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Must be the Shoes

From an early age, my family members were imbued with the belief that a quality purchase could assuage a thousand ills. For years, I have watched my mother pick up her purse and head out the door for the nearest sale whenever she felt “blue.” It is a tradition that my sisters have nobly carried on, without judgement, I have noticed that they don’t even need a minor bout of depression to put the recuperative powers of acquisition to use.

As for myself, circumstance has rarely afforded me the opportunity to really splurge. I’m one of those guys that out of guilt/fear/responsibility still calls my wife (and CFO) for approval when making a purchase over a hundred dollars. A high roller, I most decidedly am not.

The healing flats.But the past couple of months have been tough on my running. It’s been a struggle with injuries and I will admit that, while I promote fitness on this blog, I really was kind of down on training. To use my mother’s expression, I was feeling a little “blue.” And so, I bought myself something: a brand, spanking, new pair of hideously yellow and black Adidas racing flats. Firm, lightweight, with the flex right under the ball of my foot, their arrival from Marathon Sports brought a bit of Christmas cheer to my Trumbull home.

I was excited, ready to run and more importantly, eager to race. I decided to try them out at a 5K in Milford on Sunday.

Despite the Happy Face yellow of the shoes, my mood had soured a bit by the starting gun. In my warm-up, my groin was tight and causing some pain. Going out easy, looked like the best option and I promised myself not to get the “Run faster you pussy” monologue going.

We took off on the flat course, a handful of serious guys up front and then myself and several isolated runners before the pack in back. Focusing on a quick turnover and good form, I ran easily on the early sections, not working too hard and somewhat surprised to see no cones, arrows or volunteers at many of the intersections we passed through. I made a mental note to keep the lead pack in sight because I had no idea where I was going having barely glanced at the course map.

Not wanting to look at my watch as part of my commitment to “take it easy”, the turn away from the seashore alerted me to the finish line fast approaching. There was one very tall runner ahead of me, he’d gone out bravely but I could see his form starting to break down. Tailing him for a bit, I passed him right before an uphill and turned on the gas. Still trying not to work too hard, I brought it home with some authority.

Over a footbridge, then a hard right for the line, I looked up at the clock and saw 16:20, the fastest 5K of my Masters career.  I could not believe it. Barely breaking a sweat, I’d hammered out a hugely respectable 5:15/mile effort. Laughing out loud, I thought to myself, “Surely, it was the shoes!”

Giddy with excitement, I put on my jacket and did my cooldown by retracing the course. In my head, I was making serious plans to step up my training, reset my goals for my “A” races and wondering a great deal as to how I had really managed this breakthrough performance. At best, I’d hoped to run a 17:40. 16:20 was almost miraculous.

Then coming up from the seashore a second time, I noticed a volunteer waving me down a turn that I was fairly certain I hadn’t taken before. Slowly it dawned on me that my epic “relaxed” 5:15s might not have had all that much to do with me. When I hit another unfamiliar turn, I asked the volunteer (whom I hadn’t seen before) what was going on with the course adjustment. “Oh, we screwed up at the beginning,” he said, “we forgot a turn.”

Crestfallen, I dropped my head and looked at my Happy Face shoes. They hadn’t done a thing to make me faster. There was no Miracle in Milford, I’d run easy and I’d run on a shortened course. My 5K was a whole lot more like a 4.8K.

I made it back to the car, put on a dry shirt and vowed to write a letter to the race director, demand my money back and promise to warn everyone I could find off of this race for years to come. But by the time I’d made it home, I was considerably more reasonable. Mistakes happen, the important thing was that I’d gotten out and had some fun.

And, if only for a brief twenty minutes, I believed that I was still capable of an effortless 16:20. Racing was exciting to me, the possibilities seemed endless and most importantly, I wasn’t moping about my injuries and that was pretty cool. It certainly was worth the price of my new shoes.

2 comments on “Must be the Shoes

  1. goSonja says:

    Total heartbreaker post, but such a valuable lesson about our minds and how they play into our motivation. Doing well spurs us to train harder. It’ excites us, but the only reason is because we know how truely hard we have to work to see modest gains.

    Ahh, there are no easy solutions, there is no secret, just hard work and focused determination (at best).

    Treat yourself well, and recover my friend.

    (PS: I am headed back to CT for the Rev3 again this year…maybe a meetup?)

    1. Jim says:

      Good to hear from you. The Thompson family would be way psyched to treat you to a carbo laden pre race meal, some quality crewing or whatever you need when you come to the Nutmeg State.
      Hope you’re not riding in the snow today.

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