Recently I feel like I had a breakthrough in my running that is hard to explain – but I feel compelled to try. I’ve also had a couple of races that I’ve been slow to recap while I work through this transition time in my running life. Since my last marathon, I have gone through a lot personally and done a lot of soul-searching that has really opened my eyes to how I live my life and how I want to live my life going forward. Hopefully this recap of the last month and races is insightful and useful for you in your training/life.
Following a marathon, it’s common to go through a bit of depression. You’ve spent the better half of the last 6 months likely training towards one big goal. It’s come, and gone, and now what?? In my case, it was pretty bad this year. I had a rough summer/fall with injury and life stress. Despite that, I raced my heart out, but the times did reflect what I wanted (stress on the wanted). PRs were few and further despite training hard as I could and through injury. I toyed with the idea of giving up. Why was this sport so important to me? I started to do some serious soul-searching – not just for what I wanted to be with my running – but who I wanted to be and where my life was headed. It was some tough stuff – facing issues I’ve had underlying for years. I’m stubborn. I want big results – but sometimes when I see what it takes to get what I want, I get easily overwhelmed and just fall back to the day to day. I make excuses.
I had my first ever DNF (did not finish). That day was one of the worst of my running life. I didn’t feel well, was overly tired and the weather was not ideal. I should have never raced. After mile 1, my stomach churned and I knew it was in my best interest to give up. I sobbed my way back to the finish line and had a real heart to heart with my coach and mom.
Finding my Flow
I spent the next week focusing on REALISTIC goals. Not signing up for every race between now and the end of the year. Instead, I picked just one to really focus on. A 10k on Thanksgiving that I race every year. I knew it wouldn’t be easy since it was only a month away and I had not done much short distance specific work, but I wanted to remember what it felt like to race fast and with joy. I also set my sights on placing in the top 5 females and a time goal of running sub 40 min if the weather cooperated (November races in Rochester, NY can be anything from 50 degrees to snowy and negative wind chills).
I discussed with my coach, Dan Walters, and he created about a month-long training program with the 10k as my goal – and LAST serious race of 2015.
About a week into training – everything started to fall into place. Running felt easy and (gasp) enjoyable again. I stopped making excuses. Stopped focusing on the goal but rather nailing each and every workout. Even the speed workouts and tempo runs. I hit what many runners refer to as ‘flow’ in my training. I looked forward to my workouts. To strength training. To it all. I felt stronger than ever. It was a great feeling after a summer of let downs and pain. I learned a little life lesson here. Just like life – there are highs and lows – and that’s what makes the journey so remarkable.
My outlook changed. I was/am much more positive. I have more focus – in running and life. I started to set goals for my career. Map out a future for my business. I ate better, slept better. I honestly don’t know what the trigger was – maybe the DNF – or whether it was hitting the flow or just having had enough of feeling sorry for myself – but it could not have come at a better time.
In advance of the 10k I had a fun, tune-up 5k cross-country meet I signed up for with some teammates from Fleet Feet. I hate 5ks. And this would be only my second time running in spikes/on this terrain. I decided to do it for the ‘fun’ of it – and while it was fun before/after – I can’t say the actual 5k itself was that much fun. But a challenge – and I love a challenge.
True to my racing style – I went full-out in the first straight away. I passed people left and right and secured a spot nearish to the front of the women. I felt good – but could tell the pace I was currently at was not something I could maintain. By lap 2 of 3.5, I knew my legs were shot. It was all I could do to maintain marathon pace. I had no time goal and reminded myself – I was doing this for fun – might as well have some. I gave it my best and finished just under 20 minutes. The soft ground was difficult – resulting in more work on my legs than I think I realized at the time. Either way I finished, high-fived my teammates and ran a 2 mile cool down. I felt great and while my time wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I could feel the attitude shift. God I love this sport.
RACE DAY – 25th Annual Race with Grace 10k
A couple more weeks of super focused training and I found myself on a plane home for Thanksgiving – race day looming. I knew that sub 40 was within reach. I felt strong. The morning of the race – even my mom mentioned my very positive/good mood. Not like my typical snappy, rude attitude more typical of the last 2 marathons she had seen me run. I told her I had listened to a podcast (Running on Om) interview of Greg Faxon and that I was practicing his theory of 100% engagement but being 100% unattached in the moment. I had put in 110% this last month and I had to truly trust in that. Then on race day – in the actual moment – I needed to be unattached to the results. Why? I’m notorious for getting stuck in my own head (see my Chicago marathon recap). Instead, this time, I vowed to completely separate myself from the moment – just focus on the details to get me through the race. Find my flow and just groove. For once, it worked.
After a decent 2 mile warm up, I knew it’d be a tough day for sub 40. There were 20 mph winds from the south that would be directly in our face for the 2nd half of the race. I knew I had run in worse – but wasn’t entirely confident I could hit the paces I wanted to. I tried not to let it get to me. We lined up for the start – me next to a guy in a turkey costume and Santa. We were off. I settled into what felt tough but not out of reach, waved at my superfan watching at about the ¼ mile mark, and prepared myself for what was to come. Just 40 minutes. Or so I hoped.
At the 1 mile marker I glanced down at my watch. That can’t be right? I thought. 5:53. It felt like I was running 6:45s – everything felt easy. I was ecstatic but recalled the wind was currently at my back. I needed to maintain and/or slow down a bit if I was going to have something left for the end.
Miles 2 and 3 were a more realistic pace of roughly 6:15. When I hit the 5k mark, I realized I had just run my second fasted 5k as part of a 10k (18:57) and knew I was definitely on track for sub 40. But again – I tossed the goal out of my head and focus on what would be the hardest 3 miles of the race. I hit mile 4 and realized I had just PR’d my 4 mile. Things were really lining up well.
Heading south on a country road past apple farms and homes, I could feel the wind kicking me in the face. I knew this was slowing me down. But I also knew I had some time ‘in the bank.’ I gave it my all and when I hit the last mile – headed entirely into the wind – I tried to pick it up even more. I picked people to focus on passing or catching rather than my watch, and successfully passed two guys. My watch beeped and I glanced down – 7:01. What?! Don’t panic, I thought. Just go full-out for the last 0.2 miles. I turned the corner into the church parking lot. My lungs burned. My legs felt like mush. I gave it all I had. I was so close.
I wish I could say I broke 40. After the effort I gave, I thought it was for sure in sight. Instead – the official time when I crossed the line was 40:02. My watch clocked 40:00:03 for 6.25 miles (I need to learn to take tighter turns). Finally – a PR! Maybe not exactly what I had wanted but I felt so strong – through the entire thing – and knew if it weren’t for the wind, that sub 40 was mine. I was happy regardless. A huge contrast to my post-DNF 5k attitude. All the hard work had paid off. I placed 5th female among a very competitive group of lady runners. And I beat a woman who beats me every year at this race (I’ve been running it for 10+ years – the first time being with my Dad back in 2000).
So what’s next??
Well I’m doing something I’m not used to – not following a plan for December. Running for ‘fun’ and focusing on R&R before the New Year. I’ve got some big plans, big goals, and big dreams for 2016 and can’t wait to share them all with you in the New Year. Until then – I’m going to spend time recouping from a serious 2015 of racing and life — and spend lots of time with family and friends, focusing on what I’m truly thankful for.