Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Beginning and The Big Cheese

For a long time, something has been eating at me. The something had to do with my various silent sports events such as Nordic skiing, but I wasn't able to put my finger on it until just after this year's Birkie. The Birkie this year, as always, was a blast. It feels amazing to ski that crazy long race (about 30 miles for you who don't know) and to spend a weekend with others who love to ski. Every minute of the Birkie, I ski with joy and gratitude. Yet even with that, most of them (spare one), have left me heading home feeling sad. I was always afraid to admit it, because surely no one would understand how I could do something as fun as the Birkie and not feel completely elated. I couldn't either. But this year, I figured it out. I was bummed afterwards because I knew deep down I was passing up an opportunity. I was not honoring a gift. I was not giving it my all. Deep down, finishing and having fun wasn't enough. I wanted to compete. Not really even to beat everyone else, but to leave that race knowing that I had prepared myself to the fullest and given it my all.

So the day after the Birkie, I decided what I needed to do was to run. My dad was a great runner. In my younger days, I was decent too. Somewhere around my mid-30s I gave up on running and many other adventures, and I came to the realization of late that if I don't try hard, NOW, I may always wonder how well I could have competed. It was this mindset that I started running and signed up for some trail runs. Originallly so I could ski fast, but then, so could run fast again. Frankly, I don't care for crowds or for pavement, and it turns out there is a whole bunch of folks who do trail running. The idea appealed to me greatly. Cross-country team for grown ups. And today was my first race.

I had hoped my return to running would be easy. I would use my vast knowledge to build up slowly, and before long, I'd be gliding along like the old days. This hasn't happened. Even after a couple months, I am slow and often sore. I have an inherited joint condition called anklyosing spondylitis which has flared up and makes anything sore that connects to my rib cage. But I have not lost heart, and today, I had a great experience.

Rolling into the Iola Sports Club to prepare to run, I was suprised to see that I didn't know a soul. For me, this is pretty unusual at any kind of sporting event and particularly at an endurance event. I noted that as I went to get my race packet, I actually felt intimidated and inferior...odd for me, yet an indication of how far away I've fallen in confidence that I would feel out of place with a bunch of recreational runners. Nobody judges anyone at these things, so an interesting indicator that I need to work on not judging myself so harshly.

My goals were to run without feeling awful, finish with a time that didn't embarrass me (like an hour for 5k would have), and to enjoy what I was doing. I knew the event itself would be cool for sure. A very eco-friendly event on beautiful trails with unique food and prizes.

The race itself went quickly, and by the time I had finished, my confidence in my plan to be completitive again was boosted. Thanks to the class I take with Mark Ernst, the hills on the course were nuthin' (and everyone else seemed to struggle). My speed wasn't blazing, but I did not feel I was slogging along. Yay! Further, after about 25 minutes, I actually felt good. Double yay. It was a great experience....the quiet of the woods, the moments where I felt strong, and the delicious gourmet cookies and tart cherry juice at the end.

Much to my delight, I even won a pound of cheese for being 2nd in my age group. It is possible that I was second out of two, but I couldn't have been happier with my the first race of my new start.