We all have them - the demons that whisper in our minds, leading us astray from our goals and telling us that we aren't worthy of even attempting our dreams. And you never know when they will start appear. Even the best athletes and most confident appearing people have their demons. I've heard them many times as a mountain biker - from starting line nerves seeing who I am lining up against (I'm not the same class of athlete, I can't ride nearly as fast as them), to solo pedaling under moonlit skies (what am I doing out here, can I keep going for another 10 hours?) And it was strange to hear them - when I was running, I never had demons. I respected the distances but approached the races with confidence. I've been working on silencing tthem as I progress as a mountain biker. I never thought I'd experience those same voices running.
But this year has been different. I've been running more and doing a lot more local races. I've publicly announced my major running goals and have began the process of working towards them. I won't lie and say it's been smooth and easy returning to running. I've got years of history as a runner and that history has been hard to ignore. Add in a persistent hamstring injury from a bike crash last year and it's been nothing short of frustrating at times. I can remember, not too many years ago that I was the young punk, pushing the pace at all the local races. I was the fast one, the one people expected to win. I lined up on the start with all the men and was setting course records. Now? Not so much. My course record in the Rescue Run fell and I was left behind at the fun. And out came the demons.
Saturday's Winter Series IV - the 20k at Black Forest - was supposed to be an adventure. I'd never done that race, always just the short series. So I was looking forward to the race. I had no expectations, figuring I would finish in 2nd in my age group and hopefully move into 3rd overall. We all started out easy, then Tina and Amanda took off. I was in no mans land with three women right behind me. My hip was tight and my hamstring stiff. When I was passed by all three women, the demons came roaring into my mind. I'm not the runner I used to be (true) - I can't run fast at all anymore (speed is relative...) - what am I thinking, publicly announcing I will be doing a 50 mile race? The demons so loud, I almost considered pulling off the course and quoting. Something I've nothing done before. It was so tempting, but I kept seeing the pony tail of the woman ahead of me. She was no longer leaving me behind. In fact, I was starting to slowly close the gap. I had to keep going, quiet the voices telling me I want good enough to be out there with the new generation of speedy women. Silence the demons - one foot in front of the other. Pull your mind away from that dark place and mental flogging. Just run. Enjoy the movement and remove the expectations. I managed to pull myself back into third, but as I hit the hills after mile 10, the demons started creeping back. I couldn't hold on, could I? I knew Wendy was just behind me. It was a struggle, those last miles. Between the voices say to just ease off, slow down and my tenacity to not give up, I had to just keep moving. That and the red jersey on my shoulders. I wanted my extra point for Team Fieldhouse!
I'm sure there will be many more dark moments - both running and riding. Such is the nature of the races I have planned. With ultras, it isn't the question of if the demons will rise - but when. The mental battle is what draws me in - and one that I must face head on if I am going to survive. Realizing that while the speed of my youth may no longer be there is just the first step. I need not compare myself with myself. And acknowledging that even without that speed, I have grown as an athlete is the second. There will be many more steps between now and July - and I plan on enjoying the journey!