Sunday, May 31, 2009

Identity Crisis

As many of you know, I ran a personal best this past year at Boston for the marathon. I ran a great race, and I attributed it to great training and even better training partners.

After Boston, the New England racing scene shifts to much shorter races. With the weather heating up, the distance gets shorter. Our speed starts to pick up from marathon pace, and we shake out those winter cobwebs that have built up. Every town seems to have some local 5K for a cause, motivating the marathoner to see how their long slow distance training translates into speed and the weekend warrior who thinks “Yes, I can complete 3 miles even though I haven’t done anything all weekend.”
I dread this time of year. One would think I was a sane person and look forward to it, knowing that I do not have a nice twenty miler waiting for me on a Sunday morning. But, I as you know, have not a sane bone in my body. The thought of running only three miles at a REALLY fast pace freaks me out. I cling to my identity as a long distance runner, telling people often that I can run far, but I am certainly not fast.

Even though I do not care for the 5K, I seemingly get dragged into a few each spring. There is always a great cause to support, and always an obliging heart that will say yes.

Given this context, I signed up for two recent small local races, the Pembroke Titans 5K and the Scituate SHORE Run. Both were within a week of each other, one on Memorial Day and the other the Saturday directly afterwards. I prepared really well for both; not running any speedwork sessions and actually, as a complete fluke, I shared beers with my husband rather than actual dinner and food the night before each event.

The Pembroke 5K was a super cute event, with lots of local kids joining the race. I love these races when the starting line is literally lined full of kids ready to go. We headed out, and there were no mile markers. So, I just ran, having absolutely no real idea of where I was. I also was completely unfamiliar with the course, so I ran completely oblivious of where to save myself for hills, etc. Somehow, I managed to finish in 21:39, good enough to win my division and set a personal record.

I completely thought it was a fluke; the race distance must have been short. There was no way I could run a 5K at a 6:58 pace. Bill, my husband, tried to tell me that I was just a little speedier than I thought… but I told him he was crazy.

Less than a week later, and after running with my learn to run class that morning, I found myself at the starting line of the SHORE 5K. And, we were off…. The race did have mile markers. At 1, the timer yelled out “7:07”. Yikes- I better slow down. At the 2 mile mark, it was “14:10.” What was going on there? When I checked the results later that day, I saw that I had ran a 21:38. What? Another sub seven 5K?

I still am a little perplexed. I know I earned my Boston time, but I am a DISTANCE runner. My body is made for it, right. So, where is this little speedster coming from? It goes completely against my identity as a runner. I hate 5Ks. Why doesn’t the 5K get that?

A day later, I am starting to realize the moral of the story. I set my expectations for myself too low. I don’t want to disappoint myself, so I always think I cannot run fast because I am a distance runner who runs Long Slow Distances!

How often do we all do this? How often do we set expectations low for ourselves because we don’t want to disappoint our worst critic, our inner self? How have we limited ourselves because of this? How often do we cling to an identity that may actually not exist?

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