Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Perfect Run

I took up running in the summer of ’98. I was not playing summer league ice hockey and I needed to find a way to stay in shape for the fall ice hockey season. After taking up running, I quickly realized that running was a great way to shed weight and it kept me in good shape. I also realized that training for a race was the best motivation to keep running. And after about two weeks of running, I set my sights on a 5 mile  race two months later. The race was a blast and I did well for my first 5 mile race about a 9 minute pace. I enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the race and the post race spread. Really, what it comes down to, I run so that I can eat. After running that first 5 mile race, I was hooked on running and on races.

In all honesty, running for me is a labor of love. For the most part, I love the beginning of a run and when it is over ☺. But, there is always a point during a run when all feels right in the world. I'll have a little groove going in my head; for as much as I dig music, I never run with music. My breathing is easy and right, my thoughts sharp and lucid, and I feel that I could just keep going. This feeling keeps bringing me back to running. Also, when I haven’t run for awhile and then I go for a run, it makes me realize that I actually do enjoy running.

And this enjoyment of running found me in a running shoe store in Northern Virginia in late July of this year. I was looking to replace my running shoes which should have been replaced a year prior in all honesty when I saw a banner for a 10K (6.2 mile) run in about 10 days. I immediately thought to myself, “I’m going to sign up and run this race. I hadn’t run a 10K in 8 years, but I’m in better shape than I was 8 years ago, plus, I’ve been running pretty much 4 miles every other day for most of the summer, I’m looking forward to this!”

Morning of the race: I hadn’t run in the past 3 days because life got in the way, but I felt pretty good. I never know what to eat the morning of a race? I usually don’t eat before or during exercising, but I knew that I had to this morning or I would be sick. I gobbled handfuls of blueberries and I drank a lot of water, especially the past couple of days in order to stay hydrated. En route to the race, I got incredibly hungry , but fortunately, I’m a pack rat and I had a granola bar stashed in the bottom of my back pack from 3 weeks ago. It hit the spot. The race was in a town 30 minutes from my home in Northern Virginia. I arrived at the race site at 6:15 a.m. for a 7:30 a.m. race to pick up my race packet (which included race number, race t-shirt [another reason I enjoy races, the swag a.k.a “stuff we all get.”], and the timing device to put on my shoe to clock my run.

I spent the remainder of my time prior to the race observing the other runners. I forgot how hard core some of the runners at these races can be or appear to be. Some people had some state of the art gear and looked fairly serious. While I looked like I just rolled out of bed ( and I had) and I was wearing gear that I wear to the gym, trust me, nothing special. And, for the first time ever before a race, I went for jog. Prior to this, I always thought why jog before a race, that kind of defeats the purpose? Plus, I don’t want to get tired. But, it actually felt good this time to go for a jog prior to the race. With age comes wisdom, I guess.

Race time: The race was either a 20K or a 10K, I opted for the 10K and I intentionally started in the middle of the crowd. I actually had a race strategy that I had been working on. I had done some visualization of how I wanted this race to go down prior to running it and I wanted to see how it was going to work out. I was trying something new.

The gun goes, the race begins, I said the 5 words that I always say to myself before I run and it was on! I was jogging at a comfortable pace. Muggs were passing me and I was passing muggs. I wanted to start out slow, see what my first mile split would be, then adjust myself accordingly. I was enjoying checking out the quaint town in which we were running and I also enjoyed seeing what each runner was bringing to the table. The weather was cool for early August and I was actually enjoying the run. We get to the first mile split and a volunteer yelled out my first mile split as , “9:11.” A little slow for me and I said to myself, “Ok, time to pick up the pace,” and I did. I usually average a 8:00-8:30 mile pace.  In no time it seemed  like I was at the two mile mark and I now thought to myself, “I think I may be going a little too fast.” As I was thinking this, I came up next to a fellow runner and we struck up a conversation. The last thing he asked me was, “How ya doin?” I replied with a smile, “I’ll be a lot better in about 4 miles.” At this we both laughed and I said, “Talk to you later and I kept going.”

The 3 mile mark was up a steep hill ( I like running hills) and this was the point where the 10k runners turned around. The 20K’ers kept running. One of the 20K’ers in front of me was wearing a t-shirt in which he wrote, “Mama did not raise a quitter.” This slogan inspired me as did the sight of this older, heavier guy who kept trudging on past the 10K turn around as I was making my way back for home. At the moment I thought, I should have run the 20K!

At the 3 mile turn around, I caught up to this mid to late 60’ish woman who passed me at the beginning race and who was maintaining a great pace. I passed her and as I was running I noticed that there were quite a few runners who had not made it to the 3 mile turn around yet. Maybe I was now running at a good pace? I saw the guy with whom I had a conversation with at the 2 mile mark, we nodded, offered words of encouragement to one another, and we both kept pushing along.

What was different about this race as opposed to others in the past  was that I felt really good. I hit the 4 mile mark and I felt strong, hydrated, and not hungry. I had hit my groove and I felt that I could just keep going.

Mile 5: Was on part of this great trail that encompasses a large part of the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area called the W&OD trail (Washington and Old Dominion Trail). I spent quite  a bit of time over the years, running, walking, and rollerblading on this trail and felt very special to me that it was part of this race. Plus, I knew once I was on it, the finish line was not that far off. As I was making may along the trail a fellow runner struck up a conversation with me and we talked for a bit. I enjoyed our conversation, but I was at the stage that I just wanted to be done with the race. As I was passing him, he remarked, “I’ll catch up to you.”

The W&OD trail ended shortly after that interchange and it placed the runners on the homestretch. This threw me off and everything just seemed to happen kind of quickly from here. The finish line was up an incline and I began sprinting. As I began my sprint, out of nowhere came the guy I recently passed and he was racing me to the finish. He was taking the race to another level and I was cool with that. He ended up passing me and he beat me to the finish. What was cool about the finish and I forgot this about racing, was all the people cheering for you. The announcer called my name as I approached the finish and I noticed that the clock had just elapsed the 50 minute mark. The last time I ran a 10K 8 yrs. ago my time was 54:00 minutes. My goal for this race was to finish in under an hour just because I hadn’t run a 10K in such a long time. When I saw that the time was 50:22, I felt good about that. I had a nice feeling of accomplishment as I walked around the finish area. I made my way to the post-race spread and for the bounty of food that was there what did I select? A handful of granola bars and a couple bottles of water. The 10K concluded and I found out that my actual time (the time when I crossed the starting line to when I finished) was 49:39. I broke the 50 minute mark and I felt great about this! I then made my way to the finish line to cheer on the 20K’ers. I saw teenagers finishing, grandparents, and first time runners all finishing in varying degrees of elation, agony, and distress. And, I saw the guy who was wearing the t-shirt that read, “Mama did not raise a quitter,” still maintaining the same pace that I saw him running at the 3 mile mark and he finished strong. There was something about that cat and that shirt that resonated with me. After looking at him and the other 20K finishers I had already decided before I made it back to my car what distance my next race would be. What I was feeling at that moment in time reminded me of a quote, “Today, I’m satisfied, tomorrow, I’m not.”

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