Out There: Shifting From “Runner” To “Racer”

In the past six weeks, there’s been a struggle taking place mentally as I try to shift from "just finishing" to actually "racing." Though they have the same ultimate goal of crossing a finish line, there’s actually a distinct difference between the two.

I felt torn, but the words of my coach echoed in my head: You’re a racer now. Yes, you. A racer.

In my quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I’ve discovered the hardest element hasn’t been the speed workouts or hill repeats. In fact, the hardest part isn’t even physical. Without a doubt, the biggest challenge has been training a muscle that I’ve admittedly neglected the past few years: my brain.

In the past six weeks, there’s been a struggle taking place mentally as I try to shift from “just finishing” to actually “racing.” Though they have the same ultimate goal of crossing a finish line, there’s actually a distinct difference between the two. Just finishing, as has been my goal for the past three years of running, makes me feel accomplished and proud. Racing, on the other hand, reminds me I still have a long way to go.

MORE OUT THERE: Boston Or Bust

I had a particularly hard lesson in this last Sunday, at one of my first races as someone who wanted to do more than “just finish.” As the announcer went through the pre-race instructions at the Lost Dutchman 10K, my partner Neil gave me a kiss and wished me luck. As I saw him disappear into the masses to take his place at the starting line with the other men in his age group, I looked around like a lost child. In front of me, toward the starting line were the “racers.” Behind me were the “just finishers.”

I felt torn, but the words of my coach echoed in my head: You’re a racer now. Yes, you. A racer.

Boldly, I stepped forward to make my way closer to the front of the pack. I awkwardly squeezed through groups of people with an overabundance of “sorry,” “excuse me,” and “coming through” and took my place next to some females in my age group.

As I looked at their skinny legs and fancy gear, panic struck: I’m not a racer. I don’t belong here.

I spun on my heels, making my way back through annoyed racers I had passed only seconds before. I could see their eyes roll at my gaffe. Quickly, I made my way back to the “just finishers” and sighed with relief. I was where I belonged.

My time for that 10K race was 51:42. Six weeks ago, I would have been ecstatic with such a time. Instead, I looked at my watch with disappointment. I had run faster 10Ks in training. I knew I could have done better.

Over post-race breakfast, I dissected my performance with Neil.

“How’d you feel during the race?” He asked.

“Pretty good.” I responded. “Great, actually, now that I look back on it.”

“If you didn’t go hard, then you didn’t race. You just finished. There’s a difference.”

As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. Before the race even started, I had sabotaged myself. Any opportunity I had to prove I was a racer was over before the gun went off, and it was nobody’s fault but my own.

In training, I have no problem pushing myself. But in those sessions, training alone gives me the liberty to be so bold. It’s the running equivalent of singing in the shower; when someone is alone, they have all the confidence in the world to belt out a Mariah Carey song. In my head, during my training sessions, I’m practically a Kenyan marathoner.

Come race day, I lost all that confidence.

As I kicked myself, my coach reminded me of something very important. This whole quest for Boston is a process, with a new lesson to learn every step of the way.

“Think of it as an apprentinceship,” he told me, “Because now is the time to learn and get mad at yourself. When it comes time to run your qualifying race, you’ll know exactly what it is you need to do to succeed.”

With that, I realized I had learned my most important lesson.

You see, my coach believes in me, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken on the challenge of getting me to Boston. Neil gives me unconditional support, because he believes I can do this. My mom, as mothers are wont to do, is my biggest supporter. I have a team of friends behind me who tell me they can’t wait to cheer me on in Boston.

But none of that will get me to Boston unless I believe in myself, too.

In two weeks, I have a half marathon. Before the race, I’ll give Neil a kiss and watch him disappear into the masses as he takes his place close to the starting line with the other racers.

After I take a deep breath, I’ll follow him up there. There’ll be no turning back.

I’m going to be a racer.

****

About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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