Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
It was May 21, 1994, and the image I see today is as vivid as it was way back then. I was standing at the starting line of the Duke Children's Classic, a 5K road race which wound through the Duke University campus. The weather that day was unseasonably cool, which made the conditions perfect for my 20:20 vision. I had my sights squarely set on running this race in 20 minutes and 20 seconds.
I had trained well for that race, with a balance of previous 5K races and 800's on the track for speedwork, and a base of 30 miles a week. I knew what my goal was, and I knew what I wanted to do to get there.
While I was nervously waiting at the starting line, someone asked me what I was planning to run the first mile in. 6:20, I told him, and he quickly took a couple of steps back as if to say I was out of his league. I knew this course well, having run this race several times in the past. I knew that the friendly first mile quickly betrayed you during mile two. The second mile punished you, and then the third mile was your reward for surviving the second. I figured that if I could run the first mile at 6:20, I could hang on to the end from there. I could see my 20:20 vision come to fruition.
Before the start, I edged near the front of the pack. This was unfamiliar real estate for me, but a 5K doesn't allow for tactical errors at the start, and this race always attracted a nice crowd. With a working knowledge of my capabilities, this goal was an aggressive one, and seconds lost before the start would be irretrievable later on.
I started cleanly, and felt like I was barely hitting the ground as I pushed a fast early pace. Quickly, the pace became uncomfortable, but formidable doses of adrenaline were pushing the pain aside. My focus was sharp. My vision was clear. Rarely have I pointed my training to a single race like I did in this one.
As the first mile marker appeared, and I charged past it, the split was called. 6:22. It's amazing to me how someone can be so finely tuned to their potential as to be able to predict within two seconds how long it will take to cover a distance of 5280 feet. My 20:20 vision was still in tact. But the bear was looming.
The second mile was tough. My mind was trying to tell my legs to back off, and my heart fought back, pleading me to not give in. Between miles one and two, I was no longer able to judge my pace, so I gauged my effort against the people around me. It was a real lift to realize I was still passing people, and that very few, if any, were passing me. Two miles came up at 13:08. The second, uphill mile was done at 6:45, which was about what I had figured would happen.
The third mile in this race is much like the first, with many downhill grades. Honestly, my brain felt like mush by this point, and I had no clue whether my 20:20 vision still had a chance of becoming a 20:20 reality. I was pretty sure the third mile would be quicker than the second, and slower than the first. But I hadn't a clue by how much in either direction. My 20:20 vision had become blurred and distorted.
As I stepped on to the track inside Wallace Wade Stadium, where the final hundred yards or so were run, I could first see the clock turn to 20 minutes, and then the seconds sadly slip away a little too quickly. My finish time was 20:25. I had lost my 20:20 vision, by less than two seconds per mile. My vision has never returned to that same level of sharpness since that day.
Since May 21, 1994, I have never had a similar focus for a single race. I have set, and exceeded goals since then, but they have never been quite as lofty, or quite as precise, as they were that day. Many things can blur a person's vision. Injury, and age, attitude, and priorities can all take away from a person's focus.
But these same things can also sharpen it. Injury can linger to the point where you feel like you'll never enjoy running again, but somehow, first the pain, then the memory fade into the background. Age can break you down, but only if you let it. It can also be a great motivator, as you work hard to not lose ground from one year to the next. Attitude is the same way. A bad one can retire you from the sport. A good one can urge you towards improvement. Priorities change. Running should not always be the top one. But when everything else is taken care of, and you manage your time well, watch out. The clarity of the past can return in the blink of an eye.
My 20:20 vision will most likely never return. Once you lose sight, it rarely returns to its original state. A certain focus, however, seems to be returning after a long hiatus, and things seem clearer than they have been in a long time. The running seems unclouded, and I'm starting to throw some good numbers around in my head again. Nothing that adds up to a 6:20 mile, or 20:20 vision. It's more like a sub 7 first mile, and a 5K time in less than 22 minutes. Even numbers like these have been obscured for several years now. The vision may be adjusted since it was 20:20, but the image I see is as sharp as ever. The clarity has returned, and I'm viewing it through eagle eyes. The time will tell.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.