By HPRS Staff Columnist Holly Rapp
Can you tell a story about a race you didn’t run?
When I first thought about trying the race, I knew I was a completely different runner. I had built from 20 mile weeks to 30, then 40, and eventually 80 or even 90. Instead of running two or three times a week, I was out there every day, simply because I wanted to be. Suddenly I knew this was the year I could do it.
So I planned out a careful progression of races building to my dream race. I read endless race reports and watched every video recap I could find. I visited the race website with alarming frequency and spent hours trying to understand the maps. I read the runners manual again and again, making sure I caught every little detail. Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy to devote so much effort to a single endeavor – but it just felt right.
I tried my best to learn how to eat and drink while running, though neither came naturally. With each awkward bite, I reminded myself that I would be thankful on race day. I tested vests and handhelds and bought my first pair of trail shoes, thrilled to be running finally on terrain that required them.
During my runs, I imagined different parts of the course. In the hardest parts of my longest runs, I asked myself what I would do when I hit those same low points during the race. I practiced talking myself out of stopping and became quite good at convincing myself to just keep going, just a little bit more, because it would always get better, right?
In the midst of all these excited preparations, it never crossed my mind that I might not make it to the starting line.
But, well, that’s what happened. As the day drew closer, I knew something was wrong. And I was right. I was sick and there was no way I was going to be able to run the race. Period. No room for a possible “maybe” or a last second miracle; just a single, absolute “No.”
And just like that it was over. The body I had spent years trying to shape into a runner was now the very reason I could not run the race or even run at all.
I didn’t understand why I was so upset. It felt stupidly selfish to be so broken up over such a tiny thing. It was only a race! It wasn’t my family or friends or anything truly important; it was just one arbitrary event, something totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
But though I understood all this logically, it somehow didn’t make it hurt any less. Because it’s strange. Once you commit to a race, these things have a way of slowly creeping into your life. Though it’s “only” a race, that race has a curious tendency to become a beacon, a light far in the distance that helps you organize your days and keeps you moving forward. So what happens when it disappears?
I still dream about that day. Even as I write this I wonder what it will feel like. I’ve thought about it so much I don’t know if the experience can possibly live up to what I’ve imagined. I don’t know why I hold onto this dream so stubbornly when it seems it may never happen. Those in my life who are more reasonable than I try gently to bring me back to reality, to remind me that my body might not ever be able to do the things my mind believes I can.
But I am not ready to let go. I hope some of you, too, will keep holding onto your “impossible” dreams, because that’s the only way to make them happen. I know everyone talks about the importance of realistic and attainable goals, but I believe there is still room for radically unexpected and wonderful things to happen, both in running and life.
So I will keep trying and training and planning and dreaming no matter how terrible the odds. Because I can still see that day; I can still picture myself moving along those trails.
Even the races we don’t run have stories.