Rachel and the McKenzie River

How to show up at a race and win

When I started this blog I never imagined I’d write so much about running but low and behold, here I am again for the second time in four months writing about running.

As with most physical disciplines, there are several parallels to be drawn between doing the activity and its practical application in life. So even if running isn’t your thing, this post will still offer up advice for how to show up and win in any situation in life which doesn’t come easily.

Every year for the past few years, every spring my running friends and I (we’ve labeled ourselves Team Chit Chat which should give you a good idea about how fast our pacing is) have completed a local running event: the Hot Springs Trail Run. It’s an 18 or 5-mile event in one of my favorite places in Oregon the McKenzie River Trail. This trail meanders next to the McKenzie River, through old-growth forest, volcanic rock fields, mosses, ferns, and the sapphire turquoise Tamolich (Blue) Pool. Picture the forest scenery in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back with the technicolor saturation of the Wizard of Oz and then set a soundtrack of gushing water white noise and you’ll have an idea of the intoxicating allure of this wonderful setting. It is a magical place for me and it feels so surreal to be immersed in so much natural beauty. One of those places where you say to yourself: “I live here. I am here now. Wow.”

new plant emerging in spring

An emerging plant along the river bank of the McKenzie River.

This year, Team Chit Chat was not able to join me for a variety of reasons (we have plans to reschedule our ritual later in the spring). Thusly, I found myself talking to a lot of new people this weekend. It can be nice to meet like-minded people who share your interests and hobbies and we had tons of topics of conversation around a destination trail event like this one. The course ends at Belknap Hot Springs and your entry fee earns you a soak in the hot springs which is always a win, even more so after you’ve physically exerted yourself.

belknap hot springs

Pre-race view of the hot springs. Soon, soon…

We even rode a party bus to get from the hot springs to the start. That was a great way to break the ice with complete strangers; board a party bus complete with empty wine classes at 9:00 AM in the morning en route to a running event.

my party bus

We dared each other to pole dance, but there were no takers. Maybe if there’d been mimosas…

Pink Buffalo always puts on a well-organized event, so I had plenty of time after my short-lived (and unfortunately dry) ride in the booze cruise bus to go hang with one of my favorite rivers and catch up.

Rachel and the McKenzie River

Me and my beloved McKenzie River. This shot is brought to you by river bank sticks and twigs which became a make-shift tripod.

I met a lot of nice people at the event, many of whom had run this event before. They were from all over Oregon; Eugene, Bend, and Portland to name a few places. All but one of the people were amateur runners (read: running just for fun save for one sponsored semi-professional). When I spoke to people, I couldn’t help but notice a strong thread of self-criticism. No one seemed content about their finish time, their pace, their division placement, or [insert self-critical point here]. It was as if pointing out how they had missed the mark or failed was an important feature to highlight. It was as if there was a secret rule: “We can’t talk about how we feel good. We can’t acknowledge the stunning beauty of this place we just ran in. Suffering is the only acceptable topic of conversation for this activity which we all paid $50 to willingly take part in.”

hot springs trail run

Feelin’ good and relatively mud-free at mile .1!

I overheard people say: “Oh, I just did the 5-mile run today”. This is a common thing to say; as if only running 5 miles was some sort of mark of shame. I was asked: “Why didn’t you run the 18-mile run?” to which I replied: “the 5-mile works for my life right now.” I had the feeling my running conversation partner was expecting me to say something like: “I’m injured right now, so I just ran 5-miles” or “I’m tapering in preparation for a big race” or “I just didn’t feel like it” or some other “lazy” admission of truth.

Even the woman in front of me who paced with me for most of the race surprised me. Trail etiquette dictates if you want to pass someone, you are expected to call out “passing on the left”. Each time someone called out to pass, she would say: “Good job!'” and cheered them on. “What a nice and sporting thing to say,” I thought to myself. “I’ll start doing that too.” In our 4-ish miles together, she told me how she had originally signed up for the 18-mile event but instead opted for the 5-mile distance and that actually she had driven a-ways up the trail and started earlier in the day, giving her a total 10-mile distance for the day. “Impressive!” I said to her in earnest, as my legs felt like lactic acid production factories in that moment. She and I stuck together and I pulled ahead of her in the last mile. As we got close to the finish line (which was downhill, thank you event planners!), I could hear her closing in on me. We both finished strong, had the bottom of our race bibs torn off, and picked up our unofficial race results and hot springs ticket. Then I hear this same woman, who had celebrated other runners, adjusted her own distance down and still ran an impressive distance, berate herself. Because she placed 4th in her age division. Her people placed in the top 3, earning themselves a finishing medal. “If only I hadn’t stopped so long at the aid station! What’s wrong with me?” she wondered allowed.

I wanted to lovingly remind my fellow runners that we are amateurs (all but one of us that day). We do this for fun theoretically. We paid to play and run in the forest for the day and have it timed. We all have to go to work on Monday. The Olympics, a sponsorship, nor a paycheck are on the line for us. So why not show up and win by just showing up?

Here’s how to show up at a race, or any major challenge, and win:

  1. Commit: to a do-able goal. If you’re running 3-miles consistently and you’re a busy person, you can probably go run that 5-mile event (notice the word choice here of “event” not “race”; it’s intentional) without much extra training. If you sign up for an 18-mile event, ask yourself if you have time to commit to that training. If yes, hooray! If no, sign up and do the 5-miler and don’t use the word “just” before the distance OR I WILL FIND YOU AND REMIND YOU!
  2. See the big picture: what do your surroundings look like? Are you in an office with recirculated air and fluorescent lights? No? You’re in the forest (in the case of this event). BE THERE.
  3. Prepare and release: do your training, eat well, sleep well, and hydrate the night before, give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the start, and then LEAN IN TO THE EVENT DAY MAGIC.
  4. Trust your body: you’re going to have days where you surprise yourself with all that you can do physically. You’ll consider signing up for the Olympics at age 40-whatever because you had such a great physical day! You’re also going to have days where you do everything right and you’re really slow. Your body’s agenda and influential power are stronger than your mind. YOUR BODY IS WISE. Which leads us to the last piece of advice:
  5. Check your egoyou can usually know that your destructive ego is driving when your mind (not your body) has thoughts like: “We can do this NO MATTER WHAT” and “LET’S RUN FAST EVEN IF IT HURTS, NO MATTER WHAT THE COST! NO PAIN, NO GAIN!” See again number 2: the big picture. Do you want to keep being physically active? Do you want to keep running? Is your worth as a person tied to meeting your pacing goal or finishing time? If yes, your ego is running the show. Trust me that I know from experience: your ego is a destructive force which only seeks outside approval from others. It is never satiated. It always wants more. You can differentiate “ego” from “ambition” when you tell your ego that you’ve met the goal that you’ve already set and it tantrums out and says shitty things to you in efforts to goad you into doing more than is prudent. Let it. Just remember what you and your body committed to (see again number 1).

Have you ever had an experience where you ego hijacked the wisdom of your body? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Breathe and believe, beauties!


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