This past fall I ran in the Equinox Marathon Relay in Fairbanks with two dear friends. I lucked out with the easiest leg of the relay – the first one. While my leg of the race contained more elevation gain than I have ever experienced in a race, legs two and three were absolutely brutal. One is completely uphill, and one almost completely down. The Equinox is a trail marathon and marathon relay. It was my first experience with trail racing.
The race was in September, which in Alaska means the temperatures could be anywhere from chilly-but-manageable to I-am-in-pain. That morning was beautiful, but cold. As a result we huddled in a gym near the start line until right before the race so our muscles wouldn’t get too cold. While standing there I heard my friend remark to another runner,
“You know, it’s important to fall down during a race like this, because you need to learn that you can get back up.”
That comment nestled itself into the back of my mind as I was shaking my legs out and preparing to run. I was nervous because I’d never done a trail race before and had no idea what to expect. I had only run road races before and cross country in Illinois, where an elevation gain of 2 feet is labeled a hill. I had never fallen while running, and suddenly I began to worry.
The race started, the most relaxed race start I have ever experienced, and off I went. As I ran I started thinking, “maybe I do want to fall”. I wanted to learn that I could get back up.
The thing about running is that every race, every run even, can teach us something if we let it. We just have to be willing to sit in the discomfort and pain to learn. I wondered if maybe this race was meant to teach me that I could fall and recover.
Sure enough, about five miles into the race, my foot got snagged on an exposed root and I could tell I was about to fall. Instead of tensing myself up like I probably would have before, I tried not to let anxiety control my muscles, and I fell. It hurt, and my knee throbbed a bit. I was right by a group of volunteers who swarmed over asking if I was okay, and I smiled and told them I was fine. It hurt, and I was embarrassed, but I could tell I wasn’t injured.
I got back up and kept going, and finished my leg of the relay. After it ended and I passed my race bib on to my teammate, I noticed a giant mud stain on my running tights where I’d fallen. I assumed when I washed them it would wash out, but it didn’t. I’m pretty proud of that mud stain. It is a reminder of what I learned during that race. Falling hurts, it’s embarrassing, and sometimes it can cause serious injury. But a lot of times it’s tiny aberration from what we’re doing that teaches us resilience.
My friend’s comment helped me to not fear falling, but instead approach it with curiosity about what it could teach me. Looking back the Equinox is one of my favorite races I’ve run, primarily because it taught me that I can fall and get back up.