OK, before I get started, I just have to ask, did you watch the Olympic Trials Marathon? NBCâ€™s horrific â€œcoverageâ€ aside â€“ hey, can we get a split, distance, anything up on the screen? â€“ I was glued to the action. From the guys tripping and almost falling over cones and even each other, as if they were running track, to the ladies all bunched up through the opening mile with no-one willing to take on the race, I was transfixed for the entire 2 hours of â€œhighlights.â€ But the “highlight” for me was when Ritz crossed the line in 4th place â€“ the spot no-one wants to be in â€“ and put his head in his hand in disappointment. I started bawling right there. Yes, I cry at marathons.
Iâ€™ll turn 40 in 9 months. Iâ€™ve been looking forward to aging up (actually, Iâ€™ve already aged up in triathlon, since, under USAT rules, you race the age youâ€™ll be at the end of the year) for a couple of years now. One of my thoughts about turning 40 was that it will be cool to get ranked in Washington Running Report’s regional rankings, because the required times are slower for the 40-44 age group. Then I thought, â€œWhy am I waiting? Why not try to get ranked now, as a 39 year-old?â€ Itâ€™s not as if I havenâ€™t run fast enough times to qualify for a 35-39 ranking. Itâ€™s just that I havenâ€™t run enough qualifying races in the ranking periods. A ranking is earned by running 2 qualifying times at local races in a specified three-month period. Looking at my results from the last couple of years, Iâ€™ve run three qualifying 10Ks, one 10 mile, and a half marathon, but none of them were in the same ranking period! My tendency to run low-key, trail, or challenging races hasnâ€™t helped me. Not that I mind. Iâ€™ve run the races I wanted to run, and Iâ€™ve had a great time! My Fall 2011 season consisted of one 10 miler (qualifying time), one half ironman, and one 10 mile trail race (definitely not a qualifying time!)
So now I have 9 months to run 2 qualifying races in the same ranking period if I want to get a ranking before Iâ€™m 40. My 10K equivalent time has to be 44:10. At Brambleton 10K on New Yearâ€™s Eve I started out too fast and then suffered on the hills, finishing in 44:25. Frankly, it wasnâ€™t until after the race that I thought about trying to qualify. So, on January 16th I ran the MLK 10K, one of those low-key, challenging races that I love. With a small field, I only had company for the first mile before the group broke apart, and the fourth mile, where I caught a teenager running the 8K and urged him to hang with me. The rest of the time I ran on my own, which I donâ€™t mind, but for the fierce wind that no-one could block for me! Two miles of the double loop course were straight into a stiff headwind (after all, this was Hains Point!) and it took all my effort to keep a 7:30 pace on those miles. I fought that wind with everything I had, so much so that on the second loop, I momentarily transcended myselfâ€¦I couldnâ€™t feel the wind any more and felt like I was outside of my body. Just for a second. Some would say I just lost focus but, when I looked at my Garmin, I was running a 6:53 pace. If I had lost focus I would definitely have slowed. Anyway, it only lasted a second and then I was back into the freezing wind.
In the last mile I kept trying to calculate if I could still run 44:10 or faster, but it was too close to tell, and too windy for my brain to work. I just kept running as hard as I could and, as I rounded the bottom of Hains Point and saw Karsten Brown, (who ranked 7th in the 35-39 division in the Fall) who had finished several minutes earlier and was now sprinting across the grass with a camera in hand, I gave it everything I had. I sprinted across the line but couldnâ€™t see the clock as it was facing in the opposite direction. When I looked at my Garmin and saw 44:14 I was actually amazed I had managed to get that close. I missed the target by 4 seconds. But that close call has empowered me. I know I can break 44:10.
Part of me, the part that doesnâ€™t like rules and does everything she can not to toe the line, wonders why Iâ€™m even doing this, why I care so much now when Iâ€™ve had the last 4 years to do this and have, in a way, deliberately avoided it. I guess it comes down to the fact that itâ€™s a challenge. And I love a challenge. Making the rankings once Iâ€™m 40 â€“ as long as I run the required races â€“ wonâ€™t present the same level of difficulty. Although, Iâ€™m sure that my aging body will have plenty to say about whatâ€™s difficult. Iâ€™m already finding that my recovery from hard efforts is slower and requires more effort than in my 20s or early 30s.
At the end of the day, itâ€™s about setting a goal and doing your best to achieve it. I might make it. I might not. Will I be distraught if I donâ€™t? No! As long as Iâ€™ve given it my best shot, laid it all out there on the line, and given everything I have, including plenty of clichÃ©s, apparently, then Iâ€™ll be happy. J