Fumbling toward the final race in the Polar Bear Grand Prix
Tomorrow, Saturday, February 9, 2013, will mark the end of this year’s Polar Bear Grand Prix. Last year, I was greeted by a very cold morning and pouring rain. This year…I think it’s just the cold that I get to contend with. At least…I hope.
But…in reality, I don’t really want the cold.
Fact: The cold air naturally slows me down. It’s harder to breathe through. I have to layer my clothing. I just feel…awkward in cold weather.
And I have been getting out to run in the cold as often as possible. Last Sunday, I even went for 6 miles in the snow and ice. My roommate called me hardcore. The fact of the matter was…the very thought of going to the gym for the second day in a row to run my miles for training was unbearable. I hate running inside. I hate the treadmill. I hate the tiny indoor track at my gym even more, where 1 mile is 18 laps around it. Told you…it’s tiny. That’s what got me out in the snow and ice that Sunday morning. And I took it slow and easy and really just kept myself close enough to home that should I need to give in to the elements and cut the run short, I wouldn’t have far to go.
And though it was a slower run for me…it was a good run.
But there is that word. That word I hate using…but I feel it so often.
I don’t know why I focus so much on my speed, especially on these training runs. I think it just comes natural to a runner to want to improve. Or at least maintain. But lately it’s just felt like I’m moving backwards. Figuratively, of course.
And here’s why I think it’s been bothering me all week…
Despite the cold, hard rain of the Snowman Shuffle last year…it was one of my best races to that day. No joke. I finished the four mile course, complete with those killer hills at Cherokee Park, in 33:17. That was huge for me. That meant I had a lovely pace of 8:19, or about 7.2 miles per hour. Up until that point…that pace had never happened.
And over the year that has now passed, I have only begun to get faster than that. Until, it seems, recently.
I would like to point my finger at the elements and push all the blame off on that, but the fact of the matter is…I can’t. I could sit here until I was blue in the face and rattle off reasons as to why I feel inadequate coming into this race, despite the training and time I’ve put into my runs during the week and over the weekends, but what good would it do? They are just excuses when it comes down to it.
“It’s so cold out! The cold slows me down.”
“It’s hard to breathe in that bitter cold air!”
“I f***ing hate layers!”
“But it’s so dark when I go out to run that early in the morning…”
Hey…it may be the truth…but it is also an excuse. Any way you slice it.
So…why the added pressure? I made a mistake a couple weeks ago and looked at the overall standings for the Polar Bear Grand Prix. Yep. Bad…bad idea. Because currently, I am sitting in third place in the overall women’s category. Not my age division. Women…overall…for all the races. And suddenly…it just feels like I put a crap-ton of pressure on myself to maintain that. I mean, I’ve had killer races leading up to this one. I placed third in my age division in the Reindeer Romp 4K, and second in my age division in the Frostbite 5K…but it was seeing that overall ranking that just…it really took away my zen runner attitude and I’ve been fretting over it since. That…and my finishing time.
This isn’t like me. Not really. But I feel that when I revisit races, I should only better my performance. After all, I have a year of training behind me. The second time around, or third, or whatever, should only show improvement. But…but what if I don’t.
And given my recent morning runs…even on the weekends…I haven’t been feeling good about besting that 33:17 finishing time. In fact, I’ve made a point to check my Garmin at each 4 mile beep on my runs that go that long or longer…and I am usually right at, if not slower than that time.
And it’s a bit disheartening. Especially feeling this added pressure of that overall standing.
Let me clarify…no one is putting this pressure on me. No one but myself. And, I think that is what makes this so hard to get over, to ignore. It’s that little voice in the back of my head that tells me…I’m not getting any better. I’ve plateaued. That I fail if I don’t maintain that spot in the top 3 women’s overall.
It’s all poppycock, of course…but…that’s what thoughts have been permeating my mind. Not just on my downtime…but on my runs. Every 4 mile beep…that’s what I think about.
Why am I even obsessing? I love running…and finding that joy that I associate with each stride, each breath, each footfall…hasn’t felt good enough leading into this race. And it’s been killing my mojo. It’s been really pulling at me. It’s been…bothering me.
Honestly, it shouldn’t. I shouldn’t even be obsessing over it. But I am. And. I. Can’t. Stop.
The past couple of mornings, I’ve turned my mileage for my training schedule…and each time, I’ve been unhappy with the results. Why? I’m right at that 7.2 mile per hour speed. Which, isn’t slow by any means…but I know I can and do run better than that. I know that most of these runs are supposed to be at an “easy” pace…that I shouldn’t be trying to find that magical race pace unless my program specifically calls for it…but…it’s human nature to get competitive…even if it is with yourself.
The fact of the matter is, the one thing in life that brings me the most joy has been bringing me down these days. Actually…it’s not the running that’s bringing me down. The running, while slower than usual, has been brilliant. It’s that little voice inside…that little devil sitting on my shoulder…that doubt that creeps in every now and again…that’s what has been bringing me down. My own lack of confidence. My own sense of what accomplishment is. My own perception of what not meeting certain goals would mean to me…as a runner…in this particular race.
So…what do I do to overcome this?
I don’t know.
But here’s what I am going to do…
I am going to get up tomorrow morning and dress for the expected 29 degree weather. Yep…this means some cold weather gear. Perhaps even a layer or two. We’ll see. A lot of that will depend on the wind factor, which the Weather Channel is currently predicting to be around 6 mph. I’ll eat some cereal before heading out the door to drive to Cherokee Park and, hopefully, find a parking spot that isn’t outside of the park and a long walk uphill to packet pick-up. I’ll get my packet and get my number pinned up. I’ll do my, “I’m too cold to stretch…but here goes nothing” half-ass stretching. I’ll eat half of a Kind Bar. I’ll line-up at the start…somewhere back from the front…but not too far back. And then…I’ll just run. I’ll run what I am comfortable with. I’ll run without looking at my watch for time or pace. I’ll listen for the beeps, but I won’t look. I’ll simply run.
And what happens when I cross the finish line? I’ll find that whatever effort I put into that run…was enough. Do I need to beat last year’s time? Nope. I want to, of course…but I don’t need to. Will I be any less of a runner if I don’t? Not at all. Will I be a failure if I fall out of that third overall spot? I might feel like it for a moment…but it will pass. I don’t run to collect medals and awards. That’s not what fuels me. What fuels me is passion. I don’t get up at 4 a.m. every morning and throw on my running clothes and take a run in 19 degree darkness because I have to. I don’t have to do anything. I do it because, believe it or not, I want to.
I sometimes forget the whole reason I started running. Because somewhere…somehow…one day when I took up a jog at that itty-bitty track at the gym…I found something that made me smile. I’m not super fast. I’m not an elite. But sometimes helps to just take a step back and realize…while I am not these things…I am enough.
And my passion for running should never be overshadowed by doubt, fear, time, or race placement. I am not a failure. Time doesn’t matter. Run for the love of the run…and the run will love you back.
So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow as I tackle four miles through Cherokee Park’s hills. It looks like another chilly morning run awaits…and if it slows me down…it slows me down. All I should focus on is making it from start to finish. My legs, feet, and determination will do the rest.
Snowman Shuffle…I’m coming for you. Even if I don’t feel like it…I am ready.
As ready as I’ll ever be.