The First Race “Back”

On July 4th I crossed a finish line wearing a bib for the first time since… December? November? Whenever it was, it was too damn long ago.

hb finish with mom

momma oual, too! sub 25, a PR, and 2nd AG for that cool lady that made me

What kept me away from racing so long? Well, the nagging hip tendinosis, for one. As I cautiously progressed (and regressed, and progressed again) through the pains of “recovery”* – I was determined not to rush back. I wanted to feel 100% better and put this injury crap behind me before moving forward.

*new doc/treatment in the works

But mostly? When I finally sat down and honestly asked why I was dragging it out so long?

I was scared to be tested.

It was so easy to use the psuedo injury as a scapegoat every time someone asked what I was training for, or if I wanted to go for a run, or why I was still carrying those five extra “zero miles” pounds.

“Oh, I’ve still got this hip thing… trying to be smart, you know!”

“You guys go ahead, I’m just running slow… out of shape from the recovery, you know!”

smith rock fleshman jasyoga

telling LF and jasyoga to seriously please for the love of oxygen depletion go on without my recovering/outofshape ass a few weeks ago at Smith Rock

I wasn’t ready to have something validate just how far away I’d slipped from my old self, and in turn, how much work was in store if I wanted to get back there.

Coming back is tough. You have to accept that the you of old is now a far off goal, that those easy runs you used to breeze through are now going to feel like long runs. Paces you used to run will seem unattainable. And just when you start gaining some momentum and feeling good, an evil little voice in your head will say, “yeah, but remember when you used to run that fast twice as far??”

You always hear that a person should never compare themselves to someone else, only to their own best self.

Well fuck if you think that’s going to help me at all right now.

Going into the 5k – not only my first race in more than half a year but also my first hard-effort run in nearly that long – I had to figure out a way to motivate myself without setting myself up for failure. So many times our we stack up races against past performance, with our obsession of PRs taking the holy grail of success.

So what do you do when that unrelenting neon clock is so eager to quantify your out of shape, on the mend self vs. that Best Self you’re told to/not to compare yourself to?

Well, I don’t have an answer, because I was still pondering it and grasping at secondary goal straws standing in the corral that morning. When the gun went off I said “fuck it” and just ran.

And actually, I ran pretty well. You know, for Current Self.

hb thumbnail

*mental note to replace with full download once they send it <source>

I didn’t wear a watch. Well I mean I did, because security blanket much?, but I didn’t use it. The first mile has a slight decline, and when I saw the split time I let it roll over my head without processing.


(it actually said 7:22 but I was :14 behind gun time and thank god because I’m pretty sure seeing a 708 would’ve made me poop my pants)

The course is out-and-back and the leaders started coming through… I busied myself studying every single one – who looked smooth, who was grimacing, who looked hungry – until lead female passed and I gave her a “GO GIRL!” We made the hairpin turn and I gave myself a gold star for getting to the second half with some life in my legs, air in my lungs, and a few smiles to toss at mom and Tiffany when they ran by. We hit the mile two marker (missed the clock) just as that nice decline from earlier turned into a final mile gradual climb. It’s probably only 40 or 50 feet of climbing, but when it’s stretched out in a straight shot in front of you and your out of shape body has suddenly hit red line, it hurts.

I chugged and chugged and chugged, every time my brain thought “this hurts” I made it think about how my arms were swinging or my footfall. I told myself this is the beauty of the short races – digging deep and gutting out the final stretch when your body’s screaming NO FUCKING MORE YOU LUNATIC! I might have slowed down, but without a watch barking paces at me all I had to judge on was how hard it felt like I was pushing.

It felt pretty damn hard.

Mile three came into view and I realized that this was the win of the race. I was wrung out and completely at my ceiling. I eeked out a “GRANDMA!” between wheezes, made the turn, and begged my legs for one last gear through finish.

They didn’t have it. And actually, that’s fine. Great, even.

HB Surf City Run 5k

HB finish

HB results

Because even though I didn’t run near my fastest time, I know that I ran as fast as I could that day. And maybe that’s the secret. Not comparing yourself to your Best-Ever Self, but your Best-Current Self.

“Just because I’m not in the place I want to be doesn’t mean I can’t race like the champion I am inside… I felt a weight lift off my heart that gave me one more gear. This is who I am. Winning or not.”

-Lauren Fleshman, Peachtree 10k Recap

Yeah, I’d like to get back to PR form and feel like the fit “real runner” I used to claim to be. I don’t know how long it will take to get there, but it makes the mountain seem much more surmountable knowing there’s room to claim a few summit flags up along the way.

hb summit

… ok the analogy has gone a little too far I think. <source>

So, in the spirit of theoretical mountain summiting and literal running, I’ll be running a 10k in Ohio this weekend. One more step in the right direction.

And then the half in Eugene on the 27th.

^^^ damnit, Eugene, I can’t quit you!!!

Sarah OUaL


11 thoughts on “The First Race “Back”

  1. Great job on your first race in ages. I like your advice to compare yourself to your Best-Current Self and will try that when I return to running, which I hope happens soon. I’ve been out for a few weeks due to a hip issue, am sick to death of not running, and can’t help but freak out that I’m missing out on training for the Portland Marathon. Before this injury popped up, I was going to try to PR at Portland. If I make to it PDX in October, I’ll have to keep your advice in mind in how I approach that race.


  2. First race back always feels like a downer, but I always say to myself, hey if this is my base fitness level, then I can go really far from here. It can be rewarding in ways to find out what you are capable of when UN-trained too! (and enjoy Ohio from another former Ohioan!)


  3. You give me hope! I’ve been recovering from an injury since March. I miss running. I dislike the extra 5 (or 10) zero mile pounds that my waist has accumulated and most of all, I miss feeling like myself. Biking and PT exercises don’t feel like me. But I know one day I will run again, and one day I will race again. I just can’t wait.


  4. Enjoyed the reflection on your race and totally connected with you on coming to terms with your “Current Self;” I struggle with this, too. Great run and best of luck on your 10K this weekend! Thanks for the post!


  5. Awesome work! I am in pretty much the exact same position as you, and I’m finding that the mental game of “getting back into it” post-injury is much harder than I expected. Good luck getting your “summit flags”! The road is sure to be bumpy but I’m sure you’ll have no problem making it.


  6. I have been dealing with hip issues as well and trying to lay low with running but still get out there and use PiYo to help my flexibility and strength as I build up and fix the imbalances. Good luck you will get to where you are meant to be. That is what I keep telling myself.


  7. Nice race. I think it is harder to try and not compare yourself to yourself then it is to not compare yourself to other runners. I continue to have IT band problems and decided to back down on my miles this summer and focus on strength training my long runs are what use to be my short runs during the week and that is hard to grasp. Especially when everyone is posting their 10, 15 and 20 mile easy runs. Oh well right? It happens as long as it is temporary, which it usually is. Good luck. Hope you are able to heal and run on like the bad arce you are!



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