Racing Why I’m returning to the course where I had my worst race...

Why I’m returning to the course where I had my worst race ever

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I never wrote about my experience at the 2018 Mississauga Marathon. There wasn’t much to say, really. An anxiety attack at 28 K took me right out of the race, which up until that point had been perfectly executed. I also never found the words to describe quite what happened and can’t really understand why it happened. There were curbside tears and the pain of watching a goal pass me by. The worst recesses of my mind began to show in an abusive internal dialogue. It wasn’t a moment I was excited to share.

This year, I’m returning to Mississauga and will race the half marathon. Perhaps because of last year’s experience, I have fallen out of love with the marathon. The half marathon just excites me more. I don’t believe I’ve shied away from the marathon because I’m afraid of the challenge or lack courage, though I have on occasion asked myself if quitting in the midst of difficulty is simply part of my character. I remind myself, however, that the ambitious goal I’ve set for myself has required me to dig as deep as I ever have. I don’t recall ever having had so many “Why the hell am I doing this?” moments as I have this cycle. I’m proud to say I’ve pushed through.

I also don’t believe anyone needs redemption from a bad race. That notion implies that a bad race indicates some kind of scar upon our character. I choose to believe instead that running is one long redemptive act and those races are simply part of that process.

When we give ourselves over to running in good faith, we discover new dimensions to ourselves and maybe unearth some of our less desirable traits and thoughts that the run teaches us to move through. We’re not defined by a single run and don’t need to correct it. We’re only called to maintain faith in our ability to take the lessons and act on them. Sometimes, doing so is slow and the path we have to take is not the one we expected or wanted. There’s a healthy path to redemption and it’s not looking for a quick fix.

The decision to go back and race the course again, or at least half of it, is about falling too far to the other side of the spectrum of how we react to moments of disappointment. The opposite of fighting for redemption, I suppose, is resignation. It’s the urge to tell yourself, “Maybe this isn’t for me,” or “I just can’t run well on that course.”

It might seem innocuous, but resignation of this sort is how you begin to limit and diminish yourself. It’s how we start to take things over which we have no power and give them power over us. I don’t want to go back to Mississauga hungry for revenge on a race that once hurt me.

On the other hand, I don’t wish for last year’s experience to leave me with a sense that the course and I just don’t get along. I don’t want to accept that there’s something about me or the race that made last year such a disaster. I want to reinforce that bad runs happen and that’s fine. The course doesn’t have some kind of vendetta against me and I don’t need to fear it. 

People have returned to sites of much more significant trauma. In running we have the obvious example of those who returned to Boston following the 2013 bombings. I’ve always been inspired by those whose belief in themselves and their mission meant more than any single event, even one so tragic.

I don’t need to prove myself with a great result this weekend. If it comes, great, but mostly I just need to run. I need to show myself that all the growth I’ve experienced until now is a grab bag of runs ranging from transcendent to utterly miserable. All of it has been worth it. I’m going back to Mississauga because I’m still learning about what kind of athlete and person I can be. This run will be worth it.

All images courtesy of the Mississauga Marathon.