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Running on Doubt

October 18, 2011

2011 Mirasol 5k

Bib Number: 31
Overall Placement: 24 / 71 (33.8%)
Age Group Placement: 2 / 5 (40%)
Gender Placement: 4 / 31 (12.9%)
Chip Time: 24:35

This race wasn’t originally on the training schedule. But, as schedules go, this one’s been pretty flexible. We already ran a 16-mile long run, propelling us well past half marathon distance, and with two weeks to go until race day, a 5k race seemed an appropriate test of fitness before the half marathons I’m targeting this training season.

As I consider my training to date, I’m pleased to note that I’m hitting my target paces, most days, without undue effort. Though I was worried about the endurance and fitness I had lost during the long months I endured physical therapy and whittled my running down to 20-mile weeks, I’m discovering that the long runs don’t sap my energy as I feared they would; I still revel in the long miles of rhythm and monotony and loneliness.

I confess that I’m afraid to say, out loud, that I might be in PR shape. My best half marathon to date was run at 8:19 pace. To consider maintaining that pace, for thirteen long miles, seems like an incredibly tall order. I am reminded that I’ve generated most of my workouts from that target pace, however, so I’m forced to acknowledge that it’s possible the latent speed is buried in my legs somewhere.

It was with these swirling thoughts that I arrived at the race site Saturday morning, well before gun time. I was still considering the possibility of running the race semi-easy and then adding miles at the end to fit in a suitably long run for an endurance runner in training. But then . . .

I remembered that the first time I broke two hours at the half marathon distance, I also set personal bests at the 5- and 10k. Sharpening my speed for the 13.1 race had given me the legs to run fast for the shorter events, too. I decided to take this race and see what I could do with it.

The weather was perfect–warm, as is typical in South Florida in October, but, thankfully, overcast. The race was incredibly small, so as we lined up for the gun we were almost all lined up in front. As we started, the pack took off together, and I think because the field was so small we were tempted to try to stay together too long. I was watching my pace, and most of all, trying to mind my breathing. To let my heart and my lungs get too far out of control before the first mile marker is a sure disaster, so I allowed the lead pack to drop me and focused on my own goals.

I found a woman who was running easy, with a beautiful, steady gait, and determined to imitate her form and her rhythm. There was no surge and drop to her running–no sudden bursts of speed. I aimed to settle into a similar pattern, while finding my own best pace.

I remembered how long a 5k can feel when I passed the first mile marker and realized how far I had yet to go. Though my breathing was under control, I knew I was running hard, making an effort–this is what it is to race. Then as we passed the sole water station at the 1.6-mile mark, and I decided it was time to start pushing.

This is unusual for me–I usually don’t start bringing the pace down until the last mile, or even the last half-mile. But there was a huffer near me (my running friends will know what I mean), and I simply had to get around him. Once I’d accomplished that purpose, my easy-running girl was just ahead of me, and I reeled her in and passed her without too much effort.

As I started to catch up to more runners, hearing them struggling in the last closing portions of the race, I began to realize how much energy and speed I still had left available to me. I was running hard, and pushing myself, but I could have done that for another mile. I had simply budgeted incorrectly–I had not begun the race aggressively enough, and now, I was running out of road to push the pace. I went from an 8:06 second mile to a 7:42 third mile.

In the end, I crossed the line, furious at myself, in 24:35, and was so incensed, and so disappointed in myself, that after stopping to drop off my timing chip I continued running for another mile to cool myself off before I turned around to get water.

I didn’t trust myself. This is what I’m beginning to see as life, post-injury: I am much more fearful and doubtful than I was before. Pre-shinsplints, if I knew I was in PR-shape, I hit the road hard, pushing for every second off the clock until I crossed the timing mat. I find myself hesitating much more now, both in training and in execution. I knew I was in good shape–but I was scared to push in that first mile. And because this was a 5k, I had no time to repair the damage.

It’s been an interesting lesson, and though I bristle with the knowledge that I could done so much better, I admit this has been a learning experience. I am not the runner I used to be. But that’s not all bad, and I’m choosing to embrace the wiser me while trying to remember to call forth the brave, gutsy runner who was training so hard for a sub-4 marathon last fall.

As for this year, I think I’ve established that I am in good, fast shape. I’ve got a racing season in front of me, and at least two opportunities to strike at the half marathon and seek a new personal best. If the weather is right, if I don’t run with doubt, if the bridges don’t hurt my shins . . .

Doubt swirls in my heart still, but so does hope. I’m ready to see what I can do on the roads for 13 miles.

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