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A Tale of Two Races

I've written about my running journey over the years. I've shared how revelatory it was for me to run while feeling wholly aligned and integrated in mind, body, and spirit. I've expressed how meaningful it is when I feel like I'm running for a deeper, greater purpose, and to receive signs from the universe that confirm that I am exactly where I am meant to be. This was not one of those races. I was cranky from the start of the Rock & Roll Half-Marathon because the crowds and lines were bananas. I didn't even cross the start line until 45 minutes after the race kicked off. I just wasn’t feeling it from the get-go and by Mile 4, my brain started calculating evacuation plans.

Here were the options I came up with, in no particular order:

  1. Wave down the EMTs bicycling suspiciously (fortuitously?) close to me and have them escort me to the struggle bus lurking behind the pack to hitch a ride.

  2. Peel off from the route and head down a side street to make my way to the nearest Metro station.

  3. Hop on one of the dozens of electric scooters along the route (a bicycle seemed even worse than running).

As I contemplated the options, I realized that none of them were going to make me feel better. I’m all for listening to your body and calling it quits if something is painful or just doesn’t feel right, but I knew I was feeling fine physically. Nothing was hurting at that moment and everything was working as it should. It was all mental.

I tried to enjoy the scenic route through Washington, DC, but by Mile 10, I was just over it. Literally. I always thought Capitol Hill referred to the elevated rhetoric and ethical standards that our politicians aspire to; it turns out the topography is a more accurate reflection of the name.

I tried tapping into gratitude, a strategy that has been successful for me in the past. It didn’t work. I just focused on one mile at a time, one block at a time, sometimes one step at a time, and willed myself across the finish line. It wasn’t pretty and I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but half-marathon #6 was done!

White woman wearing neon yellow visor holding up her race medal

My celebration didn’t last long, however, once I realized that I had another long race on the calendar just two weeks later. This plan wasn’t intentionally designed or part of a larger training goal. The Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler is a popular race in DC and only allows participants to enter through a lottery system. I signed up for the half-marathon a few months back to lock in their early-bird discount rate just in case I didn’t get into the Cherry Blossom race. Yeah, you can see where this is going.

On the morning of the race, I drove downtown with my friend, Sarah, and we navigated our way through the throngs of people to get to the starting corrals. She was aiming for a particular goal time so she moved up to find the pace group while I lined up farther back. I told her with a chuckle that my only goal was to not get swept by the struggle bus. Insert spooky foreshadowing music here.

I started off fine and fell seamlessly into my run/walk intervals. I had done the half-marathon two weeks prior with 45-second runs followed by 45-second walks so I had planned on doing the Cherry Blossom at the same cadence. However, around the first mile marker, my calves were cramping so badly that I thought I might have to DNF (Did Not Finish).

This had never happened to me before. I panicked and quickly considered my options.

There seemed to be two: keep running in pain or quit.

I slowed down to a walk and took some deep breaths while I deliberated these options. I didn’t like either of them. I reflected on something I coach clients and teams on which is to get out of the binary box of stress-activated decision-making and imagine the “Transformational Third Way” (Emerson and Lewis).

I decided to stop the interval program I was doing – something I have never done in the middle of a run – and reset my Garmin watch to a 30-second run followed by a 45-second walk so that I would have a shorter run interval. I figured I would give that a try to see if that helped with the cramping in my legs before I called it quits.

While this was all happening, the police pacing vehicle, struggle bus, and a parade of garbage trucks that were bringing up the rear had snuck up on me. When I went around the traffic circle near Arlington Cemetery and doubled back over Memorial Bridge from Virginia to DC, I passed by them and calculated that they were less than a minute behind me.

Shuttle bus lurking behind the back of the running pack

I said loudly to no one in particular, “I am not going to get swept.” A fellow runner looked over at me with confusion so I said it even louder and with more conviction a second time.

“I AM NOT GOING TO GET SWEPT!” This became my battle cry.

You would think that the excitement of race day is at the front with the elite runners, but that’s because the cameras don’t capture all of the drama that’s happening at the back of the pack. At one point, I saw the shuttle slow down and force a woman into the vehicle. OK, fine, so it was more like a kind volunteer gently and sweetly asked the runner if she would like to be escorted in an air-conditioned luxury bus to the finisher’s area because they had to re-open the roads to traffic, but it made me put a little more pep in my step.

I am not going to get swept.

From Miles 2 to 6, I was neck and neck (bumper?) with the police car. Although my leg cramps had, thankfully, subsided, I was anxious and tense because of the pressure I felt to beat the race curfew. When we got to Hains Point, the police car peeled off and I celebrated with an audible “Woohoo!” believing I was in the clear. I was wrong. The police car had pulled over because the path was not open to vehicles, but it was waiting for me as I came around the bend on the other side of the turnaround.

Two people running behind a police SUV with its lights on

As the police car and I fell back into our lockstep cat-and-mouse routine, I had a new thought. Maybe instead of thinking of the police car as my nemesis, the symbol of my critical inner voice telling me that I’m slow, not a real runner, and had no business even signing up for this race in the first place, I could think of it as my own personal escort just like the professionals and elite runners have at the front.

This changed everything.

Woman in a neon yellow visor running next to a police SUV

I spent the final few miles with my shoulders back and chin high. I may have even been smiling. My friends who also ran the race commented about how the last stretch was super windy, but I don’t even remember that being the case.

I crossed the finish line after 10 miles and the only thing I could think about was, I didn’t get swept!

Actually, it was more like, I DIDN'T GET SWEPT!!

Because I had stopped, reset, and then restarted my watch, I didn’t know exactly what my overall race time was until I was done. As it turned out, I had come in about a minute past the race cut-off so my official time didn't get recorded (boo!), but my watch notified me that I had also somehow set a new personal record for a 10K (6.2 miles) distance (YAY!).

Considering how close I was to calling it quits at Mile 1, I am so grateful that I was able to finish the race. I am proud of myself for regrouping, recalibrating, and reframing the circumstances to create a more empowering outcome. I am confident that my running journey will continue, but given how tough these last two races were for me, I will be taking a little hiatus to rest, recover, and see if I can locate my mojo once again before making a decision about what's next.

White woman with neon yellow visor smiling in front of race finish line

If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action toward your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.

PS - Not only did I see this Santa runner at both races, but I ran by the same juggler I encountered at the Richmond Marathon!


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