The thrill is back

I’m baaaaacccckk!

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?

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