All last week the heat and my sister were kicking my butt. I’ve been struggling to get rid of a few extra pounds, and in my mind it was 2010 all over again: My sister was the fit young whipper-snapper of a drill sergeant pushing the pace, and I was the out-of-shape, over-the-hill whiner.
Then on Saturday I somehow managed to take first place in my age group at the Parlor City Trot 10k, with a personal best that took me under 10 minutes a mile for the first time ever at that distance.
It was nowhere near the goal I’d set at the beginning of the year. But right now any kind of progress feels like redemption after such a rotten week.
The Parlor City Trot, in its 41st year, is one of the oldest races in the area. It doesn’t draw much of a crowd, just 135 runners this year, presumably because of the distance (half marathon or 10K) and because it isn’t heavily promoted.
We started on Main Street in downtown Bluffton, headed over the bridge and turned right on highway 124, taking a roundabout route to Ouabache State Park. The first 3 miles felt pretty good. I wanted to put myself in position to beat 10 minutes a mile, and I was averaging a 9:45 pace.
As we approached the park a long line of 11 Amish buggies, decked out in balloons, made the turn from the road leading to Adams County and pulled up as if ready to start some kind of parade. They were apparently planning some giant Labor Day camping expedition. Energized by the scene, and the fact that we were nearing the turnoff that would put us on a very familiar running route, I passed a string of runners, took a quick water break and headed off onto the Greenway extension for the trip back into town.
I was feeling great at this point, really appreciating how hard my sister’s been making us work. She couldn’t make the race, but maybe it was just as well. She embraces training but gets overly anxious during races, whereas I’m the opposite. I fret about whether I can keep up during training, then get all excited during a race and just embrace running with the herd.
The weird thing about this mile stretch was I could never see any runners ahead of me to lock onto. There were too many twists and turns. I felt pretty good, though, and was visualizing how I’d shoot off the extension onto the road leading over the bridge. When we got there, though, I was stunned to discover we had to make a right turn to loop around some pylons. It wasn’t much of a change in course but it completely threw me off – especially when I saw a long string of runners had followed me out of the woods.
With a pretty big gap between me and the next runner and all these others coming up behind, all the momentum I’d felt earlier leaked out my ears. Could I keep up this pace? I was gasping for air at this point, and these last 2 miles had proven difficult lately on our training runs. I slowed to a quick walk to grab some water, got passed by one runner, and here’s where I made a critical error: Instead of focusing in on her and letting her pull me along until I could make up the gap, I inadvertently shifted into “playing not to lose” mode. I’d never worn a watch before during a race and always just focused on my position relative to the other runners. Now, though, I kept checking my watch to make sure I didn’t slip past 10 minutes a mile.
I never did, but I was obviously struggling. Finally I made it across the finish line in 61:30, a 9:55 pace.
I’d accomplished my goal. But I was kicking myself for my anemic finish. It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when I saw on the results sheet that I’d finished first in the 50-59 age group, that I began to cheer up.
Comparing notes afterward with the male 50-year-old age-group winner, a guy I went to high school with, I realized I’m lucky to still be improving at my age. Skip has been running for so long and was once so fast that now, even though he finished 8th overall with a time of 47:25, he feels slow and worn out.
I’m slow, but I don’t feel worn out. I’ve still got tons of room for improvement. And a relentless sister 8 years younger who will help push me to my goals if I just quit griping and embrace the challenge.