The comparison that is self.
A lovely morning out spoiled by me.
We gathered in the carpark right on first light, a dozen mixed ladies ready to reconnaissance the loop that makes up the bulk of the Hounslow Classic short course. But, my morning out was spoiled, by me, before we’d even synched Suuntos, Garmins or TomToms.
I looked around at the ladies who I consider friends, both virtually and in reality, a safe cohort, and thought, ‘Oh well, I guessed I’d be the ‘Back o’ the Pack’ today. Now I’m sure of it.’ What I saw were experienced bushwalkers, road runners, trail runners, 50 and 100-kilometre veterans. And me. Since UTA in May, my longest run has been little over an hour at smiling pace and let’s be honest, I live in flat country. This morning we’re heading out for 14-15 kilometres with 1300 metres of descent and ascent. This is going to be ‘fun’.
I quickly reminded myself that although we were in a group, it was clear from the outset that it would be a ‘run, gather, go again’ excursion. No one will be left behind today.
I belong here. I am not less. I am just at a different place in my trail running journey. I saw a delightful concept recently in Trail Runner Magazine US that ‘…Trail running fitness does not follow a linear progression…something more like the flight path of a drunken duck that swerves and then crashes into a lake.’
I don’t lope up stairs or inclines like a seasoned mountain goat nor do I sprint off on the road sections like a gazelle. I’m a little more lumbering. I only have to think about stairs and my heart rate skyrockets. I rue genetics and my lack of dedication to squats, lunges and other functional movements that might make this a little easier.
But, I do belong. I’m not an imposter in this group. I might not be as experienced or conditioned as some but I’m not entirely a duck out of water. I’m confident in my nutrition and hydration for the morning out. I know I’ve got a solid 10-12 kilometres in my legs. Distance is not my problem. Pace will bring my self-comparison to the surface. “I’m not as fast; I’ll hold the ladies up; I’m not as athletic as…’. The stairs at the end, well, that will be my challenge. I will heft up them, one heavy step at a time.
I can do this. I will do this. There is no other way out of the valley after all.
It sounds awful really, a morning out with an internal dialogue swinging between, “Gosh, the ladies have gone out fast, I’ll never keep up’ to, ‘Oh, that’s pretty, I wish I had time to take a photo that wasn’t shaky’ to, ‘Where have they gone?’ to, ‘This is going to hurt tomorrow.’ to, “These stairs aren’t going to end, are they?’. In truth, it was a gorgeous morning out. Perfect temperature, no leeches, pretty parts that I’d love to explore further, nutrition and hydration that worked (for the most part), the most amazing cliff faces, valley vistas and perfect company at the spots when I needed it most.
An unheralded bonus of being Back o’ the Pack is that I have time to be present in a natural landscape with my own thoughts. Today should not be about comparison. Today is about catharsis. A day to remind myself that I am part of a community of strong women, who not only support each other but take on awesome goals at all stages of life while juggling all manner of challenges, that I can’t know about. As individuals or, as a community, we’ve come together to climb mountains and reach our dreams.
A day to remind myself that I am a small piece in an ancient and majestic landscape. Standing at the base of the waterfall, I am small in all my humanness. I am stronger than I forget.
Post Script: This outing took place at the end of July. Fast forward to September and I’ve been out on the same course again, completed a road half-marathon and attempted to initiate a bodyweight strength routine. No, my opinion of stairs has not improved. But my opinion of myself has. With the real Hounslow Classic now less than two weeks away, I know that I am stronger than I give myself credit for and at the end of the day, the Back O’ the Pack covers the same distance as the Front.