March is my month. Unpredictable and messy, full of madness and hope. Gradually, at unpredictable points, runners start to come out. Some have been running outdoors in elaborate layers all winter long, some have been treadmilling, some have been skiing or spinning, most have been doing whatever mix helps them pull through.
At the Irish 8K in St. Paul, the start area is always a grumbling chorus of “I’m so out of shape.” In no time, we’ll find the “out of shape” is all relative. The team circuit racers are superstars comparing themselves to super-superstars and nowhere near out of shape, though we all imagine ourselves the only exception. We really ought to knock it off, this business of complaining about how woefully undertrained we are while leaving plenty of runners in the slush, but it’s tradition.
I hate to break tradition, so I signed up for the 8k last-minute on Wednesday, after the forecast showed the wintry-mix storm would likely hold off, without giving much thought to the fact that I’ve done almost no outdoor running in the past three months. I used to train year round, but now two days shy of my 40-what birthday (48, shhh) and starting my 14th year of running, my body doesn’t absorb the amount of training I did at my sub-20 5K peak. Goal #1 is staying strong and able to run these great races for years to come. (I will write MUCH more on this subject in future posts.)
I headed to Run N Fun St. Paul Thursday night to pick up my shirt and bib. For the first time, I did miss O’Gara’s a little bit; that had provided a bit closer spot for pickup. Then Barb reminded me that because there was no O’Gara’s, there would be no beer. I wouldn’t really miss the beer, and it’s not really the best recovery beverage, but darn, that was a free beverage. Barb cheered me immediately by giving me the shirt – a nice black long-sleeve this year – and telling me the discounts in the clearance room had been increased to 50% off everything.
While browsing clearance, I saw my awesome teammate Amy, and Steve of Steve-In-A-Speedo blog fame. They discussed the weather without much concern. Amy planned extra miles on Saturday and Steve planned a fun race report. I always feel I’m the only one who frets about these things. The sale clothing was a welcome distraction. Wool shirts, do we still need them? No, I optimistically bought sweat-wicking briefs instead. Steve found a fabulously bold pair of shoes.
Early to bed that night, I slept well, much better than I usually do on a pre-race night, but woke on race morning to familiar tummy rumbling. I took deep breaths. I have tummy issues.* I started eating better in the fall, and starting in December I zoned in on mental health, stress management and mindfulness to strengthen the mind-body connection. When I started hard workouts again in January, I noticed improvements in focus. I was slower, but trusted my rate of perceived effort, and the workouts progressed without strain. I still had my doubts about racing. Last fall, the normal race-day jitters escalated to near-panic, for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Is three months of therapy enough? Deep breaths, deep breaths, and more deep breaths as I drove to St. Paul. Many deep breaths as I jogged to the start.
Suddenly I thought, this is going to be awesome. I started seeing other runners. Awesome runners! On an awesome day! The wind was brisk, but it was going to be at our backs after the turnaround. Luck of the Irish! On my way through the Whole Foods parking lot, where our bag drop tent would be, I saw my neighbor Evan, and we had some laughs about this glamorous sport that lets us store our belongings alongside parking lots. We love it.
The formidable Mill City Running team came out in force. This team is growing impressively. They have tons of spirit.
Not sure where to line up at the start, I positioned myself well behind Kara, who is fastest in my age group by far. That didn’t work out very well. I suspect she also started farther back than she had to, and is better at jockeying for position in the first half mile. My start-out pace, after the dicey start with the steep short hill and slushy turns, was 7:47 – oops, time to pick it up. I passed people cautiously, reminding those I recognized that it was going to feel much easier after the turnaround. The Miles to Marathon team were out cheering, and coach Ron spotted me with a “Hey, great to see you running!” We started to see the faster runners coming back, looking splendid. By this point the high had kicked in, and I shouted encouragement – “Go Dan! … Way to go Melissa! … Go Sonya!” until I realized I was using considerable energy shouting. After the turnaround I turned it up a notch and turned in a 7:08 mile – Yeah! Though I don’t think that’s faster than I ran the whole darn thing last year.
Still, I’ll count this as a success. I got what I wanted – a fresh start and a chance to run free and joyful again. The best part of all was the long cool-down with teammates. I had a chance to chat with our wonderfully understanding and motivating Queen Sonya, Awesome Amy turned in another 11 miles (!), and Joelle and I got in a cool-down that was longer than the race itself, so for me this counts as a long run day also.
*Note on tummy issues: Because this is an athlete’s blog, I am allowed to talk about bodily functions, if not outright obliged and expected to do so. Daily exertion brings the natural facts of life to the forefront. Okay? So I was all set to regale you with a story of multiple panicky trips to the bathroom that would cause me to nearly miss the start (which has happened in the past). But it didn’t happen today. Also new, I didn’t feel sick at the finish, and though I’d had a beet shot, I didn’t have beeturia (pink pee from beets). I’m going to take that as a good sign. And I promise, if I ever get the beeturia again, I won’t take a picture of it.
All sorts of good signs today! Hopefully more signs of spring, hope and renewal are on their way. The next possible race is a super bargain – the free-to-members Lake Johanna 4 mile, which I am also going to leave to a last-minute decision. Stay tuned! And thanks to all who were part of today’s positive energy!
Update, Already: The results are in, and show me with a blistering time of 36:26, a 7:20 pace overall. I’m going to try not to think about the days when I could run 7-minute miles for a half-marathon. Incredibly, this gets me second in my age group. The aforementioned Kara beat me by about 5 1/2 minutes, same margin as last year’s Victory 10K. We’ll keep our eye on her – if she continues at this rate, she’ll be smashing more records this year.