The Silvan Ridge Twilight 5k is a race where the proceeds go to the Jane Higdon Foundation. Jane was an avid triathlete whose life was cut short on a training ride after being hit by a truck on the narrow, winding roads of the picturesque vineyards of the Willamette Valley (for more information on Jane and her foundation, go here).
I’ve being running the Silvan Ridge Twilight race for four years now, and although I know the course well, each year brings with it a renewed experience of this hilly and hot run. Coming off from a decent track season, I was feeling spiffy and speedy for this annual race. The forecast was due to be the most reasonable in the race’s seven year history, a cool 81 degrees; quite comfortable compared to the previous year, where the Garmin thermometer topped a sweaty and heart pounding 97 degrees. So, this year, I thought, would be a piece of cake! After all, I WON the women’s overall last year (Woo Hoo!), and now, with a 16 degree drop in temperature, I was gearing for another great take-down.
As we warmed-up and prepared for the unforgiving hills, however, I couldn’t ignore how hot it still was, and I had no choice but to keep the pre-race mileage down to conserve my energy. My running buddy and I sought shade behind the winery to do our drills, all the while trying our best to soak in the seemingly soft and cool breezes of the minimal shade.
When we approached the start line, I decided to scout out the competition. You can usually tell who is serious about this kind of thing and who is not, and let me just say that things were looking a little more nerve-wracking this year than the previous. You see, this run was just days before the total eclipse of the sun and Eugene is not far from the path of totality. Some out-of-towners, likely in for the eclipse, appeared to have also found their way to this race.
As I lined up for the start, I got a close up view, and there she was: my competition. Definitely a solid runner, she was totally R-I-P-P-E-D. Her calf muscles must have been three times the size of mine and her legs were clearly used to working hard, as it appeared was pretty much every inch of her. Most importantly, she appeared to be in my age group — gulp.
At the start of most every race, I decide what it is going to be, a race for time or a race for, well, RACING. As I eyed my competition, my competitive spark ignited. I had no idea who she was or how she’d run but wasn’t going to be intimidated. For me, this year’s Silvan Ridge was a R-A-C-E.
As the gun went off, my competitor and I went out with the strong guys. She had five meters on me within the first hundred feet and I could already feel my heart pumping, but I made that decision at the start line that I was going to keep as close as I could to her without blowing up, so I ignored my central governor and proceeded on course.
Mile one was a 6:38, super fast for that particular course and climate, but I was all in now and there was no going back. As the race unfolded, I’d inch my way closer to her on the uphills, only to have to recover on the downhills to catch my breath and lose some time.
The way out in this out-and-back course was super challenging due to a strong and gusty headwind (what happened to that “soft and cool” breeze?) and I found myself in no-man’s land. The sun was searing my back as I passed a couple of guys that went out too fast, but I seemed to be losing time on everyone else ahead of me. When I finally reached the turnaround point I already felt wasted, and to make matters worse, the sun was now staring me in the face, taunting me in my hubris.
I tried to focus on the support from the now-tailwind and use that to fuel the final half of my race, but all I could do was seek cover from the short and minimal amounts of shade. And short they were; the tree shade teasing me, like the sirens, lulling me to stay in the cool for a little longer, just a little longer …
My legs were like fire, filling with lactic acid from that first, too fast, mile and all I wanted to do was stop. So, I distracted myself by counting steps in my head, reciting songs, and tricking myself into believing that there was only one more hill to the finish, all the while watching my competition gain more ground on me.
Five meters turned into 50 and then 100 when I made the final turn uphill to the finish. People cheered me all along the course and I wanted to acknowledge them but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even put words together in any cohesive fashion. I knew there was no way I would catch the front running women now, so it was all about finishing with some strength, some pride.
I knew I’d gone out too fast. I’d made that decision to race at the beginning of this run and I chose to suffer the consequences of such a decision. I just needed to FINISH THIS THING.
Final time? Thirty-one seconds behind the woman ahead of me. Yes she was in my age group! But it’s ok because I ran a six-second course PR! Not too shabby at all.
In hindsight, we can always talk about what we could have done differently (i.e.: not be so cocky??) and we can always wax poetic about the would-have, could-have, should-haves. But in this case, and in this race, there was no way my fitness was at the level of the winner’s. She was super-fit and she ran that race with steadfast strength and athleticism. I was a junior in comparison.
Is it worth it, then, to try anyway? Is there some redeeming quality in setting our goals too high so that, though we may never reach them, we gain something in the striving towards them anyway? After all, what are dreams and goals for if we don’t reach for the stars and keep trying to push that envelope? Even if the goal is unattainable, is there something in the journey that makes it worthwhile? I think so.
So, that all said, I swallowed my pride with a lovely glass (or two) of Oregon pinot and felt pretty good about it all. That is, until I heard that this amazing woman had run to the race. Like, RUN 15 MILES FROM EUGENE TO THE RACE. With this information, I swallowed down my pride with a final glass of pinot and called it a night. Some of us may never be the athlete we see ahead of us nor the athlete we see in our head, but here is to chasing down that dream.
Do you size up your competition before the race? Do you like racing against other runners?