Running goals (of the big hairy audacious kind)
I suspect that most people who dare to call themselves “runners” eventually set themselves some running goals. Yes, it’s fun just being out there in nature, being fully present in the moment, getting in touch with all the weird things one’s body does while in motion, and basking in the runner’s high during and after the run. But as I’ve confessed here, I have kept a spreadsheet log of every mile since I began this odyssey in October 2008. The file itself is actually a couple of years older than that, and it’s still named “Daily Walks.xlsx”. Athough I’ve deleted all the records from those early days when even walking was a difficult but meaningful activity, I’ve kept the name as a reminder of just how far I’ve come.
I proudly call myself a Slow Happy Runner. I picked the half marathon as my race distance because I knew from the outset that I was never going to be fast; I had too much to overcome between my seriously messed-up left foot and my loose-jointed, wobbly knees and ankles. But persisting, slowly and steadily, one step at a time over 13.1 miles seemed like something I could do. When I registered for my first half marathon, I figured I was maybe capable of finishing in about three hours. I studied the prior year’s results from the hometown race I’d selected, and figured that would land me well ahead of the slowest people in my age/gender group, so it seemed like a reasonable goal.
I didn’t have a clue how to train, so I pushed way too hard too soon. Two weeks before that race I ran 13.6 miles and literally hobbled the last mile back to my car. I’d noted my time at 13.1, and I’d missed the three hour mark by a mere 30 seconds. But both knees were screaming at me, and I literally could not walk without screaming pain for more than a month after that.
When I started to run again, I started VERY slowly. I resigned myself to 14 minute miles. I allowed Kurt to buy me really ugly knee braces a week before my first race, two years ago here in Palm Springs, because I so much wanted to run the danged race but I was so scared of injuring myself again. In the weeks preceding the race, I never ran more than 5.69 miles — unlike my first attempt, I was way undertrained for this race. As a result, I hit the wall big time at 11.5 miles and dragged myself to the finish and a 3:10 time… slow, but NOT LAST! Around a 14:30 pace.
Four months later in June 2010 I finally ran my hometown North Olympic Discovery half marathon, and despite the hilly course I managed to run that one in 3:05 — down to about a 14:10 pace. Improvement! A new PR!! Okay, so I was hooked, and the 3-hour barrier seemed within reach again.
Then Kurt got sick, and I stopped thinking about running goals. As I’ve written here before, I ran to keep myself sane and give myself a time and place to cry. I registered for NODM again last June and arranged for respite care the day of the race. I figured I’d be happy just to finish, running on 3 hours sleep. So I ran a 2:55. The 3-hour barrier smashed!! Another new PR!!! And Kurt died four days later.
Sometime last summer I seriously embraced running for its restorative powers and as something that drew and grew me outwards from my grief. I figured I might run the perfectly flat Victoria BC half marathon in 2:45 or so. I ran it in 2:40 (a 12:15 pace), and I considered it some sort of never-to-be-repeated miracle.
But I was inspired. So I set myself three “lifetime probably impossible” goals:
- Sub-30 minute 5k — really tough because realistically that means stringing together three sub-10 minute miles, and I’d never run a single mile in less than 10:38.
- Sub-60 minute 10k — do the math; it’s at least twice as tough as #1
- Sub-2:30 half marathon — this could be doable, but would require cutting almost another minute per mile off my “amazing” Victoria time.
So Wednesday morning I suddenly and somewhat mysteriously went out and ran 4 miles in 42 minutes — a 10:30 pace (my fastest time at any distance, ever) that included a 10:15 4th mile.
This morning my ever-so-rational self-made training plan told me to run 3 miles. So I thought… I wonder what I’m capable of.
What I’m capable of turned out to be 3.1 miles (5k) in 30:43 — a 9:54 pace. So close that I’m going to have to set a new “lifetime probably impossible” 5k goal! I truly never dreamed that I’d run even one sub-10 minute mile. And I did this despite the temptation to stop and take photos of one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life. Here is what it looked like just before I started, 20 minutes before sunrise:
What made it so amazing was not just the colors of the clouds, but their configuration. It was a sort of stacked series of lenticular clouds, but over the period of that half hour they developed into a large vortex shape that resembled a satellite photo of a hurricane, but as seen from below and lit spectacularly by the rising sun. It was incredible, and I never would have seen it if I hadn’t set my alarm for half an hour earlier than ususal in order to get my run in before starting my work day.
I went to work and surfed my way through the usual corporate hassles, more or less unruffled.
I think I’m starting to really love this running thing. <Said with big goofy grin on face>
My knees and the soles of my feet are sore tonight. Sunday morning I will be back to long, slow running, but just for today, it was wonderful to go out there and test the limits of what is possible.