Every few years, it appears that I need to relearn the “you never know what you can do until you try” lesson. This may be the one true constant in my life. Well, that and never being able to pluck every last chin hair.
The last two times I really pushed myself was training for and finishing the New York City marathon in 2016, then setting a half-marathon PR at Wineglass in 2018. Ever since I checked "sheer endurance" and "speed+endurance" off of my Can I Do It list, my only real goal has been to run 13.1 miles in every state in the U.S.
While I remain totally on-board with that scheme — only 38 states left! — the pandemic is harshing that buzz. My coach floated the idea of using this time to focus on mile time trial. To which I said: sure. Why not?
Initially, the plan was to built up some speed and run it in September. But with dropping my oldest off at college and other life stuff, my enthusiasm and mental capacity for intervals and strides was non-existent. Fortunately, by the end of the month, my get-up-and-go was back.
I spent most of October mixing speed-work into my running routine and hit the track on Mondays. And while the paces were hard, they weren’t so hard as to be demoralizing. I can run a 9:30 lap or two but it takes a good mantra that I borrowed from Oiselle (Head Up, Wings Out) to remind me to pick up my cadence rather than rely on a longer stride.
It also takes a lot of Beyonce.
After four weeks of light, fast feet, the morning of my fast mile came. With it came high wind warnings, blowing snow, and an achy hip. Late October in these parts can be fickle and my body continues to age. This is another lesson I need to keep learning.
Rather than stop thinking about all of it and just go, I started to bargain. I could wait and do it tomorrow, when weather conditions would be even worse. Or I could put it off until the afternoon, which would really just give myself more time to find better excuses. Another option was to just run easy, you know, because of the weather and the hip and the wind.
Or I could just suck it up and do the thing, just like I’d done for all of my speedier runs, each one of which I tried to talk myself out of and each one of which I conquered. So I dug out my gloves and went.
My warm-up was the three-quarters-of-a-mile to the high school track. I took one lap of the track — roughly a quarter mile — to do some high knees and strides. All of my aches left the building once I was warmed up. Then I took a deep breath, blinked some snowflakes out of my eyes, and hit the lap button.
I started my first lap way too fast. While I can run a 9:15 pace, I can’t actually sustain it for more than 400 meters. I held a few of my horses and shot for a 10:30-10:45 pace, which seemed to be about what I could do this day.
That’s where I stayed for laps two and three. They were hard, mind, but I wasn’t dying. Plus, Lizzo had my back.
When I started lap four, I picked it up a little. For the last 200 meters, I ran as fast as I could, which at that point wasn’t super fast but just a itty-bit faster than before.
I looked at my Garmin after it beeped: 10:21. This, my friends, is the fastest I have ever run a mile. And I did it despite the wind and the snow and the hip. I did it even though I didn’t think I could.
So maybe this is the time for you, too, to find a way to surprise yourself by trying something that is just outside of your comfort zone. Make it hard, but not impossible. And don’t let yourself be distracted by all of your own excuses.
So what will it be?
Adrienne Martini writes about more than running. Her most recent book is Somebody's Gotta Do It: Why Cursing at the News Won't Save the Nation but Your Name on a Local Ballot Can.