The only time I trained to Win

I realize many of us will never dream of winning a race, but the point of this story isn’t really about winning, its about fully committing to a goal and pursuing that goal with no fear of failure, no hedging your bets, or making a back up plan.  To borrow a phrase from an old friend, its about “Going All In.”

Have you ever fully committed to anything in life, removed all distractions, put all your eggs in the basket and simply gone for it, fully aware that failure is still a possibility?  Despite that possibility you take on the challenge with no secondary plan, you just go for it.

Today’s story only begins to showcase that full commitment, but hopefully it inspires you to take the leap and go for it, whether its a life or fitness goal, put yourself out there, with your back to the ledge so your only option is forward and attack your objective with all you’ve got.

Enjoy the days story.

The Main Street Mile in Westminster Maryland takes place each year on a Wednesday evening in mid April.  I’d have never heard of this race, if not for my college roommate who happened to be from Westminster.  He decided that a group of us should take the hour drive south, run the race, and then enjoy a home cooked meal at his parent’s house.

As a hungry college male, I figured running one mile was well worth the effort if I would receive a post race meal, so I was in.

I remember running the mile in physical education class growing up, but I don’t recall my finish times.  I certainly wasn’t the slowest, but I also wasn’t turning any heads or soliciting notice from the track coaches.  As a college senior, little had changed.

Athletically, I was adrift.

No longer a basketball player, I was mostly lifting weights to satisfy appearance goals.  At times alone, or with my roommates, I’d head out for a little jog, completing short routes around campus called the breakfast loop, or the P loop.

I was definitly not a runner.

When looking through past years Main Street Mile results, one quickly notices that the times are often blazing.  Partly, that is due to some fast runners participating, but it also relates to the fact that the course drops 139 feet from start to finish.

Its a downhill mile.

My time that year (2004) was 5:06.  I remember crossing the finish and feeling like my eye balls might explode.  Seeing as that I hardly ever feel my eye balls in any way, this sensation was slightly terrifying.  My heart was pounding and I felt sick to my stomach.  I wondered pitifully around the finish area for a bit as my body tried to regain homeostasis.  If my body were a factory, there would have been alarms, flashing lights, and the fire doors would have been closing as emergency workers attempted to contain the disaster.

I believe all this pain earned me some enchalatas, of which I ate more then my fair share.  They were delicious.

The next year, 2005, I returned and ran a 4:44, good for a 14th place finish.

A seed was planted.

Several years passed, and in 2010 I decided it was time to return to Main Street.  I also decided that I’d train to win.  Throughout December and January of that year, I consistanly increased my training volume, allowing me to build my aerobic engine.  This engine would then be fine tuned with speed work beginning in February.

Everything was going according to plan until Old Man Winter decided to intervene.  Lancaster was hit with a cold and snowy February, which buried all the local tracks.  Fortunately, Lancaster has plenty of hills.  I was training with my buddy Dave, and his brother Dan (You know them both from the story of my first ever race), and we held one another accountable.  We didn’t miss a workout.

Our hill repeats varied between all out 10 – 15 second efforts, up to leg searing 90 second death marches.  Our hill repeats were all done for time, I kept the watch, and signaled when the effort was over.  This allowed us to keep the workout together even though we were running different speeds.  We covered different distances, but all stopped at the same time.  We slow jogged back down the hill at various paces allowing us all to arrive at the bottom together.  Then up again we went.

Finally, sometime in March, the snow melted and the local tracks were clear.  We transitioned to lots of fast 200s and 400s.  Week after week we worked.  I won every effort.  Dan however was hatching a plan.

One day we were running some 200s, as we started our 2nd or 3rd, he took off like a cheetah.  As a former track athlete, he has speed, and I wasn’t ready.  Dan was gassed for the remainder of the workout, but he beat me on that 200.  Years later, I still burn a bit at that interval, and he brings it up on occasion.  I was training to win.

Winning is a mindset, and I wanted to win everything.

Our final workout consisted of a 1 mile time trial on the track.  We each ran solo, while the other two offered encouragement and splits.  I ran a 4:48, with no taper, no competition, and a big training day the day prior.  I was ready.

Arriving at the start, I was nervous.  I spent much more time then normal warming up.  Striders, short sprints, jumps and skips all occured after a mile or so of lite jogging.  I was having trouble controling my addrenaline.

The first half of the race contains the lions share of the downhill portion of the course.  It’s very fast.  We took off, and immediately guys were out in front of me.  As one in particular extended his lead, I reminded myself, I came to win.  I wasn’t going to lose by letting someone run away in the first 800 meters.

I picked it up and went after him.  I was within a step by the half way point, and our split was 2 minutes flat.  I continued to push, as the 3rd 1/4 mile is the toughest.  The excitement of the start has worn away, and the finish is still out of sight.  Just go, I repeated over and over.

At some point I moved into the front, I remember this as being quite odd.  I’d never raced with no one to follow.  Believe, believe, GO!

I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder, as that’s a sure sign of weakness and inspires those chasing.  As the finish line slowly came into focus I attempted to simply keep pushing!  Get there!

I’ll admit, I was completely distracted at not having anyone in front to chase.  I was now running scared, I had no idea if my pursuers were close or not.  The crowd was cheering, but was it for me or was someone stalking my shadow?  The lead was terrifying!

I pushed all the way through the line, no celebratory fist in the air, or smile on my face.  Those things would come later.  I just broke the tape, and crossed the line in 4:23!

I felt far less discomfort this time, as compared to my first go round with this race that I mentioned earlier.  I won $40 dollars, and was interviewed, for the first and only time by the local paper.  It felt good.

The real highlight occurred the next day however, as two of my teacher buddies, printed the newspaper photo of me crossing the line and gave a copy to each of their students.  When the students arrived for class I enjoyed my first ever autograph session, as the they lined up and demanded my signature.

I felt a bit corny, but the kids loved it and maybe one or two were inspired that day!

A podium pic from a different race, I came up a bit short on this day. Standing on the podium is fun, but standing on the lowest step all alone is less fun then you might think.

I’d love to hear some reader stories…

Have you ever really truly committed to something in life or sports?  How did it turn out?  Whether you succeeded or failed how did you feel after your objective was complete?


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