I received this email four days before my first race back after surgery. I was already anxious about toeing the start line. After almost a year away from racing, I was uncertain about pacing and how I would handle the pain of a hard effort. I knew I wasn't at the level of fitness nor at the weight I wanted to be for racing. I thought a fun local 5k would be the most stress-free way to begin my journey back to racing, until I read these hateful words.
I was having a tough week already, and this put me over the top. I couldn't stop crying for the next couple of hours (which is really embarrassing at a law office where there are only three people working!). I was shocked and hurt. This man had called me rude and conceited, when I try really hard to be considerate and humble. Even worse, he said I wasn't a very good runner, at a time when I am questioning my talent as an athlete and my ability to return to competitive steepling.
I was crushed and couldn't stop thinking about this email for the next couple days. I knew my obsessive thoughts were unnecessary. This man and his mean words should have no influence on my well-being, but I couldn't shake that this stranger had taken a stab where my ego was most vulnerable. I thought about not racing because I felt so distracted.
But after two days the pain had dulled, and I finally felt what I had been telling myself all along: I try to be a good person; I didn't do anything wrong; and racing is a celebration of hard work and having the courage to challenge yourself. Racing is a testament to friends, family, medical support, and coaches, who have supported you in your journey. I've had many periods in my life where I have been overwhelmed by the expectations, or my perceived expectations, from others. In most cases, the expectations have been for me to achieve high results. In a few cases, such as this man, people want to see me fail. Either way, it can be hard to let them go, even though intellectually I know these outside judgments don’t matter.
As I stood at the start line, I did have to face the man who had briefly shaken my self-confidence. He was giving commentary over the loudspeaker before the start of the race. He listed the elite athletes in the race and their accomplishments. He didn't mention my name, but I didn't care. I’m not running to please anybody or to hear my name over a loudspeaker. I’m running for myself.