Back at the Beginning
A reset to my running was in order, I aborted a marathon plan then a half marathon plan. Needless to say this caused havoc on my mental running state. I spent what seemed like all of 2016 running at a 9:30 pace. No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to get faster or even feel better at running it. I’ve run countless 5Ks, longer trail races, marathons and a whole city, but never just a measly mile. My yard stick only measured distance, but never speed. My constant internal message reenforced the assumption that I was old and slow. I was out of answers so it was time to reset.
My journey to running began 5 years ago with a one mile run that humbled, but mostly humiliated me. Cut to almost 5 years later, I was back at the beginning starting with a mile. I returned to this point again with a beginner’s mindset. I was naive, hopefully and willing to listen to a training plan by Miler Method founded by Olympic miler Nick Willis. Honestly, this was the first time I was going to completely follow a training plan. Until this point, my training plans were vague with few specifics besides weekly long runs and mileage. Being completely new to the mile, my goal times ranged from the doable to the completely outlandish. You can never predict what you’ll experience at the start of anything and this time was no different.
In early March, I head to my track to do a mile time trial. Again the question, “How do you even pace this race?” popped in my head. I was anxious and nervous because I was about to find out how slow or fast I was. Who really likes to take a test to judge themselves as fast or slow? With a nervous dread, the time trial began and ended with a 6:30. Surprising to say the least, I guess I had that in me.
The in and outs of the training program are for another time, but after 7 weeks I tested my training at a mile race at the local college track. My workouts went great, my splits were on and I felt 1,000 times stronger and faster than I have ever been. My goal time materialized at a sub 6 with dreams of 5:50 or lower. The week before I had second thoughts of testing myself during a track on the race because now I would have to deal with other racers affecting my concentration. There are positives and negatives to my chosen scenario, but it was too late now.
Seeking out advice from anyone I could about how to run a mile race, I felt confident in how to get through it, but there was one piece that I clearly missed them saying. The main advice was to not go out fast, run your race, limit running lane 2 in the turns and slowly pick up pace over the last 400m. I knew my splits for every 200 in the race just so I could easily check in if I was on pace or not.
The race began with a roar! Everyone was off and I was quickly swept into the excitement. It only took me 20–30m before I realized we were going too fast, so I slowed myself down to my pace. I wasn’t there to win just go under 6 minutes for the first time in my life. Play it smart and this will happen.
My first 400 was right on pace. Took it easy and hit my times, but then I was faced with the decision of running behind someone who was just about my pace. A lesson I learned was to not follow someone because they will slow towards the end of a race. I knew my capabilities, so I quickly made the decision to pass. I’m a bit indecisive, so it was surprising that I made this move.
Passed through 800 meters just a little behind which was surprising because I felt really good. Unfortunately, another passing decision was going to happen. Was I really catching people or were they slowing down. I sat behind this person knowing that they were dictating the pace. Not good, right? Time to pass before my goal was completely out of reach. I scooted by then there was no one for a long way. I was running essentially by myself for the rest of the race.
If you ever run a mile race then I’m just going to warn you right now that the third lap is what you need to worry about. Apparently, three different people warned me, but I completely missed it. This lap is long, painful and full of introspection. The conversation between my brain and legs went something like this:
Brain: “Hey legs, how’s my pace doing?”
Leg’s “We slowed down to 6:15 pace.”
Brain: “Not good legs, we need to go faster, how much more can we give?”
Legs: “Nothing, brain. Do you realize we’ve never in our lives gone this fast?”
Brain: “Ok, stay on pace, but get all hands ready for a seriously fast last lap?”
Legs : “Whatever you say brain”
The final 400 meters began, off I went picking up the pace trying to make up some time from the dreaded third lap. Turns seem to accelerate me, so I hoped that would happen. My head was hurting, lungs were screaming and my brain failed to keep track of how much time I had for the last lap. Time was a lost concept out there. I only realized my situation almost through the last turn when I heard the announcers call out the winning time of 5:31. Math was not a strong point now because I was about to give the biggest kick I could muster once I got through the turn.
Was sub 6 minutes still even a chance after the third lap debacle? My brain was doubtful, but that was quickly stifled by my desperation to salvage it. My lungs were screaming, body was aching and my feet were pounding down the last straight. It’s easy to say dig deep, but it’s a whole different story when you’re in the moment.
The clock hit 5:50 and panic was soon enlisted into my kick. Facing missing my goals by only seconds, you bring forth anything that will get your legs moving. Panic, anxiety, peer pressure, laughter, you’ll summon whatever you can. As the clock clicked closer to 6 minutes, my pace increased into the 4:30 range. Would it work? Did I have enough in the tank to get to the finish line before the clock reached 6 minutes? It was going to be close.
Nearing the end of the fastest mile I’ve ever ran and what what would easily be a PR no matter what happens. The clock clicked over to 6 minutes when I was just about 15 meters short. I crossed the line at 6:04:48, missing my goal by about 5 seconds. Fear of missing my goal times by a few seconds was a method I used to motivate myself in past races. I’d say “Missing by a few seconds hurts more than the little extra discomfort at a slightly faster pace.” Unfortunately, in a mile race that little extra discomfort is quite large.
How disappointed was after missing it by so little? The answer….not much at all. While I wasn’t ecstatic, I wasn’t angry either. In fact, I felt empowered by the race decisions made, the kick and ways to progress. Hell, even getting to the start line was empowering. The training and knowledge that I gained through the last 6–7 weeks was enlightening. After the slowness of 2016, it seemed like only a fantasy that I would run a near 6 minute mile. Now here I was breathing heavy, exhausted and sweaty after making my fantasy a reality. I was excited to channel this newly acquired speed into longer distances. I came into this training unsure, feeling dejected, slow, stiff and possibly injured, but I crossed the finish line a new runner.
The mile is just one step in my running journey that continues faster now. At the start line, doubt filled my mind, but nothing remained after crossing the finish line. My mind wasn’t worried about what just happened or what was to come, it was only worried about that moment. I was present. It was the few times that my mind and body were on the same side. It was an oddly unexpected zen moment of clarity and mindfulness like those ones you search for at the end of a yoga class. It hit me out of nowhere, unexpected, even days later I’m still wondering. Who would’ve thought you could learn so much in just 6:04:48 seconds?