In each of my four years as a runner, I have participated in the Whittier Spooktakular 5K run. This is a fun little event that raises money for this small LA County community and promotes good health to the children of the area.
Year after year, this is the penultimate event on my racing calendar. Yesterday’s Whittier race was to the hour, 14 days before my start at the Santa Barbara marathon.
I am still slowly recovering from a calf problem that has curtailed my marathon training. The last few weeks I have been back into long runs of 14-17 miles on the weekend. The long runs aren’t as much physical training, but mental reinforcement of my belief that I can run 26.2 miles within the allotted time. At this point, my self-doubts about this next marathon are a bigger problem than anything physical.
Last year, I didn’t have a time goal for this race; well I didn’t until the last hundred yards when I saw the finish line clock roll over from 29 to 30 minutes. For the uninitiated, a sub 30 minute 5K requires an average pace of just under 9 minutes and 31 seconds per mile for 3.1 miles. That’s an easy sustained pace for many to achieve, less so for me. My average in 2012 was about 10 seconds per mile too slow. That feeling of being so close to being under a 30 minute finish gnawed at me all day and apparently all year.
A few days ago despite no recent speed work and a dubious calf, my brain sent a dictate that I WOULD finish this 5K in under 30 minutes. Subsequently my brain expressed a strong desire to play tennis on the Thursday and Friday nights before the race. I learned a long time ago that tennis in the evening makes for heavy legs and slow running the next morning. I considered skipping tennis on Friday to aid in achieving Saturday’s goal, but like a short-sighted manager, my brain wanted to have both tennis on Friday and a personal record on Saturday. My brain is an undisciplined asshole sometimes.
The first 1.25 miles of this course are uphill at an 11% grade. About a quarter-mile into the race I starting to suck wind. My doubt-prone mind started telling me that I was in no condition to run a mile, let a lone 26.2. and all the gym and bike work had failed to keep me in the shape I needed to be in to run a marathon. At that exact moment my GPS sent me an audio cue that I was running up this hill at a 7:26 pace, which is about 2 minutes/mile faster than what I would normally consider a fast pace for myself on flat terrain. It became OK to slow down and take it a bit easier.
At the apex of the run, my pace was under 10 minutes/mile and with 1.5 miles of 11% downhill grade ahead of me I knew I would hit my goal if I just kept going.
I do not remember much of the rest of the race. There was no socializing, no time to take pictures or to thank the volunteers. I was in my head, focused and running to the finish line. The only thought I recall was that if I didn’t finish in under 30 minutes, I would have to wait a year to try again.
My official chip time was 29:00.3. I took a 90 seconds (5%) off my 2012 time. I was happy with that. Immediately after the race my knee started to do an impression of a startled puffer fish. The compression tights and the post-race massage helped.
I spent the rest of that lazy Saturday at home. I thought about this race that I have enjoyed so much and the exchange of the joy of running the race to the joy of hitting my goal.
I also thought about how my mind was so willing to throw my body under the bus at the fist sign of difficulty. I need to remember that on marathon day. Before the race, the quarter-mile audio cues seemed too frequent, but the real-time data effectively knocked out the negative self-talk that wanted to dominate my thoughts.
Self-doubt is insidious, especially when it is about one’s body or ones ability to rise to do something difficult.