Monday, September 09, 2013

I did not win

Running for me is therapy. It's where I open up my personal RainMan-like "Serious Injury Book" and page through each occurrence to weigh it for actual or perceived pain. I bleed a little, emotionally speaking. The running helps me process that. It's one of the things I love about it.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to run a 5k at the crazy early hour of 0630. Not just a 5k, but a trail run. In the woods. In the mountainous woods.

A beautiful early morning at the Ferncliff Conference Center.

I run every week, on the lovely paved and flat trail near my gym. It's beautiful. Just over 2 laps and you've got yourself a 5k.

But this? This was going to be a challenge. There were actual challenges involved at certain intervals, which I would be required to complete. Well, choose to complete would be a better description--this was not a have-to situation, more of a want-to.

For me? Maybe a need-to.

Tagged and ready to run!
So we gathered. Made jokes. Picked our race numbers so we looked legit (lucky #13 for me), stretched a little and took some pictures. Then we lined up and we were off.

Over the bridge. We're just getting started, so I'm going to run instead of starting off walking, because I'm standing near the front. Then I'll hang back and walk.

Into the woods. The gravel the hill. I'll be tired when I get up this hill ... nope, I'm okay. Let's keep going. Hmm, this gravel isn't so bad. Watch for loose rocks, roots, holes. Stay focused. Stay present.

First challenge. A question; I can't remember ... but the ladies who stop with me can, so we're all winners. Thank you; thank you; thank you. Everyone here is new to me, I can't keep everyone's names and faces straight, I'm so glad you remembered.

Back to the woods. Paved pathways. I'll walk on the paved path ... Oh, this is a nice contrast to the rocks. This is my comfort zone. This is where I'm at home. I've got this. Let's go.

Another challenge. Jumping jacks. Whew, no more questions. Let's go, let's go, let's run! Back to the woods, the hills, the gravel this is growing on me, I'm almost to the halfway mark, I've so got this.

Passing my roommate, so not a morning person, who came out to volunteer and cheer us on because I asked her to. Another challenge, another question! I didn't even want to stop for it, I wanted to keep going. I answered, I stopped, I collected my prize and shared a smile.

Down the hill, back over the bridge, past more volunteers, more cheers, more encouragement. I smell the bacon. After this, there will be bacon and coffee and I'm almost done. Through the parking lot. More gravel, trees, twisty pathways, a pushup challenge. Yay! I can do this. Thank you! And I'm off and running.

Through the trees into the sunshine, burning off the morning fog. Push and push and run. Through the grass, which I hate. Okay, once I make it through the grass I'm so going to walk for a bit ... hey, back on gravel. I like the gravel. This feels good. Another hill! 

Back to the parking lot. I see the finish line. I see the runners, already done. I pick up my pace. I'm running the final stretch. I'm sprinting at the finish. I'm done. Sixth runner in. I'm feeling good. I ran the whole damn thing!

I'm spelling out the phrase from the cards I earned at the challenges, the slogan for New Balance, our 5K sponsor. Totally fitting.

Volunteers and runners and walkers and talkers and friends old and new sit around and laugh and drink water and offer congratulations and encouragement. At breakfast, when the awards are given, I realize first that while I didn't place, I won.

I ran my first official trail run. I loved it. The Natural Running training I've learned about kicked in and kicked me into gear and made it fun. Because of the challenges, I ran without music clipped to my shirt and with my phone in my hand--which I never do. I didn't hate that. It didn't hang me up or slow me down at all ... in fact, though I didn't time myself, going on the unofficial times of the runners who placed, I finished in just over 30 minutes--which is a race record for me. My best time previously for a 5k is 37 minutes.

I realized that my aversion to trails, to the primitive outdoors is not so much an aversion to getting dirty or bitten by bugs or anything like that; it's a loss of control. I like to maintain control. I have a fear of spontaneity, a need to maintain order. But that connection I felt on that trail was impossible to ignore. It made me recognize this need for control that I didn't realize I was flexing. And maybe I don't so much need. Running a paved path is always about control, looking ahead, how much longer, where are you going, keep your head up and see what you're approaching. Running on a trail, I found myself focused on that moment in time, eyes on the trail right where I was, picking my way through the path, focused intensely on that moment, and everything contained in that moment.

For someone who's not so much a "live in the moment" kind of girl? That's overwhelming. And cathartic.

I also connected to something else; I felt like I was a part of something bigger than just me. I opened myself up in many ways--by running without headphones, I opened myself up to the experience of running the woods and connecting with my breathing, my footfalls, the sounds of the forest around me, my tiny place in this great, big world. Trail running is about so much more than just the act of running or exercise, I see that now. It's the connection.

This weekend was all about connection. The run was part of the Arkansas Women Bloggers annual conference, where I opened myself in another big way, to experience connecting with other women who do the same thing I do--tell stories online that are personal and sometimes painful. Sometimes funny and sometimes sad.

Good things come when you open yourself to connections.

I think I really did win, after all.


  1. Congratulations, Mari! You indeed are a winner. That is an impressive time for a 5K, and as is so often the case when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, you reaped some unexpected rewards.

    1. Thanks, Dee Dee; I'm so thrilled with what I gained. I feel like I challenged myself and won, and I'm so filled with gratitude!

  2. I am absolutely loving the comments from women who have never thought they'd enjoy trail running and discovered this weekend how engaging the dirt is. Keep running!

    1. You know, had I waited another day, for the itching from the chigger bites to kick in? This might have been a different post all together... ;)

  3. Love this! (This is Jamie from Jamie's Thots)

    1. Thank you :) I learned so much and felt such assurance from everyone.

  4. SO proud of you! You rock!