Running joyfully, running free

A few weeks ago I was back in Cleveland visiting my doctor-to-be boyfriend, who is in med school there. When I'm in Ohio it's sometimes tough for me to get in solid workouts, as I'm trying to balance my training schedule while maximizing precious boyfriend time. With such short visits to Cleveland, it's hard to motivate myself to get out the door for a tempo run when I could be hanging out with Avi...

So how does one keep training at a high level while away from home? Solution - enter a road race! Just like that, you have hundreds of workout buddies to join you in a hard 3.1 mile effort early on a Saturday morning! Among the hordes of other racers there's bound to be someone your speed and who will keep you honest in your workout.

So I did just that - made a $30 donation to combat ovarian cancer and entered the Out-Run Ovarian Cancer 5K. When the alarm went off early Saturday morning, I was cursing this decision to race (HELLO, 3 hour time change!), but I roused myself knowing that I'd be SO happy later when my workout was out of the way and Avi and I had the whole day to enjoy.

This 5K was the first low-key race I've done in ages. For the past 2 years I've been spoiled rotten by race directors and elite athlete coordinators who treat us elite athletes like royalty, what with guided course tours, elite athlete-only Porta Potties, hospitality rooms with all-you-can-eat goodies, etc! When I showed up at the OROC 5K, it was a refreshing reminder that at this race, I was just a face in the crowd. This race wasn't about elite athletes chasing fast times, it was about celebrating ovarian cancer survivors and finding a cure. Today, the spotlight was on survivors.

Photo Credit: OROC Facebook Page

I went into the race with no expectations and subsequently, no pressure. At a low-key 5K, after a cross-country flight, coming off 4 hours of sleep and a few beers at dinner the night before, I simply hoped to average 5:35s and get in a solid workout.

The gun went off and I quickly found myself in the top 10, the first woman surrounded by some younger guys who did NOT seem amused that a girl was keeping pace with them. One guy in particular kept bumping elbows with me and cutting me off, despite the wide course that left us plenty of room to run side-by-side. Guys, there's no shame in getting beat by a girl!! Guess this guy didn't agree... Oh well. I took great enjoyment in putting in a big surge at Mile 1 and leaving this obnoxious dude in the dust ;)

After the surge I was in 4th place and not too far off the leaders. It'd been a while since I'd vied for the lead in a race - I'm used to battling it out mid-pack amongst a field of elite women. So I was a bit surprised when my inner competitive drive kicked in and I found myself thinking, "Let's go for the win!" Duking it out with the men on the streets of downtown Cleveland, I remembered why I love racing. With no splits to hit, no pace to maintain, it was just about me and the guys, racing to see who was the best on that given day. Ah, pure competition! It felt AWESOME!

My inner competitor may have jumped the gun a bit and I paid for it as the leaders pulled away on the uphill by the Cleveland Browns Stadium. But I was the first woman across the finish line, finishing in 5th place overall, so no complaints there. More importantly, it was fun!

To my surprise, I finished in 16:43! Hello, what?? The same time I ran at the US 5K Road Champs last year? I had fully expected to run 17:30 at best. But somewhere along those 3.1 miles, I forgot about pace, I threw splits out the window, and I just RACED. With no pressure, no expectations, no Olympic Trials time standards ingrained in my brain, I competed. I ran joyfully. I ran free.

Moral of the story - Good things happen when you stop taking yourself so seriously ;-)
I'm trying to take these lessons learned and run free as I compete this fall. Of course, I've set goals and have things I want to accomplish on the roads and in XC, but I'm trying to see these not as pressure but as motivation. To the many high school and college athletes who begin their cross-country seasons this weekend, I hope you can carry the "run joyfully, run free" mantra with you every step of the way. Best of luck - here's to great seasons all around!