My longest run over the last three weeks was three miles. The last two weeks were spent exclusively on the trail. My next round of marathon training was scheduled to start on Monday.
So of course I did a 10K race on Saturday.
I was ill-prepared to race the Tuscarora 10K, but in some ways I thought this made it a brilliant decision. I could just go out, guns blazing, run hard and blow up. I could do all that free of any guilt, misplaced though it may be, of not performing up to my potential. There was no performing or potential to worry about. That made it gloriously easy to actual live out the sentiment “letting go of the outcome.” Because while that’s an awesome place to live, I often have trouble paying the rent to take up permanent residence.
Anyway. Back to the race.
The Tuscarora 10K is one of my favorite events. I have a love-hate relationship with the course. It’s a simple layout — a 6.2-mile box. It is rolling, which I actually prefer to flat although some of the rolling hills suck. There is no shad on the bulk of the course and it’s almost always hot, humid and sunny. Yet I love it. More on that later.
I arrived with my race plan which was to run hard and steady and hold it for as long as I possibly could. The first mile is downhill and I ran comfortably hard, which of course put me at a ridiculous pace.
After the first turn, life went back to normal. I was running strong and challenging myself, but aware of the humidity. I knew that first mile was way too fast, so I let myself ease up. When I felt myself straining, I looked around. I waved to people sitting on their front porch watching the race go by. I looked out at the countryside landscape, as thirsty for water as I was yet sill beautiful. i sent blessings to the runners around me who were loudly complaining. (Ok, they annoyed me first, then I decided to send them blessings because there was too much hate and annoyance in the world that morning).
The race had several water stops, more than I remember, which was fantastic. I took a cup at each stop, walking to take a few sips because I have not mastered the drinking-while-running talent and really, I find it an unapplicable skill to learn, like flip turns in the pool. (I will never need to do a flip turn in an open water triathlon swim.) Even with the walk breaks, my first four miles were at a spectacular pace. But the sun came out just as we hit the second turn onto a long, hot, shadeless road with two hills. My pace dropped. But I was still averaging quite a bit better than I had anticipated.
The final mile and a half (perhaps a bit more) is on a road with a bit of shade and one fantastic person out with a sprinkler. I found myself passing a few people who slowed up from the humidity and sun and at least one person who thought the course was supposed to be flat. I was tempted to walk up the final hill, but I resisted. “Just jog it out,” I said to myself. “You have less than half a mile to go. Keep it strong. Kick it in.” The finish is a glorious two-tenths of a mile downhill and I ran strong and smooth to the line. I heard my parents ringing their cowbells and my boyfriend with his newly purchased vuvuzela cheering me in.
I ran a personal best for a 10K. Without even trying.
After the race, we hung around to see the awards, just in case I took third in my age group on a rolldown (I didn’t.) Scott and I stayed longer as the race was part of the Tuscarora Nation Picnic and Field Days. We watched the parade usher in the tribal elders. We listened to some music and walked around the grounds, checking out different vendors with their artwork and jewelry booths.
And perhaps this is the clue as to why I love this race.
On the one hand it’s small and more than once I’ve ended up with an age group award. (Which, by the way, is something I consider random. Among the many things in life you can’t control is who shows up to your competition. Well, unless you’re Tanya Harding. But let’s not go there.) Getting a medal usually increases my enjoyment of a race because I am, after all, human.
But I also love that race is part of what in essence is the Tuscarora Family Picnic. Growing up in Niagara County, I always had an awareness of the Tuscaroras and the Seneca Nation and a very cursory understanding of some history. Attending this event is an opportunity to increase, albeit incrementally, my understanding of the Tuscaroras and cultivate appreciation for their culture. I get to learn by watching them participate in their culture, not perform it for the entertainment of a white audience. Year by year, I learn something new. And doesn’t the world need more opportunity to learn about people who live outside their own proverbial neighborhood?
Perhaps this, too, is one of the things I love about running and endurance sports. It provides me an opportunity to see new places, meet new people, be exposed to different ways of being. Maybe it can help make me a more empathetic person and see that multiple things can be true.