My parents were perched on the top of the bleachers, giving them a view for a good quarter mile of the runners heading back toward the finish line.
“I think I see Amy,” mom said.
Dad looked at his watch, then looked up.
“Yes,” mom said. “I think that’s her. Behind the runner in the yellow jacket.”
They both checked their watches. Then looked up. Then checked their watches again.
Indeed, it was me, trotting down the street toward the back lot of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. I still had a good quarter mile left as I rounded the corner, onto the high school track.
I kept pounding, kept moving, waiting to finally bring it home. My all-out sprint needed to wait until I hit the final straightaway, otherwise, I knew the burnout would happen too quickly. I was already moving at a decent clip.
Once again, I raced with my trusty Garmin set only to display distance. My pace and time were a mystery. My only clues were the spotters at the mile and 2-mile mark who read out split times. Approaching the finish line, the clock came into focus.
If I dug in deep right now, I would finish in less than 27 minutes.
I was going to P.R.
For the second straight week.
This was familiar territory to me now. Not the P.R. but rather the push at the end. It was no different than any track workout where the last 100 meters is a desperate sprint to see how hard I can challenge myself. I call it “pushing back the puke factor” though, in all honesty, I have never thrown up during or after a workout or race. That, however, doesn’t stop the feeling of growing anarchy in one’s gastrointestinal tract.
There’s something cool about having a good feeling yet letting go of expectations. My PR in the 5K had been 27:35. Coming off a 10K PR on a hard course last weekend, I wasn’t expecting to PR in this race. My public proclamation was that I wanted to run this race as hard as I could, throw up, and then go eat pancakes with my parents. To my Best Running Buddy Sue and Mark, however, I confessed I really wanted to run this race in the 27s. I didn’t think I would run my best time, but I wanted to go for it.
My first sign that it could be a good day (besides setting an intention when I woke that it would be a good day) came when picking up my race number. Sunday’s race was the 32nd Annual St. Joe’s Bob Ivory Run and Bob Ivory himself gave me my race packet.
Ivory, a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, is a legendary track and cross country coach in the area whose high school teams often received national recognition.
If the guy whom the race is named after hands me bib No. 121, well, it’s bound to be a good day.
At every turn I saw friends from the triathlon and running community, not a given at every local race. They reminded me of how great it was to be out and active and healthy and surrounded by people who were positive and supportive.
The gun went off and the race was just as I had pictured it in my head. The course was flat traveling through North Buffalo and Kenmore — an urban route that was basically a big box with great traffic control (aside from the one nitwit who decided to back out of his driveway through a group of runners in the middle of the race. Seriously? It wasn’t that big a race. Another three minutes for a gap would not have killed you).
My plan was to run hard but steady and consistent. A year of track workouts not only helped me improve physically but mentally. I knew I could sustain a hard effort and not break. I knew that once I stopped running, the pain would stop, too. I knew I was strong, smooth and sleek — my mantra for the day.
When I had told Mark I wanted to run in 27-something, he responded, “Well then, do it.”
That echoed in my head during the final turn on the track, when I heard Sue yelling for me and then my parents. Dig deep. Dig deep. Well then, do it.
And across the finish line I came in 26:53.
The volunteers who ushered us down the chute kept asking us to rip the tags off our bib numbers. I was going to get to it. I promised. At least that’s what I tried to convey with sign language because my lungs were aching and my breath wasn’t quite back in my body.
If I had planned to P.R. in back-to-back races, it wouldn’t have happened. Instead, I approached the past two weeks as opportunities — a chance to lay it all out there and see what happened. It was a chance to see where I was at heading into my winter training.
High-fives all around. Because I’ll happily be surprised and pleased with myself. And full from a celebratory stack of pancakes.