About twenty-four hours ago, the Ninja Turtle received, for the first time, some public recognition for her running. Before you all think she’s some super pro, she is not. From our schooling years we all know it’s easier to be the best student in a class of twenty than it is to be the top of the year with 2000 students. Likewise, a small race stacks the odds in your favour for coming up ahead.
In all honesty, she wasn’t even sure if there was going to be a race at all, as the publicly available list of enrolled runners showed ONE team (hers) and ONE solo runner. Since she had to switch from the team to the solo component, she believed it was only going to be a race of two runners. You know what racing against one other person means? It means if you don’t win, you lose. The Ninja Turtle has never felt any pressure whatsoever to cross the line first, but then she’s never really had to consider what it meant to cross the line last either.
It became a torturous week of debating strategy. She had not completely recovered from those killer hills at La Champenoise de la Marne, and she had completed a 14-mile long run on the Monday of race week. Should the Ninja Turtle:
a) Run comfortably, treating it like a novel experience – first time in the forest!
b) Run slowly, deliberately saving herself for her fourth race (15th June, 27km of trail) and graciously acknowledging she is a noncontender as she approaches the starting line
c) Run as fast as she can, since she’s paid money to “run a race”; after all, with no knowledge of the other runner’s skills/background, she technically has a 50-50 chance
She spent a few agonising days psyching herself into a funk. On one hand she didn’t care to win, on the other hand she didn’t want to lose either. On yet another hand (GodzillaPin’s) if she was going to win, she’d like to win against an opponent that gave her a good run for her money, and on the same token, if she were to lose, she wanted to lose knowing that she drove a hard challenge and her opponent beat her satisfactorily with killer skillz. After about half an hour of struggling to verbalise these conflicting thoughts to GodzillaPin in broken French, GodzillaPin very simply replied “what about running for the pleasure of it?”
That silenced the Turtle.
Of course, her fears were moot when she saw the number of runners on Sunday morning. It wasn’t going to be a black-or-white, win-or-lose race. She could find herself, quite happily and comfortably, in the middle of the pack once again. Still, the psychological scars of spending a week believing she could come in last lingered. This was why she elected to stand right at the very back of the small pack of runners when they were called to approach the starting line. Maybe in a twisted way, she was trying to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Once the runners entered the woods, the Ninja Turtle focused on settling into her own pace. It took a couple of minutes, by which time she realised that not only was she gaining on the runners ahead of her, she was starting to overtake them. Without much effort.
The biggest concern in the forest shifted from finishing last, to not getting lost. For the first lap of the race, she elected to run close to one or two other runners, permitting them to go ahead of her at times, so they can do the work of leading the way while she focused on not tripping on roots and hurdling over fallen tree trunks. The Ninja Turtle was quite easily the shortest runner, so while everyone else was gracefully clearing these obstacles, she was handicapped by short legs that made her feel like a hobbit.
After the first lap, the Ninja Turtle had overtaken a good 2/3 of the contenders. Mentally, she had shifted gears from “let’s run for fun” to “let’s run for a PR”. She skipped a water station despite immense thirst, as it was the checkpoint for relay teams to switch runners. She found herself saying things like “this is a tempo pace, surely you can keep this up for another 6km”.
Towards the end of the second lap, she was delirious from thirst, and her usual strategy of starting out empty and fuelling mid-race was beginning to backfire as she realised she was not running for endurance, she was running for speed, and her vision getting fuzzy was a sure sign of plummeting sugar levels. Right before approaching the fuel station she had just overtaken another solo runner, and although greatly reluctant to lose time, she was forced to drink 2 cups and grab a bite before stealing the giant 1.5L bottle of water from behind the counter and running off with it.
By the beginning of the third lap, the Ninja Turtle knew that the rest of the race all depended on mental strength, for she had reached her physical limits. She was plagued by nausea and the dried apricots and chocolate cereal bars were making her all mucusy. Breathing was a chore. She realised belatedly that she didn’t have her Ventolin.
Every half a minute, some part of her body begged her to slow down, and her mind fought back to silence the pleas and the excuses. She had one thought, and only one thought in her mind: whatever the outcome, she wanted to reach the finish line knowing that she had given nothing short of 100%, emptied her tank, and found she had another 10% more to give. As tears of strain started streaking her sweaty face, making her nose even snottier, she felt fear, pain, desperation, grief, rebellion, defiance, hope, and finally, elation. She was going to finish with absolutely no regrets.
Upon crossing the finish line, the Ninja Turtle collapsed and for three sweet and holy seconds, laid immobile on her back until some volunteers came rushing over, asking if she needed first aid. She hurriedly pulled herself up, insisting she was fine, just overwhelmed by the emotional experience. The sweat, snot and tears had washed her mind of all negativity, and she was reborn into the promise of all possibilities.
When we make “I can’t” statements, we are the creators of our own roadblocks. What does “I can’t” even mean? Does it mean that I am not capable? How will I know this until I have tried? The other meaning of “can’t” means “not allowed to”, and that’s exactly it. People sometimes fear success as much as they fear failure, and “I can’t” simply means they refuse to permit themselves to discover what they actually are capable of doing.
It was sweet to receive second place in a race, but it was even sweeter for the Ninja Turtle that day, outrunning the demons that lurked in her mind.