I love racing away from home. It’s weird how much I love it. Maybe it’s because I feel like a REAL runner when I go “away” to race. Or perhaps it makes tangible the fantasy of my un-lived life as a pro runner. Whatever it is, I embrace it to a feverish degree.
I’m not one of those runners who typically plans a vacation around a race (I have some limits) but I do run if there’s a race in the area that I happen to be visiting. The way I look at it is, I’m likely going to miss some intensive training when I go away on vacation, so my way of “making up” for this loss is to enter a race.
At least I know that I’ll push myself hard on ONE day of my vacation and March 4th of this year was no exception.
While visiting the California desert, I signed up for the Superheroes 5k in Rancho Mirage, a fundraiser for the Animal Samaritans. I ran this race last year on vacation as well. Keep in mind that I’m coming from wet and cool Eugene, Oregon and I was chomping at the bit to get into some warm weather. The desert did not disappoint.
Naturally, there is an adaptation period that comes with training in 32° to racing in 80°. First, everything gets S.L.O.W.E.R. My body literally felt like it was running through mud. Additionally, there was the dry mouth, dry cough and nose bleeds, despite the copious amounts of water I poured into my system. But the sun felt good, until I got overheated after just five minutes of sitting. I began to wonder how I was going to pull this thing off.
Traveling, itself, is not for the weak of spirit. When the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. flight, I crazily rushed to the airport just to sit in a cramped space until I had to make a mad dash to my connecting flight. Yep. Traveling takes guts.
When I arrived at my destination, I couldn’t do a “shakeout” run because it was too damn hot. So, I waited until sunset, when things cooled down a bit, and I imagined how good it was going to feel running in these sauna-like conditions. But it didn’t feel good because my high hamstring tendinopathy acted up after a half mile (and I was reminded of the all-out sprint I made to catch the connecting flight)!! My ripe old age of 45 shows, glaringly, when the warm-up’s not included.
The Animal Samaritans Superheros race is a trip! It’s a mixed bag of road, sand, dirt and trail. And, given the theme of the race, participants are encouraged to “dress-up”. Now is the time to tell you that “costume” is my middle name, and a custom-made one that cost a fortune will NOT be left unused. So, this year, as in the year prior, I participated as the Super Villain, Poison Ivy.
In getting dressed for this event, I began to wonder if I still fit into the bikini of a race kit. My mind wandered to the effects of gravity on this Masters running body. I was relieved to see that there was a big leaf of ivy installed to cover my butt, and I was grateful for the lengthy vines that streamlined my legs. I was ready to roll! As I looked around at the other participants, though, I saw only a few of the children in superhero regalia so I frantically searched out a contemporary in costume. I finally breathed a sigh of relief when my eyes caught a glimpse of the adult dude dressed as the Hulk.
The race began, and immediately I lost sight of the little sweetheart who “beat” me last year, the now nine-year-old world record holder. She and a 26-year-old man had taken the lead. As for the rest of us, we hustled through the sand and hills and eventually hit the pavement. It was then that I came to realize it was just me and the kids … and the race was on!
We separated from the pack of runners and I found myself chasing a fantastically and continuously surging 13-year-old boy. This kid was on fire! I was thinking that, though I was awed by this boy’s gutsy nature, it became very real that, should the two of us be together in the last 1/4 mile, this kid had the finishing kick. I verbally gave him kudos for his grit (yes, I can talk at a HR of 184!) but after 10 or more surges from him, he tanked at 600 to the finish (but not before we took down two other teenage guys and left them in our wake).
These kids were animals! I’ve never run with teens like this and I’ve never been so shockingly impressed! The guts, the grit, the “throw caution to the wind” attitude I was fortunate enough to witness and participate in! The young’uns reminded me of how it’s done. The race ended with me in 5th place overall surrounded by a bunch of top ten winning kiddos. I’m inspired and humbled by the experience.
Given all of the potential pitfalls with destination racing, why do it? The possible obstacles seem to outweigh any greatly positive outcomes. Or do they?
Sure, time changes, weather changes, sleep changes and the general absence of the creature comforts of home can all impact performance; not to mention one’s general emotional and physical stability! So, what calls those of us who race to race away?
Well, for me, it’s not about breaking that PR nor is it about performing to the best of my capacity. Instead, it’s the freedom of placing myself in a position where I might experience something unexpected. I relish the possibility of being witness to, and participating in, something seemingly ordinary that unexpectedly, turns extraordinary.
These kids reminded me of the natural and joyful spontaneity of running and of the primal instincts of racing. Sometimes the message we receive comes from the most obvious but unlikely sources. So, here’s to stepping outside of your comfort zone and here’s to all the kids for keeping it real.
Have you ever raced on vacation?