Before every race, I say a few words of gratitude for my legs, my lungs, my heart and my overall health. During this ritual, I remind myself that no matter how the race turns out, I am beyond fortunate to have the ability to run.
I visited Anna and Wilson Jones, two of my closest college friends, in Savannah this past weekend. Running the Palmetto Bluff Half Marathon was the main event. Anna works at Palmetto Bluff, and she and team planned the race.
Their hashtag – #discoverthebluff – is appropriate. I discovered the Bluff, and it is breathtaking! Palmetto Bluff is a residential and recreational preserve, also known as the “Lowcountry’s best-kept secret.” Lush maritime forests, winding tidal creeks, centuries-old live oaks with Spanish moss hanging from each limb, Palmetto Bluff is nothing short of magical. I ran 13.1 miles through the property and barely scratched the surface.
The race wasn’t until Sunday. Don’t underestimate how much we packed in before race day. The lineup included: ACC basketball not so hot for the Tar Heels, a steamy spin class at The Hub Sav, hot ride, a pre-race visit to Palmetto Bluff, brunch included, a quick hop to a couple of Savannah’s swankiest watering holes, I sadly only drank water, and plenty of snuggles with Ladybird “Birdie” Jones of Habersham, best dog ever. Anna’s sister, Lauren, joined us Saturday afternoon and also ran the half!
Birdie likes to blog too
Okay, so here’s what I need to share with you about discovering gratitude:
When I registered for the race back in January, I set a couple goals. One goal is always to beat my personal record. The time to beat was 1:36. This is a smaller race of 650-700 participants for the half marathon and 10K, so my other goal was to place for the women (top three).
Two days before the race, I read an email stating that the overall male and female winners of the half marathon win a FREE 2 day/1 night stay at Palmetto Bluff. Did you say free? OKAY, back to the drawing board. Let’s rearrange some goals. All of a sudden, top three wasn’t enough. I wanted to win for the free night stay! The weekend became “run for the gold” mentality. Game on.
Saturday, I did almost all of my pre-race rituals: went to bed early, didn’t drink alcohol, crushed carbs, drank a ton of water, stretched, spent time on foam roller. I even held back in spin class Saturday morning.
Everything was going so well. Sunday morning, I woke up with my game face. The rain held off, the weather was cool and not humid, my legs felt good. After the most gorgeous National Anthem I have EVER heard, the race began.
Shortly after Mile 1, I realized my Garmin GPS watch was off by half a mile. Great. I also had some company – a young, shirtless man, straight off the local high school cross country team – a chatty fellow. No capacity to talk on my end. I kept one eye on the lone woman a quarter of a mile ahead and the other eye on the pack of men 50 yards ahead.
By Mile 2, running as fast as my legs and lungs could take me, I realized something was wrong. Very wrong. I needed to run at least a 7:15 min pace per mile to beat my PR, but my watch said 7:45. No way could I run any faster – I could hardly breathe. I concentrated on moving forward, and breathing deeper. At Mile 5 and a half, my watch still hovered around a 7:45 min pace. The kid still with me, I pushed out the question: what is our pace? He looked at his GPS and jovially cried out, “6:33!!”
WHAAAAT? 6:33!! No wonder I can’t breathe!!! Almost half the race, I thought I was running 30-45 seconds per mile slower than planned. In reality, I was running 30-45 seconds faster. Right about this time, another woman came up behind me, patted me on the back, said “good job,” and ran ahead. As she gained more and more distance on me, my mental game grew more and more negative. My spirits crushed, my watch useless, the free night stay slipping from reach – this race was not turning out as planned.
Then, something great happened. For the first time in the race, I noticed the spectacular landscape, the wise old trees, the stretching wetlands.
I had completely forgotten to do my gratitude ritual! So caught up in winning the free night stay, I failed to say thank you for my legs, my lungs, my heart and my ability to run the race. The whole POINT of Chasing Helen is to chase YOURSELF! I’m not chasing those women. I’m chasing me. I’m chasing my time. I’m chasing my goals.
Who cares if I win a free night stay? I should be grateful that I’m the third woman in this race right now!!! So I immediately said “thank you,” and I started chasing myself.
In a race, I never look behind to see who’s coming, but I could feel a female runner hot on my heels around Mile 9. I will not let this goal go. I will place for the women, I said to myself. With my attitude back in check, I dug deep the last few miles, crossed the finish line with a seven minute PR and placed third for the women overall.
The crew: Wilson, Anna, Helen, Birdie, Lauren
So, here are my takeaways from this run:
(1) BE GRATEFUL for your abilities, whatever they may be. We are here and we are breathing. Be grateful;
(2) KEEP YOUR EYE ON YOUR REAL GOALS – my time is insignificant to the story, the point is that I had to rearrange my mindset in the middle of the race from some superficial goal, to a real, personal, attainable goal. Don’t let stuff get in the way of your goals.
(3) DON’T LOOK BACK – there will always be someone hot on your heels, pushing you (for better or for worse), don’t look at what’s behind you – your goals are up ahead. ONWARD!!
Ps. Over the weekend, I read through many of your excellent goals! Thank you for sharing. I’d love to hear more. Please sign up under the subscribe button and share your goals with me. We’re going to shatter them, together.
Pps. Keep an eye out for the Palmetto Buffalo Run, 10K, 30K or 50K, October 8, 2017!! It’s a trail run. Hope to see you there!