When I first started running, I defined “race” as a noun: the event of running. My goal was to finish. Just get to the end. And that was enough.
As I trained more seriously, I began to set race goals for myself. “Race” became a verb: to race. To meet a goal. Sometimes I missed those goals; I wanted a Boston Qualifying time in my first marathon, but missed it by two minutes (yes, TWO MINUTES). Sometimes I just barely got them; in my first half marathon, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half, my hope was to get in under two hours. My finish time was 1:59:58! And sometimes I beat them; in the Tinker Bell Half, I was aiming for 1:45 and I came in at 1:43. And that was enough.
Then, while I was training for my first trail 22K, my coach mentioned in passing, “you’ll podium with this one.” Say what?! Podium? As in, win? Win a place? Like first, second or third place? ME?! He was right, as he usually is:
Suddenly, the verb “to race” had another meaning. It became a competition. And not just against myself. Finishing or meeting a goal was not enough. “To race” meant to compete against other people and to win. And, overnight, I had podium fever. I had a taste of winning. And I liked it. I loved it. I wanted more of it.
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
In my next race (the following weekend; how is that for crazy?!), I pushed more than I had ever pushed before. I ran the Fiesta Days 10K, a super hilly course, in 44:35. At mile 3, a traffic cop said, “there is the first woman! Go, first woman!” My jaw dropped (as much as one’s jaw can drop when pushing a stupidly fast pace up a hill). I pushed more. I won first place female overall. Me. Me, who had never dreamed of winning anything related to running ever in my life, except maybe a race raffle for free shoelaces or something.
I had one more race to go in my spring series, an 8 mile trail race in the Hollywood hills. I was determined to place again. But I was exhausted. I had very little juice left. For most of the race I knew I was in fourth place. I saw one, two, and three women go by at the turn-around point. But I put my head down and kept pushing. When I crossed the finish at 1:03:04, I was sad. Sad that I had not placed. Disappointed in myself.
And I knew that was crazy. I knew I should be happy with my amazing time (a new PR for trail!), my extreme push, my overall excellent performance. My family cheered. I tried to put on a happy face.
I looked at the results as soon as they were printed at the race booth; yep, fourth place. I had placed first in my division, but that didn’t reduce the sting of fourth. “I’m so stupid for feeling this way,” I though to myself over and over again. “Be happy!” I tried to silence that crazy lady voice, the one that was sad, the one that is competitive. I posed with my first place division medal and smiled.
And then some sort of miracle happened. I got home and checked the official race results online. I had placed. I had placed third female overall. In my last ditch efforts, I had somehow passed one woman. I was ecstatic.
I fully realize that these three races were small and not ultra competitive. I will not always place. In fact, I will NOT place more often than I WILL place. That is reality. And I have to be okay with that. Because it really is just about getting out there, trying my best, and finishing strong. I need to figure out how to silence my “MUST WIN EVERYTHING” demon. Find satisfaction in the wonderful triumph of finishing. Make “race” a noun again. Enjoy the ride.
But right now? Today? Today I am a runner who has won races. I am a runner who had a podium trifecta in three weeks. And that is amazing.