Mile 1 and 2 went well: fast and light on my feet, befitting a personal record that I could sense in the distance on the other side of the park. But in mile 3 I struggled to control my breathing and maintain my turnover. Mile 4 felt outright sluggish. In the final mile during this 5 miler in Central Park I found my pace again, yet it was mostly a mighty struggle against the looming, potentially devastating enemy within. These dark words: I can’t.
Not every run is an epic struggle. But as I describe it in my book, the Self can be the most dangerous, the strongest and worst enemy of any runner. During this race last Saturday (the team championships of New York) I looked for excuses and found them: some back pain, a bad night sleep, being behind on my training schedule. To drive home the point of my weakness, a teammate passed me right at the end, the third race in a row that happened.
Interestingly, I did run a 20-second pr on that 5 miler. I have never gone faster on this distance; a moral boost as I am trying to get serious again with two marathons in the fall coming up.
Which begs the question: what is a pr worth if it didn’t feel in any way like a personal best? Can a pr be devoid of meaning? I say yes. Time is only one indicator of how a run went.
But at the same time, your finishing time is the main –perhaps the only– aspect the outside world can see and judge. For those of us who care what others think, and I can think of no one who doesn’t, it is meaningful to know that they, the others, see you running a pr at age 41. Realizing this, in turn, gives positive meaning to the run. No matter how miserable it really was.
It’s retroactive, granted. The event changes shape and even substance in the retelling, as it has gained the stamp of approval with an official, recorded pr. But if writing my memoir-ish book taught me anything, it’s that the memory cannot be counted on. Everything is altered, slightly or fundamentally, as we tell and retell stories. And so it was that those painful 5 miles morphed into a decent race resulting in a decent time.