Yesterday afternoon was hot. Ninety-plus degrees hot.
But my planned run on the Great Western Trail promised shade for much of the way. So I parked the car and wandered over to the trailhead and stretched a bit. A mother and daughter walked past and started their run ahead of me.
I figured that I might catch them at some point. For one that was true. For the other, not so much. The mom was rolling along at 9:00 pace, which is faster than I typically warm up the first mile. The daughter, she was flying. Like, almost out of sight flying.
As the mile marker passed I did catch up with the mom. “That first mile is awful,” I offered. She smiled and laughed. Then I picked up the pace a little.
Looking up the trail a bit, I could see the daughter several hundred yards ahead. Her long ponytail was flying back and forth, catching sunlight as she passed through the tunnel formed by the trees. The old railroad bed has been a trail now for thirty-plus years. But I still recall the engines and long trains running down the line.
During the second mile, with my body warmed up a bit, I dropped the pace from 8:55 to 8:10. The trail crosses a street and passes through more trees to the two mile mark.
The daughter came whipping back in the other direction. She was cruising. While I was moving along pretty well, catching her was clearly out of the question.
As I started back from the two-mile mark, a pair of scratchy footsteps showed up behind me. Taking a quick glimpse back, something in me decided not to let the guy pass me. The third mile dropped to 7:47. I wasn’t straining. But the guy was still running ten yards behind.
That annoyed me a bit. Whatever his motivation, kind or cruel, I rather wished he would make up his mind to either pass and leave me in the dust or come run along beside me. As it was, his scritchy feet kept their pace, so I dialed it up another notch.
Dialing it up
Now I was running 7:00 mile pace. It was actually in my mind to do a short, uptempo run with negative splits. So I wasn’t necessarily running faster just to beat the bastard behind me. But it worked as a motivation. So I kept on running.
The trail goes up and over a bridge above Peck Road. I was running so smoothly by then, my feet hardly made a sound on the wooden slats. And when I came down the other side to return to the gravel trail, the sound of my semi-invisible foe was gone.
Perhaps he just turned around and went back to where his run began. I didn’t study him long enough to know whether he was a young guy just toying with me or what. At any rate, I kept the pace going up the incline and back to trailhead and clicked my watch at exactly four miles and exactly 32:00. That meant eight-minute pace, flat.
“Not a bad run,” I thought to myself.
Walking around the parking lot to cool down, I noticed the mom and her daughter doing the same. I complimented them both on their running and learned that the young lady just graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she’d just earned All-America status in track and field with a time of 15:52 for the 5K. That’s a fast time for any runner.
Her name is Emily Martin and her mother Diane raised a family of athletes, all high achievers. She ran for Rosary in high school and was All-State. We chatted about how strange it was to lose her senior year track season to the pandemic, and what comes next, since the NCAA appears willing to grant her one more competitive year or season. But where should she go?
As a nursing student, there is a definite career track to follow, and plenty still to learn. But first she might consider nursing her running career a bit further. Clearly she’s got tons of talent. Yesterday on her training run she averaged 7:20 per mile. I might have been able to keep up if I was racing at that pace these days, but it would have hurt eventually. For Emily, it was just another brisk run for fitness. I miss those days. LOL.
I love meeting people who love to run. And clearly, some of my competitive urges remain in this body and brain of mine. It took a while to stop sweating on such a hot day, and the memories of flying along at my own best pace stick with me too.
There’s always someone faster than you, I reminded myself. And often it’s a woman.