Saturday, September 18, 2010

100-Meter Darling

If I can't do anything else, I can sprint fast. That doesn't help that much in distance running, but at the end of a race, when the finish is in sight, and when there's someone in your age group you want to pass, it can come in handy.

As I've mentioned before, I'd been anticipating today's Spirit Run 5K for a long time. I've never run it before because I knew I wouldn't be very fast and didn't want to embarrass myself in front of former track teammates, and I hoped that this would be the year to not only run it, but also do really well. As it turns out, I ran it and did moderately well and feel really good about it.

I made an effort not to start out too fast. I knew what kind of hills were coming up, and I wanted to have enough energy to not only get up them, but to also stay strong for the second half of the race. I stayed behind an older man who looked like he was keeping a steady, reasonable pace. I forgot my watch at home, so I didn't have many other options for pacing myself. When the hills started, I continued to follow him, but he started to lag behind as it got steeper, and I pulled out in front of him to take on the monster. The hill on Alpine Trail was very steep and not very forgiving. It didn't seem as long to me as it had when I ran it on Labor Day, though. When I got to the top, I was so pleased to know that the worst was over, and I still had energy to keep going. From there the hills were slightly rolling, and I was soon directed onto the flat, paved path to the Alpine School. Note: This was definitely not the path I took when I tried to run the course on my own. Oops. It completely skirted the scary marsh and did not have any rocks or tree branches littering the path. Well, I know for next time. My apologies to whoever's yard I ran through the first time.

This race benefited the county's Catholic school association, so many of the participants were students from those schools, ranging from elementary to high school. I liked seeing all of the kids out there running, but I have to admit that it also made the race a little more difficult. For about 2 miles I was in the middle of a pack of 8-year-old boys who liked to speed up to pass me, hang right in front just enough to be in the way, and then speed up when I tried to pass them. So as not to interfere with traffic, we were made to run along the narrow area to the right of the white line on the side of the road, so I was stuck with them at the time I really needed to move ahead and make up time.

When I finally pulled ahead of one of them for the last time, I thought about saying something encouraging. He was talking to one of his friends, though, and it was on the last major hill, and I didn't have much breath to spare. A second later, though, a girl behind me told him that he was doing a good job. She breezed by me, and I realized with a jolt of annoyance at myself that she was probably in my age group.

Exit quiet, run-for-fun me and enter ruthless competitor me. What if I just gave up an age group prize? I told myself that I could not let her get too far in front of me. I pushed it a little to the top of the hill and tried to get as much as I could out of the downhill, which wasn't much, because I was pretty tired. We probably had less than a quarter of a mile left. I had no idea how much gas I had left in the tank, but I looked ahead at her ponytail and thought that she looked like someone who had been on the track team with me - someone whom I had run in a race with - someone I had beaten. I pushed myself into the school driveway and up to the entrance to the track. I tried to squeeze through the gate with too many other people and was slowed up. Then I was on the track and started my kick. The finish line was at the end of the straightaway - the same straightaway that I had run my single high school track race on. She was far ahead of me but wasn't sprinting. I could catch her. I had to catch her. There was nothing else in the world except her white shirt and ponytail getting closer to the finish line. If I had any stored energy left before I got to the straightaway, I burned it all in that final sprint. I don't even want to know what the race pictures look like, because I'm sure that my face was contorted into some horrible expression of agony from lack of oxygen.

And at the last possible second, I caught up to her and passed her.

I crossed the finish line alongside someone wearing the school mascot outfit (go lions!) and willed myself to stay upright and walk around the track until I caught my breath. I hadn't been paying attention to the clock, and didn't have a watch, so I didn't know my time until it was posted. It turns out that I was 4th out of 11 in the female 20-29 year age group, coming in one second before the girl in the white shirt (who was, indeed the girl I had been on the track team with). My time was 29:42.7, with a pace of 9:34 per mile. I came in 127th place overall and 43rd female.

The time is obviously not my best, but I did give it a lot of effort and had a good experience. I'm even more motivated now to do more hill work so I can tackle the monster of Alpine Trail again without slowing down so much. (And now that I won't get lost finding the Alpine School path, it will be easier running the course on my own).

One of the best things that I came away with today was the exhilaration of sprinting. It feels different when you run in the lanes of a track, and today brought me back to my beginning as a runner. I feel that, physically, I'm more naturally a sprinter than a distance-runner, and the shorter the sprint, the better. Laying it all out along the 100 meter straightaway to the finish line will always be much more natural for me than endurance running, and today it was fun to do it again and feel that it is something that I can be really good at it.

1 comment:

Forward Foot Strides said...

I would love to be able to sprint through the finish line! Once in a while adrenaline will kick in and I'll bolt towards through it, but usually I'm a bit slower towards the end. I think.