One of my numerous running T-shirts reads “You’ve got to want it.” That seems to be everything out here and frankly, I just don’t seem to want it badly enough today. My legs are finally healthy; there’s no major joint, bone or tendon problem anymore. But mentally I am weak. I am breaking down. I am running too slowly. And it’s all happening too fast.
The first half mile I am solidly boxed in. Elbows flying everywhere, I swivel my flailing body searching for my rhythm, trying to find my place in the pack. Damn the starter and his refusal to give us a better starting slot. The first 400 meters is a solid mass of sprinting girls and I am stuck squarely behind the ones who are slowly beginning to realize just how long 3.1 miles is. A spike claws at my foot and I shove to move forward. The mulch path narrows even further and as we turn away from the crowd of spectators, we move out into the heart of the race. We surge uphill, downhill, around the pond, over the boardwalk, up the hill again, and around the pole. Our muscles churn, our breathing intensifies, and our temperatures are rising. Spit is beginning to fly, and I’m sure there are a few urine-coated legs in the field as well. But I take no notice. None of us do. We can’t afford to focus on anything but the race.
The first mile marker passes, and a husky voice calls out 7:29. I’m incredibly slow, and still too far behind. I pick it up for maybe a quarter mile. This is the point where I tell myself to run faster and get where I should be; that this is where I start my race and I should make the most of the middle mile, the toughest section. I can do anything for twenty minutes. Focus on the numbers of that jersey. Focus! But it doesn’t work, and I begin to succumb. It’s terrible. I’m tired, I’m weak, and I don’t want to keep racing. I want to spend this hot hilly mile recovering, not advancing. No longer oblivious to my physical surroundings, the rotten stench of the mulch and the loose strands which have somehow escaped my hair ties are starting to bother me. Moreover, this old foot injury is acting up, and I can feel my feet beginning to flame. I know in ten minutes they will ache quite badly, and that I am beginning to lose the mental part of this battle. But I trudge on.
Up the hill, down the hill, over the boardwalk, over the glass, around the field. Breathe,
breathe, breathe. I chant a cadence to myself, raising my knees, pushing forward. I glance at my watch. I...