The conditions are dang near perfect for nailing my goal in the penultimate virtual race of our 4-race Love the Run You’re With series: 10 miles in less than 90 minutes. It’s overcast. Temps in the mid-50s. The route I’ve chosen on a paved bike trail is flat, scenic, and practically deserted. My legs feel fresh, and I’m excited for the challenge. Almost like magic, I’m able to put myself in the zone, focusing straight ahead with tunnel vision. Other than checking my splits—9:00, 8:56, 8:45, 8:53, 9:00—I don’t look at my GPS.
After sucking down a tasty Strawberry-Banana GU Liquid at the halfway point, I loop around to retrace my steps of the out-and-back course—and immediately am struck by a headwind. It must have been pushing me along. Gulp. “One mile at a time, Sarah; one mile at a time.”
It’s after Mile 6 (8:53) that my self-talk starts in earnest. Maybe it’s the wind, maybe it’s physiological, but the effort feels harder at a slower pace. The mantra, “Honor the miles,” spring into my head. I let it ping around in my monkey-mind for a moment, and it feels right.
It’s a phrase I’ve used before: It means I put in the consistent effort earlier in the race and got the results I was striving for. To pay homage to those miles—and the dedication it took to nail them—means keeping my foot on the gas. To keep striving to hit my goal, rather than throwing in the proverbial towel.
Because, let’s face it, it would be so easy to ease up. It’s a virtual race. Other than the occasional cyclist, no one can see me. Yet I admit to myself how much I want to hit my goal of sub-90 minutes. Because, you see, I played around a bunch with the app Race Pace, and it tells me that running a 10-mile race at that pace would translate into a Boston-qualifying marathon time for me—and today is the day I would have been running the Missoula Marathon if it wasn’t for the stinking pandemic.
So over the next three miles—Miles 7, 8 and 9—I keep repeating “Honor the miles. Honor the miles.” I feel my heart rate shift from Zone 3 to Zone 4 (or so I think—I’m not wearing a HR monitor); my breathing is more labored. I feel dizzy in Mile 8. I really don’t want to keep running at this pace. Yet I (sorta) do: 9:12. 9:20. 9:09. I’m still only looking at my GPS for splits, not elapsed time, yet I know it’s going to be close. I need a big push for the final mile.
It’s her 94th birthday. Other than a caregiver, she’s alone in her apartment in a senior living facility, sitting in a wheelchair. I get to be out here, surrounded by tall, waving grasses, wild daisies, and blue cornflowers, with small songbirds swooping about, moving my fully functioning body. I lean in, and go, repeating silently, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.” probably close to 100 times.
Mercifully, my GPS finally beeps for a 10th time, and I press stop. When the final time flashes onto the screen—1:29:57—I shout, “Sweet Jesus!,” which my Catholic mother would not appreciate. But, as much as it feels like she is, she’s not around to hear me.