Monday, August 20, 2012

Scars Fade

Early in my running career, I was just beginning to discover what kind of runner I was and could be.  With one marathon, a ten miler, and a ten kilometer under my belt, I was training for my second marathon with a friend who was coaching me.  We picked the 2005 Leesburg 20K as a good measure of my progress as it was about two months into my training and two months before the marathon.  The day was hot, like most August days, and I went out too fast.  At first, I thought I was doing great, pulling down 6:10 miles, but by the third mile I started to feel it catch up with me as the course turned onto a slow, long uphill trail.  The best thing I did that day was ignore my inclination to quit - I slogged it out and trudged across the finish line in 1:47, nearly fifteen minutes slower than my projected time.  I was confused, upset, and disappointed in myself - my only silver lining was that I did not quit.

It has been seven years since I raced that course where I was humbled.  And so it was earlier yesterday that I returned to the Leesburg 20K in an attempt to erase my earlier racing mental scar.  I've grown quite a bit in the intervening years, changed much about myself, and earned some personal and professional scars.  Part of me used the course to train for my upcoming fall marathons; part of me to take on the course that beat me.

My racing plan called for a pace of around 6:45 and to finish near 1:25.  The weather seemed to cooperate as it was a cool yet humid 70 degrees at race time with overcast.  I started out holding myself back for the first two miles around the town.  By the time I hit the trail for the climb uphill, I felt all right yet the toll of a 60 mile week and speed work only three days earlier crept into my mind and was felt through my sore legs.  Miles 3 and 4 were in the 7 minute range, and I wondered if I was going to be terribly off pace today.  Yet, as a woman surged past me, the third overall at the time, my legs started to feel better as I shortened my pace, focused on form, and unclenched.  Once in my groove, I was able to ascend the W&OD Trail with the best effort I had in me.

And then, I remembered the JFK 20K.  Held by my club, DC Road Runners, in the past it has been raced as an out and back on the Capital Crescent Trail.  Similar to this stretch, it is an incline on the way out and a decline on the way back.  I recalled how I raced that in the past - hold steady early on and then use a strong kick after the turnaround to take advantage of the descent.  Once I hit mile 8 which ended the final hill, a smile crept on to my face secure in my race experience as I let my legs go to work. My strides were short and mostly consistent, my head and back straight, and my arms tucked and pumping.

I settled into a spot in the race where I had a target ahead of me (that same woman who would place third for the women) and a chaser behind.  I neither caught nor was caught, but I did get within seven seconds of catching her.  A solid finishing kick cemented my course personal record of 1:24:06, 23 minutes faster than my only other time, and only about 30 seconds slower than my PR which was run in ideal conditions.


(Photo courtesy Laura Goldin)

As we drove back to DC, I glowed from the feeling of conquering a course that had defeated me years earlier.  I thought about some of the things that have happened in my life since then: the challenges, heartaches, and failures but also the accomplishments and personal highs.  Maybe some scars never heal, but with time, they can fade to where you barely notice they ever existed.  We need them to remind ourselves so we can really appreciate the achievements and cherish those who support us and share in our joy.

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