Twelve years ago on Thanksgiving, I caught the bug.
I did my first race.
I’ve told the story before but a brief recap is in order: ‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and I had a brilliant idea – I would run the local 5K turkey trot.
In an effort to prepare myself, that night I ran 7 miles on the indoor track.
For anyone who has ever self-coached, you know a training plan like that is priceless. Somehow in your head, despite all logic, you have convinced yourself yes, YES, THAT is exactly what you need to do.
Back then it was a small event with 600 runners. I remember crossing the finish line and thinking that was fun. I crossed the finish line in 21:39. Chances are, in the last mile, I caught a few struggling nonrunners who got talked into running only 3.1 miles with the family to burn the bird off. But more importantly, I caught the bug. The racing bug.
A little over a year ago, I had just completed a run focus in which I did several 5Ks to culminate in that same Turkey Trot. A week before the race, I found out I was pregnant. Scratch the race plan. Instead, I set my sights to 2010. I would run the race as my return to sport with my only goal being to break that original time of 21:39.
2010, here I am. It’s turkey day. I’ve been back at running now for 10 weeks and in that time have run two 5Ks. Was I ready for another one? The morning was a damp and chilly 35 degrees. Motivation was, admittedly, a bit low. You see, in my first race post-partum, I beat that original 5K time. The next race, I dropped another 53 seconds. And so there I was today. Today was wet, cold…do I really need to run this race? I’ve already proven myself. But I knew I had to do this. To mark the beginning, just like this race did 12 years ago.
Max only woke up once last night so I had a decent sleep (meaning, I slept for 5 hours straight – AMAZING!). I ate breakfast, pumped a bottle so Chris could feed Max when he woke up and then fully loaded myself with caffeine
(if you doubt the effects of caffeine, let me assure you – it’s real. I only drink decaf and so the other day after getting my once a week grande decaf Americano I found myself in a store, jittery with thoughts racing and sweaty armpits. I realized that the label on my cup was missing a key word: DECAF)
The race was taking place near my gym. I parked there and had my best idea yet – warm up on the indoor track. Some of you are balking right now – indoor track!? I love the indoor track! Maybe it was doing indoor track in high school that made me fearless of running 1000 laps around a nasty hot gym (yes, I was a miler). But my plan today was to warm up indoors to stay dry and preserve lung function for the actual race.
After a warm up, I ran over to the race site. People everywhere! In the past twelve years, the race has grown to over 6,000 runners. How many 5Ks actually have pace signs set up!? I positioned myself near the 6:00 mile group. I’m finally ready to be up there with the big boys.
(actually, the really skinny boys)
Earlier that morning, I thought through the plan – bolt the first mile, sustain the second mile and gut it out to the finish. Oh, and when I turn the last corner, turn the afterburners on. I have no idea where they are on my body or if I even have afterburners but it just seemed like a fitting way to remind myself to get my ass to the finish line ASAP at that point.
Standing at the start line, I scoped out the competition. Not only is this race huge but it draws a ridiculous number of high school cross country runners (and standing there, doing the math in my head, I realized I am old enough to be their mom). A few of them were wearing their uniforms and let me say times have changed since I ran cross country in high school (then again, that was nearly 20 years ago!) Seems that even the youngsters have caught the need for speed. There had to be half a dozen boys wearing what looked like cycling bibs with – I kid you not – a full face mask that zipped up the back. Except – it had no holes for the eyes or mouth? How did they see? I’m sure it shaves off at least….one second from all the drag that is saved from covered up hair on your head (studies have shown that cutting your hair short can reduce aerodynamic drag by 2%) but more importantly it was a great distraction tactic for your competition. Who can keep a straight face when you’re up against something that looks like that?
A countdown and the gun goes off. Turns out all of the congestion at the start from those who clearly thought 6:00 pace sign was referring to the metric system (because I must have weaved through, darted around and got caught up behind several runners who belonged quite a few minutes back) became a sure way to ease into the race. Noel, one of my athletes who started near me, on the other hand, was proving his strategy was much simpler than that – bolt and if the competition is in your way, just trip them to the ground. No joke, he got tangled with some kid who then did a full face plant to the pavement.
The first mile, surprisingly, felt great. I eased into it, thought about good form and made eye contact with nothing but the road in front of me. FOCUS! I hit the first mile in 6:07 which, trust me – feels a world better right now than the 6:00 I went out at last time. Like the difference between “I’m in control here” and “YIPES, I might crap myself!”
The second mile seemed to take forever but I knew it would. But unlike Ironman where you have 138.6 miles to go when you reach the end of that second mile, at the end of it, I knew I only had one more to go! I hit the final turn, turned on the afterburners (I found the switch!) and when I hit the 3rd mile clock, I knew I had my goal in the bag.
I’ve never actually seen this bag but know that if I ever find it, it will be filled with breakthrough race performances. And maybe a little bit of vomit.
I crossed the finish line 24 seconds faster than the 5K about 3 weeks ago, good enough for the age group win. If you’re keeping track (and you should be – this is very important stuff, people!), I’ve dropped over 75 seconds since that first post-partum 5K about 6 weeks ago. And, more importantly, today’s time was only 30 seconds off of where I was a year ago, before baby.
Why am I telling you this? Because I know there are women out there who wonder – will it come back? If so, how long will it take after baby? Max turned 4 months a few days ago. Right now, my running pace is about 10 seconds per mile off where it was a year ago. My swimming is back at pre-pregnancy paces and my biking is better. Bottom line – it comes back. All of that along with good health and balance. And, if you’re lucky, the world’s most adorable baby.
JUST LIKE MINE!
Today I came full circle. Twelve years ago, this race started the adventure of a lifetime – of racing, of making friends, of meeting the man who would become my husband, of travels, of victories, of lessons learned about myself that I could not have learned any other way. Here I am about to embark on an incredible journey again. It is the beginning, again.
Sometimes I wonder – will I be better than the previous version of myself? Can I go further than I did last time? I’ve been training now for 3½ months, and the short answer is that time will tell. But I suspect that if I open myself up to my own greatness again, I will get there. Perhaps get a little further and even faster than the last time.
And that is what makes 2011 so damn exciting.
Let’s go, I’m ready.