For almost two decades, running was never a loaded thing for me. I was just happy to go the distance at a 9 to 10ish minute-mile pace, a speed I scientifically determined my clocking my run on my Timex, then driving the same route in my car, post-run, and grabbing the calculator when I walked in the door.
For a variety of reasons (a coach started me on speedwork, I bought a Garmin, I thought I needed a challenge) I'm no longer the runner who is pleasantly surprised when I rip off a sub-nine-minute mile. Now I expect sub-9 to be the norm, not the exception. I gotta admit, at the risk of sounding like a poser and not a runner, this whole what's-my-split? thing is not working for me.
Check that: running faster is working for me. Who doesn't like to see their name climb up the ladder of race results? But the mentality that comes with running faster--obsession with numbers, not fully appreciating the race's scenery and my fellow runners, and, most importantly, marking a race a failure if I don't meet my goals--is not working for me.
On the heels of the Austin half-marathon over Valentine's Day where I had no race strategy and that really didn't work for me, I lined up at a 10-mile local race, the third in a 3-race series, on Saturday morning. (FYI: Not one to constantly test myself, I wouldn't have raced 13 days after just racing, but I signed up for the series, instead of individual races, to save $10. So my cheapness forced me to run it.)
For most of Friday, I kept thinking about how I wanted to run it:
Start with a 9:30 mile, and then every mile, go 10 seconds faster. I'd end with a 8:00-minute mile, which is super ambitious for me after running 9 miles. The upside? At least I'd finally negative split a race.
Plan B: Maintain splits between 8:20-8:40 for 10 miles. Evens out the ups and downs, both with regard to hills and my ridiculous, PMS-worthy mood swings that hit me in races.
No. No more math. Just run at an effort that feels good. Maybe a 6 on a scale of 1-10? O.k., a 7. This is a race, after all.
Find somebody after the first mile who looks about your speed and like she knows how to pace herself, and follow her. Do whatever you need to do to stay with her.
And on and on. My brain, which chugs with the same efficiency as a green-screened Apple computer from 1984, did not need this distraction on an already hectic Friday.
Still, around and around it went, until the race started and I still had no firm plan. So I stayed with option B for about 5 miles, until the course went uphill for 2 miles and--bonus for you today!--into a healthy headwind. My splits shot up to 9:40 or something. Once again, I became discouraged, even though my groaning hamstrings, straining from the incline, and the fact that my short hair was actually blowing in the wind, provided very tangible reasons for the deceleration.
I was able to get back below 8:40 for the last mile. As I sped in as quickly as I could, checking my Garmin more often than I check e-mail on days I feel lonely, I realized I'm sick of sucking the fun out of running. There's a reason why I work with words, not numbers: I like vague concepts and the ability to interpret a situation in many ways. Numbers, concrete and with no room for error, tell a very flat story.
The more I fixate on my splits, the more frustrated and disappointed I get. Right now, trying to get faster feels like looking for love: the more you force it, the more elusive it becomes. Or, in other words, preoccupation with anything often has the opposite effect of what I want.
So for at least a week, I'm officially taking my eyes off the prize (or at least my Garmin) to see how that feels. I'm hoping that I'll accidentally meet up with another kind of love--the love of running--out on the path.
As I embark on my mini-experiment, I'm wondering: do you get too numbers obsessed? If so, how do you tone it down? Or is there no such thing as being too split-headed in your view?
*I couldn't resist posting this picture of Lydia, just two weeks old. She's wearing American Girl skates, which belong to her sister, Isabel, who slyly slipped them on her when their mom wasn't watching. If you'll look closely, she's slyly giving me the finger.