Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bankhead Challenge

I thought that it was possible, but not for me.  Maybe that is why after failing four times, I tried it a fifth time; and failed again.

The concept came to me one day while running on the roads in Monte Sano State Park and seemed quite simple.  Was it possible to run gate to gate in under 15 minutes?  1.23 miles out and 1.23 miles back.  2.46 miles in under 15 minutes works out to be 6:05 pace which at face value sounds possible. Then add in the fact that the "top" gate sits at 1,570' and the "bottom" gate sits at 1,335' and they are connected by a closed section of Bankhead Parkway that used to be an entrance into the state park.  So now the 2.46 miles contains 235' of drop (3.6%) and 235' of climb for 470' of elevation change.

Was this possible?  The math says yes.  Run down at 5:05 pace and back up at 7:05 pace, or the many combinations of speed that produce a sub 15 minute time.  Was this possible for me?  I really doubted it, and after failing five times, I didn't think it would ever happen.  I wasn't just failing, but I was failing miserably... I varied the technique of trying to run 4:50 race down, which resulted in having to rest at the bottom before jogging slowly back up.  I tried running down slower, but I was unable to come up at any faster than 6:40 pace.

With cooler temperatures tonight, and a gang of pals along who were running the 10 mile Panorama Loop, I decided that it was time for try for a sixth time.  While the weather was cooperating, my legs were trashed.  I was coming off of a double race on Saturday (10km/5km back to back), 8x600m downhill repeats at 4:50 pace on Tuesday and then a 17:05 fun run 5km on Wednesday night.  Not even compression socks could help ease the fatigue.  Yet I was bound and determined to try it again...

We warmed up fairly quickly, clocking miles of 7:03, 6:28, 6:09, 6:14 and 3:10 for 4.5 miles (6:27 pace), which wasn't exactly what you want before a speed attempt, but when we hit the top gate, I hit lap on my watch, leapt the "rock" in stride and was on my way.

I decided to run easier down and try to run harder coming back up.  It was one of the many variations that I had not tinkered with on my previous failures.  I was still cruising, focusing on a fast turnover and maintaining my form, but I was not all out.  I have never been a good downhill runner, which was one of the many reasons why I was so intrigued by this challenge as it would test the ability to run fast downhill and immediately turn around and hammer it coming back up.  I touched the bottom gate and hit lap on my watch in 6:30, which averaged out to be 5:17 pace.  I was breathing hard, but I was not gassed like I had been on previous attempts.

I had 8 minutes and 30 seconds to get back to the top, which was 6:55 pace.  After the first 400 meters after the turn, self doubt started to creep in as I was struggling to find a regular breathing pattern and was working very hard.  I put my head down and kept my arms swinging forward, helping to propel my knees up.  I take pride in my ability to climb as it required a lot of work, which I enjoy.  While it was not an eternity of time to fall into deep thought, I had visions of my many previous failures but by half way, I was starting to believe.  The more I believed, the faster I ran.  The faster I ran, the more I believed.  As I hit the 200 meter mark (to go) I found another gear and picked up the pace.  I finally touched the top gate and hit stop on my watch.  Looking down it read 7:58 (for the 1.23 mile lap) which worked out to 6:29 pace.

It took a second for the math to sink in, but then I realized that 6:30 + 7:58 was 14:28.  After failing five times, I refused to give up, kept training, and on my sixth attempt I crushed it.

Does this mean anything to anyone else?  Not whatsoever.  It was an arbitrary distance and an arbitrary time.  Does it mean something to me?  Yes, indeed.  Not just because I didn't think that it was possible, and not just because I had failed so many times before time, but because I believed that it COULD happen.  Christ has given me the ability to run, like he has to so many others, but he has also given me the patience and dedication (in so many walks of life) to work hard and trust in Him that it WOULD happen.  Goals are great ways to check your fitness and see the fruits of your labor.

Thanks to Brett Wilks who encouraged who probably believed that I could do it before I did and when it was over, was just as happy as I was.