I didn’t expect much from my last mile of the year with Doug Bell’s track group on Wednesday nights.
The group meets once a week to run intervals, which are short, measured bursts of intense running designed to boost the way your body processes oxygen. They are painful and intense and yet I credit them, more than any other part of my fitness plan, for dropping my race times and making me as fit as I can be.
I am not an athlete. I am a hard worker whose only talent, in my mind, is a strong will and a lot of endurance. I have little, if any, athletic ability and get by because I work hard, not because I have any grace or skill. Mountain climbing and running are great sports for me, then, because you can excel in them with hard work instead of Michael Jordan’s athletic ability.
As a result, I doubt myself frequently when it comes to sports.
So as I trudged up the hill ready to start, I planned on running under 6:30. I ran 6:16 in August, a time that thrilled me, the fastest I had ever run, ever, in my life. I started running two years ago but did run a bit in junior high school, but I never reached past 6:30 in the mile. I figured 6:16 was a fluke, and I wasn’t exactly confident after throwing up and battling the 24-hour flu Monday night.
Bell’s group runs the mile as a way to test ourselves, to see how hard we’ve worked and how we’ve progressed through the interval/racing season. So it’s an important test, and everyone takes it very seriously.
Bell, who still runs 5Ks in under 17 minutes despite being in his mid-50s, sounded the gun, and off we went.
I yelled at myself to relax as I ran down the hill and into Nottingham Field. My biggest problem is sometimes I run TOO seriously, tensing up, which constricts my breathing, a fate that is pure death for a runner trying to set a personal record.
By the half-mile, my time was 3:00.
I was stunned.
My legs tightened a bit, as they always do, about halfway through the third quarter, but I told myself to just maintain the pace. I struggled to do so, but I told myself to continue to relax and breathe.
I picked it up a little at the end, but I didn’t have the kick I wanted. When you’re already at your maximum, asking your body to do much more is a little difficult.
I crossed the line in 6:10.
I couldn’t let out a primal scream. I didn’t have the breath for that.
A smile, and the satisfaction that maybe I was an elite runner now, was enough.