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Running from the heart

I looked down at my watch.

30:30.

Crude.

I crossed the finish line slower in the Niagara County Bicentennial 5K than I did in the Bengal 5K.

Here's the thing: At the Bengal 5K I felt like I might just die and finished with a time I was pretty happy with.

At yesterday's race I felt absolutely great. I mean capital letter GREAT. I entered the pain cave at mile two and chased the wizard across the finish line. I was having fun and feeling strong. And my time didn't reflect any of that.

The universe really does have a sick sense of humor.

It bothered me for a little bit. My text message to my core group of friends showed that tinge of disappointment as I gave my time, noted it was slower than last time, but that I felt really good and strong.

My brother was the first to respond: "Feeling good is more important. Plus, it's faster than Mike Harrington could run." (No disrespect meant to my colleague Mike. He would be the first to joke about it, too).

So that made me smile as my parents, who were substitute Sherpas for the day, took me to get pancakes.

Then I got a text from Sherpa, who was working yesterday morning. "Good job." Simple and to the the point. That good feeling I had during the race was starting to resurface.

Then from my friend Michele: "Stay positive! You are doing what you never thought you would a year ago! I've been running three years and you are faster than me! Good job speedy!"

And it all came home. My time actually wasn't that far off from my last 5K. And really, I had a lot of fun. I felt great. And I had pancakes. What more could I want?

I continued to bask in the feeling greatness while I went on my hour-long bike ride to "flush out the lactic acid" as my coach said. Light resistance (I wasn't mashing any gears) and high cadence on one of my typical country road loops. The first 20 minutes my legs were a bit stiff, but they loosened up. The light ride really did help expunge anything that built up in my muscles after the race.

During the ride, I thought about the race. I thought about what I had learned. After all, this is only my fourth race -- ever -- though I'm betting I could run for another 30 years and still learn something each and every time out. What I learned yesterday:

1. I need to work on hydration before the race. I drink too much water before hand and I can actually feel it, swishing around my stomach, about halfway through the course.

2. There's a different mental focus needed for races with few people as opposed to mass races. All three of my other races had been packed with people. Hence, I could always play competitive games with myself. First, at the start of the race, I usually pick out people I would like to beat. Some races I do. Some races I don't. Others I never know. But in the races with lots of runners, there are always people along the course. I don't have to think about my pace much after the first mile. Instead, I would think a bit about my pace while saying to myself, "OK, see that woman up there? Pass her." And so on.

Yesterday's race was small, which was fine. I had plenty of people to pace me through the start. Just after mile two, I passed the last woman I thought I could beat at the start of the race. Then, there was nobody. I was basically running by myself. I dug down deep, made friends with the pain cave and caught a guy who at this point was doing more walking than running. Of course, as I closed in on passing, he started running again but I still beat him across the finish line.

Moral of the story: When I'm on the course by myself I need to focus and not try to rely on other runners to pull me through.

When I returned from my bike ride I had a text back from my coach: "Great performance today, especially on a big week of training!! We need to get you out of your head. No more second guessing yourself."

I wrote her back and said how I felt great and how much fun I had and that I thought that was the biggest thing to take away from today.

She wrote back: "B-I-N-G-O" emphasized with about a zillion exclamation points.

I'm finally starting to get how to race from my heart instead of my head.

And racing from the heart is a whole lot more fun. 

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