There’s been very few races where my only goal was to finish, but I found myself on the starting line with that objective last Thanksgiving morning. I’d like to say I was about to start a marathon, ultra-marathon, or run some obscenely difficult course, but in fact, it was a simple five mile cross-country race in Golden Gate Park. I was pretty sick the day before and while I’m striving to be more descriptive in my writing, you’d probably don’t want to read a detailed description of what emerged from my throat and nose over two previous two days. While I had recovered somewhat, certainly not enough to feel optimistic take on the race, even if these holiday races tend to be pretty good natured events.
Why was I even running in the first place rather than stay home? I have this certain ethic, perhaps better described as a stubbornness, to finish something I’ve started, no matter what. So if I’ve entered a race and not at death’s door, I’m obligated show up on the starting line and give it my best, no excuses. I don’t recommend this attitude for everyone but like to think it has served me pretty well. As long as we ignore all those times I’ve turned a little sickness into a raging fever because I didn’t want to take a rest day, or a ended up limping around for a week thinking I could just push through some “little, nagging injury”. So flying in the face of most conventional reason, there I was, after a few tepid and lethargic brief warm-up jogs and sucking nonstop on a water bottle all morning to battle a still slightly sore throat, about to give the race a go.
Surprisingly at the start, the slow “just finish the damn race” pace was surprisingly effortless, and I was a bit bewildered at where the sudden energy had come from. I have to say that whenever there’s a starting line, a finishing line, and a clock timing how long it takes to run between the two, it just turns on some sort of high energy switch inside of me. But maybe drinking five or six glasses of water, each with a packet of Emergen-Cee dissolved into them the day before, giving me a daily dose of vitamin C good for over 50 people is what gave me the necessary recuperative powers. Or perhaps I was energized by the postcard-picturesque course that twisted and turned through the green rolling hills and coastal forest Golden Gate Park landscape, with the ground perfectly soft from four days of light rain, meticulously marked by tiny bright yellow flags and burnt orange traffic cones so no one would miss every zig and zag only the course.
Whatever the source of unexpected strength, I slowly picked up the pace, and methodically reeled in runner after runner over the first couple miles. And while the urban forest location provided a pleasing background to the race, it also provided some handy underbrush cover required for a little pit stop at about 1 1/2 miles, that was quite necessary from all the extra pre-race hydration. That business taken care of, I just concentrated on keeping good form, maintaining pace, and looking at the back of the runner in front of me, gradually pulling up to them, before concentrating on passing the next person. After five miles of this, I finished with a time and place much higher than I thought I could have realistically hoped for.
One thing running has taught me is there that are no guarantees for success. You can have several excellent weeks or months of training, with a good focused attitude and strong game plan, and things can still blow up in your face on race day for reasons either completely unknown or outside your controll. Thankfully the opposite is also true. Everything can be off or sub-par going into race day, and you can still end up hanging up a performance you think you had no business reaching. Enjoy those days when you can. I know I will.
PS – Considering all the “opps” and “oh shit” moments while home brewing the day after this race, I can only hope to have the same kind of luck with that endeavor once the yeast finishes its thing.