Monday, February 6, 2012

Back in the saddle

Bib #264 for me is a personally significant addition to out little wall out in the garage.

We started collecting race bibs after I finished my first marathon in 2008.  I had started training for it with my only ambition being to finish in an upright position instead of crawling through the finish line.  I was shocked as I passed a volunteer somewhere around mile 18 who called out, "Keep going!  There are only 5 women ahead of you!"  With a few hundred runners in the race I thought maybe he had been standing out in the sun a little too long and sneaking too many runner's goos from the table he was manning.  But as I passed a couple of ladies in the last few miles, I was shocked to find out that I finished 3rd overall among women and 2nd in my age division.  That little boost lit the fire for me to enjoy racing on a more competitive level from there on out.  (Before anyone gets too impressed, I have to admit that my finishing time was a far cry from phenomenal but apparently the oober competitive runners to sign-up that year were slim pickins.)

As I prepared for my first race out of the stirrups after Calista was born, I was quite confident.  Even though I hadn't been able to shed the last of my pregnancy weight, I felt strong.  I had exercised through my entire pregnancy, even running until I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and in the weight room until the week before I delivered.  Even though I knew I wouldn't finish first, I was sure I'd at least finish strong.  But as luck, age, and my postpartum body would have it, I finished the race far behind where I wanted to, feeling like my heart was going to explode out of my chest.  It was a devastating blow to my racing ego.  It was the first race where I left with my tail between my legs, wanting to cry.

As a few friends started discussing the upcoming triathlon at the Rec Center, I had decided I needed to put my racing days on hold for a while and declined their invitation to train with them.  My self-esteem couldn't handle another failure and humiliation like the last race.  This wall- with all of our bib numbers, along with some pep talk from good friends were some of the things that reminded me of my love of racing.  I registered for the triathlon and was determined to give it all I had.  By golly, I was going to add another podium placement to my imaginary racing resumeĆ© if it killed me.  I needed to prove to myself that I still had it in me.

The night before my race, I felt pretty confident with relatively few pre-race jitters.  I knew I had trained well over the past 10 weeks and that I had given it my all considering my current situation.  On a whim and out of curiosity I looked up the past racing results from years prior.  I had avoided doing it until then to avoid getting worked up over it- and apparently for good reason.  As I scanned through the times, my heart sank.  There was no way I was going to finish in the top 3 if the same caliber of competitors registered as they had last year.  Every bit of wind was taken out of my sails and the pre-race jitters set in with a vengeance, making it one long night of tossing and turning.

Race day came and as I watched the first heat, I realized there was no way I was going to finish in the top 3.  These ladies I was competing against were machines- nothing like two years before when I had competed in the same race and finished second.  We had been a crop of pansies then compared to these ladies.  I knew that for me to finish even in the top 6 the planets would probably have to align.

I finished the race a minute and a half slower than my previous time hardening the blow even more.  How disappointing!  Making it even more anticlimactic was the fact that Dennis was out of town and the kids were home with a babysitter.  I crossed the finish line to greet one or two people I knew who had come to watch someone else and then turned and walked out alone.  My first impulse was to throw in the towel and chalk it up as another failure.

Later that afternoon as the tears threatened to come I forced myself to look for the silver lining. I realized that even though my run time had been a bit slower than before, it was faster than I had originally thought it would be.  I had shed a minute off my swim time.  I kind of tanked on the bike, but bikes are kind of stupid anyway I decided.  And as I looked around at the competitors at the award ceremony, I remembered how much I enjoy the camaraderie among runners.  I love the "good jobs" and occasional high-fives shared among unknown racers even as they pass each other on the course.  Yes, this is something worth doing even if the finishing results are less than stellar.

As with most things in my life at this stage, I realize I need to take victories as they come, no matter the shape or size.  Perhaps it was the breakdown of the small victories that I had to force myself to see that made the experience sweeter and worthy of further pursuit.  Even though my horse is a little run down, I felt like I was back in the saddle again.


AllisonK said...

I adore that you keep these bibs in your garage! I want to have a collection some day. You are very inspiring!

Jeff and Kris said...

Rita Rita Rita! I heard you say "yeah it was alright", and I read "yeah I am totally, excuse the language, "pissed" at my time." I don't think it is a bad thing I think that it is a healthy force or motive however you want to look at it. I also saw a very inspiring women with fire and determination in her eyes. It is unbelievable the accomplishments that you have achieved, that wall is amazing. To even run a competitive race so soon after having your baby...Wow! That is all that I can say! Keep your head up and your feet moving and you will feel it all coming together again...even if you think your horse is a little run down. You and your horse seem to be a key motivator to a lot of people, including myself. I love ya and thanks for being my friend.