Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The perfect predicament

My college coach always taught her athletes to focus on the positive qualities of each racing experience. In her eyes, a bad race was, if nothing else, a valuable learning opportunity. Over the years, this approach to race evaluation has yielded many important lessons: Fudging your entry time is not always a good idea. Pop-Tarts are not an appropriate pre-race meal. Official lap-counters cannot always be trusted.

A couple of weeks ago, I raced a 5K in Arizona and learned that there is, in fact, such thing as a “perfect” race—one that does not require any sort of post-race effort to identify the “positives,” because the entire affair is, from start to finish, one big, sweaty bundle of positivity.

Last weekend, exactly seven days after my perfect 5K, I decided to push my luck by entering another race. Considering that the second race occurred in Montana and was double the distance of the first one, I’m not really sure what I was thinking; I can only surmise that the thin mountain air compromised my brain function, severely impairing my ability to think logically. I mean, honestly, what are the chances of hitting the jackpot two weekends in a row?

“Slim to none,” you might say.

Somewhere between the freezing temperatures, icy wind, high altitude and aggressively long hills, “slim” got thrown out the frost-covered window. Before I even finished my warm-up, I knew there was exactly “none” chance of repeating the flawless race experience I had achieved just one week prior.

And…I was right. I know, I know, this story would be so much cooler if I told you that through the power of positive thinking and sheer determination, I was able to overcome the odds and pull out another perfect race in spite of decidedly imperfect conditions—or, at the very least, that I found five dollars. But alas, unlike Mary Cain—who can expect a perfect race pretty much every time she toes a starting line—I am human. (And in this economy, people are much more careful with their five-dollar bills.)

The problem, I have realized, is that once you find perfection, it is very difficult to replicate. Now that I know what perfect is, no other race will ever measure up. This is at once immensely satisfying and immensely depressing—like getting a surprise upgrade to business class only to have every subsequent flight for the rest of your life ruined by the memory of fully reclining seats, excess legroom and complimentary cocktails.

Similarly, even though I ended up winning the 10K outright by nearly six minutes, I did not feel entirely fulfilled. There was that lingering feeling that it could have been better—if it had been warmer, if the wind had been calmer, if the course had been flatter, if I’d had more competition, blah, blah, blah…

Not to mention that my prize as the overall female winner was a pair of size 9.5-11 athletic socks. But hey, let’s focus on the positive: I’m sure they’ll come in handy somewhere down the road—if I unexpectedly turn into an exceptionally large man, for example.

And now, because I just couldn’t resist, here is a crude artistic rendering of myself as an exceptionally large man:

The real Brooke Hogan

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A perfect 5 (kilometers, that is)

If you’re having a bad day, you should probably stop reading now, because what I am about to say is going to make you insanely jealous of my life.

This past Saturday, I experienced a perfect race.

I used to think of a perfect race the way I might think of a mythological creature—something that simply does not exist outside of fairy tales and Nicki Minaj’s sexual fantasies. In my mind, a perfect race was like a unicorn, or a good Nickelback song, or a bag of microwave popcorn with no burnt pieces—it just wasn't possible.

Granted, “perfect” is a pretty subjective quality. One man’s perfect is another man’s 1994 Toyota Tercel. So, to clear up any confusion about my definition of “perfect,” below I have listed my Personal Parameters of Perfection (oh yeah, that just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?). Obviously, these parameters are tailored toward racing scenarios. I think we could all agree that a general, all-encompassing Parameters of Perfection would include only one parameter: Brad Pitt.

My Personal Parameters of Perfection for Racing Scenarios

1. Temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Wind so light it feels like a flock of sparkly fairies continually fanning your face with tiny palm leaves.
3. Flat, smooth course with very few turns.
4. Geographic location at or near sea level.
5. Field that is large enough to warrant chip timing but small enough that it is feasible to make multiple pre-race bathroom visits.

The Litchfield Park Friends of the Rec 5K satisfied all of these criteria. Plus, there was bouncy house at the finish! The only negative aspect of the entire affair was that I had to start behind a shirtless man with so much back hair that I can say, with 95 percent confidence, that he was related to either Sasquatch or the Kardashian family. Unfortunately, I was unable to snag a photo of him, but this detailed illustration should give you a pretty good idea of what I was dealing with:

To top it all off, I felt incredible! Seriously, if you train in a cold, miserable, high-altitude location, I highly recommend racing exclusively in Phoenix, Arizona.

Unencumbered by bulky layers of fleece and spandex, I felt light and free. In fact, I found myself intermittently looking down to make sure I was actually wearing clothes. (Although I would hope that my friend Kim—who, by the way, gets all the credit for finding this amazing race—would quickly alert me to that type of situation if it were to occur.)

I went out fast and worried that my unbridled excitement would end up biting me in the butt sometime during the last mile. Instead, I held my pace and felt invincible. I don’t mean to brag, but come on, how many perfect races do you get?

I sprinted across the finish line in 18:07 to grab first-place honors in the women’s race. To be fair, I have a sneaking suspicion that this 5K was missing a few meters. My pal Kim finished close behind me to snap up the silver medal.

I feel obliged to mention that although I edged out Kim for the win in the race, she later destroyed me in the tan-off that took place by her pool.

So even if you’re on the fence about the existence of unicorns, Sasquatch and perfect races, you now have irrefutable evidence that vampires are totally real.