Everyone I know is recovering from a race, tapering for a race or wishing they were running a race, or that’s how it seems anyway.
If you watch the bike path or the trails or even all the social media feeds, you see this massing of training and people every spring and every fall, when the weather either finally warms up enough to shed layer after layer come May, or cools down enough to do more than melt in a hot wind as fall blows in.
This is what it’s like to train in South Dakota, and we all do it.
My training isn’t amazing, not for what I’m signed up to do – the Glacier Hills 50K -- but it never really is for the past few years, and I wish I had a good reason for why that is. I tell myself I just don’t feel like training like I once did. Sometimes the reason I give myself is that I’m running away from less in my life, and I don’t need as many miles to find salvation. Sometimes I go the other way and just think I’m lazy.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. It is for most things.
I have a month before the race, and I’ve been doing OK. I’ve settled into a fairly regular routine, meeting different friends a few days a week to keep myself accountable. One is a woman who is training for her second marathon, Twin Cities this coming weekend, and it’s been fun to live in her excitement for the past few months as she ramps up her training and wonders where to carry her gels and if the belt she uses for her phone will make her crazy come mile 22.
My advice? Yes. Leave the phone in your drop bag. As you climb up Summit, carrying your phone will feel like you’re hauling a piano with you. Go minimal.
On other days, I’ve been doing some biking with the Parallel 44 cyclocross team, which I was kindly asked to join earlier this year. For the past two months, the kids and I and Patrick have traveled the upper Midwest, riding in races and cheering for our friends and watching my kids do things that make me so proud I want to cry.
A 7-year-old girl carrying her bike over a barrier, pushing it up a hill, getting lapped by the bigger kids.
A 10-year-old boy learning to ride in clipless pedals, tipping over in the back yard and then so excited when he figures it out that he clips in for everything – trips to get slushees and races alike.
As for me, I’m doing everything wrong, and it feels right anyway. I slid down a flyover – twice, on my side, and hand to pick up my bike and run over it. I steered myself directly into the barrier on the side of a racecourse, supermanned over my handlebars, leaving my bike on the course and my body thudding into the woods.
I was fine.
My bike was mostly fine.
My pride was, too. Cyclocross (which I’ve written about here and here) is a fairly forgiving sport, where you could do everything you’re doing better – better bike-handling, faster riding, experience on the terrain or rubbing elbows with other riders – but you can’t really do it wrong. However you do it is just fine.
It’s a lot of freedom to just try.
It’s kind of how I felt about trail-running when I started. It was this feeling of just playing in the woods, of power-hiking when it was faster than running, of recovering at the top of the hill, of flying back down.
And then a community of people who were there because they love to be outside, because they love to be active and push themselves, but also because they just like to be together, this camaraderie that was intoxicating. I keep finding it at events, at bike races and trail races and community events.
So maybe I’m not as fast as I once was, and maybe I never will be again. Maybe this 50K will be a personal worst by an hour, if I’m lucky. Maybe I’ll never make it back to Boston, even though sometimes I think pretty hard about it, just to have a race not marked by an international news event, just to run it, just to finish and rejoice instead of start working, terrified.
Maybe people will judge me based on my times. Maybe they’re judging me already when they see me at a bike race, two surly kids in tow and an inability to get back on my bike after a barrier looking like I’m doing anything but taking a leisurely trip to the library.
But probably not. Because when I’m out there training or not training, racing or not racing, standing at the starting line, or sitting on my bike, trying to figure out how to ride as hard as I can without crashing into someone else, I’m not judging anyone else.
I’m trying to be friendly to the woman next to me, to take a moment to say, hey, I’m super nervous, how are you? And most of the time? They’re nice about it. To say at a trail race, I hope I don’t trip over a root in the dark, or I hope somehow I’ve cobbled together enough training to make this less horrifying than it should be, considering.
I saw a post the other day from a guy who was wondering why his wife, who brings up the back of the pack, is never in any race photos. I’m sure there are logistic reasons – a photographer is only hired for a certain amount of time, or whatever it is. But it’s always good to note that people have that feeling – am I the one who looks out of place?
And the answer is no. It’s always no.
Because we’re all really, really glad you’re out here.
I know I am. And every time I talk to anybody, they feel the same.
Complain all you want about crowded races or events so competitive they sell out in record time. Sure, it’s frustrating, but what it also means is more people discovering what we all already know: Running or riding or however we propel ourselves forward outside is growing in popularity.
And that’s a good thing, for all of us.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear every other Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at email@example.com. Story ideas are encouraged.
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