So, today I ran my first Celtic Solstice 5 Mile run. This was a race where I had few expectations as I had never run a 5 mile race before. The two official 10K races I ran in 2012, the best pace I could manage was a 6:58. Of my recent 5K's, I had managed to pull myself back down to a 6:10. So I figured somewhere in between. My friend and track training partner, Lauren had run a 6:40 pace last year. She wasn't sure she could repeat. One running calculator took my 6:10 from the 5K and projected it to a 6:24 for 5 miles. I set a more realistic goal of an average 6:30 pace for covering 5 miles in 32:30. I even have a text to another training partner to prove it. And so, that is what I went to the race thinking. My preparation was months of speed workouts. My preparation was easing back in after three days this week of not running. My preparation was thinking about the gift God has given me. And to quote Eric Liddell's character in Chariots of Fire as I have before,
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.I'm no where near as fast as Eric Liddell. But God made me fast. And God made me someone who likes to tell stories. And God made me someone who likes to connect the dots (which I suppose is just part of the art of telling stories.) And when you combine all three of those you end up with someone who prepares to run and ponder and write and share.
I got to Druid Hill park and parked at the zoo. It's around a mile and a half from the zoo to the Stieff Silver building where the race begins. I walked it to warm up my body. Good choice. And after I checked my bag, I saw the circle up. At every event attended by Back on My Feet runners there is a circle up. This was no exception. Great camaraderie. Great recitation of the Serenity Prayer. And great to see friends I had not seen in a while.
Then we lined up to start. One reason I did not stay longer in the warm tent (especially since I ran in shorts today at about 34 degrees!) was that I didn't want to get caught too far back from the start. So, I ended up in a position that had me walk/jog for 10 seconds from where I was standing until I crossed the timing line. Not too bad.
While we waited until 8:36 for what was supposed to be an 8:30 start all kinds of things went on. Some runners nearby were debating which way the timing chip is supposed to face. Everyone was excited. And just before the race started, a few guys playing bagpipes came through with all the runners parting like the Red Sea. They were accompanied by the runners who had done the race every year. Then things began.
I am not sure whether I hit the button to start and stop my watch twice but as I was cruising along the first mile and feeling pretty good, I eventually heard my watch beeping at me. This was after the start of the race ascending the hill from Stieff Silver into the park and running on a road I'd never run on before. Overcast, 34 degrees, no wind. I couldn't complain. But the beeping told me my watch was about to go into non-stop watch mode. That threw me--but not too much as it had happened before and I was hoping to run more by feel today. Another part of preparation. Knowing that God is there to take care of me. Knowing that part of my gift from God is to be able to feel the pace.
So, I restarted my watch at about the 1 mile mark. My watch didn't match exactly with the mile markers, but I know it is a certified course. So it should be exactly 5 miles. I deduced that the first mile was kind of slow--6:43. My watch had the others at 6:26, 6:22, 6:17, and 6:15 with another 27 seconds before I hit the finish line. Even dividing the extra 27 seconds over the last four miles in any way, it is clear that not going out too fast was the best thing I could have done for myself! Negative splits in a 5 miler was helped by the early part being mostly up and the later part being mostly down, but it is a great way to run a race.
As I ran, there were three people whom I was surprised to pass. I passed someone who had beaten me soundly in a 5K (15 seconds ahead). I was surprised to pass him in mile 3 and go on to be a minute ahead at the finish. The other person who beat me in the same 5K beat me soundly again. Then, I passed one friend who can run faster than me on a good day near the end of mile 3. But he has not been at his best for a while. And I was very surprised to pass someone who usually outruns me in everything shorter than 20 mile runs during mile 4. I didn't lose more than one or two places in the last mile.
And I ended up with exactly what I predicted. I never have done that before. And that was despite my watch problems.
So what did I learn? Physical preparation helps. Especially when I was running the last mile and a half and just asking--when will it be over? I knew I had done workouts nearly as challenging and there was no reason to give in.
Being at ease spiritually certainly helps. I went in knowing what a gift today was. The gift of a Saturday morning without other responsibilities. The gift of reasonable weather. The gift of no snow. The gift of good friends. And the gift of legs to carry me at a pace that was my best 5K pace as recently as September 2012.
Having people you know to chase helps. I won't always beat them. But having people around me whom I know and can try to catch really does help.
Have a course I am reasonably familiar with helps. Just another part of preparation.
So I end this week with many blessings. The blessing of having shared a bit about my faith and its meaning as evidenced in the Advent Wreath. The blessing of having had a great run. The blessing of having had someone return my iPhone holder with my JHU ID. The blessing of having joined with friends for a wonderful wine tasting this afternoon. The blessing of having heard my son play in a concert incredibly well. And the blessing of just having the chance to do so much of what makes me who I am.
That is the greatest blessing of all. To have a weekend that let me be me. In all that I do. And in all that I have a chance to appreciate.
For that, I thank those around me. Friends from work. Friends from my kids school. Fellow runners. Fellow bloggers. People who took pictures. My boys. My wife.
What a wonderful way to transition from preparation to joy--the third candle on the advent wreath.