By 8:00, 1 hour into the race, I was cruising along the trail with 3 people behind me: David from Odessa, Curtis, and Shannon. I was the impromptu pacer for our misfit group at the time, and I was leading us down the trail at a good first-stretch pace. Not too fast, so that we didn't burn out, but not so slow that we were wasting our energy before it started to wane.
I seem to end up in this position in trail races. Early in the race, the runners are still a little crowded, and the trail is usually only wide enough to accommodate 1 runner until someone steps aside to let a faster runner pass. I think I end up here from a lesson I've learned from almost 5 years of distance running: I run my own race. I don't keep up a particular pace just because the guy in front of me is, and I try not to let the adrenaline get the best of me. I stick to my goals, and I do my best to run no faster than what's best for me. Since I'm not a follower, I guess that makes me a leader. This group stuck with me until the first aid station.
To me, the idea of running your own race is the most important and most difficult lesson in distance running. We look to others for advice and leadership, and while we take their nuggets of wisdom for our benefit, we have to understand that every runner is different. I learned this lesson in a different way than most.
One of the great things about that 5k in 2009 was my running partner. I didn't go lurking around the gym to find another runner, and I didn't try to schmooze my friends into taking up this challenge with me. When I signed up for my first 5k, my wife signed up with me. We registered together, we trained together, and we started the race together. I wish we had finished together, because after I missed Katie's finish, it took another 15 minutes to find each other in the crowd.
This led to 4 half marathons in a year that we ran side-by-side. My race was her race, my PR was her PR. We signed up for Team in Training together, and we even took on roles as Mentors together in later seasons. I had the best training partner I could have asked for.
Of course, taking on challenges with your spouse is just that: a challenge. What we did was hard. Training for and completing a distance run is tough, and sometimes it brings out the worst in you. We saw each other at our most dejected, and we saw each other in pain, but we also held hands as we crossed finish lines, celebrated together, and hung our medals on the same rack.
After so many races side-by-side, we both started to look to our own individual goals. We began to run races separately, and we had to re-learn our running habits. We no longer had someone else to help gauge our pace, rather we had to manage it ourselves. We didn't follow a run/walk schedule based on each others' needs, instead we drifted toward our own running priorities. After 2 years of running, I finally started learning to pace myself.
I kept up my pacing as David, Curtis, and Shannon followed, and once they peeled away to visit our first aid station, I took off on my own. My plan from the beginning was to eat every 5-6 miles and take a long walk break while I ate. I enjoyed my break, then picked up the pace. I knew that was starting to enter the most difficult part of the course. This is where the race really started.
More to come,