The value of showing up
Roughly a year after the pandemic uprooted everyday life in America, I participated in a trail race with social-distancing measures firmly in place. In fact, the Super Bull Trail Championships moved my race distance – the 25K – back a day while the 50K, 12.25K and 5K events remained on Saturday, March 6.
That was a wise call as it reduced the number of runners moving along the 7.75ish course at Ohio’s Wooster Memorial Park. And it also reduced congestion at the start-finish area, where masks were out in full force.
There is a lot to like about the Super Bull race, which was challenging as each loop had more than 1,000 feet of gain. The course was really well marked, each runner received a sweet vest (and with an extra $20 donation to the park, arm sleeves were added) and they delivered on my request for a gluten-free grilled cheese to go with the vegan chili post-race.
Personally, the location was perfect for me since I have relatives in Wooster so I was able to see family and not have to stay at a hotel. And race morning was a breeze with a short drive to the start line. After a brief warmup to get the heart and blood pumping, I felt ready to go.
A few weeks earlier, the race director had asked participants for their projected finishing times so he could organize the wave starts, another COVID precaution. Based on my previous training runs around the hilly park, I set what I thought was a doable goal of 2:27. I also set a goal of finishing top 10, though obviously I cannot predict or have any influence on who shows up on race day.
After the lead pack sorted itself out and around the third mile, I caught two guys. One of them proceeded to stay with me for about the next 10 miles, almost always about 30 or so seconds behind me. I ran with purpose — and scared — to stay ahead.
After the first loop, I took off my jacket because I was overheating and didn't immediately know where to go. Fortunately someone yelled and directed me back to where the second loop started, which was different from the start line. The guy who was chasing me pulled ahead but I quickly caught up and passed him.
Around that point, I reset my time goal to 2:20. On the last climb, with less than a mile to go, I looked back and didn't see the guy who had been pursuing me almost all day. But I saw another runner. Where did he come from? That motivated me to keep on chugging toward the finish.
Officially, I finished with a time of 2:19:58 and 13th overall.
After the race, I was stoked about my time but also had a lot to think about. In my training log, I wrote the following ...
“Finishing at roughly a 9/minute per mile pace on that course feels good, and compared to previous races shows improvement. At the same time, I am disappointed that I didn't finish higher. A large percentage of the runners were local or at least ran the trails more frequently and/or recently than I have. Still that shouldn't matter. I was familiar with the trails. I get that I should not be in comparison mode but that is easier said than done.”
Predictably my coach, David Roche, helped me understand it’s the process, not the results. I know better than to compare. As I continued to process, I focused on the big takeaway: that pace was by far the best I have recorded so far on those trails.
And it wasn’t because of familiarity. And it wasn’t because of a random time I calculated. It was because I showed up every damn day during the winter training season.
So there it is: the process. Committing to the workouts, telling the snooze to F--- right off at zero dark thirty and finding joy in the training. Rinse, repeat.
At this point, I don’t know what races, FKTs or other adventures will fill the gap between this race and the Hennepin Hundred this October.
What is for certain, however, it that I will keep showing up, open my mind to new possibilities and try my best to leave the comparing to others.