May marked my first double digit in-person race in 18-months. It was my first time running in Eau Claire. The race promised to be an exciting weekend away with one of my favorite gal pals. My training, while not all in, had been consistent. I took Friday off to pamper myself with an early morning spin class, a savory maple latte, browsing an amazing independent coffee shop and investing a small fortune at my favorite Red Barn bare root plant sale (hey, some girls love purses. I love plants).
Things took a little dip when my spin instructor informed that Eau Claire is not in fact a flat city. In my defense, there was no topography map with this race. But, I definitely knew that wasn’t a good sign. She is after all, a seriously badass runner and if she thought Eau Claire was hilly, I was in trouble. Later that day, my bestie’s dad had a terrible accident resulting in her going from runner to caretaker in a heartbeat. I was devastated, for obvious selfish reasons, but also because I’ve been there. I know how challenging it is to balance work, life and caring for family. At the end of the day, father’s always come first.
As I modified my packing, I knew I needed to modify my intentions as well. Sure, I went into my training in January with a specific time goal in mind. I really wanted to clear 14-minute miles. My race a few weeks prior indicated it might be possible. I also knew, similar to how circumstances can change, this too was not a guarantee.
On Saturday, I began the journey south. I opted to “pop in” to see my boys at our family cabin. It was cabin opener and a mere 90-minutes out of the way. The extra car time gave me plenty of time to revisit my why. You know, that thing that’ll fuel your run when there’s nothing left to give. I knew I’d need it come Sunday morning.
I’ve talked a TON about my why. Heck, I even wrote a whole book about it. But, in this moment, my why felt different. It felt like a signal of acknowledging the next normal. The normal where COVID-19 still factors into daily decisions but doesn’t prohibit me from running with strangers. The normal where dad’s still in my phone but won’t answer my call. The normal where I’m starting to discover I’m living in a master’s body that doesn’t rebound as quickly as I’d like. But, at the core, my why remains as simple as because I can.
Race eve I listened to the course director breakdown the pending race. It is here my fears were calmed when she mentioned the course was relatively flat. Looking out my window at some serious hills, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I went to bed that night firm in my why and a hope that Sunday’s race would be successful.
Depending on the benchmark one uses, Sunday’s race was anything but successful. Turns out relatively flat includes a long stretch of uphill at the start and then a series of never-ending rolling hills every time you crossed a bridge. BTW the race is called Bridge 2 Bridge – turns out there are A LOT of bridges in Eau Claire. I was not prepared. And I paid dearly for it. By mile 3, it was clear that even with the help of an Uber, I would come nowhere close to my goal time. I was definitely disappointed. I even had a moment where I contemplated quitting, only I had no clue where my car was and figured it might be shorter to just finish the race then walk home. In racer moments, this was an ultimate low.
Luckily, my why kicked in. I had plenty of time to take in the scene. It was a gorgeous course with over-the-top friendly racers and volunteers. Despite being May in northern Wisconsin, the weather was borderline hot with the perfect mix of sun and shade. I was running with real people on a real racecourse. Spotify did not disappoint with the perfect race tunes. I was once again reminded of Henry Ford’s famous quote, “whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” I crossed the finish line Sisu strong.
Statistically speaking, that race was rough. I finished not only in the back of the pack but the bottom finisher for my age group. It was my slowest time ever. I set a record in new chaffing spots and my calves are still recovering. If I’m being honest, do these numbers disappoint me? Absolutely. I’ll be taking the next few months to evaluate what’s next in my running and fitness journey. In the meantime, I’m reverting back to the basics of just moving my body every single day.
That said, I’m proud to share this story. I had many, many opportunities to quit the past 4-months. My initial race was cancelled. Spring was well spring, resulting in abnormal training conditions at best. Work is busy. Life is busy. I’m grieving. Plans changed. But, yet, it still always comes back to if I get to run, why wouldn’t I? It really is as simple as that.
So for the hundreds of runners that passed me this weekend, thanks for your words of encouragement. For those sitting on the sidelines wondering if they can, you can. I promise you that. It may not be pretty but it is still worth it. Afterall, success is all relative… and for the record, Eau Claire is not relatively flat in this gal’s eyes, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.