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3 Lessons Racing Taught Me About Running

There used to be only three moments in my running and racing career that I remember over any others:

1. Placing 18th in the 2002 state meet for high school cross country.

2. Running my (first) PR during my second half marathon in 2009 (1:40.39).

3. Completing my second sprint triathlon with my mama and watching her conquer her big bad fear of swimming.

Those moments stand out because I allowed them to define me as an athlete during various stages of my life: the stand-out high school runner, the blossoming racer, and a Pilkington. The sport runs deep—and I’m still learning that it’s not just about the clock or the people I “chick.” (Although those two things do make a good day even better.) A fourth moment was added to the list on Sunday, Jan. 19 at the Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon, where I smashed my 2009 PR by 4 minutes and 13 seconds—running a 1:36.16 half marathon—watched my younger sister BLOW UP her BQ goal during her first marathon, and watched my mama kill her half-marathon PR by nearly 6 minutes. I didn’t realize until crossing the line in a near-delirious state that those first three moments only prepared me for this day: the perfect race day, which taught me three perfect things about racing (and life):

1. No expectations, only opportunities. If someone had said this to me pre-2013, I probably would have thrown my water in their face and ran (literally) away. However, since a series of life events forced me, inspired me and pushed me to change my relationship with myself about running, I heard these words in a different voice around the end of last year—and I heard them again on Sunday morning. My boyfriend and I went into the race thinking one of three things may happen: 1) We would drop out, 2) we would “just finish” or 3) we would walk. There was quite literally no expectations—let alone the plan to average 7:21s for 13.1 miles. That was a big, fat, emotional surprise. And at the end of the day, just like a inspirational race can do, this lesson brought me back to 2002, when I ran against the best in the state and didn’t know my full potential enough to expect anything. Another surprise? I was not puking at the finish line. (I’m kind of okay with that.)

2. Not wearing a watch is boss. Mario Fraioli convinced me to ditch the Garmin and go with naked wrists on Sunday. Running by only feel? What a strange, foreign concept for someone who has always had splits and digits and numbers thrust into her psyche. I will be the first to admit that I’ve been a slave to the clock for many years, always trying to calculate the perfect math for a flawless result. It almost worked twice—once in 2011 and once in 2013—but I never quite dipped under 1:40. So when my boyfriend turned to me at mile 11 and said, “If we keep an easy 8-minute pace for the next two miles, we will be finish in under 1:40,” I quite literally dropped an F-bomb in disbelief. How could I possibly be running like this, fueled solely by passion and driven only by the fact that he ran 50 meters in front of me for the last four miles? (Let the record show that I stuck to my reputation and passed him on the hills!) So I locked it in and held the pace for two long, droning, painful two mile—and I finished with a GUN time of 1:39. Pausing to catch my breath, I looked up at him and probably smiled the most genuine smile I’ve ever smiled. Then I hugged him while simultaneously grabbing for the fence covered in mylars. Looking back at 2009, I didn’t glance once at my watch during those final two miles to my first PR performance.

3. A family who runs together… For those who read my blog about the triathlon I completed with my mom in September 2013, this is old news: My family is a huge source of inspiration for me. My younger sister decided to dedicate many days, miles, hours and energy to training for her first full marathon—and qualifying for Boston. She did so like a champion, clocking an impressive 3:30.29. I was fortunate enough to catch the last half marathon of her race, and I immediately recognized that look of focus, exhaustion, daze, excitement and don’t-you-dare-jump-up-and-down-right-now-or-I-will-rip-your-legs-off. (Message received.) I ran next to her for a bit, in silence, watching one of my best friends complete a feat I haven’t ever dreamt of conquering. She silently handed me her water bottle in the last 200 meters and took off toward the finish line, her infamous black pony swaying back and forth. (I always did wonder how she ran with that long, thick gorgeous mane.) Those few moments with her meant more to me than the 1:36.16 I spent running my own race, bringing me back to September 2013, when crossing the line hand in hand with my mama was a new kind of personal best. (For those who are headed to Boston in 2015, look out – there will be five Pilkingtons with bells and whistles on.)

Somewhere in the future, I may run a new PR—hopefully when I least expect it, watch-free and surrounded by the cheers of the Pilk clan.