Listening to God (and my dead grandmother)

On Saturday, I ran one of my slowest 5Ks on record. I also ended up with an age group award. Such is the wackiness of running. Let me take you through it.

First, it started with a frustrating interval run and a talk with my dead grandmother and God.

During the week, I was out for a run attempting to do mile-repeats. I’ve learned over the last few years that speed and summer do not mix well for me, yet I keep trying, over and over again, to do speed workouts as I prepare for fall events. (I believe this is the textbook definition of insanity, by the way.) Struggling to run my pace, I turned my mile repeats into half-mile repeats. At my designated turnaround, I was frustrated. Why can’t I run fast? Why am I so slow? Am I ever going to be able to run faster than this? Are my PR days over?

As I paused my watch and regained my composure, I saw a smatter of gladiolus on the side of the road. They were my grandmother’s favorite flower. So I asked her for help. I asked God for help, too. I don’t know how you’re going to give me a sign, but show me what I’m supposed to be doing with my running these days, because I’m not sure what my goal should be at the moment.

I took a deep breath, started my watch, and took off on my next half mile interval.

Within 30 seconds I got a major cramp in my right calf.

Message received.

Forget speed. It was now all about getting back home and not causing any damage. Upon advice of my strength coach/athletic trainer, I babied the leg over the next few days to keep a cramp from turning into a strain.

Enter my long run into the equation.

Saturday was a long run on my training plan which usually means slow and steady. At least that’s the normal goal. It’s all about mileage. It’s all about putting aside the ego and just running. And this Saturday I really had to put aside my ego. My leg was much improved but again, the goal was to get in mileage while staying healthy. The healthy part is incredibly important.

But this wasn’t just any long run. A few weeks ago, my mom asked if I knew about a 5K in my hometown — The Rotondo Run. Named for the longtime mayor Lockport, the inaugural race was to raise money for a scholarship fund. My mom kept sending me emails about it — links to stories in local newspapers and emails promoting the race. Ok. Ok. Ok. I’ll do it. I’ll sign up and and have the 5K be the end of my long run.

Granted the last time I tried to throw in a 5K at the end of a long run it was pretty much an unmitigated disaster (see: The Peach Festival 5K) but hey, maybe if I try the same thing I’ll get different results.

There was no course map on the official website, but I didn’t think much of it. That is until after getting in 6 early miles in hot and humid conditions, I discovered that course went up Market Street. Let’s just say this is a hill every runner in Western New York hates. It’s a hateful hill. It’s long. It gets steep in parts. And it’s ALWAYS at the end of a hard race. (Although it it were at the beginning it wouldn’t be that much fun, either.) This is not the way I wanted to end a long run — with a race up the dreaded Market Street Hill.

When I saw my mom at the start line, I pointed at her and said, “I hate you.”

Do you know where this course goes?
Up Market Street.
(Mom’s mouth gapes) Well, it will be good for you.

I laughed, because she was right. And once again the universe (or God, or my dead grandmother, or whomever) was trying to teach me a running lesson. It’s OK to go slow right now. In fact, it’s not only OK to go slow, but you need to go slow. So slow the heck down and enjoy the run.

I power-walked much of the hill, taking longer than necessary before I started running again. But run again I did, crossing the finish line with not my worst 5K time, but close to it. And you know what? I didn’t care. Because the final result doesn’t show the mileage I put in before the race. The final result doesn’t show the injury I had earlier in the week, the one I was trying to keep in check from becoming something that would keep me from running at all.

My 5K average was better than the average for the first part of my run. For that I was definitely happy.

Then I checked out my time on the results sheet. Being a first-year event, it was a very small race. So small in fact that I took third place in my age group.

I was third out of three runners.

I’ve heard other runners call that a “tainted podium” finish. But here’s the thing: (a) I had to show up, (b) I had to run and (c) I had to finish. As much of an endurance junkie that I am, I take no distance, no event, for granted.

Here’s the other fun thing about running: I could train my tail off and set a personal best in a 5K and finish last in my age group. You can’t control who shows up. But you can control if you show up, if you try, if you finish.

The rest of the summer, I’m going to continue to take my cues from the universe (or God, or your dead grandmother). But I may not take the bait from my mom.