Some mornings, when I find myself putzing around, it’s because I’m not really sure what I want to write about, so it’s hard to get started.
This morning, I found myself putzing around, and realized it’s because I know exactly what I want to write about but anticipate it being hard. But the hard is exactly why I feel called to write. I suppose, to be more accurate, it’s the sharing part that’s hard. The putting it out there, admitting perceived weakness, judgment. But this blog is all about facing those fears and usually having my perceptions proven wrong.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my relationship with running and racing. Without realizing it, I gave myself a little test on Sunday with a team cross-country race right here in my running backyard in Golden Gate Park.
I told myself I wanted to do a few cross-country races this fall as a “fun” way of getting back into racing. Pace isn’t important, so it’s just about a hard effort and passing people; about enjoying the team camaraderie. There are ridiculous hills over ridiculous terrain, usually beautiful, and we end up covered in mud or dust and a raw connection to the sport.
I woke up on Sunday with an intense feeling that I absolutely did not want to race. I tossed and turned after my alarm went off. A dodgy stomach wasn’t helping, but it was more than that. It was the realization that doing the race would not put me in the place I’d rather be than anywhere else.
But I got up, I got myself to the toilet, I nibbled some banana bread. I laced up my shoes and ran the 1.5 miles from my home to the starting line. I thought that my spirits would lift as I met my teammates and got swept up in the pre-race excitement.
Instead, I only felt worse. I was surrounded by people who wanted to be there when I did not. It was hard to join in the chatter; all I really wanted to do was pull someone aside and say, “I really don’t want to be here,” but how could I do that to someone who was warming up and getting into the zone to race? What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I want to be there? Should I just bail? My stomach was cramping now both with the remnants of last night’s dinner and with the thought of doing this race. At one point, my eyes felt wet.
It’s just a race. It’s just a race. So why do I feel so lousy?
Well, I thought, I can run 3.7 miles. There’s a bathroom mid-way. I’ll run slow and try to pull along teammates. So, when the gun went off, I dutifully trotted off. I settled into a pace behind the pack I’d normally run with. I was nervous about exploding until about halfway through, and then I felt better and so tried to pass people and pull teammates along with me. And then, it was over, I ran immediately to the bathroom, conveniently using that as an excuse for why I ran about a minute per mile slower than my normal race pace. My stomach turned at the sight of the post-race picnic goodies. I tried to lament my mental state that morning on the cool-down, but it was hard to do over the typical post-race analysis everyone else was doing.
I’ve had bad races in the past (especially short ones — so not my forte), and I usually get really down on myself and question my place on the starting line or on the team or my fitness. But Sunday, I remarkably didn’t feel down on myself afterward. I felt absolutely sure of something, something that maybe has been bubbling under the surface for a while but it took Sunday for me to see: I’m not in a racing slump; I don’t even want to want to race. I don’t want to figure out why, or how to overcome it, or be peer-pressured into picking a goal race and faking it until I make it. My racing spark is more nostalgia at this point than alight, and digging for it is exhausting.
By saying this, as sure as I am of it, part of me feels like a quitter. That I “should” want to figure it out, to analyze it, to force myself into wanting to get back out there. That I’m letting down myself and my team by not revolving my life around racing.
Now, I’ll take a moment to say that in the grand scheme of things, stopping racing seems like a minor decision. I’m told this in many ways: Just don’t race, it’s okay. You don’t have to race. Plenty of people run without racing. Take some time off and maybe you’ll want to race again. See, I know all of this. But running and racing have always been inexorably linked for me, since I first started really running as an independent sport in 2004, but even before then as a kid on the track team or doing other sports—running was always a means to an end. And that end was competition. So, for me, not only is it a decision to stop racing, it is a reevaluation of why I run.
I am also sure of that answer. I run because it makes me feel like me. I don’t have to race for that to remain true. I will dedicate my runs to finding the unbridled joy in the sport again, the playfulness, the connection to the earth. If racing isn’t doing that for me, then I’m not honoring my relationship with running by forcing it. As much as I think about letting the team down, too, I’m not honoring my teammates if I’m not all-in. As strange as it seems, I still want to pound out reps on Tuesday nights and find other ways to support the success of my teammates. Erin the Super Fan, here I come. Maybe Erin the Super Pacer? My rate is one beer per race.
Maybe I’ll want to race again. Maybe not. If it happens, I want it to happen organically, and I’m not sure I can let that happen if I keep on forcing myself into racing. Right now, the pressure I’m putting on myself to want to race is endangering my love of the sport. I’d rather keep running and never race again, than burn myself out by forcing myself to race just because I think I “should.” Just because I always have.
Time to bring it back to basics: just me and the running.