Sunday, November 13, 2011
Running With Myself
Last Sunday I ran the RaceVermont Fall Half Marathon in Shelburne, Vermont. It was a beautiful morning for a long run—cold and crisp and clear. I don’t live in Shelburne. In fact, I live 275 miles away in New Haven, Connecticut. But I am trying to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Before last Sunday I had run in 8 of the 50. As I knock them off my list, I have to go slightly farther from home to find states I have not yet run in. That is why I was in Vermont on a weekend when there were closer races to be run.
This was a small race—limited to 600 people—and the course was really interesting. It followed roads and trails and it took us near the shores of Lake Champlain. There were a couple of medium hills and lots of pretty scenery. Some of the races I have run lately have been huge, with thousands of runners, so this felt intimate. We didn’t have chips to time us and there were no clocks on the route to let us know our pace.
I never wear a watch or any sort of Garmin—I have a Luddite view of running gear—so in this particular race I had no idea of my pace as I ran. I could have asked another runner, but a few miles into the race I decided I would rather run without knowing my time. I never run against the other runners, but I often run against the clock. This time I decided to simply run against myself.
At mile 6 the course started on a long downhill that ended at mile 8 and then turned around and went back up that same long downhill stretch, only at this point it was now a long UPHILL stretch. When I got to the turnaround point I felt strong. I knew I still had about five miles left, but I also knew there was a big hill staring down at me. I decided to push myself up that hill at the edge of my ability. The guy I had been running next to for a half mile said something like, “You gonna put the fast shoes on now?” I looked over my shoulder, said “Yeah, I think I will,” and chugged up the hill.
It went well and when I got to mile 10 the course left the road and turned into the woods. The organizers had decided not to put any mile markers on the stretch of course that ran through the woods; not only did I not know my pace, I also had only a rough idea of how much race was left. Again, I decided to run against myself and my own desire to turn it down a notch and catch my breath. I told my body to find its edge and keep it there—sort of like setting the cruise control on the highway.
(Me, looking pained at Mile 12.5)
It turned out that the trail stayed in the woods for two-and-a-half miles and by the time it emerged we were on the road only a half-mile from the finish line. Even here there was a point at which my mind wanted to coast a bit but my body overrode and pushed on, right at its edge. I finished in one hour, forty-two minutes, and fifty-six seconds for a pace of 7:51 per mile. It was my fastest half marathon ever.
Today I realized that in fact I wasn’t running against myself at all in Vermont. In fact, I was running WITH myself and that is what made all the difference. There was no clock, no mile markers for me to obsess over, and no goal other than to stay at my edge. And the company was good.