Santa Barbara was socked in with fog but the sun was shining bright next door in Goleta. The Goleta Education Foundation 4 miler is a fund raiser event to benefit music and PE programs at Goleta elementary schools. As a PE coach at Cleveland Elementary in Santa Barbara, I know first hand how desperate these programs are for funds. It is great to participate in this well organized event.
As typically happens to me going into a race, I spent some time considering the fact that my body hurts, my legs were tired (I ran a hard 13 miles yesterday), and I was secretly putting pressure on myself to suck it up and get out there and do my best. But my body really was hurting today. My recovering Achilles tendon seemed happy enough but my knee was having some drama. As I warmed up I wondered truly if it would hold out. Here's some advice. For a short race like 4 miles, warm up for at least 2 miles, and make certain you spend some energy doing fast striders just prior to the start. A good warm up does wonders for pre-race aches, and the striders (make sure you get winded) get you ready for a nice comfortable first mile.
As we started the race, boo!! my knee screamed at me immediately and I thought to myself that I would give it 400 meters to calm down. Thankfully it did and I was able to get into that first mile groove. It was very important for me to not go out too fast so I did my best to hold back. Therefore the first mile, which was a 5:55 felt nice and controlled. Most of the first mile is at a slight incline so that was a good opening mile for me.
Miles 2 and 3 meandered through the neighborhood and around Lake Los Carneros, and had some subtle up's and down's. My goal through these middle miles was to hold that first mile pace as long as I wasn't laboring too much. A gap developed between me and the group ahead, as well as the group behind, so I felt at times like I was out there by myself. I focused on my pace and took constant inventory of my body. The Achilles was fine, the knee was not. But at this point what are you going to do? Miles 2 and 3 were 5:57 and 5:58 respectively. Not too far off pace but I knew the final mile would have to be faster if I was going to surpass last year's time.
As I passed the 3 mile mark I went into "gut" mode. No longer was I looking to stay controlled and not too labored. I was looking to dig a little deeper, reach the red line and hold it to the finish line. Most of the final mile is at a slight decline and although the knee was screaming at me again, it was the perfect opportunity to stride out, pick up the pace and try to take in enough oxygen so as not to pass out. It is rare that I feel good at this point in a race but I really did feel good cardiovascularly today (considering I haven't yet been able to get out on the track for speed work). The final mile was 5:43 (or something close to that) for a final time of 23:32. This is an 18 second improvement over my time on this course last year. That, above all things, gave me great joy and reminded me of why I love to race.
The sky was a crisp blue, the air temperature moderate though a bit dry, no wind to speak of, and a plethora of jubilant volunteers all along the course. It was a great race day for many of the competitors and it was so nice to celebrate the achievement with a great community of runners.
I'm still on the recovery trail while at the same time, trying not to hurt some other body part in the process, but this was a good test of fitness. Although I'm limping around with an ice bag tied to my knee (later to be used on my Achilles), I have no regrets today, save my disappointment that John wasn't able to run because his back went into an untimely spasm yesterday. But he'll be back and good to go in a week :)
Thanks to the Goleta Education Foundation for putting on such a great event year after year and thanks to all the volunteers who come out to help.