Lessons from a trail race

I am doing something I don’t generally do which is post blog posts out of chronological sequence. Then again, I don’t usually get three weeks behind in my blogs posts either. But hey, I will do what I want. I’m good at that, right?

So the morning of Sunday 21 August I woke up at 5:30am and braved cold temperatures (it was maybe like 10 degrees C), and pouring rain, to go run up and down a mountain. I entered the shortest course on offer which was 9kms (my friend Keith ran the 19km and finished fourteenth!).

Now this was a very cold experience. At one point when we turned and ran into the wind, the rain was coming so hard and fast that it felt like I was crying (or running through a river). I actually love running in the rain, so no complaints about the rain … just the ambient temperature left something to be desired!

But as I was busy running along my mind was spinning as it does when you run long distances, so here are a couple conclusions that I came to:

1. Don’t be swayed by other people’s opinions. I wound up running the entire race with my jacket because I was a bit apprehensive of the cold, and asked the opinion of one of the other runners about whether or not I should wear it. She said I definitely should and, of course, after less than 1km I was wishing I’d left it behind. I know my body and my reaction to conditions better than she does, of course, but I ignored what I thought to be true and bowed to my fears.

2. Eventually, the inevitable is going to happen. That’s why it’s called inevitable. There comes a time in every trail run where you realize there is no way you can keep your feet clean (or, as with yesterday: dry!). This one can be applied to a lot of things but I was thinking more of how the real self, warts and all, comes out under pressure. We are always busy putting up walls around ourselves and keeping this mask of how we want the world to see us. Then when we hit strain, we show our true colors. Mine came out in LA.

3. But you still keep trying to avoid the puddles! I was debating with a co-worker late last week whether or not people’s “true selves” came out while drinking. For me, the person is actually the combination of the innate tendencies and what they do with them. You can’t control how you feel, only how you react. So if someone drinks and gets aggressive but is normally not, that doesn’t mean they are truly aggressive. It’s a part of them, yes, but how they manage that part is important too. So, your mask is eventually going to slip off but like perception is reality, the way you act is as much a part of how you actually are as whatever your innate tendencies.

4. You must be having fun! I go to work every day because I love it. I have to force myself to rest because I love not only the getting better part of CrossFit but the actual experience of going to the gym, seeing my friends, and training. As I was racing along the single-track through the wind and rain and fynbos tearing at my legs, I remembered why I keep entering these races even at distances where I am not competitive (this is a tough thing for a competitive person to do). I am actually out there to have fun!

5. But really, harden the f*ck up. I’d been in a not-so-small funk since landing in Cape Town and actually, if I’m honest, probably since leaving California. This was just what I needed to break out and stop feeling so damn sorry for myself. So what if I’m worried about some people or I don’t know what’s going to happen at work or I’m not as strong and fast as I want to be, or if I picked up some weight in America, or that my friends don’t respond to my texts immediately, or someone I really like is moving overseas, or I’m not as close to my family as I’d like, or I’m too scared to say ‘don’t be scared,’ or I’m feeling torn and lost and confused about what I really want? Well, this is why they call me Princess I suppose, I’m always whining and moaning about something. Hell, even being out there in that weather is an accomplishment so quit whining, get over yourself, and get on with it.

6. It’s when you stop paying attention that you mess up. I was very concerned about being careful lest I roll my right ankle and aggravate the sprain. On the single track you pay attention to every step, but damned if I didn’t roll it on the flat dirt road before we even hit the single track section. Not badly, but it could have been bad. So always pay attention, even when you think you don’t have to.

7. Sometimes the big picture is more important than the details (i.e. you’re trying to win the war, not the battle). About 6kms in, I did something to aggravate an old injury (a sprain to my right knee). My thoughts wavered between “Geez I should walk the rest of this” and “Damn it, I still want to catch those girls ahead of me!” before I realized that pushing too hard in this race could impact my training for weeks so I should put sense before pride, but it didn’t seem so bad that I couldn’t run carefully. Turns out to have been a good decision, I think. But damn it’s hard to have three people pass you in the last km. I would ordinarily never let that happen. Now I guess I know how they feel. Heh.

8. It’s not about what you can do, it’s about what you DO do. This was one of the lessons in the CrossFit cert last weekend, that there is a difference between potential strength and applied strength. If I’m capable of running a little harder but I don’t, it doesn’t matter what I’m capable of. At the end of the day, no matter what the conditions coming into the race, we all ran as we did and the chips fell where they did. I was 13th out of 80. And also, so what if I could beat all these people at Fran? We were running a trail race, not doing thrusters (although on a separate topic if I don’t have to hear the word thruster again for a long time it will be too soon…).

Yeah so that’s about it. Afterwards Keith and I warmed up at an awesome restaurant in Stellenbosch with an awesome waiter (and a portable heater….). Then I went down to Noordhoek to Meggie’s birthday celebration and this quickly turned from a very relaxed afternoon to a bit of a tequila-fueled … um, I don’t know what. I was having a great time, until the tequila ran out and the party moved to Kloof Street.

I never rejoined the party because I accidentally fell asleep in my apartment after dropping off my car. In all honesty, my body thanks me even though I was enjoying the company and would have liked to see where the night took us and see Meggie off in style (she’s going back to the UK for two months).

• “You’ve gotta be a little bit crazy to do that this morning. It’s not normal behaviour, I’m sure.” – Keith

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