Three weeks after I ran Atlantic City, I ran my first race.
Well, not exactly.
Yes, it was a "race" and yes I "registered", but I wasn't planning to "race it". My friend, John, was using the Larry Robinson 10 (final) miler in Andover as a base for a training run. He has the Philadelphia Marathon on 11/21. Last year, I ran this race as a training run and part of my taper for Philly, so when he invited me to come along, it just seemed fitting. Total role reversal, eh? John actually had a 16 miler on his calendar and I had 12-15 miles on mine. Not only were we running different distances, we were also running different paces. My Coach recommended 8:50-9:00 miles for the first 1/2 and 8:30-8:40 for the second 1/2. He was going to be a bit speedier than me, so we opted to hang out beforehand and run the race separately.
Either I'm super early for races or I get totally lost trying to find them. Since I did this race last year, experience was on my side. I knew EXACTLY where I was going. John arrived about 30 minutes after me. Once we went to get his # and chip, we sat in his car to keep warm. The temperature was only in the high 30's at this point and the skies were mostly cloudy. And it was windy (what is it with me and wind, anyway????). I decided not to "warm-up" for this race because, well, I wasn't racing. I figured I could get myself between an 8:50-9:00 fairly easily out of the gate. Plus the first mile is mostly downhill, so it wouldn't feel too hard. This particular course runs a mile out into a four mile loop, which you run twice. Then, you run that first mile back to the finish. Double loops can be a drag, mentally, but since I wasn't racing (have I made that point abundantly clear enough yet?), it wasn't a big deal to me.
Besides, it could have been worse. I could have been John. He planned on running that four mile loop three times in a row. Sorry, buddy.
We finally extricated ourselves from John's comfy, warm car, which was no easy task considering he has heated seats. We allowed ourselves just enough time for a last bathroom stop before lining up at the start. Thankfully, this race started and ended at Andover High School, so we had indoor plumbing. Yes, it was a double loop course, but multiple bathrooms inside with relatively short lines is pretty awesome. I guess we can call it a wash.
John and I waded our way through the pack and settled for somewhere in the middle because, for the gazillionth time, WE...WEREN'T...RACING. We ended up standing next to someone in John's running club, so we chatted with her while frantically rubbing our arms and marching in place in the hopes of not freezing to death. Some guy in front of me turned around and starts chatting me up like he knew me. I decided to play along. Sometimes, it's just easier that way.
Normally, when you are at races, you hear a countdown by the race director or the sound of the gun going off. Not this time. Not at this race. All of a sudden, everyone just started running. Obviously, the signal had to come from SOMEWHERE, but we never heard it. We weren't THAT far back. So, when in Rome...
We started running.
I wished John well and he took off. I turned on my tunes while tuning into my GPS watch, reminding myself to keep it between 8:50-9:00, particularly for that first mile. About five or six minutes in, I see John going by me giving the ol' thumbs up sign...which completely baffled me since he took off ahead of me. (I would later find out that he had to keep stopping to tie his shoes, which was a comfort because I was convinced I was hallucinating). I hit my first mile at an 8:50, which was about as textbook as you could get. At this point, we turned right into the four mile loop, which is more uphill in the first couple miles. However, what goes up must come down (unless you're running Mt. Washington) and I knew the reverse would be true for the last 1/2 of the loop. I kept my pace pretty steady on my first trip (8:48, 8:48, 8:43 and 8:48). At this point, I'd say I felt pretty comfortable. Once I hit the five mile marker, I picked it up. Miles 6 and 7 definitely were a challenge since I was pushing the pace on the hillier section, but I did well, running an 8:24 and a 8:25, respectively. I had decided to push the envelope a bit more on the second half of the race ONLY if I felt good and strong enough. It had only been three weeks since I ran the marathon, so my expectations were low.
I hit the 8th mile marker in 8:22 and I still felt strong, so I decided to push for the last two miles. I shaved three seconds off in mile 9 and exited the loop for the final time, heading back to the finish. This is where you pay for having a downhill first mile. What goes down ALSO goes back up. But, it was only a mile. Just one more mile.
Chirp. Lap 10 was an 8:12. I was less than 200 meters from crossing the line and decided to sprint my way there. I finished with an official time of 1:26:30.
Not bad for a training run.
I drank the rest of my gatorade and walked a bit before starting my cool-down. I figured I'd go out for one or two miles easy and see how it felt. After finishing my second mile, I ended up running into (not literally) John. He had just finished 14 and had two miles left. We ended up cooling down together, which was a pleasant surprise. Neither one of us wavered from our training strategy. We stuck to our plans and celebrated. After the run, we high tailed it back inside the school (it hadn't warmed up much at ALL) for some food and water. The race results were posted so, out of habit, we went over to take a look.
Not that it mattered, really.
Did I mention we weren't racing???
On my ride home, I realized I felt...good. I felt good because not only did I stick to the plan that Coach gave me, but there were no regrets. Both John and I talked about how we can get pretty competitive at times, which can work for or against you. In his case, it didn't make sense to run a 10 miler at his 10 mile race pace when the ultimate goal was a PR at the Philadelphia Marathon in two weeks. And me? I was three weeks removed from completing my 6th marathon and wasn't prepared to be 100% at racing this distance.
And I was OKAY with it. Really.
It felt good to be OKAY with where I was at that moment, instead of falling into the trap of comparing myself to others and whining about missed opportunities: what ifs, maybes and if onlys. You are who YOU are and you do what YOU can do. We run with others, we compete, but, ultimately, it's about doing OUR best, no matter what anyone else is doing. If you feel secure and strong enough within yourself, then you've already won. Feeling confident and self-assured is worth more than any age group prize or PR. Running this race the way that I did just reinforced that for me. I didn't have anything to prove to anyone and I knew that. Not only did I know it, I didn't care who else knew it either.
It's good to know that. It's good to feel that. And it's good to believe it.
At least, that's what this old dog thinks.