Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Rest For the Wicked: Outkicked

AM: 60 mins. easy (8 miles)
PM: 1.5 mile w/u
Target: 5k@ goal MP (18:30-18:45)
Actual: 4.99k @17:17
1/2 mile c/d
Daily total: 13 miles

I was really planning on running marathon pace tonight, pinkie swear. Jordan didn't attend and I didn't think anyone else would be there to drag me along--but, alas, I was wrong. A new (to me) runner named Mike was among the crowd that met in the Salem Common for tonight's run, and just before takeoff a few of the other guys mentioned that he was pretty quick. This was confirmed when he shot to the front of the pack less than 100 meters into the race. "How fast are you running tonight?" he asked good-naturedly as he glided by me. I sighed internally, acknowledging that keeping pace with him would involve tossing self-restraint out the window for the second week in a row. "As fast as you make me," I replied.

I never feel great on the first mile of this run due to the slight uphill grade, but tonight that was especially true thanks to the oppressive humidity pervading my every breath. The sky was on the cusp of a thunderstorm but wouldn't quite break, and as a result I felt for a minute that I was transported back to a swampy North Carolina summer evening. Yuck. Apparently Mike felt no such hindrance, and by the approximate area of the imaginary one-mile marker he'd put at least 10 meters on me. At halfway that distance had doubled, and I found myself struggling to stay motivated. If my breathing was shot and he was outdistancing me by a comfortable margin, what was the point of pushing? Why not just settle in and cruise to the finish? Instead, I urged myself to refocus. As silly at it sounds, I think even "races" like this one--as relaxed and insignificant as it is--can serve as a great opportunity to practice strategy and, more importantly, mental tenacity. I locked my gaze on Mike's back, and with each stride I could feel him coming back to me ever so slightly. With only a few minutes to go I'd cut the lead to less than 10 meters and was pretty sure that Mike was none the wiser. If I timed my kick just right, I might be able to sneak past him. That is, if he couldn't hear me huffing and puffing like a 60-year-old chain smoker, a conditional that was becoming less and less likely the harder I pushed. Sure enough, just as we rounded the final turn and began descending the 30-meter downhill section to the finish, he stole a glance over his shoulder and saw me approaching. In one seemingly effortless motion he found another gear and charged away, finishing at least a full decisive second in front of me. To my pleasant surprise, despite the weather I'd actually managed to chip a few seconds off last week's time--but then again, I didn't have last week's, um, adversarial digestive conditions to slow me down, so it basically all evens out. I'll take it.

Unfortunately, it looks like after tonight I'll be taking a few weeks' hiatus from No Rest For the Wicked. Next Thursday I'm actually racing a local 5k in Beverly near our office, and then the following week I'll be traveling for work. Perhaps when I return I'll be ready to give Mike a proper challenge.