“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” – Oprah Winfrey
Happy 1st Race Anniversary to me!
My first race was the NYRR Colon Cancer Challenge 15k in Central Park (2011) and on Sunday I ran it again. Since this 15k (9.3 mile) race in 2011, I have run 133 miles of combined races over the past 12 months. How? One foot in front of the other. I wasn’t always fast, or smooth, or with a huge stride… just one foot in front of the other.
Back in 2011 it was a frigid, windy day yet the cold didn’t bother me. What I remember most were my cheeks hurting because I could not stop smiling throughout the entire course. I was so proud of myself for discovering this new me, the Runner. I finished that race with a pace of 11:46 per mile. This year I finished it with a pace of 10:15 per mile!
This past Sunday’s race was a challenge for me. I did not go into it feeling I was in my best shape. For the past 3 weeks I have been suffering from severe allergies and unable to train without heavy coughing and difficulty breathing. The day before the race NYC received a nice soaking of long-awaited rain that cleared the air of the high pollen count and cleared my nasal passages and lungs too.
Looking back at my splits, I was moving at a swift pace (for me). This is my chart from the RunKeeper app.
|mi||Pace (min/mi)||Elevation (ft)|
Miles 5 through 8 is where I felt the struggle. I need to work on my speedwork. I have this problem where I’m running for at least 5 miles, feeling great, and then suddenly it’s like I’m breathing through a straw and it’s just really hard to get a comfortable deep breath, settle down on the pace and push along. Instead I have to slow down drastically, sometimes walk a few seconds, stretch my arms up to open my diaphragm (although I don’t get a side-stitch I think a good stretch might help) and just focus on opening up my breathing. This breathing problem has only occurred when I’m in a long race which is when I’m pushing my pace the hardest.
The Gift of an Angel Runner
Mile 5 is when you start coming around the bottom of Central Park and roll into your 2nd loop, climbing the hills. I needed a boost. I needed, what I like to call, an Angel Runner, to make an appearance. An Angel Runner is that special someone, usually they are a stranger, who crosses paths with you in such a way to give you a jolt of positive energy. It could be that NYRR male volunteer that usually can be found standing along the Northeast corner of Central Park cheering runners with uplifting phrases and high-fives. Or a runner who comes up along side you as you’re obviously slowing down and says something kind or gently pats your back in solidarity. Sometimes YOU are an Angel Runner too so pay-it-forward, it feels amazing and comes back to you on the course.
My very special Angel Runners are this dynamic female duo who I first met while running in a NYRR race last Fall. I was fighting to keep a quick pace when up ahead of me were these two women who had a call-and-response thing going on. One would shout something to the effect of, “Come on, we gonna do this. Looking tight, baby. ” And the other would respond, “What? What? We gonna go for it.” Back and forth they would give each other these little positive affirmations. When I first zoned in on them my emotional reaction was to be disgruntled and annoyed that I had to listen to hooting and hollering while I’m struggling to do my own thing.
No matter how much I pushed, I couldn’t pull away from the women. I had now run merely a mile with them by my side, sometimes in front, sometimes in back, but always within hearing distance. Finally I decided I was just being ridiculous to try to work against what clearly was a sign from God that I needed to embrace these two hardworking women. They were doing exactly what I was trying to do: run a race and feel great doing it.
I embraced the moment, pulled alongside them and chimed right into their chanting. “Hey! Let’s go ladies. We are gonna finish this race together. Come on now. Pull it tight.” They welcomed me, and from a 2-way exchange it was now a 3-way. I looked in both their eyes and saw a strength, determination and warmth unlike any other. I was so happy that I re-framed the experience and opened these beautiful women into my mental running-space. By letting them in, I was surprised by how positive and special the experience became. And it didn’t end with that race.
Just about EVERY race I have run since then I have crossed paths with my Angel Runners. Every time I see them we run a little ways together giving each other words of inspiration, compliments, a pat on the back… a fuel with more value than any Gatorade or Gel pack could ever provide.
Here I am struggling around Mile 5 when, Surprise! I see one of the angels up ahead. I scooted up alongside her and said, “Hello my running friend! Here you are. I was wondering if I’d see you.” She gave me a smile and her eyes lit up when she realized it was the strange friendly girl she keeps bumping into at a race. I asked for her partner and she said she was home nursing an injury. Quickly we fell into a comfortable pace. My struggles dissolved. “You look great! What?” “We gonna do this” “Yeah, let’s go” “Make it happen now.” On and on this wonderful call-and-response went until we hit a fluid station and we wished each other well and I pushed on alone. She thanked me for giving her a boost. No, THANK YOU!
Now I was feeling super-charged. I hit the hills in the Northeast corner of the park with steady determination. Ah, but once again my breathing closed in on me and I was struggling. I knew I would finish but I wanted to finish feeling strong. I started to feel deflated as I slowed down and runners I had passed a mile earlier jogged past me. A year ago, none of these running struggles would have bothered me in a race. I was just happy to be doing it. This year it was starting to irk me, badly. My enthusiasm and motivation were faltering. I needed to change my mindset.
Success lies in the significance of the little victories.
I thought of how this is my anniversary race and how far I have come since last year. How much I have learned about running and fitness. How much is immeasurable beyond the actual miles, the pace, the ranking. I wasn’t always a runner. I wasn’t always passionate about fitness. I am a work-in-progress and I need to celebrate every victory, including the tiny ones, even the ones that can start out being perceived as a failure but when you look closely you realize are a victory.
Like when I hit around Mile 8 and drastically slowed down to an 11 minute pace. Ironically, last year an 11 minute pace would have been fast for me. This year I felt like I was practically stopping. I reminded myself of that fact; that improved strength. (A victory!) And then I passed Mile 9 and remembered all my previous long distance races, including 6 Half Marathons, where I passed the Mile 9 marker and found strength and pride that I was here doing it yet again. (Another victory!) And all the miles I had in the muscles of my legs. (There’s a victory!).
Recognizing all these little victories helped me find my inner-strength. My pace increased, the wind was blowing my hair and I couldn’t stop smiling, again. I gained control of my breathing and more importantly of my mind and flew across that finish line, victoriously!