My goal for the Surf-n-Santa 10-Miler on Saturday was to have fun and run strong, hoping that such a race would purge from my emotional system the darkness and chaos of the Philly Half in November. I toed the start line no better trained than I was for Philly (I assumed that 13.1-miler would count as my last long run of the training cycle; I assumed wrong), but still, this was a drastically different race.
I promised myself I’d be disciplined enough to run slow, easy, 10-minute miles until the last 5K of the race to avoid a physical blowout, and I adopted a race plan borrowed from, of all places, a handout about surviving the holidays I received from hospice (check out my race-plan post from last week.)
Here’s how it worked out for me:
I ran perfect 10-minute miles from the start until about the four-mile marker, feeling chill and happy and strong. Then, I spotted two of my running buddies, and ran along with them for a bit. They seemed to be running 9- or 9:30-minute-mile paces—would that be so bad, I wondered? I remembered my No. 1 goal—know your limits, and pace yourself accordingly—and repeated it to myself as I let them run on ahead of me, explaining that I was trying hard to stick to 10-minute miles.
For the next couple miles, every time I looked at my Garmin, it said, stubbornly, that I was running 9:30-minute-mile pace. After the first few times, I heard my dad’s voice: “SLOW down.” He’d usually say this after watching me bump into the corner of a table or stub my toe on a curb while in a rush, infuriating me even as I knew he was right.
Then, another memory of my dad surfaced. We are sitting in the basement, he with his guitar, me with a young-adult book about a camping trip gone wrong. It’s a rainy Saturday, and my mom is out running errands. The basement feels dim and cozy, and the guitar chords my dad plays hang softly in the air. I look up from my book and watch him, smiling, as I recognize the opening chords of one of his favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs, 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy):
Slow down, you move too fast.
You’ve got to make the morning last
I hang back, letting a few runners pass me.
Life, I love you,
All is groovy.
Once that mental picture occupied my mind, the rest of the race was a piece of cake, mentally. “Don’t argue with reality,” I told myself at the six-mile mark, when I started feeling twangs of pain in unfamiliar spots. My left glute? My right calf? What? Whatever. This is my current reality. Slow down a bit more.
“I will do what I know is best for me, not what others have told me to do, or what I think others want me to do,” I whispered out loud to myself as I started wondering what my running buddies would think of my slow time (as if they’d judge, or care!). The race that was best for me involved high-fiving a spectator in a gorilla suit; stopping to hug and high-five Steve every time I saw him on the course (except for the last time, when I merely grunted at him and wheezed: “I hurt.”); walking through water stops; and making sure every course photographer caught me smiling and giving a thumbs-up. It had nothing to do with time, but everything to do with love, and strength, and happiness, and all sorts of other schmoopy things you can’t put a number on.
I’m not going to lie: Schmoopy or not, the last three miles really hurt. I’m not going to dissect my training plan and remind myself of all the runs I missed while I was busy doing pre-ski strength, agility and plyo workouts, but am instead going to accept that while it wasn’t my prettiest race, it was one of my happiest. Plus, no matter how much I hurt as I crossed the finish line (I may have actually been limping a little bit at that point), I managed to smile as I did so.