Derby Strong: Volume III

Katie Health Leave a Comment

Kentucky Derby

We finished the race in 2:53:18.



I am going to focus my reflections on pace.

I have been thinking about pace because learning my pace has been one of the biggest of gifts I have have received in the 14 years I have been running. I have never been too worried about my pace. I have had a deliberate pace since the first day I put on my running shoes at the age of 29. Late to running, I have always described my self as slow and determined. Greg has encouraged me to consider challenging my pace a bit. After many years, I am grateful to be thinking about my pace. My pace is the speed at which I flow. My pace is the speed at which I don’t get hurt. My pace is the speed at which I can breathe, yet still look at the world around me and perhaps talk a little. My pace is what I can sustain. Learning my pace has been a huge life lesson for me.

What I know for sure about pace . . .

Train at your pace

I always reflect on my training after a race. (During the race I generally just think about finishing, and wish I would have trained harder.) I always set a mental goal of finishing a race at a certain pace, or time. Setting a race goal is important. I had set the goal of 2:45. It is also important that my goal time is consistent with my training runs. My last two training runs were not easy. I have coughed and whined my way to completing two 10 mile runs. I did not go farther than 10 miles during this training period. I think that played a role in the fact the last few miles of the race were really hard on my body. I did not test my pace going the distance. As I contemplate my next race, I know my training has to involve more long runs at my goal pace. Training with your pace in mind always keeps the big picture front and center. Knowing you have to maintain a steady stride, and keep going for a long distance, makes it harder to burn too quickly. Finishing strong matters. That is pace.

Pace is the essence of practice

Both running and yoga have taught me a great deal about developing a practice. I am talking about practice as a noun, the repeated exercise of a skill in order to learn and master the skill. From both, I have learned that strength, both physical and spiritual, come from the discipline of practice. You can’t know your pace, that place where exertion and challenge meet balance and ease, without practice. Learning your pace comes from showing up and paying attention. Practicing has been hard the last few months. Winter has been distracting. I knew Saturday that I will need to think about my practice when my feet began to hurt at mile 10 like they have never hurt in any of the previous long races I have finished. I had not let my body acclimate to what I would be asking of it. The practice of long runs allows strength and understanding to develop.

Pace quiets the journey

Running at my pace is like meditation. Pace is both fire and rhythm. It is a steady burn. It is a slow, even, deep breath. It is a soft forward gaze. It is my chest and shoulders gently pointed toward the sky. It is the curve of my back quietly urging my hips toward the finish line. When the body is in place. The mind is quiet. It does not matter what is going on around you when you have found your pace. You know it when you are there.

Final thoughts

One of the most profound events of Saturday happened before the race even started. I was waiting for the race to start with friends and family who would also be doing the race. A young woman with a marathon race bib (which indicated she was competing in the full marathon, not the mini) was standing next to us. One of my friends asked the woman a question (something to the effect of “Is this your first marathon?”). She responded with a truly heartfelt description of her journey to the start of her first marathon. She had set the goal two years earlier from the position of many more pounds, no physical fitness regimen, horrible eating habits, and sweat pants that hid every inch of her now toned body. Her excitement and passion were palpable. I started to cry remembering my marathon experience 14 years earlier. I knew what it felt like to set the goal of finishing a marathon without having raced a mile. I knew what it felt like to be so full of emotion that my energy was electric. I knew what it felt like to share my story with anyone who would listen. I knew what it felt like to be standing on an edge. A marathon start is a unique physical, emotional, and spiritual edge. I listened, cried, and congratulated her. I started the race thinking about her strength. I started the race thinking about all the lessons I have learned over my years of racing, including my pace. I started the race feeling the butterflies and excitement of every starting line I have ever approached.

After the race, with the finisher’s medal around my neck, one hand placed triumphantly inside of Greg’s and the other holding a cold chocolate milk, I wondered about the excited marathon stranger from before the race. How did she do? I would have loved to hear her describe her Finish Line experience. Crossing the Finish Line of a marathon feels like running over self doubt and fear with semi truck. You are steel. In some ways, all Finish Lines are like that. I always feel an immediate high, as adrenaline and blood dance their way through every inch of my body. The high is followed by physical relief as my breath returns. Relief is followed by enormous gratitude for my health and life, in general. That is a Finish Line. That is what I learn from racing. That is what I carry with me every day.


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