It was a dark and stormy night. Well, no, it wasn’t, really. It was more of a cloudy and ever-so-slightly drizzly March morning on Mercer Island, which is just a mile due east of Seattle, sitting in the middle of Lake Washington. Lovely, spendy – and hilly. Really hilly.
It was March 2011. I had been out of running for three weeks with a cold and various sneezy ailments, but before that, I had strung together two really solid months of training. Solid, as in: a long run, a tempo run, and a track workout each week; one spin class or indoor bike workout of some sort; and one row or swim. Plus a little yoga and strength training (not that much, and probably not as much as I need, but there you go).
And the gun went off for the Mercer Island Half-Marathon, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Mercer Island to benefit colon cancer research and awareness. (Sign up right here – it’s coming up!)
My running buddy Jo and I started running together, and within a half mile I had The Itch.
The Itch is what you feel when you’re in the middle of a race and you suddenly feel like you just want to GO. You feel like there’s pent-up energy in there that wants to get out. You feel strangely happy in the middle of what’s supposed to be fairly uncomfortable: a distance race run at a decent effort. You want to fly.
And so I told Jo I was going to go ahead a bit. And that was the start of the single best day of racing I’ve ever experienced.
Sure, go ahead – tell me it was all the rest I got after two months of serious training. Tell me it was in the air that day, or I got lucky, or I woke up on the right side of the bed. I’m thoroughly convinced that what happened that day – a massive personal best not only for the half-marathon but for every intermediate distance that matters in between (5K, 10K and 10 miles) – was all due to the capillaries.
Capillaries grow in response to our signaling to our bodies, through intense exercise that makes us pant and work hard and get our heart rates up beyond where they’re used to hanging out, that we’re going to be asking more of this machine in the future, so wouldn’t you please do a little internal upgrade to make all of this work just a little bit easier?
(Gosh, I wish my car worked that way. I’d love it if my little Corolla upgraded itself to, say, a Prius. But maybe I’ll just have to do that upgrade myself a little later this year…)
That’s what happens with regular, intense exercise, and getting a decent amount of rest, and eating well, and having your weight normalize at a place where distance running is fun, not a chore. That day, running didn’t hurt – it made me feel completely, thoroughly alive. I crossed the finish line six minutes faster than I had the previous year, with a per-mile pace that I’d never come close to in previous races.
Later that year, I pulled off the same feat at the marathon distance, setting a huge personal best at age 39 and 362 days. <grin>
It was a good year.
Yesterday’s #every48 workout: A Zen run – do whatever you can, at whatever pace works for you, for an hour or so, meandering wherever the spirit takes you. I found a new park and golf course to run past – very pretty in the midday sun!