I’m still training for a subhour Bloomsday.
I could have typed those words any time in the last 10 years. It’s been my goal for so long people’s eyes glass over as soon as I start to talk about it. To paraphrase Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’ve imagined my victory so much it feels like a memory.
And right about March 1, I started hitting that elusive 8-minute mile. This was my year. Today was to be my day. And then, well, you know … COVID interfered. The P word (pandemic), the Q word (quarantine) or – worst of all – the C word (canceled).
But Bloomsday hasn’t been canceled. It’s just rescheduled. The R word. So I’m keeping perspective, knowing there are more important concerns now than a Bloomsday time. And I’m still running – trying not to hit a wall or get injured before Sept. 20. My long story toward achieving this goal simply got a little longer.
I ran cross country in grade school but chose theater instead of sports when I attended North Central High School. Because of that, I’ve always run alone – often singing show tunes. But all the best people I know are former cross country kids, and I’ve lived my whole life after high school as an NCXC wannabe. Now, I horn my way into the pre-Bloomsday picture with Brando, Tuna, Fawn and Blossom – imagining what my cool cross country nickname might have been. Eric, John, Amy and Cynthia are kind enough to humor me.
I was only peripherally aware of Bloomsday when it started, working a water station one year in the earl ’80s. Running seemed like something only the pros did. I later started walking Bloomsday in the late 1980s with my college roommates, measuring our effort and exhaustion by the swelling of our fingers. The years went by and it became a reunion opportunity. It wasn’t until after my second baby that I started really running again, and Bloomsday beckoned.
To pretend I didn’t care about my time, I would brag that the Bloomsday course was as far as I’d ever run, and then only once a year. My “training” consisted of gaming the shortest course – which corners to cut, what side of the street to be on so I was on the inside lane. That probably gained me all of 9 seconds. But I did notice once I started running faster – and earning an earlier start time – my time improved because I was running around fewer people.
But still, I didn’t really train. Over the years, I found myself within a few degrees of separation of some really great runners, though – Tom Fuchs, Chris Morlan, Scott Martinez, Dan Petek, Joe Feryn, Dan Pelle. I’ve seen Don Kardong along the Bloomsday route and earned a runner’s nod. Twice. And I’ve known and long admired (but been too shy to even chat up about running) incredible women athletes like Jacqueline Van Allen, Virginia de Leon, Sandra Anthony, Maria Bertagnolli and Michelle Neill.
Starting in 2015, I started believing the key to a faster time lay in my playlist. (And right now you know this isn’t a Bloomsday-sanctioned article. They do not recommend running with ear buds. They are serious about this.) I knew I needed to run an 8-minute mile to hit my sub-60 goal, so I picked 15 4-minute songs thinking, “Two songs a mile and I’m set!”
Spoiler: It didn’t work. But it was the beginning of some intentional strategizing. The next year, I convinced myself the flaw in my approach was ignoring the tempo of the songs. It couldn’t be just any old 4-minute song; it had to be FAST, like I was going to be. New year plus new playlist equaled an extra 3 minutes to my time. This clearly wasn’t working.
Bloomsday 2017 brought with it the wild idea (and Google search) “How fast does a song have to be for an 8-minute mile?” Turns out it’s about 170 beats per minute (BPM), and I wasn’t the only one looking for a way to pump up my run. There are whole websites devoted to this, and I dove right in, running weekly to a host of new songs with fast beats (I’m partial to Latin, funk and soul; see sidebar). I shaved nearly 4 minutes off my time and came in at 61 minutes, 20 seconds.
So frustratingly close! I couldn’t really understand what I was doing wrong (mind you, still not training). My plan for 2018 was just to pick faster songs.
It was around this time that I told my son, a musician and a high school cross country runner, about my BPM strategy and he eyed me strangely. “You do know,” he started, with the patience of a teenager who is smarter than his mom, “that mathematically the beats-per-minute only work for a certain stride, or leg length, or actual speed that you’re running. There are more variables to the time of a run than when your foot hits the ground.”
Uh, no. I did not know that, Alec. And keep your fourth-grade, word-problem voodoo to yourself.
Desperate, I toyed with other tactics.
- Run with someone who finishes in under an hour (I didn’t really know what it feels like to be running that fast).
- Start my weekday runs on that long slog down Broadway Avenue so I’m fresh and fast. When Bloomsday comes, muscle memory will just kick in!
- Nurse an injury so long you might as well just walk (See: 2018).
- Go public with my goal so I’m motivated by shame if I don’t make it.
Somewhere during all this, I did post something on Facebook about my goal. Fuchs, Bloomsday’s second seed coordinator and a blisteringly fast runner who coached my son in eighth grade, offered me some tips. For Bloomsday 2019, I started intentional runs (speed, hills, distance, something called fartleks) aimed at trimming those final 2 minutes off my time. But right about January, I got followed for blocks by a guy in a car and just stopped running all together. I ran Bloomsday without training at all and finished in 1:07. It felt like a defeat.
So this year – 2020, a new decade and all that – I got back on track. I started Jan. 1 with a 5K and a jump in Lake Coeur d’Alene with Eric Kramer (NCXC’s Brando). I downloaded an app that told me exactly how fast I was going. I spent the winter doing weight classes and running bursts on the treadmill at the YMCA, something I had never had the patience to do (thank you, Y gods Andrea, Stacy and Patrick for the encouragement). Once I got outside, I worked up to six sub-8 minute miles. I was feeling strong; ready to finally cross this to-do off my list.
And then, you know … the R word. But I’m changing “rescheduled” to “recommitting.” Since Bloomsday announced its date change, I have actually run the course with a 58ish-minute time. Four times. I know, I know … it doesn’t count; the official Bloomsday time is the only arbiter of success. But it helps me to think it might just happen this fall. And don’t we all need something to look forward to right now? Plus – silver lining! – by September I will have aged up into another bracket so I might even finish in the top 10 of my age group. In the meantime, I’m sorting through a whole new playlist, BPM be damned.
Anne (Windishar) Walter was a reporter and editor for The Spokesman-Review from 1987 to 2004.
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