The morning air by the lake is frigid and cold as it glances uncomfortably off my face.
I will be facing these bitterly strong winds for 7km before turning back for the finish of today’s 14km race pace run.
It’s the final day of hard training in the opening phase of preparations for the spring race season.
Today six of us are running, attempting to equal a prescribed pace based on what we “should” be able to race at this juncture of training. A barometer to see how well phase one has gone. A measuring stick to gauge how much further we have yet to go.
Coincidentally one of the runners, Paul, has the same goal race and a very similar goal time that I do. These discoveries prove beneficial as we have one another to buffer the gauntlet of challenges which lie in wait.
From the start Paul and I are forced to throw ourselves against the unyielding winds. Our exertions teetering between tragedy and folly as the arctic gusts not only bully us backward but snatch away at our very capacity to breathe as well.
Doggedly we work as a team, Paul and I. Alternating turns at the lead while the other rests for a minute or two. In truth we need only be steadfast for a little over half an hour before turning for home with the tailwinds’ blessing. But that half an hour threatens to be devastating.
Our silence is mutually understood as we battle forward. Any attempts to talk are expensive uses of precious air. Only our footsteps and breathing are heard above the din and howl of the taunting winds.
As the halfway point at long last emerges I manage a peek at the time. We are behind. Yet not by much. I stand 28 seconds back of my goal pace while Paul, with a prescribed pace precisely one second slower than mine, is even closer to his target.
The lake waves crash violently as Mother Nature flexes her might. Gratefully the winds are now in our favour and Paul and I proceed to carve steady inroads against the clock.
A kilometre past the halfway point and I have already made up half the time I had ceded early on. After another kilometre I draw even with my goal pace.
A danger looms. Specifically, have I pushed too hard too soon? Paul is now several metres behind. And though he isn’t slowing, he is in fact losing ground.
5 kilometres isn’t far, but any runner will tell you that the last 5 kilometres can destroy utterly any and all hopes for a good run.
Stubbornly I claw forward, my split times rewarding me in kind. Mentally I recalculate paces and times as I search out how much I can afford to lose while still attaining my goal.
The insurance time is reassuring; yet I refuse to settle in. It’s comforting to know I can slow down; it’s gratifying to know I won’t.
The penultimate kilometre elapses and I continue to hammer home. With the final 1000 metres stretching before me I have worked my way from being 28 seconds back of the pace to being exactly 30 seconds ahead of where I wish to be.
The knowledge spurs me as I slam my feet into the pavement harder. I pump my arms and am in full flight. My lungs struggle to keep up with my own surge but I will myself to press the pace.
I want to be fast. I want to prove myself to myself. Even in the most trying conditions. Especially in the most trying conditions.
As I cross the finish, my watch registers my final kilometre’s pace — a full 15 seconds faster than the previous kilometre, which itself had been my fastest kilometre prior.
My final time is a tidy 60 seconds ahead of the plan. A negative split of over 2 minutes grants me this.
A short while later Paul crosses the finish. He too is ahead of his prescribed time by half a minute.
Elated and exhausted we clumsily whiff on a Hi-5, both of us lacking the muster to connect hands as fatigue sets in. We are not jocks by traditional standards.
But we are indeed athletes.