Saturday, February 20, 2010

You're faster than you think you are

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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mainers said...

which is why our sport is such a great one- anyone can get better and faster, the sky is the limit! Great article and great job today Theoden and look forward to seeing your times drop even more! By the way, I didn't start running 'properly' until I was in my late 20s myself


Emily said...

Fantastic blog! Thanks for one of the 'non-elite' CRC members, I relate to this so much! I only started running about a year ago and have accomplished times and distances I could have only dreamed about then. Although I beat myself up at times, I'm slowly but surely creeping up the age group ranks. Thanks for reminding me that my race times are an accomplishment I should be proud of! Another great thing about knowing so many 'local elites'...they're all incredibly encouraging!

Virtuous said...

Great post! And Great job Theoden - was hoping I would recognize you IRLand actually get to meet you at Cupid Cup!

My goal for this race: "To end not crawling on my hands and knees" LOL

I ran 32:38 on my 1st 5K and hope to improve next time!

Anonymous said...

Wish I'd started racing when I was younger. At 46 for my first marathon (4:20:40), it took a couple more years to reach 4:10 and the hopes for a sub-4 have begun to diminish. 6 years, and 12 marathons later, I get a lot of satisfaction from going sub-4:30. And this age group thing gives you a chance to start over on your PRs every 5 years!

Allen said...

Great post as always. I often find myself envying you as your fastest times lie ahead of you while mine are all behind me (hopefully with the exception of the long distance stuff that I never ran during my running salad days). But the beauty of this sport is that there are so many ways to stay motivated - age group rivalries, new distances, different types of races, etc.

And you have to love the Charlotte running community - everyone is so supportive and encouraging.

Congrats again on the PR! See you in Salisbury in a few hours...

Aaron Linz said...

The absolute beauty of running to me is that despite some of the impressive times of the "elites" in the sport, I think it is more impressive that Theoden knew virtually nothing about the sport 2 years ago and now is not only one of the most respected writers of the sport in the area, he is in the top 10% based on times and performances! That is incredible and should be very inspiring to all. Alot of the top racers have run for 10-15+ years under top coaches. They are expected to run really fast. This weekend was so tremendously gratifying to me as so many folks I know in the running community who are fairly new to the sport or recently got back into it after several years away ran fantastic AND most important, they had fun doing it. Way to go Charlotte running community! More fun to come in 2010!!! - Aaron

Anonymous said...

Congrats to all who had a PR and to the first time racers!! Way to go!

Now that your confidence is running high (no pun intended) use all that emotional excitement and energy to burn up the track and roads in training to prepare for your next race. BUT...BUT..don't get too greedy!! hahahahahhahaa ha

By that I mean don't injure yourself by pushing TOO hard based on your current condition.

Lesson learned: use the thrill of your accomplishments for motivation, but wisely plan your training. Realistically evaluate your current condition and strength.

Don't over train, don't injure yourself.

Develop a specific training plan that allows for realistic gradual improvements - a plan that also has adequate recovery and nutrition.

Remember – the rest and recovery days are as EQUALLY important as those tough work out days.

Have fun!


weimerbill said...

OK, that was funny about pinning your chip to your T-shirt...! I needed that laugh this morning!

Anonymous said...

It was nice that this area could support three races Saturday morning and another in Salisbury on Sunday. The turn out numbers were very impressive Saturday for a cool morning. The weather on Sunday only made people of all abilities come out and run.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of races that I didn't get official times for, turns out that if you put your chip over the road id on your shoe it won't work.

I never ran track, but I played a lot of other sports. Thing is, I was always in trouble so I ran a lot of laps. Eventually I just skipped the part where I start out practicing a different sport and go straight to the part where I run laps.

jayholder8k said...

What I love about running is you are your own fiercest competitor. You race to beat and better the times of your past and are able to celebrate when you do. I'd rather run a PR and finish 45th then win a race anyday. It's just such a satisfying feeling to know all your hard work paid off. Great job at Cupid's Cup Theoden!

Elizabeth in Belmont said...

Where exactly do you put the Vaseline? =) (totally serious question---I have no clue!)

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