In the distance was the red glow of the finishing line clock. The numbers were barely visible to my eyes, blurred with a mixture of tearing from the wind and sweat from my fleece headband. But one thing was unmistakable — the clock had not turned an hour old yet.
I smiled and dug in but alas, it flipped to an hour with me still a distance away. I smiled again. Well, internally I smiled. Because I’m pretty sure my face was in a grimace as I pushed my way across the finish line.
Grabbing my knees, the volunteer in the chute asked if I was OK. I would be, once the feeling of potential vomiting subsided and my lungs stopped burning. The momentary pain was fine with me because the feeling of satisfaction would last all weekend long.
I had just had a 10K PR.
On an incredibly hilly course.
Oh yes. Time for a happy dance. As soon as feeling returned to my legs.
Challenges? Bring them on!
The day started with me thinking about Apolo Ohno. Yes, that’s right, the speed skater. I had interviewed him on Friday afternoon by phone in advance of his appearance in Buffalo to promote his new book, Zero Regrets. More on Apolo, his book and his philosophy on opportunity, perfection and winning in a blog later this week, but his words were swirling in my head on race morning.
The subtitle of his book is “Be Better than Yesterday” and that stayed with me, along with a quote from his book:
“Life will give you what you ask it. My job was to ask big, loudly and consistently.”
Earlier this week when my coach and I talked about this race, we decided to treat it as a race, not just a catered training run. My workouts tapered during the week and I treated the event as any race, including making sure to pull out my magical fairy dust, adding a bit of sparkle to the overcast autumn morning.
At the venue, my friend Jeff asked if I was going to run in under an hour.
My normal reaction would be laughter. That’s not my pace. Not on hills. And I know these hills. But I didn’t laugh. I brushed it off and said that actually, my goal was just to run hard, to leave it all out there, and see what happened.
And so, as I’ve done the last few weeks, I tuned my Garmin to display only mileage. That’s right. No time. I would have no idea what my pace was during the race. My plan was to run on feel for two reasons:
- I tend to be uber-judgmental of myself. If I checked my pace I would judge: Too fast. Too slow. OK hold this. Uh-oh, now you’re not holding it. It becomes too easy to be self-critical with that constant feedback, too easy to pay attention to the doubts instead of to my strength.
- I wanted to run on feel. The goal was to race, right? So let’s race. The time will sort itself out. I didn’t want to hold back or speed up based on artificial numbers.
So I took the rolling hills as they came, allowing the downhills to carry me while taking short, quick steps on the uphills. My inner dialogue was positive, pushing me on the easy parts and telling me to just keep going on the steep grades.
At Mile 3, I took a 20 second water stop walk-break for a sip of fluid and to mentally prepare for the next challenge — for the hill known as “Mother.”
I’ve written about my relationship with “Mother” before (see the epic fail and new perspective posts). This time, I visualized myself running up “Mother” before the race. And I did just as I saw in my mind’s eye — short steps, quick steps, controling my movement so I didn’t waste too much energy bouncing around. Everyone else around me was walking. Everyone. They weren’t walking much faster than my run, but this was mental. I needed to prove my strength to myself. I needed to attack the course with guts.
And I did.
I pounded the next 1.5 miles until the final climb out of the park and toward the finish line — a very short but brutal end to the run. And again, I made it up the hill. The finish line in sight I willed my legs to move faster.
And there it was. The official results have me at 1 hour and 29 seconds.
Hey Jeff, I almost did break an hour!
At various points on the course, I asked myself if I was pushing as hard as I could. Was I leaving everything out here on the course? Was I giving my absolute best? Was I being better than yesterday?
Indeed, I was. And during the run I knew that no matter what my time was, I would be happy with my effort. I was giving all I had to offer on that particular day.
And sometimes when you run on feel, when you give it your best, you come up with a performance that leaves you a bit amazed and whole lot jazzed.