“Racing hurts. Expect it to hurt, but don’t FEAR it. Expect the pain. Run TO the pain; feel it push, then push it back.” Joe (aka: “TheRocketMan) said this to me this past winter as we were training for this year’s Pittsburgh Marathon. I have thought about this statement alot. Especially in runs like today.
I ran a local 5K race this morning. I wanted to PR it. I have not run a 5K PR in over 4 years now. Every year, I kept saying that this was the year I would break 24:30 in the 5K. Every year, I would come within a minute of doing it but repeatedly fell short. Today, however, was different. And now that I have succeeded in setting a new PR, I can see why; or at least what I think is “why”.
I can’t say that I trained specifically for this particular race, because I didn’t. But my training has been consistent. I can’t say that I even practiced the speed/pace needed to secure this PR, because I didn’t. I simply ran to the best of my ability, despite “failing” at interval training paces 12-15 seconds slower than this particular race pace over the past 4-6 weeks. But I, also, can’t say that I stressed about this particular race at all, because I didn’t. Where as in the past, I have. I, also, can’t say that I entertained any thoughts about wether I could/would succeed in my goal for this race, because I didn’t. Where as in the past, I have. I simply chose to believe that I could and that I would succeed.
In the days leading up to this race, I kept doing my prescheduled training runs leading up to the Erie Marathon, adapting them to my busy work schedule. In my downtime, I kept my mind occupied with all the other things going on in my life right now and when the time came to run this race, I arrived at the start line calm and confident; thinking of nothing but my goal pace in order to succeed and the determination to “suck it up and deal” with whatever it would feel like to hold it. “It’s only 3 steady miles and then a sprint.” I told myself. NOT “making it” never even occurred to me. I simply chose to believe.
The past 2 months of training, accompanied by my crazy/ridiculous work schedule/hours had really taken their toll on me physically and mentally. A short time ago, I reached an all-time low and the only thing that kept me from giving up is the fact that I am too damn stubborn to give up. I know that giving up is way worse than trying and “failing”. I know that giving up would haunt me forever. So I have been re-reading “Mind Gym”; a book written by a sports psychologist designed to help make an athlete’s mental preparedness just as strong as their physical one. Think of it as “mental training”; and it works. (It got me from the START line to the FINISH line of a 50K UltraMarathon on training that never once exceeded a 16 mile long run. Obviously, I was just in it to finish it and not in it to WIN it, but with a 5:53:33 finish time, I was hardly the last person to cross that line either…& I had “accidentally” run an additional mile! 32.54 miles.)
So I arrived to the race this morning with a job to do, so to speak. Run a sub 24:30 5K PR, then go about my day. Easy enough. 60 seconds before the “gun” went off is the only moment of hesitation that I felt. Butterflies. At that point though, I already had a friend planning to run alongside me. He could easily have competed for the win, but had arrived not feeling well and opted to run with me instead.
His “bad day”, as it turned out, equalled my BEST day. (And, while I was 100% focused on finding and keeping a good breathing pattern that would sustain me throughout this race, it was incredible to witness this man- who is used to running with the leaders- cheering for and encouraging every single runner we came upon on this course!) Initially, we started off too fast, as I looked down and saw my watch read: “6:05”, then “6:55”, then “7:00”. By the half mile mark, we had reigned it in to “7:35” and shortly thereafter “7:45”, which we felt was “close enough” as the first mile was on a slight downhill grade. The second mile, we hit our pace and stayed steady, despite the uphill climb of a “double hump” hill. As we approached mile 3, we took advantage of a downhill grade to surge forward and bank a few extra seconds without much extra effort; knowing that just around the bend is a nearly quarter mile long steady uphill grade. This particular section of the race is hated by all; myself included. It took my pace briefly down to an “8:40” and I was sucking wind. We got to the top and started to recover, little by little, as the finish line was now less than a half mile away. My mind started to focus on the backs of the people in front of me and, one by one, I ran to catch them, pass them, then repeat it. The final turn toward the finish line came and it was an all out sprint, as I saw the clock and realized that I could do it. Official finish time: 24:17…a time worthy of a 2nd place silver medal in my age group!
Not to mention, a 27 second all-time PR for me! (And 1:12 faster than my most recent 5K race on this same course; which was just 2 & 1/2 months ago.) So there is definitely TRUTH to the thought/quote that: “Your body can withstand almost anything; it’s your MIND that you have to convince.” And now, as with any other runner, I am already setting my sights on breaking 24! (23:59 or better is my next 5K goal.)
After the race, I was approached by another runner; a woman whom I have never met. They had called my name at the awards ceremony for today’s race and after I had walked up and accepted my medal, this woman followed me back through the crowd and said “You’re Aubrey, right? You’re the one that blogs about your running. “Chasing Boston”, right? I follow you. I read your blog and I love it!”. We talked for a few minutes; as it turns out she is, also, a member of SCRR (Steel City Road Runners) and has run some of the same races as me. She is a phenomenal runner, herself, although she was too humble to admit it. She encouraged me to keep “chasing Boston” and to keep writing about it because it is “so encouraging” to read about and follow my journey. (Even though, I let her know, that I, obviously, have several years worth of continuous work ahead of me before I am ready and able to even attempt to Boston Qualify.) Regardless, this literally made my day and made all those “bad runs” that I didn’t want to write about, worth it.
NOTE TO SELF: Just keep going; in all things running, in writing, and in life. People are watching and deriving strength through my struggle. Perhaps something that I experience and choose to write about will make all the difference in the world to them as they read it, relate to it, and apply it their own difficulties and journey. When it comes right down to it, in some way or another, we are all in this together; and it is up to us to encourage each other to KEEP MOVING FORWARD!