Well, this is it. Tomorrow is the big day. I planned my racing season months ago, and tomorrow is the first race. I ran a 5K in my hometown a month or so ago, but that was for fun. It wasn’t part of my plan. I grew up playing sports. I was a fast pitch softball pitcher. Daddy used to get aggravated with me because I wouldn’t practice my pitching year round. Once springtime came, I would go out in the yard with Daddy and pitch. Sometimes I could talk Sammy into catching for me, but he went reluctantly under the same pressure that I did … having to get ready for the season.
I don’t know why Daddy started me pitching softball. I just remember Live Oak getting a softball field, and I was put on a team with my Aunt Carol Ann and her partner Judy (although they weren’t partners at the time). We would practice after school in the heat and drink water out of igloo coolers. It was nasty, and I remember some of the girls whining because they didn’t want to drink water with grass in it. That was in the days before bottled water and before people really cared about germs. We drank that stuff and were happy to get it. And, I don’t think any of us died from grassy water disease. I remember practicing out on the fields behind the school and also on the fields up at the old cow pasture that we called a ball field. I had really bad hair and we wore these big men’s jerseys because they didn’t make girls’ jerseys back then, or if they did, we couldn’t afford them.
My first season I sucked big time. My catcher, Sha, was my buddy. There’s something about the bond between a pitcher and catcher that isn’t easily duplicated. She knew my every move. She could tell when I got tired. She soothed me when I got wild and started walking batters all over the place. And, I did that a lot the first year. The problem was that we really didn’t have a good backup pitcher. So, when I got wild, we usually lost big time. If you walk everybody, your team doesn’t get much of a chance to change the game. So, that first year, the other girls team – The Eagles Nest, I think – beat the hell out of everybody in the league …. game after game after game. It was embarrassing for the rest of us who got slaughtered by our peers. They had a great pitcher, Jamie. She had a lot more control than I did. She was more seasoned as a pitcher, and she was FAST. I remember being afraid of that flying fast ball when I got up to bat.
That next year, I was better. I guess I had become a little more seasoned, and I didn’t tire as easily. We were competitive with the league leader. I can’t remember how that season came out, but I know one season, we won the league. It was an upset, and I remember being really, really proud of that win. It took time for us to mature as a team and for me to mature as a pitcher. I’ve found the same thing with my running seasons. That first year that I started running, I hurt a lot. I tired easily. I could finish, but that’s about all I could do. And, that was okay, because I was pretty realistic because of my past athletic experience. As the running seasons have flown by, I’ve matured as a runner. I now have seasons, and I schedule my races in a pattern. I used to just schedule from race to race, running whatever I wanted to run and training for each race individually. It was not very efficient, and I got tired of training all the time.
My plan now is that I have a “season” from October to about April or May. I schedule most of my races during that time because it’s too hot the rest of the year. Besides, I need downtime for my social life and to focus on other things. This year, I’ll start with a 10K and build up distance until I peak at the half marathon distance (13.1 miles). Tomorrow’s 10K is in Baton Rouge. Most of my races are local this year as I’m recovering financially from relocating. Racing is expensive. Race fees cost anywhere from $25 to $175 depending on the race. If I’m traveling to a big race like my Chicago Marathon, the weekend can easily top $1000 with travel expenses. My new friend Melissa is racing with me. She’s on a budget, and she managed to get in at the last minute, and she’s really excited. She’s here temporarily from California, and it’s fun to go to races in another state. I’m planning on having a blast.
My coach and I decided that I should try negative splits because that works for me. I’ve been training for months doing heavy weight training, speed work and distance running to get in shape. Tomorrow we’ll get to see the results. With negative splits, I’ll run progressively faster each mile and push really hard the last 3 miles. This will be the first season that I’ll really race. I’m not racing anybody else. I’m too slow for that. I’m racing my own time. My best 10K ever (my personal record or PR) was 1:03:13 in Indiana in 2004. That’s the obvious one to beat but that was a long time ago, and I was a lot younger. I may have to settle for a different kind of record. Three years ago, I ran a Halloween 10K – one of my favorite 10Ks – in St. Louis at 1:08:02. It was hilly, so that might be a good race to try to beat. But, this is the thing about running: You cannot predict weather, how I’m going to feel, or what’s going to happen on the course that might impact race time. That’s why I love sports. There are so many factors that can change things, and I learn so much just in the trying. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I could trip over my shoelace and limp through the rest of the race and season in bad shape. Or, I could be faster than ever. Or, I could get tired of racing halfway through and lose motivation like I did last year. There’s just no telling what will be this season’s theme.
So, I’m going to bed early. I ate a healthy meal, and I’ll get up early in the morning. My breakfast will be something without sugar, and I’ll have green tea instead of coffee so I don’t crash before my 6.2 mile journey is over. I’ll meet my friend Melissa and walk around in the wee morning hours with the rest of the racers and line up by the starting line. After that, I don’t know what will happen. I know that I’ll put one foot in front of the other until I can’t do it anymore or I cross the finish line. I’ll text my coach and tell her she’s wonderful and thank her for helping me do better than I would have done on my own. Then, I’ll probably call her a b*tch just because it’s what I do. We’ll eat bad food and drink water after the race and maybe head out for a good breakfast. Then, I’ll take a nap. I’ll sleep good because the racing season will be underway. Next stop – Austin TX for a 10 miler next weekend. But, first …. I have to run 6.2 miles tomorrow around the LSU Lakes … one step at a time. See you at the start line!