In 2008, succumbing to peer pressure, I joined colleagues in running the Corporate Challenge. I had no idea what to expect. It had been at least 20 years since I had done a running race. There were 12,000 entrants. I couldn’t even see the starting line from several hundred places back, crammed among the sweaty, smelly human mass. But I ran like hell, dodging and weaving among slower runners, hopping curves, bumping elbows. Since then, this race has been a thrill for me.
I run this race every year and I’ve run a personal record every time. Except for this year, where I ran nearly a minute slower than 2011. It wasn’t the conditions. Temps were in the low 80’s with little humidity and a nice breeze. But I had been really tired in the lead up to the race and my left foot heel spur/plantar fasciitis still hadn’t settled down. I wasn’t even sure I was going to do the race until I got to the Boston Common and started warming up. I brought my heart rate up slowly. I did some efforts to start the lactic acid buffering. But this race is complicated due to the size of the field. I had to wait 10 minutes in line for the bathroom. Had to work my way up through thousands of people to the second or third row. Had to stand around for another 10 or 15 minutes to through all the intros, proceedings and ceremonies. I had pretty much cooled down by the time the horn went off.
It was one of the smoothest starts ever. In the past I’ve been pushed, elbowed and tripped. I even had to jump over runners who had slipped and fallen on a rain-slickened course. By the second corner, the field had spread out and I was running a comfortable pace. I had decided to ease my way into it — rather than my typical approach of running all-out. My first mile split was 5:45. Pretty slow. I didn’t feel like I was working hard yet. I gradually brought my pace up, using my heart rate as my guide, first to 175. Then 177. When I reached 179, I tried to hold steady there. I was well up into my lactate threshold. But I was trying to stay out of the red zone. I had gone there every year before. I can put myself there. I can overdrive my body. Ignore the limits. But it hurts like hell to do so. But it requires great concentration.
I didn’t have the mental strength to do it this year. When I’m up in that zone, I run like a zombie. I’m in a nether world. I can’t see straight. I can’t think straight. I just want it stop. I’d give anything to make it stop. But once I’m there, I won’t back off. This year was different. The foot problems. Lots of hard workouts leading up to the race. Two weeks of interrupted sleep. I’d adjusted my running stride and still hadn’t gotten back to full speed. I had put on 5 lbs of upper body muscle from nordic ski training and that had taken more speed away. Sometimes discipline is putting yourself in the red zone. Sometimes it’s restraint.
Coming into the finish, I kicked hard and moved up 10 or 15 spots. I had plenty left in the tank to kick. And I hit a new max heart rate: 186. I crossed the line breathless but quickly recovered. It felt more like a training run. Last year, I was so decimated I had to grab onto the girl handing out water to avoid toppling over. Scared the hell out of her, too.
I finished with a time of 20:26, in 75th place, almost a minute slower than last year, but still a good run.
After the race, I headed up to one of the bars on Newbury Street for a few beers with my co-workers . That’s what really makes this race worthwhile. And it’s for a good cause.