Running the ‘Yes!’ race
By Marlene Farrell
There it was – in my inbox – an e-mail from USA Track and Field. It taunted in bold type. My mouse’s arrow hovered over it, about to turn the key and unlock its secret.
This wasn’t an e-mail announcing a BLOWOUT SALE on Team USA duffel bags and visors. It wasn’t a promotion for live streaming of the Penn Relays or some other far-flung (at least from Leavenworth) Race of Fortune.
I could tell the difference because this e-mail came from Jim Estes, with the very official title of National Office Liaison of the Long Distance Running Division Executive Committee of USATF (whew!). It began at the keyboard from his office in, I imagine, an imposing bastion of “Running Authority.” It perhaps sat in his sent box, nestled between messages to Olympians Shalane Flanagan and Bernard Lagat.
Estes was replying to my request to take part in the U.S. Half Marathon Championships on June 16 in Duluth, Minn. Two weeks earlier I had received the invitation to participate in this competitive and large-pursed race. The list of invitees included anyone who had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. One’s running resume determined the level of sponsorship. I wasn’t deluded enough to expect travel reimbursement or a hotel stay. Free entry alone would make me feel welcome on that big stage, making the trip and prior training worthwhile.
I hadn’t opened the e-mail yet because of the threat of rejection. I had to qualify for free entry with a sub 1:20 half. I have exactly one, from a 2010 race in which the course was sabotaged with extra marking arrows. My time had to be adjusted to make up for a small skipped section.
Rejection or acceptance mattered. Due to injury, the Olympic Trials had slipped out of my grasp. I had followed the televised coverage with the same coiled tension in my gut that spring loads me at the start of a race but with no outlet except to creep further and further onto the edge of my chair. My spring training and motivation both could be characterized by frustrating terms like inconsistent and haphazard. I needed a shake-up and a refocus toward a challenging goal.
And so I opened it: “Thank you for your e-mail. We’re happy to invite you to participate in the 2012 half marathon championships.” Yes! In so many words across my computer screen, I had been accepted. No frills, but that was fine because I have three friends (all runners) in Minnesota that I’m longing to see. They will ensure that I carbo-load, go to bed early and have a strong cup of coffee when I wake up on race day.
Now, a month later and less than a month until my race, I’m taking stock. Disappointment clouds my outlook. I ran a lonely track workout this morning. Short intervals – they were supposed to be easy with a feel of light, crisp drive in each lap. But my 400s and 800s were slow and got SLOWER. Twice I’ve run in the hills with friends. On both occasions I lagged on the ups. My will took over where my muscles failed. I would push into discomfort to avoid letting them down, to avoid embarrassment. In this month I haven’t woken to the half-lit road calling my name. I’ve woken mid-thought, my mind already reeling and sorting through the tasks ahead. Running is in there somewhere but not floating at the top. Instead I’ve been tardy to my running “appointments” so that I’m more likely to trim a mile off than add an extra.
A month ago my family suddenly thought we had to cut our 10-year-old roots in this tight community and replant ourselves in the big city. Some initial digging revealed that our roots had grown deep, fanning in many directions, intertwining in underground thickets of precious lives. Solitary running and a race trip away from this place were nudged to the outskirts of my mental geography.
Now, after embracing the move and researching Seattle neighborhoods, we find out we get to stay in Leavenworth. I need to heed the “yes;” I need to live the “yes.” I can and will return to the track and repeat the lackluster workout. This time I’ll stretch that tight hamstring beforehand, wear better shoes. I’ll be running up steep trails, too. If alone there is no comparison, just lifting each leg, pushing off the balls of my feet, a steady rhythm, climbing higher. There’s a dropping away, of town, ordinary existence, of what is impossible. My excuses make elaborate fences but I have all the tools needed to dismantle them and see what lies beyond.
(To be continued)
Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.