We can always use more. We have too much time on our hands. We waste time. We save time. We burn time. And in a romantic sense we may even "make time". But what is time really?
Time is a number. Scientists much smarter that I say time is relative. Five minutes for you may seem like seven minutes to me. Our reality is clouded by perception and included by emotion. Time drags. Time flies. Am I really having fun??? You get the picture.
I drove to Charleston this morning with a goal in mind. Run this 5k in under 19 minutes. Doable but iffy should anything not go well. Weather, the crowd, the stomach, the nerves, etc. But I told myself to imagine a lonely road. An empty field where I am the only competitor. I know I will not win (that guy set a course record at 15.06) but winning was not the goal. Beating the time established in my head was the goal. I wanted to know what I am capable of by running this race. I have successful shut out the mind during long runs. When the mind screams stop my legs respond GO! But this time the mind would have to win the battle. It would cry out GO GO GO! The legs would be uncertain. Is the pace too much? Is the distance too far for the lungs to handle? Questions of the body to be ignored by the mind. My singular focus was the clock at the finish line.
Things started out curiously enough. I hate to sound snobbish or elitist or anything of the sort but some people need to be a little further back of the starting line. A ten year old planted himself right in front of me. From the start he tried to go but I needed to get around him and was boxed in. He burned up after 100 yards and fell away. I guess my biggest fear in any race is getting tangled up and having a spill. I hope the kid finished well though.
After a half-mile I pulled up with what I guess was a high school kid. Great effort and easy stride. I tried matching my breath to his and really zero in on my form. Was I leaning properly. Heel striking or full foot striking. Were my arms swinging in the slot or waving about wildly? I could leave a occasional surge and slight fall-back. The first mile was 5.39, a personal best EVAR!!!
I stayed with the high schooler (???) for a while. By the half way point I figured we were friends (sharing an epic surge through this lovely community) and I asked "are you going flat out or saving a kick for the end?" I wanted to know if I would be able to use him to pace me through the finish line if I needed the "rabbit". He responded that he was going all out AND hoped to sprint to the finish. Opposing statements but he had courage. At this point I know I am really scooting along and appreciate the effort all around me. I being encourage my running mate and others on the course. "WAY TO GO!" "KEEP IT UP!" "COME ON RED BIKILAS! TURN IT OVER!" Encouraging others, even as some runners past me, kept me in the game. Positive karma would have to pay dividends. Second mile was a bit slower at 6.07 and 11.48 after two miles. Still on pace for a personal best.
Suddenly the high schooler was gone. But I was not the once left behind. And "Red Bikilas" fell back too. That guy from The Citadel did hit 6th gear and disappeared. I thought he fell off the course till I realized how far ahead he was and that he was shielded by another runner ahead of me.
I made the final turn with only a half mile left to go. At this point the course is a two way street. Thousands of walkers are making there way out. I am heading in "hot". I did what I thought was the most appropriate thing to do at that moment. I began raising my arms. Like a linebacker or defensive back trying to get the home crowd into the game. Get that emotional lift. The best thing about being close to the front is also the best thing about being last. You are usually alone or with just a few others. People see your struggle. They recognize the effort. And my gesture was met with a roar and cheers and screams of encouragement that propelled down that final straight-away. The third mile ticked off at 5.58. 17.43 with one tenth of a mile to go.
I have run long straight-aways before. My first 5k of the year in March featured to long segments. And that final one was looong. On that day I knew I was in good position and hoped to medal (of course they only handed out firsts in overall and age group categories and I was fourth, behind another guy in my age group). I did not look back for fear that I would see something I did not like and would falter. Today was different. I was not racing a person. I was racing time. Did I have enough? Did I use too much?
I honestly do not think I could run any faster today. Form and endurance can improve. The lungs and throat are a little burnt from the pace, but I'll live.
That pre-race goal was sub-19. I wanted to believe. I hoped against hope. But I was ready to concede defeat to the clock if you caught me in an honest moment prior to the race. However it is days like today that you truly see what you're made of.
18.31 beats my previous personal best by more than a minute and a half. That translates to 5.53 minutes per mile according to the official time keeper. I averaged less than six minutes per mile over the five kilometers (3.1 miles). I don't know how long it will take for that to sink in. And to realize that I could absolutely do no better than that. I won my age group, by 64 seconds. I was also three minutes behind third overall. No complaints and no criticisms. Just sweet satisfaction.
Now I'm off to celebrate with friends in running. I hang with a good group. They understand the desire and commitment to push beyond. I may never hit 18.31 again. But I did it today.
In the weeks ahead I have half-marathon and a full marathon. I am leading a pace group for the half. I am on someone else's clock. Personal goals take a back seat to the needs of others. Maybe I can help someone to a PR, or an age group award.
The marathon is another story. I have Boston on my mind. I might not make the time. And I might never be able to make the trip. But I will certainly make the effort.