The least I can do is try...

What Kind of Race Is It?

In Fitness Bliss, Mental Bliss on October 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning on Sunday  to do the Adidas King of the Road race. I was not particularly enthused because I was not prepared—to be honest, I have not been prepared for ANY road race I have done for the last few years! However, I really wanted to follow through and earn a decadent lunch with friends, so I grudgingly got ready. I had also just turned 34 a few days ago, and for some reason it always seems appropriate to do a road race around my birthday. My main fears were coming in dead-last or my muscles—which have been tight from my new strength-training regime–making the run a miserable ordeal. In a move out-of-the-ordinary, I decided not to bring any hydration and rely on the provisions of the course—I realize I am probably making some people cringe with this statement! I was just in a lackadaisical state of mind!

As I sat quietly in the runners’ tent at dawn, I decided that I had to reframe my thoughts to make the next few hours bearable. I fired up my inner-dialog—and asked why. Why was I running this race? Yes Yes—yummy decadent lunch BUT what else could I get out of this experience?  Was it going to be another run where I lamented my lack of training and the fact that changes in my life have not let me focus on running as much as I have in the past? Would I bemoan my slower pace and curse myself when my legs did not do what I wanted them to do? I continued along this train of thought as I strolled to the starting corral. As the announcers attempted to fire up the reserved crowd—it dawned on me—this is my first Singaporean road-race.  I was going to go into this race with the mind of a journalist, philosopher and sightseer. I was going to do what my body told me to do, and see what happened.

As the race started, I jogged slowly through the first mile. Conscientiously breathing in and out, I made myself oblivious to all of the runners around me, in front of me, and behind me. The sight of throngs of people in Adidas singlets was too much to bear. By the way—it appears that in Singapore—it is normal to wear the race shirt TO the race, unlike in the US where this is considered bad juju. As we ran by the bars and nightclubs, some of which had just closed a few hours ago, a group of partiers in costumes from the prior night’s Halloween debauchery cheered us on. I waved at a hung-over zombie and ran on. I reflected on how thousands of sneakers slapping the pavement simultaneously sounded like rain.  I refused to be rushed by my fear of being passed again and again, just looked down and ran at a pace that was comfortable for me and decided that this is how the whole race was going to be.

To be honest, despite all this introspection, as I passed the Nicoll Highway MRT, I seriously considered getting on the air-conditioned train and heading home for a nap…but I restrained myself.  Today was a day to observe, and calling it quits would bring my study to an end! I noted a few Muslim women in running attire which fully covered them from head to toe and admired their ability to withstand the heat. I saw a boy running barefoot with a sneaker in each hand and wondered how this plan came about and if he was in pain from blisters. I challenged myself to converse with one person and did this, speaking with a Singaporean man—the conversation ended with us both agreeing that our jobs were really getting in the way of running regularly.  This was a huge departure from past races where I would never speak to other participants.

Around mile 6, it got incredibly hot—just really, really hot. I listened to my body when it told me it needed to slow down. I hydrated, making sure to grab electrolytes and water to avoid muscle cramps.  As I ran down a hill into the coolness of shade, I mentally acknowledged I would be walking the upcoming hill that was bathed in intense sunshine. I was simply not prepared to do any different with a positive outcome—somehow acknowledging this made me feel more in-control of my race experience.

Around mile 7, as my hair seemed to be cooking and the sun burned against my back, I wondered how the last 3 miles would go. All of a sudden a phenomenon happened– 80% of the people around me started walking! It was not a defeated or weakened walk, it was just a matter-of-fact stride that said “common sense dictates it is just too hot for my body to safely run”.  Toned people, weekend runners, body builders—there did not seem to be a defining quality. I have never really witnessed anything like this before! There were bouts of walking followed by bouts of running by my fellow racers—ginger-footed, cautious running on steaming pavement—each step seemed brave. I joined in—fast walking interspersed with light-footed running—stopping when it just felt wrong. There were no official warning flags—just a reliance on common sense. Out of curiosity, I asked a woman beside me if this was normal—“no” she said, “it is just really bad today”.

The silent togetherness that naturally happens in a race—this was somewhat significant for me. In a new country where I have felt somewhat alienated, I was part of something. It reminded me of how I felt when I ran my first half-marathon—like there was an unspoken camaraderie between runners in those moments when the race gets tough.

I walk/ran the remainder of the race—I did manage to sprint to the finish—something about the sight of a finish line! I noticed many people just walked calmly to the end…this race was just different! I collected my medal and plopped down in the shade of a tree—there was no sadness or regret—I did not even check my time and I never will. Maybe it is a part of growing up, acknowledging an experience for what it can provide and not brooding over what it simply cannot. This was a race to finish…and I finished.


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