This morning, I ran three miles in a little over 29 minutes, and at this moment, I’m thinking it may just be one of my top ten runs of all time. I realize that’s saying a lot. I’ve been running since the early spring of 1982, and I’ve run hundreds of races, more than a handful of marathons, and of course, at some point, I’ve PR’ed at every distance I’ve run. Plus, I’ve run this course many times before, and often, much faster than today. So what made today’s run so special?
As I was thinking about the subject of top ten runs of all time, I found it very difficult to limit my list to ten mere runs out of the thousands I’ve done over the past 32 years. Many runs quickly came to mind., far more than the ten that compete for the top of the pile. Some runs were races where I exceeded my expectations, and in some way, exceeded my abilities for a brief moment in time. These were not always the best races in my life, but sometimes, they were the races that built the confidence that I could rise to the next level. Other runs were runs that were overshadowed by the story surrounding them, like jumping a fence and suddenly finding myself on the front lawn of the Biltmore Estates, or running around a place called Goat Island and unexpectedly being face to face with Niagara Falls. Yet other memorable runs were punctuated by something simple, like catching a shooting star, or a bright rainbow, or a fox crossing right in front of me.
Yet other runs were memorable because of the people I did them with. My first marathon with Kelli was almost an hour from my fastest, but will always be remembered as a most memorable one. Helping my father to PR times thirty years ago still burn brightly in my mind. My thrill for his accomplishments are equal to or greater than for my own, and I still smile when he glowing recalls a specific 5K race in under 24 minutes all these years later. Then there was the Reach the Beach 200 mile relay race in New Hampshire, with a team if Internet friends who all pulled together and had a real bonding experience in the process.
So in reality, my top ten list is probably comprised of at least 25 runs. Once a run achieves top ten status, it can’t be pushed out by another run, so the list grows. But before this morning, it’s been years since a single run achieved such status. So what made this morning’s innocent-looking, seemingly uneventful run so special? More than anything else, it is the history behind it.
The last year and a half has been a painful period of time for this runner. A new job slowly knocked me off of my running routine, so much so that it switched from a lifestyle to a sporadic occurrence. The passion left me, and what remained was a lack of desire to do what had become a habit over the years. There had been times in my life when I didn’t know how not to run. It was a main fiber of who I was. But now, every time was an effort, and felt more like a chore than a desire.
Then, my running body started to fail me. First was a stress fracture of my big toe that disabled me for about two months, followed by a torn meniscus in my left knee, which was finally surgically repaired in late April. I felt like I was never going to run again. My feet and legs hurt almost all the time, and even walking and standing were painful. But I did not give up.
After the surgery, I started walking, and found I liked it more than I had expected. It provided a lot of the same benefits as running, such as a sense of well-being and accomplishment, and I found I had the same desire to walk farther and faster each walk, just like I had experienced with running three decades earlier. Slowly, I gained confidence to start mixing running back in with my walking, first a minute at a time, then extending from there. I won’t say it was nothing but forward progress, because there were minor setbacks along the way, but I stayed with it.
About three weeks ago, I decided to start getting up early again to run before work, something I had not done since I started this job a year ago January. Getting up at 5:00 just to beat Atlanta traffic to get to work was daunting enough, but I decided to get up at 4:40, run three miles, and sit in traffic due to my later start to work. I had ultimate goals in mind when I started, but the runs started very slow, and sometimes involved walking. Runs of 32 minutes or longer were not uncommon for my 3-mile runs. My three immediate to short term goals were to find the passion again in running, to break 30 minutes for three miles, to drop my weight from 180 pounds to 170 pounds by the end of September and to run a 5K in under 28 minutes by the first weekend of October.
This morning, I woke up thinking that today might be the day to run under 30 minutes for three miles. The temperature was a little cooler and drier than it has been, and I was rested from taking yesterday off. My normal 3-mile route is mostly downhill for the first mile, and mostly uphill for the second mile, with the third mile relatively flat. I usually know by my 1-mile split how the rest of the run is going to go. When I hit the 1-mile mark in 9:52, I was actually doubtful I was going to make my goal. My recent experience has been that if I run my first mile under 10, I’m already tired and slow badly the second, uphill mile. But I felt better today than I have been, so tried to keep the pace on the uphill and see what I had left for the last mile. I ran the 2nd mile in 9:50, a very nice surprise, and still felt strong, so I knew I had my goal. I picked it up the last mile, finishing with a 9:26, and still felt good at the finish. I felt like old times.
So, top ten run of all time? OK, maybe not, but it did get me thinking about the past and the future, the elements passion is made of. I still have two goals to go. My weight is now 174, so I’m 60% of the way there with a month to go. And on October 4th, I’m going to make my attempt at a sub 28 5K, a time I would have been embarrassed to have publicized for most of my running life, but now, could very well be my next top ten run. I’m looking forward to September training in cooler weather, and hoping my knee, which feels pretty good right now, will stay that way.