This past Saturday I ran my first really competitive/large field cross-country race in over a year and my first cross-country 6k/first race in bun-huggers since college. The combination of firsts-in-way-too-long made for an exciting, nerve-wracking experience. Would I get pooped out the back of the field, left to stumble along in my near-underwear uniform, pale thighs slogging along well behind the pack? Or would I get pulled along by the crowd to a fun, fast race?
Fortunately, the race gods went with option number two and I had a great time on the flat, fast course, chasing down other women the entire race and finishing with a much better than expected 6k time of 24:47 for 35th/92 runners.
Coming back to this style of racing also taught me a few new things and reminded me of some good lessons from the past:
- Sleep the night before doesn’t *really* matter. Sometimes I stress about how awful it will feel to drag my butt out of bed super early after a poor night’s sleep, but the experience of a late camp set-up (yes, we camped out the night before), cold night of tossing and turning in the tent, and 5am wakeup followed by a great race reminded me that good pre-race attitude is often more important than the precise pre-race routine. I still tried to get decent sleep the week leading up and made sure to manage more problematic pre-race factors like food (oatmeal a few hours before) and hydration (ran out of water on the hour drive down, not exactly optimal but at least I drank some…). My high school coach used to say the sleep that mattered happened two nights before, and it was good to be reminded of this since I can get a little frustrated with poor pre-race sleep.
- Check the porta-potty seat before plopping yourself down. I got up from my 5-minutes-before pre-start pee and discovered that if I’d sat a few inches further back I would have ended up with a lovely pile of someone else’s poo stuck to my rear. Even with the narrow miss (THANK YOU LORD!!!) I made good use of hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE before going on my way.
- Trust your body. I got out a bit slow in this race due to my altitude and lack-of-fitness induced sluggish turnover, but then started feeling really good about 800m in. Sure, we still had over 5k to go, but I decided to make a break for the pack ahead and ended up catching up to them and then maintaining that momentum throughout the remainder of the race. If I had let my mind convince me to hang back, rather than going when I felt good, I might have ended up just comfortably running along in the back pack, failing to really push myself and coming away from the race much less satisfied. Obviously this strategy of turning the mind down and letting the legs and lungs have their say has to be modified in longer races, but it felt good to remember how to respond decisively to the little unexpected surges of strength that come during a relatively short, fast race.
- Trail races have made me nicer. I kept getting the urge to chat briefly with people mid-race or to offer encouragement to the women around me as we ran. I had to suppress this a bit since they likely would have been a bit freaked out, but I did take advantage of my positive attitude to my competitors to do some fun post-race socializing. Even the most competitive runners are usually sociable and gracious post-race, but it was kind of funny comparing the mid-race attitudes and interactions between this type of race and the more laid-back, endurance-focused trail races that I’ve been doing since last summer.
- A coach can’t run the race for you, but they can make a critical difference during the race. I was lucky enough to have MountainMan with me on this adventure and he acted as my coach during the race, yelling encouragement and cues to keep me on track. Going into the last 600m I was trailing two women and had reached the level of discomfort where I was merely thinking vaguely about keeping up with them to the finish. MM yelled “You have two minutes to go, you can pass these two!” and it suddenly became apparent that yea, that was a great goal! “I can do anything for two minutes, let’s chase them down” ran through my head and I immediately picked up the pace to pass the first girl. I didn’t quite execute the plan, getting out kicked by both women in the final 50m, but just the act of going for it was fun and reminded me how helpful it can be to have an outside voice pointing out strength that might be hidden from one’s own mind in the mid-race fog of pain and exhaustion.
Overall I learned or was reminded of some valuable lessons and had an amazingly fun, exciting race that makes me look forward to the rest of the Fall season.
And, most importantly of all, I only *almost* sat in poop!
What are you all’s most valuable running/racing lessons? Or horrifying pre-race/porta-potty stories?