Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Race Pace and Sidewalk Chalk

Yesterday afternoon I left work at 5:00 and drove straight to the local Greenway to mark the 3 mile course for my No Boundaries Team.  I got a piece of sidewalk chalk out of the little bin I keep in my car, and set my watch.  Not only did I intend to mark the course, I also wanted to see what a 7:15 pace felt like.  I did not realize when I set my Cotton Row goal of 45 minutes that it would mean running a 7:15 pace.  I can do that for a 5k on a good day but a 10k...? 

For some reason I thought a 45 minute 10k would be around a 7:30 pace.  When I ran my 47:03 Cotton Row in 2009, that was a 7:35 pace. I had no idea.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was reaching too high this time.  And at this point, there is not much I can do to be more trained than I already am for a race on May 31.

Still, I wanted to see how it felt, and maybe reevaluate what I thought about my too-lofty goal.

I ran the first 1.5 holding pace.  My first mile was a 7:16.  I stopped at the 1.5 mark to write on the path that it was the turnaround point and then I gave myself a talking to.  I reminded myself of a conversation I'd had a few days ago with the head of our Health and Physical Ed department.  He had asked about my recent marathon, which led to a discussion on why athletes slow down or stop. He believes it is our brains that convince us we must, not our bodies.  I tried to consider this and to tell myself not to slow down even when I felt I should.

I also created a mantra.  It is more how I like to picture myself than anything powerful and moving.  I believe that how we see ourselves is what we often become, and so I've been trying to tap into that notion by picturing a small, fast runner moving down the road at a smooth, fast pace. 

There was no one else around me and so I caught my breath and whispered to myself, "Small and fast, small and fast, you are small and fast."  I'm not sure why I chose "small" but...well...I am short.  Which means my legs are not very long.  I think of them as sort of short and stumpy, but that mental image is not one of speed and agility, so I've tried to change my mental image to match what I think a (short) fast runner would look like running a 7:15 pace. 

Something like this, although I imagine they are running quite a bit faster than a 7:15 pace here...

So with my mental image and my mantra and my talking to, I set out to finish my run.  My second mile was a 7:18 and I stopped again to write that my runners had 1 mile to go.  After that my legs felt like jello.  I like to think it was the starting and stopping more than the actual pace.  The last mile was an unfortunate 7:30.  This mile consisted of a few more stops as well, to write "less than half a mile to go." and then some words of encouragement, and a sad little running stick figure toward the end.  Sidewalk chalk is fun and I make sure to always use the entire stick I'm carrying each time I mark the course for my team. 

I finished my 3 mile run in 22:06 (7:22 average pace).  I was sort of okay with it.  For one thing, it wasn't that bad, and I really do believe if I hadn't stopped so many times, I might have been able to hold it closer to 7:15.  On the down side, the greenway is almost completely flat and Cotton Row is anything but.  Doubts filled my mind as I ran the course again with my No Boundaries team.

Still...a girl has to hope, right?  And dream and plan and set goals.  What sort of adventure would it be if I actually believed these doubts and perceived proofs that I will not, in fact, be able to manage a 7:15 pace at Cotton Row?  So I still intend to give it a go.  At the very least, I'd like to take my old time down, even by mere seconds.  And despite the fact that it is only 14 days away, I may train these next 7 just because I want to.  I may try to feel that 7:15 pace a few more times between now and then.  I may test out the theory that my mind, not my body, is the problem.  

And if not May 31, I will just keep running after it. 


  1. I love this post. I think I'll have to print it out and re-read it Monday morning. I believe it is correct that it's our minds, not our bodies that slow us down. AND I love what you said about mental image of ourselves...I usually picture myself tired, old, fat, slow and pathetic...and I usually slow down. A friend of mine recently told me I looked "long and lean" at the finish of a 5K. THAT is the image I'm going to hold on to. You can be small and fast, I'll be long and lean. I tend to set easier goals-ones I know I can meet, not goal that are out of my comfort zone. This post has me rethinking my plan. THANK YOU JANE!!

  2. Girl, you DO need to improve that mental picture of yourself. First of all, you probably know deep down it is incorrect. Second, you are right - that picture does NOT promote long and lean speed. I like that new mantra. Go with it!