Three weeks ago, I toed the line at the Millennium Mile, a new year’s day race held in Londonderry, New Hampshire. I ran it for the first time in 2016, so I was interested to see where I would land in 2017. Recent training hadn’t been perfect, but I had a month of Coach Braz’s insights and training under my belt.
For a middle aged man fairly new to running, I did a pretty good job last year, coming in at 5:49. Not bad, especially considering the lack of focus on short distance running in general. More specifically, very little speed work at all. This year would be no different, the fastest speed work I had done was right around 7:30 a mile. Coach Braz advised me to focus on a runner that would be maybe a little faster than I thought I could run, and try to keep up. Let the rubber band stretch a little, maybe he or she gets a little bit in front of me, but don’t let go. Keep up as much as possible. In my mind, if I could run a 5:45 or less, that would be great. Frankly, anything faster than last year would be a win.
So on a not-too-cold January morning, I lined up toward the back of the coral for people running between 5:00 and 6:00. I was standing next to a kid, looked like maybe ten or twelve years old. There were a couple of seven or eight year olds in front of him. I turned to my number one supporter and said, “no way these kids are laying down sub-six miles.” I removed my track pants and jacket, sang the national anthem, and prepared to run.
When the race started, I was ready (unlike last year when I still had one leg in my track pants). There was a woman about ten years younger than me that looked like she was carrying about the same amount of weight as I was nearby, and fifteen seconds into the race, I was keeping up with her, so I decided she was my rubber band athlete. Fifteen seconds later, my pulse was already in the 180 range, and I was huffing a bit. As we got to the 1/4 mile sign, I took a look at my watch, and was dismayed to see that she (we) were tracking for running this mile in under five minutes! No wonder my lungs felt like they were about to burst. Not good!
Here’s what went through my mind.
- I am not capable of running a sub 5:00 mile right now.
- I may never achieve that kind of speed.
- Age and time certainly aren’t on my side…
- Short races aren’t my focus, what the hell am I doing?
- Better let her run on without me.
- Wait… how do I stay focused if I let her run on without me?
- I’m gonna puke a lung out if I don’t let her run on without me.
- Dang, those kids are running way faster than she is!
So I tried to ease back a little. My watch, the lovely Garmin Forerunner 920XT, is dying on me a little, so I don’t have a ton of data from the first minute of the race, but it looks like I was taking 230 steps a minute, up to 1.5 meters long. I turned it down to 205 steps a minute, slightly shorter steps. It was still significantly faster and longer than I normally race at, but it felt sustainable. In the end, my average stride was 1.44 meters. As I approached the finish line, I felt like death, but I could see a PR was going to happen, so gave my best and was able to finish with a time of 5:39. This was fast enough to take 12th place out of over 100 40-49 year old men, and 85th out of 1,170 runners.
I’ll take it.
I had a bit of a cough from the heavy breathing for the next 24 hours, but it cleared up and I felt good in spite of the strong effort. 5:39 is a pretty fast mile for someone who doesn’t focus on running a fast mile.
Next year? I plan on keeping up with those kids just a little bit longer.
These girls look fast, don’t they! And I look like I’m about to die… I laugh at this photo, it makes me happy.