Last year, my September race didn’t go great and was my first ever DNF in an ultra. There were a multitude of reasons, both physical and mental, and I think based on the physical (gut issues and wasp stings), I made the right call. But looking back, I know part of it was that my head just wasn’t in the game. Part of that was just life circumstances, but part was on me. This weekend, I have my last race of the year (in a season with very minimal racing in the first place!), and I’m trying really hard this week to avoid those same mistakes. The big one? Future-casting past race day in the days before.
For some people, they train in order to race. I’m more of a ‘race in order to train’ type, where I like racing and having big goals, but I tend to prefer the day-to-day and the solo long runs rather than the event itself. I’ve been known to, on the start line, tell whoever is there supporting me (ahem, Peter) to not let me sign up for races ever again. I get over that feeling a few seconds in, most of the time.
But it’s easy for me to have my head totally out of the game when it comes to racing, if I’m not careful about it. Case in point, on the drive to my last race of the season last year, I actually bought yarn and a crochet hook at a store ON OUR DRIVE THERE, because I was thinking about house projects I wanted to tackle, and about wanting to pick up crocheting and make a sweater. (Spoiler: The yarn and crochet hook are still untouched.) I was already looking past race day to everything I could do ‘when the race was over.’
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that’s the race that totally fell to pieces. Some was unavoidable, but there was definitely part of me that was so busy looking ahead to the next thing, what would happen after the race was over, that I kind of forgot to stay present in the race itself. I think part of it is a coping mechanism, a bit of ‘as long as I’m thinking about what’s next, it’s OK if this race doesn’t go well.’ But it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re so focused on just getting through the race and getting to the next thing, you’re likely in for a rough day, especially when things in the race stop going your way. I’ve had plenty of races where gut distress was an issue. I’ve gotten through them. I’ve had races where I hit mental blocks, and where my body really, really wasn’t in a good place, and I’ve pushed through. But when you head into a race already thinking about what you’ll do when it’s over, and you run into those tough, dark moments, it’s a lot more likely you won’t be able to push through.
I have a race this weekend. It’s going to be a long most-of-the-day affair. Part of me is really, really ready for it to be over. It’s tempting to start thinking about the list of house projects, Strong Girl Publishing projects to be done, holiday planning, et cetera. And of course, I am thinking about all of those things. But I’m trying to hold those very, very gently, and focus on the race that’s actually in front of me. I’ve caught myself waffling a few times, wondering if I should queue up podcasts to listen to if the going is getting rough—basically, trying to tell myself how to turn it into just a long run, not a race.
I want to savor this week of tapering, enjoy feeling like I’ve done the work these last few months. I want to go to the start line and even though it’s going to be a small start line, I want to feel like it’s freaking Leadville 2024 and I want to show up and try my absolute hardest.
I know that the feelings I have of wanting to look beyond it are nerves—it’s me trying to protect myself from a bad result by setting it up so it doesn’t matter as much. It should matter. Even if I don’t get the result that I want, it matters. As long as I push myself to the finish line, doing everything I can to get the best result possible on the day, that’s a win. The biggest loss I can have at this race is letting it stop mattering, making the call that it’s not a big deal to phone it in.
This comes back to Peter’s favorite saying: Race if you’re going to race. And this Saturday, I’m damn well going to race.