Float on Down

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.

 Two months ago in the Mt. Sac Relays 5k it was only halfway into the race when I faltered, bleeding places and time.  Tonight I flew through that mark relaxed, smooth, and on the rail.  On the backstretch I heard children screaming “Go!  Go Daddy Go!” and thought “I’m racing men with kids, that’s funny” before realizing they were the Olympic champion Mo Farah’s kids cheering him on.  Daddy surged on the seventh lap with Rono following and I made the second major pace change of the race to catch up.  Zap Fitness team mate Tyler Pennel bounced along behind me.  McNeill having dropped back, our pack of four split 8:42 at 3200 meters as Tyler surged to the front.  In the next 200 we formed a Mo Farah – Zap Fitness sandwich with Tyler bravely leading.  A half mile later we passed 4k, the checkpoint where I met my demise a month ago in the Payton Jordan 5k.  Again I broke through, running stronger this time around.  McNeill had worked back into our pack and now took the lead from Farah, pushing hard with two laps left.  I swung wide and closed the gap over the next half lap, splitting 30.0 seconds from 700 to 500 from the finish.  At the bell, Farah hit the afterburners and scorched a 53 second final lap.  Finally the lactic acid caught up with me and all I could manage was to hold pace for 13:36 and fourth behind Rono.

 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.

You can catch more of Joe on his website here and by following him on Twitter @StilinIt