For months I have been preparing for yesterday’s 5K race, hoping to beat my time from last year. Until last week, though, I remembered wrong how long it took me last year, and thought I just needed to finish in about 36 minutes or so.
Then I went back and checked last year’s time: 36 minutes, 29 seconds. How had I managed that? (I remember being equally surprised last year when I was told my time upon finishing.) My best time in my recent runs averaged about eleven and a half minutes per mile.
That would put me under 36 minutes, but not my much. What if I couldn’t push myself nearly to exhaustion as I did last year? (Last year I ran with someone who kept pushing me to keep going, and it was easier to put my energy into complying than arguing I couldn’t do it.)
Of course, there’s a certain adrenaline rush that goes with being in the race itself. When everyone takes off, there’s a shared excitement, not to mention having a whole lot of people to try not to get too far behind, unlike my more or less solitary runs on the track in the Y or the jogging trail outside the Y.
It didn’t take long to fall behind most of the runners, though, and to realize that the pace I was maintaining was about as good as I could maintain for over three miles. My pedometer watch told me I was doing a pace of about 11:20, and if I could keep that up I’d meet my personal goal of beating last year’s time. My pedometer is calibrated to the length of my usual pace, so I knew that if I were running faster than usual I’d be doing better than it said. But I didn’t think that difference would be significant.
I was right about one thing – running alone, I couldn’t push myself as hard as last year. I didn’t develop a stitch in my side, which I get when I go too much faster than usual. I was breathing really hard the last hundred yards or so, and feeling like I’d be sick if I pushed myself too much more, but not to the extreme I did a year ago.
By the time I reached the finish line, I had only one thought, to finish as strong as I could. Managing to get a look at the clock with my finish time was beyond me – or remembering to punch the Stop button on my watch.
When the guy who ran next to me last year (who finished much faster this year, having long ago recovered from the injury that slowed him down in last year’s run, and came back along the route to encourage those still running) told me he thought I had finished in under 34 minutes, I figured he must have been off in his estimate. I’d have been happy to finish in under 35 minutes, but I wasn’t confident I had done so.
I didn’t find out my time until the stats were published online this morning, and I was amazed – and happy – to discover I finished in 33 minutes, 26 seconds. That beats what I thought was my best by about three-quarters of a minute per mile.
I had been starting to think all this running wasn’t really making a difference, and wondering if I’d keep it up after the race was over. But now I’m thinking about the next race to sign up for – the college where I work has a 5K in November. I’m sure I can’t shave another three minutes off my time. But I sure wouldn’t mind just cutting off half a minute.
Or being able to finish in the same time, minus the labored breathing and feeling like I might be sick.