“Race Pace.” I’ve never quite known what that means. What do I run during a 5K? About 8:00/mile. A 10K? About 8:00/mile. And how about during an 8-miler? Surprisingly (or not) about 8:00/mile. If “race pace” is the pace I generally race at, then I always run at “race pace.” You could say, I suppose, that I like to be comfortable. I like my groove. (Some might call it a “rut.”) But I do like to go fast and I do, sometimes, have aspirations of going faster. Which means, on occasion, submitting to pain of the speed workout. It has been a few years since The Husband and I have done any speed work. Since the fall of 2008, actually. But we’re running a half marathon in a few weeks and we thought now might be a good time to feel the burn and, possibly, make ourselves puke. For a good cause, of course. Like, not being on a half-marathon course on a hot July morning in humid Ohio for more than an hour forty-five if we can possibly help it.

The menu for this week’s speed workout called for 3 1-mile repeats at “pace.” We later learned it meant “race pace” which in actuality meant “projected/desired race pace.” Which, ironically, meant 8:00/mile for me. Of course, what we later learned does not matter because I thought it said “5K pace” and what I thought that meant was, “Run as fast as you can for 1 mile.”

I started out with a nice little warm up jog to the park with the menchildren in the BOB. We planned to meet up with Micah, who was running up from work, and then do our 3 miles together. I begged Micah to let me take the stroller for the first mile, just to see if I could do it, and he obliged. We lined up at the spray-painted mark on the asphalt and started our stopwatches. And away we went . . . down the hill . . . with the stroller . . . and before too long I was basically running to keep up with it as it pulled me along. Until the hill evened out, and then I didn’t want to lose too much momentum so I kept up the pace as best I could. We crossed the half-mile mark, kept pushing, hit the 3/4 mark, and then down another small hill. Micah looked at his stopwatch as we crossed the line. I slowed the stroller, turned around, and asked how we did. My hope was to beat 7:30, if only barely. I would have been thrilled with 7:29.

“Six thirty,” he said. “We were flying. When you started out, I thought if we kept up that pace we’d be under 6 minutes.”

Well then. Who knew that could be done. Not me. We caught our breath a bit, lined up at the 2 mile mark, and vowed to take it a bit easier the second time around. Micah had the stroller and I let him set the pace. This time we crossed the line at . . . 6:30.

The last mile featured The Hill. We were tired. We told ourselves we’d be more than happy with a 7:00 pace as we started out. Yes, we wanted to be done, but we didn’t really want to puke, despite what I wrote previously. And so imagine our surprise when we crossed the line at 6:45.

And that is when I began to have an understanding of “race pace.” And of “groove” versus “rut.” As in, “Oh, I’m in a rut, not a groove.”

The moral of the story is: I’m pretty sure it’s a good idea to get out of your comfort zone every now and then. And also, speed work can be your friend. The kind of friend who tells you when you have stuff in your teeth or when you’re wearing the wrong color shirt with your newly-dyed hair. You may be annoyed with her at first, but you’ll keep coming back to her when you want an honest opinion of your abilities.

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