I've been a runner, a distance runner to be specific, for nearly 15 years. Amazingly, I've never won a race in my life. Not in middle school, when I started running, not in high school, when I failed to reach my potential in two different states (I did run a 4:28 mile once though), and not after college since I've gotten even more serious about my running.
It's a weird thing to say, but I guess I'm just not cut out for winning at this running thing. But I'm committed to running as best I can and I've won in so many other areas of my life that I'm okay with that.
My best running stories don't even involve races and my best race stories certainly don't involve winning. My first day of track practice was running seven miles. I had never run more than a mile before then. My second day of track practice, back in seventh grade, was running 800 meters (half a mile or two laps around the Berea High School track) and I did that in 2 minutes and eight seconds.
Somehow that early promise didn't pan out and, instead, I've become one of those runners who is good enough to be considered a serious runner - I ran 10 miles with a running club of hundreds of people last week and finished first (but it wasn't a race) in under 70 minutes - but not yet a serious enough runner to enter a half marathon and expect to finish anywhere near the Kenyans or college runners.
Still, I continue to race because every few months or so I get antsy to do something competitive. In the last few years I've run the Cooper River Bridge Run 10k in Charleston, South Carolina, the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon in Bellingham, Washington, and I finished the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon in 3 hours and 14 minutes back in October. I missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon, on my first try, by four minutes.
I guess I'm telling you all this because I want you to have some context about what I feel like in the days leading up to a race. It's not the sort of feeling an Olympian gets before his/her races because I know I won't win, but it's not at all like your run-of-the-mill runner who entered himself into his first 5k either because I expect to run a fast time and place amongst the top set of finishers who don't run for a living. In the North Face race, I finished in the top 20 out of more than 140 runners and in Baltimore I was in the top five percent of finishers out of thousands of runners.
So when I wake up tomorrow at 5:45 to make the short walk from my new apartment by Town Lake here in Austin to Congress Avenue for the start of the Austin half marathon, I will be somewhere in between distance-great Steve Prefontaine and your average treadmill runner in terms of ambition.
I'm not so serious about my running as to not eat bacon cheeseburgers and Little Debbies on occasion, but I'm serious enough to run in 30-degree weather and buy $120 Asics lightweight trainers every couple of months. My goal tomorrow is to average six minute miles for the 13.1 mile course around and through Downtown Austin. I did the last seven miles of the full marathon course in 42 minutes two Saturdays ago so it's a lofty, but very feasible goal.
So long as I don't feel like (or taking a) shit tomorrow.
Usually my race strategy involves being hypersensitive about my body for the 10 days leading up to the race - "my calf is tighter than normal, I should take it easy today" - and eating a lot of protein in mornings (I just had bacon) and carbs at night (I had Romeo's last night). I don't like drinking water much, but I try to cut down on the juice somewhat in the day or two before the race and start drinking water more often. I usually eat a granola bar the night before I go to bed and eat a banana in the morning. During the race I'll probably have another banana and a couple of energy gels, one ever 30 minutes and an extra one with two miles to go.
I know I won't win tomorrow, but I hope to do well. I've been running for nearly 15 years because winning isn't everything, but being committed to doing well is. Wish me luck.