I rarely talk about pace here, mostly because it simply isn’t that important to me. Once upon a time I was much faster, but knee surgery happened and things are different now. Slowly and steadily, I’ve been working on my speed. I would love to get back to where I was pre-surgery, but that seems pretty far off sometimes. I’m older, living in a hillier climate, and, frankly, not in prime racing shape. But I’m getting faster. Lately, my biggest problem hasn’t been my speed. It’s been my brain.
8:20 used to be my long run pace. I love 8:20. It feels great. It’s easy and smooth and it’s my “happy pace”. I finally saw 8:20s in training last fall. Then, I hit 8:20s consistently in a half marathon. But every time I made it, I quickly lost it. It started with little tendrils of panic. I worried about being able to maintain the pace. Then, the voice in my head took over. In a matter of minutes, I went from running comfortably to full-on panic. I convinced myself that I couldn’t keep it up. I couldn’t run 8:20s for more than a mile no matter how easy it felt physically. No matter that I’d been running consistent 7s in my private training runs and hold it for a couple miles. Put me around people and I panicked.
Today, I ran a great local race. I set out with one goal – run below 8:20 average miles for the first 4.5 miles. Then, at the enormous hill at 4.6 miles, walk up the hill and ease my way to the finish line. The first mile started a little slow and that familiar feeling of panic set in. I prevailed over the voice in my head telling me I couldn’t and hit an 8:25 first mile. My second mile was 8:10. Going into the third mile I started to think. Physically, I felt great. I was easily running along, chatting off and on with a nice man near me. I was talking and running and feeling fine physically, but the mental part was a struggle. I spent the next mile trying to convince myself that if I could *talk* at an 8:20 pace I would be fine. And I was fine. I sailed through the third mile and into the fourth. I came upon some hills and ran them easily at 8:18. I made it to the foot of the big hill and could hardly believe it. My average pace was 8:22. Goal achieved, I eased my pace and floated to the finish line. I had broken the 8:30 barrier. Next up, a half marathon at 8:30 and a 5k in the 7s. Speedy former self, I’m coming for you.