Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DNC for the first time.

Here's the parking lot of the Verdi Elementary school, where the race was supposed to start. Looking at this scene, I made a difficult decision, but one I'm thankful I made. 

Last Sunday, Steve and I drove to Verdi. The day appeared sunny, if crisp with only a suggestion of clouds in the air. Perfect weather, in other words, for a road race. But as we descended the mountain to the valley below, the sky turned from blue to gray and then to white. The world appeared as one of those black and white photographs with only selected objects presented in color: the sky was white and the trees looked almost black in the flat light. The only color came from the highway signs which remained, alas, bright green.

I recall Steve saying, as we passed Hirshdale: "Well, at least it's not snowing." But a few miles later just outside our destination, the snow began to fall. Lightly-- whimsically one might even say-- at first, but then the flakes grew in size and frequency. The road became white. Old highway 40-- which was part of the race-- hadn't yet been plowed and so offered only four lines of refuge from the snow where other cars had braved the elements earlier that morning. Traction, even in Steve's Ford, was dubious. All I could wonder was: I'm really going to race, in this?

We continued on, however, turning onto the narrow country lane leading to the Verdi Elementary School where the race was set to begin. There was a finish line there, white like the rest of the road, and cars already in the parking lot. I spotted a friend of mine, Lynni, who was running even if she "only managed to remain on [her] feet." I got my number and even went so far as to gather safety pins, when Steve looked at me and asked: "Are you going to run?"

He vocalized what I'd been wondering but was too afraid to say. Was I actually going to run--forget about racing-- in these conditions? I could hardly walk across the parking lot without slipping-- could I run in this? As if on cue, a former boss of mine walked through the door to get her number as well. We'd never gotten along and this morning was certainly no exception. "Oh, hi," she said with a markedly false singsongy tone. It was a challenge, perhaps, a way of asking without really asking: "Are you going to run?"

Believe me when I say I wanted to. I wanted to beat her and I wanted to prove to myself that I'd gained fitness since my last race in Davis. I wanted to run an event with Lynni again (we'd run this race together 2 years before.) But my eyes turned to the snowy landscape outside, to to the unplowed road I'd have to race on, to conditions similar (or, to be more accurate) worse than those that had injured me in the first place. Was I going to race in 6-inches of snow?

Then-- call it maturity if you must-- I turned and said to Steve: "I'm not running in this."

He might have been surprised. "Really?"

Here's the explanation I offered him: "The purpose of running in this event was to get my legs to turn over quicker than they do when I run alone. To get my blood pumping, to see where I'm at, fitness-wise. I can't do any of that here, today. All I can do is hope not to fall and not to get injured. And that just doesn't seem worth it."

I really can't believe I said that, but I did. And though I walked away from a race, I didn't and don't feel like a coward. I made a smart decision, and I'm actually a little proud of myself.

I'm writing about this "unremarkable" event because the "me" one year ago would not have turned and walked away. I'd have let my ego guide me and I would have run despite (or to spite) the conditions and everyone else there. And, in doing so, I would have probably been injured.

But something inside of me has changed. I don't care so much what the people at that race thought of my actions, if they thought I was a coward, in other words. I don't care that my name will have the letters "DNC" next to them, if the results were posted online. Or rather, I do care, very much so, but I care more about the goal I've set for myself to run a 2:47 marathon. I can't do it injured (heaven knows) and so this is what I did that day instead: we drove back to Tahoe City and I ran a solid 7-mile tempo run on the treadmill and then I lifted weights and worked my core. I know it's not as exciting as reporting: "Gee golly, folks, I won," but I'm glad to report I'm still training and making progress toward a lofty goal that's becoming a little less lofty.

And so, maybe part of achieving a goal is to move away from it once in a while. Of course, I wish I'd had a chance to run another 10k this month, but more importantly, I'm not injured and I was still able to put in a quality workout once I returned home. Perhaps it is the same with writing: I might not publish anything this year, but I'll have had (I hope!) interesting experiences and thoughts that will help produce an amazing text in years to come. Or in building a house, sometimes you have to take a step back (to repair a broken line of plumbing or to level a floor) in order to produce a stable, workable and beautiful place in the end. And so, that's what I'm doing: preparing a solid foundation for a strong and beautiful marathon in October.

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