Originally posted in Oct. 2015.
For those of you who don’t know my story, a quick note. I am a retired peace officer, who at age 49, decided that I wouldn’t be one of those people that gets sick or dies shortly after retiring from a stressful career. I determined then that I would instead learn to run so that I could lose weight and get my heart in better shape. In fact, I ran my first half marathon three months before I retired; three months short of age 51.
The road to that first half marathon was lined with self doubt, relief, incremental accomplishments, huge set backs in the form of significant injuries, and most importantly, memory markers like billboards reminding me of who I was in the past, who I was striving to become for the future, and always, questioning who I am. Three years later, I have accomplished 18 Half Marathons and am training for my bucket list full marathon scheduled for December 2015. More interestingly perhaps, is my decision to set a goal of running at least one half in every state, and the District of Columbia. Of that goal, 12 of the 51 targets have been completed.
So what happened in Chattanooga that is noteworthy and why does it warrant an essay? First more back story. In 2014 I registered to run the Chattanooga 4 Bridges Half Marathon primarily because of its beautiful course and because of its proximity to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail. I am also a National Park junky and avid hiker. Being able to run and see a great park is always a bonus. Unfortunately, I broke my left shoulder in a fall during a run with the dog and I had to defer my registration to 2015. In addition, I had to drop my goal of running a full marathon by the end of 2014. To tell you my disappointment was great is an understatement.
During the intermediate year a couple of other things happened. As mentioned, I decided to run a full marathon in December 2015. As part of that training program I had to run the Urban Cow the first weekend in October. I learned that there would be an inaugural Yosemite Half Marathon a week after the Urban Cow. I couldn’t resist since I “found my park” at Yosemite and love it more than any other place on earth. Since I was already registered for the Chattanooga Half, that meant that I would be running three races on back to back weekends. I talked to my coaches and they shook their heads but advised, use the races as training runs and you should be ok. Not only did running in Chattanooga became testament that I could overcome any obstacle if I put my mind to it, I was excited to perhaps get a new personal record time. I even switched out my favorite Cal cap for a newer, less battered version. This race would be special.
I ran the Urban Cow. New PR.
I ran the Yosemite Half. New PR.
I ran the Chattanooga Half. NEW PR!
I was so happy, and so exhausted. I ran the race with very sore legs and throughout keep thinking, if I can just finish I’ll be happy. I agonized over the hills and the even the “downs” hurt. So imagine my surprise and joy at learning I had PRd, even if it was just a minute faster.
I travelled about the area hobbling from park to trail to tourist attraction until at last I had to fly back to California. I was happy and proud and ready to rest. I posted pictures of my trip on Facebook. And that’s when I saw it.
The organizers of the Chattanooga Half wrote a lengthy apology on their FB page. Apology?! I wondered what happened. As I read the post, my heart dropped and I started feeling upset and and even angry. I re-read it at least 4 times. In summary, there had been an error and the course was in fact not the requisite 13.1 miles. In an effort to make the course safe for runners, barricades were moved and the course was unintentionally shorted half a mile.
What does this mean? Did I run a half marathon? Does my medal mean anything? (As an aside, an upset runner replied to the apology with the angry observation that even the medal had a misspelling on it.) Could I count this race as my Tennessee half? All these questions ran amuck in my mind. Then I realized, that my PR was also an illusion. Deeper disappointment coursed through my veins.
It’s been a couple weeks and I still have questions, but they are different now. The biggest and most difficult question to answer is fundamentally this, why do I run? I started running because I wanted to prolong my life. I kept running because I became competitive. I set a higher goal of running in each state because I became bored with my own competition. So now, I have to ask myself again, why do I run?
About a year ago, I also started taking yoga classes. I did this to help combat the sore muscles through healthy stretching, etc. What I found is that my need to compete even with myself permeates my whole being. Yoga roped me and through gentle words taught me to “make good decisions” for myself. My ego rears itself daily but I tend to handle it in the quiet surroundings of people who have it in perspective, and therefore don’t fuel my need to do “better.” But stick me among a bunch of crazies in tutus and running shoes and I lose my ever loving mind. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d have to run alone to be able to win a race. Yet, I push.
The disappointment of trying so hard to have it, “not count” is immense. The challenge of reframing the situation is greater still. As one runner said, “You have the medal, count it.” Yet, I can’t reconcile this advice with my lifelong need to follow rules. I didn’t cheat because I didn’t know, but neither did I run the full distance.
One of my coaches said, “You would have been better off if they hadn’t told you.” Having thought about this as well, I don’t agree. It is good to struggle with morals, ethics and values. It is good to find meaning for ourselves. This is how we grow.
If having to run in Tennessee again is the solution to this quandary, then so be it. While I may not be able count the misspelled medal as the “Tennessee? Check!” medal, it will for me, forever be my symbol of “life happens.”
I do know one thing. I love to run.
Siempre adelante. Always forward