Slow but fit: What's right about 13-minute miles
Is this a dream? Am I six years old again? It feels as though I’m flying, zooming past fellow passengers in the airport corridor, overtaking travelers dragging suitcases and bewildered toddlers. Vendors offering bottled drinks, gummy muffins, and foreign-language software blur in my peripheral vision. I could be on one of those moving sidewalks, so effortlessly am I running. Heart rate not accelerated, no sweating. It feels easier than walking. Either a dream, or a kind of miracle.
But I’m not a first-grader racing down the school hallway. (I remember the first time a teacher stopped me and yelled, “Don’t run!” I wondered how grownups managed to resist the urge.) At 59, I’m at the outer limit of what can be called “middle aged” with a straight face.
Over the years, it has become a tradition: I hear the announcement that our plane will now begin boarding, and I take off down the corridor, determined to make a last visit to the ladies room before confining myself in a window seat. Sweating, heart pounding, and gasping, I return to the gate and line up for boarding.
Today, all that has changed. I make my sprint to the rest room, but this time there’s no pounding heart, no breathlessness.
This past winter, I took up running in earnest. Alert readers will recall my essay on the subject of misgivings about training for the Charlottesville Ten-Miler, the race that took place at the end of March. It’s arduous, and some (like me) sustain injuries during training. My torn muscle healed up, but the most frustrating part about running in this ten-mile race is how unbelievably slow I am. And the farther I run, the slower I get.
I labored for miles to overtake two women ahead of me who were walking. I’m not making this up. They weren’t even doing that power-walking thing, they were just walking, and I couldn’t catch up. Finally, on a downhill stretch I powered past them. How pathetic is that?
Later on, I had to stop to stretch out my quads, which were threatening to cramp up, and the walking ladies took the lead again.
Because I am so slow, I prefer to train by myself. That way, I’m the fastest runner around. I was enjoying that arrangement last fall when, for Christmas, my husband gave me one of those fancy watches, a Garmin that tells you exactly how fast (or slow) you’re moving. I wear it because it also accurately gauges how much distance you’ve covered.
But the Garmin, I swear, sneers at me as it displays my double-digit miles. A 13-minute mile is nothing to be proud of, believe me.
The good news is that I was not dead last in the Charlottesville Ten-Miler. Of the 2,245 people who finished the race, eleven crossed the finish line after I did.
(Nevertheless, as I was coming into the home stretch, through the UVA Corner, they were taking up the traffic-blocking orange safety cones just ahead of me. Which is humiliating, when you think about it.)
Following my dreamlike airport sprint, I arrive back at the gate to find my exasperated husband who’s attempting to drag all four of our carry-ons toward the assembled line of passengers.
He’s annoyed, and I could not be happier. I’m not the least bit winded, heart rate imperceptible– all systems are go.
I may suck at racing, and my own Garmin silently mocks me during solo training, but dang, when it comes to the airport corridor sprint, I am a champ: the fastest runner around.
The months of training have paid off with a heart that does not pound and breaths that come slow and easy despite the last-minute bathroom dash.
Suddenly, it’s worth it. All of it. The lonely dirt-road runs on icy mornings, the torn calf muscle, the mortifying slowness, and burning quads as the miles pile up on race day.
Completing an arduous 10-mile run: satisfying.
Weeks later, experiencing dreamlike ease in an aging body: priceless.
Janis Jaquith lives and runs in Free Union and writes for radio too.