Breaking 22 minutes in the 5k has become a crutch. And I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that. I’ve run 22:24, 22:40, 22:17, 22:16, 22:11, 22:12, 22:04…the list goes on and on. So do the reasons for not breaking that barrier. That 22:04 was a hilly course. I went out too hard. The humidity was high. I don’t know how to race.
After upping the ante this past year in training, I’ve had this fantasy of everything coming together in a run-of-the-mill workout. Last Thursday night I had a 5 mile tempo at 7:30 pace on tap and my boyfriend and I headed to the track at 11pm. We planned to just do our warm up on the astroturf and then head out on the roads for the workout, but as we were warming up I started to feel an itch tingling all throughout my body.
“What if we do this workout on the track? I’ll do the first two at the prescribed pace and then throw the hammer down for the last three?” He knew I wanted to break 22. He knew how bad I wanted it.
“You could. I wouldn’t go all out if it doesn’t feel good since it’s just supposed to be a tempo.”
Silence for two more laps.
I pictured myself rounding the turn on the last lap. Nightfall with a half moon. Empty stands. And the single clapping of my best friend as I press stop on my Timex.
“So, what are you going to do?”
Trapped in my fantasy, I continued to just run.
Around in another 400 meter circle.
“Let’s do this! I’ll go change my shoes and we’ll head to the start.”
I had a hard time locating numbers one through eight in the dark. I waited for James.
“Jog into it?”
I nodded a confident yes as I jumped up and down, shaking out any anxiety that I just created. Who was I kidding, though. There was still some left as we lined up a few yards in front of number one. Going clockwise would save the legs.
“1, 2, ready, go!”
I tucked in right behind him. Gosh, it looked like he was jogging. Jogging, just pretend we’re jogging. If we’re talking elites here, we are jogging.
“Right on pace, how’s it feel?”
“Pretty easy. Definitely easier than last week’s tempo.” I continued to follow his perfect stride. “One more lap to go in the first mile, we’re right on pace.”
Round and round.
“7:38? James, that’s too slow!”
“Well, how do you feel?”
“I feel like I can pick it up.”
Next lap, 1:51.
I then made a move up toward him. Just jogging, right?
10 seconds later, I moved back.
“I want to go for it,” I said as he looked at his watch.
“We’re on pace for a 7:25 mile, you sure?”
My legs wanted more. This pace felt easier than the first. Another beep of the watch. 7:26. We switched to counterclockwise. And off went the clock.
“How’s it feel?”
“Actually, pretty much the same.”
As soon as I hit the split button at the start of the third mile, I was committed. And I didn’t want to look at the watch after that.
“You can definitely PR off this pace.”
Did that mean I was running PR pace? I didn’t want to know.
“Did you check your watch?” he asked.
“No, let’s just keep running. This…” Words competed with my breath. “…this is getting a little harder.”
Silence fell again for the next two laps.
“We’re hitting these paces like clockwork,” he said.
Focus Jinger, just keep focusing. To be honest, it did feel like a clock. Dare I say effortless.
Two miles in. Why hello there, pain. I still didn’t check my watch. “Could I still PR if I take it down for the next two laps?”
Wait, Jinger? You’re committed now. Really? Really going to throw in the towel?
Left, right, left, right, deep breath. Like clockwork. That thought came back again. The real reason I haven’t broken 22? Every time the going gets tough, I get going. I head back to the couch. I check out.
I’ve quit friendships, softball in the 10th grade, band in the 12th , cross country in college. I only made it three weeks as a waitress and no-call, no-showed my two-week notice. I’ve quit boyfriends. School? I must have quit my major at least four times. I’ve quit multiple dreams of being a writer, a New Yorker and a doctor. And for the last ten years, I’ve quit multiple 5ks, all around the 1.5 mile mark.
“Come on, 600 to go.”
“You’ll use a different energy level on the last 400 meters. You won’t even feel it.”
“I don’t know.”
We rounded the turn of the last lap, still unaware of the time. I could’ve been running 7:30 pace the whole time but James knew better than to tell me.
Alone. Me, myself, and I.
I couldn’t quit this time.
“Let’s go, 200 meters! Different energy! Go Jinger!” he shouted.
He was right. Pain? Where? I felt like a quadruped, a jaguar on a mission. Effortless. Where was this pace two laps ago?
25 meters, 24 meters, 23 meters…
“You got this! Push!” Boy was I thankful for him.
10 meters, 9 meters, 8 meters…Where’s the damn number one?
I waited for him to shout, “You did it!” but instead there was silence. Footsteps crept up behind me
Quietly, he uttered, “21:59.”
We were now side by side.
“This is what my watch says.” He showed me his Timex reading: 22:00.33.
“I’m calling it 21:59.”
“Nah, you don’t want to do that.”
“No one needs to know.”
Post effort, I thought about it more and here we are. I wanted you all to know that it didn’t happen, again. I ran a 5k PR, though. Hell, I ran a 5 mile PR. I even negative split the entire thing. But more importantly, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life that night. When darkness falls, it’s easy to give in. It’s easy to hide. My legs may be strong as nails. My lungs, powerful. But my mind has been weak all along.
That itch is still there though. And now it has a map.