Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bringing home the hardware

I was just scrolling through my blog roll and saw a giveaway for a medal hanger. The one displayed by the blogger had 14 medals on it, and it was fun to try and guess what kind of race each one came from, given the varied shapes, sizes, and colors of the medals. I have to say, the display was very impressive. Whether they were finisher's medals or age group awards, each one signifies a great deal of training, and probably a fair amount of pain that was endured.

I've heard some people joke about racing just for the hardware, but to tell you the truth, receiving a medal really means a lot. When I was shuffling through my half-marathon in May with my hip aching, one of the things that kept me going was knowing that if I didn't get to the finish line, I wouldn't get a medal, and I wouldn't have that tangible proof that I could do it, even though I had trained so hard for so long. The motivation of knowing that I would be rewarded not just for the miles of agony I was running at that moment, but also the months that led up to it helped keep me going. And after the race, my support staff surprised me with a shadowbox with a copy of the medal, my bib, a photo, and a plaque with my time, which now reminds me daily of what an accomplishment it was to finish.

I have to admit, though, that I feel a little behind my fellow runners. Four years after my first 5k, I had one finisher's medal to my credit, and one medal would look a little pathetic on a medal hanger. I had been hoping that this summer I could improve my speed and come home with a new 5k PR and some age group awards. It didn't quite happen that way, and I've learned a little bit of a lesson.

On September 25th, I ran the Fall Foliage 5K in the town where I work. I thought that it would be an easy PR, since the course is flat, I'm familiar with the area, and being fall, the weather would be cooler. I was wrong. It was warm, and I felt tired and just drained. In the first mile, I thought that I was going out too fast, and it turns out it was 9:30. I would have been behind even if it had been a minute faster. So I tried to speed up and ended in 27:54.

I admit that I was embarrassed. I hung around for the awards ceremony and discovered that I was 3rd in the female 25-29 yr. category. That was it: my first age group medal! But I didn't feel any less embarrassed. In fact, I figured that there probably were only 3 in the category to begin with and was kind of really bummed that my first age group medal was one that I didn't really earn. (Side note: I like how in the picture of me receiving the medal, I'm shaking the woman's hand and taking the medal at the same time, and it looks like we're about to do-se-do in a square dance.) I've received some delicious homemade jam as an age group award for several races in the past, and I almost received a medal last summer, but had to leave before the awards ceremony to get ready for a friend's wedding. So for years I never had the pride of bringing home the hardware, and then there was my first, barely deserved.

Thankfully, when the official results were posted, I saw that I was 3rd out of 4 in the age group, so I feel more deserving, but I've learned that I can't expect to do well without training. I ran this summer, but I didn't train, and that made all the difference when it came time to toe the starting line.

So I have decided not to run the 8-mile Chilli Challenge trail run on Sunday that I had been planning on doing. Last week I did 8 miles easy on the road and felt very out of shape. My right leg hurt from the knee to the hip, and I'll probably injure myself if I go out on the trails for a race while I'm this undertrained. The jury's still out on the trail half-marathon next month, but I'm guessing that I might not have enough time to prepare for it.

For the time being, I'm going to stretch and cross-train more and try and run more consistently. Even if I can't get outside or do a particular prescribed workout, I've told myself that if I'm feeling well and it's not a rest day, I should do at least one mile on the treadmill, no excuses. I hope to improve my fitness, feel generally better from the extra exercise, and maybe run a turkey trot with a little more confidence than I've had this summer/fall. I'll definitely be more motivated now that I have my bronze medal hanging up to remind me of what I can earn with a little more work.

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