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Not competing

Leading a 1500m Interclub event at Doncaster,
Victoria, in mid-1980s.

It's hard not to be competitive when you have been for your whole life.  Today's Terrigal Trotters 10km Time Trial was to be a test of my newfound resolve not to get competitive in the wake of my recent lung and heart problems.

Only a month ago, I had declared that I wasn't going to run any races for the next six months, at least, while I educated myself through experience about what I could and could not do.  That education is happening, faster than expected.  I'm not nearly as concerned now, when I head out for a run, as I was a month ago when I was anxiously self-assessing during and after each run.  Confidence in my heart health is growing with every safely completed run, though I still take my pulse multiple times each day to check the beat is regular and the rate low.

When I run a little further or harder, such as for last Sunday's long trail run, or today's 10km race, I'm gently pushing against the edge of my fitness envelope, putting a little more strain on my cardiovascular system while recognising that my musculoskeletal system also needs time to retrain after several months off.  Each time I push that envelope edge out a little, I gain confidence and am less anxious next time I run the same distance or speed.

Today, I started out with a gentle 3.5km warm-up around the same loop I had warmed up on for my last Trotters Time Trial at the end of December.  Vivid memories of breathlessness and heart palpitations on the first hill of the warm-up that time gave me a good benchmark against which to measure my current health, and it was pleasing to negotiate it, and the remainder of the warm-up, comfortably.

When the race itself started, at 6:00am, I eased into it, determined not to run faster than was wise, and watched the leaders disappear rapidly into the distance as even the slower parts of the field drifted past me.  I was expecting to be near the back, but it was still hard to watch friends who were unlikely to run faster than 50 minutes, slowly draw away.  I told myself to suck it up and keep running easily.

A couple of kilometres into the race, I began to feel more comfortable (how come I didn't feel that way from the start, having done a reasonable warm-up?) and to slowly catch some of the people who had passed me earlier.  Once that started to happen, I had to keep reminding myself not to consciously chase people down, but to keep my focus on maintaining a good rhythm with relaxed breathing.  Of course, I was only partially successful, and derived some competitive pleasure from slowly reeling people in as they emerged from the pre-dawn darkness ahead of me.

Approaching the turn, it was sobering to see how far I was behind the leaders, but I tried not too dwell on it.  Instead, I focussed on some of the people who were not so far ahead and who I might be able to catch if I maintained my present pace and form.  Among them was friend, Bruce, who had left me for dead on last Sunday's long run and would not want me to catch him today.  I concentrated hard on keeping my breathing and pace steady, but had a couple of moments on short rises where I may have detected some pressure in my chest, and backed off the pace a little.  It's impossible to know whether such moments are minor heart flutters, or just chest discomfort from running harder for the first time in months.  On each occasion, I quickly returned to my rhythm and didn't really lose any momentum. I caught Bruce with a few kilometres to go and finished tired, but not exhausted, in 47:36, maybe a little faster than expected.

I have checked my heartbeat a number of times since and it seems to be strong and regular so maybe the misbeats were just my imagination.  Historically, my time was slow, but the chances of running near 40 minutes, as was my target four months ago, have probably gone.  However, it's reasonable to think I will run faster without increased effort, as I lose the four kilograms of extra weight I'm carrying and my musculoskeletal system tunes up, and that's some comfort.