Race the field, not the clock

Earlier this week Southwest Airlines was having a ridiculously good sale, which led me to book a number of flights for the coming months. One flight was to San Diego for a whopping $81 roundtrip – absurdly cheap! I’ll be flying to San Diego to compete at the USA Cross Country National Championships on February 5. Last year I traveled to Spokane, Washington to compete in the same race, where I finished 22nd. Going to Spokane was a good experience for me – I raced against the best women in the United States and got exposed to a whole new level of running. USA’s in Spokane was a good introduction to the world beyond collegiate running, and although I would have loved to have cracked the top 20, I was still satisfied with my race. The 8K race was my first race since coming off of a stress reaction in my shin, which I suffered in October 2009. Since I didn’t have XC eligibility that fall, and had red-shirted the 2009 track season, it had been over a year since I had raced in uniform. My long hiatus from racing was slightly evident, however my competitive spirit hadn’t died. In the final 800 meters of the race, I began a long kick to try to catch an opponent, and in the final meters of the race I caught her, a long-time friendly rival (she’s a good friend who’ll be debuting in the marathon in January – go girl!!). Despite the long break, my will to compete, to race, to gut it out was still alive.

Yet somewhere between that race in Spokane and the middle of track season, I lost my ability to compete and just race. Somewhere along the way, I got caught up in the splits, the school records, the rankings… and I forgot how to be a competitor. Instead of being that runner who digs deep and passes someone in the final meters of a race, I became a scared runner, racing against the clock instead of the field, running terrified like a deer in the headlights. Scared of what? I’m still trying to figure that one out… scared of failure, I guess… I’m still working on this one with my sports psychologist, Dr. Paul.

Once a confident, self-assured racer, someone who you could count on to come up big when it mattered, I had instead become my own worst enemy, letting my self-doubt take over and overshadow my ability to simply compete. During the track season, I wasn’t racing to beat people, I was racing to break records and run PRs, and I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself about it. I let the pressure get to me and ultimately caved. I ended my career at UCD without a school record; I own the #2 All-Time positions in the 3k, 5k, and 10k, but have no school record to my name. I can’t help but wonder that if I’d thrown out all the thoughts about school records and instead just raced people and competed, then maybe the fast time would have taken care of itself…

Anyway, back to USA’s… last year in Spokane I was a competitor – I raced with a competitive drive and will to win. That’s the type of runner I want to be, and I’m excited to test myself in San Diego at USA’s this year. I plan to race a few times between now and then – hopefully a Turkey Trot or something in the next month, maybe a road race in December, and a tune-up race in January before the big event in February. During these tune-ups, I hope to duke it out with the men on the roads, race in a low-key, pressure-free environment, and simply practice being a competitor (and hey, maybe win some prize money in the process…!). 

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to running the dirt trails near Cleveland, Ohio, enjoying the fall colors, watching the Giants dominate in the World Series, and spending Halloween with the love of my life :)