Today, I ran 4 miles for the first time since my last 20 mile workout on October 18. You may ask, "Why the wait? Don't runners usually make a point to keep up once they are on a roll?" And of course, that would usually be correct. But that twenty miler was run at about the same pace that I had run a marathon one week earlier and I had been paying for it ever since. Specifically, I pretty much run only one workout any longer than one mile since then. And that was on Tuesday this past week. So I drove to the Harford Community College for the 7th Annual Heather Hurd 5K on this beautiful sunny morning with almost no expectations on the run other than one--to do the best that I could.
After arriving with just a half hour to spare (not typical for me when preparing for a race) and greeting the two organizers (whom I have gotten to know after participating in this 5K every year since 2011), I had a chance to take an easy mile of warmup. That mile felt good. As I was finishing my mile, I heard the Star Spangled Banner being played. I stopped before finishing my warmup. Then, it was less than ten minutes till the race.
I lined up with everyone else and made my way to near the front. I heard someone next to me talking about having run 29 minutes in her last 5K. That sounded like a major accomplishment for her, but I was planning to go a bit faster. However, I didn't want to push too hard. In the five years of running this race, I've finished close to the top each time and actually won the race one year when it was much smaller. This year I figured it would be good to line up near but not in the front as I did not plan to go out too fast.
Nevertheless, when I began I was doing quite nicely. I felt strong. I felt nothing in my leg. And I was not too close to the front. After we cleared the first couple of turns, I settled in. And as we approached the hill that is near one of the turn around points on the course, I passed two people. I think that was the last time I passed anyone (or got passed) on the course. I was tenth at the turn around. Easy to count at that point. My first mile came through in 6:05. That was not what I had planned, but so far, so good.
The second mile was a little slower. I began to feel a little of the tension in the right knee area but now enough to be a major concern. Mile 2 was out at the main road after a combination of uphills and downhills. I remember the one hill leading in the direction of the main road that had seemed pretty big when I ran the race last year. It was nice because I just ran through it this year. It was the second hill that I had run through more easily than I'd expected. Mile 2 done in 6:35. A bit slower but still feeling good.
Then, in Mile 3, I held pace. The guy who was one ahead of me started looking back with about a mile left. He looked over his shoulder multiple times for about the next quarter to half mile. I didn't have the energy to pull up closer to him, but mile 3 was in 6:28. That was a good sign that I didn't lose my pace and even gained a little back. Still not as fast as the first mile, but a good showing.
I finished in 19:50. Certainly slower than my best on the course. But by no means a bad showing. Yes, slower than the 19:16 last year or the 19:10 of the year before. But I didn't have any issues like this year's knee issues in either of the last two years and I didn't have a nearly two week hiatus before the run either of the last two years.
So, what did I learn? I ask this because I think there are life lessons in almost every run and certainly in every race. And a book on leadership that I am reading suggested reflecting every day and thinking about what I have learned from specific experiences.
Here is what I learned.
First, the human body can do some amazing things. A coach suggested to me that with four days of complete rest (which I sort of did as I took four out of five days with rest with just the one day at 2.6 miles on the second of those five days). And, yes, my body is most of the way better. The key is to have trust. Trust that there can be improvement.
Second, I learned that even when I have no expectations, I can get a pretty good result. And sometimes, it is best to have no expectations. Then, there is no disappointment. Rather there is only the joy of living in and experiencing the present. With whatever it reveals. And since I was still first in my age group even with the less than perfect performance, I was quite happy. The only expectation was to do my best. And if I always do that with integrity, what more could I ask for?
Third, even when I know there is a risk of overdoing something, I still tend to go without abandon. I can't remember the last time I ran a 6:04 mile. I never expected to run a 6:04 mile. I keep telling myself not to push too hard or too far too soon. But I ran the 6:04 feeling just fine. I gave also recently written about being "all in." Well, today I was certainly all in the race. I haven't lost that at all. And, again, sometimes it is easier to be all in when I just let life be rather than coming at something with high levels of expectations all hyped up.
Finally, it was a lesson in finishing. No, I didn't finish at the same space I started. but I did finish with a strong effort and I made sure to keep running until the end of the race. I kept at the task until it was complete.
Each of these is lessons is key for my running. And it is also key for my life in general. Have faith in coming back even after a setback. Set aside expectations and live in the moment with a commitment just to do my best. Go all out. And complete the task. In running. In work. In family life. In friendship. In general.
Seeing each event in life in the context of a lesson to learn in a moment is pretty empowering. Now to just be careful as I continue on my path toward an even bigger goal. An even longer run. An even more amazing adventure from which I am sure I will learn quite a bit.
The bigger the run. The bigger the lesson.