March 9, 2013
In the winter of 2012-2013 after reflecting on the fall marathon and the nearly sub 2 hour half the spring before, I was in fine form to run a half in under two hours. Newly single and tackling dusty ambitions, I joined a running group for weekly speed work. Running track on Monday nights in the Seattle winter took willpower but was also a lot of fun. I met new people with all sorts of different goals. Most of them were much faster than me but some were coming back from injury and walked around the track with support from the group. There was something exciting about being zipped up in running tights, turtleneck and hat, sprinting around the track under the bright, white lights, watching my breath puff in the cold, black air. I felt part of something bigger than my personal goal. And, following the team’s formula, I actually was getting faster.
As winter pushed on, I knew that for every long run my pace had to be at or under 9:03. It was a magic number far below my conservative marathon pace of 10:45. Still, it was within my reach. That winter I also started dating a fun-loving fellow in his twenties. We stayed up late in bars discussing our liberal arts education, in his basement apartment while he played Matt & Kim’s “Daylight” on the keyboard, or in my apartment making out, listening to Spoon albums. It was an intense time of late nights, both on the track and with the guy, and early morning runs. I probably overdid it a few times. I definitely overdid it one morning on the trail when I felt myself getting sick. But I also felt invincible: I was seeing a cool guy and was closing in on a sub 2 hour half. Who cares that I was hocking up green goo on the Burke Gilman trail? I was keeping that 9:03 pace. When my date took me to the airport the morning I left for the Miami half-marathon, I was ready.
I wasn’t just running a half in Miami, but staying with my dear college-friend Jared and her husband and son. Jared and I hadn’t seen each other in twelve years but reconnected in a way that was both surprising and no surprise at all. I told her stories of the guy, my training and life in Seattle and got to know her beautiful family. We spent the first few days of the trip cruising around Miami, seeing the sights and running errands with her two-year old, stopping for “sweeties and treaties” along the way. Saturday morning of the race Jared’s husband and son kindly drove us to the start in South Beach before dawn. The clubbers were winding down and we were just getting started.
Jared and I already had an agreement that I would do what I needed to make my goal. Jared is an incredible, easy runner with a solid cross-country team base. She can pick up a pair of new shoes and, without breaking them in, be ready the next day. She has fancy running gear but can also run in T-shirts. Most incredibly, she was agreeable about matching my 9:03 pace. I know she can run both faster and slower, but for her to simply match a pace I’d been hovering around for months was impressive. When we tackled those vast, inclining bridges of Miami I was glad she was there. The adjustment to the hot Miami weather didn’t make the race any easier. It was the only race I’ve ever run when I had to think about and push my pace the entire time. To do that for almost two hours, running, is a long time to put forth that kind of extreme effort. It was a repeat cycle of effort and checking my watch for 9:03. When Jared and I approached the last two miles I knew I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to make my goal. We exchanged a few tired words as she waved me ahead.
I have never been more tired from running, not even in the marathon, because I have never pushed myself so hard. In any other race or training run I would have slowed down but this sheer exhaustion was why I was there. I had travelled to the furthest tip of the country, done speed workouts in the dark, dead of winter and stayed up late and gotten up early to run this pace. I blasted my music and pushed myself as I hard as I could. When I crossed the finish line, according to my watch, I had finished under two hours. But I needed the official results. When Jared finished not far behind we congratulated each other and indulged in the finishers’ snacks including pretzels, bananas and beer. The beer was a perfect reward to a hot run and the official race results: 1:59:46. I made it, by 14 seconds. Never had time, and such a small increment of time, made such a big difference. I thought about all the effort I put in to make those 14 seconds and what would happen if I’d been 15 seconds slower: I would be bummed. I’d have to tell my family, friends, and the guy. I’d have to train all over again. Choose another race. Pay for another race. Possibly travel to another race. But I didn’t have to do all those things because 14 seconds matter. Think of all the clusters of seconds we waste every day. Even now, we’re writing and reading, presumably not against the clock. Sometimes when I’m not being productive I think about how hard I pushed myself to keep those 14 seconds. Sometimes it pushes me to write, research, reach out, or otherwise be productive. Sometimes it just brings me a moment of quiet to know that when brought to task, I can push it to the limit.