Sell Yourself Shorter, Not Short

Last Friday, I ran in eighty-plus degree weather at about 5:15 p.m. My running bud Becky and I had our little winged-feet hearts set on eight miles to start off the weekend, but the needles for both of our tanks were dropping below ‘E’ after six and a half miles.

Sunday, on the other hand, was quite the different story. . .a chilly, windy, snowy morning right around freezing temperatures for the Frank Shorter Race for Kids’ Health 5K. About a fifty degree difference in a matter of a day and a half? That’s nothing, actually, considering that we’ve seen that temperature difference in a matter of hours in the Centennial State. Welcome to my bipolar-weathered state of Colorado, kids!

I knew it would be icky, and I was pretty tired on Saturday night. I definitely did feel fat, lazy, and out of shape and most definitely did not feel like getting up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to drive about a half hour to Broomfield to brave the weather for a 5K.

It was the first time I seriously considered not racing after I had registered for an event. Lucky for me, I’m too stubborn and too proud to ever have a ‘DNF’ next to my name. I definitely did not feel alert and ready to compete when my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. but most definitely go up, get ready, drove to Broomfield early to avoid bad weather on the highways, and raced. And I’m sooooo glad I did.

I’m guessing my running readers know who Frank Shorter is. If not, you - as well as any of my non-running readers - most definitely should. Here goes. . .

Ah, ah-hem! Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1972 Summer Olympics, a victory earning him credit for ‘igniting the running boom’ in the U.S. in the 1970s. He also:

  • Won four consecutive U.S. national cross country championship titles from 1970-1973
  • Won the 10,000-meter run and the marathon in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1972 and 1976
  • Won both the 10,000-meter and the marathon at the 1971 Pan American Games
  • Won the Fukuoka Marathon four consecutive times from 1971-1974.

For his accomplishments, Shorter was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984 and also the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989. That enough for ya? No? One of the founders of the Bolder Boulder, a 10K Memorial Day race in Boulder, Colorado - voted best 10K in the country by Runner’s World in 2010 - he’s a bit of a local celebrity in addition to his national running prowess ’round these parts.

The opportunity to breathe the same air and even get within five feet of the legend Frank Shorter himself was more than enough to get me out of bed on a crazy weather spring day. Still, I wasn’t feeling too motivated to run. I certainly wanted to run hard and to run a faster pace than I did for the Runnin’ of the Green 7K about a month earlier, a feat I thought would be easy given the 2K race course difference.

Well, I did a LOT better than just breathing the same air as Frank Shorter. What internet research might not tell you is that Frank Shorter is a really cool guy - so cool, in fact, that he autographed my bib before the race:

Talk about pre-race MOE-TIH-VAY-SHUN

Talk about pre-race MOE-TIH-VAY-SHUN

All of a sudden, the lack of sleep, feeling lazy, and cold temperature, snow, and occasional wind gusts weren’t that big a deal. I was alert, alive, and felt ready not only to run, but to race! I mean, how could I not be after a brush with a legend of elite running royalty?! Let’s do this!

Just outside, I zipped my jacket all the way up and hung a right to start my warm up. I spied three other runners – three guys who looked like they knew what they were doing – doing the same; so I weaved between the streets of surrounding hotels and apartment buildings behind them for almost a mile. A little more jogging, high knees, and butt kicks away from and then back toward the starting line later, the party was about to start.

I bounced in place and quickly shifted body weight from foot to foot through an announcement or two and then the singing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ then was off for mile one. Up the block, right, up a slight incline and right, then down a straight away and right toward a slight downhill, I felt great! This feels good. Keep it right here, no faster.

Not even snow, falling from the gray sky more like light hail bouncing off of my cheeks and then big, fat, flakes sticking to my eyeballs along the way were enough to make me miss a step. And in what felt like the time it takes to snap your fingers, mile one was done. Sweet! Do it again!

Nearly all of mile two went just as well, this time introducing a sudden, strong, icy blast of wind that slapped me square in the face and made me lose my breath immediately following a ninety-degree turn in the course instead of snow.

Then, just before my watch hit the two-mile mark, it hit me, much like the realization that you’ve gone one drink too far punches you in the gut – not that I know what that feels like, by the way - my lungs and legs were quickly running out of steam. That’s OK, slow it down for just a bit, then kick it up the last half mile. One more to go. . .

The third mile hurt the worst by far, and that was before one of the last straight aways – up a visible incline for what I’m guessing was probably less than 200 meters but felt a lot longer. I tried, I fought, I got a bit angry with myself – just angry enough to push me that last stretch – when another girl passed me with just over a quarter mile to go. Come on, almost there. You’ll still have a good time, you’ve got to!

Finally, I made it to the final right-hand turn, was nearly knocked over by the wind of two more guys passing me as if I were standing still. It must have looked just as bad as I thought it did – A race volunteer was yelling at me: “Come on, don’t let those guys pass you!” and then started running along side me when they did. “Bring it in, come on! You’re almost there!”

I hit the ‘stop’ button when I crossed the finish line, then looked at my watch. WHAT?! Oh, hell no! UGH! I was not at all happy with what I saw: I had run the same pace as I did for the Runnin’ of the Green 7K, which meant that my third mile had slowed a lot to pull down what would have been at least a ten second per mile average pace faster.

I walked around a bit to catch my breath and to assess what had gone wrong, and it didn’t take me long to figure it out. Feeling good the first two miles, then losing steam in the home stretch equals I need to do speed work before my next 5K and 10K.

As disappointed as I was, it reminded me of one of the many reasons I love running so much: No matter how much you do it, you can still always learn something new about the sport and about yourself. OK, speed work it is.

I grabbed some food and ended up finding one of those three guys I was following during my warm up. “Hi. I saw you and two other guys jogging before the race, and you looked like you knew where you were going. So I followed you.” “Yeah, I saw you! How’d you do?” “Eh, OK, not as fast as I had hoped.” “Well, it was a challenging course, and the weather didn’t help.”

We chatted about the race course and weather conditions a bit more, then, what he said next surprised me: “Maybe you need a coach.” So I replied, “I have one in my head already. She’s not always very nice, though.” He shook his head in agreement. “Maybe I should cut myself a little slack.” “Yeah, I think so.” OK, running gods, I hear ya. “Thanks!”

Before I left, I was lucky – or just plain ol’ obnoxious? – enough to take one last opportunity to rub elbows with an elite. Not only was Frank Shorter kind enough to indulge this nerd in running shoes before the race. He also posed for a quick pic, and we chatted about marathon training – YUP, you heard me right: talked marathon lingo with a marathon legend! – after the race:

"Cheese!"

Say, “Running shoes!”

Know what he told me? To focus on speed work! How’s that for validation that I know a little something about my favorite sport? OK, speed work it is. Even the greatest of my running feats will never be worthy of standing in Frank Shorter’s shadow, but I’ll take every bit of help I can get – advice, autograph, or simply breathing the same air as a running elite. Speed work, here I come. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

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