Sub-40 at 40+

In February 2003, I ran my first NYYR race, a 10K at  7:19 pace, clocking in at 45:32. Only 5 women in the race broke 40 minutes, and the winning time was 36:49. I placed 39th in the race out of 1,026 women. While that time is certainly respectable, there is a different demographic of women who now toe the line at these races. The races are much bigger, and there are more fast and slow athletes showing up.Today 45:32 wouldn't make the first page of finishers (50 to a page). I was 31 years old, had always thought of myself as an athlete, but couldn't quite piece together how to train properly so that my races would reflect my athleticsm. Whatever I was doing that didn't work, I continued to do, and continued to feel like I would never figure out the formula. Folks who didn't look the part - whatever that means - were at bag check by the time I finally made it to the finish line. (It took me years to realize there is no one look and not to size people up on the line. Uhm, life metaphor.)

I chipped away at that time over the years and felt super speedy when I was able to average sub-7 pace for the distance. As I started to gain confidence in myself as a runner, I started to eye the sub-40 10K as a pipe dream. On the perfect day in a perfectly downhill course that was short but mis-marked, I was hoping to deliver. Then I ran a 1:28 half in 2006 and thought for sure that I would get my goal.  Injury ensued and I was out for 3 years after that half. I was told I should never run again, and I pretty much believed that my running days were over. In 2009, I started doing triathlons, had a successful season, but kept my running mileage very low. My body couldn't handle the volume or the intensity. Not only would I never see a 1:28 half again, I would trade running sharpness for overall triathlon fitness. The two were just different.

Shoot ahead to 2012. I have a son who will turn one on Halloween, and I am doing better athletically than ever before. In March I ran The Brooklyn Half 1:27:14, and was certain that I was going to get my sub-40 at the Mini in June. A sleepless pre-race night with the baby, a humid day, and fatigue-- again it didn't happen. I ran a PR 41:03, but I knew I was faster. Knowing you're faster and not having the clock confirm that shouts, "I'm big, just in my head." Until you run it, you didn't.

My multi-sport season ended a couple weeks ago at the Duathlon World Championships in France, and I no longer feel the pressure from racing. What I do feel is incredible sharpness and fitness. I searched for a 10K. I really wanted to get one in the books. When will I ever feel this good again? I found a small race in Bed-Stuy and went there with teammates Mark Pfeffer, and Deanna Culbreath. It was perfect: no pressure, no expectations.

I saw some fast, familiar faces, and while I didn't concede the race, my thoughts weren't about beating people. I was in my happy space. I was just going to follow my teammate , Bridget McKenna's advice. She is super speedy and smart (and running a 3:08 marathon that morning), so I listen. She told me to forget about the time. Just go out and run. Basically, take the mind out of it and let the body do what it knows how to do. While I was nervous on the start line (I knew I was asking my body to go hard), it all felt different. I wasn't anxious the way I was in France or at any other race where I had put pressure on myself. I was playing with house money. If I did well, great. If I didn't, my season was already over and it didn't matter.

Go! I settled in comfortably and clocked the first mile in 6:12.The second was 6:05. I think mile 2 was off because mile 3 was 6:56 and I had not slowed down. I could see Deanna ahead and she looked strong, really strong. Kate Cushing and Rebekah Madebach both passed effortlessly and I eked out a "Go." They looked strong and beautiful. The vibe of this race was really friendly. It's not that I want runners to pass me, but I love seeing strong, graceful runners do their thing. I was very much focused on putting in a strong effort and not fading. I saw Fatima Friday ahead and pulled her in by mile 4. (This was her first 10K, 39:50. WHAT????). I gave her a thumbs up as I passed. She passed me back and I gave her a thumbs up again. I love the vibe at small races! I felt strong and passed her one more time in the next 100 meters.

I never did see mile 5 or 6, but looked at my watch and it read 36 minutes. 4 minutes to go, I thought. Just stay strong. There was no fading. I saw Angela Ortiz ahead. (Before the race I smiled and told her, "Stop showing up at my races." She usually beats me.) I tried to reel her in. She had a good lead on me. I made some ground but knew I wasn't catching her. On the final turn, I was surprised to see the finish line. The clock read XX:34. Twenty six seconds to break 40. "Go for all you are worth." This was the 300's I had been doing on the track. This was it. "Drive your arms". "High cadence." "Pick up your knees." Seconds ticking. Now at 46 seconds. "You have to break 40." At this point, I realize that it's not 39:46, but 38:46 that the clock was reading. I can break 39. I give it everything and cross at 38:55. I scream as I cross the line. I have finally done it. I have never run a 40 0r 39 minute 10K. I jumped straight to 38. Me. I did it.

I placed 9th overall, won my age group by 10 minutes, and made fantastic friends along the way. And my girl Deanna, she ran a PR too: 38:09. Happy, happy day!!

Lessons learned:

1) Don't give up, and don't tell yourself why you can't meet your goals. Sometimes it takes a really long time to achieve your goal. At age 40 with a baby at home, I had reasons not to excel, but I chose to focus on the positives rather than my excuses.

2) With less pressure - self-imposed or otherwise - I broke through my previous barrier.

2) We all have different starting points. Just start where you start and shoot to get better. Every step is there for a reason.

3) Give up what doesn't work, and actively seek to find what does work.

4) Let go and run happy. I lace up my Brooks Pure Flows and let them skip across the asphalt.  (The day before the race, I cheered at The Mayor's Cup high school races in Van Cortlandt Park. Being there reminded me how much I love the sport.)

5) The body is amazing. Practice the correct technique; this is what the body will remember. Muscle memory is powerful.

I feel stronger than I have ever felt, but am intrigued by the PR in a smaller race and postpartum. Have others had breakthroughs when they didn't expect it?