Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fitting in?

I don’t know how many days I’ve run in my life. I started when I was 4 ½, but was pretty lazy for a lot of it. I do know that I’ve run every one of the last 1,938 days. The most recent one on Monday, 20 April, the folks around Medical Lake looked at me differently. It was a great day. The sun was out, the winds were calm and the temperature was high enough that I’d roll my window down if I were in my car. After the record snow and so many very cold days, a great many of the people of Medical Lake were out enjoying our first truly great day by fishing or hiking the trail around the lake.

Having run every day for years on end, along with my keen interest and education in psychology, it’s not hard to notice a change in the way people saw me today. As a competitive athlete, I’ve been racing my way around the lake at speeds the average stroller doesn’t quite understand. These are the people that think any form fitting material is spandex. To them, spandex is gross and the people who wear it are a little funny. Ironically, they’re often seen staring at magazines and admiring the fit individuals wearing the same kind of form fitting clothes. I’m far from narcissistic, but even as picky as I am, I know I look as fit as those individuals on the magazines.

On this great Monday, I wore a plain brown T-Shirt and a pair of oversized sweat pants that were too long for my short legs. I labored around the lake as I have so many days since injuring my calf in February. This day was a particularly tough one and the people who saw me knew it. They were new faces, but it was as if they understood the pain I was going through to simply keep up what I’d have to call running. It was strange to feel like they could identify with me. Although they saw me suffering to simply keep up a slow pace, the way I got there was the piece of information they will probably never know.

After my injury, I had to take it easy for a while. I ran no more than three miles at 8:30 to 9:45 pace for about six weeks. Few people saw me laboring away as my schedule often has me running at hours so late that it’s rare to see someone driving. It was torture to me since I normally push the limits and take plenty of risks. I had planned on doing the Snake River Sprint Triathlon, but had to work. Well, that was until Amanda was scheduled to come in on the first day of the triathlon. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to tell her that I couldn’t pick her up from the airport because I was at a race for the first 20 hours she was home after being gone since last year. She committed to serving the country and to not greet a troop returning home is an awful thing to do, even if it is for something great like a race :0). I also didn’t think it would be appropriate to work, so I stood my ground and said I was NOT going to work on the 10th.

In hindsight, even if I could have raced, I’m glad I didn’t. Roger Thompson laid down the law. He beat my time from last year by :22, despite biking a mile further than I did last year. I could have gone possibly as much as a minute faster then (on the run), but riding that extra mile would leave me in a distant second. Toward the end of last year I was racing significantly faster, but I doubt even those performances would be fast enough to hang with him this year. I hate to say it, but I’m actually a little afraid to race him now. There’s nothing wrong with getting beat. It happens to me all the time, but I’m as competitive as a person can be and I don’t like to get beat. If I can get over these unusual schedule difficulties and injuries, then I’m sure I can get back into shape. If I can do that, then I’m sure I can give the really fast guys like Roger a run for his money. If nothing else, I have to man up, get back into shape and quit being a coward.

After having seen those intimidating results and having Amanda home, I got myself out there and started training again. I’m not sure I was fully ready to hit it hard, but I really didn’t have a choice. Every year Amanda and I do our anniversary run in Wenatchee. I’ve done the marathon every year it’s been held. It’s the only race of any type that I’ve done every single one. Moreover, the only time I didn’t finish first was in the second year as I had to save my legs for an all out assault on the Lincoln National Guard Marathon Championships, which is always two weeks after this race. So with two weeks to train I had to figure out how to best use every day and still have some rest time before the race. I tried to push the pace on a few occasions, but didn’t have any speed. I managed to get a continuous run of over 10 miles once and a few days with a total of just over 10 miles.

Race day came and I honestly didn’t think I could run under 3 hours. I didn’t know if I could even run the whole way. That 10 miler really left me hurting, so in a lot of ways I didn’t know what to do. The race started and I settled into a brisk pace. I felt like I was pushing a little too hard, but I had a tall skinny guy with wide shoulders to draft. We were holding just under 6:40 pace, so after we turned around at mile 3, I decided to try to maintain that pace. I was really nervous about performing poorly. I was also a bit disheartened that we were racing a new course, which meant someone else would have the course record en route to breaking my streak at two. At mile 10 my legs were really feeling banged up. I’m not used to running that far, especially in racing flats (lately). I really concentrated hard on making every step a little bit softer. I’ve never focused on every step for 16 miles before. My hydration and nutrition went off exactly as planned. At mile 20, I really believed I’d have to walk by mile 23, but as usual, I lied to myself. I was fried, but told myself that if I could run just one more mile under 7, then I could walk. Next it was a half mile. I had 3 seconds in the bank, so I decided to spend it and see if I could make it to mile 25. Then one lie after another, one quarter after another, I found my way to mile 26 with every mile under 7:00. I cranked it up for the finish and to my absolute amazement, despite fading in the last three miles, I finished in 2:51:38! My goal for Lincoln was sub 6 pace and I believe I would have been able to do that if I didn’t get injured, but I never expected this at Wenatchee. I have no idea how I ran 6:32.75/mile when I had trouble running that for less than three miles. The marathon is a thinking man’s race. That’s one thing I always have going for me. That and a whole lot of lies. Perhaps I’ll be able to go 2:45 in Lincoln. It’s not 2:36:59, but sometimes goals have to be adjusted.

So two days after Wenatchee, I’m hobbling around the lake again and keeping the streak alive. The people who saw me appeared to understand what I was going through and identified with me. On the other hand, they had no idea that I ran a marathon two days ago. They didn’t know that the guy dressed like the typical jogger was actually a “spandex-wearing” race-a-holic. They also must not have seen that look in my eyes. I’m talking about that competitive fire that rages within. After such a rough start to the year, I just wasn’t feeling it. I’m glad to have it back.