fitness · motivation · race report · racing · running

Have you amazed yourself lately? Try consistent effort and see where it takes you [aka Tracy’s epic 10K]

Image description: Ellen and Tracy selfie after MEC 10K. Ellen on left, blond hair with straight bangs, smiling, white tank; Tracy on right, smiling, short blond hair, sunglasses atop head, smiling, pink and purple tank, white earbuds cord hanging around her neck; trees and parked cars in background.
Image description: Ellen and Tracy selfie after MEC 10K. Ellen on left, blond hair with straight bangs, smiling, white tank; Tracy on right, smiling, short blond hair, sunglasses atop head, smiling, pink and purple tank, white earbuds cord hanging around her neck; trees and parked cars in background.

One thing that I’ve loved about the past six years since Sam and I started our Fittest by 50 Challenge and created this blog to document it is the way I’ve actually amazed myself.  When I was 48 and we were just embarking on challenge, I didn’t think of myself as an athlete at all. And definitely not as a runner.

Well, fast forward six years, well after the end of our challenge (Sam and I hit 50 in August and September 2014, respectively), and just two weeks shy of my 54th birthday. On Saturday morning at the MEC 10K race at Fanshawe Conservation Area I put my summer of 10K training to the test. My last race was in early June when I did the Guelph 10K with Ellen and Violetta. There, I ran with Violetta and had the goal of running a continuous 10K, no walk breaks. My time: 1:10:01.

This time I wanted to break 1:05. That’s a lot to shave off a race time, just so you know. Indeed, I confess to feeling as if it wasn’t going to happen. I trained consistently through the summer, following weekly training plans developed for me by my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments.  They were tough some days, with long interval repeats of 800m to 1K at uncomfortable paces. But I did them.

That’s when I started to amaze myself, actually. I would set out to do one of these interval workouts and think to myself, “Linda has got to be kidding if she thinks I can hit those paces for that length of an interval!” And by the time I had about 6-8 weeks of training under my belt, I was routinely hitting the prescribed paces, often even going faster than she asked me to go for all or almost all of the intervals. And that was despite a hot, muggy, uncomfortable summer.

Linda said to me a few weeks ago that she really thought I hadn’t yet reached my athletic potential. My first thought, “Coaches are supposed to say those sorts of things.” But she actually meant it. She doesn’t like to get too hung up on race time goals, but she believes that consistent effort in training can pay dividends on race day.

So I went into the Saturday race with the hope of breaking 1:05 but lacking the confidence that I would. Ellen came in from Guelph the night before to do the event with me.

Saturday morning was the first day in months that presented perfect running weather. Perfect! Cool but not cold. Light breeze. Zero humidity. When we got to Fanshawe Lake Conservation Area and parked the car we were cutting it close to the start time. We asked someone in the parking lot which was to the start line and she pointed in the right direction and then said, “Are you Tracy from Fit Is a Feminist Issue?” And then she talked about how she’s been following the blog and she likes it and she’s planning on power walking the trail race. I always get a kick out of meeting people who love the blog! So that sort of charged me up and we wished each other well in our respective races.

I am the kind of person who has to pee before movies, classes, runs, and yes, races. So as we walked past the bathrooms I told Ellen I needed to go in and she could go ahead. She said she’d wait but when I got out I couldn’t find her. Now we were really close to the start I thought, so I wandered over the to start area and saw a bunch of people with red race bibs like mine milling about. I milled about with them and Ellen was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of minutes, I asked some one if this was the 10K road race. Guess what they said? “They left a few minutes ago!”

Bam, I was outta there. Looking back, I wonder if that late start without a cohort to run with lit a fire under me that made me not just break 1:05, but come in at 1:04:25, a personal best for me!

I ran strong and continuous for the entire 10K. I eventually did see Ellen on her way back (it was 2x out and back for 5K each time, so we passed each other three times in all). I went in with a few strategies that served me well:

  1. I left my Garmin on my belt and vowed not to look at it after the race started. I wanted to check my stats later but I wanted to run by feel not the external cues of the Garmin, which can mess with my head.
  2. A friend of mine who has done a couple of iron distance triathlons said he gets through them by smiling (I’m sure it takes a little more than that, but whatever). I remembered that and decided smiling would be a good strategy. It wasn’t hard to do because I really did feel amazing on Saturday.
  3. This might sound strange and obvious, but I committed to pushing myself just enough to be able to sustain what felt like a strong pace but not so much that I would lose steam before 10K was over. I figured I could turn on the extra power near the end when I knew I didn’t need to have anything left in the tank.
  4. I absolutely didn’t want to walk at any point, and I made that decision ahead of time so there would be no question if my mind started to play tricks on me.

So, without the Garmin, smiling, pushing my pace, and committing to a continuous run, I ran the fast flat course in perfect weather. I could feel that I was running strong and steady. Instead of thinking I needed to walk, I actually felt pretty jazzed by the building momentum. I hit my rhythm and stayed there pretty consistently after 3K.

My younger faster colleague, Miranda, turned out also to be doing the 10K, and it was great to see her a few times and also at the end with her partner (also a colleague) and one of their kids. I got cheered on by a few other runners who know me through the blog and the book but whom I don’t know in person. At about 7K, one woman running towards me said she read and loved the book and that I was her hero! That almost made me cry but then I knew crying would slow me down so instead I let her beautiful comment motivate me (“you’re someone’s hero! Act like it! Go faster!”). Thank you to the lovely soul who said that to me.

When I hit the final turnaround and realized I only had 2.5K to go, which, come on, is hardly anything, I felt so good. I made a final decision that when I got to about 1K to go I would turn off the music and give it my absolute all. And I did just that.

When I crossed the finish line I hit “stop” on the Garmin. True to my word, I hadn’t looked at it since the race started. It read 1:04:31, not far off my chip time of 1:04:25. I was amazed. Seriously.

Now it’s true that had the conditions been different — a more humid day, a hillier course, less support from others, maybe even an on-time start — it wouldn’t have been the same. But whatever. I did it. I broke 1:05 and shaved almost 1:30 off of my previous personal record, set way back in 2014 at the Halloween Haunting when I was in top condition after my fittest by 50 triathlon season.

Between breaking my 10K record and consistently doing 3 sets of 12 pull-ups at the weight training studio, I’m feeling pretty amazed at the evolution of my athleticism. Confident and strong. Yes, I realize that 1:04:25 is not an epic time for some people. Lots of folks come in under 60 minutes for their 10K, some even under 45 minutes, closer to 30. Wow! I am truly in awe of those sorts of times. But I am also in awe of progress and personal milestones, and I think it’s okay to be impressed with ourselves sometimes!

That feeling will carry me to my next goal, which is to take the continuous running to a new distance–the half marathon. That will be a new challenge, but I think I can do it if I run smart at the Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon in October. I have the time goal of 2:25 in the back of my head. I will follow that pace bunny. But my main objective is to run continuous. Again with no Garmin. Between now and then I will stay consistent with the training that Linda has laid out for me.

Sam and I sometimes laugh about how boring our message is. No dramatic magical transformation that happens overnight. Just a moderate, easy going approach. Start small, put in consistent effort, challenge ourselves a bit, and see what happens. It really does yield amazing results, even if they kind of creep up on us.

Have you amazed yourself lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

femalestrength · fitness · running

Facing the enemy: Bettina tries run commuting… uphill!

I have talked here before about how badly I do running uphill. I could run downhill, I could run on a flat course, but uphill – no, no, and no. But since I was told that the only way to improve my uphill endurance was to… run uphill, I’ve been working on my hills, and while I still haven’t been enjoying them, things have been looking a bit better of late.

I had previously entertained the thought of running to work on several occasions. The problem was: I work up a very steep hill, and I never thought I could actually do it. It was the sort of idea that would float into my head only to be immediately dismissed as completely unrealistic. I had visions of myself arriving at the office completely exhausted (if at all) and being essentially useless for the rest of the day. Check out the elevation profile of my commute to get an idea of what I was up against:

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Graph of the elevation profile of my run to work, showing an overall elevation of 285 metres with a very steep uphill slope at the beginning.

Then, a month ago, I tried trail running at a mountain sports festival and unexpectedly enjoyed it a lot more than I ever thought I would. I had been quite nervous about even attending the workshop because I was afraid I’d be “that person” holding back the entire group and making a sad spectacle out of herself. This was decidedly outside of my comfort zone, so I was very relieved when it turned out the others had similar concerns (and, I will admit, also because I realised that I wasn’t the slowest group member).

But I think what helped the most was the instructor’s explanation of trail running as “basically a mixture of running and walking – you run when you can and you walk when you can’t or the terrain gets too difficult”. It made me feel much better about slowing down for a particularly steep climbs. Part of my problem with hills before was that I would beat myself up about having to walk when the going got too tough. Walking was “not allowed” in my mind. But all of a sudden, walking was allowed, nay, encouraged. I felt more at ease about those hills immediately.

Trailrunning with gear
Bettina, looking a bit nervous in anticipation of her first run commute, equipped with a trail running backpack complete with a water bladder.

After that first positive experience with trail running, it was only a question of time until I attempted my first run commute – the time it took for my little trail running backpack to be delivered. When it finally arrived (I wanted a very particular one and it took a while to get here), I decided to try it out right away. The day before, I took an extra outfit to work and left it in the closet in my office for the next day, and the following morning I suited up in my running outfit and backpack. I carried some water, my glasses, keys, and a small makeup bag with the bare necessities to make myself look presentable for a day at the office. Luckily we have showers at work, so that wasn’t going to be a problem.

And the only thing I regret about it was not having run commuted before. It was fantastic! I’ve done it twice now, and the first time I only stopped for a few breaks when I had to check the map on my phone to make sure I was still on course. On the second run, I found a slightly less steep route (actually the one shown in the elevation chart above) and only stopped once to briefly check the map! Granted, the uphill bit is very slow going, but I actually found I could do it without walking. And I was rewarded for it all with a beautiful route along little paths through the woods and gorgeous sunrise views over the river valley.

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Gorgeous sunrise view over the valley with Heidelberg castle in the foreground and the river Neckar in the back, framed by trees. 

I’m still optimising the route and my equipment (I ditched the water the second time because I found I didn’t need it), but it feels great to arrive at work with 5k already under my belt and the prospect of breakfast and a coffee while I do early morning emails. Unfortunately, because of the days getting shorter, I anticipate being able to do this maybe another two times this year before it gets too dark in the mornings to run in the woods. I won’t be doing it every day either, since I do other sports on other days, so at the moment once a week seems like a good routine.

I’m really pleased with my new adventure! Sometimes pushing one’s boundaries is just so worth it. I’m curious to hear from you how you’ve pushed your comfort zone when doing exercise. What was holding you back? How did you overcome that? And did you like it when you did?

 

fitness · running · training

“Startling” number of women runners who say they’ve been harassed isn’t so startling (sadly)

Image description: Upper body shot of strong woman running in a tank top, shorts, a black arm warmer on her right arm, hair in pony tail and a headband. Sky and rocky hill in background.
Image description: Upper body shot of strong woman running in a tank top, shorts, a black arm warmer on her right arm, hair in pony tail and a headband. Sky and rocky hill in background. (photo: https://www.pythagoreanhealth.com/best-workout-shorts/

The most shared article on our Facebook page in recent days was the CNN report, written by David Williams, with the headline, “Startling number of women say they have been harassed while running.” The article references a 2016 reader survey in Runner’s World which asked:

“How often, if ever, does a stranger whistle at you, comment on your body, needlessly honk at you, or give you other similar unsolicited sexual attention?”

43% of the women who responded said they sometimes, often, or always experience such behavior. Only 4% of men did. Now, the article is meant to be helpful. It offers advice (keep running; change your route; ignore) and ends with:

if you need support or advice on how to deal with harassment, call the toll-free National Street Harassment Hotline at 1-855-897-5910.

When I shared the post on my timeline, I added “Surprise!” Seriously, women who run were the least likely to find the numbers “startling.” Indeed, if anything, it’s startling that only 43% said they’d experienced harassment while running.

Here are some of the comments about the post from our readers (thank you everyone for your comments):

“Yep. Any women actually ‘startled’ by this?”

“I used to run in a cemetery. It felt safer. I’ve been harassed many, many times.”

“I run on an indoor track. Can’t feel safe outside.”

I’d be more surprised with a headline saying: we found most women aren’t harassed while going on about their daily lives.”

I actually feel like I don’t know any female runners who have not been harassed.”

I see I’m not the only woman deriding the use of the word “startling.” Not startling at all. Not even surprising when it happens. Pretty much par for the course. Welcome to being a woman in this world, author of story.

Only startling to a man.

The only startling thing about this is that CNN finds it startling.

Women are harassed everywhere 🙄 #EverydaySexism”

And walking, and cycling, and taking the goddamned bus.

Yeah, I just assumed close to 100% of women runners have been harrassed? This is not news, it’s common knowledge.

Every. Single. Run. 🤦🏼‍♀️

In short: not startling. Not limited to running. The harassment women experience while running, while going about their daily business, spans the gamut from unwelcome sexual attention to body shaming and body policing. No one among those who commented on the post found it at all surprising that a large percentage of women runners were routinely harassed.

It becomes something we learn to live with, to ignore. Mostly that’s the way to minimize unpleasant interactions — just keep on running. Mostly it doesn’t turn violent. But that’s not always the case. Last month in Iowa, Mollie Tibbetts went out for an evening run and didn’t make it back home alive. Her suspected murderer, “Cristhian Bahena Rivera, followed her in his car as she ran along a country road before assaulting her.”

Yes, murder is a shocking outcome.

But obviously it’s also incredibly depressing that harassment is something we have come to find not at all surprising.

Are you surprised?  If you’ve experienced this, how do you handle it?

 

Guest Post · running

Starting my feminist fitness journey: Early days of couch to 5K (Guest post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and short spiky hair.

Hello fellow feminist fitness folks, this is my first guest post and I’m feeling a bit nervous about it but also excited to share my thoughts and experiences in this space as I embark on my own feminist fitness journey.

I stopped going to the gym gradually over the last year (not that I was going very much at all) for a combination of reasons – boredom on the treadmill when the TV system in the gym was changed to one that I could rarely make work, anxiety about sharing the space and machines with other people, and the fact the my running shoes had developed a hole in the lining that hurt my foot. But perhaps the biggest reason was that I found myself feeling a lot of self-imposed guilt and shame when I didn’t go, which was pretty much all the time, and this was making me miserable. So I decided to let the gym go. This was a relief and definitely good for my mental health, but I found myself wondering “now what?”

I was not and am not in great physical shape, and after quitting the gym I was struggling with how to change this without getting into a repeat of the obligation/guilt/shame cycle. I also thought a lot about the “why” behind my interest in getting fit. How much was coming from a desire to change my body to be thinner and more conventionally attractive? Could it ever be possible for me to want to get fit without some of this internalized stuff coming up? After reading Sam and Tracy’s excellent book this summer I had more tools to approach fitness in a new way and since then I’ve been trying to focus on reasons for getting fit that feel good to me as a feminist (more on this in a future post).

Here’s how I got started: I posted on Facebook about reading Fit at Mid-Life, and my friend Tanya messaged to ask if I ever went running. I told her that I’d run occasionally in the past, but had worked up a lot of internal barriers to it over the years (Anxiety! I will be slow and awkward and people will look at me! Where will I put my keys and water?!). She’d recently started running again using a couch to 5k program and invited me to join her for after work runs. So I decided to give it a try.

Here’s a brief story of my first few weeks, as it involved a lot more than I thought it would “ie. just go outside and start running.”

The first thing I knew I needed to do was buy new running shoes. I’d been feeling annoyed about doing this because it seemed like they wore out much sooner than they should have, given my relative inactivity, and I’d been putting it off because I resented having to spent the money.  But running with shoes that hurt wasn’t going to work, so I went out and got new shoes.

For my first run I had the new shoes, but no place to carry my phone to use the training app as my running clothes don’t have appropriate pockets for this. So I just estimated the times for alternating the 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking that the app instructed.

I definitely started from the couch on this one –I was surprisingly sore the next day. I felt proud of having worked hard enough to feel it, but I also noticed some negative self-talk about how out of shape I must be to feel so sore.

Next I had to solve the problem of how to carry my phone while running. I did some research and bought a money belt/fanny pack sort of thing which has been working well for me so far.

I’ve been running at a local park and in the university area near my home, and also with Tanya at a running track in the east end of Toronto. I think that having some variety is helpful for me in terms of not getting bored.

After a couple more runs I noticed that my breasts were hurting because my old sports bra was not providing enough support.  Shopping for any kind of bra can make me feel like my body is not normal, because I have a really hard time finding bras that have long enough straps over the shoulders. Two stores and about eight types of sports bras later I found one that fit and it’s made running a lot more comfortable.

In the in the first 2 weeks I completed 5 of the 6 sessions from the training program, did a lot of troubleshooting, and spent over $300. I’ve been reflecting on the things that have I have access to that make running easier – money to buy gear, safe outdoor areas to run, and a washer/dryer in my apartment for washing stinky clothes.

I took a break for a week for a family visit in August, and then started up again right after that. It’s feeling good, and on my most recent run in particular I had all the gear I needed, had figured out how to use the music player successfully in the training app, and so was finally able to just get out there and run. At this stage it’s still actually alternating between walking and running, but by the end of week 8 I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run 5K. Stay tuned for more on my progress towards this goal over the next 6 weeks!

 

About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.

accessibility · climbing · fitness · hiking · holidays · inclusiveness · nature · running · traveling · yoga

Women, mountain sports, and privilege – thoughts on an all-female sports festival in Austria

Two weeks ago, I attended the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. It’s basically a three-day summer camp for female adults. You can sign up for lots of different sports workshops, including yoga, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, the full works. All of it women-only, set very scenically in the Austrian Alps. I’d read about last year’s edition and it sounded like a ton of fun: a chance to try out new things, meet people and spend a few days frolicking in the mountains? Sign me up.

IMG_3594.JPG
View over a lush green alpine valley, from the beginning of our via ferrata.

I agonised for a while about my choice of workshops – there’s no way you can do them all – and finally put myself down for a via ferrata (complete novices), trail running (beginners), morning yoga (all levels), and an all-day hike (experts). Aside from yoga and hiking, I decided to do things I hadn’t done before, so for instance bouldering fell by the wayside in favour of the via ferrata. And I was too much of a chicken for mountain biking. Somehow, the thought of hurtling down a mountain on two wheels terrifies me a lot more than the thought of being suspended above a precipice secured by nothing but a fixed steel cable and two carabiners attached to my harness through a via ferrata set.

f16d49f8-f3e3-4a9c-b9eb-182e60926933.JPG
Bettina in full gear, taking a well-deserved sip of water after completing her first ever via ferrata.

The classification of levels, I later learned from fellow participants, stumped not only me. How do you know you’re an “expert” hiker, rather than an “advanced” one? As I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of athletic impostor syndrome, so I was mildly terrified of both the trail running (should I have signed up for the “complete novices” one?) and the hiking tour (what on earth had made me think I was an expert? The hubris!). If anyone still needed proof that women tend to underestimate themselves, they only had to attend this festival. Nearly everyone rocked up with the same self-doubts.

But these shared concerns actually ended up making for an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone cheered each other on and kept encouraging others. It had been a long time since I’d seen two people as happy as two women with vertigo after crossing an incredibly scary suspension bridge on our trail run, fuelled by gentle coaxing from our guide and the supportive cheers of the other participants. It was wonderful to watch.

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The really quite scary suspension bridge we had to cross during our trail run, complete with some runners from our group approaching in the distance.

The other thing I’d been a bit wary of is going by myself. I wasn’t organised enough to enlist anyone else to come with me, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly – my small talk is limited and I tend to get incredibly intimidated by people I think are cooler than me, which is pretty much everyone. I ended up really, really enjoying myself, both in terms of the activities and the company. I met some very nice people, and the activities were great. In fact, both the via ferrata and trail running (who would have thought, considering how badly I do running uphill!) left me hungry for more.

The morning yoga was beautiful, and the hike was out of this world stunning – three three thousand-metre summits in one day! With bright sunshine! And incredible views! If I were to do this again, and I’m definitely keeping this option open, there are plenty of things I didn’t get around to doing: a more challenging via ferrata, bouldering, more hiking, and maybe, just maybe, even some mountain biking?

IMG_3751.JPG
Bettina in a red t-shirt and hiking gear, beaming widely with one of the summits she climbed during her all-day hike in the background.

There was a framework programme too, to keep yourself occupied while not attending a workshop, with ad-hoc activities such as TRX training, massages, pilates, etc., and you could even get your nails and your hair done if you wanted (I opted for the nails, which I usually never do or get done, and also because there’s not much you can do with my hair). In the evenings, one night there was dinner at a local hut, which ordinarily is a hip après-ski joint, and another night there was a concert with a local band in the festival tent. And as these things are wont to go, there were exhibitors peddling the latest trail running shoes, hiking poles, outdoor and yoga clothing, etc. You could also try all these things in action, which was fun, though it didn’t motivate any purchases for me.

The whole thing was a very enjoyable affair, but I wouldn’t be a good feminist killjoy if I didn’t have some issues with it. This was obviously not a free event. The all-in festival pass set me back just under 280 Euros, and I treated myself to a nice hotel in addition. There was the option of booking just individual workshops, but they also weren’t super cheap. There was a goodie bag for those who’d booked the festival package that contained some ecologically very dubious plasticky giveaways (although in fairness, there were some great quality ones too that I’ll definitely be using). And diversity at the event was limited to cis-gendered almost exclusively white, almost exclusively able-bodied, relatively fit women who could afford to be there, and a bunch of invited press, bloggers and social media influencers who were there for free (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them).

In other words, we spent three days oozing privilege from all pores. Is this inherently a bad thing? Probably not. We had a lot of fun and it was great to completely disconnect from the news and the heat wave gripping the rest of Europe for a few days, being active among a bunch of very nice, like-minded women and pushing our comfort zones in a highly supportive environment. The event is absolutely fantastic in that it lets you test the waters with new activities that might otherwise be quite intimidating, which I think is very important in getting women to be more active. But it’s important to be aware of that privilege – and of the fact that if you were insecure about doing any sort of exercise, you probably wouldn’t sign up for a three-day mountain sports festival in the first place, so a substantial threshold is still there.

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Enjoying these views was part of our privilege: panorama of the Alps with some flecks of snow in the sunshine.

And things could be done to make the event more inclusive. One could think of travel stipends, marketing the event a bit differently to attract a more diverse crowd, and so on. Again, the organisers are a for-profit company that makes money with this, so it’s not surprising that it’s all a bit commercial, and all things considered, the commercialness is very low key – you’re not forced to buy anything or partake in any activities that aren’t your jam. And yet. A bit more of an effort in making the event more diverse and accessible would be very welcome.

Will I go back? Maybe. I had too much fun not to contemplate a return next year. I’ll keep you posted – and if I do, perhaps it will be in some fit feminist company? Would be fun.

competition · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running

Compare and Despair: Help, I’m so cliché, why do I keep doing it? (Guest Post)

Training run on Castle Peak in the Sierras

Do you have a particular someone in your life with whom you compete or whom you envy? For me, it’s my partner. Not surprising. We are most likely to compare ourselves to those closest to us. Love and envy are flip sides of the same coin. In my case, the bar is high. My partner is super smart, engaging and well-liked, successful in his work and (this is the part I’m going to get into in a moment) he’s physically gifted. That’s why I love him. That’s why he is a source of more frustration than I ought to admit.

I train harder and faster than he does and when we get to the starting line of an event, some inner switch flips and he often performs better than me. I should also add, he’s eleven years older than I am. WTF? Well That’s Fantastic, as a 9-year old friend of mine says.

Back in May it was the North Face Endurance trail half-marathon event near Bear Mountain in New York. At mile 8, he breezed past me. My mind switched to Radio Self-Laceration; the volume at level 11. Life is too unfair. Why do men have it so much easier in the world? Why do I try at all? What’s the point of even training? I’ll never be good enough. And so on. I pulled myself together enough by the finish line, so that I didn’t melt down (as I’m embarrassed to say I have done in the past, and, okay, in the past month on a run with several much younger mountain goats, who had the same starting line motivational effect on my partner).

My partner has pointed out that my competitive streak means I’m rooting against him. I want him to be slower than me, so that I can feel good. True. I’ve tried nuancing. I want us both to do the best we can, but my best be better. This line of logical reasoning is not a credit to me. Being competitive is not a bad thing, as Sam and Tracy point out in their book. But it’s not so healthy, when I can’t respond with the same aplomb whether I win or lose, following tennis great Chris Evert’s counsel.

This past weekend, we did another long running event. The Sierra Crest 30k –technical mountain trails; at altitude; and lots of climbing. For the week before the run, I was in mental prep mode. Counseling myself to just let it go. Let go of my competitive desire to do better. Let go of my idea of fairness. Let go of my tendency toward self-sabotage.

Easier said than done.

Race day. The smoke from California forest fires is the worst it’s ever been (some volunteers at aid stations are wearing face masks). My partner gives me a hug and kiss before we start. I press play and start listening to Krista Tippett podcasts, something I’ve never done before during an event. Off I go, ahead. After a few miles, David passes me. Off he goes, leaving me in the dust. I will not fall apart. I will not fall apart. I’m listening to a podcast about love in politics. I see my partner far ahead of me up a hill. I am overwhelmed by the small heartedness of my competitive streak. How can I not just be proud of his strength? I want to catch up to him, so I can say, “Have a great race. You’re amazing!” But he’s too far away. I feel lighter. Like maybe I’ve let go.

At the first aid station, I see that he’s refilling his camelback. I was never planning to refill, so I keep going. Besides, I always worry that if I stop, I won’t be able to start again. A couple of miles later, on the steepest downhill switchbacks, he waves to me from one switchback above me. He’s so cheerful. I’m already pretty spent. I use his imminence as incentive to keep going. Not because I want to beat him anymore. I’ve accepted that’s not possible and it’s fine. I just want to do my own best time.

Two more grueling hours pass on the trails. Mostly I’m alone. Three men pass me. None of them are my partner. I pass two of the men back. I catch a woman. We chat about the smoke. She unearths some new zest and takes off with one of the men who passed me. I never see either of them again until post finish line. I listen to interviews with Cory Booker, a US Senator I’ve long admired; with Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist whose specialty is moss; with Luis Alberto Urrea, a writer and poet; and with the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.

I finish in 3:53. I’m second in my age group (same as at the North Face run) and 10th among women. My partner finishes 8 minutes later.

How do I feel? Relieved. Surprised. Pleased. Competitive. Displeased with my competitiveness. Uncertain about whether I actually let go.

When it comes to my partner, finding the balance between my competitive spirit and the ability to let go of an outcome is as challenging as the rockiest, tree-rooted trails.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this. How do others solve for this balance?

Summit of Castle Peak on a training run

Mina Samuels is a writer, performer, fableog-ist, citizen, traveler, enthusiast and author of Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives and other books.

motivation · running

Petty makes me fast: A runner’s confession (Guest post)

by an anonymous academic runner

“Just a tiny brag. I ran a tempo run at a 5:33 pace last night, which is waaaaaay faster than I’ve ever done. 3.01km in 16:39. It felt so good to move that fast.

It felt good too because I was running right alongside the two very young statisticians, one of whom is nice enough and the other of whom is nice enough but very very annoying and loud in the vein of Dora the Explorer and said to me, after she asked what I researched and I replied “social media,” “Oh you mean NARCISSISM” and so I won’t let that woman run faster than me if it kills me even if she is 20 years younger than me.

Petty makes me fast.”