I had been going to PT and had JUST started running again when this race rolled around. My coach had told me it was to be a training run ONLY, since there was NO way I was ready to attempt to break an hour. I listened with one ear, and I ran the race as planned. I got the result I was ready for and the one I expected....I finished. 2nd worst finish time ever for me. I wrote up my recap saying it was "decent". My brother let me have it. (You should click on that link and read it...it's good.) He reminded me "I would never tell anyone who had given an effort they were "decent". (And to be clear--anyone who starts a race gives an effort...anyone who starts to train for a race gives an effort...anyone who gets off the couch gives an effort---it's all relative, but it's all en effort!!)" Boy did I need to re-read that post today. Year five was all about remembering the big picture. I FREAKING ROCKED THAT RACE!! I was less than FIVE months out from shoulder surgery and I RAN A 10K!!! Holy cow! What was I thinking to say that was decent??!! Are you kidding me!? If I could slap that girl, I would.
That was the year I began to learn to honor my body and to began to learn how to be happy with the outcome my body was able to give me. Yeah...I'm still learning that one too.
Year six, 2015. I don't have a recap of this one. I wasn't writing much then. I had been struggling with my shoulder (still) and had been doing some PT trying to get ready for a 2.4 mile swim (in preparation for my second IRONMAN). The plan was to run with Dwayne, who was going to push me to a PR. This would be my first time running this race WITH my husband. Every other year he was my biggest fan. He followed me around the course and cheered for me and smiled at me when I needed it the most. This year we would run it together. But he woke up VERY SICK. Then we got to the race and found out a tree had fallen on the course so the start had to be delayed about an hour. He just felt worse and worse. But he ran anyway...until he had to walk. We did a walk run the whole time, holding hands along the way.
...OH...there was one thing that was almost as wonderful as running with my husband. I RAN THE WHOLE HILL!! Mountainwood isn't very long, but it's steep. Although I've run it in training, I had never run it in the race. Since we were doing a walk run almost from the very start, I got to that point feeling good. So I ran up the whole time!! But even that pales in comparison to the feeling of being with Dwayne the whole race. I was thrilled to find out a friend snapped this picture of us.
Best. Race. Ever.
I have no idea what my finish time was. I could look but it doesn't matter. This was the year I learned there's more to life than running races, goals, expectations and finish times.
I have a goal (finish the distance). I have a plan (walk run by HR and honor what my body and mind are willing to give me in the moment). In order to make that goal I will have to persevere through difficulty. I am managing my expectations and they match reality. I will NOT be running this race with the nag in my head and I will not be running with Dwayne by my side or as my cheerleader. (Dwayne is planning to race it.) I do have a back up plan in case my body (or mind) just won't give me what I think I want but I won't give up my goal or my plan just because it's hard.
Tomorrow, I am running this race for everyone who thinks they can't and for everyone who really isn't able. There will come a day when I am not able to run a 10K. The reality is tomorrow might be that day. But that's not my plan and that's not my expectation.