I could hear the birds starting to sing as the sun rose early Sunday morning. I turned over, and went back to sleep. When the alarm went off at seven, I was almost ready to get up. It was a welcome change from the previous two races I had ran, in Vegas (http://last-adventurer.squarespace.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2010/4/29/viva-las-henderson-lake-las-vegas-xterra-trail-run-april-24.html), and Malibu (http://last-adventurer.squarespace.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2010/5/12/xterra-malibu-creek-challenge-trail-run-may-8-2010.html) where I had to get up before the sun just to make it to the courses on time. Compared to those mornings, this Sunday was leisurely. Moreover, the conditions were finally great; it was a warm, clear summer-like day. It was a welcome contrast to the conditions that had postponed the race twice before, where seven consecutive weekends of rain had soaked San Diego.
As I warmed up for the race, I was a little nostalgic – after all, this was the race last year that had brought me back to racing. I had started off that race fast, but then had to tough it out to merely finish. That race had been particularly frustrating because I had lost my prime position in the third mile on one of the last straightaways. As my knee had shot out flames of pain, I watched competitors who I had previously passed dart by me. I had used that memory as motivation as I worked my way back. While there was still a lot of room for improvement, I felt great about where I had come back from.
Mixed in with the memories of the last year, however, was a bit of mental fatigue. I had run eight races since March. While it wasn’t the mental burden of a race a weekend, it was close. There was little time for adjustments in between races, and almost no time to take off from training. I was a little mentally drained from constantly having to find motivation, and constantly having to find my edge to pass people while sprinting hard for the finish. Back when I was climbing mountains for my non-profit, I had come to a simple epiphany – that completing any challenging event was accomplished first in the mind, then in the body. I had been the most successful on climbs where my mental focus was sharp, as opposed to the ascents that had come after days upon days of straight climbing. Of course, solid physical conditioning was always a huge asset to my mental state.
As I stretched, I realized that being overly focused on the competitive aspects of the last seven races had made racing less fun. I was ready for a break, and I knew that after this race, I’d have a little over a month off before the next series of races began. I knew that by then, I’d be excited and ready to race again. As I finished stretching, I knew that I should have fun with this last race and enjoy the moment. With that in mind, I turned up the music and shook out the tension in my arms. I looked around at the other runners, some with grim, competitive faces, some with nervous eyes, and some with apathetic expressions. I grinned, put on my best devil-may-care smile and stepped toward the start line.
With my relaxed attitude, the race turned out to be a blast. Like last year, the course was well laid out, stretching through fields of native spring growth slowly turning from green to brown, before arcing into a single track section along a seasonal creek, before slowing curving back around to the old Mission Dam and over the bridges and back toward the finish line. As I ran, I let go of the frustrations of earlier races – being sick, being stuck behind slower people in single track areas, and the nagging complaints of aches and small flaws. In the end, it wasn’t my best finish, and my pace was a little off what I had ran competitively in earlier races, but I didn’t care. I felt good about ending the race on a relaxed note, and the series on a high note – I had competed well, met a lot of great people, and had a great time, so that, in the end was what mattered to me. And of course, I’ll be back in these races next year with a drive to improve even further. But until then, I’ll see you all on the trail or road in a month or so, after I climb some mountains and have some other adventures.