Racing with Heart

I’ve heard the term “heart” used to describe an athlete’s performance, aka whether or not they had “heart” during game day. What the eff does that mean? I think it’s related to risk: trying a play that has low odds of success but could win the game. Coming back from a loss, injury or mistake, making up lost time and winning anyway. It’s easy to give up when things start going wrong, how could you possibly make up lost time AND still beat your competition? After all, you were already going as hard as you could go.

Or were you?

There’s a challenging middle ground in a race. On one hand, you must execute your plan; if you go all out at the beginning, you will undoubtedly blow up and end up crawling your way across the finish line. On the other hand, if you’re trying overtake someone or come back from a setback, that plan is probably out the window. You have to do all the mental calculations. Do I have enough in the tank to lay it all out there? If I go now, will I be able to kick it at the end? If you play it too safe, you won’t win, but if you go too hard, you won’t win either. There’s this perfect line to walk, where you are  going harder then you thought possible, but not so hard you blow up before the finish.

We call these moments walls. When something just seems impossible, seems so hard, your legs are so fried, but you push past it and lo and behold, you’re over the wall. Suddenly your legs feel fine, and there you are on the other side, going faster then you thought you could. When you start training, you get these a lot. These walls are mental. Your body doesn’t want to hurt, it’s just taking protective measures. But you learn to ignore it and push past it.

I’m to the point now where these walls are fewer, but they seem harder to identify. Sometimes I’m not facing a wall, I’m just facing the fact that I have nothing left no matter how much I push. Or perhaps it is another wall, and I’m just not seeing it. I’m just hammering my head against it.

I haven’t really raced in a long time; and by really raced, I mean raced “with heart”. To me, that means being vulnerable: giving it every fucking thing I have. Because if I do that, if I truly perform as best as I possibly can and still don’t win, it is disappointing. As if, at the core, I am not good enough. It’s scary to give everything of yourself and find yourself lacking. But if you don’t give it everything, if you leave something in the tank, you have an excuse. You’re safe. There was no risk to your ego.

Ironically, when I don’t give it my all is when I feel like I fail. When I take a chance on myself and give it everything I have, I feel like I won, even if I didn’t. It means I overcame my own doubt, I overcame that voice from deep down telling me I can’t. It means I told my legs to shut up and my brain to shut up too. Maybe that’s what it means to race with heart–the only thing I hear is the beating of my heart.