Saturday, November 04, 2006

Half a marathon, one big goal

Shivering in the cold and surrounded by hundreds of runnings stoned on adrenline, I allowed myself a moment to dream.
8:30 would be nice, I thought.
Runners don’t really measure races in a whole time. They piece the seconds and minutes together and talk about their pace per mile. Running is designed to be a consistent motion, as efficent as a Detriot factory line or a McDonald’s during lunch hour.
If you run anything beyond a 5K, as I was doing Saturday, it’s especially important. Imagine motoring your car off the line (Rev on the Red Line, as Foreigner put it) and then screeching to a halt. You’d be seeing your mechanic by the end of the week. Your joints aren’t much different than a car. If you jump between 7:05 and 9:30, you’ll grind your joints to dust, and you simply ain’t finishing the race.
This would be my second half marathon Saturday, around a lake and through some woods to the finish line we go. In May I ran my first, a triumph that left me proud just to finish. This time I’d be looking for something more. Now that I know I can finish, I told myself, let’s finish strong.
An 8:30 per-mile pace would do just that.
Three years ago, I don’t even remember why I started running, but I did. For years I was in good shape, climbing all the while, with dozens of peaks already under my belt, but I never ran. It seemed, quite frankly, too painful. I could always bike 25 miles and barely break a sweat, but whenever I tried running even a mile, I was always left gasping for air and clutching my side as if a little goblin was stabbing it with a pitchfork.
I finally entered a 5K for something fun to do on Thanksgiving and was proud when I finished it at an 8:40 pace. Not bad, I told myself, never expecting anything more.
But being a journalist has taught me that sometimes you don’t change. Sometimes life changes you. And for a project that would be one of the most challening and rewarding stories of my life, a story on a man who was an elite runner before being diagnosed with a rare kind of cancer, I showed up one night at a running group coached by a local God of Running and the owner of a shoe store in town, Doug Bell.
Bell is a guy who started late but now runs 15-minute 5Ks even though he’s in his mid-50s. He owns the national indoor mile record for the Masters division. It’s something insane like 4:49.
So he’s an impressive guy, but in order to be that good in such a demanding sport, you have to be positive and believe in yourself at all times. And as it turns out, there’s a reason dozens of runners show up for intervals, what amounts to running torture sessions, on Wednesdays - Doug’s passion and encouragement rubs off on others. In fact, after only one session, he broke through my cynical barrier of self-doubt, and I bought into it. I started showing up every Wednesday and running the same torture sessions with guys (and gals) who could be my father or mother and were good enough to kick my ass anytime they pleased.
My times dropped at an alarming pace, and with it, my weight. I was never fat, or even chunky, but I did develop a bit of a gut. Suddenly I found myself at my high school weight and running times that I never thought possible, even remotely possible.
Saturday, three years later, I was a true runner, a guy who wasn’t a world-class or even a state-class runner but an elite runner nonetheless, a guy who could beat 99 percent of the population and finished in the top 10 percent of any race.
Still, I always doubted myself and was usually shocked when I did better than I thought. When I ran 6:10 in the mile this last time, in October, I was stunned. I continued to doubt myself, or at least think of those times as flukes, the result of a good meal the night before.
When the gun finally sounded, I turned on my brand new iPod Shuffle and got going.
The first mile always requires as much mental toughness as the last two, mostly because everyone takes off as if his or her shorts were on fire. I forced myself to believe in my own goals and my own pace and ignore the others.
It worked.
Sort of.
When I looked at my GPS, I was stunned, again, to find me look at 8:05 for a pace. And I told myself right then that I would run at the pace that felt good, rather than the pace I thought I should be running.
That takes belief in yourself because you have to know that you’ll have enough energy to finish. And finishing, as always, without walking or crapping out, is the most important thing.
The race continued to go well. I stopped once to dump my top layer and a second time to dump my water backpack. A stopped a third time to down a gel. Other than that I ran smoothly and was never tempted to stop.
By the time mile 12 rolled around, I was in pain. My hips felt like cinder blocks, my knee bitched at every step and my ankles felt stretched, as if I had just gotten out of a dungeon.
And I decided to pick it up.
When I looked at my GPS, I was running 7:15, and it felt good. My iPod had crapped out (in fact, I’ll have to send it back after talking with Apple), so no more Haste the Day, Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, Audioslave, Into Enternity, Testament, Gnarls Barkley and others to give me the energy I would need.
I would have to rely on myself.
When I crossed the finish line, I put my head into Kate’s shoulder and just sat there. I was utterly spent.
Then I looked at my time.
You can dream big, like winning the World Series of Poker, having twins or being handed the keys to a Porchse after you smash your Toyota into a tree.
And you should.
But it also helps to dream little goals, like running a time you never thought was possible,
Dreaming big is how we somehow seperate ourselves from the daily grind.
Dreaming of small goals, and then somehow trusting myself, leaving the doubts on the course and acheiving them, is how I free myself from it.


slb159 said...

That's great work man. Pretty soon I'll see you on TV in the Boston Marathon. Keep fit and stay well.

Best of luck.

Iakaris aka I.A.K. said...

Late to say so, but I'm impressed. Lots to find motivational here as I try to reconstruct myself.