I can still vividly recall the previous year’s Crescent City Classic. I remember the effortlessness of those first few miles at 5:30 per (far ahead of goal pace), and the elation as I crossed the finish. My goofy grin must have been visible from space as I ran up Roosevelt Mall to meet my girlfriend (not pictured above), and though the exact words I said now escape me, they were undoubtedly something along the lines of: “32nd! I got 32nd! Holy F***ing HELL I CAME IN 32ND!!!!”
So, yeah, not a bad day. If you’re curious–but not curious enough to look it up in a different tab–I came through at 34:29.
That day was followed by a year of high mileage, and of heightened expectations. I slogged through summer, fitting in 4-milers between my two jobs, and began to methodically increase training in autumn. There existed no overarching goal, no designs on winning local races, or any real training philosophy to speak of. I had plenty of reasons to run, though. I ran to stave off heartbreak, and the creeping lethargy and apathy that accompanied it. As long as my mileage was good, I had some semblance of order in my life, and one of those handy “Well at least I have _______,” rationalizations to keep the self-loathing at bay.
Winning helps. Whether we chase age-group domination, an overall title, or a PR, we are buoyed by victories. In this respect, I was more than fortunate over the past year. And as the times continued to drop, I hoped for greater successes each time I laced up my flats. After running a 15:33 5k, 32:00 in the 10 seemed to be the next logical goal, and I spent five months chasing it. The 2012 Classic, I determined, would be the venue for my breakthrough.
But “the best laid schemes of mice and men/ often go awry,” a fact I’ve come to know quite well. I failed to hit the mark yesterday, and failed pretty drastically at that (again, for the marginally curious, 33:02). Though I don’t have my mile splits at the ready**, my first 5k was on pace (15:55, with a 4:58 first mile), while my second-half was uncharacteristically weak.
Or, in layman’s terms, I just plain broke down. Several times, in fact. A smarter race would probably have yielded a PR, and a paycheck, but I abandoned intellect for one last, fleeting shot at my white whale. We’re creatures of folly, after all, and I’m often a prime specimen.
After laying my disappointment bare in the previous paragraphs, it would seem a little cheap and disingenuous to offer up some “No regrets!”-esque statement, wouldn’t it? But I don’t regret going out at 4:58, or chasing what would prove to be an unattainable goal. I don’t regret spending hundreds of hours molding myself into shape, and I wouldn’t trade the trials of miles–whether on a sun-drenched levee in New Orleans, or beneath snow and sleet along the Chicago lakefront–for anything. I merely wish that, on April 7th, 2012, I had been a better runner than I was. Think that’s a cop-out? You’re probably right, but it’s mine, and I’m sticking to it.
Though the destination didn’t prove to my liking, the journey that brought me to it was a labor of love, and one often done in fantastic company. Few men can consistently put in interval work alone, or turn 10-mile recovery runs into fartleks simply for kicks (looking at you, Will). While alone I would have faltered in my training, I was helped immensely by the group around me.
For the first time in a very long time, I’ll be taking two weeks off. I’ll be gaining weight, resting the legs, and rebooting the brain, and then heading back out to begin training again. And while I’ll do it with the disappointment of the Classic still fresh in my mind, I’ll also remember the wonderful year that preceded it.
Also: Pat Gavin rose again on Saturday, beating Jesus by a full 24 hours. Congratulations, sir.
** Post-Publication Update: Miles splits were 4:57, 5:12, 5:19, 5:18, 5:31, 5:23(ish).