Running from Shadows
I could hear footsteps and heavy breathing right behind me, and he was close. Closer than I expected.
“Run faster, dig deeper, push yourself harder”, was the voice of from in my head. I felt the burn in my legs. I was running as fast as I could. “Can I get away from him?” I asked myself. My heart thumped so hard that I thought my chest would explode. I wasn’t going to let up for a moment.
This is not the scene of anything untoward. I’m approaching the 2 km mark of a parkrun. I’m in front and thinking about the prospect of my first parkrun win.
For several years Saturday mornings have been parkrun mornings. After I snapped my Achilles in 2015 and I was laying at home feeling depressed about life, I made a promise to myself. My promise was to get fit again.
My first parkrun in December 2016 was slow and gentle. It was one of many steps on the path to recovery and fitness.
Since then, I have done 144 parkruns at 77 different locations. Touring different venues is a common pastime for parkrunners. It is not unheard of for parkrunners to drive hundreds of kilometres so that they can run 5 km.
In November 2018, Sean and I were touring in Lenasia at the Rose Park parkrun. Sean bagged himself first place that day. I was further back in third place. We celebrated with coffee and fried eggs afterwards. We do that after most parkruns.
Since then, I have been reminded of Sean’s win a few times and been asked, “how many parkruns have you won?”
In the grand scheme of things, winning a parkrun is about as important as any weekday grocery shopping activity. It’s important to keep the fridge stocked, but not so important that anyone would write a blog about it.
Sean told me of his experience of anxiety when leading the race. Being in front is stressful. Everyone is chasing you. That is precisely the anxiety I was experiencing as I heard the footsteps and deep breaths hot on my heels.
I had finished second in a parkrun so many times. It never felt stressful. I was just chasing the guy in front of me. Now that I was in front and facing the prospect of winning, I was stressed out. Perhaps it was self-imposed pressure of wanting to do something I had never done before.
As I climbed the hill in the last kilometre, I pushed my body harder and harder. After some turning paths and dense bush, I had no idea how close my pursuant was. I made up a story that he was right on my heels and that he had saved all his energy for this last climb so that he could catch me. The path turned, and I could see the home stretch through the trees. I accelerated on the rocky downhill to the finish.
“Stay upright, you are nearly there, and then you can stop. The pain will be over soon.” It was as if I was taking instruction from myself. I crossed the line, stopped my watch, and turned around, expecting to see the second-place runner come charging through the trees. There was no one. I finished two minutes ahead, he wasn’t even close to me. I was running from shadows, my own shadows.
Most times the stories we make up appear far more daunting than the real thing.