To Race or Not to Race
Its here. The London Olympics is probably around 50 days away (give or take).
I’m running. I’m training. I’m committed. Am I fit? Somedays. Somedays I’m tired. Sometimes I’m exhausted. Somedays I’m energized (about 20% of time, which figures in the Pareto principle). Its June. The Olympics are coming. I have an 8 month old. I’ve had low iron. I haven’t raced a good steeple in 4years (overtrained after the Olympics and screwed up the next 2 years & then last year my eggo was preggo).
So why race? Why even try?
Am I in automatic mode? (ie.I’m athlete, I’m supposed to want to go to the Olympics. I just dont know what else to do with my life?)
Do I have a chance of getting back to my form 4 years ago?
You never know, unless you go.
Tonight I ran my first steeple in over 2 years. Although my season debut was over 1 whole minute slower than my personal best, I’m not devastated. I’m not devastated but instead I feel liberated and successful. WTF. I just ran over 60 seconds slower than I have done in the past (3/4 of a lap behind myself running my pb). A shell of the “athlete” I have been. I’m sure I’ll have a hangover in the morning when the reality sets in (and ego takes over) (*note- I did). BUT as I type this I feel successful because I overcame a major secret fear. It seems ridiculous, but unless you’ve ever feared something (the real crippling, panic attacks, flashes type fear) you dont know why I feel so accomplished.
My last solid steeple race was in the heats of the Beijing Olympics where floated around and cruised into the final. That perfomance in the Birds Nest felt so easy, so joyful and so fun. I was living a dream race, and everything I worked hard for was coming together for me. It was such a cool experience, I felt like I was on cloud nine. Two days later after a sleepless night where I got eaten alive by a bug in my room and had a reaction stupidly thought that anti-histamines would help (yeah, they made me drowsy and sleepy), my final was another story altogether. The ying to my yang of the first day. I could barely lift my legs in the final and hurdling (which was second nature to me after doing it for 20 years) felt awkward and tiring. This wasn’t a good thing- what with 35 hurdles (28 barriers and 7 waterjumps) and a world record pace to boot. To top off the nightmare experience, I fell going over the waterjump which was in direct view of the athletes section; people I knew, respected and couldnt hide from.
There are pictures all over the web from that fall, but it probably took me 2-3years to even look at them. Ive just watched the video of the race for the first time! yikes.
Watch more video of Anna Pierce on flotrack.org
Avoiding those images and avoiding telling the story didn’t help overcome the fear. Ill admit it now, I tried to “get over it” myself, but everytime I imagined doing the waterjump, I tensed up. scared. Interesting article about athletes dealing with defeat
Ive worked hard this year to overcome this “emotion.” I’ve learned to recognize how it rears its dibilitating cement-legs inducing head. Ive visualized good waterjumping and practised relaxation techniques. I’ve faced my fear and practised at the track after months of putting it off. I’ve done my first race and cleared the waterjumps. I’VE DONE IT! And it was no big deal! ha. Typical.
Im free. I’m over it. Oh, now I have to get fitter and faster. Simple. That I can do!
I got very nervous before this first race. The heavy legs, the shallow breathing, the lethargy, the “what am I doing this for?”, the “how is this serving society?”. Is this my purpose in life? Is this fun? Do I desire to be as good as I have been in the past?
What is the purpose of sport on an elite level? serve society? I know there are a whole host of reasons (Scottish study). But sometimes as an semi-former-elite runner in a less-than major sport, it can feel pretty pointless. There I said it. Sport has given me so much intrinsic reward over the years (achieving a personal best is a major endorphin rush) and has taught me so much; goal setting, visualization, cause/effect, friendships/community, travel, education, fun. Why, when I’m off to race, do I start to question its value in my life? Is it just self-preservation (you might fall again. you aren’t fully fit- you dont want to embarass yourself). When you are doing well it feels personally rewarding and in our sport sometimes (most times) thats all the reward you will get. However, I want to tell all the athletes out there, that its not just about you. When I see some results of athletes I know, or athletes I dont know for that matter, doing well, Im inspired. And, I guess, I’m not the only one. It might feel lonely and pointless, but I guess we dont always see the ripple affect of our actions. I dont expect athletes to run with the weight of their nation (or sport- following population) everytime they compete. But I do want to tell them, that it is a positive thing, doing your best. Finding your super power makes others want to find theirs too.
Before I get super down about my time, Im going to remember “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet. And now I know if my season doesn’t turn around its not from some “fear” I didn’t overcome. The relief. I want to tell my daughter when she is old enough to understand, that I allowed fear cripple me for a while, but I did finally defeat it, and others can too. I also want her to know that I’m so happy everyday to have her in my life that even if I do make the Olympics again, I can’t imagine being any happier. I feel so lucky and so blessed and so fortunate. I dont want to be greedy. I’m happy with my lot. Does that make me soft? Whatever, Ill be soft. I’d rather be soft and happy, than hard and miserable. I’m full. I’m grateful. If I can’t run well when I’m like this, then I am going to be ok.