Archive | May, 2012

Racing for the Joy of It Can Be More Rewarding Than Racing for a Personal Record

31 May

Over the past five years, my racing goals have been fairly simple…improve my time from the previous race, also known as setting a personal record. But that focus changed recently, and it was an epiphany for me.
I had the joy of running the Big Sur International Marathon this year. Running experts say this course is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world. I chose to run Big Sur because the race fell on my 49th birthday and several of my friends decided to run it with me. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the day than doing what I love with people I love.

When I was training for this race, my strategy was to take my time and not worry about achieving a personal record. I wanted to truly enjoy the beauty of the course because I might never have the opportunity to run it again. I felt it would be a shame to rush through the experience trying to get to the finish line as fast as I could.
Big Sur has so many unique course components. The first icon is running through five miles of giant redwoods for the first five miles of the course. This part of the course is a gentle downhill that’s mostly shaded and a relaxing way to warm up for the long miles ahead. A less relaxing, but equally majestic aspect of the course is Hurricane Point, a two mile ascent from miles ten through twelve. As I started up the hill to Hurricane Point, the Taiko Drummers were there to energize all of us for the two climb. The beat of their drums made me pick up my pace because the winds had died down a bit, and I was ready to attack the climb. Things get very quiet here as runners stop chatting to focus on the task ahead and the lush green hills decorated with wild flowers. As we climb the hill, we hear the sound of the grand piano playing, another unique aspect of this course. You lose the sound of the piano from time to time during the ascent, but when you crest Hurricane Point and head downhill, you hear the music clearly. The pianist’s music filled our hearts and souls. Several of us, including me, were moved to tears. We crossed the beautiful Bixby Bridge. The scenery from the bridge is astounding. Between the scenery and the piano, mile 13 was one of the highlights of the course and a great way to mark the halfway point of the journey. I couldn’t imagine rushing through this race.

By mile 20 I had only been running three hours and fifty minutes. I knew I had plenty of time to finish the race in the six hour limit, so I slowed my pace down a bit more to take in some of the most beautiful parts of the course. One spot was so spectacular; I stopped for a minute to stare at the beauty. The waves were crashing on the rocks and beach, the sun was shining on the ocean and you could hear and feel the wind blowing. It was amazing.

At mile 23 we were told to be sure to take a handful of fresh strawberries at the aid station. This is another one of the unique aspects of this course. Since I was in no hurry, I stopped and enjoyed the berries while I thanked the volunteers for taking the time to cut the tops off for us. At about mile 25 we were told to breath deep to smell the eucalyptus in the air. I’ve never smelled anything like that. It was so fresh and clean. It was truly breathtaking. That breath of fresh air gave me all the energy I needed to pick up my pace and sprint for the finish.

At the finish line I was given the ultimate birthday gift…a Big Sur International Marathon finisher’s medal and lots of memories of the most enjoyable marathon I’d ever run.

The next weekend, some women who are recovering addicts that I volunteer to train and help with their fitness and nutrition were running the Flying Pig 5k and Flying Pig 10k. Since I didn’t want to play favorites, I decided to run both races…back to back. These women had been training hard for these races for several months and I was honored to be able to run with them and share the experience with them.

The 10k race was first. Only a few of the women ran that one. I had run a 5k last summer with one of the women. During the 5k, she was still smoking and the race was really hard for her, but she was still one of the fastest of all the women in the program. For the 10k, she was race ready. She had quit smoking and had learned the art of finding her pace. We ran most of the race with a few walk breaks. The smile on her face when she finished was amazing. She was so proud of her accomplishment and how far she’d come from her 5k race last summer. I was so proud of her and the others who all finished not far behind us.

After the 10k, I had just enough time to run to my car and change race numbers. Most of the women in the program were running the 5k. They all ran at a different speed so I chose to run with one of the newer women whose daughter was running the race, but wasn’t running with her. She was one of the few in the program who was running alone because her pace was different than everyone else’s. When she first came to the program, she never thought she could run a step, much less 3.1 miles. But that day, she ran most of the race with just a few walk breaks. There were two highlights of this race for me. The first one came when she saw a steep hill we needed to climb. She looked at me and said, “Miss Lauren, I want to run up this hill.” I looked at her and said, “Let’s do it!” She attacked that hill like a pro and everyone around her walking up that hill started cheering. The look of pride and accomplishment on her face was priceless. I will have a memory of that moment in my head and my heart for the rest of my life. We took a short walk break at the top after she showed that hill who was the boss and then began running again a few minutes later. We walked a little more but I told her that whatever she did, she needed to save enough energy to run her fastest when we got close to the finish line. She did just that. She crossed the finish line with a smile on her face and her daughter waiting to greet her. I told her how proud I was of her and how honored I was to run with her. She smiled and said the honor was hers to run with me. She said she couldn’t believe that I would run at her pace and run the entire race with her. I told her I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was truly a joy for me to run with her and see her progress on her personal journey.

After we finished the 10k, we waited for the others to come down the approach to the finisher’s chute. We cheered so loud you would think people could hear us for a mile. It was so great to see all of them finish the race and feel that sense of accomplishment for their hard work and dedication during their training.
One of the many nice things about the Flying Pig is that everyone gets a finishers medal. So, all the women not only had a sense of accomplishment, but they had a medal to remind them of how far they have come in their recovery and running journey.

When I got home that afternoon, I was hanging my medals up on a medal hanger I have in my hallway. I looked at the Big Sur medal and the Flying Pig 5k and 10k medals and felt this rush of joy wash over me like a warm spring rain. That joy came from the realization that sometimes it’s not how fast you finish the race that matters. What matters is the journey and taking your time to really enjoy the experience. I think racing for the pure joy of it will be my new racing goal.