Running downhill is a huge ego boost for a mediocre runner like me.
Feeling my feet slam the pavement in a progressively rapid fashion; feeling the wind wrap itself around me a little harder; seeing the trees become increasingly blurred as I glide past them- these things all work together to create a blanket of affirmation. Yes! I am fast! See!
This is where I found myself Saturday as I skedaddled my way through my first 10k. I had failed at completing the training plan for my 2nd half-marathon, so I decided upon the 6.2 mile course instead (dare I say with a measure of relief). As I sprinted across the starting line, I resolved that I would aim to break the one hour barrier for this run. After-all, every runner possesses some inborn need for a goal, and this one seemed like a modest ambition.
There was a kink in my plan, though, because my smart phone was out of commission that morning, which meant that the monotone female voice of my nifty running app was not going to recite my miles per hour to me as I ran. I was going to have to gauge my speed on my own. This would be interesting.
I dashed along, perfectly clueless as to whether my speed was on target or not, when I saw a long stretch of glorious downhill terrain. I recalled my husband’s previous instructions for such a situation- straightening my shoulders, leaning forward slightly and allowing the hill to take me on a joyride. Short, rapid strides. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. I felt pretty sure I was trucking it.
Up ahead a 55 MPH speed limit sign caught my eye. I smirked as I ran, facetiously thinking Ha! I hope I don’t get a ticket!
Right at that moment of inflated confidence, several runners passed me. Apparently the hill was serving them better than it was me. Maybe I shouldn’t have been mentally taunting the traffic patrol. A little focus can go a long way. I fixated myself again on my speed, aiming to maximize the benefits of the hill’s downward slope. Then I saw the curvature of the line of runners ahead. They were rounding out the half-way mark and were headed back up the same hill that we just came down. I had selectively forgotten that would happen. In this case, what goes down, must go up.
When I turned and headed back uphill, I tapped the volume up a few notches on our family’s outdated IPOD classic (the old-school type without the touch screen). Typically, I listen to Pandora radio on my phone while I run, so I didn’t have a playlist of songs suitable for running available on the IPOD. But since my juvenile taste in music often mirrors that of my six-year-old, I chose his playlist, titled “Taterbug.”
At the steepest point of the hill, when I most desperately needed an intensely motivating tune to nudge me forward, a familiar song startled me. If you happened to be a young teenager in the mid 90’s as I was, then perhaps you will recognize the lyrics that greeted me: “Mmm bop, ba duba dop…”
I had forgotten that I had put that song on there in an attempt to introduce my boys to some of the kid-friendly music from my generation. It is hard to be serious and push uphill during the second stretch of a run when you are humming along with an eleven-year-old who is singing about planting flowers.
By the time the next song on the list began, I had found just the right rhythm and a second burst of energy that brought with it the famed runner’s high. I felt optimistic that I was pushing a faster time and that I would meet my goal. I suppose my strides were a little over-enthusiastic, because my elbows were pumping so fiercely that they caught the cord to my ear buds with such force that my IPOD was violently snatched from my armband. I could only watch in horror as it flew through the air, narrowly dodging the two guys who had been tailing me and landing with an ominous clack on the street.
There is no room in a race to cry over spilled music, so I swiped it up as quickly as I could, jammed it back into the sleeve, reinserted the ear buds, and sighed with relief (and astonishment) when the music resumed. Those IPOD Classics are tough cookies.
Unfortunately, after this minor debacle, I never recovered my runner’s high. Instead, I grunted, sweated and labored my way through the last mile and a half, anxiously hoping that my efforts would be enough. As the finish line came into view, I searched fervently for the time clock.
It read 1:00:28.
I was too late. I had not met my goal. Quick, I thought, what can I blame? The absence of my running app? The uphill stretch? The flyaway IPOD?
Never mind, I was NOT going to let that second-ticker add a single minute to my one hour time. I threw my fatigued body into high gear and ran those last 15 seconds faster than I have EVER run in my entire life. The onlookers seemed perplexed by my sudden intense pace. My official time: 1:00:43.64.
I hung around for a while, chatting with a few fellow runners, confessing to everyone my unsuccessful attempt at crossing the finish line in under 60 minutes. Sometimes I have a reoccurring tendency to get hung up on my short-comings. I am so easily inclined to show grace to others while stubbornly being very hard on myself. I was reveling in my failure, trivial as it was, and half-way through the awards ceremony, I headed to my car. I think it was the combination of not meeting my half-marathon goals coupled with missing my 10k target by mere seconds that inspired me to shamelessly pout all the way home.
So, imagine my surprise when two days later, I received a message from a friend informing me that the official race results had been posted online and lo and behold, I had one first place in my division.
What?!? Me? The clumsy, silly, runner-girl who fumbled her way through the whole race? I won a medal?
The extent to which I am excited about this news is substantially embarrassing. Humility has exited the building. (I’m pretty sure my boys caught me performing a victory dance when I found out.)
Immediately I realized the absurdity of my previous dramatic sulking. I came to the conclusion that if I had indeed ran the half-marathon as I had intended, then I would have missed out on the opportunity to compete in a smaller scaled race that matched me slightly more evenly with my competitors-creating the perfect storm for a chance at placing.
In retrospect, I now see that occasionally it is our failures themselves that can serve to pave the way for our accomplishments. So, I will blissfully cherish my medal as a memento that serves both as an achievement and as a reminder that failed circumstances can often reveal golden opportunities. (Just don’t tell anyone that there were only 11 other women in my division- I fear that little nugget of information may damper the significance of my win.)
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.