Monday night I sat in an eddy pool in the creek on the edge of Zap Fitness’ campus. The waning half moon cast age-smoothed boulders around me in shadow but was luminous enough to reveal the colors of pebbles in the stream bed. While cold water washed over my legs, trout minnows nibbled at my toes, no doubt cleaning the gnarled result of the miles I’ve been running. Sitting under the moon, stars, and canopy of pure green forest after a long day of travel, I reflected on the season and races and training to come. The only sound was of the creek racing between the two large boulders that held back my pool.
The night before in Portland, David McNeill was quickly opening a gap on the field during the third lap of the Portland Track Festival 5k after a slower half mile split of 2:12. Third in a chase pack with Mo Farah and Aron Rono, I felt the pace surge as Farah worked to stitch the rift to the Australian. By 2k we four ran in a straight line, locked into 65 second quarters. This was it: a chance to exploit the stellar training of momentum May in cool Pacific Northwest conditions under the lights. Minutes before on the line, my blood stream a cocktail of adrenaline and caffeine rushing after pre race strides, the anticipation of the start reached near uncomfortable levels. I love every component of racing: The nervous excitement of the warmup, the focus on the track during the race, and the runner’s high saturated wind down afterward. I’ve come to thrive on the highs and lows of a meet, and being on the line of a race might be the most alive I ever have and ever will feel.
In the moments after I felt disappointed with the time. It wasn’t a personal best or under the US ‘A’ standard. But having watched the video and thought about it, I realize how well I raced. Making at least three significant pace changes throughout probably took the sting out of my kick. In the larger time frame of the season, I did the best I’ve done yet, coming within a lap of running a perfect Five. The best part is that I have opportunities to execute that finish this summer.
In the past two years I’ve run 13:33, 13:34, 13:36, 13:38, and 13:40. That’s consistent, which is desirable. But it’s also somewhat frustrating running without improvement. I believe that enough water against the dam yields a breakthrough, and that I’m on that edge right now. No matter what level you’re at, there will be times when you can’t seem to get faster. Sometimes a change in training and a fresh mindset is needed. But there’s nothing better for a runner than patience, poise, and belief that the breakthrough will happen. Every performance, good or bad, is a movement towards that day we all dream of.
Back in the creek I watched a fallen leaf trapped in the eddy float slowly once, twice, three times in a circle around my pool. Finally it found the gap between the boulders downstream and went rushing onward.