This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pace Me

Yesterday was the annual Run for the Oaks 5K. I run this race nearly every year. Actually, many people do. Even though there are a few races prior to this one, Run for the Oaks seems to be the 'season opener' for Spring races...and sort of the first sign of Spring in Raleigh.

After 70-80ยบ weather the past week, race day came with a chill. It was better weather than the day before, which rained the entire time. But, I was ready and excited and anxious. Today, at this race, I was going to push hard and break my 25:48 5K PR.

I knew I was back in great running shape. I started running in December, after a three month hiatus to some mysterious virus. I had opened the year with a 20K: Coach Bubba's 20K in February. I made my goal there - under two hours - so I thought about making another goal for this race.

My goal was 25:30 - I just picked a more 'aggressive' time, rather than my usual 'one second below' my PR time. For Run for the Oaks, my best time was 26:09, so I was really digging into my heals to make my PR on this course. I made my PR at Second Empire, a few years ago when I was in the best running shape I've ever been. But that race has a pretty fast course *and* it hurt like hell to run it. So I was imagining the pain I would feel trying to shave 18 seconds off a time that had already intimidated me.

I half thought of having someone pace me. My regular running buddy, $Bill, would not be running this race since he had his first marathon to run the following day (today). A couple of my best girlfriends wouldn't be available either. Instead, one of them 'gave' me her husband, who was just getting back into running after a year hiatus due to back problems. Anyway, it would be a good match: the husband, who we'll call "Mark", is pretty fast but since he has just been resuming his running recently, my aggressive 8:10 mn/mile pace would be a modest one for him.

We started off well. I actually felt strong and arrogant for the first half mile. Then my legs turned into lead, the burn and the tiredness sets in -- after half a mile, mind you -- but I know from experience that this always happens. It's my system telling me "I'm just warming up. Don't worry, you'll feel great soon". But even though I know this, I still worry...

Mark has us pace a young fellow in a St. Patrick's day green shirt. So I keep my focus on him, heeding Mark's 'slow down' hand signals. Mile one: 7:47 mn/mile pace. I hear Mark tell us we need to slow down, but I am SO relieved. One, I get to slow down because it hurt and two, I ran a fricking 7:47 mn/mile pace!

I run adjacent to Mark and repeatedly read his 'slow down' hand signals. I've always ran next to folks, so it was my modus operandi, but I recall Mark saying to me, earlier in the mile, that being behind him was the best place for me. It only took me another mile to figure out what all that meant.

I know this race course pretty well. The second-to-third mile is a long upward slope. It's usually the time that I feel like I will never make it. People around me are either walking, or breathing really loud which always distracts me. But this day, I was in the ultimate runner's high. I ran right behind Mark, tailgating him this entire way. I felt nothing but enjoyment. I wasn't breathing hard (technically), my pace felt slower than I would have thought. I mean, it felt like I wasn't even running in a race! I saw people pass me, but I wasn't phased. I heard people yelling and breathing hard and I wasn't phased. Heck, I didn't even have to count!

I put all my trust into Mark that I was actually running faster than a 10 mn/mile. When we turned to the final descent -- a downward finish -- I knew this part was also difficult, because even though it was downhill, there is a lot of legwork before the finish comes into sight.

As we approached the three mile mark, Mark started speeding up. I thought, uh-oh, we were running too slow and now he's trying to make up the time. At this point, my runner's high was gone and I was in full-throttle mode. But, oh the pain. It was hard and the finish looked too far away to continue at this pace. And Mark was getting faster, so I ran faster...but I knew that I couldn't run this fast and that I was going to die right before the finish. I see Mark pumping his arms and I hear him, COME ON, YOU GOT IT...or something like that.

I didn't think I had it and I was wondering when the damn finish line would get here. Then I heard Salman yelling at me to run hard. That was the extra incentive I needed to cross the finish. I had no idea what my time was and at this point, I still don't know since the results haven't been posted. But since my husband, we'll call him "Tim", was right behind me and he said he came in at something:45, we are guesstimating that I made my 25:30 goal. :-)

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