The rain that began when I went out to feed the chickens well before sunup and followed me to Norfolk ceased as I parked the car. The howling winds, however, did not.
Standing in the corral listening to the National Anthem, flags whipping furiously in the wind, awaiting the start, I felt no jitters, no anxiety. I stopped getting nervous for races years ago. The more I trained and the more I raced, the more I trusted my preparation and ability to go out there and get the job done. So I stood there Sunday, three years almost to the day that I last pinned a race number on my shirt, completely sure of what I was – and most importantly was not – capable of.
There had been moments through the week leading to this day where I had voiced some concerns that I used to be super good at pacing and running smart and this was going to be hard because I’m a bit unsure of my paces with my training and essentially starting from square one. Well that wasn’t entirely true. I knew what my paces needed to be, I was just in denial, because I wanted them to be 30 seconds per mile faster. I knew full well I wasn’t there yet. I had put in some training sessions at that pace and faster, but not enough, but I wasn’t ready to admit it. You want to go out and ruin yourself a race? Start at a pace 30 seconds per mile faster than you should be. Guarantee you, you will be toast before halfway and have a huge positive-split race.
Fortunately. I came to grips with this reality before the starting gun went off.
The relay teams were corralled behind one of the final pace groups, so an easy start at the gun was forced. Once in open air, my feet settled into a very familiar rhythm, my breathing quickened and I relaxed into it so much so that I almost forgot to look at my Garmin. The first two miles were right on target. Drop the hammer a bit harder now and continue the negative split…finish strong. The wind tried hard to derail my mission but I refused to give in. Breathing was labored by now, but the legs were hanging tough. I looked to my side, wishing for my four-legged training partner.
This course was completely unfamiliar to me and I knew the relay-exchange was not likely at exactly halfway, it was going to be set at the most conducive point on the course that fell within that range. Of course, the first leg was the longer one. I was maintaining my pace, kicked it up a notch as best I could, which wasn’t much, and believe it or not that made me very happy.
“I gave it all I had,” I said to Rosalyn as I stuck my leg out for her to grab the timing chip. I gave her a quick hug and a “Have FUN!” and still breathless got my medal.
By old Red Hammer standards – and, no, I have no idea when I am going to stop trying to live up to those – the time was not something I would be happy about. On this day I had two things I wanted to do. I had a pace I wanted to average, a realistic but still challenging one. And I wanted to leave it all out on the course. Check and check.
No regrets, no second-guessing, that is the way you should always finish a race.