Last Thursday's training at the Lynchburg track had me really pumped on Friday. I was thinking of faster 5k times and completing half marathons. I didn't let Saturday morning's looming race get me down, I fought my anxiety off and laid my clothes out before going to bed. I slept a little less than six hours before jumping up and out of bed to gear up for the flat and fast race.
We managed, with the help of my wonderful brother and his girlfriend, to leave before the kids awoke. This gave us enough time to properly warm up for our five mile run. I did a good stretching session and then we jogged a mile warm-up followed by a little more stretching. My knee was hurting at a level 2 so I took several Aleve and began to worry if I would be able to run the whole five miles.
I started talking to other runners I know, with each run we meet a few new people. People with similar goals, people who've come from the same place, people who love to do what we love to do, run. I think the conversations were as good a warm up as any, hearing others fears and worries, aches and pains. We took our places at the start, as near to the front as possible, let the faster runners pass us. I placed myself behind a runner who is in my age group and a slightly faster runner than myself. My plan was to pace her as long as I could. I did after all have a lofty goal of under 42 minutes for the race.
The horn was blown. Off we went. I stuck with Todd for about 1/8 of a mile before he was gone at which point I realized I had passed the runner I was supposed to be pacing with. She then spoke up and I realized she was behind me, 7:20 pace, she warned. I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up that pace for five miles but there was a spark of pride that I was leading my running buddy, we finished mile 1 in 7:18, a mile PR for me. Then my shoes laces came undone. I had to work my way over to the side and stop. I hate, HATE, hate having to stop to tie my shoes, but at a race, precious seconds slipping by. I tied them as quickly as possible and looked up to see my running buddy a good 100 meters ahead. I had to do a little sprinting to catch back up but I knew that I had to keep pacing her if I had any chance of placing. I caught up to her but made sure to stay behind this time. I know myself, I do better running right behind someone then right beside them.
I was feeling good despite the heat. I kept right along pacing, mile 2, 15:12. As the half way point neared I started to slow, I couldn't, like I'd feared, keep the pace. A running buddy of ours passed me and told me I was doing a good job pacing. I started to see the people ahead running back towards the finish. I started to count them. My running buddy whom I was pacing with began to get farther and farther ahead. At the half way point I was the 68th runner, the time was 19:18 at 2.5 miles. My pacing buddy, having gotten quite the lead on me, cheered my name as she ran back off of the island. For some reason this moved me so much that I picked up my pace, for me, for her, for runners everywhere. I decided to focus on my 5k time. I was starting to wear down but I was gunning for a PR, I finished 3.16 in 24:18. A new 5k PR even if it wasn't an actual 5k race. I guess my running coach was right, I can do under 25 minutes and now I don't have to wait for October to know for sure. At four miles a female runner gained on me, time 31:50. I decided I could, I must finish in under 40 minutes, I could do it. I tried to pick up the pace, I felt like collapsing. I accepted, for the first time in my racing history, water from the volunteers, I poured it on my head. So cold it gave me a start. I trudged on. I started counting trees, counting seconds, counting steps. I just wanted it over with. At 4.5 I had exactly four minutes to finish in under 40 minutes and I was loosing energy quickly. I rethought not having anything but a handful of Peanut M&M's pre-race. I rounded the turn coming off the bridge to the homestretch and there was my running coach, out to cheer on his runners. He called my name, he cheered me on, I pumped my arms. Neck and neck with the female runner pumping along beside me I had completely lost track of my running buddy/pacing buddy. With the finish line in view I saw the big time board, twenty seconds to finish in under 40. I let out my sprint, I gave it all I had crossing the finish line at the same time as a 13 year old cross country runner, 39:50. They gave the 68th place to her, the 69th to me. I didn't care. I had three new PRs, I had finished the race two minutes faster then I thought was possible for me given perfect circumstances and I had held my spot in the race until the very end not letting others gain on me even if I couldn't pass those ahead of me. I realized my knee wasn't bothering me. I realized for the first time that I was drenched in sweat. I found my husband waiting for me at the end of the shute with a cup of water in his hand for me.
I finished 24 seconds behind my pacing buddy who took the third place in our age division. I am not jealous, I am thankful, had it not been for her I would never have finished in under forty minutes. Besides, she turns thirty today, thus leaving my age group for two years before I join her in the 30-34 ranks. I went up after the race and congratulated her, she did the same to me. I love running. I love racing. I finished 59 seconds behind Todd who went out too quick and burned out, usually at a 10K he has me by about six minutes at the finish. I ran an overall 7:58 pace. My fastest overall race pace to date. My Ukrop's 10k pace was 8:14 and I went around with a smile on my face for days. Today however there is no smile. I'm too busy planning, too busy scheming, calculating pace and locating races throughout central Virginia this coming fall.
I came home and began training for next months half marathon. I took a day off in between of course. I am starting to believe in myself, in my ability to run any distance. Call me crazy, but I've even started considering running an ultra next year, a 50K race in February.