The last time I ran the Sycamore Pumpkinfest, I was newly married and had no children as yet. That was 1985. It was the year after my peak racing period of 1984, with 24 races in twelve months and a second place in the Pumpkinfest at 31:30.
I’d still had some success in ’85 racing ten or twelve times and dipping below 32:00 on occasion in the 10k. But there was something missing that morning in 1985. That was the deep resolve to win.
So finishing at 33:00 or so felt like some sort of message. That it was indeed time to move on to other things like raising a family. My wife would become pregnant that winter and my son Evan was born on October 30, 1986.
Obviously the Sycamore Pumpkinfest run was the last thing on my mind by October 1986. In the ensuing 28 years since that last running I have visited the race once or twice with friends but had not run it again until yesterday.
Just a year ago I stood on the sidelines nursing a strangely bent and swollen middle finger on the left hand. A tiny sliver had produced a major infection requiring surgery. It was a nasty twist of fate that seemed to have no reason other than that’s the way the world operates.
A bit of happy fate
So it was with some mixed joy that the runup to this year’s race was marked by a fun little encounter with the Saucony rep on the downtown streets of Geneva, Illinois that resulted in a pair of free new Triumph running shoes.
As I have perhaps described, I’m a person of liberal faith. I believe in God but not in the manner in which some people might abide. For example, science is a very real and factual aspect of existence to me. I believe evolution explains the origins of living things, and that the earth is billions of years old, and that human beings are pretty much stuck on this planet unless we figure out a nifty system for time travel. And frankly, that ain’t going to happen.
Cause and effect
That last bit is my seemingly pessimistic addition to the whole liberal cosmology thing. I think it’s pretty important (and about time) that the human race gets their shit together to prevent a massive meltdown of population and living conditions on this planet. That means I love people as much as I love the planet, if you can’t gather that from what seems like a downer of a worldview.
My belief in the spiritual dimension of this world is based on some consistently enlightening experiences in which there are both causal and responsive actions that determine our circumstances. During eight years of cancer treatment with my wife our family endured some trying circumstances. Yet when we opened ourselves up to trust in the idea that the world will provide if we have faith it happened again and again that we were able to sustain and survive.
So my encounter with the Saucony rep was both a happenstance joy and a bit of symbolism for me. I’ve been struggling with some achilles problems and working through yoga and weights and PT exercises to make things better. It has been slow going at times. So my running has been limited to perhaps 15 miles a week at most.
Yet earlier last week I ran a fairly effortless 7:00 mile on the track and decided that it would be worthwhile shooting for 7:00 pace in the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10k.
Granted, I knew 7:00 pace would not earn me any age group awards. There are too many good runners out there to think that 3:00 marathon pace would win a prize in a 10k. So I counted the fellow gray-hairs moving past at the start and quietly resolved to stick by my pace. With the leaders still in sight at a mile passed in exactly 6:59 I smiled and turned to the business of having a good experience.
The weather was perfect. Just under 50 degrees at the start, and no wind. It was fun to watch the rippling line of runners ahead of me on the course. At each turn the race participants flowed like water around the bend. But there weren’t many turns on the big square block, so it was left to focus on tempo.
The two mile split read 14:14. So I’d slowed a little. Yet three miles was 21:14, which meant the pace had been earned back. Four miles was 28:30 up a set of little hills and 5 miles, well I decided not to look.
What actually was more important was the feeling in my lower legs. There was no achilles pain whatsoever after three miles. I said a little prayer of thanks for that, and allowed myself a glance down at the Neutral structured shoes on my 58-year-old feet. The response to the new shoes seemed counterintuitive. You’d almost think that a set of tight achilles would require more lift in the heel, not less. Yet here I was running with no tightness of pain. Which goes to show you that even our most rigid intuitions (and institutions) are often not correct.
When the spirit moves you
God expects a little pliability from all of us. If the world seems to be shifting on you, perhaps it’s time to go with the flow a little bit. See what happens. See what life brings you. Yes, it can bring difficulty to change. Yet that’s the way evolution works, and just by chance, that’s how God works sometimes too. But it is human awareness that drives us all to act, to respond, to trust.
Every race is full of hard little lessons like that. So the last mile for me was not exception. My lack of volume training caught up with me, yet the tempo I held was carrying me through to a 45:17 10k. Not world-beating, for sure. But I’d already done that at the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10k. My second place in the mid-31:00s brought back memories as I raced that course.
So I’d lost 14:00 of time over the years? That’s a couple miles at my current pace, or about 30 seconds a year if my math skills serve. There were moments when I looked up ahead at the race leaders and thought about that feeling of being the race leader again. It was an anxious endeavor so many times. Yet there were also confident, hard-fought efforts as well.
It’s a strange function of self-perception to run in the wake of your own experiences. One wonders why it was possible then to lead the race and not now? The answers are obvious. As we age, we slow. Yet there are people still running that fast at my age. The world record for 10K by a 60-year-old man is 32:54 by Martin Rees. The retired steelworker started running at 37 years old and he’s likely capable of running even faster.
So you see we’re all on different journeys. We’re all closing gaps in a race with some history. That is constituted by both our personal races, but also the human race as a whole. It really doesn’t make sense to participate in one without thinking about the other. That’s our calling as runners, and as human beings.