Rim Rock Marathon: Learning to relax and race

What's a race, project, or otherwise big endeavor without a whole bunch of built-in excuses? You don't have to be elite, or stake a lot on the line, to have a hefty list. They're padding my back pocket when nervously anticipating most races; this one was no exception, despite the fact that it was very purposefully meant to be "just for fun". rim_rock

The thing about excuses, though, is oftentimes they also happen to be facts. The excuse part of the equation comes into play depending on how much those facts are shared, and with what attitude and/or whining. We often forget them once our goals are achieved, unless the ego insists on a little extra stroking along the lines of, "And it would have been even better if...". This time though, I want to remember and share my excuses post-completion while happy with the results. Because this time, it feels like all the factors that seemed to go against a good performance strangely ended up opening my mind to a really good day--one of the nicest, purest race experiences I've yet had, and I'd love to repeat the feeling.

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Rim Rock Marathon is described as "one of the most scenic marathons in the world". It is absolutely stunning, winding up and over the Colorado National Monument. What an opportunity, to run through a national park! It's also pretty darn hard. Climbing 2,000 from the start to the halfway point, it offers views that are both spectacularly dramatic and serene. Sheer red rock walls, sweeping canyons, gorgeous contrasts, twists and turns. Running along such splendid vistas, how can you help but tap into a deep source of inner peace and personal strength?

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Nevertheless, the run/race nearly didn't happen. I forced myself to get on the bus that shuttled runners to the start line, trying not to inwardly curse Dave too hard for being so encouraging. Excuses? I had miles of them, including:

  • I hadn't trained on hills. Still nursing, and navigating tight schedule constrictions, my runs tend to be from the house, with one quality session with inspiring Masters' runners on the weekend.
  • I hadn't slept more than 2 consecutive hours in two days, and was generally sleep deprived before that, anyway. (Once again, nursing. Little Monkey is weaning on his own, but since taking off walking and running at one year, and now suffering another raging bout of teething, he's been waking up numerous times at night again, bringing on lots of deja vu to this time last year.)
  • We all caught a stomach bug a week before, which cleaned us out. I still felt utterly drained.
  • I've been managing plantar fasciitis for some time, and nagging heel pain was aggravated by compensatory and related issues, mainly a tight back, glutes and hamstrings, especially on the right side and connected to how I've been holding my strong and solid little tot.

There are more...but they are truly excuses more than valid. When race morning dawned, I was practically delirious for lack of sleep. I would have had us pack up and drive back home, if it weren't for the fact that driving is exhausting. I could not wait for the race to be over, and berated myself for putting Little Monkey through a long drive, a dull hotel room, and pack-and-play nights.

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The funny thing is, all the things that stacked against a good day forced a mental choice: wallow and weep and probably bail; or, accept, relax, and see what was possible. I won't lie...I did spend some time wallowing, petulantly, and nearly even wept. But I'm so glad, even proud of myself,  I was able to step into a more peaceful acceptance in the nick of time.

Stepping off the bus on Rim Rock Drive, I was struck by the casual, laid-back atmosphere and easygoing nature of the small crowd assembled. Lots of ipods didn't convey lack of friendliness, just a shared expectation of some relatively solo miles and a goal of getting in the zone and enjoying the views. Stretching and chatting with a few other racers, I felt my body shrug off fatigue and start to look forward to a beautiful run.

Set off by a simple whistle, I took things really easy, having no idea how my legs were going to react to 13 miles of consistent, often sharp, uphill. I was amazed to find myself near the front of the pack, and fully expected to be steadily passed. Only I wasn't. I won't wax on about too many details, but just as I've bulleted the bag of excuses, here are a few notes on what worked:

  • Nutrition: The volunteers were wonderful--so kind. Aid stations, which were every 2 miles or so after the initial 4 steepest miles, were stocked with water, Gatorade, Honey Stinger gels, bananas, pretzels, chocolate.  I alternated water and gatorade and faithfully took a gel every aid station. Normally, I don't take much but fluid during a race. The energizing burst was awesome.
  • Entertainment: The incredible vistas should probably have been enough, but for the first time ever I wore an ipod in the race, on Dave's suggestion. He had loaded me up with the perfect playlist. Two really engaging Marathon Talk podcasts were like reflective and fun conversation in the first 20 miles; a shock wave of super charged songs were perfect for the last 10K. One of the podcasts featured amazing British runners Liz Yelling and Jo Pavey discussing motherhood, running in your 40s, family. To hear Jo, a four-time Olympian who is still a competitive elite, talk with such a relaxed and grateful approach was especially grounding, motivating and relaxing.
  • Alone time: I don't get that much time to myself these days, and typically I don't crave it. That said, when I get it (usually on a run), it can feel oh so good. Up there, running along the rock walls, I felt this zen flow of being whole, and being just me for awhile, and it was blissful...in spite, or even more because of running a marathon.
  • Love: This will sound oh so sappy, but I was overflowing with it. I felt swept away with loving thoughts for my dear husband and Little Monkey. Flixy's beaming grin and rosy cheeks after keeping me awake all night before a race took the edge off pain. At one point (towards the end of the race, when I'll admit there was probably a little bit of light-headedness setting in), I felt like Harry Potter, protected by love. My thoughts kept racing while racing, centering on how much Dave did to help me get to this place, able to relish this race despite all the obstacles. From nightly massages to persistent positive thoughts, packing, packing, planning and driving, he did everything he could. I also felt bolstered by mommy love. One unexpected bonus of being an old new mom--I am consciously grateful for him every single day. Not that other, younger moms aren't...but I know I have constant awareness of how lucky we are pinned to how very nearly parenthood didn't happen.

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In the end, I placed 4th overall female and 1st Master's female (I told myself there are some perks to getting "old", but prefer my uncle's take on things: growing older is inevitable, growing old is not an option). The time wasn't anything close to a PR (3:42), but I'm pleased with that for the tough course, with the winning time just 20 minutes faster. It was a beautiful day, and so very gratifying to finish knowing I'd been able to shake off my own negative energy. Best part, the special little cheering squad that waited at the finish, and the active recovery playing on the grass and kicking leaves all afternoon.

rim_rock (1)What it all comes down to, always, though, is Attitude. It's the most important thing, in everything. All the bullets helped shape a positive mental approach. So too did all the things that went wrong. Ironically, having a crappy lead-up to the day was what really forced me to choose, finally, to have fun, tune out others' posturing and focus on what I could do in the moment. Which is without fail how I reach my personal best, proved time and again. The races, projects, even relationships I work for are always most successful when I relax, enjoy, and challenge myself without fear of failure in relation to others around me. Why do I need to take so many classes to learn this lesson? I'm hopeful that writing it down this time, a takeaway may be that I don't need lots of things to go wrong to get it right.