Running with the Locals, Running with the Legends: My Onward Shay! Race Report

Today marked the running of the inaugural Onward Shay! Half Marathon and Marathon in Boise, Idaho to honor of Shay Hirsch. Shay was a Boise native and runner who lost her courageous battle with cancer in 2014. She would often encourage others with the phrase Onward! and she loved the Wizard of Oz, so the race adopted a fun Wizard of Oz theme and the name Onward Shay! For its inaugural weekend, the race hosted several running legends many of whom helped organize the race.

At the start line I saw my coach chatting with Nick Symmonds (hopefully they were planning a beer mile) and Joan Benoit Samuelson grabbing Frank Shorter to go take a photo with local celebrity writer Tony Doerr. The runners had to wait an extra 30 minutes at the start, but watching these running legends and chatting with friends kept me entertained. Parts of me started to get antsy (also wet and cold), but I reminded myself that in a racing I need to practice on focusing on what I can control. I cannot control things like the weather and the delayed starts, but I can control things like my attitude and my breathing, so I focused on those.

Finally the starting gun went off and we were running through the streets of Boise. About a mile into the race I found myself running right next to Frank Shorter. Often called the father of the modern running boom and the only American to medal twice in the Olympic Marathon, Frank Shorter is one of the most respected distance runners in the world. I could not believe that I was running right next to him down the streets of Boise, Idaho, the place I currently call home. Amazing! This will certainly go down as one of the best moments of my running career.

As I continued, I started to see familiar face after familiar face carrying me through the course with their smiles, cheers, funny signs, and positive energy. Even though it was a cold, wet, rainy day, Boise showed up for this event. My mom and husband brought our three small kids out to cheer. I saw countless friends and strangers who felt like friends street after street, house after house. Much of the course, particularly the parts in the North End, felt like a huge party. Because of the way parts of the course looped out and back, my running friends and I were even able to cheer each other on at multiple points. I typically run with music unless I am running with another person and trying to talk, but I did not want music during this race. I wanted to fully experience the spectators, other runners, and the course surroundings. I thoroughly enjoyed saying hello to all of the family and friends I saw along the way and feel so grateful to each and every one of them for coming out today.

Those of us who run, race or do some type of endurance exercise understand that we could not do what we do without a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. To have those friends and family not only support us throughout our training, but show up on a wet, rainy race day, means the world!

Around mile eight, the wet and cold started to set in. My quads felt heavy from the cold and my shoes were squishy from the weight of the extra water they were carrying. Everything was soaking wet and I could hardly see through the water in my eyes. My plan to speed up the past few miles did not happen due to the wet and cold conditions, but I held my pace and felt strong through the finish. Most importantly, I ran and finished with joy in my heart and with gratitude for a healthy body and fun race. I hope this race continues for years to come and grows in popularity, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves. It was so much fun to be a part of the inaugural event!

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Pre-race with my running team, the Boise Betties

Photo Credit: Gretchen Hurlbutt (Thanks, G!)

 

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The Power of a Word

Marathon training at times can start to feel like a grind. As your body learns to adapt to the increased mileage, perhaps not every run or workout will feel good. But the training plans are designed that way, and it is how you become stronger and more prepared for your goal race.

This week started to feel a bit like one of those grind weeks for me. Rather than looking forward to my workouts, I found myself approaching them with a slight sense of dread.  Yesterday my friend Sam texted me, “How many miles do you get to run tomorrow?” and a light bulb went off. She said get to not have toI was so thankful that she had corrected the fatal flaw in my thinking and from that point forward I approached my long run with a grateful and happy heart.

Running is something that I get to do, not have to do. It keeps me healthy, happy, and connected with some of my favorite people. Just a short six months ago I could not run due to injury and would have given a great deal to be able to go for a short run. I have sat on the sidelines watching others train hard and longed to feel the burning in my lungs and the soreness in my legs. When it is my turn to do the training, I will be thankful for my healthy body. The workouts are not always easy, but they are always worth it.

So the next time you are dreading a hard workout, think about a time that you could not run. Think about someone you know who wants to run, but cannot. Run with a happy heart, smile at those around you, and enjoy the beauty of nature and discovering new trails and paths. My long run today ended up being an absolute joy. I got to run with a friend in beautiful fall weather through our lovely city, and I am thankful for every minute of it. How many miles do you get to run tomorrow?

Finding the Joy in the Suffering: Barber to Boise 10k Race Report

I have some big running goals. I want to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. For an average age grouper now masters runner like me, getting to Boston would be like playing in the Final Four or competing in the Olympics. I was not an athlete growing up and hardly attach that label to myself even now, so the idea of one day running in an elite and prestigious race such as Boston would be a dream come true. In order to get there it will take years of hard work, patience and learning how to overcome the negative self-talk that seems to creep up when I start to get uncomfortable in races. I must learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable and believe in myself, even when I am hurting. I know this and my coach knows this, which is why she tells me that I need to practice racing more often.

I am in the middle of a marathon training cycle, but this weekend raced a 10k instead of doing my weekly tempo run. My coach told me to go for it and push myself. Taking her advice, I decided to go for the sub-50 PR that I had been chasing for a couple of years. The 10k is tricky for me. I tend to start out too close to my 5k pace and then flame out in spectacular fashion by the middle miles. I shared my goal with my friend Sam just before the race, and we decided to run together. I was thrilled to have someone to run with.

Sam and I started off together and ran the first couple of miles just under our target pace. I felt good and strong and with Sam beside me I felt like we had a ton of positive energy going back and forth. Without saying a word, I felt that we were supporting and encouraging each other with every step and I loved every moment. Just after mile three, Sam encouraged me to go ahead. I didn’t want to leave her side, but I also didn’t want to make her run at a pace that wasn’t feeling right for her. Eventually I pulled slightly ahead, hoping she would stay just behind. And every time I glanced behind, she was right there.

Around mile four to five, I started to get very tired. My legs felt heavy, I wasn’t sure where Sam was (although I was expecting her to blow by me at any second), and every time I glanced at my watch my pace was over my target pace. This is the point in the race where you need to stay strong. Where you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and soldier on. Where you need to build yourself up mentally, take it one step at a time, and will yourself to finish.

I know all of the things that I am supposed to do at this point in the race where it starts to hurt, where I get really uncomfortable, when I enter the pain cave and start to suffer. Yet there is a disconnect between what I know and what I actually do. Because what I actually did yesterday and what I tend do a lot in this situation is the following: When I got to the point of discomfort I started to beat myself up mentally. Instead of telling myself that I could do it, I told myself all of the reasons that I could not. I told myself that I was too old, too tired, and too heavy. That I did my long run last weekend too fast so that I ruined any chance I had of earning a PR at this 10k. That I am not a good person and I do not deserve things like PRs and negative splits and good races. Ridiculous, mean, defeating self-talk. Not the self-talk of a champion. I would never say these things to a friend, so why do I say them to myself?  

After the race, my running team met for happy hour. One of my friends and teammates and I were talking about goals. I told her about my Boston ambitions and how I would like to do a longer triathlon. She is an accomplished elite triathlete and although she clearly has racing goals when I asked what those goals were she replied simply and beautifully: “Joy.” I think this should be my goal, too.

I reflected on her answer for a good portion of my long run this morning. I told my husband last week that I want to and that I will get to Boston, but more than that I want to enjoy the process of getting there. Mostly I do enjoy the process. Having a big goal motivates me to get up early in the mornings and do the hard workouts. Running is a huge part of my mental health regimen, and my running group is my social outlet. I have met some of my dearest friends through running.  I also like having something to work toward, even if it will take years to get there. Part of this process will be learning how to keep those negative thoughts from creeping up when I enter the pain cave during a race. It will not be enough to have those around me tell me that I am strong enough and capable. I must truly believe it myself. Once I do, I will be able to silence those voices once and for all, even when I am pushing myself physically to the limit.

When I approached the end of mile five yesterday, I saw that I was going to be very close to reaching my goal of sub-50. At the six mile marker, I realized that I may just make it in under 50 minutes if the course was measured accurately. I pushed my legs as hard as I could, coming in at 49:46, barely under 50 minutes, proving once again that it was my mind and not my body that was holding me back.

I was thrilled to have met my time goal yesterday, but I do not like how I beat myself up mentally in the pain cave. Numbers are not everything and if my ultimate goal is to find the Joy in the Suffering, I have quite a bit of work to do. I race again in two weeks. My goal for that race is to enter the pain cave again, but next time I am going to be kinder and more gentle with myself. I am going to try again to find joy and beauty in the suffering that we as runners and athletes create when we push ourselves to our limits. That type of suffering is sacred and I am thankful for the days that I can race and do that without being injured. I want to celebrate it and be kind to myself in those moments. It may take some practice, which is precisely why my brilliant coach keeps telling me to race more and to push the pace until I figure it out!

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