Not only has my run fitness ambled back into my life after a long-extended vacation, but my fire to race and compete has also decided to make an appearance. I was actually starting to think this was nothing short of impossible, so I’m just a little impressed. And overjoyed. And a little scared that it’s going to vanish again, but… whatever.
It started out innocuously enough; I had woken up fairly early on Sunday morning and flitting through my head was, “Hmmm, I could easily have some breakfast, ride into town and do the Harvest 5k that’s going on this morning.” And then I opted against it — it seemed like a perfect, lazy Sunday and why did I want to go out and ruin it by working hard and stuff, right?
Then, at the last minute in a reckless burst of energy, I threw on some shorts, a shirt and my running shoes, hopped into my truck and drove the 10 minutes to the race site. There were runners everywhere already and I could already feel the anticipation tinged with anxiety tinged with enthusiasm tinged with the all-too-familiar “why the hell am I doing this, anyway??”.
It was a perfect running morning — sunny, but a chilly 52*. Started out as an almost windless day, though that luck ran out before the race began and the breeze became something to negotiate. I paid my money, got my lucky 999 race number and then wandered around, trying to keep warm, amazed at the number of people this local event brings in. It seems I wasn’t the only non-lazy crazy person in town.
Soon it became time to do a little stretching and convincing my legs that we had some work to do (easier said than done!). Ran easily around the block a few times, then tacked a couple sets of strides on the end of that, which dumped me right into the starting corral, to nervously shift back and forth until the gun went off. I had very little in the way of race strategy planned; mostly I was determined to go out hard and hang on tight. I knew I’d have the wind at my back for the first half of the race and would fight it coming back — my thought was to gain as much as possible while having a bit of a boost (you know, like Red Bull giving you wings).
The gun went off and the first quarter mile was a frustrating stop-and-start effort of not running over the walkers who mistakenly seeded themselves at the front of the start corral. After finally finding some free pavement, I felt myself get into a groove. I wasn’t wearing my Garmin, so I ran by feel: hard, but not yet blowing up, feeling like I was on the edge of something I might be able to hold for the full 3.1 miles. You know, pretty much just winging it.
The first mile came up quickly: having to run around so many people had kept me mentally occupied, I’ll say that much And – at getting it in around 8:05, I was pretty happy with this pace. The best I had run in the recent past (within the last year) was an 8:30m/m pace so this was a little morsel of unexpected happiness, like finding a quarter on the ground.
The second mile started to remind me what it was like to actually RACE a 5k, but the wind was at my back most of the way, and I pushed forward, trying not to think about running against that wind. As the second mile time clock came into view, I was shocked to see a number that started with 15:xx. Huh? I did a mile in something sub-8? Uh oh…I think I’m in trouble…
By the time I was partway into the third mile, I was painfully reminded that while a 5k is a short race, it’s 3 miles of red-lining agony if you’re doing it right. And I think I was at least in the ballpark of doing it right. By the time I had about a half mile to go, my stomach was rumbling about not wanting to hold on to breakfast anymore. We negotiated, I asked for another 4 minutes, give or take, and somehow we came to an uneasy truce. I kept up my pace as best I could, and finally threw myself across the finish line, ready to hurl.
And I couldn’t believe what I saw when I stumbled into the Finish corral: 24:28. Really? Is that possible? Not only a sub 8:00 m/m pace, but my fastest 5k time in probably close to two years? Again… really?? I didn’t know how, but I figured someone was pranking me…
But no – it actually was true! And I was amazed, smiling ear to ear like a fool. And really damn proud of myself. See, for the past month I’ve been busting my butt to run more. It won’t seem like a lot to most, but I had put in a couple of consistent 25 mile weeks, running 5-6 days a week, and apparently – every once in a while – training and hard work pay off. Huh. Whodda thunk it? (On a side note – it was kind of like when in college my senior year I came to the mind-bending conclusion that reading the lecture material BEFORE class would actually help me understand it better… I mean, that was pretty electric stuff I was coming up with there)
The last time I did a 5k — almost exactly a month ago, actually — my time was 27:09. So… a month of training garnered me almost 2.5 minutes on my 5k time? Wowsa. That was quite the revelation. And motivator! My brain instantly went to: “…with just a little more training, maybe some interval and tempo runs, maybe I can get myself back to my 7:30m/m pace days… and perhaps – just maybe! – I could ROCK the Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon…” If I’m not careful, pretty soon I’ll be scheming on how to qualify for the Olympics…
I haven’t felt this stoked about anything that causes me this much work in just about forever. Or, at least it feels like that. I keep half-wondering when I’m going to wake up and return to my “eh, who cares…” self that I’ve been the past two racing seasons. And then I think — I wonder what happens if I can keep this going?