Days like today are needed. Running provides more than just fitness and competition.
Motivation for running has been low this week. My mind has been on other concerns. Things I cannot control. Challenges and worry many of us face. A good run can help get those thoughts on track. The right kind of run can also remind you about great things in life. Today provided one of those runs.
My playlist spun out some tunes on the drive down. Gradually my mind absorbed the music and began to feel some relaxed readiness.
The race has such a low key feel. I arrived extra early as usual. This gave the opportunity to explore the top section of the course. The ground was so dry it was like concrete. A far cry from a muddy cross country. It would still provide it’s own challenges.
Eventually I started something resembling a run to warm up. It was probably the most easy going warm up I’ve ever done.
There was once a time when I hardly spoke to others before the race. It wasn’t deliberate. It was a byproduct of what I thought I had to do to become focussed. To reduce the nervous feeling. To be at my best. That has changed. I smiled to myself as I realised I was so comfortable socialising before race start.
A bit of spraypaint between two witches hats marked the start. My foot pressed in on the dry grass behind the paint. I looked up at the small rise we were about to run over. Heard the call “On your marks…”
Pressed start on my watch.
That rise felt hard.
It shouldn’t feel hard. Why did it feel hard?
I’m in 4th place and the three in front look too comfortable. My mind flicks back through the previous week of running. At the start the of the week I procastinated and gave opportunity away to the unexpected. I missed some training. Delayed my key run. That key run went well. I nailed all the intervals. Now I’m thinking I did it too close to the race. The legs haven’t had time to recover.
Only 200m into the race. Why am I thinking all this? It certainly isn’t going to help.
Now heading down hill. I know I’m good at using gravity, but I’m not feeling the flow. Thinking is getting in the way.
Bringing my mind in on my breathing. The single point focus happened quickly. Using the mindfulness I’ve been practising do it’s thing. It was only four or five breaths and I broke the cascade of negative thoughts. It was a reset.
Thinking was overrrated. My body knew what to do. It had practiced it. Time to give it the freedom to get on with it.
The pace didn’t change. It didn’t feel so hard anymore. No clock watching. Instead I ran at what felt right. Comfortable in the uncomfortable.
Third place became my new position. The field spread out behind me, while the 2 up front still looked comfortable out there. Already 26 seconds ahead at the 2.5km turnaround. My mind was clear enough to allow some simple productive thought. I made to the decision to free myself from tactics. They were only going to get in the way. My best shot was to try to run the course as fast as possible. Basically continue doing what I was doing.
Just before 4km the hills start. Going up still isn’t my best point, but I have been working on it. I’ve improved my speed going up, but it now comes at a cost that I can’t pay back within a 10km race. So I approach the climb more like an ultra runner. Upping the cadence, keeping the stride relatively short and reducing the toe off I made my way up. My pace was a result of leg turnover and not from any power in my stride. It worked better than I anticipated. On this hill I moved up into 2nd place over all.
Briefly down, up again and down over the spray painted line. That’s the first 5km complete.
A low grade burn was building throughout every part of my legs. The welcoming relief of dropping back into an easy jog touted a sales pitch. Luckily I was distracted with chasing down the remaining runner. Not that I closed down the gap since the turnaround. Let’s see what that gap is second time through.
My intensity was up. More effort was put into lowering my mental load. I lost myself for a moment in the irony of the concept. Which was also counterproductive. Breath in…
…breath out… back on track. Luckily my body was mostly on autopilot. It was doing what it was supposed despite my brain.
At the turnaround again.
No gain and no loss on 1st place.
A different runner was gunning for me from behind. He gave me the familiar competitive look. I love racing. This moment pushed the away my negative thinking. I was again back in the moment. Back to feeling the mix of intensity and movement.
Along the path, back to the hills. My body didn’t slow. Running became physically harder. I was at the limit of my fitness. My lungs felt like they wanted to leap out of me to catch a break. The contents of my stomach considered following the lungs. It wasn’t enough to take the out right win. But it was more than enough for 2nd overall and 1st in my age group (40-44 male).
Flicking through my GPS data showed I managed to negative split the race. Gaining 1-3 seconds in achieving kilometre on the second lap. That’s something I don’t usually do in 10km.
This race more than just a simple cross country. It’s the people who make it.