In the waning hours of 2012, my good friend Bill and I alternated doing strides on a blocked off side street in Old Town Fairfax. Christmas lights still glowed from town hall and other racers began to reluctantly make their way toward the cold and windy starting line. Bill and I slipped in among those in the first few rows and exchanged a nervous fist bump.
I love the Fairfax Four Miler because the gun goes off just six hours from the New Year. It seems the perfect punctuation mark to the closing of yet another training log, and also the perfect prelude to some New Year’s indulgence later.
As we stood on that line bouncing from foot to foot in the adrenaline-charged air, I thought about the 364.5 days prior and reflected on where 2012’s miles had taken me. I notched, not just the first win of my racing-life, but two more to follow, including taking top prize at the Backyard Burn Trail Series. I bettered my 10K PR and agonizingly improved my marathon PR. I sort of, accidentally, how did this happen, set a new PR for the Half Marathon as well. I covered Cape Cod on foot and in a van with 11 other crazy beavers in the Ragnar Relay. I ran with the sunrise in the Badlands and tackled one of the Shenandoah’s most challenging trails twice in one, err, sitting. I became a run coach with Lifetime Fitness and a Ragnar Relay ambassador to give back to the community that has given so much to me.
It seemed only fitting then that I would end what had become a year of PRs with one final raising of the bar. But the Fairfax Four has been somewhat of a kryptonite race for me. The last two runnings saw me hampered by injury, while the third brought me just two seconds away from achieving my goal of running sub-24.
This year seemed as though the stars may not be aligned once again. I recently suffered a nasty sinus infection and a nagging flare up of an IT band injury that both set back not just my running but my training for Boston as well.
So, it was with lowered expectations that I lurched forward when the gun went off, hoping simply to slide through the darkness with a good rhythm and a fair effort.
The course, a lollipop shape that circles the George Mason University Campus, rose and fell along the stick. The pace felt light and easy as the wind snapped at my face. I easily reeled in the too-aggressive starters by my steady pace alone and settled in with a pack of four. We came through the first mile in 5:46 and I would have given a slight smile except that my face felt like I’d had a Novocain injection.
After a quick out and back down a side street from the circle, I overlapped with Bill as we gave a short acknowledgement to one another. The course pitched fiercely and I fought to keep my legs under me while I thundered down and around the curve. “I’m going to pay for this later, I bet,” I thought.
Sure enough, as the two mile marker appeared, the rode began to rise steadily and so did my heart rate. I hoped the 5:36 second mile was enough time in the bank to ride out the uphill mile I’d have to pay back.
Fluffs of spit shot from mouth and my nose leaked while I took gasping breaths. The road mercifully bent to the left marking the end of the circle where the road leveled off. I turned in a 6:04 and concentrated on keeping my form neat and riding out the return trip to the finish.
Townhall’s spire shone in the distance and a series of stop lights guided me to the line. With one more hill to climb, I surged to hold off the ragged breathing I heard behind me and shot down the backside to the finish in a whirlwind of churning legs and pumping arms. I clicked my watch and took a deep cleansing breath. The time read 23:23.
An exclamation point to send 2012 out on.