What is that, some Welsh tourist attraction? Nope, it’s one of my running mantras, origin as follows:
This past summer I took part in a backcountry race which I was fully-aware would be – for me – downright grueling. I’d run the same event two years before, finishing long-after the time for which I’d hoped; exhausted, lame, doubled-over sick, and emotionally wrecked. And even though this year I had a better idea what to anticipate, and had trained assiduously for the series of long climbs, almost from the start it seemed my view was nothing but butts disappearing into the distance. The one-third point found me watching two runners who, when they first came up from behind had looked like folks I should be able to hang with, but were now steadily pulling away, and as we neared the end of a quarter-mile-long open meadow I looked the other way to see – not a soul visible behind me.
As I watched those two runners disappear without apparent effort into the woods – where I knew another climb awaited – discouragement settled in like a thirty-pound pack. What was the point, an inner voice asked, if I was feeling this depleted this early, and every other runner was handling the terrain better than I? Was I really going to be the last person to finish?
What salvaged that day was, in retrospect, nothing more or less than experience; having run enough events by now for another inner voice to pop-up and remind the first one that ‘how you feel in the middle of an effort is not necessary indicative of how you will feel at the end.’ (“Of course not – you usually feel much worse at the end! – that’s not really true, but I just had to say it, because I know a lot of runners will be thinking it…)
Enough events too, that conditioning and habit kept my feet moving while those and other thoughts got processed, by which time I was into the woods, cresting that next climb and headed for a magical stretch of gently-undulating single track through forest straight out of Lord of the Rings. It was in those woods I remembered someone writing or saying, ‘it’s not about the other guy,’ and realized how especially true that sentiment is for a mid-pack (or rear-pack, as the day may have it) runner.
Lead-Dogs are there to fight it out, agonizing over who is ahead of who (whom?), but we MPRs are in the game for other reasons; to find out what each of us is capable of, on a given course, on a given day, which puts it all in a whole different light. Everyone pulling away from me? Wish them well. No one behind me? Less pressure! It’s a beautiful day, a wonderful trail, a blessing to be able to run – period – and me doing my best is not dependant on how well or poorly anyone else is doing.
‘It’s not about the other guy,’ struck a chord, and began repeating in my head (though I quickly substituted ‘person’), but this was a long run, and pretty quickly that simple mantra become elaborated into:
It’s not about the other person
It’s about what you can do
Repeating those words over and over again pushed discouragement out of mind, and when it threatened to return I switched over to figuring out the anagram – I-N-A-T-O-P, I-A-W-Y-C-D, T – and figuring out a way to pronounce it (no, I’m not even going to try writing that out phonetically). Those games distracted the left brain long enough to get me to the next aid station, where encouraging volunteers (THANK YOU!), a PBJ and the sight of other runners started to turn things in a better direction. There were plenty of slow stretches still to come that summer day, but that early one proved the worst, as focusing on the right objective put the rest into perspective. I really did feel better at the finish this year, smiling – able to stand upright – and with plenty of room to improve next year.
So keep on running, MPRs; for yourself, for your own reasons. Every run is more experience under your belt; more proof that –
I N A T O P
I A W Y C D
however you pronounce it.