I wasn’t going to run a 4th of July 5k.
I wasn’t, but when Bryan signed up for Fort Collins’ Firekracker 5k, we realized we both qualified to run in the elite race. Granted, it was a very loose definition of the term ‘elite.’ Women had to run under 21:00 to qualify. I only had one 5k on record for this year, and it wasn’t my best race, but it was a 20:54. Shut up, I’m an elite!
I knew I was going to be at the back of the pack of a really fast pool of women, but I still decided to do the thing. Offering me the elite designation is like luring a child into a panel van with candy: she knows she doesn’t belong there, but it’s really tempting.
And I did it. I did the thing! We all lined up for the fast-people race (the guy who won it was a former Olympian), then the gun went off and away they all went – a herd of tiny spandexed asses and spindly legs vanishing into the distance.
To my credit I was not last. I was penultimate. I am so proud.
But you know what surprised me the most? Running in an ‘elite’ race feels no different than racing as a competitive amateur; it’s literally the same sport. Look at it this way: when I was running in college, 15-20 lbs lighter than I am now and a good 2 minutes faster, racing a 5k felt exactly the same as last week’s good faith effort. Mentally it started with the same cerebral effort to pace intelligently at first, followed by the same primal cry to dig and push harder than is physically bearable by the end. Physically, I felt same lingual numbness at the 2-mile, the same pukey nausea at the 3-mile. The very same.
My conclusion is that the only difference between me and them (the real elites) is the time on the clock.
That difference is nothing, and everything.
Maybe if my body were longer, leaner, faster, stronger… I could be up there, too. But it’s not. Some athletes have golden-ticket bodies. Some have a vicious competitive drive and determination in spades. And the elites have both. I am not an elite, I have the heart but not the body. Yet I can’t hate on my body, it’s my home! It’s the vehicle that allows me to experience the sport, with the same burn, thrill, high, and drive, as the elite runners.
But I have – I have – to be content knowing that when i capitalize on that drive and commitment, when I use it to train intelligently, diligently, according to both literature and the canonical wisdom of the running community, I am becoming the best runner I can be. Holding out for ‘elite’ is pinning my hopes on a dream. It’s hoping for the impossible.
Yet I can’t help but wonder, “if I do everything perfectly – nutrition, training, recovery and all that, mightn’t the impossible happen?”
Therein lies the dilemma. At least I’ll always have running.
Here’s a picture of some pretty, non-competitive flowers from our camping trip last weekend.