More then ever I'm finding things that, while they take physical strength, mental strength is a primary factor. This weekend I decided at the last minute to sign-up for a local 5k race. Since Jennifer was still recovering from an infection, this would be the first time I would be running a race by myself. We jog/walked an 8k in March and ran a 5k in April, making this my third race. So, physically I knew I could do it. After all, it's only 3.1 miles, right?
With Jennifer's reminder not to "take off" at the start and risk burn-out, I tried to find someone who was running at a pace that was comfortable, but not too comfortable. The first time I looked at my watch was less then five minutes into the race. Not good. How could I keep it up if I was already "feeling the run" before I even passed the 1 mile mark?! By the time I did pass the little white sign on the side of the road, I still hadn't found anyone to pace. A quick look at my wristwatch showed just over 9 minutes (~ 6.6mph). Compared to the slightly higher than 11 minute per mile pace (~ 5.5mph) of our April race, this was really good, but could I keep it up already feeling stressed the way I did? Was I going too fast? Was I going to "give up" and walk? The mental gymnastics had begun.
I knew this is where the “mental rubber” was going to hit the road. For the next mile I kept talking myself out of questioning my success. "Just reduce your pace when you feel like walking" I told myself. Despite walking being a good tactic to recover during longer runs, because I've jogged a full 3 miles before I knew, if I walked, I'd be admitting defeat to myself. At the water station between miles one and two volunteers struggled to provide water to runners in the brutally humid morning. I could only manage two sips while running. I poured the reminder of the cup on me in hopes of giving some cool relief. In dryer climates it would have been great, but in the high humidity I was now running with a heavy, soggy shirt.
At mile marker two I glanced at my watch. As predicted my pace was slower. Slower but still going, that’s what I reminded myself. Despite my head requesting that my body walk some, my legs didn’t get the message and I just kept going. My new mantra now became, “Where the heck was the 3km marker? I must have missed it.” This was wrong on two points. I needed to just continue my pace until I could see the end and put everything I had left in the tank into the final yards and… the markers were ticking off the miles and not kilometers. This last bit would come back to mentally bite me badly. By this point I had long given up trying to find anyone to pace. For the past while there was a runner just behind me who sounded like every step was a major effort. The sound of groaning and coughing had me wondering what I was doing.
Rounding the corner I looked down the street to see Jennifer. She stood up and began clapping. A wash of emotions came over me and I just wanted to stop and in fact I slowed to take five steps. Looking over her right shoulder Jennifer shouted and pointed at the right-hand turn in the road, “This is the last corner, you’re almost there.” I gasped back in despair, “It’s all up hill!” In my mind, I still needed to run up the grade we’d all come down at the beginning of the race. Despite Jennifer’s contradiction that it was all down hill, I rounded the corner thinking she’d lied… no, seriously, that’s where my head was… and then I saw the little white marker with the number 3. The two runners just ahead of me looked back and smiled as I let loose a rather colorful expletive, you know the one I mean. Remember, I thought the markers were for kilometers and not miles, so in my mind I hadn’t missed the 3 km marker and now I knew I had a LONG way to go (hence the expletive).
Time for mental toughness and to show my mettle. Instead of rising to the call I began to walk, feeling defeated. But after just three steps I started to think more clearly. Why would Jennifer lie to me? Do I really WANT to give up? No, I could do this. Now a new question came to me, what were all those people doing lining the race route? Grey matter reengaged I deduced my error and realized I really had less then a tenth of a mile to go. Did I have ANYTHING left in the tank? Could I push when I didn’t think I had anything left? YES! Arms pumping, legs kicking I gave everything. The volunteer braced when I warned her that I would need to hold onto her bucket to lean over to take off the race-timing chip from my right ankle. I had done it and had no idea what my time was because, for once, I forgot to look at my watch. Instead I was looking for a place to collapse. But I didn’t even give into my weariness. I had learned a lesson today.
Official Notice of Race Results:
"Congratulations Kirsten you finished the SPCA Rescue Run 5 km on June 13, 2010 with a time of 00:29:42. You placed 213 of 476 runners, 92 of 287 Female runners and 14 of 48 in the Women's 40-44 division" – to all the runners out there, I know this isn’t anything special, but I also know this is a personal best for me. I had hoped to run at least at 6 mph (10 minute/mile) and I did even better!