Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Story of Mir and Running

Right, since I'm bored, there is nothing to do, and I'm in a nostalgic mood, I'm going to talk about my running history. Watch out, this is long!

Part One: The Pre-Running Years

It's actually super long; I've loved running all my life. In elementary school we used to have short races in gym class. I was never the fastest, but I looked forward to the classes where we got to do that. I just loved how it felt--the sensation of going fast, with wind whipping past my ears. In general, I think I was a pretty normal active kid. I liked to run around everywhere and ride my bike, and play kickball at recess.

One morning in April I was with my dad in Louisville. I have no memory of what we were doing, but I remember we went to cross a street, but couldn't because it was full of runners. We had to wait until they thinned out, then we ran across without getting in anyone's way. It was the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon, which I have since run three times. I wish I could remember what I thought about it, but the fact that I remember that moment so clearly really shows what an impression it must have made on me.

At my elementary school, we had limited sports opportunities (basketball was pretty much it), but they did have a track team for fourth and fifth graders. There was one meet against the other Clarksville elementary school. Once again, I was never the fastest, but I loved it. There were relays, jumps, and sprints. I think the longest event was either the 400 or the 800. I gravitated towards sprints and jumps at that time. I remember I was pretty decent at the long jump. I probably would have done hurdles as well, but girls weren't allowed. In fifth grade another girl started a petition to allow girls to run the hurdles. I signed it but I honestly cannot remember what became of it.

Sometime that spring I signed up for a mile fun run. I had to walk for part of it, but I did finish.

In middle school I continued to go out for the track team. I was one of just a few people in sixth grade who did. I think I mostly did the 200 meter dash. Yet again, still not the fastest, but I enjoyed practicing and trying my best at meets. At one meet, my friend and I were entered in the 200 and we were actually lined up on the track when the meet official told us that we had too many people entered. One of our top sprinters told my friend and I we'd have to get off the track. It was the only event we were entered in for the day, and it was a cold, miserable day. Afterwards, the coach gave us each a ribbon--on the back she'd written, "For standing in the cold and not getting to run." On the front it said "Refuse to lose."

The last two years of middle school track were better, but I was also starting to get frustrated at not being the fastest. My coach started to put me in the longer distance events, especially in 8th grade, because most of the others couldn't run that far period. I still wasn't fast. Once, waiting for a race to start, I heard a girl from another school talking about going out for cross country in the fall. The idea started to grow that maybe I could embrace this long distance thing. I might not have had the speed for sprinting, but maybe I had the work ethic for distance running.

The seed was planted!

Part Two: High School: Becoming Serious

Late in 8th grade, I heard an announcement that anyone interested in running cross country in high school should be in Coach Kingery's classroom after school that day. I found my way there and met the man who would change my running from just something I did after school every day to something that I would live and breathe. He talked about running over the summer, but I didn't really have any concept of what that meant. There were a few practices over the summer, but nothing really got going for me until conditioning started. The first practice I can remember, I wore jean shorts and barely made it two miles.

Things got a little better. I made it through my first 4k race in about 24:00. My goal became to break 20 minutes. I chased this goal for over a year. I wish I could remember better! My freshman year, our team made it to regionals for the first time ever. We missed semistate by just a couple of points. My sophomore year, we made it regionals again, but missed semistate by even more. The fire was lit, and we all go to work. After two years in high school, I started to take summer training more seriously. For the first time, I wanted to improve not just for myself, but for the team. I concentrated on keeping up with the rest of the team on training runs, and found I could do it some of the time. All that running over the summer paid off. My times went down. It didn't matter much though because I was not a scoring runner on our team. Still, we did make it to semistate. Then, we made it to state. This is a big deal for tiny, tiny Clarksville. Our school had about 400 people, but since cross country is not a classed sport, we were competing against the 2000 or 3000-people schools (unlike the much-idolized football team, who'd made it to state against other small schools the year before).

We wanted to go back, but we were losing our best runner, the state champion, to graduation. So we buckled down to put in another good summer of training. By default, I was now the fifth and last scoring runner, so I knew what I did would really make a difference. My times went down again. At sectionals, I ran a personal best of about 18 minutes for 4K. At regionals, I ran another personal best of 17:30. We made it to semistate! At semistate, I ran 17:02 (which is still my PR for 4K to this day). And it was enough. We made it to state again! Coach Kingery told me and my best friend (the very same one who'd been my only fellow sixth-grader on the track team) that our huge improvements had been the key to getting the team to state. She had improved even more than me. But really, the entire team had made huge improvements. The funny thing is, the sixth runner on that team is currently a better runner than any of us; she ran a 3:17 at last year's Chicago to qualify for Boston, although I do not know if she actually ran yesterday. It just goes to show...

High school track was not nearly as fun or as memorable as cross country, but it did have some good moments. Also during track and the off seasons from cross country, I got into road racing. My first road race was a Thanksgiving turkey trot called Fast Freddie's Festive Five-Mile Foot Feast. Alliteration much? I also took part in some 5Ks and the miniMarathon. During my junior year of high school, I did the Triple Crown of Running for the first time--a 10K, a 15K, and the half marathon. The 15K and half marathon times are still my PRs for those distances. I wish I could remember my best 5K time from high school. It wasn't super fast; I remember I tried for a long time to break 25:00. I was definitely hooked on road racing.

Part Three: College

In high school, I had two realizations. One was that I was not fast enough to go to college for running. Two was that I could still go to college and run on a team. In researching several small liberal arts colleges, I learned that I could run on a college team and be competitive, if not up front, in Division III. I chose Knox College, in part because I got mail from the captain of the cross country team, and the coach called me. It was seriously little things like that that turned the tables; it was a very hard decision between two very academically similar schools.

College running was both more fun and more frustrating for me. I had a good freshman year, getting my 5K time down to 21:10. But then I got mono and it took a long while to come back. I did manage to lower my 5K time down to 20:52 on the track, but in cross country the closest I came was 21:30. I also took up the 3000m steeplechase, and for a short time held the school record. I loved the people on the team, but in a way running itself was more individual, since we were not a very competitive team. I stopped being concerned about team placement and concentrated on lowering my PRs.

Part Four: Post College

Before I graduated from college, a few teammates and I had discussed running a marathon together. We decided to run the Chicago Marathon in the fall of 2004. I registered before track season was even over. I started training about a week after graduation. I followed Hal Higdon's Intermediate plan (the beginner plan had no speedwork, and I didn't feel comfortable training with nothing but slower training runs). Training went pretty well, and I arrived at the starting line feeling good and ready. I was on pace for a 4:10-4:15 or so, but then my hips began to hurt around mile 18. By mile 21, my foot started to hurt too. It hurt almost as much to walk as it did to run. I had five miles to go. I don't know how I got through those last five miles, but I did it somehow, and finished in 4:46.

After recovering, I ran aimlessly for a couple of months and then decided to train for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon, which was only a few years old, having been started as a companion to the miniMarathon. It was tough to train in January and February, but I slogged through and once again arrived at the starting line feeling ready. This time I felt so good that I went out way too fast. The first half was well under two hours. By mile 17 or so, I was really feeling it, but I kept running. No injuries this time other than severely sore muscles. I finished in 4:16.

I didn't make it to a marathon that fall, since I had become so busy with grad school and work. I simply couldn't get myself motivated to train over the summer, and I also didn't have the extra money necessary for the entry fee. My two marathoning buddies, though, asked me if I wanted to run the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, TN and I said yes. Training, however, did not go as well as usual. I couldn't seem to get myself motivated, and I wasn't coming off as solid a base as I had a year ago. I threw time goals out the window and just ran to finish. Still, it was by far my toughest marathon. CMM is hilly and that year it was hot and very windy. I finished in 5:10.

Wanting redemption, I signed up for Chicago that fall and made up my own training plan. I wanted this one to be fast, so I made the training plan tough--lots of mileage, long runs, and tempo runs. Then I found that I couldn't follow the plan. I kept finding excuses not to. Then life got in the way--my new job went into its busy period, plunging me into a six-week hell of long hours and crushing stress. I was working 70+ hour weeks. The running really did not happen during this time. In mid-September, I again had time to train, and I tried to make the best of it. I ran a hilly half-marathon cold after a month of zero training in 2:17, then put in an 18-miler and that was the extent of my long runs. I knew running the marathon was probably a bad idea, but I didn't want to waste the money I'd already spent on the entry fee. I started conservatively and actually didn't feel too badly until after the halfway point. I had to stop and walk quite a lot, but somehow I finished in slightly faster than my spring marathon, 5:05.

Part Five: Year 12: A Revival?

Towards the end of last year, I started to read running blogs and forums, discovering a vast online running community. I started an online running log at Coolrunning.com and read up on training and racing. The fire was lit once again. Suddenly I was having no trouble getting out of the door, even though it was January. Even in February, in one of the coldest Februarys in history, I got out and did my training runs. I registered for the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, a small marathon with beautiful scenery. I have six and a half weeks until the marathon and so far this season of training has been probably the best I've had for a marathon. My immediate goals are to meet the PRs I set in high school and college, to prove to myself that it wasn't a fluke. One day I want to surpass them. And of course, qualify for Boston.
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