I finished the Hagg Lake 10k last year. I say “finished” because “ran” would be less than accurate, since I mentally checked out and took a couple walk breaks on the uphills. That day, I had a list of excuses as long as my finish time: It was hot. I went out too fast. I was undertrained. I hate hills. But I like the event a lot, so I signed up again this year.
I could have taken the easy way out and registered for the brand new 5k (only half the distance and half the hills). But I needed to get some distance training in, so I braced myself for the pain and checked the 10k box. Getting the distance work in was the first of several incentives that replaced the excuses, and made this year’s race much more satisfying.
I wanted to start out at my own pace this year, and just run comfortably, knowing that the hard work of this race would pay off in other races down the line (another incentive). Before the start I talked to a friend who told me her heart had stopped a few months ago, and she had gotten a pacemaker implanted. She also signed up for the 10k, when the 5k looked so inviting. If she could do it, how could I make excuses of my own?
There are tougher obstacles in life than huffing and puffing up a hill. I had just finished healing from skin cancer surgery, and I talked to another running friend who was still recovering from his own, much more serious skin cancer surgery, performed at the same clinic. Yet, there he was, getting ready to run a race with a scab and a bandage on his face.
As we got ready for the start, I heard someone in the crowd behind me say quietly “Joe was walking last year.” Though not meant unkindly, that comment gave me even more incentive to keep running this time, no matter how much the hills mocked me in the final miles.
The race started, and I settled into a nice rhythm, running alongside another guy at a sustainable pace. When we reached the 1-mile mark he looked at his watch, apparently figured he was dogging it, and immediately started putting a large gap on me. I let him go, secretly hoping he was running the 5k, but determined to maintain my own pace and complete the 6.2 miles without any “pedestrian interludes”.
The 5k turnaround came and went with no sign of the leader. Sure enough, he came charging back up the hill from the 10k turnaround, and we exchanged thumbs up. I made the turn myself and prepared myself mentally for the first big climb of the return trip. The night before, I watched Damian Lillard calmly drain a last-second three-pointer to give the Blazers a series-clinching win against the Houston Rockets. If he could perform such an amazing feat under such extreme pressure, then surely I could keep running up some damn hills!
As I wheezed my way up the long, steep hills, one of my favorite Hood To Coast team names kept intruding on my thoughts: “No Walking ‘Til The Van Passes”. There were no vans or teammates at Saturday’s solo 10k race, but that humorously motivational slogan still pushed me forward. No walking ’til the finish line!
As I kept the pistons pumping up the hills, I heard people saying “Go Joe!” and drew off the energy of the other runners. No excuses this time, just incentives in the form of encouragement from friends!
I also gain energy from providing encouragement, and at the start of a particularly mean hill I spotted a walker who once told me she had toughed out an 11-hour marathon. (I don’t think I’ve ever finished and 11-hour anything!) As I passed her I gave her a pat on the shoulder and a thumbs-up, knowing we both had our work cut out for us getting to the top. If she was out there doing it, I had no right to make excuses. I was lucky to be able to run it, and get it over with sooner.
As I finally reached the top of the final hill and started down toward the finish, I snuck a look back and confirmed that those noises I’d been hearing were indeed other runners hot on my heels. Another incentive! I mustered whatever I had left and pushed as hard as I could toward the line.
The clock was ticking closer and closer to a round minute mark, and that one final incentive prodded me to a last-second surge to finish with a sub-38 in 37:57. Ironically my time last year was almost a minute faster, but running the whole way fueled by incentives felt a lot more satisfying than a run/walk burdened with excuses.