Sunday, April 10, 2011

Taking Care of Business

We don’t always just go out and run at whatever speed we’ve got in us. Readers new to the sport might be surprised to learn that we’re not always out there pushing our heart rates to the max. Alternatively, they might also benefit from realizing that there is joy to be found in doing just that.

One of the things I most love about running is the camaraderie of those that share the passion with me. My absolute favorite time of the year is the 18 weeks during which I meet up with 200 (or more) other runners for a weekly 5k trail series that begins in May and lasts well into October. We meet up every Tuesday night and run wherever the fine and sadistic people of the Catamount Family Center tell us to run. Ahead of and immediately following the race we fellowship and purify ourselves for another week of the daily grind.

I run mostly by myself for the rest of the week and the rest of the year … in between the races, anyway. But, occasionally, I’ll join another or a small group and share a run along with some conversation on any topic that finds itself fitting of the pace. Recently, my good friend Tom Weaver asked if I’d consider having a Sunday run with him to include finding 6 or 7 miles at the pace he hopes to run his upcoming half-marathon. Tom intends to give a sub 90 minute performance a serious attempt. He knows I’ve got a Garmin that will give us the feedback we need for those 6 or 7 miles, and we’ve not had a run together in some time. I’m only a week out from the Boston Marathon, but I’m not running Boston as a goal marathon this year. I’m saving the Vermont City Marathon, at the end of May, as the race in which I’ll attempt to best my PR (personal record) for the 26.2 distance. So I figure I can handle 7 miles at pace in the midst of my scheduled 12 miler a week away from my run from Hopkinton to Boston, MA. Additionally, the task will give me an opportunity to practice being a pacer. I’m pacing another friend as she breaks through the 3:30:00 milestone with her running of the Boston Marathon.

Tom picked me up at 7:30am and we parked the car at the local High School … at about the mid-way point along the Burlington bike path where we’d be running our pace miles. We took three warm-up miles to the top of the bike path where a foot bridge crosses the Winooski River into Colchester. Along the way, as it should, the conversation came easily and we discussed Tom’s recent trip back to the Midwest where he traveled to bury his father-in-law. Tom tells (and writes) a good story, so I enjoyed the time.

I’m struck, though, at how we switched to business once we found our way to the point where we’d turn around and step into pace. And this highlights another thing that the reader new to running might want to realize. We all have this switch. But just like any new switch you find, you never quite know what it’ll do until you flick it. And that takes deliberation. 

For the runner switching to his or her half-marathon pace, you swallow hard and realize that you’re about to decide to make the run hurt just a little bit. You follow through on the commitment to which you bound yourself when you signed on for this particular run. To switch from a casual 8:15 minute per mile pace, turn around, and start firing for a 6:50 pace, you have to be intentional. Conversation stopped and Tom and I were suddenly focused on the task at hand … mindful of our leg turnover, our breathing, our form. I would occasionally check the GPS attached to my wrist for instant feedback on our pace, and prod Tom with the mile splits … 6:52, 6:58, 6:51. Other than that, we were quiet and stayed the determined course. We were taking care of business.

And we did. We called for focus and found it … finishing the tougher miles at Oakledge Beach where Lake Champlain was pounding out whatever remained of its frozen shoreline. We caught our breath, turned around, and instantly fell back into conversation about whatever needed to be discussed as we nodded to those we didn’t know along the way doing the same thing.

That’s the business and balance of running. Finding joy where it’s needed on either side of determination.

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