For a long time I liked the idea of entering a race but I have found them unpleasantly stressful. The first race, the Rough Diamond 39km Adventure Race, was not so bad I was with some good friends and I found I didn’t care who passed me, I just cared about whether I was pleased with my own performance. I was.
The second one, The Anne Valley 8km was shorter but harder as I ran it with a Competitive Friend who spent it bouncing breezily around me making a show of waiting for me. It stressed me out and made me seem slower than I was though I finished just behind her. In both races I found I was quite panicky to start with and I wasn’t sure why.
This winter I signed up for the Baldy Man, an 8.5km race that is staged on Tramore Beach every year. It passes the Baldy Man sand dune from where it gets its name. I wanted to do it alone to see if it was the presence of a Competitive Friend or just being around a large crowd of people that was stressing me out so imagine my dismay when I ran into Competitive Friend at registration. I decided to start at the back of the crowd when I saw she was up front. That way I wouldn’t see her for the whole race.
It was hard from the start. I have run this particular route alone a lot with no real hardship but today it was a struggle and for the first 15 minutes I wanted to give up. I felt like I was having a panic attack. Eventually I got myself into a rhythm and pottered on up the beach.
To my horror I realised I was catching up on Competitive Friend who was merely lolloping along. I ran behind her for a while thinking maybe I would escape her notice but the pace was too slow. I ran beside her until she noticed me. I can’t talk and run easily because of my hearing problems but I told her I had been struggling, that I found running in a race like this stressful and I wanted to run alone to see how I fared.
I ran with her for another few minutes as she chatted and then returned to my own pace and pulled ahead. I hoped she would let me be but I knew that what had been a lollop had now turned into a race to the death for her. I hoped she would pass me quickly.
Rounding the dunes for the second leg we ran into a gale force wind and the run across the Back Strand was nightmarish but I just kept going and eventually I got into my zone again. I was finally moving in my own space. I knew the last leg would feel good. I could feel the start of The Joy, something was going right…
A hand fell on my shoulder as my ‘friend’ jumped on me from behind.
“I have been trying catch you for 20 minutes!” she shouted gleefully as if I didn’t know.
I was out of the zone and struggling again, my heart beating wildly and it would take longer that I had to get back there. I slowed and let her pull ahead because the race was wrecked for me anyway but as I crossed the line I was furious:at myself for slowing twice for her and at her for her lack of consideration when she knew I needed to run alone. I also suspected sabotage, if only unconscious.
Still, this is the thing about running:no matter what happens, whether you like it or not, you learn something about yourself and this is why I want to run, however painful it is. I want to learn how to live life.
Running opens up doors onto parts of me that I might prefer not to look at. The Rough Diamond showed me that I was not afraid to lose except to myself and my own hopes and expectations. The Baldy Man showed me that I was in fact afraid to win. At least I am afraid to be in the lead and with good reason for if running shows us that we have to live life at our own pace no matter who is ahead or who is behind it’s the ones who are behind that we have to beware of…
Even if I fail to learn my lessons or if the lessons just seem to keep coming being in the race is enough. Still, it may be time to start tackling my fear, tapping people on the shoulder and saying “Hey Bud, I’m passing you out.” Hah, maybe I won’t just tap, maybe I’ll start shoving. I think I’d enjoy that…