Sunday, November 9, 2008

A strong push to finish

Sunday was going to be a good day no matter what. I felt as much when I got up this morning. It was going to be good for several reasons:

- The Mission Inn Run was today and I was going to participate in it.
- The race would cap off a year that saw me run in three races, and actually I ran those in a span of six months.
- It would also mark the end of my running... for now. By no means am I stopping but I need a break from running.

I was running the race with my two younger brothers, Danny (27) and Jesse (19). The older one of the two is an experienced runner, and all-around athlete, while the younger is in his running infancy. So I had others to help keep me company.

We got there early, pre-registered and made our way around the beginning of the route. My wife and girls were there too from the start and helped cheer me on.

At 8:30, we stood on the start line with a daunting six miles standing between myself and personal glory.

Gee, that seems really long right about now.

The horn sounded off and hundreds of shoes hit the street. I was near the front at the start but I settled well back of the leaders. If there was anyone to avoid in helping me keep pace, it was the speed burners up front. I wanted to save some of my energy for the end.

We ran down the main street of the race and made our way toward a park on the edge of the city. The scenery was actually things we'd see again as the 10K route called for us to run the 5K route twice. Near the end of the street, we sloped downhill and ran into a path that cut through the park.

It was pretty even terrain at that point and I guessed we were at around the mile mark.

See? Just five miles more.

I hadn't been in the best conditions during the week to train so I did not enter the race with much confidence. I knew I could finish it but I was worried I'd struggle. But early on, there were no negative effects from my setbacks this week.

The path was actually quite scenic. It took us near the edge of the lake and several people were there fishing.

I wish I would have gone fishing instead.

I looked far ahead to see if I could make out the curvature of the path and sure enough I saw dozens of runners around the bend and through the trees. Pretty soon, we were running around the last vestiges of the lake and the park in general as a neighborhood - and cups of water - awaited us.

Wait. Is that an uphill run?

Sure enough, the water was a small positive to what was a major negative. A hill greeted us. Now, it wasn't a very steep hill. But I feared that in my less-than-stellar condition I would have problems with the hill. Still, I tried to keep my pace and did well to reach the top. A bend followed and we were headed down toward the main street, which is actually Market Street.

I made a right on Market and saw other runners headed toward me. We had to run about three blocks to the turnaround point before starting the second portion of the run.

Okay, you did the first half fine. Just do that again and you'll be good.

Still, I didn't feel good. I felt just okay. My heart rate had straddled the 180s for most of the second part of the run up to that point and that only meant it was going to climb for the remainder of the race. For me, 180 is manageable but the closer I get to 185 the more I have to conserve my strength. I'd love to run between 170-180 but I was past the point of keeping it in the 170s unless I wanted to slow down.

No slowing down. I've got to finish this as quick as possible.

I went back down Market towards Fairmount Park. There weren't as many people as there had been the first time I ran that way but there were still quite a few runners around me. I got back into the park, ran back the same path and was prepared to see the lake once again when I ran past a sign that said Mile 4.

"32 minutes and 32 seconds," a voice shouted as I ran by. That was encouraging. If I'd already ran four miles, that meant I only had two to go.

Actually, 2.2.

And the time was also encouraging. Four miles in 32 minutes was a good pace for me.

Wait a minute. Did the sign mean I had already ran four miles or that I was starting my fourth mile? Big difference.

For the sake of my confidence and my mental state, I decided that I'd ran four miles already. Besides, if that was the three-mile mark, that wouldn't have made much sense for the 5K.

Buoyed by a surge of confidence, I tried to pick up my pace. I had been going to a rather easy pace, perhaps a bit slower than I could have ran otherwise but now was the time to move quicker. My legs responded though at first extending my legs further was a bit more difficult than I'd anticipated.

Finally, the park was at an end. The water station awaited, as did the hill. But I felt strong.

Time to make a move.

A group of runners slowed on the hill. I glanced at my watch and saw 184. I had some in reserve and I wanted to use it. I took some large strides up the hill and passed by several people. When the street flattened out, so too did my pace. My watch now read 191.

You've gotta slow down.

I nearly used up most of my reserves and I still had - what a mile? - left before the finish. I slowed but even if I hadn't my body would have forced me to. My heart rate was still in the high 180s and I felt it.

Up came Market Street and the final stretch run. I wanted to wait until I was close enough to the finish to use up the rest of my reserves. In the distance I saw my wife and girls cheering me on. That, coupled with the the motivating messages I'd received from some friends earlier in the morning, helped me get through the finale.

I sprinted. I had just one block left and I wanted to run hard and finish hard. I was so focused on the finish line and finishing strong that I failed to notice the big clock situated near the finish line.

Come on! One last push!

And with that, I crossed the line. I had nothing left in me. Every muscle in my leg was wide awake and yelling, probably swear words, at me. My left foot throbbed and my hamstrings felt like they were a good lunge from ripping off the bone. I wanted to sit but more than that I wanted to walk. I needed to cool down and get a semblance of my former self back. Danny had finished about three minutes before me while Jesse ran about a minute behind me, maybe less.

When I finally met up with my wife and girls, she asked me how I felt and I filled her in on my aching muscles. She then asked me if I was glad I'd run the race.

Hell yes.

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