Crucial and critical weeks in my training. As the training builds and hits these weeks, where the training focuses towards my goal pace and goal distance, I am excited at where training has brought me. I completed a work out yesterday that left me feeling strong. Those are the type of runs you need the most at this point. Mentally I want, more than anything else, to reach that starting line feeling like I trust in my training. That’s when I know what I should run. I know what pace I should be hitting and I know that I don’t need to go out guns blazing.
I gain this confidence with the feedback my runs give me. So far, even the tough runs, I have muddled through. I may have felt like I wasn’t going to make it. But I did make it. While the runs that I have felt like I still had more in the tank at the end really boost my confidence, even the ones where I felt like I was hanging by a thread are positive. Those give me confidence in my ability to keep pushing, no matter what race day may bring.
I have 2 more key long runs and then the taper begins. The second of these falls on Easter. I have never run on a holiday before. It was kind of a promise I had always made to myself. I have looked at my training log and I really have no way around this. It is just going to have to happen. The runs need to occur in a specific order to get the most out of them. I need to run easy the day before to enter this last training run on tired legs. This last long run is completed all at slighter slower than my marathon pace. Teaching my body pacing. Improving my body’s ability to prevent lactic acid build up in my muscles. Teaching my brain to hold form and run consistent for a significant time and distance. I can’t be shuffling stuff around at this point unless it is a matter of injury or illness. I know there is no choice, but it still leaves me feeling unsettled.
On my midweek long this morning, I was thinking about this. I really am upset about missing a couple hours of Easter because of a run. I was thinking about my guys and that I want their memories of me to be of me being there. I mean, I chose my life around that premise. I gave up my job, any career, and numerous other activities because I want to be THE presence in their lives. Will one Easter make that big of a difference? Truth is, probably not. They will get their upgraded toys (the Easter bunny has given me the skinny on what he’s planning for their baskets) and after all the fun hunts, I will head out and they will enter “the zone”. I will return 3 hours later and they will probably be none the wiser. But I am the wiser.
All of this swimming in my head as I approach mile 9 of 12 and head up 28th Street. Out of the corner of my eye I see something. I pass by and then have to turn back. I bend down and pick up what is hands down the largest pinecone I have ever seen in my entire life. Yes, that is a pinecone the size of a log for my fireplace.
I can’t leave that. I know that is probably the largest pinecone Matt or my boys will ever see (or not see if I don’t take it). So, I pick it up and tuck it into my jacket. Okay, that is not going to work for 3 more miles. So I attempt to get it into the back of my jacket. I have to stop my run and adjust and adjust and adjust until I get it securely on my back. Luckily, it is still dark out so no one sees the hunchback of Boise running the streets of the Northend. When I got home Matt confirmed that is the largest pinecone he has ever seen in his 39 years.
Some time later the boys finally woke. I watched as they were amazed at the sheer size of this thing. I, then, presented them with a challenge. I challenged them to find a larger pinecone (this guy is 13 inches long) in the next 100 years that they walk this earth. Cale then said, “But mama you will be dead in a 100 years.” I told him the challenge was for him, not me. At that point Marley started crying. I didn’t know what had happened. Had he hurt himself? Had Brodie done or said something to set him off? He walked downstairs. A short time later he had returned and we were chatting and I asked why he was crying. He told me he couldn’t imagine life where I wasn’t alive. I teared up. But I also gained some peace about my Easter run. I am there for every possible event these guys have experienced, both the big ones and the mundane. I have seen it all. Three hours of one Easter will not change that.
One other mystery I have been contemplating has also begun to feel more settled. I am finally nailing down how I am going to run this race. This whole training cycle has been a guessing game for me. Coming back from injury, having lost a ton of fitness, I didn’t know where I was. I did some slow base building in the fall to get my mileage up. However, I was now training in a new fashion. I wasn’t running full effort every run. How would my fitness build actually doing easy runs? In writing out my plan, I had set my training paces at, more or less, my previous paces. I didn’t know how that would play out, but so far I have been able to hit those paces during my workouts. One thing I did know at the start, and still feel, is that this will not be a PR opportunity. Boston is a more challenging course and I know I need more training for a PR race. But I need a goal. I am just a goal person. I always set my 3 goals for a race.
1- “The Attainable” – Healthy training cycle and better even pacing throughout race
2- “The Realistic” – Break 4 hours
3- “The Fuck Ya” – BQ again (Under 3:45 for this soon to be 40 year old)
I used to be afraid to put my goals out there. Part of me is still a bit reserved. But I look at women like Shalane Flanagan and Deena Kastor that announce their race goals, be it to win or to break records, and I realize how brave that is. I also realize, whether I announce it or not if I fail the disappointment all lies in myself. I really don’t care much whether or not others see my failure because I am always trying to please myself in my running. That’s where my competition lies. If I fail either privately having goals or letting others know my goals, it is going to feel the same to me.
This last year my fitness may not have grown, but my life as a runner certainly has grown. Probably more than it would have been had I been competing. I feel more confident in what matters to me in a race. I know my short comings and have head on tried to rectify some of them. I am able to push myself when it’s time and hold that drive back a little when I need to recover. I enjoy my rest days. Most importantly, I am not afraid to stop my run and pick up an enormous pinecone. I enjoy the moments of the run beyond the act of running, and then share them. I hope that is what this trip for Boston is for our family. I hope it is about bringing my guys into my world of running and creating memories that will last for the whole time they are searching for a 13 and 1/2 inch pinecone.
Saturday’s race went better than planned. Based off of the course elevation, I was not sure what to expect for my pace. Looking at my current training, I was hoping to run under 1:45:00, or an 8 minute per mile pace. Even as late as Saturday morning I was questioning how hard to run. This is a training run and not a goal race. My goal race is coming and the last thing I wanted to do was run too hard and end up injured. That idea sat in the back of my mind.
Matt got up with me around 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning. We had decided that I would head to the race by myself and he would bring the kids shortly after. It was a later starting race, but I also had a warm up to do. It was already nice and warm out when I was leaving Boise to head to Caldwell, ID. However, Saturday’s beautiful 60-70 degree sunshine day took off and Sunday’s 50 degree rainy and windy day came in.
I arrived in wine country and was amazed at where I would be running. Apparently, grapes for wine grow best amongst the hills, or so says the race director. It was rolling hills with vines as far as the eye could see. Really gorgeous. I got a great parking spot since I had arrived so early. I hung out in the car until about 30 minutes prior to start. I had plenty of miles to get in for the day, so I did a mile and half warm up run. I headed right out the starting gate that we would soon be going out.
Ya, that is going to be one hell of a start.
Hills to start and hills to end is what I knew I was in for. Another reason I was nervous about how to pace. I didn’t want to kill myself out of the gate. But I did choose this race because Boston is similar in a (down)hilly start with a few challenging hills at the end, as well. Before the start we listened to the bagpipers play and felt the wind whipping through us. The gun went off and straight to the hills we headed. We climbed 258 feet and descended 219 feet in the first 3 miles.
I kept reminding myself to hold back some. We finally hit the flat. But the wind was pushing like we were still on hills. I tucked in behind a few runners to draft off them and have them do some of the work fighting the wind. Then the rain started. Not terrible, but it makes things slick. Plus we were running on roads that were not closed. Country roads with little traffic, but you still had to be aware. You had to be very aware if you were going to be crossing the road. It was a lonely start. No spectators. The only people you saw, besides your fellow runners, were the volunteers at the 3 aid stations. Finally, you hit the turn around.
The best part about an out and back (especially one with ZERO spectators) is that it gives you the ability to interact with fellow runners. I could count that there were 2 women in front of myself and the woman in the green tutu leading me through the wind. I got to cheer that first place woman on to boost her spirits. I got to have others boost my spirits as I lost the green tutu woman when she took off with a burst of energy after passing by her friends. I cheered for numerous people as I could see looks of struggle and had those same feelings myself.
That final hill stood in front of me. I had already been battling the thoughts in my head to slow down, slow down, slow down. But I didn’t know where in the hell I was going. Like I said, tutu had taken off with a guy and I saw them fist bump as they looked back at me in their dust. I can’t blame her. I had been on her heels the whole race and she and I knew it was going to be down to us for 3rd place. She ran a fabulous race and was able to hold her pace the whole time. But that fist bump deflated me for a minute.
Only a minute.
I know it sounds crazy, but hills invigorate me. I love climbing. It changes how you move your body and you utilize different muscles. Many times they almost feel like a break for your legs. Your heart and lungs are another matter. After feeling like giving up for a minute, I hit the base of that hill. I decided this was my race and it didn’t matter what my time was, as long as I knew I had stuck it out.
Up I went. Pushing, climbing, trying to keep tutu in my sights so I knew where to go. I was also passing by 5K runners and 10K runners since we had joined back onto the same course. That was fun, but also a bit difficult. Especially after I crested that last 118 foot climb. It was 92 feet straight down and about a half mile to the finish.
This is what I am most proud of from this race. My finish. I had plenty still left in me. I took off. I had to dodge people and cars. There were runners finishing their 5Ks and 10Ks. There were walkers heading to their cars to go home having finished their 5Ks and 10Ks. There were cars driving on the road. There were cars trying to pull out of their parking spot on the side of the road. And there was me, with enough left to run that last half mile at a 6:30 pace. A pace faster than my 5K pace.
I rounded the bend into the finish and the only people standing around to cheer as you hit the finish (other than the race volunteers) were my wonderful husband and boys (well a couple of them, a few were off on misadventures…). They stood in the rain getting wet, just to take that picture of me and cheer me on. Marley started running by me and crossed the finish line with me.
It was hard, it hurt, but I kept reminding myself of my new mantra, “Hurt is good. Hurt is when the change comes.” My pace was 7:48, almost 30 seconds off my PR pace in the half. A 1:42:20 finish is more than 2 1/2 minutes better than what I had hoped. Did I race as hard as I could? It is hard for me to say no, since I did feel pain during the race. I do have sore quads from that downhill speed session at the end. I did have a slight positive split, which means I was fading at some point in the second half. However, psychologically I know I didn’t lay it all on the line. I know mentally I was not allowing myself to go full throttle. Maybe it played to my benefit. Maybe I would have done better if this would have been a no holds bar race. Regardless, first race of 2015 under my belt. Excited to see what the rest of the year will hold.
Physically, I have done all the workouts as prescribed. I am excited to see where the work has taken me. There are a few hills on this course, which I can’t wait to see how I handle, now that I train on hills. I am even more interested in how running fast on those hills will leave me feeling Monday morning.
Mentally, however, I am split. A very large part of me is a bundle of nerves. Normally I get race nerves, but I am extra anxious this go around. I know that writing down these fears, worries, and anxieties will release some of that off my mind. They are all built up in there. Sloshing around in my brain, some bubbling to the surface and others just percolating. Hopefully, as I start to let it pour out I can let go of them before Saturday.
The first reason I’m anxious is that I haven’t raced since Chicago. Nothing. I had planned for 2014 to include more racing in order to push my limits and become more comfortable with race pain and race nerves. Injuries, overtraining, and moving had another path for me. It led to 14 straight weeks off with a few other weeks sprinkled in there because I was trying to hold out on a break. Fourteen plus weeks off really sets you back. Everyone says it comes back quickly, but it really doesn’t. It has been a fight coming back. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I needed to reset my body; allow everything to heal and replenish. Heading back into training I didn’t want to repeat those same mistakes. With a refreshed body, I wanted to come back in the healthiest way I could. I wanted to build back without depleting myself. That meant solid eating (therefore, losing the “break belly” took FOREVER) and easy running. I had to teach myself not to throw my body under the bus on every run. By running easy I was staying ahead of the game by allowing my body to heal during those easy runs. Whereas my body used to be constantly trying to catch up. I would just keep piling on more and more. My body couldn’t rejuvenate and recover. Finally, I broke. I knew when I came back that the only way to be my best is to train cycle upon cycle with each hard run getting fully absorbed.
This new way of training is another reason I am nervous. (Not because the result will be worse. I know my time will be worse than it was, I am not yet back to where I had been. This type of training is all about patience and the long term.) I am nervous because I don’t know what to expect. It is like stepping into the great unknown. I am not quite sure what my half marathon pace is yet. I have an idea, but I used to run every training run at near race pace. That makes it pretty easy to guess where I will be. Now I don’t run like that. My half marathon length runs are either easy or only partly at half marathon pace. Not knowing what to expect is always worse than knowing where you are at. Easy running also makes me wonder what I can sustain. I used to run everything with an average heart rate in the mid-150’s to 160’s. That’s close to what my heart rate is during a race. I knew I could hold that heart rate for a long time. Now I just don’t train like that. I have plenty of runs that are in that range, but easy running means keeping my heart rate in the 130’s-140’s. I wonder whether I will slip into that comfort zone since that is where I am so used to running? I just don’t know. I have never raced with this type of training under my belt.
Then there is the other side of feeling mentally prepared. I feel strong. I feel fit. I have done every run and hit every pace even with my time off from the flu. I am excited to feel the adrenaline everyone has at the starting line. I love being in a group of people engaging in what we all love to do. I am even beginning to feel excited about feeling the pain. Race pain has been a blockage for me. I fear it. I get nervous just thinking about it. It is like when I used to think about child birth. I loved the feeling afterwards, the rush and pride in accomplishment. However, the idea of enduring that pain gave me dread in my belly.
I have been reading several books lately on mental training. Releasing anxieties is a very important part of racing well. Embracing pain is another step. I want to learn to be excited about that pain. To start viewing it as the best part of the race. For it is where all the growth comes from. That pain should be welcomed and allowed to resonate since that is the only way improvement can possible occur. It is beginning to seep in. I am at the trailhead of that journey. Saturday’s race will surely take me a little further down that path.