Quite often, I see Eleanor Roosevelt quoted for advising us to do one thing each day that scares us. I think this is good advice, and I try to challenge myself to leave my comfort zone, maybe not each day, but regularly. Sometimes this means doing a long run alone, and sometimes this means addressing a tough situation at work. Most often my “one thing” is related to running or racing: the sport is a sanctioned, socially acceptable, and for me, much-needed competitive, and adrenaline outlet. A few weeks back, I’d really botched up the entries to a high school meet, and was feeling (what I assume is a rather universal runner impulse, but may not be as universal as I tell myself) the need to make peace with, or atone for that. I signed up for the USATF-New England Championships. The entry time for the 5k was 19:15. I’ve run under 19 before, but only once since college (and I’m not sure that course was accurate… or, more honestly, I don’t think that course was accurate), and for several years in college, while racing regularly, hammering a long run, doing tempo miles and Jack Daniels “rep pace” and “V02 workouts” (talk about one thing that scared me…), I couldn’t break 19:19. Since there was no date limit for the seed times, I put in my college PR (fairly certain that since I can’t squeak under :42 in an all-out 200 anymore, I wasn’t going to be sailing through the mile in 5:48 these days…). This race, on a track, with the very real possibility that I’d not only be lapped, but would also come in last (very publicly) was definitely something that scared me. I think that’s actually part of why it appealed to my atonement urge.
In the weeks after signing up for the race, I kept checking the USATF-NE website hoping that I’d see my time had been rejected for being too old. I thought about how I could do a long run with my friend, maybe sleep in a little to celebrate the beginning of February break from school, focus more on some of the marathon workouts I’ve been getting excited about reading on fellow Oiselle teammates’ tweets…. In the end, though, I saw my name and my 8 year old seed time on the “entrants” list, and my boyfriend and I headed to Boston for Harvard’s banked track, dinners with old friends, and some sight-seeing. On our Sunday drive up to Cambridge, I was cranky, I drove faster than I needed to, obsessed about my tight SI joint and half-hoped I’d gotten the date wrong and we could just skip the meet and go right to lunch at my friend’s brand new Back Bay apartment.
There were 11 women in the race, no start list, and a 25 on the lap counter. I was seeded 7th, but I had no idea if the women behind me had run 18:42 three weeks ago or had taken advantage of the lack of expiration date like I had. I kept telling my boyfriend I thought I’d come in last. I changed my shorts back and forth a few times. I did strides in my 12-year-old cross country spikes (sorry, Harvard!), I thought about racing in my trainers, and then I tried to convince myself that 25 laps was “nothing.”
I didn’t come in last. I didn’t even get splits for myself. I started in last and moved up. I got lapped, more than once, by the woman who won, I lapped someone, and I outkicked a college girl. This made me excited, not because I want to demoralize 19 year olds, but because I have no leg speed and I did exactly what I tell my high school kids to do: I sat on her until 75 meters to go, swung around her on the banked curve, and ran like a maniac until I crossed the line. (I actually saw her crying after the race, so this took away from my excitement a little bit. It was the first time I’d raced against anyone other than recreational runners in years, and I’d forgotten how in college, it’s not easy to shrug off an off day or congratulate a greying weirdo in cross country spikes.) After the race, I shuffled a cool down, ran into a former athlete who was there to run the mile, and couldn’t stop smiling. I slowed down massively the last mile (I ran through 2 miles in 12:14 and finished in 19:38!), my calves were already screaming at me, my weekly mileage was shot (because, let’s be honset, my college coach still refers to the “AP cooldown,” or, the shortest distance from Chicago’s outdoor track to the locker room, and all my Type-A tendencies aside, I’ve never really been of the “five mile cooldown” disposition), and I had a pounding headache, but… I ran a race on a banked track, in spikes, at almost 30 years old and no speedwork, in the middle of marathon training and I actually think it was an indoor PR!
I have been having so much fun wearing the Oiselle uniform. I feel like I’m accountable to someone, I’m inspired by the other women on the team, and, I didn’t feel quite as shabby next to the GBTC and New Balance Boston women as I might have in whatever outfit I’d have pulled together on my own.
We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing (the only running I did was very easy and included stops for photos along the Charles) and kicking off school break. Now, sitting in front of a fire, sipping wine, with dinner in the oven, I’m feeling particularly thankful for a weekend that managed to include something that terrified me, old friends, good food, and extremely sore calves.