There are a lot of different reasons runners flock to their local Turkey Trot. (Pun completely intended!) For some, it’s a family tradition. For others, it’s a chance to burn off some extra holiday calories. This year for me, it was all about redemption.
Looking back over the 2012 racing season, I should’ve been happy. Using a more balanced and consistant training approach kept me injury-free. I’d checked several goals off my list … PR a 5K? Check. Win an age group award? Check. Complete a triathlon? Check. (Don’t let the lack of blog entries fool you, it was a great summer!)And yet there was still something bothering me. One race had gotten under my skin, left a sour taste in my mouth, more than any event ever had: The Towpath 10K.
I’d run one previous 10K, in July 2011. It was a tough race back then, when I was just starting to run longer distances, and 6 miles was still a pretty daunting challenge. Although I was very happy to finish in 59:21, the combination of heat and hills made it tough. Since that time I’d completed a half marathon, lowered my 5K time by more than a minute, and lost several pounds as I added biking and swimming to my training routine. Plus the Towpath was a flat route on a cool October day. All of that should easily translate into a sub-59:00 finish, right?
I’ve never been one to have exact splits pre-calculated, but I usually go into a race with at least a general strategy in mind. Maybe I had gotten complacent after my recent string of successes, but I showed up at the Towpath starting line without a plan. And this time it cost me. I ran the first half a little too conservatively, and by the time I realized it, even a sub-9:00 final mile wasn’t enough to make up the difference. Instead of being the exclamation point at the end of my best-ever summer as a runner, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.
Added to that, I knew last fall’s Turkey Trot had been the nail in the coffin of my IT band struggles, leading to a winter of frustration and physical therapy. So I showed up to THIS year’s race with a bone to pick. (Get it? Turkey … bone … Ok, ok, I’ll stop.)
The Cleveland Turkey Trot typically draws several thousand runners. It’s a fun and festive atmosphere, and I absolutely love the energy that comes from people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities gathering at the starting line, ready to conquer the 5-mile course. My primary goal was to break 50 minutes. Maybe if it was a REALLY good race, 48 minutes … but I didn’t have the guts to admit that anywhere other than in the deep recesses of my own head. And certainly not out loud.
Determined not to repeat my Towpath mistake, I pushed myself a little more than normal during the first mile. I let the crowd sweep me along and was pleasantly surprised that my first mile was at a 9:08 pace. Other than a little tightness in my calves, I was feeling pretty good, so I kicked it up just a tad. The second mile actually ended up being my fastest, at 8:56, but it really didn’t feel like I was struggling at all.
At this point we were heading downhill, toward the Lake Erie shoreline and Browns stadium. I prepared myself for the turn back toward downtown and the climb back uphill that would follow. I focused on shortening my stride slightly and using my arms a little more, and before I knew it, I was at the top. That hill work this summer paid off!
The next couple of miles felt exactly like I want them to: strong, steady, and under control. But I was still surprised each time the voice in my headphones broke in to give me an update. Even though I had slowed down slightly, I was still averaging 9:25/mile or less. I actually started to think that maybe something was out of whack with my GPS, because there’s no way I felt THIS good while running THAT pace. It didn’t help that I had somehow missed seeing every mile marker along the course …
Until I finally saw the sign with the giant number 4, and looked down at my watch to see a time of just under 38 minutes. Despite my race-induced brain fog, which typically prohibits me from doing any type of mathematical calculations in my head, I knew I had a good chance to beat even my best-case-scenario time. I found another gear, concentrated on keeping my feet as light as possible, and focused my gaze several blocks away on the finish line …
Or what I thought was the finish line. Turns out I was looking at the trucks that were parked about half a block PAST the finish. It was a little congested with runners as I neared the end of the race, and I didn’t see the ACTUAL finish line until it was only around 100 feet away. Too bad, because I probably could’ve started my finishing kick a bit sooner. Nevertheless, I was still absolutley ecstatic to look down at my watch and realized I’d finished in under 47 minutes. (46:52, to be exact.)
It sounds silly, but I actually felt a few tears well up in my eyes. Instead of limping away from last year’s Turkey Trot, or immediately wanting a “do-over” after the Towpath 10K, I was left with the feeling of pride and accomplishment I’d been searching for.
Sure, I wasn’t even close to being the fastest runner on the course. But that’s not really what running is about for most of us. It’s about slaying the internal demons of doubt and pushing past your personal boundaries. It’s about knowing you finished what you set out to do. And it’s about waking up the next morning and wanting to do it all over again.
The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio. Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama: https://twitter.com/MileageMama