"Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience."
~ Paulo Coelho
~ Paulo Coelho
SISU teammate, Matt G., about the upcoming Friday Night Lights 10,000M Championship, a USATF race that would be happening right down the street from me in Cambridge on the track. There would be an elite race, an open race and a Masters race (40+), so something for everyone. My last race on the track was a 5K at Colgate University in 1996. Yes, my friends, 20 years ago. When I read the email, my initial reaction was, Oooh, this sounds fun and different, perhaps I should give it a go. No, for real, I said that. Out loud. (insert head scratch) I'm currently training for a fall marathon so I emailed my coach to see if we could work it into my training. He was all for it, letting me know that we could used it as a second workout for that week and agreed it would probably be exciting. Super! I went ahead and registered and then put it on the back burner. And then suddenly it was July. About three days before the race, which I would be running as a member of both the SISU Project and Skechers Performance teams, I got an email with the final heat sheets and race instructions. Curious to see how I stacked up against my competitors, I opened it up to assess. I saw seed info for four different races, none of which were labeled MASTERS. Then, upon further inspection, I saw my name in the Women's Elite race....look closely, I'm down there at the bottom...seeded 19th out of 21.
After a brief moment of panic, I sent a text to my friend and Skechers rep, Dave Ames, who had been the one to register our team.
Me: Dave - what happened to the Masters Race?
Dave: There weren't enough Masters signed up. You're with the Women's Elite race instead.
Me: Ummmm. That wasn't the plan.
Dave: Relax, Trax. You'll be fine.
New plan. Instead of jumping into a 10,000M race with a handful of 40+ women to test my fitness and give myself a solid workout, I would now be running with a bunch of young fasties who were out for the win. Oh, wait....there would be one other Masters runner in my heat.....I'd be competing against Sheri Piers, Olympic trials qualifier and one of the top Masters runners in the country. That made me feel so much better. Note the sarcasm.
The day before the race, reality set in. Within 24 hours I'd be running 10,000M (25 laps) on the track, in mad, crazy heat and humidity, at age 41, with no music, at 8:30 at night, against (Sheri, aside) people half my age. Holy. Shite. So, because I tend to expose myself and my running plans (both smart and not so smart) on social media, I posted the above photo up on Instagram and explained the situation. As expected, I got some great feedback. Friends, teammates and fellow runners threw out all sorts of comments to lift my spirits, pump me up and calm me down. Things like:
- Trust yourself. You've got this!!
- Enjoy the pain train and that awesome feeling of crossing the finish line!
- You will do fine. Just run your race.
- It's just an opportunity to show your fitness. Enjoy every step!
- Go crush it champ.
Actually, there were 51 comments in total; many of them funny (which I love) and all of them positive. People are always asking me why I throw it all out there for the world to see when it comes to running and racing. Well, this pretty much sums it up. The support I get from friends, fellow runners, even strangers, is so priceless. I ended the day feeling more excited than scared and ready for a personal challenge thanks to everyone's feedback.
The next day, I was up before 6am. Remember, the race was happening at 8:30pm. Holy. Long. Day. I grabbed my foam roller, a cup of coffee and a NUUN and headed outside for some time to myself (translation - 30 minutes without my daughter yelling MOOOOOOMMMM). The rest of the day pretty much went like this: drink water, rest, read, help Rosie pack for camp, drink more water, eat, rest again, go to the post office, stress, drink again and so on. Around 3:00pm I checked the weather, hoping the temps were not quite as oppressive as they'd been at noon. No dice. Still 100+. Awesome.
Finally, it was 6:00pm, and I hopped in the car to head over to Cambridge. The temp gauge read 99 degrees. Oh good, I thought, the temp has gone down a bit. Again, sarcasm. Seriously, though, I did wonder what the hell I was doing for the umpteenth time. For a brief moment I considered calling my coach to ask him if this was a bad decision. Why, I thought, was I doing this death march given that my goal race was a marathon in October and there was absolutely no way this race was going to help me for that. But, alas, I didn't make the call. I was running for my teams, and damned if I wasn't going to be on that line. I parked, found the track and my SISU teammates and threw my stuff down with theirs. My Skechers teammates arrived shortly after me, the one bonus of the day being that I knew all four of these gals through social media but had yet to meet them in person, so it was fun to finally make the connection.
There were two races before ours so we sat and waited (I'm not religious, but I might have said a few prayers, too). The sun was going down, so that was good. The breeze had picked up a bit, which felt lovely; a very small but welcome bonus. But, the heat and humidity were still high and thick. Around 7:20, our crew headed off to warm up. I won't lie and tell you I didn't feel pretty badass running beside my teammates in a Skechers race kit. All three of them are younger and significantly faster than me but I still felt pretty damn cool.
Karen, Me, Dave, Kelly & Sara
When we got back to our spot, I took some time to chat with a few SISU peeps who were spectating. I asked both of them why they weren't racing. One of them was just there to cheer on her boyfriend. The other, a lovely gal named Ellen, said something like, well, I did this last year and came in last. That kind of sucked so I didn't really want to put myself through that again. Oh Lordy. Knowing full well that would likely be my situation for this race, the only response I could muster up was, Oh. On the outside, I tried to remain calm, on the inside, my level of panic was at an all time high.
Around 8:15 we made our way over to the start. I tapped one of my teammates and pointed to the sky. It did not look good. The rest of the runners began to notice it, too. Something was definitely brewing, not that any of us thought we wouldn't be racing. We're runners. Come on. As we waited on the line, the race directors discussed the weather. They finally made the call to delay the race start for 20 minutes in hopes that the storm would pass through or dissipate. They told us to stay warm (not a problem) and check back in 15 minutes. A lot of moans and sighs, even a little laughter trickled throughout the group as we headed back to our spots to wait. For me, the delay was tortuous as I had been so ready to get things moving (translation....over with) and the fact that I had to manage my nerves for another 20 minutes just about did me in. As planned, we made our way back to the line at 8:45 and, despite the fact that the storm looked like it was staying put, the officials made the call to get going. It was now 9:00pm. The gun blew and we were off.
My goal for this race, which I had discussed the day before with my coach, was to run a steady 6:20-6:30 pace the whole 10,000M, hopefully coming in right around 40 minutes if not a bit under. This would be tough for me, but it was a pace I am used to holding in my workouts, so it was definitely doable. I had done a long run on Sunday and some mile repeats on Monday so I wouldn't be totally fresh, but, he reminded me, my focus should be on my marathon and this is just another workout, so I shouldn't go too hard or overdo it. Our plan, of course, was made prior to knowing that it would be the hottest day of the summer to date in Boston on race day and basically went out the window as soon as that became a reality. Given my seed time, I knew I would be at the back of the pack, if not last for most, if not all of the race. It was fine, I had accepted my fate. What I didn't want to happen was to get caught up in the fast-paced madness of the start and to crash and burn halfway through. That would suck. My first mile went fine. 6:18. Right on target. And, yes, last place. As I made my way into the second mile, my breathing got monumentally harder and the heat smacked me like a fly swatter. There were volunteers handing out water and wet sponges on the track so I grabbed a sponge and squeezed it down my back. I hung on for that second mile, but just barely. Mile 2:6:37. As I started my 9th lap, things began to fall apart. I was very far off from the rest of the pack and my brain was telling me that I should quit, that it wasn't worth it to keep fighting. And I was listening. I seriously considered dropping out at some point during mile 3. But, somehow (I have no idea how) I managed to hold on despite my slipping pace. Mile 3: 6:43. By now, I'd been lapped by the lead runners and I was just holding on. I was still in a major mental battle with myself over whether or not to step off the track. Mile 4 was ugly. 6:59. But, I had gotten through 4 miles. Sheri Piers passed me a second time at this point and said something like, 2 miles to go. Come on! Bless her. It was exactly what I needed. I was going to finish this damn race come hell or high water. I can't tell you how hard it was to hear my lap counter shouting 11 and knowing that the leader runners only had 9 left. But, my pride was now on the line and even if I had to run an entire lap on my own, I was going to make it happen. Mile 5 was done. 7:03. At this point, I knew I was going to finish. A huge wave of relief washed over me. I might have even smiled at my SISU teammates as I ran on my own, the rest of the pack all way ahead of me, the winner already finished. Was I embarrassed? A little. But I did my best to stay focused and just get it done. Mile 6 was over. 7:03 again. Final push. On my own. Just me and the track. I made it. Official finish time: 42:17 (6:48 avg).
FINISHING SOLO ON THE TRACK
Coming in dead f***ing last is a tough pill to swallow. But, I was oddly okay with it. In fact, there have been races where I've ended up on the podium but been more disappointed than I was last night. I had run with the big dogs for the first time since I started running competitively. That was huge and, for me, a real honor. I had stepped outside my comfort zone, and even though it hurt like hell, there is absolutely no doubt that it made me stronger. But, the victory for me was the fact that I didn't step off that track mid-race despite the fact that I wanted to more than anything. Afterwords, my husband asked me if I was happy. No, I told him, not really. But, I'm really proud of myself for finishing. And because of that, I felt really good. Would I do it again? No chance. That said, it was an experience like none other for me, both as a runner and in life itself, in quite some time and for that alone it was worth it. Just once. But still. Onward.
Listen to this:
Cold Water - Major Lazer