“On your left.”
“On your left!”
“ON YOUR LEFT!” I find myself running sideways trying to slip past the guy with no concept of someone trying to pass on his left, and our shoulders collide as I pass. “On your left means on your left,” I gasp as I haul ass past him, leaving out a long list of choice pronouns I’d like to tack on to the end of that sentence. The issue at hand is that the front of the Governor’s Cup 8k pack is running into the back of the Governor’s Cup Half Marathon. The races share the same course for the first 2+ miles, and the race direction started the 8k a scant ten minutes after the half-marathoners took off. Now I’m bobbing and weaving through the crowd, just hoping this isn’t going to slow me down.
There’s one guy ahead of me, and he’s far enough out of my league for me to not even think about him. He’s a local masters runner who’s allegedly been training only a few weeks now, but that’s what he always says before he shows up and throws down a 15 minute 5k. Anyway, I dropped the only other guy around 1.5 miles, which was disappointing because I was hoping not to run solo for the back half of the race. But, here I am again in no-man’s land with only myself for a pacer.
After we break from the half-marathon course, everything falls strangely silent. There are no spectators, no nothing at this point. At Mile 3 I hit my watch and don’t like what I see: 12s slow for the last mile. This is the point in a race where I struggle the most. In the past, I might have simply packed it in, and given up any hope of running near my goal. But I’ve worked very hard on my mental game in the past couple years. I tell myself it was a slow mile as a result of all the bobbing and weaving. I know the next mile is all flat/downhill, so I decide the best thing is to push the next mile very aggressively.
Shortly after this, I see Jen, who has borrowed a bike and is riding around snapping pics of me and our friends Matthew and Steph Whitis, who are both running the half.
“Yeah! You look HOT!!!”
I can’t resist smiling even as I focus on going 20s faster this mile.
My watch at Mile 4 shows a 5:20 split, which puts me back on track to finish in the upper 27s for 8k. I’m back where I need to be, and to tell the truth, feeling pretty good. I’m working very hard, but think I can probably maintain this pace over the next mile.
There are now some scattered spectators as I draw closer to the finish. Then I see it: the half-mile uphill standing between me and the finish. It doesn’t look that bad, I think. But as I begin my ascent I quickly find my stomach growing more and angry at the amount of growing acidity in my body. Uh-oh. Red-line City.
Then begin the crippling dry heaves.
I feel my pace slipping.
The grade slackens, but I am suddenly overcome by an overwhelming urge to stop and throw up. At this point I feel like I am crawling.
Don’t you stop. You want to throw up, fine. But you’re at least going to be moving when you do it So I keep moving, making awful gagging sounds and faces.
About 100m out, in sight of the finish line, all the spectators, and most importantly, the race photographers, the gig is up. And so is whatever’s in my stomach, which thankfully isn’t much.
I manage a semblance of a sprint, and cross the finish in 28:12, happy to be done with it.
In retrospect, it was not a bad race. It highlighted some weak areas in my training, and as my first race in five months, not a bad start. Most important for me was the lesson of mental tenacity. Being alone out there in a race when things aren’t going as planned is a tough spot. Ten years ago (a decade? Has it really been that long?) the demons would have been in charge. As a collegiate runner, my number one struggle was my head and overwhelming negativity. More than likely, I’d have mentally quit and coasted the remainder. This time, though, I fell back on some tried and true techniques – positive mental chatter and form cues – to help get me back on track. Unfortunately, my fitness level wasn’t quite on par with the course demands, but that’s an easy fix: train harder. On a humorous note, check out http://orders.racephotonetwork.com/QPPlus/Images.aspx for some funny pictures of me in the middle of the dry heaves both on the hill and approaching the finish.
As for the results, I was second overall, first in my age group, and the proud recipient of a $55 check. The time was also *technically* an 8k PR, although I was faster in the first 8k of the Reedy River 10k back in Feb. In the half, my friend and training partner Matthew Whitis (the dude in red next to the handsome gent in blue ) ran away from the field in 1:14 and finished first, which was awesome. Over the past year, I’ve trained with Matthew more than any one person since running in college. We do most of our long runs together and occasionally help each other through some of our quality sessions. He’s getting ready for the Rock n’ Roll Phoenix Marathon in mid-Jan, and I expect he’ll be one of the top masters there. The dude eats high-mileage weeks for breakfast, logging 100-120 with complete nonchalance. When I start to think my mileage numbers are a big deal, all I have to do is ask Whitis what he ran last week and I get an instant ego check.
Since the race, I’ve increased both my mileage and intensity. Hill repeats, track intervals, mixed tempo sessions – “It’s all deadly,” to quote a favorite movie. I’m hoping I can break 17:00 before Christmas, and looking at a fast 5k in Greenville on 23 Jan as being a good place to target 16:30.