So. A week ago I was happily trundling along on another training run when Melissa Hinton, Stephen Scott and I were joined by a young Triathlete in our club called Manuela Corrales and the pace picked up. This somewhat innocuous event triggered a train of thought that led me to be catapulted into my first race since Dunn’s run last October. Little did I know as we picked up our knees in repsonse to Manuela’s pace that this would lead to me racing for the first time in 5 months.
As I slowly worked my way back to running fitness these past weeks the thought of how I might race again had crossed my mind a few times. Indeed, I even thought I might not race again such was my lack of pace and general running fitness.That said, I stuck to the plan and ground out an incresingly long series of runs culminating in an eight mile effort on the weekend before the race. Racing was the farthest thing from my mind during these weeks of rehabilitation!!!!
As we stretched and imbibed our recovery drinks after completing the eight miler my running partner that day, Melissa, came up witht the crazy thought that I should join her and Bill, her husband, for a 5K they were planning to run in a weeks time. I immediately said ‘why not!’. It was only after this that I thought to myself……….’what have I done?’. I had not run a speed session for more than eight months. Up to the point where I suffered the knee injury I had been slowly grinding to a halt as accumulated niggles, the strain of a marathon and years of training week in week out took their toll. A race? I had almost forgotten what this was. My only nod in the direction of races was to acknowledge the efforts of my friends during a cool winter in Florida where many great times had been posted. I , of course, was not doing this and to a degree I blocked out the fact I was missing the major part of the racing season.
A week later I raced !!! Under Melissa’s tutelage I ran two speed oriented sessions in the week before the race so as to be ‘ready’ to go ! I am not sure what ‘ready’ really meant but I approached the race with caution. To get under 24 minutes seemed a reasonable aim after such a long layoff from racing. Melissa had the same goal in mind as she had been injured too.
The morning of the race came. Once again I found myself in the tender grip of pre race euphoria. It never fails to fill me with tingling anticipatory energy. There is something magical for me about getting up at an early hour and preparing for a race during the quiet sleeping hours. Of course, I followed the same ritual of laying out my kit the night before and packing my race bags in a certain way before setting off for the race. I love knowing that the world sleeps as I ready myself to run. The prospect of a race adds to this wonderful emotion.
To be a runner in Florida where early starts are a required fact of life is to be exposed to the world at its most peaceful, a time when the natural world takes back the earth for a few fragile hours before the madness of humanity launches itself headlong into another day. To run in Florida is to experience the quietness of the fringes of the Everglades, in our case, and to see the stars in a way that we do not normally experience. I love those dark murky hours. The wonder of my environment often serves to takes my mind off the stultifying humidity of South Florida.
As I got into my car I was so thrilled to be entering a race again. Such was my euphoria that I got up FAR too early. I got to the FAU campus so early in fact, that they had only just begun to set up the packet pick up tent. I called Bill and Melissa. They, of course, were still getting out of bed because they are sane, normal people! I agreed to get their packets and save them a spot in the parking lot !!! There were, of course, spots aplenty. The picture says it all, but it is the thought that counts…..Bill asked for a spot with a view after seeing the initial picture of the space I was holding for them. A view I thought. I obliged !!!! Apparently he meant an ocean view. Me pictured standing in the spot which I then texted to them as they drove to the race venue did not ‘cut it’ apparently. Some people are really fussy !
On their arrival we warmed up for the race and greeted a number of race friends who noted that Melissa and I had been absent for some time from the race circuit. Well, yes!! This was comeback day. We set off on a slow mile warm up and then made our way to the start line. It was a low key race. This was a deliberate choice that Melissa and I made as we wanted to avoid too much scrutiny in case we really messed up.
I will cut to the race. Unlike the previous weekend where the A1A half marathon started in a cool 53 degrees, we faced the mid 70′s and bright sun on a largely exposed course. The anthem was sung, this time beautifully I might add. We readied for the start. The usual fidgeting with watches, fist touching and utterances of good luck gave way to the ear splitting sound of the starters gun. We set off at a lively pace. Too lively it seemed. Mile one was about 20 seconds quicker than we had planned. I concluded that muscle memory and the pace of other runners had carried us along. Soon our lungs reminded us of the fact that we were severly undertrained. Mile two was a little more realistic and mile three humbled us both but we gritted our teeth and ran to the end. The final half a mile had at least three acute twists and turns. Thankfully I had no speed today so it didn’t bother greatly. As I approached the finish I saw the time and I picked up my knees. My watch stopped at 23:35 and thus it was that my first race in five months was complete. I , with Melissa and Bill had done it !!! Maybe not as fast as in the past ( nearly three minutes slower in fact) but this was a mark in the sand. A point from which I could build. I had run a race and got that particular burden off my mind. I was back and now the work begins to regain my speed and joy of racing.
I used to think a 5K was a fun little thing. This is a fair assertion when core fitnness and endurance have been practised. Today we had little more than our inate running ability and a couple of weeks of decent preparation. Somehow we got through but were reminded of how brutal a 5K is when fitness is not what it should be.
I am grateful to my good friends, the Hinton’s, for pushing me to do this. An age group win for us Melissa and I, albeit against thin opposition, is a nice way to come back. It is uplifting to the soul of a runner to be back in the flow……….today we did it. Thanks Bill and Melissa …………and Manuela Corrales