Sebastian Coe was one of my idols growing up as a runner. I always wanted to be a great middle distance runner, and except for the small lack of size, aerobic capacity, talent, opportunity and basic natural ability, I was right there…
Sebastian Coe was the great white middle distance runner, Olympic champion, world record holder, and now head of the London Olympic Committee, and his quote came from an interview where he was asked about the possibility of running the mile under 3:30. His point was that the runner would have to be brave enough to go out very fast, knowing it was going to hurt.
Today was a wierd sort of day. The week was actually pretty good training wise, as I got in a personal record bike ride, had a good run and ride at the park (even though I had to ride home against the typhoon), but I’ve been feeling like I was fighting off the stomach flu the past couple of days, and to be honest, I was trying to come out with any excuse I could to not exercise today. I did my email, cleaned the house, chopped wood, but finally, I couldn’t escape it any longer. I dragged myself to get dressed, whining in my head the whole way, but finally ended up in the driveway, waiting for the Garmin to call home, trying to prove to the dog that I didn’t have any puppy treats.
I have to say, it was almost a perfect day for running though… high 30s, semi-sunny, a bit windy maybe, but nothing big.
This whole last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to relax and work more on the Aerobic base (except for the hard ride up the mountain), and basically have been just going how I feel; start easy, and just relax.
So, I started out on the Loop, pretty relaxed, and surprisingly felt not too bad. No biggie, just okay. My mind was wandering all over, sifting through all the things on my plate, and just about the two mile mark, I took my first look at my watch, and realized I was doing better than I could remember at that point. My first mile (granted, it is mainly downhill) was in 6:34, which, considering I need a mile or so to warm-up and get the creaks out was surprisingly fast for an old man.
I did a systems check, and still felt good. Breathing was well under control, legs felt fine. I actually felt more like 8:30/mile than 7:30.
I reached the 3 mile mark–1/2 way around–with the 1.25 miles of big hill staring at me, and I was 7 seconds under my best time. Here is where the mental anguish started; On one hand, I was feeling relaxed, I was having fun, there was no strain. On the other, how many days do you get where you just feel good, and have a chance to break a record, even if it’s just your own personal record?
For those of you who have run it with us, you know the hills I’m talking about… it’s a long, steep, stiff hill, and when you get to the top, you turn the corner, and have another 1/4 mile of hill before the rolling road toward home. There’s no easy way to make it up the hill… you just put your head down and survive it, and if you try to run it hard, it hurts. I had to decide: relax and run it in, or go for it and suffer. To be honest, as I thought about it, I hadn’t really pushed as hard as I could for a while, and it was actually a bit scary–you remember the pain, and you don’t want to fail if you do go for it, so suddenly, the relaxing Saturday run was amped up.
At the 3.3 mile mark, right at the base of the hill, I still felt good, so I made the concious choice that I was going to go for it, and that’s where the courage comes in that Coe was talking about. I had 2.7 miles to go, 1/2 of it up hill. The last mile and a half would be in to the wind, and I knew that from half way up the hill until the end, it would be a painful process indeed.
I hit the hill and, using the Garmin, I tried to keep my pace steady at just under 8:00/mile, which may seem slow, but, as I said, it’s a big hill!
At the 4 mile mark, I was still on track, about 10 seconds under my record split, but the hardest part of the hill was still to come. I reached the corner, turned into the wind, and really blasted up the last hill. With a mile to go, I had a chance, wind or no. I had to run the last mile in 7:07 into the wind to break my best time, so head down, knees up, I turned for home.
I conciously didn’t look at the watch again until I hit the finish line, but when i did, I saw I had ran the last mile in 6:43, and had broke my record by 24 seconds.
This week I broke two personal records, and I honestly have no real explanation for why. I hadn’t been training particularly hard–the opposite, really. I wasn’t feeling great, there was no “Andy-factor…” I don’t have an answer.
I could say the watch tells the story, but it really just tells the time; it doesn’t tell how your legs feel or what goes through your head on the last leg of the hill. It doesn’t tell you about that spot you have to find inside to go farther, or go faster than you have before.
Very few of us are Sebastian Coes, or Dean Karnazes, or most any Kenyan, but everyone who bikes, runs, paddles, walks or wheels has their own mountains to climb, their own records to beat, their own goals to aspire to. You don’t have to be an Olympian to strive for your own personal greatness, even if you are a not-particularly-talented, middle aged guy.
Coe said it takes courage, and I agree. I also think that courage is like your other muscles: it gets stronger the more you use it. By setting your goals, and from time to time, giving your all to reach them, you develop deeper resources and access hidden reserves that you maybe didn’t know you had. You find you can go a little harder for just a little futher than you have before.
Is there a limit? Probably, especially since I’ve never been this old before, but when I reach it, every once in a while, I think I’ll really work hard to try to beat it, even if it’s only by a second. Yes, it takes courage to break records, even if those records are 6:30 a mile, instead of 3:30 a mile. I may not have the ability to be great, but I sure hope I can find the courage to try.
Have a great week, everyone, and if you haven’t, check out adventureweek2009.com