The problem with knowing so many speedy local runners is that I often feel pretty slow.
Here's an example: I'm sort of an honorary member of the Charlotte Running Club (i.e. I occasionally can get to a social event or fun run, but don't run with them on a regular basis), and the Charlotte Running Club boasts some of the city's best runners. Anyway, they put out a weekly e-newsletter, and after a local race, they'll give a rundown of how club members did. And since I am sort of an honorary member, I was included in those rundowns during the 2009 race season. They tended to go a little something like "Jay Holder won the such-and-such 5K, Mike Beigay finished third, Adam Mayes was sixth, Caitlin Chrisman won the women's race, etc., etc., etc. ... and congrats to Théoden Janes, who smoked the course and was 103rd!"
It actually is as funny as it is depressing. (Both of those sentiments aside I'm of course appreciative of the recognition Jay and the gang give me. Also, for the record, the CRC has added a bunch of non-"elite" runners to its ranks since the fall race season.) But I do have to remind myself that I'm actually pretty fast -- and that I've come a looong way since I started racing 16 months ago.
This morning in Dilworth, I was 52nd out of just over 1,000 finishers at the Cupid's Cup 5K, the first big race of the 2010 season. My time of 20:38 (a PR) would put me, by liberal estimates, in the top 5 percent of runners in Charlotte ... and by conservative estimates, I don't know, top 10 percent? Something like that.
Now, I'm not bragging. Like I said, I know the fast people. I know the guy who won the race, Paul Mainwaring, and I know Megan Hovis, who was the top women's finisher at Cupid's. Their average per-mile paces were a minute to a minute-and-a-half faster than mine. Those are humbling statistics. They ran times (15:58 and 17:13, respectively) I'll never touch.
I also know that some of you run 25s or 30s or 35s or 40s for 5Ks. I know that the 25-minute 5Kers look at my time and have a hard time fathoming it; the 30-minute 5Kers look at the 25s the same way; and so on and so forth. And sure, there are some 25ers who won't get down to 23, and there are some 30ers won't get down to 26 or even 28, and so on.
But I can guarantee you one thing: Lots of you will drop those times. I know this because I've dropped mine, considerably, over the past 16 months.
You're reading words written by a guy who had never run a race in his life before turning 35. Never ran track in high school, never jogged for exercise but a handful of times in college; the only running I did "regularly" was during my disappointing baseball career as a youth and during men's-league softball games -- and of course, in those sports, most of the time you're just standing around.
Some of you know this, but when I ran my first race (the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October of 2008), I was so clueless that I pinned my race chip to my shirt along with my bib, instead of fastening it to my shoelace. I mean, DUH. I ran a 27-something, but it to this day is the only race I have failed to get an official time for. I learned my lesson.
In fact, I learn something every time I race. What works for breakfast. What works for a warmup. When the best time to hit the porto-john is. What going out too hard feels like. What leaving too much in the tank feels like. What forgetting Vaseline during a long-distance race will do to your body. Where to put the chip. And every time I learned something, I got smarter and raced better.
Between mid-October 2008 and mid-February 2009, I cut four minutes off of my 5K time. At last year's Cupid's Cup, I ran a personal best: 22:38.
My progress admittedly has slowed somewhat. It took me a full year to shave off another two minutes and clock today's time. I'm getting closer to my physical peak, and therefore, I've had to work harder and endure tougher workouts to make smaller improvements. Over the next year, I'll have to work even harder and endure even tougher workouts to trim another 39 seconds and drop my 5K time down into the teens. But I think I can do it.
ANYWAY, if it seems like this is all about me, it's not. I mean, it is ... but it isn't. What I'm trying to do is use myself as an example to point out that you can get stronger. You can get faster. If you're insecure at all about your times, you've gotta start doing what I'm learning to do, which is: Stop worrying about how fast everybody else is, and start celebrating how fast you are. Congrats to ALL finishers today.
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