I am standing on the starting line waiting for the tell-tale sound of the starter’s pistol which will signal that the race has begun. I feel a twinge of nervousness, or is it really just anticipation? I am, after all, once again placing my running reputation on the line. Why do I do this, I think? But, the innate and irreconcilable intangibleness of the need to test myself against other runners is something which will elude me, as is does so many other runners, throughout my running years and beyond.
The sound of the gun startles me―it’s intrusiveness shaking me back to the present. I spring into action, with a conditioned response brought on by years of racing. As I do so, I press my watch’s start button. A race run without a watch to measure the minutes spanning the distance between splits is something I’ve never considered. There’s no point in racing if I’m not keeping score. My watch is a faithful companion, accompanying me every step of the way of this journey. I am a willing slave to time.
All is quiet―the exception being the labored breathing of my fellow racers. A brief moment of introspection, and I am pleasantly surprised to discover I feel remarkably well. Regardless of where I finish within the field of runners, I think maybe I will be pleased with the result. Then, just as quickly as the thought entered my mind, I reject it as a momentary lapse of sound judgement. What was I just thinking? I came here to race. Anyone of similar ability and training is going to have to step over my dying corpse if they think they’re going to make it to the finish line first. I haven’t spent the last several months training like a dog to hand over the victory without a fight. This is war.
I am now half-way through the race. The group of runners now vying for the top spots has thinned in its ranks. No longer is a quarter of the field jostling elbows with would-be victors thinking that today just might be the day that a momentary surge of will-power can supersede training―that preparation doesn’t matter―that if someone has enough heart and soul they can just swoop right in and steal the victory from the folks who suffer in the trenches day in and day out. We few who remain at the front are now sizing up one-another. In my younger days this would have been the point in the race where I would start to concede the victory―the point where childhood fears of inadequacy would start to surface. Not today mother-f*ckers, I think. I am so wrapped up in my own glorious anguish I am increasingly oblivious to the sufferings of those around me.
An internal battle is raging. I welcome the feelings. In the moment, I realize that this is the whole reason I put my body and mind through this weekend ritual. The race is a proving ground―the place where I am afforded the opportunity to show that I am indeed worthy―worthy of being in this position in the field of runners―worthy of belonging. The finish line is drawing nearer. It’s almost time to kick. I assess my remaining reserves knowing that once I’ve committed, whatever is left in the tank will be all that remains between me and the finish line. If I kick too late, I’ll have too much energy left over. If I start my kick too early, I risk losing everything. It is then that I surge―the rest of the field be damned.