Unplugged but Switched On…
I have talked and written about the magic in running before, about how participation in sport can often act as a spontaneous and joyful catalyst to challenge all we think we believe about our abilities and limitations. These are special moments, when we are engaged in the doing, the moment when our minds stop their ceaseless chattering about whether we are good enough, fast enough, fit enough—WORTHY enough—of being there. The action-engaged mind becomes still for a moment, we stop analyzing and things just click. That is what the sport scientist calls ‘flow’ and what I call joy. It is no secret. There is a reason that millions of people run races every year.
Another kind of magic occurs when you race, and sometimes it is only once you are at the finish line, in those moments right past the final step of effort, when the energy of the race both washes over you, and through you, like a freight train that has been bearing down on you for the last 10k, and now you have stopped it can finally catch up. I am often bowled over by this freight train and suddenly, in its impact, aware of how much I love it. The train represents the whole intensity of what I just did, how it comes and envelopes me with that profound feeling of satisfaction, and elation. That state the sports scientists also have a name for: ‘runner’s high’– the result of all those exercise induced endorphins as they surge through your brain.
I love the first big race of the year, like the way I welcome the change of seasons: so wrapped up in summer, it isn’t until the very first crisp day of autumn that I realize how much I love the cooler air, the change. In the first big race-as I put it all on the line again—the love of the commitment becomes more real and the training feels extra meaningful.
Racing isn’t just there to let you test out your fitness and strength and see where your speed is at. To look at racing as only a way to get a time—or to the finish line– is to fail to see the many dimensions that racing really is. For me, the first big race of the year gives me a chance to revisit and refine how I want to exist in this environment. Personally I love racing. I love the gradually building excitement to race day, the environment of celebration, community and being part of something larger than my every day training and life—breaking out of the comfort of the 45 minute run through my favourite trail. While I frequently feel nervous before races, the sense of anticipation reminds me of how much I love just being alive!
The first big road race is fun, a chance to step back into the higher stakes world, where we expect more of ourselves and use the runners around us to push ourselves greater than in practice. After my first big race of the year I am reminded of why I love running and racing and coaching. An early race is like a kick starter for your season: all it takes is one starting line—those moments waiting for the countdown, the lifting of the bar, running more intensely than you have yet this year, and you are up and running.
Your first race switches you on, or makes you hungry, some people say. Hungry for more of that, faster times, and better results. For me it draws me in and makes me want to give more, and the more I give the more I feel in touch with that magic, with a world that is full of it. And so I want to do it again, and do it better, with more focus. Physically, the first race boosts fitness…lubricates the system so to speak, so that the following week, my training runs feel smooth and efficient—it is apparent that the race has lifted me to a new level.
Because of the momentum and energy of this first race, there should always be another race planned, something concrete to look forward to, a point in the not too distant future in which to lift yourself again.
I believe strongly in the personal power of running. Races are a chance to be strong, empowered, to take charge and to be engaged. Open your heart and lungs, and let the magic happen.
Lucy Smith, April 19th, 2012