I am somewhat of a technical runner. Before a race, I've got so many wires coming out of me, you might think I've just left a hospital.
Ipod. Heart-rate monitor. And most of all, my GPS Garmin.
I love the Garmin. It tells me how far I've gone, how long I've run and how fast I'm going. It tells me this if I'm in Kansas, at home in Greeley, Colo., and if, like today, I'm in Tempe, Ariz. for the Ironman.
Now, no, I'm not doing an Ironman. Believe it or not, I am not insane. I know my limitations, and the Ironman is a bit beyond that. If you're scoring at home, it's a 2.4-mile swim (and I really don't swim very well), a 112-mile bike (and not only do I not have a bike I could ride beyond 20 miles, I've never ridden more than 65 miles in one sitting) and then you run a marathon (and yes, I've run a marathon, but I was shattered for a couple weeks after and didn't do, say, a full day's worth of hard exercise before I ran it).
Still, I am out here for some very dear running partners who have inspired me just about as much as anyone in my life who CAN do all those things, and they are capable of all those things. The Ironman is a big fucking deal, and I'm out here to soothe nerves, run errands and just be there.
So I am also, however, not above a little bit of selfishness, and since I am giving up my annual Vegas trip to be here (yeah, I know, sorry), I wanted to do something for myself.
Ah. The Ironman 5K. Perfect!
Now I'm not entirely crazy about 5Ks. I'd much rather run like an 8-mile trail adventure or something like that, and I've already got a Turkey Trot to run Thursday. But whatever. So I'm leaving the condo at 6 a.m. for a two-mile run to the start. It's a perfect warm-up to the start. It's a little chilly, so I've got my arm warmers on. I've also got some metal cranking in my ears. Both do the job.
The Ironman 5K is not a huge race, not like the event itself, but it is a pretty cool little event, and we'll get to run part of the course and finish where my friends will finish later.
I have a goal of 21:30. That would be a PR, and a nice one, too, as I've only broken 22 minutes once.
Tuscon is not sea level, but it is 1,500 feet, and that, folks, ain't 5,000.
In the last couple of months, I've had what you might call a mental breakthrough. I think I've detailed my head issues here a bit, mostly with my battles with the troll, that little monster who tells you to slow down, and I've had some bad races this summer partly because of them. But I also think I've made a couple changes to the way I'm approaching races, and they're paying off.
The first is to find a word that resonates with you. When you are suffering most during training, go to that word. It's given me a serious weapon in races. Mine is "fight." I said it a lot today.
The second is to ask myself why I race. Is it to suffer? Yeah, a bit. Is it to feel good about my accomplishment later? Yeah, definitely, that's addicting. But is it mostly because you enjoy it?
I had to come to terms with that. I wasn't out there to prove anything to anybody. I was out there to enjoy myself and run as hard as I could. Knowing that relaxes me. In the past I would try to build myself up and block out the pain as much as I could. That doesn't work for me. It just makes me tense. Now I just try to embrace the pain and, yes, enjoy it.
So when the gun went off, and the 5K quickly descended into a chaotic dash to the end, as it always does, I embraced it and looked for someone to pace off. That's another little thing I've done. I've found someone to pull me along.
Only my first mile was 6:25. Holy sheet. If I was in Colorado, that would scare me. I can run that time in a mile without really thinking about it, but running that, and then finishing a 5K, is a different deal.
But I felt good.
Pretty darn good actually.
So I decided to unplug. I hardly looked at the Garmin the rest of the race.
And when I no longer worried about my time, I ran the best ever.
20:40. That's a PR of more than a minute. Now, sure, the elevation made a difference. But so did my attitude, and so did relying on myself, and not a watch, to tell me how fast to go.
The Garmin is an awesome tool. I love it. But it's a ceiling. It forced limitations on me.
I'll still use it. I just may not listen to it anymore.