I just had to know.
As I woke up on Tuesday morning and glanced at the outdoor thermometer in our bathroom, the readout showed 54 degrees. Making Tuesday the coldest morning in Austin since May 5th.
On the schedule was a 10K tempo run. A workout that I have had in my training plan for the past two months with the specific goal of breaking the 40 minute mark at the IBM Uptown Classic 10K on October 17th.
39:59 equates to a 6:26 pace for 6 miles, 385 yards.
Based on my recent 5K time of 18:12 posted twice this summer at the Cougar Country Classic and NOCC Balance 5K, a sub 40:00 minute 10K should be possible given all of the hard work we have been putting in. My confidence has been growing with each passing week of training.
I’ve been running strong, hitting those hill repeats each and every Thursday and comfortably finishing each workout before moving on to the next. All recent signs have been very positive.
But still, when I would think about IBM the same two questions would arise:
In the past I have written about the fragile mental state of the distance runner. As my good friends Sean, Winston, Bob, Brian and others are firmly in their marathon taper for races on October 10th, I think about what they are going through right now.
No matter if it is your first marathon like Sean who is running for Dom at Chicago or Winston running his 29th marathon with the goal of running a sub 3:00 hour marathon at the age of 50. Pre-race “jitters” affect all of us. You spend so much time preparing for a single race, as that day approaches, the enormity starts to really sink in. There are no “do-overs”, just a single moment for it all to come together – or not.
In most cases marathoners will run 90 training runs covering more than 700 miles in preparing for race day. As those workouts shrink in length and intensity closer to marathon morning, your mind starts to play tricks on you. You start to question every little snap, crackle and pop from your knees and ankles. You also start to wonder about your carefully crafted training plan. Did I work hard enough? Could I have done more?
For me, the true source of this uneasiness comes from the difference between thinking I can do something and “knowing” it.
The only way for me to absolutely “know” I can achieve a race day goal is by previously hitting that mark.
From the time I spent stretching on the family room floor, to letting Kayla outside and finally stretching my calves against the garage, I could not shake loose from the number – 39:59.
I just had to know.
So with very little fanfare, I decided that Tuesday morning was the time. Avery Ranch was the place. I was going for it. Thinking about it, there was not a whole lot of downside. The course I was going to run was the same as my hill repeats. It would not be “flat and fast”. I would have to climb up and down more than 185 feet of elevation changes.
I would be running by myself. No crowds, bib number or timing chip. No race day “mojo” to get the competitive juices flowing. Just me, my garmin and 6.2 miles.
If I missed the 39:59 I could explain it away pretty easily that it was the course, the fact I was running alone, that there was no one to push me, no one for me to chase, no real reward waiting for me at the end of the ten kilometers.
But if I made it. What if I actually made it?
I just had to know.
I ran a short little loop in front of the house to shake loose a bit, less than 3/10 of a mile. Not a true warm-up, not like I would run on race day, but enough so that I would not risk straining anything over the first mile.
As I reached the driveway I punched the GPS on my wrist and thought to myself – “you wanted to know, so let’s find out”.
The cooler morning temperature really agreed with my stride and my breathing. I felt strong immediately heading up the 44 foot climb over mile number 1. As I hit the top of the neighborhood I heard the beep on my GPS watch and glanced at the dial under the street lamp.
A 6:17 first mile. Not a bad start.
Mile two essentially backtracks to our home, then starts the ascent into mile number three. My breathing and leg turnover still felt good, but I decided to back off just a hair as we would have to climb a bit in both mile 3 and 5. I didn’t want to burn out to quickly.
Mile number two came in at 6:24. Two seconds faster than our race goal.
Mile three is a 4-story ascent into our neighboring subdivision. The climb is very gradual which makes it feel a bit easier than it is. I knew that managing mile three and four just like on race day would be key. I wanted to hit it hard, but still stay in control.
6:21 for mile three. Can I really do this I thought?
Mile number four is a mixed bag as the first quarter-mile is still uphill, then a nice 4/10 of a mile downhill section where we run our hill repeats on Thursdays. I wanted to back down the effort just a bit on mile 4 so I would have some strength left to make the climb back up on mile 5. That was going to prove to be the really challenging part of the run. It was all about mile 5.
Mile four came in at 6:24. Another :02 in the bank.
As I started mile 5 I mentally broke it into three parts. The first climb would last about 1/5 of a mile, followed by a short downhill section to catch my breath. From there I would be staring at 4/10 of a mile straight uphill to the top of the neighborhood, “Hill Repeat Hill”. If we could keep it together here and not lose too much time we had a shot.
Mile 5 frankly felt like a race. I tried to pick out the landmarks that I use on Thursdays. The black stripe on the road ¼ of the way up the hill. The bushes that mark the half-way point. The neighborhood mailboxes that are ¾ of the way to the top and then the final street lamp that marks the end of our hill repeat. At the top of the hill we made our right onto the road heading for home and the GPS sounded.
6:33 for mile 5. It was all downhill from here.
I felt both my legs and my breathing start to change. What had felt “comfortably hard” was now simply “difficult”. This is where the lack of “race day mojo” was really going to hurt. I passed a neighbor walking their dog on the side of the road and managed a “good morning” and pushed on.
I felt “fast” but it is amazing how different your feelings are from reality at the end of a tough run or race. The GPS beeped marking just 2/10 of a mile to go.
Mile 6 came in at 6:19, only :02 slower than our opening mile.
Just .20 miles to go and I searched for my finishing kick. This was very encouraging as there actually was something there when I reached back for it. I covered the final 2/10 of a mile in 1:14 – 5:57 pace.
As I hit the stop timer on my GPS and slowed to a jog I glanced down at my watch.
20 seconds to spare, 6:24 pace.
It was like Alice traveling through the looking-glass as what once seemed only “possible” became “achievable”. I am smart enough to know that one run does not mean that all future runs will go as smoothly. A lot of things have to come together on race day for you to truly run your best.
Last year’s Boston Marathon taught me that and then some.
But I have to say I will be pinning on that bib at IBM with some serious confidence. Now I know that I have that kind of race in me. It is just a matter of channeling that “mojo” on race day and preparing for an uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful 39 minutes and 40 seconds.
Now if Dom can pull a few strings for me and arrange for cool temps and low winds I feel like we really have a great shot at this thing.
Thank you in advance Dom! I know you’ll be there for me at IBM, I’m sure you wouldn’t miss it for the world.