Ship Shape!

It’s a beautiful fall day in Los Angeles. A cold front has moved down from Alaska to temper the constant California sun, there is a light breeze and plentiful white fluffy clouds in the sky to offer shade. Perfect running weather. I took this opportunity to test myself against my nemesis – the Paseo Miramar trail, a 2.5 mile trail which climbs 1500′. I have blogged about this trail on several other occasions (see links below), as it has been my yardstick of fitness since this project began nearly two years ago. In the beginning, a maximum effort would yield a time of 24 minutes. I dreamed of the day when I might break 20 minutes, for I thought that level of fitness would allow me to compete on the world athletic stage. it only took 8 months to break that barrier. Nine months after that, I would set an unbeatable time for this course, well below that magic 20 minute mark. I have been afraid to attempt a record pace on this course for the past 10 months, for fear that I would never break it.

This journey has not been an easy one, and many sacrifices have been made to keep it alive. For the last two months I have been nearly paralyzed by intense anxiety as I try to keep this mission moving forward. This anxiety has made it increasingly difficult to train properly on my “hard” days. I do not train with a team or with a coach, so it’s up to me to get out there on my own and push myself to the limit every Tuesday and Thursday. Well, today being a Tuesday, I thought that I would take advantage of this wonderful weather and do a medium hard run up Paseo. Not hard enough to really hurt, because my anxiety prevents me from putting myself in great pain (unless in a race and fueled by adrenaline), but hard enough to get some benefit. Many of my Tuesday and Thursday runs have been similar compromises, but they have been advancing my fitness nonetheless.

This run starts at Sunset Blvd and climbs for 2 miles before reaching the base of the Paseo Miramar trail. Along the way I noticed that I was feeling quite spry and started to convince myself that an all-out effort might be possible. Afterall, my recent race victories have demonstrated increased fitness, so perhaps I should take a shot at my record on the Paseo trail. I became very excited at the possibility of breaking my record (set in January 2007), a record that I didn’t think could be broken. When I finally reached the beginning of the Paseo trailhead and looked up at the long, steep, relentless climb ahead of me I was feeling confident and decided to go for it.

The pace was fast but not all-out. I was much more comfortable than I’ve been on previous record attempts, and told myself that I would ease myself into the pain gradually. I kept a very quick pace through the steepest sections of the course and still felt comfortable. At the one mile point (another course that I use as a test) I checked my watch to see that I had run my second fastest time ever for the mile, even though I was running the whole course and not just the mile. I was well below record pace. Another 400 meters and the vertical “wall” ends and the trail becomes a roller-coaster of steep ups and downs . I charged each downhill, flat and uphill with surprising speed considering the long climb I had just completed. With a half mile to go I glanced at my watch again, somehow I had slowed significantly, because I only had 3 minutes left to run the very steep last half mile and tie my record. The thought of having put in all this effort, only to fall short of the record was quite disheartening. So I put the hammer down. I sprinted the final section and crested the hill, stopped my watch and collapsed in a nauseous, hyperventilating heap.

I was afraid to look at my watch for fear I was well off my mark. The record was 17:32 and I was hoping that I had just nipped it or been only a few seconds slower, even though I knew I covered that last section in more than 3 minutes. The watch read 18:04. I was devastated. Physically broken and devastated. I had given it my all and come up short.

I jogged back down the mountain dejected. When I got to the car I ate a few bananas, stretched, drank some water and got out my training log to enter the workout. Just out of curiosity, I flipped back in the log to find my previous record set in January, a time that I was now sure I could never beat. I think I let out some sort of scream when I found the entry – I had remembered the wrong time – my record on this course was not 17:32, it was 18:32 – I had broken it by 28 seconds – A HUGE margin on such a short course.

I am nearly 40.
I eat plants.
I am in the best shape ever.

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