I imagine there comes a time in every runner's life when the spark dies a little bit. The motivation wans, and you find yourself wondering what was so great about this whole running thing to begin with. It's much like a relationship: it's great at the beginning when everything is shiny and new. You can't get enough of it. Then comes the inevitable shift from brand new and exciting to comfortable and familiar. I've always had a hard time with that transition in the romantic sense, and the transition in running is surprisingly similar.
When you're training for your first race you're simply looking for that sense of accomplishing whatever the distance may be. Time is less of a factor. You're looking to finish. I've done that with half marathons and marathons and dozens of 5ks and 10ks. I did it last year with my first triathlon. But then comes the moment...the "what's next" moment. You know...the "where is this relationships going" conversation. I've run all these races. Sure it's fun and it's challenging. But now what?
That's when I decided running itself wasn't enough. This is the year I'm going to be fast. I've never been a fast runner, and it was never a goal of mine to beat anyone but myself. This year that changed with my public proclamation to break 21 minutes in the 5k. This year I've got a goal, and that goal will keep me motivated throughout the summer on the road to the New York Marathon in November.
Last weekend I ran the St. Gerard 5k at my church. It was an impeccably organized small race. I saw friends I knew from church, the community and even my next door neighbor happened to be there. I picked up my packet and started near the front of the pack. It was a warmer day than I expected, and I was pushing too hard to appreciate the sun on my face.
The race ran through subdivisions in Lansing's neighboring Delta Township. There weren't timers at each mile which is really a blessing for me. Sometimes those clocks get in my head and affect my pace. I knew I was pushing hard, but I wasn't sure if it was that or the heat making my breathing shallow and my head pounding.
I rounded the corner to the finish hearing one of my friends in the small crowd cheering for me. I saw the clock and knew I could break my PR. I crossed in 23:50, five seconds off my 5k PR but still 2 minutes and 50 seconds from my goal time. I've run four 5ks this year, and I've finished in the top two in my age group in 3 out of those 4 races. I'm getting somewhere.
I sat on the curb catching my breath. It was a minute and a half faster than my time the week before in the Race for the Cure. This upcoming weekend I'm running the Grand Rapids River Bank double: the 5k followed by the 10k. I had originally registered for the 25k, but I haven't been training for 15 miles. I knew that wasn't a good idea. Hey look at me knowing my limits! Someone please write down this momentous occasion.
I've moved from the shiny new stage of running to where it's a comfortable, familiar relationship. Now it takes working harder and challenging myself to stay fresh. Two minutes and 50 seconds is a lifetime in a 5k, but I took more than two minutes off my PR last year. It can be done. This summer running is going to feel like a new lover, and I'm excited to rekindle the flame.