And so on Sunday I rose at my usual impossible hour and began stressing over the Bringing Up the Rear 5K I would run later that morning. Stressing because it would be the first time that I would run two 5Ks in two days. I didn’t know if I had it in me, and even though I had a good run on Saturday, setting a new personal record, Sunday might turn out to be a big embarrassment.
Well, I managed to finish the run on Sunday, but I had a very hard time with it. Perhaps it was all of the self talk that dragged me down. Or it may have been the fitful sleep I had the night before. Or the lack of a banana before the race. Or maybe I just truly was too exhausted from the prior day’s run to hustle again. (Though a 5K is only 3.2 miles, and I do more than that three mornings during the week. It shouldn’t have been exhausting to me by now.)
The course was along the Missouri River in the picturesque town of Parkville, Missouri. They have a riverfront park there with a long trail, picnic shelters, a farmers market, and such. It certainly was a good setting for a run, though I feared that arctic winds might be screaming down the river as we ran beside it. The day dawned a full four degrees warmer than Saturday — it was 35 degrees — so I had that much to be grateful for. We got to the town just before dawn, and I picked up my race packet with my bib and timing chip. Then we had more than an hour to kill, so we walked to the nearby coffee shop where I could fuss and fret while Libby had a coffee, which she did. And so did I. (Fuss and fret, that is.)
Eventually, other runners came into the shop. Some got coffee, but most took advantage of the warmth to suit up and pin their bibs to their jerseys and jackets. (I ran in the gear you see above, so my bib was pinned to my yellow jersey.) This was another family-friendly event; there were many youngsters running, including quite a few that weren’t even school age yet. The coffee shop was a way to keep the kids warm and get them ready to run. Soon the little shop got too crowded, so Libby and I ventured out and met the cold. The sun was up by then, and when we got to the start area, still with a half hour to spare, we found a place where the sun touched the ground (finding its way through the gigantic cottonwood trees that flourished in that bottomland soil) and tried to stay warm. Others were gathering as well, and the emcee — the same fellow who worked the Graveyard Run the day before — tried to warm up the crowd with his palaver. Then we heard a twenty-minute talk about colon cancer, which is what the Bringing Up the Rear fundraising was for. (I found it only slightly less uncomfortable than the education I got at the woman’s health run in New York last month, but both are important subjects.)
I had slipped out of my sweats and was in my shorts and DriFit jerseys (a short sleeve atop a long sleeve), hopping around to try to stay warm as I waited for the start. I’d guess there were several hundred runners in the pack, and at least fifty of them were youngsters. The race director asked them all to herd to the side so they didn’t get trampled by the bigger runners at the start, and I suppose the little ones did their best to oblige, but I was constantly running around these kids throughout the race.
Anyway, someone shouted GO and I set the timer on my fancy Nike+ watch then headed out. As usual, while I was with the pack at the start, I ran much too fast. For the first two hundred feet, I felt fine, confident that I was going to pass many people and have a strong run. My watch tells me my per-mile pace, and at that point in the run, I was blistering down the course (at least for my standard). That, of course, was a mistake. I should have been conserving my energy for the long haul still ahead, and when I felt the first twinges of fatigue, I slowed down to a pace that I more or less maintained through the rest of the run, which was about the goal pace I had been working toward for a while. Of course people were passing me by the dozens. Many of the little ones, who bolted from the starting line, found themselves pooped not too far into the run and were walking. A few were crying and getting encouragement from mom or dad. They were too little to understand running courtesy, however, and mostly huddled in the middle of the path making me run around them. (I know, it wouldn’t seem like running around a little person in the middle of a path would be a problem, but I’ve reached a point on some of my runs where even a wad of gum on the ground before me looks like an insurmountable obstacle. I suppose it’s all psychological.)
A note about the path; it was gravel. I’ve not run on gravel since my laps around the dog park with Flike. This was crushed gravel, so it felt fine underfoot. In fact, it felt great, better than asphalt (which is still my preferred pavement for running). But just like the Graveyard Run the day before, the path was littered with leaves and sticks, and in some places the gravel had been washed away, leaving gaps just big enuf to twist an ankle in (which I did not). Members of the local high school cross country team were stationed along the course to make sure we made the correct turns and to cheer us on, and that was nice, but I was trying to stay focused on not surrendering to that part of me screaming how stupid I was to be doing this to myself. As I said above, the morning was cold, and I was sparsely dressed. I could feel the cold, but I wanted to understand why it didn’t bother me. What I’ve concluded is that when I run, I have more important things to worry about than the cold. I need to keep myself motivated. I need to keep my stride even and balanced. I need to pay attention to my breathing. Sure, I feel the cold, but it’s not that important. (By the end of the run, I didn’t feel the cold at all. I suppose I had my engine warmed up by then, but the sun had also risen fully and was warming the air.) Anyway, that was a good thing to learn about how I run.
The course involved a small loop at the start then a long out-and-back run. Libby met me at the turnaround point, telling me I was looking good, which was kind, though I suppose it was a little white lie. (She managed to get a little bit of video of me running, and I watched it. I never want to see a video of myself running again. What a disappointment! I look like a garbage truck bouncing down a bumpy road.) Anyway, once I realized that I was well beyond half way, I had that realization I always do that I would be able to finish the run without stopping. I didn’t feel strong, and even though there were plenty of long, flat, straight stretches where I might have tried to push my pace a bit, I didn’t. I just wanted to finish and not try to set a new personal record.
Because of the looping course and the out-and-back stretch, I got the chance to see how many runners were behind me. There were many, many who were behind me. This was a new experience for me. (At my first 10k, I was greeted by the sweeper car, letting me know I was one of the last ones coming in.) I was ahead of half of the pack. That might have been heartening for some runners, but I was so pooped and so focused on just crossing the finish line that I didn’t take much encouragement from it. By this point I could hear the emcee chattering, calling out the names of the runners as they approached the finish line, shouting encouragement, rousing the crowd. I was getting close. Finally, with about two hundred feet to go, I stepped up my pace as much as I could. At least I tried to make my stride look more like someone running rather than someone shuffling.
I crossed the finish line, stopped and panted while the young woman removed the chip from my shoe, then found myself before the cartons of chocolate milk. I drank two. Libby greeted me then and we hung around a bit. I don’t know what for though. I knew I wasn’t going to win any awards (for fastest in my age group, for example), but as we were turning to go, we saw the man posting the results on the side of the restroom wall. (It was the only vertical surface available.) And it was then that I got a surprise.
Just as the day before, I was not the last to finish in my age group! That was encouraging. But then I looked at my overall time.
Um . . .
As I said, I had a very hard time with this run. I never felt strong during the struggle. I was darting around little kids and slower runners and walkers. I was fighting with myself to keep going.
And I set a new personal record!!!!! I shaved 30 seconds off of my previous best time the day before. I cannot account for this. Maybe I really was pushing myself without knowing it and that was why I felt so exhausted. Maybe it was running on gravel that made a difference. Maybe it was the four extra degrees of temperature. Maybe it was . . . I don’t know.
But there’s no rest for me. I’ve committed myself to running three days during the week and a long run on the weekends. So I need to get back at it. Fortunately, we have a spate of warmer days coming. See you on the road.