known unknowns

I ran my first 5 Mile race yesterday with a finish time of 44:59. Just before the race, I figured I wanted to finish in under an hour. No, under 50 minutes. No, under 45 minutes. And I did. I was happy!

My happiness, however, about 30 minutes later, smoldered into something else.

First: I love when Tyler Durden asks ‘how much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?’ Second: I remember when I finished my first 5K and came in fourth or fifth for my age group. I was stunned. I’d run on my own for about five years previous to that race and hadn’t thought much about whether I was fast much less how fast I was, I just did it. It felt great. Discovering I was pretty fast was… interesting. I ran a bunch of 5Ks that season and always made top 5 for my age group and even made third place in one. I learned about racing. Racing is different to running.

Running puts me in harmony with myself, I think. Or, it recalibrates me. The perfect metaphor is elusive. What I do when I run is respond to the terrain and the atmosphere, pay attention to my footfall and my stride and my pace and my arms and my posture. I listen to my breath. And I think; I philosophize my life. I set running goals, too. A few weeks ago, in fact, I decided to always run at least six miles on my weekend runs. I’d like to run into my 80s or 90s.

Competition sidelines (ha!) all of the above, so I’m glad I don’t race very often. When I race, I think about my start, I think about my pace, I think about a strong finish. I think about not overdoing it and benching myself for days, or, heavens forbid, weeks or months. Races can be dangerous for runners who don’t know themselves; I once ran one of those early 5Ks so hard that I damaged my toes and lost both my digital music player and my favorite sunglasses – and I didn’t even achieve a great overall time. I’ve since changed my shoes and stopped running with music and shades and learned to ignore my desire to chase down everyone who passes me from behind.

I cruised through yesterday’s 5 miles. I had no doubt that I could finish. When I saw my first mile time (7:30), I knew that I could finish in under 45 minutes. At that point, the 5K racers took another course. The pack thinned. I started to think about the 5 Mile racers ahead of me and how focused they seemed, how hard they ran. They really worked. At one point, a short woman with a long stride passed me and I thought, ‘should I be doing that?’

I know better than to change course in the middle of the race, so I didn’t. And I did achieve my goals. I even made top five (fifth place) for my age group. But, surprisingly, it wasn’t/isn’t enough, and that’s… interesting.