A tale of two races: returning to the Soldier Field 10 Miler

29 05 2012

2012 = one year older, twenty pounds lighter, almost a full minute per mile faster, and not even trying as hard as I could have.

2011 = reluctant, slightly discouraged, too slow, and not sure where I was going.

Last year, I was a rudderless runner scrambling for direction.  A lot of transitions had taken place in my life:  unexpected job change, starting my own business, a stress-eating generated weight gain, training for a marathon I wasn’t sure I wanted to run and uncertain about the future.

From the day I finished the Couch to 5k program in December 2008, I knew running would be an integral part of my existence for as long as I had the legs to do it.  I just hadn’t anticipated how to manage it when life turned upside down.  “Fun running” has never been my thing, and I’m always training for an event.  Having a deadline keeps me going and signing up for races is now as automatic as breathing.  Choosing the 26.2 distance when I was ill-suited to take on any extra challenge was not the wisest decision to make, and it didn’t take me long to realize that.  An excerpt from my 2011 blog entry speaks to my disconcerted mindset:

  • “… lining up in my corral behind the “14:00/mile” sign, I note that I am ensconced by the rest of the old, the fat and the slow. Or to quote one of my favorite movies:  Mohammed, Jugdish, Clayton, Sidney and Flounder.
  • “It reminds me that although I am extremely grateful to this old body for getting me here and that just by showing up I have already bested those who never left the couch, I still have a long way to go.
  • “Being back here in what is tantamount to the short bus of running at once comforts and shames me.  Two years ago I ran 12:00-13:00 paces depending upon the distance.  Now I’m older, fatter, slower — both embarrassed and determined to get fast enough again to return to this event or another with a better position next year.”

The 2:32:23 finish (15:15 per hour) was one of many moments in 2011 when I learned what it felt like to fall short of my own expectations.

Flash forward one year, and many things have changed.  Financial issues remain in the mix and being my own boss is a roller coaster ride but at least I’m used to it now.  Twenty of the unwanted pounds have been shed through a 180 turn from fast food and junk.  I’m training for a half marathon that I am looking very forward to, and running is back where it belongs as a central focus of my life.  Without so many other matters in flux, I have more resilience for the ups and downs of being an elderly newbie in the world of competitive athletics.

So I showed up at the 2012 Soldier Field 10 Miler on a day predicted to be uncomfortably warm with a left ankle/Achilles tendon that might have been equally uncomfortable with the distance.  I’ve had tendonitis intermittently for years due to a succession of bad sprains and strains which has bequeathed me a calcific network of scar tissue that occasionally becomes problematic.  A recent jump in long run miles caused the sleeping injury to awaken and it has become colicky baby of my life once again.  But on this day it wasn’t.

Standing in the corrals behind the “14:00/mile” sign this year, I felt neither regret nor resentment.  I was just there and ready to make the best of it, which turned out to be the perfect mindset.  When we finally got underway I resisted the temptation to start out too quickly, remembering my intention to use the first mile as a warm-up to save extra strain on the tendon.  I looked around as I usually do and picked out a few runners to use as inspiration, some of whom I wanted to pass and others merely to keep pace with.  In the back of my mind, I hoped to beat my previous finish by a full ten minutes – one minute per mile – but I knew that might be an issue for the tendon.

The day was cool and overcast:  a true gift from the weather deities since the forecast had been for mid-80s.  As the first 5 miles passed under my feet and my energy level remained steady, I began to hopefully calculate my mileage splits.  I didn’t want to get too ambitious and push the tendon so hard as to endanger a healthy arrival at the start of the Anchorage half-marathon.

By mile 6, I began to feel some fatigue but I shook it off and kept on going.  I’d done a few 10k races in recent months and my body was used to that distance.  Mile 7 came and the thought that I was just 5k away from the finish kept me shoving my body along.  “You can do a 5k in your sleep,” I told myself.  I was passing some of the runners I’d started with and this gave me cautious courage.  Then at Mile 8, I could hear the music from the stadium.  I let visions of the finish block out how badly I wanted to slack off.  By Mile 9, I was really pushing.  The easy run at 12:00/mile and walk at 14:30 had fallen apart miles ago.  I would sprint a bit and then walk along further.  When I caught myself walking too slowly, I would surge forward again.  I was beating last year’s finish and there would be no shame this year.  Short of a screaming pain from my leg, there was no way I was going to let myself stop.  Finally there it was: the entrance to Soldier Field and a mere sprint through the underground to finish on the 50.

2:23:33 after starting, with a pace of 14:22 per mile, I hopped across the finish line and curtseyed for the crowd as they announced my name on the loudspeaker.  Almost ten minutes faster than 2011 and without aggravating a nagging injury, I wiped the slate clean of last year’s embarrassment.  I’m ready for anything now.  And I think I even looked cute on the Jumbotron.

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