Saturday afternoon, I volunteered at packet pickup for the Rogue Distance Festival. It’s always fun seeing runner friends in everyday clothes, makeup on, hair loose.
I took a short three-mile run in the morning, but packet pickup wasn’t labor-intensive or anything. I ran down to the Starbucks at one point (it was cold and windy) and joked, “Watch me hurt myself now.” Fortunately I didn’t.
But Saturday evening, things went awry. My asthma had flared up a couple of times this week–nothing major, but I needed my inhaler to resolve them. Last night when it hit, though, it hit hard. One of the worst asthma attacks I’ve ever had. Deep barking cough, no chance to catch my breath, inhaler in the kitchen. I couldn’t even get up to get it. Fortunately the others were home and quickly realized I needed their help.
The inhaler subdued the cough, and eventually my breathing returned to (relative) normal. But the attack had completely sapped my energy. For the rest of the evening I could only lie in my bed, halfheartedly flipping through a copy of Sports Illustrated and texting with K for medical advice (she’s a nurse) and commiseration (she has asthma too). In the back of my mind, I wondered if I could race this thing in the morning.
I’d looked up the pace I’d need to run in order to PR, and I suspected it was just out of reach. My workouts have gone well and my leg has recovered, but I felt like I’d lost some fitness? speed? since the Army Ten-Miler and haven’t quite gotten it back. But since 3M has been my goal race since the moment I finished it last year, I was okay with just giving this one my best shot as a gauge of 3M preparedness and nothing more. Which seemed even wiser after the Night of Asthma.
I woke up a little before my alarm, and my breathing seemed okay. But temps had dropped below freezing–cold exacerbates my asthma–so I still felt a bit anxious about the whole thing. I double-checked that my inhaler was with my race stuff.
I wore only one layer, plus gloves, knowing I’d warm up quickly. I could afford to do that because the race starts in the parking lot of a nearby high school, which opens its cafeteria to runners for a warm place to wait. We only went outside when it was time to head to the starting line.
I started off way too fast the first mile–like ridiculously too fast–although in my defense it had quite a bit of a downhill to it. The second and third miles, including an ipod playlist readjustment, glove removal, and watch relocation while heading back uphill, were more appropriate but still faster than I was expecting.
We ran mostly through a quiet residential neighborhood, but when we crossed one of the main roads at about 2.5 miles, a loud group of Beef Team spectators, including two friends, perked me up a bit.
These were streets S and I had run several times this summer, but even then I wasn’t quite sure where I was at any given time. I didn’t look at my watch a whole lot, mostly running by feel. And I felt good–breathing was okay and temperature was comfortable. For me anyway, even in just the one layer. The bundled-up course monitors and spectators looked positively Arctic.
Just after mile four I saw my coach cheering wildly. And then somewhere during mile 5, I caught up with my newest running partner as she played the passing game with the same pair of run-walkers who, since the first mile, had run a pattern of pass me, stop in front of me and walk, over and over. Then S caught up to us. Normally faster than I am, she’s still recovering from an injury so she was chasing me instead of vice versa.
I’m pretty sure the Mile 5 marker was misplaced–my Garmin said 4.93 when I reached it. I’d done a good job taking corners properly, and up to that point my watch had matched the mile markers. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t be surprised by extra mileage at the end.
And then, in one of those mind-game peer-pressure moments, our trio started speeding up. You can do anything for a mile. Later, we each will say one of the others started it. But however it happened, we chased down that last mile only a few seconds slower than my ridiculous first mile. I don’t know about the others, but I was at least partially fueled by a burning desire to finally leave those run-walkers in the dust. The sun was behind us, and I kept seeing approaching shadows over my left shoulder. Nope, not gonna let you pass me now.
My breathing was hideous at this point–I probably sounded like a wildebeest in labor–but I had my headphones on and didn’t care. I could see the water tower just past the finish line and knew I had enough in me to get there. It didn’t hurt that one of our Rogue friends who’d already finished ran with us until the final turn back into the school parking lot, where another Rogue coach cheered loudly for us.
Point-two to go.
“Go Big or Go Home” blasted through my headphones, and we sped up again.
Spectator and race announcer noise. Beef Team friends again. Wildebeest breathing. FINISH LINE.
The race clock had started with the 30K’ers who’d left 15 minutes before us. My math skills are suspect with full access to oxygen, so there was no calculating my finish time on the fly now. The three of us crossed the finish line together, and I stopped my watch.
I collected my breath and my medal (one took longer than the other) and exited the immediate finish area. I hadn’t seen M and B as I was running in, but they found me immediately so I know they had seen me finish.
And then I looked at my watch.
I PR’d by four minutes and fourteen seconds.
Even before last night’s asthma problems I hadn’t thought I could run anywhere close to the pace I ran for the 8K back in September–the one that made me adjust my Army Ten-Miler goals–but my average pace today was eleven seconds faster than that for a mile and a half longer.
It’s funny–later at breakfast (pancakes with impunity!) each of us said, “No, I didn’t speed up. I was chasing you and just tried to hang on!” But whatever psychological trick kicked in there, I’m grateful for it. I’m certain I would not have pushed myself into the wildebeest-labor zone alone.
Obviously I must adjust my pacing strategy for a race more than twice the distance. But maybe–just maybe–I can find redemption at 3M after all. With a little help from my friends.