Back in the Race


It can be tough to return to long-distance running after a lengthy hiatus, but the payoff is worth it.

A lot can change in 10 years. At the height of my running career, I would get 3 hours of sleep before a big race, beat the alarm by an hour, and crank up Marilyn Manson and White Zombie all the way to the starting line. On April 6, the morning of this year’s Scranton (PA) half marathon, I slept a half-hour past the alarm and had a classic rock station on in the car where Misters Manson and Zombie were nowhere to be found.

When I got to the starting area, I realized that one thing that hadn’t changed, however, was the pre-race vibe among the runners and fans. (Yes, we have fans.) You can practically touch the energy that amplifies as it passes from person to person. It can be truly electrifying.

I was nervous about this race. The 3 outdoor runs totaling 17 miles I had managed wasn’t enough road training for a 13.1-mile race by any stretch of the imagination. I ran in the pool all winter because I hate running in the cold, but that wouldn’t be enough. Or so I thought.

I settled into a 10-minute mile pace group and said a quick prayer that I would at least be able to finish the race. The gun fired, and we were off. The first mile consisted of a gentle climb into North Scranton, and I went right up it. Not wearing a watch, never mind one with a GPS, I had no idea where I was on the course. The first mile marker I saw was #3. I felt good, as if I had the legs to finish at that point. I stuck to a comfortable pace, which was 3 minutes off the 7-minute miles I ran in my prime, but I was happy just to be there, feeling strong.

The next 2 miles featured a decent series of hills, 2 of which were Steamtown Marathon’s dreaded Electric Street Hill and Washington Avenue ascents. They make Boston’s fabled Heartbreak Hill look like a bunny slope. “Don’t walk a step,” I told myself, and I didn’t. My body knew exactly what to do from the last race I had run, 6 years ago, and I continued to cruise effortlessly through the course.

When I hit the 10-mile mark, I knew I had the legs to run the last 5K as hard as I could. While not exactly flying, I did pass a lot of people and cruised to a 2:12-and-change half-marathon finishing time, in the meaty part of the bell curve. Average; I didn’t like the sound of it.

Muscle memory carried me through that race. As I write this, 3 days post-race, the soreness is already gone. I want to run again. Hard. I crossed the finish line satisfied, but already asking myself what it will take to run a faster race next year. I’m going to have to train differently than I did when I was younger. I need to make sure that my outdoor workouts are about quality, not quantity. My endurance is already there; I just need to get the speed back. I will. It’s in there somewhere. Peace.

Jay “Gump” Sochoka, RPh, is back at it.

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