01 December 2012

Not Quite A Pi(e)?

There’s a famous, and upon examination mostly untrue, story that over a hundred years back, the Indiana state legislature came up with the brilliant idea that pi, that mathematical constant that makes things round, could be, well, modified. The popular story goes that they passed a law defining pi precisely with very few digits, rather than the endless decimal it really is. The truth, at least according to Wiki, is nothing of the sort, though what they were actually trying to do was, from a mathematical perspective, nearly as silly, if not quite as obvious to the ordinary soul.

This is, however, a good lead in to the question of how big a pi should be, or in this case, how long a pie, specifically a Pie & Glove race, should be. Advertised as five kilometers, the truth appears to be that we didn’t get all the Pie we thought we were getting. But I’m ahead of myself…

Where we are is Chapter Two of the rapid-fire sequence of late fall races, Chapter One – the Return to Westfield – having been related a couple of nights back, and Chapters Three and Four yet to come, though come they will, and soon. It’s a busy time. And to think, one might expect a little period of rest after the fall marathon. Not this year.

Following that Sunday in Stanley Park, it was a mere four days till Thanksgiving, the one day when a surprisingly large percentage of America gets off their butts to do something physical in order to assuage their guilt over the looming feast. To this I say, outstanding! The explosion of turkey trots is one of the few trends of late that is actually good for America’s health, even if it’s only once a year. It’s like seeing the church packed on Christmas and Easter and thinking that it’d be nice if those people actually showed up the rest of the year, but then thinking twice and just being glad that they still found it important enough to come at the holidays, in defiance of Santa and the Bunny. As a result, many of these races are huge, growing mostly from the mid-pack on down, though my trot of choice, the Pie & Glove in Corning NY, also sported a strong field up front, offering up plenty of human anchors to hold a pace.

Now, two races in five days isn’t necessarily a good idea, but on the other hand, if it makes (and keeps) you sharp, and if the old bones can sustain the punishment, so be it. I banked on the bones and bet on the theory of sharpness. And it paid off with a personal best, though one laced with a let-down, it being not quite what I’d thought it was.

How can a personal best be a bit of a disappointment? When it’s not the blowout you thought it was, the blowout you’d been waiting for, the blowout you felt was real, until you found out it wasn’t. But at the end of the day, it was still a personal best, and a key one at that, one that confirmed that the previous wasn’t a fluke.

And the apparent blowout seemed plausible. Really. A cold, nearly windless day. A fast course, entirely flat save an out-and-back over the mild bump of a river bridge. Enough time beforehand to run the whole thing for a real warm-up (and still jump behind the registration table to help them work down the two-block-long check-in line). And mostly, the right state of mind, confidence that last month’s long-awaited 5K best signified that the readiness was there to cash in for a real breakthrough.

You can’t spend much prose on a 5K, as it happens too fast. Mile one came faster than any previous road race mile one, but it didn’t worry me, all cylinders were clicking. For mile two, it became a mental game, latching on others and reminding myself that I didn’t need to back off after the quick start, and it worked, the second marker
arriving a second faster than the first. On the home stretch, I focused on the word ‘intensity’ and refused to relent. Being mostly an out-and-back, one eye hunted for Darling Spouse, Dearest Daughter the Younger, and a pair of cousins, this being a family event now turned tradition, while the other eye glued onto moving reference points, no, not just gluing on but apparently picking up the pace and passing a number of them in that last mile. Darling Spouse, whom I didn’t locate in the outbound crowd, did spot me and reported that I looked, well, intense. Her word. I guess the focus thing worked.

Rounding the last corner gave me a somewhat breathtaking glimpse of something I’ve never seen at the end of a 5K, the show clock reading sixteen something. With a person standing in front of it, the something part was obscured, though I knew it must be a large something, and sure enough, sixteen changed to seventeen before I crossed a few seconds later. Just seeing sixteen blew a few mental circuits. Not crossing till it clicked over didn’t really matter; I was still in at more than half a minute ahead of that October personal best in Acton. A half minute off a 5K is hard to fathom, but the splits bore it out, and the kind of day it was made it believable.

Quick chatter among the early finishers hinted that the course was indeed short, but only by a bit. At only a bit short, adding a few seconds would still make it a blowout. It was enough to make me not care that I’d missed third place in my age group – and a pie, the real, not the mathematical kind – by a mere three seconds. (We got one anyway as thanks for sis’s volunteer efforts.) I was floating.

But things that float often sink. Back at sis’s ranch, out came the laptop, up came the mapping web site, and the truth sunk in and sunk my state of floatation. A bit short stretched into quite a bit short, and the huge breakthrough melted into merely a six-second personal best. And that’s how a personal best can be sort of a disappointment. Not that I won’t take it happily, it’s still a best, turned in four days after Westfield, and a nice confirmation that Acton wasn’t a fluke.

I’m just sayin’…

This Pie was a little shy of being full-sized. Maybe the measuring wheel was made in Indiana a hundred years back?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Humor me. If you read it, if you liked it, even if you didn't, let me know!