Susan posted yesterday about her first half marathon. Despite health challenges and some loneliness in her training (which she wrote about last week) — spoiler alert — she did great and looked radiant in her pics at the end.
Like Susan, I signed up for a race on impulse last winter — my first duathlon. Also scheduled for last Sunday. But unlike Susan, I didn’t do mine. And I’m okay with that.
I’m not much of a racer or an organized event athlete. When I first started running more than two decades ago, I did a lot of races, and lived in the world of PRs and complex training and this-half-marathon-as-prep-for-that-marathon. I was reasonably fast and I liked getting faster and having milestones in the calendar to gear up for. I felt great finding where I placed in the overall field, setting targets.
But then I injured myself, and did a big marathon anyway (it’s BOSTON! I’m signed up! I have to do it!), and pretty much hooped myself from serious running ever again. (Boring knee stuff, still waiting for the magical cartilage-fixing goop I keep imagining is just around the corner).
I took up road biking when I couldn’t run much anymore, and for more than 10 years, have been alternating between running two or three times a week, spinning and lots of long rides. Half-arsed weights and occasional yoga classes. I do events — last year’s Friends for Life Bike Rally, and the Triadventure that supports the project in Uganda I volunteer for. But these aren’t races and timing isn’t a thing.
I’ve only “raced” twice in the past 10 years — a 10K about 4 years ago, and a very wet half marathon 3 years ago, both on Toronto island. I ran those more for the fun of running on the island and having something to shape my workouts around, without any intentions around time.
And — even though I had no expectations around time, and although I know I’m 52 and could never compete with my 35 year self’s PRs, even a “well run race” feels… flat. It was an accomplishment to do a strong half-marathon, but I’ll never come near my best time again. No matter how much I rationalize it, races that echo my younger self feel like a letdown.
So I just don’t really do them. I set distance targets on my bike (150 km for Canada 150, anyone?) and learn how to fix my bike, and make myself run even when this spring’s everloving wind just won’t. calm. down. I engage in generative challenges like the 217 workouts in 2017 facebook group (I’m at number 94). But generally, I don’t race.
Some of the people around me have become racier as we’ve gotten older. One of my former marathon training partners was recently national duathlon champion in his age group, and one of my best friends took up ski racing at 50. Most of the contributors to this blog write a lot about their races, and what racing means to them. Races can provide shape to your training, motivate you, and give you a sense of community and momentum.
But… they just don’t, for me, much, anymore. And that’s okay.
The other day Sam wrote about how she doesn’t really like riding alone, and I commented that in many ways, I prefer it. I love a ride with a good group or good company, and like feeling pushed to go faster and further. I like riding and chatting and catching up. But I also ride to stretch my inner self as much as my outer, and that’s easier when it’s quiet and just me and my bike and the road. Riding alone has more flexibility — I don’t have to haul myself across the city to meet people for an early start, or deal with the inevitable execrable traffic when the ride is done and the cars are out and it takes three times as long to get home. And my life is over-scheduled and over-structured, and just hopping on my bike when I feel like it is sometimes the most generative thing I can do.
So why did I even sign up for a duathlon?
For all the reasons above — to keep me moving through the winter, to give my training some impetus and shape, and to make me engage with myself as an athlete a little differently. And it did those things. I’ve done 25 spin classes since January, and got out in my running shoes at least twice a week, even if only for 3 km. That’s way better than any winter workout results for the past 10 years for me. I rode with Sam and Sarah a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to find that the hills were a piece of cake because of the spinning. I feel fitter going into the summer than I have in years. And I was looking forward to fusing the running and riding, just to see what was possible.
But then, the same day Sam and Sarah and I rode 82 km, I also went to a wedding and danced too hard in bare feet. My metatarsals and knees ached all week. Then I impulsively adopted a teeny tiny kitten that needed hand feeding.
Then on Friday night before the race I realized that the Ride for Heart was closing all possible avenues for me to get to the race in Milton, an hour away at the best of times. I made the call not to do the race, and instead, went for a spontaneous, relaxed 32 km ride on Saturday with a friend.
We stood at the end of Leslie Spit looking at the water and the boats quietly for a few minutes in the middle of our two loops. “I needed this,” my friend said. “Me too.”
Sunday morning, I woke up to menstrual cramps and cold pouring rain, and felt Very Wise for my decision. I fed the cats and thought I’d lie down a bit more . I slept until 11 pm. My body knew what I needed.
Sometimes what you need is a race. Sometimes you don’t. You just need to listen.