On Monday, Joy texted me saying that she had decided to race the mile at the BU Mini Meet on New Year's Eve, and would I like to join her? My immediate mental reaction was 'oh absolutely NOT!' I haven't set foot on an indoor track since March and have done maybe 3 speed workouts since then - the thought of embarrassing myself under the gaze of everyone at the BU oval sounded like a terrible plan. I gave her a very unlikely maybe, and had pretty much written off the idea until Friday, when somehow, between glasses of wine while Andrew and I were out for dinner and a play, I found myself committing to showing up the next day. Of course, that commitment didn't prevent me from having an unnecessary post-play cocktail, or from staying up until 2 am talking with the boy. But the indoor track has this siren song for me that I can never seem to deny; when the track calls I always seem to answer.
That being said, when my alarm went off at 7:45 on Saturday I wanted to throw it out the window and go back to sleep for several hours. Mildly hungover and sleep deprived, I found my way into my singlet, took the train with Andrew to MGH, and then jogged ("jogged" aka I wound up running 7:49 pace for just over 3 miles, I'm dumb) over to BU. For all of my hemming and hawing all morning, there was actually sort of a weird excitement building as I signed myself up for the mile. I seeded myself at 6:15 which admittedly probably was a little bit of a sandbag, but hell, I didn't know! No speedwork! Low mileage for months! The last time I raced a mile was in 2013 and I think I ran a 6:05! So really, I had no clue.
Shortly after getting to the track at 10 I met up with Joy, Aly, and Ali....and then we waited. And waited. And waited. In my head, I was going to be racing by 11 and home by 1 with a luxurious afternoon in front of me before the new year's festivities. That...was not the case. There were 7 heats of the 3K and 215 PEOPLE entered in the mile! At some point we warmed up for the second time, and even then it was still over an hour before we ended up racing...being in heat 16/17 of the mile = standing around for an hour and 15 minutes even once the mile had started! I could tell I was nervous because everything was just far too entertaining. We were giggling and messing around and generally just having the kind of delightfully silly time I've come to associate with indoor track, and it was easy to forget the fact that I actually had to race at some point. We watched Aly run a strong race in heat 8 and time kept ticking slowly onward. My mood swung from giddy and laughing at the absurdity of the situation, to nervous, to anxious anticipation, and back again. I wasn't so much nervous about putting together a good performance - I mean my expectations were about as low as they could get - but it was more the anticipation of the fact that I KNEW that whether I ran decently or not, this was probably going to hurt...and it had been awhile since I'd adventured into the pain cave in a race.
Heat 15 began, and I found myself swinging back towards nerves. But then the call came for our heat, and something odd happened. I found myself, standing on the line, trying to remember if we could cut in right away or not, and I found that I was smiling. Grinning, actually. I was stunned to find just how overjoyed I was to be standing here on this line, getting ready to put myself through 8 laps of screaming pain. I think indoor track always brings me back to why I became a runner in the first place; the competition, the pain, the fight against yourself that for whatever reason seems so much more obvious when it's contained within a building. I did the thing I've done since high school: 3 jumps, shake right leg, left, leg, right leg again. And then, on your marks, and the gun.
The way in which I ran this race wasn't even something I was aware of while I was doing it, but I think it's the most ridiculous part of it all: I ran a 15 second negative split from the half, IN A MILE. I can only attempt to explain that based on my thoughts during the race. We flew off the line, and we weren't even around the bend before blazing in my mind like a siren was the thought TOO FAST TOO FAST TOO FAST. It was hard to watch Ali and Joy fly out ahead of me but I knew I was doing the right thing. I sat, and I waited. Through the 200 right around 45, perfect, I thought. As I had anticipated, my body was confused at the fact that I was currently running at a pace I hadn't experienced in months if not years, and so the first 2 laps felt hard. But I reminded myself that I was in control, that I could make this pace feel relaxed, and so, I relaxed. I began to find my way into a groove, passing Joy, Ali, and a few others and crossing 400 just under 1:30. Great, I think. So what now? I relax in a little bit and quickly find myself in another pack - too slow for my taste, and I pass them.
Lap 1, with that relaxed focus going on. Tom in the background yelling something, haha
Just after the 3 lap mark hanging out with some high schoolers and purple shirt lady
To be completely honest, the next few laps are a blur in my memory. I don't remember looking at the clock and I don't remember feeling anything. I remember coming up on a woman in purple, trying to decide if I should pass her, and then deciding, yes. The same thing happens with a high school aged boy. I feel like I'm in a bubble, everything silent but vague snippets of sound: Tom yelling something at me as I go by, Maggie cheering on her athlete, but mostly I feel enclosed in myself. The track is wide open in front of me and there are 2 laps to go. Far ahead there are 3 older guys running in line. I glance at the clock with 400 left: 4:29. Just under 6 minute pace. A thought bubbles up in my mind, not even a thought really but a realization: I've been holding back, maybe more than I should, and I don't feel that bad. My legs have plenty left, plenty to blast the last 400 meters, and I vaguely recall thinking as I take the turn into lap 7: it's going to hurt, but you're not going to die. And I accelerate.
I have never been a confident runner. I know that one of my greatest weaknesses as a runner is that I am afraid to "find my edge", as they say in yoga, to really hold nothing back. I spend far too much time in my head thinking 'will I have enough left later' or 'is it going to be too hard'. But in that moment, flying around that turn, there was no fear. I had this absolutely wonderful sense of knowing - knowing that I would not slow down, knowing that I was flying, knowing that I was doing something that I did not think I would ever do again. I just felt like I kept accelerating, on and on. I came around and heard the bell, the clock reading something like 5:12, and I thought: everything. now. I felt powerful and fast and strong and amazing, so much so that the pain was barely even registering. When I turned for home and saw the clock and I knew that I was going under 6 I damn near burst into tears. I crossed the line grinning.
This is what disbelief and joy look like
I watched Joy and Ali finish and then kind of went and lay in the infield for awhile, trying to process my life. I wasn't even aware of what a crazy negative split I had run until one of the coaches told me - "what the heck was that, like 3:05/2:50?" he said. I burst out laughing. "What?!" Because that just doesn't make any sense. Me, run a giant negative split on the track? Me, run one of the fastest miles of my life on a random day with no speedwork?
It takes awhile for us to be able to stop coughing; oh the beauties of running on the indoor track for the first time all season. Eventually we head out for a short cooldown before coming back to watch our teammates in a 4 x 1600 relay. I am in an absolutely outstanding mood and am just so happy that I made the choice to run this meet today. As we're leaving, Tom looks at me and says "I can't believe you ran that race". The feeling was most definitely mutual.
And so, 2016, a year riddled with doubts and injuries and sub-par races, ended with a wonderful gift. A reminder of all that I love about running, the reasons why I do this crazy sport, and a reminder that there is always more inside me than I think there is. The last time I broke 6 in the mile was in my junior year of college - I was 20! And to be honest, after a couple of forays back into the mile on the track a few years ago I was pretty convinced that I never would again, that those days of speed were just behind me, and I had to accept that. But maybe that's not true. Maybe if I can just go into every race with no fear and no expectations and just race the shit out of it with whatever the day gives me, I can PR in the short distances again. Hell, maybe I can PR in the freaking mile. I would love for 2017 to be the year where I find that mental strength, where I truly learn to walk on the red line, because I think that's all that stands between me and a breakthrough. To not be afraid of the pain and to know that I'm strong enough to take it. So, while 2016 may not have been a breakthrough year in many ways, at least in one way, it was. :)