Saturday, June 25, 2011

Owning the pain and suffering

"Every triathlete, pro or amateur, no matter how fit,
reaches a point in every race where he has to decide
whether he will endure more suffering. It's very simple.
Either he will or he won't. You will get there. The only
question is how you'll handle it."
                                                     -Chris McCormack

This morning the Wingman and I made our way to Ronkonkoma for the Run Around the Lake 4 Miler. We've done this race maybe 4 or 5 times over the last 8 years. The distance is short, but the course is challenging. I have never had a good race on this course. Usually the time of year (hot, humid) and the terrain (hilly) are a lethal combo for me. The two sections that will bring your race to a screeching halt are the hill in the first mile and the hills that come in the fourth mile. If you go out too hard, you will suffer later on. Wingman asked me what my goal was and I told him I just wanted to run the whole race and own the last mile. A PR was the furthest thing from my mind. But oddly enough, the weather was almost perfect this morning. No winds, very overcast, and no/little humidity. It was still a little warm, but without the other elements to slow me down, I was ready to finally own this race.

We made our way up to the starting line and I thought about that last mile. It has haunted me for years and I wanted so badly to run well. The gun went off and I was on my way. The race starts with a very slight decline and then flattens out so it's easy to start fast. I waited patiently for the road to open up before I picked up my speed. I could feel how light my running shoes were. My feet were barely touching the ground. I was afraid to look at my garmin to see what pace I was running. All I knew was it was a little quick. The other thing I noticed was I was not laboring. Usually the first half mile or so my breathing is really heavy and I always wonder how long it will take me to settle in and feel good. I had a rhythm early and decided to ride the wave. 

When I approached the first hill I eased up a little to save some energy for the hills later. A few people passed me on the climb, but I knew I had to keep it comfortable. Once I got to the top, I picked it up again and turned down a small section of road. This part of the course was great as it was nice a shaded. It's a small section shaped like a U to add mileage to the course to make it a 4 miler. When I came around the back side of the U, I was at the one mile marker. The GPS buzzed for the lap and I peeked at the pace. It was much much faster than I have ever run before in this race. I think it was about 40 seconds faster than I've ever run that first mile. I was still feeling good so I figured I'd keep up the pace.

By now I made my way back to Rosevale ave heading towards Portion Road. I passed up the water station as I was feeling good. I turned onto Portion and noticed it's a slight decline in the road so I picked it up again to take advantage of the terrain. I still felt like I was moving at a good speed and was working hard. All I remember was passing an ambulance that was stopped along the course and in front was a HUGE swan in the road. I was hoping that it wouldn't freak out and attack me. While it would make for an awesome race report, I didn't want to deal with the humiliation of a swan attack.

I was nearing the two mile marker and was still feeling good. When I saw my time, I could see that I was still running very well. I kept pushing it thinking if I could put in 3 fast miles, whatever happens in the 4th mile won't hurt me too much in terms of the final result. I knew I had to get up the hills in the final mile, but I decided to worry about it when I got there. For now, I had to keep on pushing. 

I saw a woman ahead of me that is at a lot of the races. I decided to keep her in my sights. She's a good runner and she always finishes ahead of me. (Ignore the fact that she's 68 years old). I figured if I could keep her in my sights, it would motivate me to keep running fast. I was now running along the back side of the lake. The second to last water stop on the course is in front of a drug rehab facility. I am sure the water was fine, but I am always leery about it being spiked. I passed up on the water and noticed I was slowly gaining on my rabbit. 

I approached the last climb. It's not a major hill, but it's a bit of a grind due to where it comes on the course. You're going full throttle for 3 miles and now you have a hill, then it flattens out briefly, and then goes up again. I knew I was slowing down to get up the hill, but there was no way I could go fast as it would take up too much energy. There was still a good 3/4 of a mile to this race and another small hill around the corner. As I rounded the corner my rabbit was right there. She slowed down for the last water stop so I took this as my opportunity to pick it up and pass her. I was suffering at this point and had to dig really deep to find my legs. Once I passed her I used the downhill to pick up more speed. I kept telling myself to push it. I was hurting at this point, but I really wanted to finish ahead of her.

I climbed the last hill and had about a half mile to go. Out of the corner of my right eye, I could see her at my side. I let her stay there for a few strides while I tried to figure out my strategy. If I stayed with her, I wasn't sure I could out-kick her at the end. But if I made my move too soon, could I hold on to beat her? I decided the time was now and I dropped the hammer. I couldn't risk the gamble of a finishing sprint. I surged ahead and could feel my heart pounding in my throat and my legs growing heavy. I was running scared. I summoned every fiber in my body to hold her off. I kept looking over my shoulder to see where she was. I didn't want to be taken by surprise. 

I was getting closer to the entrance to the lake and at the turn had one final look back. I had no idea how strong her kick was so I wanted to gauge the distance between us. I could see the race clock ahead and knew if I kept pushing it, a PR was in my grasp. My legs and arms felt so heavy but I had to keep moving as she wasn't that far behind.

I finally crossed the finish line and looked back to see how close it was. I finished 5 seconds ahead of her and broke my 4 mile PR by 26 seconds. I was amazed at the 'killer instinct' I had on the course today. In past races I would back down from a challenge and just think "if she passes me, she passes me. I'm just running my race." But now I am taking calculated risks on the course to see if they will pay off. And today it did. I received a medal for 2nd place in my division. 

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