Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." -John Bingham

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 249:

It was a MOMENTOUS day today, BlogLand! Today, was my first 10K race. I was petrified.

Last night I buzzed around my house, trying to keep myself busy, as if keeping my hands occupied might shift my mind out of super-speed nervous mental pacing. Every now and then, when I could get my frontal lobes to kick in and have a rational moment, I felt SO silly. First, it was just a small-ish race (The Race Vermont Spring Fling 10K), I've run the distance many times before, and I am a MUCH stronger runner than I ever have been. For some reason, though, you give me the prospect of a start/finish line, strangers running alongside me, a timer or - maybe the biggest thing - the concept of a winner/loser, and I lose my mind a little bit. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm really good IN the moment, crossing that start line, but I am a horrible crazy leading up to that moment.
What was I thinking? Well, the things every new runner thinks (or FCS sufferers...), while getting ready to tackle a new event: Have I trained enough? Am I going to be LAST? Can I finish? Will my fat ass be out of place with all these distance runners (... maybe that one's just me...)? Will I need to walk? Am I ready? Am I in over my head? Thankfully, I mentally wore myself out so much all day that I at least got a pretty good night's sleep last night.

Race morning dawned, a cool (45-50 degree!) and overcast morning in Vermont. I told myself it was too late to worry, that I had friends to meet and get to the start line, and somehow, I managed to eat some sort of breakfast.
If nothing else, I thought, I'd LOOK like I belonged there - sporting my sweet new CW-X tights, and favorite pair of Inov-8 sneakers.

After a tiny debaucle of almost being late (one must always add to the drama of an event, you know! haha), I massed at the start line, sporting lucky number 1298. I was also trying to convince myself, at this point, that I did NOT have to go to the bathroom (it's just nerves!), because the line for the porta-potty was 3-4 people deep and the race was about to start. Further, this was not a chip-timed you wanted to be sure to start exactly when the clock started, if you were looking for an accurate time.

I was also noticing, at this point, that it was not warm. Everyone was doing the I'm-effing-cold warm-up dance... you know, where you randomly jump up and down, shake your arms out, cross them back across your chest and alternately pick up your feet, bending your knees. I was also looking around at my "competition" (yes, I know my only competition is only myself, but it's a race. I'm chasing those people down.), which was an interesting observation.   Mostly because it seemed really formidable. At many of these 5K's that I've done, you could usually pick out the people that were there "for fun", just to run and walk it to get to the end and get the t-shirt. When I looked around this start line, mixed with 5K'ers AND 10K'ers (we all ran together the first leg), there was no difference. Everyone was geared out (I have never seen so much UA in my life), and looking serious, with their game faces on. The only ones that stuck out were the obligatory dudes that you could look at and know they were about to finish a 10K in five minutes, without breaking a sweat. The uniform: tiny shorts, dri-fit tank top, giant quads. You know who I'm talking about.

Thankfully, as I was just starting to fight my head from playing the insecure comparison game (They look so much more in-shape!, etc.), we were off. Our first bit took us down a paved road, and I got to get a warm up 1/2 mile in with my two partners in adventure for the day, Anna and April. Having friends to do these things with is an invaluable thing. We laughed and joked a bit, as we got our muscles going, and relaxed into our paces. Our course then diverted onto a lovely, wide gravel/dirt path through the woods. Somewhere around 3/4 mile or so, the crowd started to thin out a bit, as people dropped into their own pace. It was a weird feeling as I was going strong and passing people. Maybe I was prepared for this? Irregardless, I thought, I was committed, and I reminded myself to concentrate on slow deep breathing, while appreciating the fact that I was here, in this moment, on this day, in this lovely setting.

A little over 1.5 miles into the (flat to this point) course, came the 5K'ers turnaround. Literally, they just turned around and went back the way they came, while the 10K'ers were instructed to run on. That was EVIL, but a real defining moment. The turnaround was exactly at a road crossing... so, if you were 5K'ing it, you wouldn't cross the road... if you were, across you went, into the unknown wooded path beyond.

Sounds like a metaphor in the making, doesn't it?

It was for me. As I was running strong (we were still well within my comfort zone distance-wise), in amongst a pack of about a dozen strangers, we came up to the sign that said "5K TURNAROUND!" Like a coordinated flock, literally EVERYONE around me turned around. I was momentarily stunned, but realized I was NOT that, not today. *I* was running a 10K, for the first time, and damn straight I was finishing one. I defined myself as a a Runner, in that moment, not the Old Me playing at running. I crossed the road by myself, chasing down the unknown terrain ahead of me.

Crossing the road, I continued on the path which looked deceptively pleasant. Rounding a bend, we had the first challenge of the course: a short-ish, but steep uphill. I was still feeling good (it was only mile... 2-2.5?), so I put my giant legs to work (Thunder Thighs, earn your keep!!), and kept a steady pace up the hill - passing people, much to my amazement.

I was grateful for the flat recovery time I found at the top, and trotted on. Somewhere around this point, I started seeing other 10K'ers coming back at me (the course was an out and back).  WOO! That meant I had to be closing in on the halfway mark! They even started saying things like "You're almost there!" and "Yeah! Close to Halfway!". I felt optimistic. My pace was still steady, I had no urge to walk, and all was going well. I emerged from the woods for a moment into a clearing that ran along the water of Shelburne Bay. It was beautiful, despite the grey skies. I watched the waves, feeling peaceful, as my feet kept rhythm and I rounded another bend.

... to the HARD section.

Peaceful waves, my ass. It was all to lull you into a false sense of confidence, before you saw what lay before you: a steep, long uphill. Literally, as I started up the bottom of it (letting out a resigned sigh), I couldn't see the top. The only hope I had was that word on the street was that "halfway" and the water station, was at the top. I bent my head (it helps me to not look at the entirety of the hill, but just the few feet in front of me that I'm attacking), reminded myself how badly I wanted to make a strong turnout at this event, and kept moving. Mini goal: Just. Keep. Moving. Don't stop. Halfway up, people were coming past on the down side and saying encouraging things... I couldn't hear them, I was too busy reciting myself a paraphrase of my GT's ever-wise Mantra: "Your legs will recover, your lungs will not explode, your heart will slow down again." Right leg. Left Leg. Right Leg. Left. Right.  I was pushing up this one, panting, feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest... and then, there was the top. Holy shit. I'd gotten there. There was a photographer at the top, with the water table, to catch the surprised, triumphant faces as you sweated and cursed your way over the crest of the hill. I only hope she caught the undoubtedly "pretty" face I was making, as my eyes were burning from the sweat dripping into them.

I slowed to a walk for a couple seconds (the only walk of the race!!!) to accept the Dixie cup of water that looked awesome at that moment. With significant sadness, I realized that I was huffing and puffing too hard from the hill run to effectively drink it. I couldn't breathe ("... your heart beat WILL slow, your lungs WILL recover...") at that second, there was no way I was going to be able to swallow. EFF. I wanted that water. Instead, I settled for a quick swish-and-spit... that at least felt a little wet in my mouth, as I began the second half of my race and a welcome decent.

Going a little carefully down the dirt-hill, I took that time to try and regulate my breathing a little and re-focus on the task at hand. The hard part was behind me, and I was halfway done. This was the time to leave it all on the course. Reaching the flat stretch after the hill, I kicked it up a notch. I was running all alone at this point, but could see a pink jacket in the distance, bobbing through the trees. I made it my mission to catch that jacket. Competitive types will sympathize here; there's nothing that gets you through fatigue like a direct competitor, just ahead of you.

I pushed. I turned my feet over faster. I breathed deeply, fueling myself with the cool breezes off the water. Back into the woods I went, chasing Pink Jacket.

At this point, I felt pretty proud of myself. That hill had taken a lot out of me, but I realized that I wasn't "DONE." I was tired, sure, but there was a lot left in me to go. I took note of my still-strong pace and felt like I was running fast (for me). I thought about Old Me, struggling to make it through the 60 second runs initially, while I noted that I had been running for at least 45 minutes straight, at that moment, today. I thought about the strength in my legs, and positively visualized the pace I was going to keep through the rest of the race (try it. It works.). On I went, chasing Pink Jacket.

Back across the road, the traffic cop cheered me on, while a stopped car beeped encouragement.
Right, left, right, left... Breeeaaatthheeee.... Breaaatthhheeee... right left, right left, right left.... I had gone into non-thinking machine mode (must've been the bionic pants).

I was closing in on Pink Jacket.

I could see the marker for mile 5. I was starting to feel the fatigue, now. I was beginning to become acutely aware of the fact that I was pushing and running a pace decidedly faster than I normally do.

The Walk Monster mentally waved at me. He tried to tell me that just a 10-15 second walk wouldn't hurt anything, and that it'd feel SO good. I beat him down with my goal to not walk at all - even if it meant the slowest run in the world. Just. Keep. Moving. Where the eff is Pink Jacket. My eyes found her in the distance through the trees.

I was in my LAST MILE... and as the infamous (Sergeant) Todd Sedlak is fond of saying, "You can do anything for 10 minutes... even stand on your head in a bucket of shit." Surely, I could keep up the work for one more mile. I had NOT come this far to fall apart at the end. I had something to prove to the World, to myself.

I ran. I was tired. I ran some more.

I saw the daylight at the end of the wooded area... the last stretch down the road and to the finish line was just ahead.
I could see her dark hair now, slowing stride, and the hunt was afoot.

I can not express to you, BlogLand, how very much I wanted to slow down at this point. It wasn't any one thing - it wasn't that my legs were tired, or that my breathing was hard, or my heart was racing - it was just general fatigue. I thought of my Spartan Friends crawling over muddy walls, jumping over flames and climbing walls... SURELY I could keep running on some flat pavement for one more half mile.
One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

Pink Jacket was in range now.

I kept pumping my legs, and before I knew it, I was right behind her. Then beside her (where we exchanged tired nods of shared suffering)... then PAST HER, as I rounded the final turn to the long driveway and the finish line. YES.

... except now the only competition left for me was myself. Stiff competition there.

I could see the finish chute. It was a long one, marked with yellow tape, twisting in the cool breeze.

Usually at this point in races (thus far), I have been able to kick in some sort of stored after-burner and pull a sprint to the finish out of somewhere. My GT laughed at this phenomenon, and informed me that this would suggest I am not running my hardest DURING the race. Dear GT... I am happy (?!) to report that there was definitely NO stored afterburner sprint at the end of this race. I finished strong, at a good pace... but there was no sprint. I'm thinking I left it ALL on the course with this one. Body successfully used to capacity. (Although, I'm not going to lie, if I was neck in neck with Pink Jacket at this point, I might've been able to pull out a tiny bit more, in order to get to the finish first...)

Glancing at the clock as I ran under, I was in complete disbelief. Could that have said what I thought it did?! OMG!!!

Now, BlogLand... My goal for this race was 1) Finish. and 2) Finish under 1:20.

Official Race Time: 1:03.54 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


After doing a little quick math in my head (which I later confirmed with the official results), that put me at an Average 10.18 min/mi. WHOA!! Seriously? Yep. I had set a new pace record for myself, while completing my first 10K. My best race pace thus far (in a 5K even!) has been 10:32. Today's was not only a significant improvement there, but also a big milestone, considering I did that over a long (HILLY!!) distance.

I'm thrilled with that, BlogLand.

Yes, by usual standards, that's not "fast." (The fastest finisher did the 10K in something like 43 minutes. Wow.) But, for someone who has been running less than a year, who's changed her whole life and committed to making a go of this, it was a pretty damn proud moment. I didn't quit. I chased down the finish line. I left it all out there.

Most Importantly: I GOT to the Starting line. I had the courage to ante up and try. That is what I am most proud of.
(Now, hopefully the photographer got at least one moderately-flattering shot of me looking some sort of coordinated!)

After thoughts...

I am STILL in love with my new Bionic Pants (see yesterday's post about my new CW-X tights!), maybe even more now. My knees are not feeling that race at all (despite running the whole thing in my really minimalist Inov-8 shoes!), and my legs - while tired - are not crampy, sore or overly fatigued. Honestly, I think CW-X is on to something. The best part, I noticed retrospectively - I had no tightening in my hamstrings in this race, despite the hills, fast pace, etc. That in itself made it worth it. I was real afraid of getting a aching, pulling, tight-hamstring pain mid-race that would slow me down. No such thing, with my Exoskeleton on! Based on this race and my last run, alone, I would recommend these tights to anyone and everyone.

It was a good day, BlogLand. Another milestone behind me, another marker on this Epic Journey. I'm proud of myself today, and happy with the effort I put forth today.

Next challenge: The Tortoise and Hare 10K in Salisbury, Ma. I'll be catching up with a couple of my favorite Spartan Chicks (and the cutest dog in the world!), and tackling was is supposed to be a "mostly flat" course. Initially my goal wasn't this, but after reflecting on today's race, I'm thinking the goal will be (in this order):
1) Finish.
2) Kill the race, to the best of my ability.
3) Finish in under 1 hour.

With that, BlogLand, I leave you to find some sleep. It's been a big day. But I ask you...

What Starting Line are you going to take a chance and ante up to TODAY?

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