Wait, why am I doing this again? I thought to myself. It’s a thought most athletes know well.
Moments before, I was mud-surfing down a hill in Hawai‘i’s Kualoa Ranch for the third year in a row. My finger was sliced open, bleeding, and covered in mud. My legs ached. Right when I was feeling a little more steady, my feet gained more speed than my center and flew out from under me. *SPLAT* My entire body weight landed on my left hip, and the rest of my limbs followed and smacked into 4-inch thick, shoe-sucking mud. I grunted, looked at the walls of green foliage surrounding me, and knew I had no choice but to get up and keep moving.
After picking myself off the ground and out of the mud, I hit a mile or so of gorgeous, hilly, single-track trail running. Without thinking, I began a slow, steady trot, passing people who were using this as an opportunity to rest. Oh, it hit me, this is what I love doing! I should do more of this!
Then, I realized that I could focus more on my running. I had only signed up for this race to prove that I could do it…to… who? Not myself, since I had already done this before. Whose approval was I seeking? Why would I show up again the next day to do it all over again? Last year, I had been excited at the prospect. This year, I only felt annoyance and frustration. Why was I doing this? What was I trying to prove?
After a few years of running and racing, this weekend marked a bit of a small, strange milestone for me: I chose not to run a race.
In my six year relationship with fitness and running, I’ve never signed up for a race and not done it.
I’m a pretty stubborn racer, so that means I’ve raced in some not-so-great conditions. I did the 2011 LA Marathon with food poisoning. Last year, I completed the Spartan Trifecta (all 3 distances) over one weekend, and was out of training for two weeks. I have occasionally embodied the mindset of, Do it even when it hurts. Do it BECAUSE it hurts.
This mantra is useful for lots of athletes: we have to push past the initial walls we set up for ourselves, outside of our comfort zone, to achieve something physically greater than what we could the day before.
Still, the more I’ve come to understand myself physically as an athlete and just as a human, I have to ask: Why? Why am I pushing this hard? Is it worthwhile to do this?
And it often is for many athletes. We set goals for ourselves, we make a commitment, we get something done.
I think it’s important, though, to keep asking and reflecting on the “Why” of what we’re training for. Last year, I was training to be able to complete the Spartan Trifecta, and I did. This year, however, the Trifecta was a pitstop on the way to other goals, and I was consistently balancing getting ready to do the Spartan Race with my desire to run a good marathon. Yes, I know they’re not mutually exclusive, but I honestly didn’t feel particularly excited about doing another Spartan. I felt like I had a strange, internal obligation to do it, instead of an actual desire. So many people I knew were signing up for the race or assumed I was doing it, I figured I had to do it too.
Here’s the great thing that I think we forget as athletes: we own our bodies and we can actually do whatever we want. Just because everyone around you is saying you need to go hard, or run fast, or push yourself farther than you want to doesn’t mean that you should. You actually don’t have to.
Maybe it’s the FOMO aspect of my generation, but an important part of growing is learning to stand up and walk away from something when I don’t want it in the first place. It’s important to stop and figure out what I actually want, and anything that doesn’t align with that probably isn’t worth pursuing.
I finished Saturday, had a solid time (and, to toot my horn, finished 3rd in my category so heeeyyyy), and got to finish with my boyfriend watching and cheer some friends as they finished. The next day, instead of showing up and doing a race I didn’t want to do for little more than bragging rights (especially upon hearing that the race ran out of medals for the second year in a row), I woke up, cuddled with my guy, and did an easy 7-miler.
I couldn’t have been more content. Is this adult-ing? Maybe. If so, I quite like it.