Although it felt oddly like time was standing still for the past few weeks, it has not. I glanced at the calendar last Friday and realized the Vermont City Marathon is one month away. Less than four weeks left to physically and mentally prepare for the race I’ve been working towards.
The stress and anxiety of the past few weeks has definitely affected me physically. It’s no surprise; this is how my body responds to any tension. I’m not the type of person who gets ‘stressed out’ but if I have something laying heavy on my mind I start to get headaches and tight shoulders. With some major changes in my life over the past couple of months and then the heartbreaking events at Boston, I was feeling achy and fatigued. My longest training run was coming up so I thought it made sense to bring down my mileage last weekend especially with a 5k race on tap as well.
I opted to do a 12 mile run on Saturday and conveniently found a group from the Alzheimer’s Association who would be doing close to that distance Saturday morning. They were planning to meet at the top of heartbreak hill, run to the marathon finish line and memorial at Copley Square, then back again. I didn’t know any of these runners directly so it was fun to chat with them along the way and then we stopped for a while at the memorial. We had an opportunity to look around reading messages left by runners and supporters, write our own notes of encouragement, take a look at all of the ‘gifts’ left in respect for the race – running shoes, team singlets, flowers, stuffed animals, signs, notes and finisher’s medals were placed all over the memorial. It was powerful visual. As we started to walk away to finish our run a man said to us ‘You runners, you are the ones we are most happy to see here. Please keep running’. We promised him we would and that we would be back. I finished up 12 miles on the Newton Hills feeling tired but inspired. The run was just what I needed.
Sunday morning I woke up early to meet some friends for the Spring Classic 5k in Cambridge. The race course is similar to December’s Winter Classic and An Ras Mor in March. I was happy with my times at both of those races and had planned to push myself a little harder to see if I could finally break my 5k PR. I lined up somewhat close to the front with John and Kristina and told them I might shoot to average a 7:15 minute mile which would give me a time of 22:31, several seconds faster than my PR.
A little note about my current PR: I ran a 22:35 at the 2009 Commodore Hull Thanksgiving Day 5k. The course is not flat and includes a major incline but thanks to my friend Jimmy who paced me the whole way, I had an awesome race and placed first in AG. Oh, and it was less than a week after my best marathon in Philadelphia where I ran a 3:40:46 (which used to be a qualifying time for Boston).
I’m not a sprinter. That feeling of my legs burning, gasping for air, and feeling like my heart is about to beat straight out of my chest is usually not worth it to me. I much prefer a longer race where I can be strategic and manage a challenging pace without the pressure of doing it all in 3 miles. Still, I figured it was a really nice day and if I could run my heart out (almost literally) for less than 23 minutes I could finally break that PR and the satisfaction would be worth the discomfort. So, I went for it. I bolted out of the start and kept an eye on my watch averaging a 7:09 for the first mile. That 7 minutes/ 9 seconds felt twice as long with all the effort I was making. I kept at it and focused on how great it would be to have a new PR. I slowed down a little bit but a decline brought me back and then towards the end (I don’t remember where – I have poor course memory) there was a slight incline and I lost some speed but I was still averaging 7:15 – just good enough. I was very uncomfortable and almost gave in a couple of times but I knew I was close to the finish and held on. Finally I crossed the finish line and glanced down at my watch which read an average pace of 7:14. I was very happy with that and even happier to stop running.
We all gathered to take a group photo and headed to the Asgard for brunch. Within minutes we all received text messages from the race with our results. I was excited to get some good news about my race but disappointed when the text message read my time of 22:48. I have no idea how I lost all that time when my pace seemed to be perfect. I was pretty bummed out about it Sunday night but eventually I remembered how hard I worked on that run. Sunday morning I ran 3.13 miles (albeit not between when the gun went off and when I crossed the finish line) and averaged a butt kicking 7:14 minute mile. I did my best. Maybe the race won’t be recorded as a PR but it is a personal best. It also offers me some much needed confidence in my fitness level heading into my final weeks of training. Knowing that the strength and toughness I found in myself during the race is available is a victory in itself.