Sunday, March 25, 2007

It Just Takes Time

The clouds teased with a hint of rain and gave the warm air a smooth, creamy texture that seemed to cling to your skin. Slowly the crowds converged on the Congress Avenue bridge facing the Texas state capitol. They came in all shapes and sizes from the trim, athletic Africans to the tall and pondering. The elite athletes could be identified by the numbered yellow bibs pinned to their shirts. They lined up right in front of the red timing mats under the bannered arch that proclaimed the 30th running of the Capitol 10k. With more than 15,000 participants it is the largest 10k foot race in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States.

Only a couple of weeks earlier I debated whether I'd run the race. My left buttock was still strained from the Austin Marathon and made running quickly a painful affair and fast running impossible. But two years ago the Capitol 10k was my first race and I didn't want to miss keeping my small streak alive even if I just had to jog the course instead of racing it. Last week my legs started to show some signs of life and recovery and last Thursday I completed a 20 minute tempo run at a hard pace with only moderate discomfort. I've been afraid that my recovery from the marathon had caused me to lose a lot of conditioning, but maybe I'd be able to have a respectable result.

The 10k is a hard race and I haven't been very successful in lowering my personal record (PR). I ran my best race in October of 2005 and have disappointed a couple of times since then. Today I felt good, but the weather was less than ideal for a fast time plus the Capitol 10k is a tough course with a lot of hills.

The race organizers do an outstanding job each year organizing the runners into different groups based on their anticipated finishing time. I had a blue bib that allowed me to start right behind the elite athletes. The red bibs followed us and then the white and green bibs. Soon enough the horn sounded and the crowd eased forward and rapidly started to spread out heading up the hill to the Capitol. It took over 15 minutes just for everyone to cross the starting line.

My hip reminded me that I had run down this hill just 5 weeks earlier at the finish of the marathon. It ached but I concentrated on keeping a quick, light foot turnover and felt like I was gliding up the road. I was pretty comfortable and I tried to get my heart and breathing going so I could get settled into a comfortable race pace. As we neared the Capitol we turned right and up a steep hill and I passed the first mile marker in 8:17. My heart rate was up to 170 which was right around where I was trying to keep it.

At the top of the hill we turned left toward DKR Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns football team and then turned left and up another hill. The Cap 10k course has two faces. You head up hill around the east side of the Capitol and then run west across the city and its worst hills. Then it turns back south and goes back down to Town Lake where it heads back east on mostly flat roads before it crosses the lake and finishes at Auditorium Shores. Right now I was trying to control my pace through the hills of the upper part of the course. I missed the mile 2 marker but didn't miss the huge hills that took us down to Shoal Creek and then back up. I leaned forward down the hill and controlled my speed. Another runner was less successful in controlling his speed and pounded past with his feet slapping the ground. At the bottom I shortened my pace and kept a quick light pace. Miles 2 and 3 averaged 8:46.2 pace with an average heart rate of 172.

With half of the race complete we turned left and headed down to the river. The course still threw a couple of short up hills, but it was mostly downhill for the next mile which went by in a quick and comfortable 8:32.8 and an average heart rate of 174.

Now we turned left and ran along Town Lake up a gentle slope. Only a couple of miles were left and I started to push a little harder. I felt good and realized that I was easily running my fastest 10k ever. This was even more motivation to stay strong and I finished mile 5 in 8:42.6 and an average heart rate of 177. The heat and humidity are punishing me now and it feels like steam must be coming off my head. Although this stretch doesn't have any big hills, it is still slightly up hill and despite an average heart rate of 179 I only manage a 8:48.3 for mile 6.

Only two tenths of a mile left and I turn onto the home stretch and try to kick. It's less than 400m and I can see the finish line, but I don't have much left in the tank. I've been running at a high intensity level and apparently I haven't lost my marathon training completely. The last kick was at a 7:40 pace, not blazingly quick, and my heart rate was 187 as I completed the race and leaned on the photographers' tower. I was spent, but it was worth it.

53:26, 8:36 average pace, 174 average heart rate, and an improvement of over 2 minutes over my previous PR. It was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. It turns out that 5 weeks was just barely enough time for my legs to recover and come alive after my marathon. I'd been worried that I hadn't recovered and had also lost my conditioning. It turns out I haven't lost much. Now I can look forward to the rest of my spring races.

As I walked with my wife back to the car I thought about how the arduous training of a marathon has made a 10k seem easy by comparison. I think that a lot of life is like this. As we push ourself and explore our limits we get stronger. Despite injuries and setbacks, if we persevere and persist then we can accomplish lofty goals. But almost more importantly, the strength we gain carries over into other aspects of our life and former challenges become more manageable and no longer seem so daunting.

I'm not particularly fast and probably won't ever be, but I'm still proud of being able to set challenging goals and meet them. I hope that I can carry the lessons learned over into other parts of my life.

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