My mile-training day of reckoning was fast approaching, almost time to put the past several months of motivation, stamina training and speed-work to the test and to see if I had the courage to run a brave mile. I wrote my goal on my calendar in red, but as the date approached, Mother Nature intervened, dropping a thick blanket of snow over the tracks and roads of Boston. The weather turned colder, and a series of damp, blustery days seemed to seal the deal; I would have to wait for spring.
But then, unexpectedly, just as I got used to the idea of trading in my racing flats for snowshoes, the forecast became more favorable for racing, predicting several days of sun and milder air to melt the snow. As if on cue, patches of the orange oval in my neighborhood peeked out from beneath the white cover, growing bigger day by day.
And then I got an email from Coach Cathy: “I think we can head to the track today. Want to try the miler?”
I was knotted up in a tangle of emotions. Yes, I wanted to try the miler, but the thought filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. I had started on my quest to run a brave mile ten weeks ago. I got the idea after doing a mile time trial in prep for my fall goal race, a 5k on Thanksgiving. I ran that mile in 6:22, which was only marginally faster than the pace I ran in the 5k race. Mulling this over, I suspected I wasn’t performing up to my mile potential and it made me wonder what I could do if I trained exclusively for the mile. And so, my goal fall 5K behind me, I set my sights on improving my mile time.
A month into mile training, I ran another time trial at the end of a pretty discouraging week of training. Following on the heels of a hard speed interval workout that completely wiped me out, my staple 2 x 2-miles stamina workout had been 45-60 seconds per mile slower than usual – ugh! I wondered if I had what it took to run fast and hard. I was not optimistic for the time trial, and Coach Cathy and I set a conservative goal of a 6:15 mile. I came in at 5:59.68. Now, the burden of living up to that expectation weighed heavily on me. Could I run a mile as fast again, or even faster?
“It’s cold, and there’s a wind,” Coach Cathy told me in the car on the way to the track. “Don’t worry too much about the time. Just run with courage.” Jogging my long, slow warm-up, I tried to reason with myself. All that matters is that I am brave, I thought. And this is not my last opportunity to run a fast mile. I ran a bunch of strides and willed myself to relax. I called to my mind the lion, the image I’d been using to help me face up to all the hard workouts. Without fanfare, I took my place at the start line and began.
From practice, I knew the feeling I needed for first-lap pace to match or exceed the 90 seconds I needed to match or exceed my previous best. I stepped into it readily, feeling strong. Wind gusts pushed against me as I rounded the second curve, though it was early enough in the run there was no difficulty or challenge to them. But coming down the backstretch that first rush of adrenaline started to wane, and the grave awareness of my task set in. I passed Coach Cathy, who was calling out the seconds, and heard my first split, 1:25. I was on target.
Hold it here, I thought. Just hold it here. This lap, I felt the gusty wind around the second turn. It would be the longest lap, the one containing those extra nine meters that would bring me to the mile. Still running bravely, I passed Coach Cathy again and heard my split, 3:00. On pace.
I embarked on the bear that is the third lap. My breathing became labored and I could hear it ripping out of me in gasps. The winds around the second turn slugged into me. Was I slowing just a little, or was I standing still? Fatigue and doubt threatened to erode my resolve. Pushing them away, I got to the backstretch. More than halfway there now! But my split this time was slower than it needed to be, 4:36.
Let’s go! I thought, reaching into my reserves to give it everything I had for that last lap. Got to make up the time! My hamstrings started zinging in that way they do when I’m running really fast, propelling me through the wind. I could barely keep my eyes open against the effort. At the top of the backstretch, I heard Coach Cathy shouting out the seconds. I can get there! I thought. I can do it! I sprinted for the line and crossed.
How I would have loved the conclusion to this series of posts, in which I’ve told you about how I trained for the mile, to be a courageous mile run leading to a new personal best. But in reality, I finished one second too late. My time was 6:00.69. After the run, as I struggled to fend off the dry heaves and catch my breath, disappointment crept around the edges of my achievement. I vanquished it. My true goal had been to run a brave mile, and I did!
Now when can I do it again?
With all my posts about racing a mile, have I convinced you to give it a try too?