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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Just Keep Running

In the spring of 2014 I started a quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Before that time, the idea of being able to qualify for Boston (BQ for short) was something I considered impossible.  I ran three marathons between March of 2012 and October of 2013 and my best time was 3:54:21.  To get into Boston, I needed to get under 3:25:00.  Improving on my marathon time by 30 minutes seemed like a tall order to say the least! My plan was to train for a fall 2014 marathon and see how much I could improve and then, if I was healthy, go all out for a spring 2015 marathon and try to BQ.
I knew that I needed to get a lot faster in order to reach my goal.  So one of the things I did was to join a local running club. I told myself, if you want to get faster then you should run with fast people. I signed up for the marathon training program and started participating in the group runs. We ran long on Saturday mornings and did speed work on "Tempo Tuesday". The group was mostly made up of first timers but there were a few experienced runners too. Everyone was divided into pace groups based on your "easy" pace. Most of the groups were running slower than my easy pace and there was a couple of groups faster than I could run but there was one other runner who was at about my pace so we did most of our runs together.
One Tuesday, the group met for our speed work. Seven miles at Half Marathon Pace. I hadn't done much in the way of speed work before so I was a little nervous going into it. We did a shorter run the week before with some 5K pace intervals and I really struggled to keep up with my partner. I didn't know my way around the city very well, so I depended on her to guide the way so I didn't get lost.  This particular week, my training buddy didn't show up because she was caught at work. There were some folks from the slower groups and two guys from the "fast" group there. So my choice was to run with the slower groups, strike out on my own and most likely get lost or run with the fast guys.  After some thought, I decided to run with the two speedsters.  One of them was a younger guy (35ish) and the other was an older runner who is something of a local legend. He's in his 60's but still very fit and fast. He was a 2:20 marathoner "back in the day".  I had done some runs with both of them before and knew that they were much faster than me. So the three of us form a group. I let the other two guys know that I don't know any of the turns and will have to do my best to keep up with them.
So off we go, Young Guy is leading the way with me and Local Legend (LL) behind him. The first mile was our warm up and we averaged about a 8:21 pace.  That was easy enough but then we kicked it into gear and I knew I was in for it. I had never consistently run at a pace under 8:00 before so I expected to crash and burn hard. I struggled but was able to keep up and then Young Guy started running harder. He had us hitting sub 7:00 pace on the downhills and would slow for the uphills. After 4 miles he gradually started pulling away and I couldn't follow anymore.  LL was starting to pull away too but I was just able to reel him in, although it seemed like he was holding back just a little so I didn't get left behind.
Up to this point, there was no talking after the warm-up. It was all I could do to keep up, so I wasn't about to waste energy on talking. Somewhere along the way when I was feeling really gassed, LL turns his head back to say something. I was expecting some pearl of wisdom to come out of his mouth. Some trick or technique he could pass on that would help me get through this last part of the run. Imagine my disappointment when he turns and says to me, "just keep running" and continues on. That was it? Just keep running? Really? I laughed.
So I did. I kept running. Once I knew where I was in the city I let my guid know that I was good and he sped up. I tried to keep pace but couldn't quite. I think I finished the run about 20 seconds after he did and Young Guy was there waiting for us, still breathing hard.
I still think of this as the hardest run I've ever done. I was thinking about it recently and looked back in my log and found it. My average pace for this 6.5 mile run was 7:28. Four months later, I ran 26.2 miles with an average pace that was only a little slower (7:42) than this run. So what was for me at the time, the fastest I had ever run became really close to my marathon pace in just a few months.  I finished the fall marathon in 3:21:39 and got my BQ.
I think about this run when I have a workout that I don't think I can tackle.  In some ways, I think of this workout as my proudest moment as a runner. Even more than the marathon that followed it because it taught me a really important lesson about my limitations. It makes me wonder how much of my limitations are physical and how much are mental?  What am I capable of if I can just turn off that part of my brain that says I can't do something just because it looks hard or because I haven't done it before?  I don't know the answer to that but it's fun pushing myself, even at my "advanced age", to see how far I can go.

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