Growing up, I competed in softball, basketball, and bowling. Yes, bowling. I always held a poker face in Scrabble. Super Monaco Racing for the Sega Genesis? I was all over that. But when it came to running, I thought I had to be fast to actually compete.
The Perfect 10 Miler was going to be a training run for me but turned into a lesson on racing. I might even go as far as saying that it was the first “race” I ever ran. Not against a clock, but against other women. And men, too! Initially, my goal was to experiment with holding 7:50 pace for 10 miles. There was also a part of me that was sick and tired of limiting myself from competing at races. What was stopping me from making moves, drafting, surging, and closing gaps?
The gun went off and I made my way through a congested starting line complete with a few elbow rubs. After about 800 meters, the field started to spread out. Unaware of my pace, I tried to focus on remaining calm and relaxed. I then began to scope out my competition. The goal: catch as many women as possible.
The first woman I noticed was donning a skirt and fuel belt. Her pace seemed consistent and relaxed as well. I decided to stay with her for a few minutes but something inside of me said go get the next one. I made the move, wondering if I would regret it later. For the next three miles, I continued to hunt down the women in front of me. Tan one in spandex, down. Slapping Vibrams, down. Umbros, down. Ok, there weren’t any Umbro-wearing women to my knowledge, but you get the point. Before, I knew it, there weren’t many more women to catch. Not because I was leading but because I was running that awkward pace where women are typically either way ahead or way behind. I worked with the men that were nearby, remembering the words of my high school cross country coach, just picture the men as really ugly women. A few of the “ugly women” went with me as we were clipping off 7:45s. The legs were still fresh and my lungs, strong.
As we reached mile five, I could hear the heavy breathing of a woman coming up behind me. It was the woman in the skirt and fuel belt. Yet, I didn’t panic. In fact, I was getting bored so having her come up to make a move inspired me. I let her pass me but stayed close. Drafting, if you will. Oh my god! I’m drafting! We ran together for a few meters before we started coming up on a pack ahead that had another woman. I was still feeling good so I decided to make a move to catch the pack. Was I now surging?
Left foot, right foot. I could still hear the heavy breathing from behind as I got closer to reaching the pack. But I was also taught to never look back. So forward I went and soon enough, we caught the fading group of about five men and the lone woman. We didn’t even stay with the pack, though, continuing to forge ahead. But her breaths were confusing me. Was she dying? Was this just her normal way of breathing? What mile were we on again? Oh look, there’s James! Oh wait, we have to run this straightaway back?
When I saw James, I immediately got a boost of energy. He was leading us all to the finish line, alone. For him, the race turned into a time trial. Little did I know that soon enough I would be in no-man’s-land, too. That energy carried me forward to passing some more men and the occasional woman. The faster I got, the less I heard breaths behind me. I eventually saw other runners from James’s group and cheered them on, feeding off their fast efforts. When I saw the 61 year-old sensation, Barb Broad, I knew that I was close to turning around to face the inevitable long straightaway that led to the winding finish.
On that straightaway is when I decided to pick things up one last time. We were seven miles in and I was starting to feel a hint of lactic. Enough to slow down? Not yet. There was one more woman I wanted to catch. As I caught up to the blonde beauty with compression socks, I thought about staying with her for a while but there was that voice again. Pass her. See what happens. Keep going forward.
I listened. And there I was, alone. Luckily, the straightaway back went by a lot faster than it took to go out. Maybe I was going faster. Maybe I wasn’t. But I didn’t care about pace. I was racing. And I had to hold off the women behind me if I wanted to call this run a victory.
Around mile 8, I heard my split, indicating that I had just run a 7:20 mile. I wasn’t sure how true that was but it made me feel good. I could hold this pace for one more mile. Yeah, one more mile. For a split second, I thought that I was running a nine mile road race. Hold up! Shit, there are TWO more miles to go. I then started to question my ability as my form began to break down due to the blisters developing on the bottom of my foot. I was wearing the lightweight Puma Faas 300, a shoe I’ve done a couple of 6 mile tempos in but nothing over that.
Shoes. I was going to let this race fall apart due to shoes? My lungs were fine. I committed to finishing as strong as possible, which would inevitably be as ugly as possible due to the pain.
The road was still quiet. Not a breath behind me. Yet at a water stop, I heard a fan say, “I like her shoes.” I knew she wasn’t referring to mine either. Someone was close behind. I kept pushing forward.
And the final battle began. The woman in compression socks suddenly came up behind me. Stay with her. Just stay with her until we turn this corner. I tucked in behind her as we approached the entrance to the track. As soon as I saw the black turf, I switched gears, much like I used to do with the hand-held controller of the Sega Genesis. I also practiced this 100 meter sprint plenty of times this year. I remembered James pushing me in practice to find that other gear. And there it was.
On Sunday, August 12th, 2012, a racer was born.
Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to race your next race. It doesn’t matter if you are running 10:00 miles or 6:00 miles. You just might be surprised at what you can accomplish when you forget about pace and, well, race.