Goals and dreams are important. It’s important to set realistic short term goals and achieve them to gain momentum to reach other, more lofty goals. Sometimes you have to set lofty goals however to reach lofty heights. Dreaming big requires you to set goals that result in others telling you that you are crazy if you think you can reach them. While some goals are like specks on the horizon, it’s okay to set some goals that seem so lofty they aren’t even specks on the horizon.

Running is a sport that lends itself to goal setting and dreaming very well. I’m in my 50s and struggle with running. I seem slow at times. I call myself a turtle but I remember being faster. I can run a mile at a much faster pace than I can run a 5K or a 10K. Calculators based on my fastest mile time indicate I should be able to run a 5K or a 10K much faster than I have proven capable of so far. While I had many running goals, my main goals coming into this year were to run a 5K in under 30 minutes which I made known to running friends in the Dubuque Running Club and a 10K in under 60 minutes which I kept to myself. However I’m far from both goals at this time.

Yesterday I ran a 10K race. That is 6.2 miles. It was my first race at that distance. I had this awesome thought that I could run it in under 1:20:00, 1 hour and 20 minutes. This was a short term goal and one I thought was realistic. All I needed to do was run each mile in 13 minutes (actually 12.54 minutes/mile.) I had been doing runs at that pace all week (or so I thought) leading up to the race and those were my easy runs. My previous best for the 10K was 1:25:35 but I felt that if I pushed myself, 1:20:00 was doable. I thought I had this. My goal prior to the race was the run the first 2 miles slow, possibly slower than my goal pace, then run the middle 2 miles below goal pace, and then even faster the last 2 miles with a final sprinting kick in the last .2 miles.

The race yesterday was the Alzheimer’s 5K/10K race in Dubuque, IA, a race to raise money for the benefit of the local Alzheimer’s association. The 10K started at 8:00 AM to give the 10K runners a chance to get far enough down the course and not to impede the 5K runners as they ran down the course at a faster pace. Last year I had run the 5K and it was my first race ever.

As I began the race, it was not unlike other races for me, the other racers took off at a faster pace than me. They all gradually moved ahead and slowly became smaller on the horizon and eventually disappeared. I was in last place and I knew that is where I would finish. I tried to stick to my plan of running close to my goal pace but I seemed to be constantly having to reign it in so as not to be spent before the halfway point.

At about 12 minutes before I had covered the first mile, some of the 5K racers began passing me. Jose Escoriza, the ultimate winner of the 5K was the first. 2 other men that I didn’t know soon passed me and then Christi Murphy, the women’s 5K winner and an ultrarunner, did the same. It was an out and back run and before long most of the 5K field passed me. As most of them passed me, I offered encouragement with a “Good Job!” or a “Way to Go! You got this.” My pace also picked up just a bit as they passed or at the least I tried to maintain my pace. I was hoping that I could maintain my pace as my goal seemed in sight, even though I was trailing the entire field.

When I reached the 5K turn around point on the out and back course the race attendants encouraged me with “You’re halfway done. You’re doing great!” I regretfully informed them that I was doing the 10K and continued on down the course with all but 2 of the 10K runners out of sight by this time. After only a slight pause, they offered, “You’re doing great! Keep it up.” I wasn’t discouraged at this point as I was still on pace. In fact, I was a little worried that I was going too fast to maintain this pace.

I was close to crossing a bridge on the route between mile 2 and mile 3, when the first 10K runner was heading back to the start. Jeremiah was the leader and I saw him glance over his shoulder to see if anyone was close behind him. They weren’t. It was getting harder for me at this point while for Jeremiah it seemed so easy. He was running so fluid and so fast. It was inspiring.

To get to the bridge and cross it, there was a slight incline, with an emphasis on slight. I felt at that point like I was climbing a mountain or at least a big hill at the Mines of Spain trails. I knew my stride looked nothing like Jeremiah’s. I hadn’t reached the turnaround point and I could feel my legs tiring.

After crossing the bridge, I started to meet other 10K runners on their way back. I offered words of encouragement as they passed. I was ahead of my pace at this point by almost 2 minutes but I also noticed that as I reached mile markers, my watch was saying that I had run farther than those markers. Some quick math in my head was telling me that either this race was longer than 6.2 miles or I wasn’t running as fast as I was. The second thought was somewhat discouraging. At the next water stop I took some water and kept up the running. I hadn’t reached 3 miles based on mile markers but my watch said I had already run 3 miles. I had done this before, running so hard to the half-way point that I was too spent to run harder the second half. I stopped to walk and drink my water. Maybe if I walked before reaching the half-way point, I would be able to finish the second half faster I thought.

I let my 2 minutes ahead of pace dwindle down to 1:30 ahead of pace and then started running again. More walk breaks followed however and that lead on my goal pace faded. As I approached the half-way point, my daughter Nicole passed me on the way back. I felt a moment of pride. She hadn’t really trained the last 2 weeks but she was still chugging along unfazed by everyone else being ahead of her. Everyone but her dad that is.

By the time I reached the turnaround, my watch said I had run more than 3.1 miles. Some quick math told me I would end up running about 6.7 miles rather than 6.2, but yet I was still ahead of pace by about a minute. Things weren’t adding up and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t reach the finish line in 1:20:00. Even 1:30:00 seemed a stretch at this point.

My confidence was wavering. I hadn’t been fazed by everyone leaving me behind at the start, by being last. I hadn’t been fazed by the 5K runners passing me on the way to the half-way point but also meeting me on the way back before I had reached the 1.55 mile turnaround point. Don’t get me wrong I’m pretty competitive but I’ve learned quickly in my short time running that in my situation I’m mostly running against myself. I could sense my own disappointmnt seeping into my legs as well as my spirit as I neared the turnaround point. I had been rocking a heart rate of 160 beats per minute for a long time at this point. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep that up.

I did some more walking and running for the next mile. My time ahead of pace had dwindled to about 30 seconds when the winner of the 10K race appeared ahead of me with over 2 miles to go according to the mile markers. As we met, he turned around and started jogging with me. He asked me if I could use a pacer. I replied jokingly, “Are you ready to do some walking?”

We ran. For a bit, he ran beside me, then just ahead of me. He mentioned pushing me. His pace was definitely pulling me. Prior to this time, my breathing had been pretty even but I had also taken several walking breaks. It wasn’t my lungs that had been limiting me, it was the legs and now my will and my spirit.

My pace got below 12:00 min/mile a few times as I chased Jeremiah but usually settled in around 12:30. My 30 seconds faster than pace stretched back to about 1:30. Jeremiah kept asking me how I was doing as far as pace. I knew my watch was lying to me at this point as it was becoming apparent that my watch thought this was almost a 7 mile race. As we crossed what my watch said was 6.2 miles in 1:28:31, I stopped running and began walking again. I considered that my 10K and a small victory even though later, I would come to realize that it wasn’t. If nothing else it was what an improvement over my previous training even if the calibration was wrong.

My breathing was labored when I started walking and I’d spent a lot of time with my heart rate above 160 bpm, firmly within the red zone. My mind and my body welcomed the walking break. We walked quite a while Jeremiah and I. We talked a bit. I asked him what his time was and was amazed when his 10K time was faster than my best 5K. It was hard for me to fathom that and I was both envious and inspired by it at the same time. My goal for a 10K time long term was to run it in less than an hour. I had no lofty goal of running it in sub 35.

We walked on while I caught my breath and gathered my reserves for the finish. Greg McMillan trains his runners to finish stronger than they started. He says that everyone has a 400 meter sprint in them at the end because that sprint uses fast twitch muscles and in a long run we aren’t using those fast twitch muscles. Also, when I’m running faster, I feel like I’m really running. I enjoy that pace. I just can’t do it for very long. I wanted a good finish to make up for other disappointments that day.

As we neared a small road that crosses the race path just before the overpass bridge that crosses the highway and heads to the finish we began running again. The incline up to the bridge seemed steeper than it was but I tried to maintain a 13 min/mile pace going up it and when we crested it, I tried to stride a little bit to pick up the pace. I could see the finish and the sign that said “6 Miles” ahead. There was also another runner heading our way in a red Dubuque Running Club shirt. I couldn’t make out who it was but I was pretty sure it was someone coming to run me in.

I knew at this time I wasn’t going to have a “real” PR. I knew I wasn’t going to beat my previous training best of 1:25:35. I wasn’t even sure I could beat 1:30:00. But I had Jeremiah running with me and before we reached the 6 mile mark, Shannon Woulfe was by my side. Shannon had run me in several times at races. The first 5K I ran without stopping, he ran me in. So I was thankful he was there. This run had been hard on me, both physically and mentally.

I had already picked up the pace and was running around an 11:00 minutes/mile pace. Shannon was providing encouragement and telling me how his 5K time was 5 minutes worse than last year. He also jokingly told me that I needed to hurry up as they were giving out awards. I new I was not getting a medal but I realized in that moment that Jeremiah probably wasn’t there when they announced him the overall winner of the 10K.

I remembered in that moment the young lady that said before this race last year that she was running her first 10K. I remember being embarrassed that walkers passed me last year doing the 5K and finished faster than me. I also remember how the announcer giving away awards last year stopped to recognize that woman as she came to the finish line and everyone cheered for her. I remember thinking at that time that I would be embarrassed being in her position but at the same time I thought she was brave for doing something she had never done. I also was inspired to try and be brave enough to do that in the future.

As we approached the 6 mile marker I knew that they would probably stop the awards announcement to recognize me as I finished. I knew people would clap and cheer. Even though I felt somewhat let down because I didn’t have the race I thought I could have, I appreciated what Jeremiah and Shannon were doing. I also wasn’t embarrassed by the cheers and the words of encouragement. They were actually uplifting. I think I felt in that moment what that young lady who tried something she had never done felt last year.

I also just wanted to see what my legs had left in them so I picked up the pace and began to really run. My stride lengthened. My pace increased. My heart raced. This was running. This was racing. According to my “lying” Polar V800 after the race, I had a maximum pace of 6:45 minutes/mile and the last 400 meters my pace was faster than 8:30 minutes per mile. I’m not sure if the 6:45 was right but I’m pretty sure I was running pretty well at the finish, although I still have some work to do to keep going hard right to the finish line. Christi Murphy had said on Facebook that I looked good running to the finish line. I think I was looking good too!

When I examined the race afterwards from a technical viewpoint, I didn’t run the race I planned. My first 2 miles were the fastest 2 miles of the race. My middle miles were above goal pace and my last 2 miles were slower than the first 2. Top that off with the fact that the mile split information wasn’t even right and it could have been pretty discouraging.

From a mental standpoint, I was a bit disappointed too in the fact that I let the pain and discomfort cause me to stop and walk. The mental game of running is the hardest part of running and racing. I have a video from McMillan Running called “Run with your body. Race with your mind.” The presenter talks about how racing is a very mental game and to race well you have to be mentally strong. I consider myself quite intelligent and believe my mind is one of my strong points, but when it comes to running, the strength and resolve I need in my mind comes up lacking at times.

Even though I could have been discouraged by the outcome yesterday, I strangely enough am pretty pleased. I still have the goal of running faster. I still have a half-marathon about 3 weeks away and even though I thought I could finish it in under 3 hours, I’m going to have to reassess that goal and see how my training runs and my last long run next week go before I lock in on what I think I can finish that race in. I had thought I was capable of running a half in under 3 hours but I’m not so sure now.

Even if I don’t finish that 1/2 marathon in under 3 hours though, I know that I am capable of improving. I know that I can run faster. I know that I need to improve my stamina and endurance more than my speed. I know I need to work on my mental game more than anything. I appreciate those that cheer me on and especially those that come back to run me in. I sometimes long for the day when I’ll be able to run at a pace that really feels like running and not just a slow jog. For now though, I’m running and still improving.

While I’m inspired by so many runners and non-runners I’m still amazed when some of those very runners that inspire me tell me how I inspire them and others.  I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing that inspires them but I’ll continue to keep trying to do it. No matter what I did yesterday however, I know that I still have work to do. I still have dreams and goals – a sub 30 5K, an 8 minute mile, a sub 60 10K. Those goals are what keep me running. Most importantly, I still believe that I can reach them even though they aren’t even specks on the horizon at this point. Maybe that is what I do that inspires others. I sure hope so.