What Can You Do in Thirty-Five Minutes?


Group of runners at the finish line.
Tom Raffio (in the maroon shirt) organized a race to honor and remember Brian Collins. I am in the back holding in tears and getting ready to complete my 35-minute 5K.

Ask a fish to climb a tree and you would believe it was physically handicapped, or unfit, or insufficient somehow. Ask a monkey to spend the rest of its life underwater and you may think the same things. Sometimes the test is where the problem is, not the outcome. What are we looking at and why? I feel many tests in the medical profession are geared to give results that support prescribing medication. We somehow decide cholesterol should be at 200 or less. A 250 cholesterol is considered medication worthy now, whereas it was once considered acceptable. That number is not the only measure of health, and sometimes, when looked at in conjunction with all the other measures of health, 250 is just fine. So where am I going with this?

I ran 35:00 for a 5K. 

I gave up regular running when I lost my job in 2011. It was too painful. I would start out and then turn back and walk home in tears. Running (and then coaching running) had been my life for thirty years. The last race I ran competitively was a 5K in 2012 at NHTI. I ran 21:13 and remember thinking that time was so very slow. I was an avid CrossFitter by then and running was just a supplemental piece of training for me. 

So, wait a minute. I was upset with a 21:13??? I would jump for joy to run that today!

Like the monkey and the fish, the barometer against which we measure ourselves can dictate how we feel about what we can and can not do. In 2012 at age 49 I very much felt that I should be running under 20 minutes. In 2022 at age 59 that time seems unreachable. But that is not where I am going with this. I do not have enough regular running in my life right now to set a running goal, and really, don’t have just cause to feel badly about the 35:00. I ran with people that train daily to run 11-minute pace for 5K.

So here it is. I placed 5th in a CrossFit competition a week before the 5K. I power cleaned 100 pounds. I did 25-pound dumbbell thrusters. Lunges and kettlebell swings, box step ups and burpees, and even some running! I did 24 pullups! I beat 7 women who are in their 30’s! I came home feeling FIT!!! The reactions to my accomplishments at the competition were humbling. My participation gave permission for “old women” to lift weights and train hard. By days end I had made many new friends. I came into the sport of CrossFit as an endurance athlete and have always done well with the running piece. 

So why did 35:00 feel so hard?

Well, my decision to run the race was solely because it was a memorial race for a fellow runner who died way too young from a brain tumor. People came out to watch and participate in Molly’s memorial show, so there was no way I would miss this. When I arrived at the race, I said the requisite hellos to people I knew. I am no longer a fixture in that community. Some folks were happy to see me, others a bit uncomfortable. I got my number, guzzled a bottle of water and toed the line. Well, I toed the back of the pack. When the gun fired, I began a slow trot. I passed Jim Graham who was walking the race. I passed a handful of runners significantly older than me. I caught up to Tom Raffio and joked about our slow painful pace. Sore knees, sore feet, too much tummy, not much about my body felt good. I was really struggling to keep from walking. The course was out and back so I got to see all of those runners ahead of me. There were more hellos then, and a jovial exchange of mutual suffering! But my time was almost slow enough to be considered jogging and not running. 

How can I be so fit at a CrossFit competition and so unfit at a road race?

Specificity of sport comes to mind. To run fast you have to train, with actual running. While I firmly believe CrossFit helps all of the other activities I do, it does not lend itself to really helping running. When there are workouts in the gym that include running, everyone complains. No one wants to run in the sport of CrossFit. It was once a place I shone in the gym. As I have reflected back on my loss of running success, I realize that my ability to trot through three consecutive miles at 11:00 pace without stopping is not as bad as I think it is. 

An age and gender-based barometer tells me I ran pretty well. When I plug my time into an age graded calculator it becomes a 27:28. Certainly not what I want, but much closer to where I think I should be. That is an 8:55 pace. I can not even run one mile in 8:55 right now. This barometer adjusting tells me my lack of fitness is more in my mind than in my performance. I am using the tree to measure my swimming ability.

I will say I enjoyed every step. The race brought back a lot of feelings and memories for me. I have been talking about these things in my Podcast lately. Along with honoring Brian Collins and showing support for his family, I feel a renewed desire to lace up my shoes and run again. I haven’t felt this way in a long time. It took the loss of someone too young to inspire me to run at all. 

I thanked Tom Raffio for getting me to run as he is the one who organized the race. I really should be thanking Brian Collins. I should be thanking his son Emmet, who always has an enthusiastic hello for me when ever I see him. I should be thanking all of those who came to see and perform in Molly’s show. And perhaps I should thank Molly too. I know she wants me to be happy and I know she understands how it is for me living here without her. It is Brian though, who inspired many when he was here that got me to run.

Thank you, Brian.

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