I read a quote sometime in the past month that said something like this: “If you finish on the podium at a local race but with a time that is far slower than your personal best, was that really a victory?” That got me thinking, because, hey, I’ve done that. Heck, I’ve done that this year. And the author had a point—it really didn’t feel like much of a victory, despite being a 2nd place overall. If, on the other hand, you finish way off the podium, but you have your best race, is that a defeat? I’m thinking the answer is an obvious “no.”
I’d already decided at the Mt Bike Widow Maker to take up Jessica’s challenge and shoot for an under-1-hour time there, but I got to thinking it’s high time I did that with a few of my other endurance sport goals as well. I’ve wanted to go under 40 minutes on Teton Pass since 2004. I’ve wanted to go under an hour on the normal course at the Snowbird Hill Climb since 2008. And I might’ve been able to accomplish those goals last year, but I didn’t visit Snowbird or Teton Pass at all during the year. So why not take another year to really try to knock off some of these goals? They all sort of go together anyway—maybe if I get one, I can get them all. Or maybe that’s just me living in dreamland.
Anyway, if you think about it, there’s an advantage to adopting this sort of mindset: If you get passed by someone, and your goal is achieving a certain time rather than winning your age group or taking a medal, you no longer have to think, “Aw rats, now I’m one spot lower on the results page.” Instead, you can think, “Sweet, I have someone else to pace myself off of,” because, hey, you’re really just trying to achieve your personal best.
Everyone’s on your side! (Or at least you can tell yourself that as they’re pointing and laughing at you while they go past three times faster than you.)
So that’s it; this is records year.
Where am I starting? With a record I’ve been trying to break for a lot of years now: going under 20 minutes in a 5k running race. Yep, that’s right, I’m starting on foot.
If you ran cross country in high school, you probably read that and thought, “What’s the big deal? I ran a 5k in 17 minutes. Pansy!” If you didn’t start running until adulthood, like me, you probably read that and thought, “Sheesh! Why would you want to do a thing like that? Just go run a half-marathon. A sub-20 5k would be paaainful! And no one around the water cooler will care.”
And you would be right on both counts. But the fact is, I don’t have any desire to run marathons or half-marathons anytime soon. I like running, but I don’t like it so much that I want it to become my main sport. That’s why I usually only take eight or nine weeks in the fall to do a little running and prepare for the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. Why that race in particular? Well, the proceeds to the the Red Cross. And when you haven’t given blood in 13 years, you tend to feel a little guilty anytime you hear “the Red Cross.”
So in 2006, when my wife, her siblings and I were headed to their hometown and I heard something about “the Red Cross” (which sounds pretty sinister anyway, if you think about it) over the radio, my ears perked up and I thought, “I haven’t given blood in eight years—I’m such a jerk!” But lo, then they said something about it being a 5k, and that made me feel better. While I like my blood, I don’t mind sweating a little for a good cause. So naturally, I convinced my wife, who’d just had our first child three months earlier, and her sibs to do the race with me. I think I clocked a 22:30-something.
So every year, we kept coming back and doing this race, and in 2008, a funny thing happened. I ran a 20:35 … out of nowhere. I hadn’t trained, I hadn’t prepared, I’d just been cycling and running and this fast time miraculously appeared on the screen when I crossed it. So I started thinking, “What would happen if I actually prepared for this race? Maybe I could get down below 20 minutes.”
So the next year, I ran regular 3-mile time trials, I lifted weights, I rode my bike, I jogged and I put all my eggs into breaking 20 minutes. After weeks of training and regular time trials, I clocked a 19:20 for 3 miles on a training run one day.
But then, the day before the race, I learned Sarah Palin would be running the same 5k. On the liberal west side of Washington State, that wouldn’t have attracted much of a crowd. But on the eastern side of the state, it brought an extra 1,000 runners to this little charity 5k. Do you know how much tougher it is to run through an extra 1,000 people? Neither did I! When all was said and done, I’d finished with a personal best, a nonetheless disappointing 20:21.
Oh, and Sarah Palin? She DNF’ed. (Though I heard she podiumed at a half-marathon last month—that should empower a few hockey moms out there, eh?)
Last year, for the first time in years, we didn’t race the 5k. And we endured a long, cold, snowy Idaho winter.
This year, I told my wife it was not negotiable: “We’re going to your parents’ place for Thanksgiving, and that’s final!” (Now, ladies, how many times have your husbands said that to you? I’m telling you, my wife has it pretty good.)
After setting our plans in stone, I went out for my first 3-mile time trial, just to see what kind of shape I’m in. Now, I’m an oddball, and here’s why: When I do my 3-mile TTs, I hit the start button on my stopwatch and then drop it in my mailbox so I don’t keep looking at it while I run. When I get to the end of the 3-mile TT, I open the mailbox and hit the stop button as quickly as possible. When I got back from my TT last month—the first one I’d done in two years—I went inside and collapsed on my couch gasping. My wife asked me, “How’d your run go?” I just tossed her my watch with the time still displayed: 19:22.7.
“Oh, pretty good then?”
Pretty good indeed. It was only 3 seconds away from being the best time I’ve ever run on that route.
Yep, folks: record-breaking year has begun.