By HPRS Staff Columnist Christopher Mellott
In high school, I wanted to be a varsity athlete. When I joined the cross-country team during my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to be a varsity runner, which meant I needed to be fast. I had this perception of fast, that someone who was fast could finish a 5K in under 20:00. However, I was running a 5K in 26 minutes at the time, so I spent my entire year training and managed to reduce my time by four minutes. I entered my junior year in 2006; this was the first time I set the goal for myself to break 20:00.
Over the next two years, I broke 20:20 twice; I came so close to finally fulfilling my goal. 21 seconds was all that separated me from my goal, from becoming a “fast” runner. As a varsity captain my value in and commitment to the team was showcased through leading younger runners through workouts, warm ups, and any other way I could come up with to help the team, but I still was not a varsity runner. When I graduated in 2008, I had earned my varsity letter, but I never broke that 20:00 time to become a varsity runner. I had given up on this dream.
Fast forward to December 2016. As I wrote my personal and running goals for the upcoming year, I reflected on the races and runs I had completed that year. In October, I had run a 5K in 20:15, I had matched my best time from high school. After almost nine years, I felt that spark and need for speed. Once again, my dream to break 20:00 was ignited for 2017.
I entered the ultra scene in 2017 with two 50Ks and several other long trail races; I was the strongest I had ever been as a runner. Many runners equate speed with strength, but I now knew that I was a strong runner even if I was not a “fast” runner. I ran approximately 400 miles more in 2017 than I ever had in a single year, and hit 100,000 feet in elevation gain over the course of the year. I discovered that my talent in running was long distances and suffering well. As a result, I actually got farther from my speed goal. My best 5K time that year was 20:58 in April. After only a year this time, I had given up on my dream of breaking 20:00, it did not make the 2018 goals.
On November 17, 2017, I registered for the Badger Mountain 50 Mile Challenge, my biggest challenge yet. When I started the long training block in the middle of winter, I structured the training plan differently than I had for any other race. I added a speed workout every Thursday, specifically one mile and 800 meter intervals. I felt strong and, maybe more importantly, I felt fast.
On a cold January day, I desperately needed a training win; I needed to feel as if I were accomplishing something. My only goal that day became beating my two mile PR of 13:03. I cranked up the speed on the treadmill to a 6:11 pace, I thought I would not be able to sustain such speed. Every second that passed I told myself I could keep moving, I could get a little farther before I needed to slow down. I could feel the students’ eyes on me as my treadmill whirred, were they questioning my speed, maybe my sanity, or possibly both. I held that pace for the full two miles, creating a new PR of 12:22. All of the time spent on treadmill speed work throughout the winter had paid off.
I finished those two miles, sweat dripping into my eyes and my breathing sounded more French bulldog than human, I decided to try for a third. With the excitement of a new two mile PR coursing through me, I continued running and felt great, for about 30 seconds before I came back around to some serious pain. It was in that moment that I again set my sights on breaking 20:00. I was going to do it.
Two and a half miles passed, then two and three quarters. My heart felt as though it could jump out of my chest, my lungs seared, and I could feel the gradual creep of lactic acid in my legs. I pushed all of the discomfort to the back of my mind; I thought about all of the hard work I had put into running while in high school and the last few years. I wondered what the quiet 17-year-old version of myself would have thought. That flashback gave me the motivation for that final push. I passed the 3.1 mile mark in 19:43. I had finally done it. The barrier that had been in place for 12 years, that had been my goal to shatter three separate times, had finally been broken.
Goals are not linear, sometimes the deadlines pass, but that doesn’t mean they can never be achieved. Sometimes other things will become more important goals. Chase down your goals, keep doing scary things, and maybe you will break your own barriers.