Anyone who has seen Drunk History’s take on the Edison-Tesla rivalry knows the best line from the spoof outside of “I’m inventing electricity… and you look like an asshole” is the following:
“This is hell. I’m in hell.”
This was the line I kept thinking about while shattering my 8K PR on Saturday morning in the Race to Stop the Silence 8K in downtown DC.
Positive thinking? I’ll leave that for the yogis and New Ageists.
I’m Jewish. I thrive on complaining.
So as my legs burned and my lungs heaved as I ran to break the 40-minute mark, that line was the only thing I thought about. This is hell. I’m in hell.
Because holy fuck balls, people. It was hell.
I signed up for the race specifically because I love the 8K distance. You run faster than you would at a 10K but without the lactic acid-burning horror show of a 5K.
My goal was break my previous PR — 41:32. My secret goal, though, was to break 40 minutes, a lofty target I came up with shortly after running a 48:54 in the Marine Corps 10K in 2009, when I piggybacked my friend Heather’s jackrabbit pace and smashed a PR I still consider unbreakable.
But over the past few months, with knee injuries slowing me down and speed becoming a rarer and rarer feature of my running, the idea of ever breaking any PR started to creep in. Maybe, I wondered, my fastest races were behind me.
Forget my opinion. Let’s consider the facts:
Through the end of 2009, when running a race in which I had an opportunity to PR, I did so 9 out of 16 times. This means I PR’d in more than 56% of the races I ran.
Since then, though, I have PR’d in only 2 out of 12 races I have run, good for a 16.7% PR rate.
In addition, I hadn’t PR’d at any major race distance since my last 8K, which was in May 2010.
Now I know that the law of diminishing returns dictates that of course I would PR less often over time. Still, I didn’t think I had hit my ceiling so soon.
I woke up Saturday morning feeling good. Epod and I biked down to Freedom Plaza with plenty of time for me to pick up my bib and packet.
With only about 600 people running the 8K, the race had a “small town feel” to it, which was great. I was able to line up close to the starting line and only took me 12 seconds to go through after the proverbial gun went off.
Now, the course was a bit of a clusterfuck. Though we were running southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue from 13th Street, we veered down and back up three streets before even getting to the 3rd Street turn. If you had seen us from above, we resembled a saw.
This caused some groaning due to so many tight turns. Still, I found myself running the first mile in the 7:30s and though I told myself I was going too fast and I might blow up, I felt strong so I allowed myself to keep going.
My usual game plan in any race is simple: negative splits. But as this race went on and I realized I was going faster than planned and the loop back would be slightly uphill, I threw the original plan out the window and came up with a new one, the Steve Prefontaine plan: run like hell and hang on for dear life. Which is what I did.
I tried to break the race into manageable thirds, starting out fast for the first third, cruising and conserving energy for the middle third, and then throwing caution out the window for the final third. By the time I was in the final third, though, I was in serious pain.
But it wasn’t unmanageable pain. It was all-out effort pain, which is what you need to go through sometimes when racing for a PR. I kept chugging and chugging and was so happy to see Epod in the final stretch yelling my name but was too tired to even muster a head nod.
In fact, I didn’t even look at my watch to see if the elusive under-40 goal was in sight. I just…ran.
When I crossed the finish line, I caught my breath and looked at my Garmin. I couldn’t believe it.
Epod came running over, knowing I had beat my PR. She threw her arms around me and told me how proud she was of me. I couldn’t even spare one second, I told her, trying to explain the situation while panting.
My splits looked like this:
Mile 1: 7:27
Mile 2: 7:59
Mile 3: 8:14
Mile 4: 8:10
Mile 5: 7:55
And the final 0.04 mile sprint to the finish line: 13 seconds, a 5:25 pace.
Now I know I still can break PRs once in a while. Even if it means going through hell.