Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Saturday, February 6, 2016

River Trail 15K 2016

This the day that the Lord hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. ~ Psalm 118:24

Today certainly was!

This year my goal is to run fewer marathons, run more Arkansas RRCA Grand Prix races, and PR every distance. A couple of weeks ago, I ran the first Grand Prix race of the year, the One Hour Track Run, finishing 29 laps and an additional 600 ft on the track in exactly 60 minutes. That was a PR, because it was the first time I've raced a one hour track run.

But today was my first REAL PR, on where I beat my best time at a distance I'd raced before. The Good Lord gave us perfect weather for the River Trail 15K, and it certainly had the look of a great day to PR. But, if you're a runner, you never really know what's going to happen in a race until sometime between the starting gun firing and crossing the finish line.

But I lined up with a plan, a plan to start out running an 8:10 minute per mile pace. My previous PR at this distance (and at this race) was a 1:21:55 when I ran it two years ago. So today, I had in mind that beating 1:20 would make me happy.

I ran the first mile in 8 flat, and felt pretty good and at ease. The second mile went by in 7:59 and I still felt great. I was good and warmed up by now and there were a few overambitious folks falling off a bit. My pace picked up slightly on mile 3, covering that ground in 7:54.

I knew I was in better shape this year than I was when I ran this race two years ago, but I was still surprised at how comfortable the pace was feeling at this point in the race. When I looked at my watch and saw the time, I realized I was really close to a 5K PR too. But this was no 5K and there were still more than 6 miles to go.

What few inclines that count for hills on this course came in miles four and five.  I made it through those in 8:01 and 8:05, respectively. Now, I realized I was past the halfway point. I'd down salt, magnesium, and potassium, along with a Gu packet around the four and a half mile mark, and chased that with a swallow of water on the run.

It was decision time. My heart rate felt great, my breathing wasn't labored, and I still felt really good. There was a pack of men a short distance ahead of me. I didn't know them, and I couldn't tell if they were in my age group or not. So the question was, "Do I want to expend the energy to catch them and risk crashing and ruining a great race?" I decided to stick with the 8 minute pace that had carried me to this point and see how they held up over the next couple of miles.

For mile six I was back down to a 7:58 pace, and the pack ahead of me had started to stretch out. Only one was falling back though, while a few were starting to pick up the pace. I ended up catching the one just before the seventh mile marker, and set my sights on the next one. I finished that seventh mile in 8 minutes even.

The eighth mile of the mostly out-and-back course included those few hills again. But this time they slowed me down a little. I guess it slowed the guys in front of and behind me too though, because we didn't change positions. Mile eight went down in 8:10, which would be my slowest mile of the race. But after we passed that eighth mile marker, I think we all decided to pick things back up.

I was working to catch the guy in front of me, and the guy behind me was working to catch me. Now I'd reached the point where my breathing was labored and my heart rate was picking up. The thought crossed my mind to slow back to the 8:10 pace and just let the finish order sort itself out. But the competitor in me just couldn't do that, while the coach in me kept saying, "What would you tell your cross country kids to do at this point?"

So I pushed on. And the guy in front of me pushed on. And the guy behind me pushed on. We were all pushing hard through mile nine, covering it in 7:55. Now there were 0.3 miles to go. The finish was in sight. One more right turn, then a few hundred yards to the end. And none of us had any intention of getting passed on that last stretch. None of us did.

So the three of us finished in the exact same order we'd run the last 1.3 miles in. But we all gave it our all and congratulated each other at the finish. In that last stretch, I thought I might be able to break 1:15. When I got to where I could finally read the clock, it said 1:14:40. I had 20 seconds to get there before it turned to 1:15. But there just wasn't enough left in the tank.

I finally crossed the mat at 1:15:06, and put an end to a fantastic race on a beautiful morning!

It wasn't long ago when I recall just trying to break an hour in a 10K. I never thought I'd run this well again. But I serve an amazing God! He has blessed me with health, strength, discipline, a job, and friends that have allowed me to run farther and faster, even as I'm getting older.

Jesus put me in position to coach cross country, and running with those kids has definitely made me faster. He put me in contact with the Cabot Cruisers, the Conway Running Club, and Team Loco, all or whom have helped me run more and run faster, who have inspired me to push myself farther than I ever would have dared, and who have held me accountable. Jesus put me in the path of my Vilonia School District coworkers and parents I run with, and they push me and motivate me and hold me accountable too. And the countless friends I've met at races around the state and around the country, heck, even my online running friends.

Today was just another great stop along the way of a great running journey. Next stop, next week at the Valentine's Day 5K in Russellville. Hope to see you all there!

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