At the line of every race, my finger hovering over my Garmin, there is a moment of utter terror. It flashes quick like lightning, and the well-trained mind chooses to translate the adrenaline into excitement. Still, that moment of terror is there. For a moment I think about all the miles ahead and how my body will start to feel toward the end if I really push. As I step to the front, I wonder if this will be the race where I gamble and come up short of my goals. Those races are out there, and I know it. The Billy Mills in June, even though I placed, showed me this. My race was not what it should have been. Those races are out there, and every time I race, I risk dealing with setback, even failure. I have a moment before every race when I wonder why I put myself through that pressure, why I am asking myself to train hard for months to reach the next goal and then test that work, publicly to an extent, by laying it on the line.

Why do it?

The process generates meaning. Running, for me, is not about perfection; in fact, I don’t know if I ever will have a “perfect” run or if such a run can exist. The sport is one of constant improvement and growth, with ever-changing personal targets. No matter what I do in a race, there’s always Monday morning. It is work that can never be finished. There’s no resting on laurels, no absolute standard to reach and then quit. To be a runner is to embrace the growth mindset as a way of life.  It is to look constantly at my strengths and weaknesses equally, to acknowledge them both as having transformative power—the shortcomings perhaps moreso.

To race is to put everything I am out on the course and to feel it all: elation, fatigue, joy, struggle, conviction, fear, determination, and even humor. The runner’s mind is so wonderfully receptive to being able to entertain so many emotions at once while selecting those that will be most productive for the moment.

IMG_4793

Starting line this morning at the Disney 10K in Anaheim

Several months ago, part of Team Matics & McGaugh decided to race during Disney’s half-marathon weekend. My sis-in-love Ashley did the 5K yesterday morning, and my brother and I ran the 10K today. The race began at 5:30 AM so that all could finish before the opening of the park at 8:00. I was up at 3:00 AM to get ready, eat my Superfood Slam, and catch a shuttle (Bill, the kids, and I stayed nearby but offsite), and use the port-o-lets. Officials let us into the corrals at about 4:45 AM, and I strode a bit, decided my legs felt good, and then put my mind in its zone. Time passes fairly quickly in the zone. I had my camera/phone this time so Bill could track me from the hotel room. I wore my racing flats, a first in a race. Lately I have been racing (and training, mostly) without music.

IMG_4743

After picking Katie up from her first day at school (she takes a full day now on Fridays, blog to come), we headed down to the Disney Hotel for packet pick-up and the expo. Clif Bar sampling buffet? Oh yeah! We wandered the expo together and had dinner in Downtown Disney.

IMG_4750

 

Watching the animatronics at the Rainforest Cafe during dinner

 

IMG_4758

 

I am not usually a runner who advocates eating whatever we want, and I fully subscribe to eating clean to train clean, but you know what? We were at Disneyland, we had to be awake before 4AM, and we split this dessert six ways. So we splurged on the sugar and fat this time, and it was delicious. It came out of the kitchen with the waitress bellowing out, “VOLCANO!!!!” Last night we enjoyed ourselves.

IMG_4767

Gear laid out and ready to go last night

By the time we got to our room, bathed the kiddos, and settled down, it was almost 9:30 PM. I read a story, and then Katie read a story to us. Her voice was so very soothing, and I got sleepy. I drifted off, but woke up at 11:22 PM. I kept waking throughout the night, eager. I maaaaaybe got four hours of sleep. I don’t know which I am feeling more right now: the lack of sleep or lactic acid! But I always think, “Whatever. If I can have childbirth labor for hours on little sleep, I can run on little sleep!”

IMG_4795

With my brother David after our race this morning

The Disney course was uniquely magical—how could it not be? Disney does everything with such creativity and precision. I think what made me laugh inside the most was, well, you know that male voice that tells you to keep your hands and legs and hats inside  the cars of the rides? The one that announces parades and fireworks? Okay. So, about three times on the course, coming from bushes or trees, that man’s voice would caution things like, “Proceed carefully as the course narrows” or “There is a turn up ahead that crosses tracks.” It made me smile inside. Like the mirth kind of smile.

We started out headed toward the convention center and then shortly after Mile 2, we were heading into California Adventure. Cheerleaders greeted us, and I felt joy up my spine. We went through part of Cars Land, and Mater awaited us on the sidelines. I kept thinking of all the memories I have with Katie and Eric in the very places where my footsteps were falling. I felt a mixture of joy, and tears, and motivation, and magic. We crossed over to Paradise Pier, past Ariel’s Grotto. I thought of the first time we ate there, and of Ashley’s birthday there. There were multi-colored lights in the water shooting up in the dark, dark morning, and Mickey’s Fun Wheel was so beautiful. I ran along the boardwalk, and thought about holding hands with my Eric and my Kate; I thought of last June, going on Screamin’ for the first time with my girl. I thought of holding my boy and kissing his neck in the line of Mickey’s Fun Wheel. The carousel was spinning around. I think Mr. Potato Head was still talking…

We crossed around and passed The Little Mermaid ride. One of the most powerful moments for me was running in the exact location by The Little Mermaid ride where Katie lost her tooth last week. Surreal in part, but such a strong sense of connection, too. In fact, every time I think of that moment of the race, I start wanting to bawl. Part of even starting to run in the first place was to be healthy and energetic and the best I could be for my kiddos. I also think of how many amazingly happy and magical memories we have together in this place that is so consistent and enduring. Thank you, Walt Disney, thank you thank you thank you for your vision. What a gift he gave to us. I pictured this moments with my children throughout the race. I run with my body, and I run with my mind…and this morning, I felt more than ever that I was running with my heart right at the forefront.

The course then crossed by the Wilderness Camp and Soarin’ and then out past the fountain and toward Tower of Terror, I think. We popped out in a backlot. Super neat and I wish I had been able to pay more attention to these “secret” parts. As it was, a great deal of my attention was on making my lines for the course. Some of that cool behind-the-scenes stuff that wasn’t familiar to me already is somewhat lost in my memory right now. There were floats turned on and playing music at a couple of points, I know that, and at one point either then or later behind Small World, I passed a huge costuming building. Anyway, we popped out and crossed over into Disneyland and then on down Main Street toward the castle, hooking a right past the rockets. (I thought of Eric and one of his favorite rides). We came out by the Matterhorn and went around Small World, into the float area, and back out again through Toon Town, past the teacups, back out through the castle, off into Frontierland, and eventually out through a big gate by Winnie the Pooh into Downtown Disney, where we hit Mile 6 and then continued .20 until the finish.

So, how did it go?

I was the 4th woman in out of 6271 women. 1st place was 38:20, 2nd was 39:47, and 3rd was 40:15. The 3rd place woman knocked me out of position shortly after we reached the Mile 5 marker. She was on me near Mile 4, but I was able to hold her off for awhile. The 1st and 2nd place overtook me in Mile 2, and there was no hope of my catching them—this time! I fought for it with the 3rd place woman, but she was just better. “I need to work harder to be better,” is my take-away from that!

Out of 9603 runners total, male and female, I ranked 23rd. First place in division. (Technically the first place woman overall is in my division, but they have a policy of not awarding twice. I think she should get both awards, and I feel a little weird reporting my placement as “first” in my division, although that’s what the results say—I am really second in my division, I feel, but not according to runDisney). Either way, I am getting some divisional placement hardware, to be arriving by mail soon. What’s more meaningful to me, actually, is the number of runners and my relative placement. It’s a good sample size.

I had a trio of new PRs, too, which is more important to me than all of that. A new 5K (3.1 miles) PR at 19:46. New 10K (6.2 miles) PR at 40:31 (Garmin and what the chip tracker on my bib indicated or 40:32 as what was recorded for some reason online). New overall pace PR of 6:29/mile. I wanted to go 6:30/mile or better, and I just squeaked it in! Granted, this was fairly flat, right? But all of my data lately has been suggesting that overall I am gaining speed.

As I ran I conducted “system checks.” A new discovery? My breathing has become so much more efficient and better with all of the swimming. My lungs felt larger this morning. Mentally, I was able to draw on the swimming, too, to give myself confidence that my lungs could keep sustaining the pace: “You swim 100 laps for an hour gulping and gulping air while plunging your face in water; I think your lungs can last 40 minutes here, Sarah. Get going.”

Fatigue did creep in shortly after Mile 5. You know it is happening because you starting getting thoughts in your mind that you want to stop. It’s just the body breaking down a bit, but fighting that thought is so important. I have learned through interval work how to identify that tired thought, compartmentalize it, and then use my mind to override/banish it and turn the screw harder. In fact, it is that thought of wanting to stop that becomes my cue at this point to demand more of myself. Still, my body was starting to break down, and I could feel some acid creep. I was really trying to catch the 3rd place woman and flirted with the bear. I became aware of spending big energy but getting little gain in speed in return. Still, I ended with a big push and strong. The 3rd place woman and I greeted each other after the finish with great respect; the sportsmanship in running really touches me immensely. There is such a respect there, because we all know what it means to fight deep, deep inside for our best work. Yes, we might be racing each other a bit, but we know also that we are really racing ourselves. There would be no way to sustain the daily training if running were exclusively about beating other people. It’s ourselves we seek to master.

IMG_4792

Ashley was out there with us early, holding waters, and cheering us on. So thankful for her.

IMG_4756

And this guy. Oh, Bill. Thank you for your knowledge and planning and coaching which has made me into a better runner. This man right here takes care of me completely and is a better caretaker of my training than I could ever be. He is forever weighing my desire to train hard with a love for me that doesn’t want me to get sustain injury. He has to read me as an athlete but know me as a wife and best friend. His planning has given me speed. With him, I am accomplishing my goals, and this is a part of our journey together that I never would have expected. We are healthy together, and we are creating a world for our children in which we hope they, too, will see that hard work makes most things possible.

IMG_4803

And finally, I never forget where I started: barely able to run a single mile, or breathe while doing it, 60 pounds overweight. It’s never too late to be what we hope to be. It’s always possible to learn, and to improve oneself. Aim big and never sell yourself short. We can do it if we’re willing to work, experience setbacks, and work some more. Doing only the things we are good at initially never gets us anywhere. Why not start at square zero? There is no shame in it. I think what I have discovered is how powerful life can truly be when we make our habits about improvement and not perfection. If we’re not good at something, or perfect at something, so what? Let’s celebrate because there, right there, is the potential for hard work and growth. Isn’t that why we are alive?

Watching the sun rise at Disneyland today was pretty cool, too.

Advertisements