Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving for PR's and Things that Really Matter

"In a race, all the runners run but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to win the prize." This remains to be my favorite verse in scripture and I often quote it in my head not only as a way to approach running, but even more importantly, as a way to live my life. The Apostle Paul, who penned this verse, wrote it in the context of spiritual living; the race being our life, the prize being eternal life. I love it because it inspires me to be the best runner I can be and also the best person I can be. I would never want to be one without the other.

This year on Thanksgiving Day, like so many others, John and I, along with a few fellow Santa Barbara runners, competed in a turkey trot - the Ventura Turkey Trot. I targeted this race early in the year, hoping to reach it healthy and ready to run fast. I had a goal. In fact I've had this goal my whole life. Quite simply, I wanted to break the 18 minute barrier in a 5k. This is something that had eluded me too many times without mercy. When assessing my performances at other distances, all signs indicated an ability to reach this. Earlier this year, on a speedy course I came close with an 18:06 but that result felt empty having fallen short of the goal.  I hadn't run to my potential yet.  It wasn't my day, but I hoped "my day" was still ahead of me, waiting for me.

In the months leading up to Ventura TT, there were positive signs that my fitness and potential were improving just a bit, to the point that I felt I had a good chance of finally dropping a perfect race, in perfect conditions, at the perfect time.  In training, my quality workouts were feeling good and generally getting better.  To take full advantage of this, I eased off on my other training days so that I always had the legs and lungs to hit it hard when I needed to.  Most of my recent races had gone well, and I was feeling stronger in the closing miles than I used to, breathing was easier and I felt finally that my base of endurance was working in my favor.

Although the Thanksgiving Day forecast threatened rain, we were met with dry, partly cloudy skies and a moderately cool temperature. Winds were mild on this notoriously windy course. My spirits were also lifted by the presence of my husband John, who likewise was ready for a fast race, and by my friend and teammate Jessica.  Nervousness electrified the air around us as we focused on our goals for the day, putting pressure on ourselves and asking ourselves "why do we do this?"  I listened closely to my body as we warmed up, waiting for tell-tale signs of what I should expect. I ran through the race plan in my head and recalled the mile splits I would have to make in order to break 18. Deep breaths filled my lungs and I pushed all negative feelings out with each exhale.  I would soon know with each passing mile whether it was within me to hold on for the race of my life.

One of the qualities of this particular race that makes it fast is the nice flat course, void of sharp turns. The other quality is found in its participants. There is most always a fast field and I was hoping to use that toward my goals. It meant possibly having to run differently than originally planned and from there I'd have to remain calm and focused. I was happy to have the presence of my Oiselle SBRunCo blazing fast teammate Drea. Drea is in her final preparation for a marathon so her goals here today were a bit different but I felt strength in her presence and knew she was going to be leading things out for a fast day.
Getting ready on the starting line.

Runners gathered at the start and after a few comments from the race director, the gun went off and into a fast first mile we all went, like we were caught in a tidal wave of momentum. I immediately worried that this was a bit too fast but I already was seeing a small pack of women gather just ahead of me and next to me. They were all keying off of Drea's pace and for me it was either stick or be dropped. I stuck, and our first mile rang out in a silky 5:33. I felt settled and comfortable with the pace at least for the moment. Positions jockied just a bit among our pack of 5 women and I continued to assess myself along with assessing what I could of my fellow competitors. One seemed not to belong as she was pudgy and didn't look the part (it seems a part of racing to size up your competitors - I wasn't trying to be judgmental, it was just an observation). But she proved strong and capable as did all the others. Everybody was clearly running within themselves at this point as breathing was steady and the pace remained strong.  No one dropped off.  Before too long, one girl began to pull away. I tried to react with an attempt to go with her but her pace was not sustainable for me. This left me in a no-man's land when we turned the corner and found the head-wind.  What else could I do at this point but push on. I reached the second mile with a 5:43 split and tried hard to feel elated by the reality that I was still ahead of pace, but the elation was squelched by a growing feeling of exhaustion. I had another mile to go and my prevailing thought was "don't fall apart now - find a way to hold it together." It is amazing the mental component involved in racing.  The body may be willing but if the mind is weak, the body will fail.  A lot of intense thinking occurs in the dark moments of a race, and every race, if it is truly raced, has a dark moment.  It was during this thought process that I was passed by one of the girls in our pack and as we came into the final 800 meters, I was keenly aware that the others were right there not far behind. The blond pudgy one was close behind as evidenced by her coach yelling at her to catch the pink girl - me. At mile three I remained under pace though I had clearly faded. I came through in 5:52. I rounded the corner to race for the finish (a finish line I had long since wished I'd already reached) and with my focus seared into the ticking clock I crossed in 17:46. As I unceremoniously wobbled through the chute, I felt nothing but pure relief and unbridled satisfaction. Then I doubled over in search of oxygen.

In no time at all, John had breached the finish line with his century PR of 18:23 and Jessica soon after. We were all there, gathered with Drea and Tim Strand, a very happy group of Santa Barbara runners, all of whom represented very well on this day.

As I mentioned, breaking 18 minutes in a 5k has always been a goal. I began running competitively when I was 9 years old.  In my college years I focused mostly on cross-country, so never managed it then, and my middle years were devoted to raising my family, so too, it was not achieved then.  My strength grew in my early 40's but injury interfered.  Here at 45 years of age, I finally grabbed hold of it, achieving with it, an 89% age grade. This PR was a 20 second drop, albeit on a smoking fast course, but having this under my belt presents new goals, dreams and opportunities. In the moments and hours of reflection since, many things come to mind.

1. I had always worried that I would some day regret giving up my "best" competitive years as I opted to focus on raising my family through my late 20's and all of my 30's. Not that I'd ever regret putting them first, but would I regret never reaching my potential as a runner?  However, my master years have been my best years and I am still able to explore what I am capable of in the context of my age.  My plan and hope is to continue to get faster as I grow older and when I crest that limit, make a graceful and strong decent.  I remain incredibly inspired by women who are older and faster than me.  It gives me hope that it's not time to slow down just yet.

2. What brought me to this day and this achievement: a loving, supportive husband, who not only encourages me and believes in me, but also trains and races with me. The help and guidance of a veteran master runner and phenom - Nash Jimenez. Nash has gently guided John and I and has believed in us, giving advice that has fortified our experience, and putting wings to our dreams and goals. This has multiplied our joy in training, running and racing.

3. An increase in mileage this year, along with a long span of injury-free running. I have found that I have been able to hold on to a hard pace longer because I finally have a solid base. After facing two years of debilitating injury, the last year and a half have been devoted to gaining back.  Thank you to Dr. Ferrel for working on us and nipping would-be injuries before they take us down.

4. Friends and running partners that care and believe in you. I'm thankful for you!  I don't place trust in people easily, but you have made it easy and worth it.

"In a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to win the prize." Think about that for just a moment and what it means in life. The description of achieving a life-long goal also means something to me in how I have chosen to live my life. Not without failure but with the intent to live with the highest level of integrity and pursuit of Godly character. My goals in life are to be a positive force in the life of everyone. This is a high calling and an ongoing race. May we all finish the race well, having done everything to run in such a way as to win the prize. The prize in life worth winning is even better than a Personal Record.  Today I am thankful for both.  From The Gladiator: "What we do in life echoes in eternity."  Thank you God for another race, another day to train, another day to make a difference.  Praise be to You for all of this.

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