I’m weaving between people, slowing down, swerving, trying to find an opening in the solid wall of human bodies to squeeze through and finally start running at my race pace.
Not a chance.
I close the first kilometer at around 5:00/km. And while I know it’s not true—in the forest area of the race, the pace on my watch is all over the scale—I can feel that I’m going really slow. Too slow.
Tapering with a Cold
I wasn’t planning on a significant taper prior to this race. I reckoned that a week of slightly reduced mileage and some lighter sessions would do the job. Little did I know that on Wednesday I would come down with a nasty case of sinus infection.
Being an oafishly stubborn individual, I still went out for the last hard session before the race. And that was the end of me. On Thursday, I could barely breathe and my mind didn’t allow for any clear thoughts to be conjured up. Still, I went out for a 40-minute easy run, expecting god knows what and reaching yet another level of sickness.
The situation didn’t look good. In a rare bout of reason, I decided to ditch the two easy runs left before the Sunday race. But suddenly not running after running consistently almost every day was gut-wrenching. I was wretched and miserable. And sneezed a lot.
Fast-forward to Sunday. My condition improved considerably. The two-day break in running did the job. Something was stirring inside me. The hunger to run.
Battling with compounding fatigue and my stubbornness to take it easy, I hadn’t felt it for weeks. Now I itched all over to finally hit the gravel.
Waiting for the Pain that Doesn’t Come
As usual during 10K races, or all races, I presume, the distance goes maddeningly slow. I feel like I’ve been running for at least three or four kilometers. I glance at the watch and it’s barely been a mile! I feel fresh and bouncy but the time is barely trickling.
There are no distance markings on the course. When Garmin beeps for completed kilometers, there’s no telling how off the distance is. The key is to focus. Let go of the anxiety that I’m not on pace—nothing will change in that aspect.
I’m swimming in my own thoughts, comfortable in the rhythm of running. The crowd has shrunk to a group of maybe ten runners strung along the sight of my vision. I’m running with four guys. When another kilometer passes, the third one, I realize that the group I’m running with is probably going to stick together for the whole race. The thought feels nice. Motivation surges in me again. The nagging thoughts of tacky, unmoving time go away.
The surge lasts roughly to the five-kilometer mark. Physically, I feel great. I’m not tired. My breath is even and calm, my stride long and bouncy. But in my head, a war is brewing.
I don’t want to run. My body is in excellent shape, but I don’t want to run. And there is no way I can run at this pace for another five kilometers. I look around. My group of four is holding tight. It gives my motivation a small nudge, but it’s insignificant compared to the storm raging in my head.
I need to do something. So I lie.
Remembering that my watch beeped for the sixth kilometer a few minutes ago, I start telling myself that I still have four km to go, adding that four are nothing compared to the six I already completed (by that time, I was probably closer to seven kilometers). I keep on running but only barely decreasing the remaining distance in my mind.
I have to squelch the reasonable response of my subconscious to this strategy, which tries hard to prove that I’m wrong in my calculations. I insist there are still three and a half kilometers to go. Hurt and offended, the subconscious retreats into its cave.
Only three kilometers to the finish line. Three are nothing.
“A little over five minutes, guys!” shouts one of my companions. And then I realize that I have only one and a half kilometer left. Lord!
I pick up the pace, breaking from the group with one of the guys. I know we’ll be racing to the finish line together. I suddenly feel tired and that last kilometer starts hurting. I finally allow myself a glance at my Garmin. The darned thing shows another kilometer left. I’m shocked. It’s supposed to be a lot less. I slow down a notch, knowing that I won’t be able to keep up that pace until the finish line.
But Garmin is off by at least half a kilometer because I can see the finish line among the trees in the distance. I speed up again, catching up with my companion. We cheer each other with some unintelligible stutter and dash for the finish line!
It’s over. My time: 45:08.
I didn’t push myself hard enough. I feared the slightly hilly but plenty muddy forest course would wipe me out too soon. I had little preparation in this type of terrain. But I could have gone slightly faster. I had it in me.
I need to learn that the pain is only temporary in 10Ks and that it pays off to endure it. I honestly would have survived if it started hurting earlier. No reason to fear it so much.
I need more rest days and a healthy dollop of reason on easy days.
The 2020 racing season is on!