Sunday, February 26, 2017

When there is a bigger race ahead: Race for Equal Justice 10k

Every year for the past few years, my New Year's resolutions have largely been tied to something with graduate school: finish master's program, pass Ph.D. comps, get proposal approved, write X amount of chapters, etc. This year, the resolution is to finish the dissertation and graduate. There were no running goals, frankly, no other life goals: just eyes on the prize. Running has been a coping mechanism: a way to clear my head after writing and rewriting, staring at the computer and trying to figure out the best way to articulate my argument. Getting some fresh air and the chance to let my brain wander is not just a reward for getting some good work done earlier in the day, but a necessity to ensure that more productive hours will follow.

I'm really close to defending. My advisor has read my entire draft, and after those revisions, I've submitted the revised version to my committee. I can count on one hand the number of steps left until the defense. Once I receive feedback from the rest of the committee and make those changes, I'll be ready to defend. Stating that unequivocally or without hesitation feels a bit strange, because so often (despite my mom's insistence), the finish line has felt unattainable. But at this point, unless I implode in the next six weeks, the dream will become a reality. And to be honest, the past few months, everything leading up to the finish, have been some of the happiest moments of graduate school. Instead of confusion and doubt, there's been clarity and encouragement.

But because I'm competitive in nearly all aspects of life, it's hard for me to put any sort of racing completely on the back burner. After all, I did get my half marathon PR in September amid a lot of writing. So, I signed up for the GWU Law School Race for Equal Justice 10k. Very low stakes race on Haines Point: a course I've ran on at least 15 times. I've finally gotten my mileage over 30 miles per week consistently, with long runs going up from 10 miles to 15 miles last weekend. I hadn't really done much speed prep beyond trying to push hard in the last few miles of a long run. But I hoped that muscle memory would kick in, and that shooting for about 45 minutes was a reasonable goal (maybe even faster than that).

To say I was humbled and brought back down to earth is putting it mildly. My first mile was 7:15, and the way it felt seemed closer to 6:15 pace. It was a race in which every mile felt tougher than the next. For comparison, I ran my half PR in September at 7:02 pace, in which the first 10 miles where at 7:00 pace consistently, and then I slowed down by about 10 seconds per mile. During that race, I felt so in control. During this race, I watched people pass me effortlessly, while my legs failed to respond. I finished in 50:08 - my second slowest 10k ever (second only to my 10k debut in 2008). And I was spent - not like finishing a marathon or PR, but clearly just not at the level I'm used to performing at.

But as I was running, for nearly the entirety of the race, as my pace continued to slow down with each subsequent mile, I had the following thoughts running through my head: This doesn't matter, what matters is that you've been throwing all of your energy into finishing. The race you're chasing after is much bigger than anything you'd encounter on the roads. Your time is well-spent writing. And yes, you're competitive and your running friends are out there running faster, but you're seeking a different kind of PR (a Dr.)

So, while the stubborn and competitive person in me finished feeling a bit stubborn and dejected, I had already found perspective and had my eyes turned on the bigger race (race date TBD - stay tuned).