I ran my first marathon in 2005. My first ultra in 2008. I’m considered by my many many friends to be a “long-distance runner,” and I don’t waste my breath debating the fact. It stands though that the only race I have scheduled in 2012 for which I will actually train and go “balls out” is a mere 5k.1 Just 3.1 miles. In early June I will cross town to Fremont and run the evening 5k they hold (I forget what it’s called, sorry). Despite my “distance” reputation, this is the only event I’m thinking about this year. After a few years of slow and somewhat uninformative trail miles, I want to test myself again.
A couple years ago I grew weary of road races. I was tired of paying some exorbitant fee to run on Highway 99 and two days later find out my chip time wasn’t recorded. I slowly gravitated towards the trails (discovering Seattle Running Club in the process), and for a good amount of time I was happy. My finish times at the (less pricey) Cougar Mtn Series races were always accurately recorded, though a little less helpful in terms of measuring my fitness. The trails at Cougar and Tiger (and Mt. Si and Crystal Mtn and hell, even Discovery and Lincoln Park) were soft and scenic. Long runs became longer. Race distances climbed from 5Ks >> marathons to 50ks >> 50 milers. Occasionally the thought of hitting a 100 miler would tempt me, if for no better reason than simple bragging rights. I truly believe I am a better runner today because of the long, slow, dirty miles accumulated over this time. One thing I couldn’t shake though was the desire to set concrete, black & white goals and then lay it on the line to achieve them.
In all 50ks I’ve run, a time goal has never been formulated. It’s more a vague guess on where I should wind up based on familiar names and the times they’ve posted in prior years. At the Chuckanut 50k last month, I expected “something around 4:45-4:59:59,” but at no point during the race was I thinking about how on-pace I was for that window. It never extended beyond “gee, I wonder what my finish time will be.” While it was nice to finish a few minutes earlier than anticipated, the sense of satisfaction was finite. What *did* I really accomplish? Was that even a good time, considering my fitness? Maybe my prediction was a little soft. These lingering thoughts are frustrating for someone who, unlike most ultrarunners, is not simply out there for the run itself. I don’t get the spiritual experience many of my facebook friends seem to get while traipsing through the trails. I’m not fast enough to compete with the big dogs,2 and the varying nature of ultra races (weather, course conditions, one mishap with a gel at the wrong time, a bear, BEES!!) can lead to wildly differing results, making it hard to compete even with myself, let alone the ghosts from ultrasignup’s results archive. At least not with any significant amount of closure.
I feel bad for Greg Crowther. The guy loves running far too much to have been injured for the past 15 years3 with a mysteriously persistent heel injury. Meanwhile, my running schedule has remained largely unimpeded over the same time frame, despite the fact that my “love of running” doesn’t really exist and is more accurately defined as a “hatred of being obese.” It isn’t fair; he deserves the miles more than I do, and I can guarantee without having to txt him for confirmation that he wants them more than I do. In fact, struggling through the composing of this paragraph has been more fun than any of my training runs this past month. Outside of those fleeting moments when the stars are aligned and everything is easy, running is merely something I do so I can eat a horrible amount of food later that night while simultaneously fitting into the same clothes I’ve been wearing since 1997. Greg on the other hand has been chewing on his arm, threatening to write “Nora Ephronesque rom-com novella[s]” while his heel heals far too slowly. Surely all the more frustrating since, when healthy and fit, I can think of only one other guy in the vicinity with the kind of 5k >> 100k range that Greg has. (I won’t name him here, even though he’s also a card-carrying SRC member. I’ll just say his name starts with a “U” and ends with “li Steidl”.) The recent passionless runs I’ve been subjecting myself to leave me feeling not only uninspired, but guilty.
Instead of sitting around with my finger in my nose, waiting for inspiration, I’ve forced it. Sometimes the magic of running comes not from winning races, or tagging a summit, but from discovering yet another way to keep the flame alive, if only for one more race. If I cannot stop and smell the roses during my interminable daily runs, I will pick a number and run for it. That number is my 5k PR. It is 1000 seconds. I ran it four years ago. I’m a very old 32 years old,4 and time is slipping away, but Fremont has a 5K in early June (I’ll get the official name eventually). A glorious Friday evening. I have recruited a friend with similar goals. On Tuesday evenings from here forward we will make a mockery of Fleet Feet Seattle’s store run.5 On Thursdays we will be found at the Garfield High School track, reminding ourselves of our own mortality. Though I’ll always prefer the trails, and I will return, at this moment I need something concrete to shoot for. I’m excited to hit the roads at least one more time, in honor of my smoking buddy Mr. Greg Crowther, and in tandem with my temporary teammate, Mr. Brett Walton.
They had better record my chip time though.
1Not counting the 2012 Fat Glass 50k, of course.
2That guy with the ponytail from irunfar.com has never requested an interview, even though my email and cell # and home address is easy to find.
3Give or take
4Physiologically, I am nearing the big 5-0.
5Come join us!