I found out that I won first place in my age division last Saturday. Looking at the times of the other women in my group, it's clear that this was not a super-competitive race (that sounds kind of jerky, but really, no offense intended - some races draw speedier runners than others)... but I'm still excited.
When my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I started running together 13 years ago, I enjoyed it because 1) it was something we could do together and 2) it convinced me that I had far more athletic potential than I had previously given myself credit for. Our first run together lasted 12 minutes, and at the end I thought I might pass out. Our next run was a few seconds longer. Every day, we aimed to increase our time, even if it was only a little. Once we hit the 30-minute mark, we trained for a 5K. Then we realized that going five miles wasn't that much more difficult than going three... and going ten was tough but not impossible... and 10 seemed easier once we'd worked our way up to 13... We ended up running a marathon together a year and a half later, a week before I graduated college. It was a huge achievement for me. It was almost more important than the graduation itself.
Since those early years, I've run off and on. Sometimes I've been relatively serious about it; other times, I've been totally lackadaisical. But I've kept doing it. It's sort of like riding a bike: once you know you can do it, you can always do it (even if it takes a few weeks to get back in shape after a hiatus).
In the last few weeks, though, I think I've been falling in love with running all over again. It feels more like it did in the beginning: challenging, rewarding, difficult, consuming. When my alarm rings early in the morning, I don't hit snooze. I get up, get dressed, and turn on the treadmill. I know it won't always be this way, but right now I am having fun with it - mainly having fun pushing myself. I want to see what I can do, physically and mentally. How hard can I push myself? How much time can I slice off of my race pace? What's my limit?
That's really what I want to know: what my limit is. I have a feeling I haven't come close to reaching it. I think that's the case for most people. We underestimate ourselves. We think, I haven't done it, therefore I can't do it. These days, you hear about people (my husband being one of them) doing 40 milers, 50 milers, 100 milers. You hear about runners who do marathons every other week for the fun of it. You hear about people who sign up for lengthy trail runs at the last minute and complete them without putting in months of training, and they're fine. They push through. And yeah, some of these people are natural and/or elite athletes, but a lot of them aren't. They're regular people who have confidence in their ability to go the distance and prepare for it as best they can. Then they get out there and finish what they start. Or they don't finish, so they go back out later and try again.
At the moment, I don't have time to train for longer races. That won't always be the case, though. At some point I'd love to try another marathon - maybe something longer. And I'd love to pick a beautiful race and run there (like this one). For now, though, I'm signing up for another 5K in a couple of weeks. It's a Halloween run, and it looks like it'll be a good time.