Saturday morning marked my second race of the year for Taylor, the Charlotte RaceFest 10K. A well-organized race around the corner from my house, it serves as a great warm-up for Chapel Hill’s Tar Heel 10 Miler.
Normally a stickler for race preparation, I’ve been breaking lots of rules lately.
Eight days prior to RaceFest, I ventured out to a local CrossFit gym with a group of coworkers over lunch. A CrossFit rookie, I went a little nuts with my squats and paid for it with sore glutes, hamstrings and quads for five days. I learned that just because I can run a five-minute mile doesn’t mean I’m too good for the beginner’s kettle bell.
The day before the race, I felt a deep, sharp pain in my lower right leg. It hurt so much that I couldn’t walk my dog, but I’ve never pulled out of a race. I slathered the area with Biofreeze gel and popped a couple of ibuprofen pills.
That night, I laid out all of my clothes and race odds and ends, from my race bib and safety pins to Yurbuds wireless ear buds. I met my foam roller for a post-dinner date and iced my calf. I fell into bed a few minutes before midnight.
On Saturday morning, I pulled on my Taylor’s Tale shirt and 4Taylor compression arm sleeve. In the name of injury management, I made a fashion statement with my compression shorts and calf sleeves. I toasted a bagel, but I felt too nervous to eat. As stubborn as I am, I knew in my heart that I probably shouldn’t run.
I didn’t have time to warm up before the race, but I managed a 7:16 pace over the first mile, likely on adrenaline alone. I knew I couldn’t maintain that pace injured, but I tried to listen to my body and remember my reason for running.
With less than two miles to go, I approached a girl I recognized from one of the Charlotte soccer leagues I frequented before injuries ended my career. She may be a nice person, but on the field, she played dirty. I hate to admit this, but part of me focused on beating her, and I drafted her for the remainder of the race.
As I approached the last stretch and the finish line came into view, I knew I didn’t have a shot at a personal record (PR). I always sprint the final stretch. But when I reached down into that deep, passion-fueled place where I usually find my last burst of speed, I realized I didn’t have anything left. I talked myself through the last 100 yards, and I chugged across the finish line at 48:53, a 7:52/mile pace – 59 seconds slower than my 2013 time but still good for 10th place in my age group (and five seconds ahead of my “drafting buddy”).
Perhaps if I’d pulled out of the race altogether or finished a good 10 minutes off my PR, the result would have been easier to swallow. It took me a few minutes of walking around, breathing in the fresh air and feeling the warm, spring sunshine on my skin to remember that I ran a great race for a chick on one good leg and, more importantly, why I ran the race in the first place.
That’s the great irony of “racing” for my sister and hero, Taylor: she finished two 5Ks but never entered an athletic competition to “win.”
So as I finally came to terms with my time and kicked back at a table across the way to break my hunger, with a finisher’s medal around my neck and my heart on my sleeve, I remembered one of the many great lessons my little sister has taught me in her short time on this earth.
It’s not always about finishing first.
Sometimes, it’s about being the best you can be, every day.