Running out of excuses

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been four years since I’ve done any distance running, which to me is anything over five miles. I do the odd three-miler every now and then just to stay conditioned, but rarely do I go beyond five anymore.

When I agreed to run the Winnipeg Police Service Half-Marathon relay with a friend (6.55 miles each) my intention was to train. However, due to a number of circumstances including a sprained ankle the week before the event, and numerous excuses before that, I only managed to get in about six runs before race-day.

Eventually I ran out of training days (and excuses) and would just have to do it as ready as I was. Was I confident I could do the distance? Yes. But the big question was, how fast?

For any kind of competition, I’ll normally set two goals – one ambitious, one conservative – then aim to land somewhere in between. For this particular race, I set a goal of 10-minute miles at one end, and 12-minute miles at the other, allowing for lots of room in the middle.

As I arrived at the start line at my first organized race in four years, I had mixed feelings. Anxious me just wanted to get it over with. Competitive me wanted to go all out and try to break the ambitious goal. And since Saturday night me likes to stay up late, Sunday morning me didn’t even want to be awake. I decided to listen to outdoorsy me, who was positively glad just to be outside in the park on a sunny day.

The most interesting aspect at an event like this is the diversity of the runners. You see all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities. Some look like competitors, others like couch potatoes. Everyone has one thing in common: they are all athletes who have been training for this day; each with their own goal in mind.

For me, that’s what makes a running event so inspiring. Just being there in the pack with all the different people shows me that any goal is good enough. Any goal is better than not being in the game at all.

Waiting in the starting corral, nerves and adrenaline kicked in. As the wave of runners started to move, I was swept away with them. Here we go! The thrill of the race came rushing back as I settled into a safe pace. The first mile is a challenge not to get caught up in the excitement and want to keep up with the pack. This is when anxious me piped up again, wanting to run as fast as possible. “Just get it OVER with!!”

However, as I’ve learned in the past, that’s a sure way to run out of steam too early. So I focused on sticking to the beat in my earbuds. It was music I had trained to, so I knew my pace would be okay as long as I followed the beat.

At mile two, I was feeling pretty comfortable with my time, and feeling the flow of energy. I focused on steady breathing, keeping a meditative and mechanical rhythm. Confident me decided to visit for a while, assuring me I could do this. Reminding me I already WAS doing this. “Good work, you’re in the game. All you have to do is keep it up for a little longer.” Only four more miles to go…

By mile three, I had fallen in with my peeps. At this point in the race the faster people were ahead, slower ones behind. All around me were people just my speed. My race kin of sorts. I silently acknowledged the lady in black, the tall guy in the long white shirt, the girl with the pink water bottle, and the rest of the motley crew.

Sometimes, one would walk for a bit, and I’d pass them. Then they’d start up again, and they’d pass me. Then they’d walk again, and I’d pass again. And so it went, back-and-forth, forth-and-back. There was comfort in this game of ping pong. Wondering who I’d serve to next kept my mind occupied until mile five. That’s when competitive me came calling.

When I hit the fifth mileage marker, I realized I was on track to fall right smack in the middle of my two initial goals – which now seemed like the best goal of all. But it meant I could not drop pace at all, and maybe even have to pick it up a little bit. I’d have to push to the end, and probably pull away from my peeps. I’d miss them. But glory was calling, so I had to go.

Then came mile six. The last mile. Yup, just one more to go. This was it. Only one-sixth of the race left. Even though it was as long as all the other miles, it seemed like the longest. Mile. EVER.

By then, the pace I had increased to back at mile five was no longer feeling like such a good idea. Tired me was starting to make a fuss. “Are we done yet?” Hungry me was thinking of the pancake breakfast. “When can we eat?” And achy me was piping up louder than all of them. “Owwww. My feet hurt!” I really really really wanted to be done.

As I approached the ‘mile six’ sign, yearning to see the finish line, I realized one important point I had failed to acknowledge earlier. It was not actually the last mile. There was still an entire half mile to go. An entire .55 to be exact. Now running at top speed in order to make my goal, I’d have to maintain this pace for several more minutes in order to finish that last half mile. DOH!

Suddenly, each minute seemed like ten as I checked my watch over and over. Desperate questions flooded my mind, screaming inside my head. “Am I done yet? Am I almost done yet?? Why the $!#% does this half mile have no end???”

And then I saw it. The finish line. Now within sight. Thank goodness! It couldn’t have come at a better moment because my legs were about to mutiny on me. They had committed early on to do six, but did not sign on for that last surprise .55 mile. “Almost done,” I assured them, “See? There’s the finish line!”

It took absolutely everything left in the tank to get to the end, finishing the race at an exact pace of 11 minutes per mile. I was really happy with that. Maybe it wasn’t as fast as my former running days, but for today, it was fast enough. Most importantly, it was faster than the guy or gal who chose not to run.

As I walked away at the end of it with lungs burning, legs aching, sweat dripping, and finisher’s medal hanging around my neck, I felt pride and accomplishment amid the aches and pains. I was happy to be back in the game. I was happy to commit to and finish my first running event in four years. I was happy to have just run six-point-five-five miles, and happy with my final time. I was happy to be alive and outside on this beautiful sunny morning.

Most of all, I was happy there were pancakes.

RoseAnna is an occasional runner who completed five half-marathons in five years, improving her time from 2:27:38 to 1:59:54. After breaking the two-hour barrier, she decided to retire from long distances. Today she runs for fun, fitness, and free food.

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