It was fun. I am not sure what I thought it was going to be like, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still enjoyed it immensely. That is not to say I ran fast, because I did not, but I think I am learning to enjoy the process. It has only taken twelve years, but better late than never!
I drove over to a small town close by to a race put on by a former high school teammate of mine. I raced a little this spring, but not much, and I was nervous as I picked up my packet from a storefront on the courthouse square. All I really wanted to do was bust a little rust off the old legs, run 5:30 pace, and call it a day.
However, as I chatted with friends in my local running community, I realized that I might have to change my plan. There was a really good local high school boy just coming off his cross country season who was also racing. Naturally, I decided to go out with him. Maybe not my best decision. And by maybe, I mean it was most definitely not my best decision at all.
All I have been doing is base work, nothing even remotely quick, but when the gun went off, I slammed the pedal to the metal and did my best to hang on!! Truth be told, my pride left me no other choice. This kid was lights out, and as I looked around me, I saw a girl who could be no more than 12 years old running to my left and another high school kid to the right. My silly stubborn prideful self would not slow down to be passed by kids!
I had thought quite naively, oh we’ll go out in 5:30 pace and cut down, but how wrong I was. As we flew down the first mile, I was entertaining a flurry of wild thoughts that started with “Dear Lord, this hurts!!” and rapidly escalated to “I don’t think I am going to make it. MUST. STOP. NOW.” with a few curse words in between. Bear in mind, this was at roughly 500 meters into the race. Not an auspicious start.
Somewhere in the summer months of cross training and little running, I had completely forgotten what it feels like to go out hard, to put your legs into a hole and then force yourself to keep running. Instead, when I encountered that feeling I desperately wanted to make it stop by, well, stopping.
But I pushed through it. I kept running. At some point between 500 and 800 meters, I talked myself into finishing. It became clear as a gap formed that I would not be running with the high schooler and so I made it my goal to keep that gap as small as possible.
I accomplished that much and walked away happy with how I managed the rest of my race. I fell into a comfortable pattern, one more akin to where I have been training. I know that is something I will have to fix, the dangerous trap of running comfortably hard, but I am not too concerned right now. The workouts I have coming up in the next weeks and months will take care of that and force me to deal with being on the wrong side of uncomfortable.
For now, I am enjoying the steps along the way. Running is a long slow grind, but I am doing better than I was a month ago, and month from now, I will be better than I am today.