I was a little worried the other day about how I was going to do Tuesday night at the Marcum Workplace Challenge. Though I'd been training for months and watching my diet(as much as someone like me does), this past week had been uneven and busy and I only made it to the gym twice. I did well on Monday night, reaching the 3.5 mile goal in just under half an hour, and reaching a total of 7.10 miles after 65 minutes on the treadmill. But the gym has air conditioning and a television, and a treadmill is easier on my feet than concrete. Maybe my strategy of running twice the distance of the race every night would pay off and the race wouldn't be so bad.

I took a quick lunch on Tuesday, and my left ankle felt sore as I ran across the street to Dunkin' Donuts for a turkey, cheddar & bacon flatbread sandwich and an iced tea. Yes, that's my idea of a light, “healthy” lunch. In any event, I did a lot of stretching and rotating of the ankle under my desk as the afternoon went on. One of my friends drove, and we left early to beat the traffic. The heat wave had broken, and there was a nice breeze when we got to the beach. Conditions could not have been better. My friend runs triathlons, and thus is somewhat professional with these things. So when he suggested a warm-up run on the boardwalk, as we'd done last year, I agreed. I was wary last time, worrying that I'd tire myself out before the race even began. We didn't run as far or as fast, but my left foot felt very hot. I did more stretching when we got back to the company tent, and hoped for the best.

The most anxiety-inducing part of this race is always waiting for it to start. About 20 minutes before the horn sounds, people make their way to the starting line. Many go to the front, even though they won't be running, or won't be able to sustain their top speed beyond the first half mile. If you're walking or jogging, you should stay to the back of the crowd. I was feeling claustrophobic and nervous, and trying to keep my mind of the challenge ahead of me by thinking about work. That of course made things worse, since I'd left early, and was thinking about what I'd have to make up the next day. A woman who still ran despite having a prosthetic leg below one knee gave an inspirational speech, concluding that there's never an excuse big enough to not do your best. It was a little cheesy, but for me it worked, and I hung on to that thought right until the race began.

At first no one around us moved, until the herd up front thinned. It took about 15 seconds before we crossed the starting line and officially began. I had to cut left or right a few times to pass people, and already I was breathing heavy. After about a minute, my friend passed me, and I didn't even try to keep up. The only person I ever truly compete against is myself. Every half mile, a sign sat by the side of the road marking how far we'd gone. The first half mile was uphill, but once I reached that, I knew the next 2.5 miles would be on level ground. It was my fourth time running the course, and my familiarity with it was coming in handy. At every mile people waited with cups of water, which are always impossible to drink. I still try, and usually get one drop in my mouth, a third of a cup in my nose, and toss the rest in the nearest trash can. I probably shouldn't even slow down for those stops, but the people handing out water keep sticking their arms out in front of us.

Despite shaving my head really short and wearing my sunglasses, sweat soon stung my eyes. I ended up squinting through most of the race, which helped me not think about what I was doing. If I did, I might have slowed down. The two or three times I heard myself panting, I did manage to take some deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Those gave me energy boosts. Near the end of the race are two challenges that thankfully are no longer surprises. The first is a detour in to a side parking lot using traffic cones, because the road we run on isn't quite long enough to fulfill the 3.5 mile distance requirement. So you're running along side these trees and think the end is near, then suddenly you have to cut to the right and run to the end of these cones and back. The second obstacle is a hill up a bridge right after that. People driving on the highway below beep and cheer us on, and I kept on trucking up that hill. The digital clock at the 3 mile mark read a little over 26 minutes. I had done my first mile in 8:45. There was a slim chance I'd finish in under a half hour like I do in the gym. Even if I ran my average speed, I'd get done in less time than I had the year prior, when I finished at a personal best of 34:21. At that point I could have walked and tied myself. At that point, I wanted to walk. I imagined more music from The Transformers: The Movie soundtrack, because that's what I'd been using to drown out such thoughts. When the finish line was in sight and I was back on level ground, I forced myself in to a sprint. I couldn't sustain it all the way through, but still got under the finish line when the clock read “30:45”. Subtracting the 15 seconds it took to start the course, my official time was 30:30, a NEW personal best. I was ecstatic.

I raced back to the tent, where only 4 or 5 of my coworkers awaited. I quickly got a pen and put my time on our official score sheet. I didn't see my friend, but doubted I'd beaten him. Sure enough, he had stopped to pick up the complementary t-shirt and other favors participants get. But, he'd only beaten me by about a minute or so. I felt great, even though I knew I'd set the bar high for next year. The next day at work, I received an e-mail with everyone's times. My friend was 3rd out of males and fourth out of the 36 people who ran. I was 5th out of males, and 7th overall. I realized that if I'd shaved a mere 46 seconds off of my time, I could have gotten my name into the top three and defeated my buddy. Now I have motivation for next year. Last year I was really out of shape and would have been happy with anything under 40 minutes. This year, based on my consistent exercise and previous time, I was shooting for 35 or better. So now I have a year to shave off five more minutes, and get back in under 29 minutes. I know how to do it. I know to just run, and shut off my brain, and watch my breathing. I know how to gradually increase my speed in the gym, and keep pushing myself. That which was once impossible, is now possible. It's not easy, but it's not impossible. Anybody can overcome his or her limits with enough time and effort, even an overweight comic book geek. I keep surprising myself at an age when there aren't many surprises left for most people. In high school it took me 12 minutes to run a mile around the track one year. I think it would surprise a lot of people to learn that I've gotten faster. For my next trick, I'm going to show myself and others that I'm not done topping personal records. I'll get my name on a chart yet....


Blogger Spockgirl said...

Congratulations. Very cool... Four minutes off your previous time is huge. Now you just have to cut out the cheddar and bacon... then butter and beer...nah.

8/05/2010 3:03 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home