Saturday morning, I headed out to a local run race to spectate. Despite the glorious spring we’ve been having, Chicago weather shit upon us a brisk morning of 40-something temperatures and gusting to 35 mph winds. Needless to say, when the alarm went off at 5:30 am I was thinking to myself that I could pull the pregnancy card, lay in bed until Chris gets home from the race and stay warm.
I didn’t play that card. I’m saving it for something really bad – like taking Boss out in the pouring rain or taking the grandma-in-law grocery shopping (three stores for three items, no kidding) or doing anything other than what I want after week 36 of pregnancy.
I’ll admit that being around a race when you can’t race is a little rough. Last year was different – I was so burned out mentally and physically that I didn’t want to race. I was happy to be spectating until Clearwater when I declared myself officially done as a spectathlete. Little did I know at that point I was already pregnant and about to spend another year on the sidelines. Although I have a darn good reason for spectating this year, I feel like I’ve been spectating for two years now, separated from doing what I really want to do. To say that I’m hungry would be an understatement. Frothing at the mouth might describe it better.
There’s something about a running race that makes me want to get out there – no matter how cold or hilly it is – put on a pair of shorts, a jog bra, throwaway gloves, race flats and run like hell. The course was monster hilly which is my favorite type of course. I can’t wait to suffer on hills again. I watched the runners line up at the start line, I could feel the energy. In a few moments, they will be stewing in the lactic acid of likely going out to hard and then flirting with the edge of redline up and down the hills.
Awesome. I want to be there.
A woman starts talking to me. She takes a huge risk in asking if I’m pregnant. I know, I hide it well (have you seen me!??!!). Complete stranger and I now involved in personal discussion about all things pregnancy. I love being pregnant. Anyways, we continue talking until the 1-minute countdown begins. Before she jogs away she says, oh, you’ll come back faster you know.
She says she doesn’t know why or how but you come back faster. Physiologically I know the why. But psychologically I am learning the how. You don’t hold back for 10+ months without getting a little hungry. You don’t stand on the sidelines without feeling something ignite in your legs.
The start gun goes off and just like that – they are gone. All of them, heading out on the first mile towards a monster hill. I consider what to do with myself for the next 10 miles. And realize I need to make another trip to the porta-potty.
I’m ready for the pregnancy diaper. Really, put it on me. Oh they don’t make them? Funny because they make about 2094023984092 different kinds of diapers for babies. Why not us pregnant women? You don’t think we have a need too?
While athletes were out there chasing personal records today, I was setting the personal record for most visits to the porta potty in 60 minutes. I went 6 times. SIX TIMES. I feel like all I do lately is live in between bathroom breaks. You know you’re pregnant if you walk into a store or any building and the first thing you ask – where’s the bathroom. It’s getting ridiculous. And made me think –would a diaper be such a bad thing?
To pass time, I walked along the I&M Canal. It was quiet and desolate with only the sound of the wind and the river rolling by. I thought about running (how I miss it), racing (how I miss it), being able to walk 10 minutes without having to urinate again (also, missed). But I know all of these things will come back soon enough. I am getting to that point in pregnancy where I am starting to look ahead to transitioning back to a normal life. Well, not really “normal” but at least not toting around another person in my belly or taking a deep breath before I tie my shoes.
When I have quiet moments like this, I think about what I want to do next year in sport. I find that something always pops into my head; a goal, a race. I want to get back to racing. There are things I still have left to do. I’ve won races, been a national champion but I haven’t been a world champion. I find myself saying it out loud: I want to be a world champion. I threw it out there. That’s how it starts. You throw it out in the universe. When something is said, it becomes possible. It might take me 10 years to get there but…I want to try. I don’t care who hears what I’ve just said or what they think. When I started caring, I started overthinking, trying too hard which then led to failing. The best athletes only have tunnel vision. They don’t see the peripheral. Who is next to you or what they are saying/doing/thinking is irrelevant.
Only look ahead.
I store that thought away and know that come late summer, after dozens of thoughts like this, I’ll have a solid idea of what I want to chase next year. I know I’ll be busy and tired and life will change but…I owe it to myself to make the time. It’s easier, of course, to just give up, to throw away the idea at all and settle for the new life. But I look at other women and see that indeed they not only come back faster but more focused, hungrier and driven.
I can now see why.
I go back toward the race and watch the runners cross the 6.25 mile mark. I’m directing them on the course now to make a right turn and it feels good to be back in the mix of the race energy. I see Chris running and recognize his I’m-having-a-good-run form. I see Kara leading the race and know how good it feels to be in complete control and winning. I see Jill proving to herself that she can eat the hills over and over again. It fires me up to watching them winning their own personal race, it fires me up for returning to racing and getting after it out there again.
Only a few more months to go. I’ll get there.
Awhile later, the lead male runner is making his way down the finish lane. It’s straight into the wind and his legs turnover and tear up the pavement. He’s held under a 5:20 pace for the duration of 10 miles of hills and wind. He doesn’t wear a fancy racing kit or the latest greatest in shoe technology. Running races are raw like that. It’s you, your shoes and your legs. No expensive equipment. No complaints about it being too windy – you just run into it. Or the course being long – you just run until the course runs out. Your time is your time. The winner will be he/she who can hurt the hardest from the gun and hang on. That’s what real racing is about.
After the race, Chris and I talk. He did the race today to remember how to hurt. Breaking through hurts. It is easy to forget that. If you’ve come back from injury, spent time away from the sport – when you come back you realize how hard it is to relocate your rhythm of success. Finding flow takes months if not years of discordant pain and thoughts, this is the rhythm of hurt you need to learn before a performance feels “effortless.”
Sometimes you need a race to put you in the position of learning how to hurt again. The biggest risk I see with athletes is the risk of complacency – of always training by themselves and thinking that they are giving it enough. Or, not going over the edge of hurt because it’s hard to convince yourself to go there and…it freakin’ hurts! When you get complacent, start racing more. You’ll find out you can always give it more and go faster. You’ll learn, quick.
Chris picked off a few runners in the final miles today. It wasn’t easy but he paced it well and mastered the mental game. He said when you’re in a running race and the guy next to you is driving you nuts because he’s there, he’s breathing, he’s not letting up, rather than focusing on him, look ahead. Look ahead to the next guy or the next mile because that’s where you want your energy to go.
Always look ahead. It’s a metaphor for racing, running, for life, right? I’m sitting here stuck in month 7 of pregnancy feeling sometimes like it’s a sentence. Other times like my life sentence has just begun. Know what I mean? For all of the beauty and excitement of pregnancy, at times it can be filled with fear and I want to go back, NOW. Turn the car around.
Life doesn’t go in reverse. Nor does a race. Remember, when you cross the line it’s doesn’t matter the weather, how perfect your training was or what you could have done. All that matters is what’s you did. I could sit here in pregnancy woeing myself for all I can’t do, the 1000 trips to the bathroom every day or I could look ahead and know that when I get out of here, out of this body, I’m going to take 10+ months of fire and train smarter, race stronger and only look ahead.
And of all the things I am looking forward to – not visiting the bathroom every hour, not wearing elastic panel pants – I cannot wait to learn how to hurt again and if it takes months or years to get back to the rhythm of success, I want to get there. That’s what it takes to be a champion. Do I have what it takes? Screw what anyone else thinks or says, I want to find out. I’m not only looking ahead to it but looking forward to it.