2019 Loon Mountain Race Recap
“I love myself therefore I will give everything I have.”
That refrain echoed in my mind as I climbed steadily up Loon Mountain. I strode confidently through the water and over rocks and roots, easing my way past women who were picking their way carefully over through the trail. I felt nimble, strong and in charge of my effort--a far cry from how I felt a year before in the exact same spot.
At the 2018 Loon Mountain Race I got pulled out fast with the pack racing for the US Mountain Running Championships and paid dearly for it in the heat, when about halfway through the race I felt as if I might pass out. With the help of teammates and friends and aid along the course in the form of water and ice, I was able to hike my way to the finish. My time and my effort was so far from what I thought I was capable of running.
I think I’ll Pass
This year I had all but checked Loon off my race list. It always falls at the beginning or the end of our family vacation. Somehow taking the family to the race always felt forced and even a bit stressful. This year I decided not to force anything and let our vacation stand alone without tacking on extra days at the end for the race.
As the date approached, I found myself wanting to race again for no other reason than just to get out there-to see if I could find the joy again.
I was really disappointed after Mt. Washington this year, not because of the time, but because of the feeling. I just didn’t feel great that day: cramping in my calves and feet along with an overall feeling of fatigue dogged me through the second half of the race. I thought maybe I was getting sick, but that never materialized. I’d trained with high expectations, but felt like I had set those aside for reasonable race-day goals, I had paced myself well and had gone into the race with no major expectations other than to try to capture that mid-race joy I’d felt the year before.
Heading back to Loon this year was really about finding the joy of racing again. I’ve had a few races where I’ve felt like I’ve been in that flow state, where the training and the mindset and the circumstances come together in a way, that despite all the effort feels joyous. What it boils down to is that singular focus on the moment-that’s where the flow is-when everything around you becomes a blur and it’s just your body, the earth and the effort.
“There’s a fear in the back of my mind that it [my running] will be my basketball dream all over again. That I’ll love something so much, I’ll work at something so hard, only to have my mind limit me, paralyze me.”
My journal is where I work through all my thoughts, this one found its way onto the page on July 3rd as I thought about showing up for the Loon Mountain Race. I didn’t want to show up and my expectations, my inner critic and all my doubts and fears showing up with me. That has happened to me more than once, where my own mind has gotten in the way of doing what I love.
I was a talented basketball player in high school. I had so much potential and I worked so hard. I ate, slept, and drank in basketball: a few hours after having my wisdom teeth removed my mom had to chase my down driveway to bring me back to the couch because I insisted on heading to our hoop down at the end of the cul-de-sac to practice. Drugs might have been involved in that display of affection, but it’s indicative of how much I loved the game and how hard I wanted to work to get better. The bottom line, I was good. If you watched me practice you’d think I had so much potential. The only problem was that in games I was paralyxed by a fear of messing up. I choked under the pressure of my own expectations and the perceived expectations of my coaches and teammates. If you saw me in a game, you wouldn’t believe I was the same player.
It’s been 20+ years since then, but that pattern of thinking--as much as I’ve worked to change it--those groves of thought still run deep.
I love running, but I could easily ruin it with my own expectations. I was beginning to worry that I had. But I’m 20+ years older and wiser than my basketball-loving self, and so I know that I can easily change the trajectory and consequence of my life by changing my thinking.
I set a different goal for Loon: love myself.
That may sound silly, but if you’ve read my recap from the World Snowshoe Championships you’ll realize it’s really not that silly.
When you act from a place of self-love you act in a way that has the potential to bring deep joy and fulfillment. So I knew that if my primary goal was to race as an act of self-love then everything else would fall into place. So I placed all of those #dreambig expectations aside, deciding to really accept where I am and to find a way to find joy in running and racing again.
Where is everyone?
A muffled announcement came through the speakers down on the Loon Mountain Lodge patio. I was .24 into my warm up along the course. My plan was to run 1-2 miles, drink my pre-race hydration and head to the start. Why is there no one down there? I thought. And then I realized. I had it all wrong. The race started at 8:00 am not 8:30 am. Shit. I hustled back down the course and cut across the grassy field. I still had 8 minutes to get to the start, that was enough time to chug my pre-race drink, hit the now empty bathrooms and jog down to the start.
I slipped into a spot just off the start line mostly unnoticed. My late arrival meant I didn’t have the chance to say ‘hi’ or wish anyone ‘luck.’ I stayed quiet behind my sunglasses. I’d chosen not to wear my running club singlet. Opting instead for my favorite bra and shorts. It seemed like a simple decision: why not wear the most comfortable thing you own that makes you feel powerful and strong? But for some unknown reason, I have created these unfounded rules in my mind about what I should wear on race day: club singlet and black short. Like, WTH who made those rules? I did. I decided that wearing mauve colored shorts wasn’t for race day, even if they are my favorite, and that I’ve always got to wear the club singlet or bra even if they aren’t the most comfortable. The truth is that I can wear whatever the hell I want. It seems improbably simple, but letting go of expectations on race day really started with what I picked out to wear.
My plan was to ease into this race and pace myself in a way that works for me. There’s been times when I’ve gone out hard and held on, there’s been times where I’ve started easy and never picked up the pace, there’s been times when I’ve gone out hard and died and then there have been times where I’ve held back and felt incredibly strong late in the race. I wanted that last one, and I knew it could happen. It happened back in 2016 when I started out unsure and with no expectations and later in the race found myself passing people and picking up momentum as the climbs got steeper.
I knew if I trusted myself I’d at least have a chance.
I love myself therefore...
It was in the woods that the mantra popped into my head, “I love myself, therefore I will give my all.” The effort was hard, I wasn’t easing up, but it felt good to be in that place. I was enjoying it. Enjoying the race. Enjoying my effort. Enjoying the difficulty.
I raced through the woods, popped out onto the grassy ski slopes looking forward to the steep climbs. I think I can catch a few more girls, I thought looking ahead and trying to read the effort. We hit the first grassy incline and I could feel my body change gears. I was ready to grind and my body seemed to slip into auto pilot. Some of the women around me started to hike, while I kept a steady grinding “run.” I focused each step, pushing a bit if my body wanted, holding steady. When the effort got hard, the mantras came in a steady flow:
I love myself therefore I’ll give everything I have.
I love myself therefore I showed up today.
I love myself therefore I won’t let expectations steal my joy.
I love myself therefore I wore what the hell I wanted to wear.
I love myself therefore I will find joy.
I love myself therefore I am so thankful for this body.
I love myself therefore I am a beast.
I love myself therefore…
Every step had a refrain and with each step I felt happier in my effort. Up the next incline I passed a few more runners and came through the aid station smiling.
I hit the timing mat at the base of Upper Walking Boss and switched gears once again. Just stay steady, I told myself. The challenging grade slowed me and I could feel the fatigue from a week of paddleboarding and a hard workout the week before.
With a few hundred yards to go I could hear someone come up behind me. “Get her! You can pass her.” Someone was cheering and it wasn’t for me. I kicked it up another gear, breathing hard, legs heavy with fatigue. She eased past me. I charged as hard as I could as we crested the hill and as she pulled away.
I crossed the line just behind her, finishing 16th overall and with a 4 minute PR from my best time on the same course in 2016 (a 2 minute PR on Upper Walking Boss).
I felt a twinge of regret that I didn’t have more to hold her off, but quickly thought, “Today is about finding the joy again. Maybe next time is about finding the fight.”
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