|||||metallica: moth to a flame||]|
I started writing this blog post at mile 7 of the 10 mile Broad Street Run and it had two possible titles:
1) This is the 5th year since I decided not to be fat that i've been stronger and faster every year
After 5 years, I've finally gotten old, and slower, and that's ok.
These were actually both juggling in my head as I ran behind Duc and Alon who'd both given up their own Broad Street Run goals in exchange for helping me beat my 2016 time of 1:17:45.
I'd plotted out a pace, with a razor thin margin of victory -- meaning that I'd have to run a mile every 7 minutes and 40 seconds, and there was no option for slowing down -- this pace COULD NOT CHANGE.
But at mile 7 your brain starts to try and make deals with you. Because, and this might be new information for some of you, running hurts -- if you've never run because you think it hurts, IT HURTS EXACTLY AS MUCH AS YOU THINK IT DOES. Running is unpleasant, it's painful, it's awful and, as far as I can tell, there is no runner's high, BUT when it's done, there's a euphoria I cannot hope to ever explain.
Things were, as I described them to my pacers, Alon & Duc, challenging from the first mile. The pace of 7:40 minutes per mile was unpleasant, but only slightly, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep it up for 10 miles.
When the gun went off hundreds of people in our corral shot past us in ostentatious hopes of fast time -- this happens at every race -- you feel great at the beginning and you go out too fast only to detonate somewhere before the finish and limp across the line at the end like a chastised schoolboy ... but we knew our pace from the beginning and we stuck to it. Alon & Duc ran like machines -- right in front of me, they ran at 7:40 minutes per mile and all I had to do was stare at their backs, which said "it's a running jawn" -- the motto of the West Philly Runners. All I had to do was stare at that. And not quit. They'd do all the rest.
35 pounds ago
In 2012 I saw a photo of myself in a newspaper and realized I'd gotten a lot heavier than I was pretending that I was and there was no way I could pretend anymore that it hadn't happened. I joined the gym, I lost a lot of weight and, far more importantly, I joined my local running club. They'd not judged me when I ran incredibly slowly, they'd waited 45 minutes after they'd all finished, for me to complete a race, and cheered me over the finish line, and now, two of them had given up their own race to make sure that I crossed the finish line in a time faster than the one I'd done last year.
I stayed mostly silent when they spoke to me, possibly nodding, possibly not, sometimes gasping an answer like "keep pace" when they'd ask "should we speed up? we look good."
I knew that former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was probably at mile 6. The Governor (and also former mayor) usually hangs out in front of the Bellvue hotel, hi-5ing runners as they go past. I'd hi-5ed him every year before and I started thinking in my head "I've hi-5ed Ed Rendell every year that I've PR'd ("Personal Record" -- the fastest time you'd ever run) at Broad Street" and thinking, like your brain does, that if he wasn't there, I could use this as an excuse to slow down. This is how your brain works when you're doing things this unpleasant. There is a constant battle between "I can do this" and "I can slow down".
trillian_stars shouted my name as we got to city hall and I waved and felt a surge of energy and, sure enough, out in front of the Bellvue a block later, there was the Governor. I held out my hand as I ran past and he slapped a power-up on it. One excuse shot down, and six miles behind me.
By mile 7 I was starting to seriously lag behind Alon & Duc. I've noticed, watching a lot of races, that there seems to be a rubber band behind people who start to fall off from the front of the pack -- if it stretches too tight, it breaks and they can never pull their way back. I was worried that I was getting to that distance -- so I'd fight back, maintain, and then, inevitably, start to fall back again. At mile 8 Alon and Duc started seriously, vocally, encouraging me, saying "Mile 8 is the hardest, psychologically, just get through this and it's all better, just get through this." -- over and over -- I stayed with them and it was true -- mile 8 was awful -- it wasn't the easy first part of the race, and it wasn't the end -- it was the horrible middle -- it seemed interminable and, horrible -- but eventually, it ended, but just at the beginning of mile 9 my stomach started to heave -- this was my body saying "I am done, you need to stop this nonsense" I coughed, once, twice, three times -- my body, annoyed by what I was doing was seriously threatening to toss my cookies if I didn't slow down. But I was approaching the end of that rubber band again. This was seriously the moment and I started composing this blog post in my head.
These played in a loop and I decided I would be incredibly sad to have to write the second one, so I surged ... and puked ... vomit just came up ... I aimed my head down and splashed water an Gatorade between my feet, rather than to the side, because I didn't want to barf on an innocent person just running a race. One, two, three times. I puked. Mostly water. By then I'd caught up and Alon looked over his shoulder, "How are you doing?" he asked. "Puking ..." I gasped. "We'll pull over to the side!" he said. "No, no," I waved him off, "I already did it."
He didn't ask any questions and we charged ahead. Every step was a difficult decision to slow down or keep going but Alon & Duc kept turning around and waving at me to catch up to them, and I knew, finally, that I could probably do it. We were at the wire, but it was possible if I ran my guts out. The last mile was freaking horrible.
I promised myself I'd sprint the last quarter mile but when the last quarter mile came, there was no sprint left in me. It was a quarter of a mile that lasted for an hour; it felt like I just kept getting moved back to the beginning every 10 yards. I lifted my head as we finally approached the finish line, trying to at least look like I wasn't dying. Only in the final 30 feet did it seem like this horror would end. There was no runner's high. It was just freaking awful.
And then it was done.
I beat my previous time by a minute. Our final pace was 7:35 / mile, which seemed to me to count as "very fast".
I'm grateful for this running club filled with people who do this; who stick with you to help you make yourself better, who give up their races for you, who encourage and mentor and make sure your blog post doesn't have to begin with defeat.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating; if losing weight is your goal, then I think you're doomed to fail, because once you've done it, there's no reason to continue. If you want to lose weight, you need to find a lifestyle that weight loss is a byproduct of. At least that's what worked for me. ymmv.
I walked, alone in the world, for a long time, past people, I remember ... someone gave me a bag of ice that I put on my neck and that felt good ... someone gave me a bottle of water that I poured over my head ... someone gave me a bag of food ... and then at the and of a chute was a woman holding a medal ... she put it over my head ... "you look like an angel" I said, and it was all I could see ... past her the world started to come into focus again and ... in front of me there were people from my running club ... we'd finished in the top 25% of the race and the banks of port-a-potties with no lines were our reward. We collapsed on the ground, ate our bananas and our pretzels and our potato chips and looked at one another's medals and, already, the pain of the actual race had already left us, and all we were left with was the incredible feeling of accomplishment.
We had come.
We had run.
We had run fast.
We had bested the pain.
We had survived.
We had finished.
And me ... five years later ... after I had lost 35 pounds, I had kept it off, despite the naysayers, and I was fitter, stronger, and faster ... EVERY ... FREAKING ... YEAR ... and I have let NO ONE down. And next year ... I will be even better.
And you too. Go for it. Puke if you need to, but don't slow down.