We all have “ah ha” moments. Sometimes it smacks us right in the face and couldn’t be more obvious, whereas other times this “awakening” is a bit more subtle. My moment came this past weekend at the North Face Endurance Challenge Blue Mountain in Collingwood.
In the days leading up to the trail marathon, I spent a lot of time reflecting on other matters; without going into too much detail, a common thread that I’ve been working on is letting go of always feeling in control. This applies to my work, my parenting style and my relationships. Instead of feeling the need to be in control, I’m working on being ok with feeling unstable. I’m learning to accept that I don’t always need to know what lies ahead, and to have faith that things will work themselves out. I realized that my desire to always seek certainty and predictability was limiting me in many ways. I hadn’t realized until the night before my race that this applied to my running as well.
Normally I race cautiously. I like to run by feel, find my groove and just go. I always hold back a bit, playing it safe. I run with an imaginary yellow bubble around me, shielding myself from my competitors. I’m not usually bothered if someone passes me; after all, they have their pace and I have mine. This approach works well for me, fuelling my passion for trail running rather than getting caught up with the pressure of performance.
As I was journaling in my hotel room the night before the race, I realized that part of my relaxed approach to racing was actually fuelled by fear. The fear of not knowing what type of hills are around the corner; the fear of going out too hard only to bonk; the fear of disappointing myself and others; and the fear of losing the love of running. By racing cautiously, I was in control. I was seeking the familiarity of my reliable running pace, having full confidence that I could sustain the pace. I was reducing the uncertainty, the fear. At the same time, however, this control was limiting my running experience.
I decided it was time to stand up to my fear and to embrace the uncertainty. To even let myself be influenced by my competitors. I started the race with a game plan in mind, knowing that my opportunity to push the pace was between 10-34km. Initial thoughts of “what if I can’t maintain a more aggressive pace for this long?” was replaced with “you don’t know unless you try. You can always slow down if needed” and “take a risk and see what happens”. Half way thru the race, I allowed myself to feel excited about the possibility of beating the boys. Normally men aren’t allowed in my yellow bubble, but this time I thought “wow..it would be really neat to beat the boys”. Although I didn’t know how far back the two lead men were, I leveraged this pressure to keep me going strong and to continue pushing the pace a bit. I got out of my comfort zone and ran instead on shaky ground.
To my surprise, none of this took away the pleasure I always get from racing. I was still in my happy place; I still appreciated the stunning views; and I continued to exchange pleasantries with other runners. But this time, I also felt a different type of excitement, one that was intrinsically driven. It wasn’t just because I had won the entire race (even 15 minutes ahead of the lead man); this excitement would have been there regardless. Rather, this excitement came about from the simple fact that I didn’t let fear stand in my way. That by allowing myself to feel unsteady, I would come out feeling more grounded than ever. A new sense of confidence and satisfaction emerged.
I know that there will be future races that don’t go as well. There will be times that I go out too hard and bonk. At the same time, there will still be races where I won’t want to push myself as hard. In other words, there will still be unknowns, uncertainty and unpredictability. What I do know, however, is that I will be at the start line with a greater level of awareness and self-confidence, making the experience that much more enjoyable.