Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Running to win (and I did!)

Saturday I did something that won’t likely be much of my running career—I won. Not first place or anything, but I placed third in my age group. It was a small race, and I knew there was a chance I could place because I had seen last year’s results. The times of the top people were not that far from my 5K records. I knew there was going to be a heat factor, and I knew that entrants would vary, but I also knew since I tend to do very large races, the odds normally of placing are downright impossible, so why not give it my best.

It was too warm but the one good thing about that is that everyone runs in the same weather—so if I would be slowed, so would they. It’s physiology not skill. And so off we went on the streets of Duncan, OK. I carried a bit of water only because of the heat. I tried to start sort of slow but my race energy makes it impossible, so I was off—while people tore off ahead of me. But as usual, many of these were behind me in no time because they went so fast they had to stop and walk. So soon I was passing many people and settled into a pace. It was a fast-ish (for me) pace but the heat threw my sense of time—often I feel I am going faster than I am but the heat slows me so much. I didn’t stare at my Garmin or RunKeeper, though I peeked at the Garmin some. At the end of mile 1 I saw I was at a PR-able pace, and started looking around.

Hmmm… that lady over there looks to be close to my age. And then I ran harder. That’s right, folks. Miss I-run-against-myself started looking around for people who looked near my age and tried to get ahead of them. I was racing. Hello, competitive nature! Of course you have no idea how old someone actually is, but you guess and fly. It’s really funny how a solo sport becomes so competitive so fast.

Mile two had the “pretty good sized hill” they talked about. But God bless, Kansas City, that “hill” was more like a 70 ft slope. I ran it hard, accepted the water from one of the FOUR water stops (that was funny—5Ks usually have ONE and you don’t need it—but also useful for throwing water on my head and torso to cool myself off), and went on.

In a 5K at mile 2, you begin to think it’s in the bag. At 2.5 you know you are home free. At 3, you decide it would be a good time for speed work. And that’s what happened. There were no more real slopes and the weather was consistent. A few random people cheered us on; I just blasted music in my ears and tried to run as hard as I could sustain. I honestly didn’t think it was that fast.

As I saw the finish line ahead, I looked around for competition… people who looked anywhere NEAR my age group. It was pretty funny. I realized I was about to coast into the finish line and the only person ahead of me in sight was a man and there was no one behind me close enough to sprint ahead. For a second I felt like I could relax. What was done was done. Either I made it or not. Then my real competitor’s spirit picked up. WHAT THE HECK! I was my own competition. I might win or lose an age group place but I was going home with myself. And then I picked it up, for me. For my results. For my stats. And I soared through the finish line like my life depended on it to my fastest official PR.

I have no recollection of turning off my RunKeeper or stopping my Garmin but I must have done both as the race official was pulling bib bottoms to double check results. She was telling me I did an excellent job. Everything’s relative I guess, but I appreciated it a lot.

Within a few minutes the unofficial results were in. I spent time looking at a hundred names before I was able to see the system gave the age group rank. There it was SUSAN TYRRELL AG 3. I waited. I knew it could change if something didn’t go in the system right, but for the first time I NEEDED to wait for the awards. I sat around with the group of about 200 in the park, feeling like I had a secret. I might be a WINNER this time. Me. Pokey Suz who ran a 16 minute mile on Jan 1 and was seeing 11s—never enough to win in real races, but in local ones… maybe. Still chubby despite 35 pounds gone. Still pretty pokey. I might really be a winner?

And sure enough. Calling out awards, the race director gets to my group:

In 3rd place, Susan Tyrrell.”

And I walked up there like this was old hat! She placed a bronze medal around my neck and for the first time in a race, I was one of the few that had a medal, not a random person getting a finisher’s medal. It was a winner’s medal. Of course I grabbed a random stranger: “Can you take my picture?” So I got my cheesy picture. And my medal. And I went to call my friend who I knew would cheer with me. It was so much fun to yap about the race and talk about winning.

I don’t run to beat other people—despite the fact  became rather competitive when I knew I had a chance. I run to beat myself. That race was another slot I climbed, one that said I can win. I did it and I did it better than 9 people. That’s all. The age group only had 12. I am not fast but I was 9 of 12 and I am proud of that because I ran well and gained the prize.

Later, when I emailed my department chair—who knew I was running—with an update about something else, I mentioned it had gone well and I had won the bronze in my age group. She said she had seen me on the news. That I had a cameo appearance from the race and it was an auspicious—promising of success—beginning in the area. It was pretty funny. It was also a neat thought, a nice touch of symbolism for my first race nearby. I have had three big successes in OK. My longest training run, my first unofficial 5K PR and my first win (with an official PR). Later I ran my fastest 4-miler before I left for Kansas for a while. Oklahoma has been good to me.

Tomorrow I will it the 500 mile mark—which was my original goal for all of 2013. The midway mark doesn’t hit until Sunday. Today I ran with a friend-which is something I don’t really do, but I liked it. But other than at the beginning she ran her own pace and walked some, so I still had lots of time to think and process, to look at the year and ponder the last 499.5 miles. I will write about that after it’s done, but I will say this: I don’t regret a tenth of a mile I ran. Every step counts. In the rain, snow, sleet, ice, heat, wind—and on that dumb dreadmill. They al count. I have finisher’s medals—including one for a half marathon. And I have a winner’s medal. It's an appropriate way to end this part of the journey because what I have found out is that I can win. 

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