The Girl in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Growing up I was never an athlete. I was usually picked last in gym class, unless my friend Katie was the team captain and would take pity on me. (Thanks, Katie!) I played field hockey for a season, but spent most of the time on the bench. During adolescence, I hated my body and abused it through vicious cycles of bingeing and purging. In early adulthood, I discovered distance running and gradually learned that if I treated my body well and fueled it right it could do some cool things. I was strong, I was capable. My body could run long distances. It could make babies and birth them. If I gave my body the respect it deserved, it would perform well in return.

In 2005, my friend Laurie convinced me to run my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon. Sometime during the training cycle I looked up the Boston qualifying times out of sheer curiosity. They seemed totally and completely unattainable. I remember thinking that if I was still running in my 60s, I might have a chance of getting in. Fast forward to 2014. My friend Gretchen, a fellow mom I knew from preschool, mentioned that she was thinking of starting a coached women’s running group. I sheepishly asked if I might be able to join, not knowing if such a group would include middle of the pack runners like myself. Fortunately, the group was for all types of runners. All paces, all ages, all distances.

I joined. I got up early. Really early. In all sorts of weather. I began doing more structured speed workouts. I committed. I got injured. I got back up. I recommitted. I kept going. And I kept this idea of Boston in the back of my head. Maybe? Could it be possible? Someday? I shared my goal with my coach and my family, but not many other people. I didn’t want to share with too many people because a) I didn’t want for them to think my goal was ridiculous and unattainable, and b) what if I tried and failed? Also the qualifying times and accepted qualifying times kept getting harder so that when the goal might seem within reach, the goalposts would move further away.

As I told more and more people, I realized that those around me (at least the ones that matter) believe in me and support me, but the only person that needs to believe that I can reach this goal is ME. My coach believed in me from the very beginning. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter how much she believes in me. If I don’t believe in myself, I cannot get there. As for the failure part, if I am not willing to risk the failure, I can’t get to the triumph. Big goals come with big rewards, but they also come with risk.

On December 8, I am going to chase that big goal. After years of hard work, many training cycles, and years of thinking “maybe someday, but not today,” that someday is now.

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Dear Santa, I’ve been good this year

Positive Affirmations For Pessimists: Thinking my way to my first sub-four marathon

I have been trying to break four hours in the marathon since 2015. This year’s attempt was at a hometown race, the Onward Shay Boise Marathon. Although initially I was not thrilled about running in such a familiar place that I knew would have little to no crowd support, by the end of my training cycle I appreciated the benefit of knowing the course well and being able to visualize every mile of the race. There was no magic of New York this year. This was the year to focus, to push hard, and to break four hours.

From that standpoint, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. In my mind, I had never executed a marathon property. Always fading significantly towards the later part of the race, the 26.2 mile distance eluded me. I had never performed to my capabilities in the marathon. I wanted to prove myself. If I didn’t this time, I was scared I might give up and never run another marathon again.

Physically, I knew I was capable of running a sub-four time. I put almost 650 miles on my legs over 18 weeks of consistent training, hitting all of the prescribed paces. Day after day I showed up. I worked hard and consistently. But my mental game had to be strong. I couldn’t give myself an out, and I couldn’t beat myself up and force myself to the finish line with unkind words. Close to the end of my training cycle I read a Hansons article entitled, When Do I Know I’m Ready? The part of this article that really resonated with me was the part about focusing on the process. So many times in racing I have tried to force the result or berate myself to the finish line. I took these words to heart and set the intention to focus on the process while also working on confidence and preparing myself for the difficult task ahead.

The last 10k in particular terrified me. I had a history of slowing down significantly during this portion of the race, and I had a bad experience in one race of getting hurt during this segment. I wanted to go into this marathon with the mindset that I could push through without fear, that I could Be Brave. I loved this piece from Carrie Mack about giving it all in Chicago. I thought about her words often both before and during my run, reminding myself to be patient during the first 20 miles and Be Brave during the last 10k. I wrote “I AM BRAVE” on my arm.

The week before the race, I wrote several positive affirmations on post-it notes on my bathroom mirror. Things like “Be Positive,” “Be Brave,” and “Sub-4.” I later decided that I should write them as “I AM” since that is a much stronger statement that adopts these things as true: I am brave, I am positive, I am a sub-four marathoner. I wrote these things and more in my journal and read them over and over before the race. I acted as if it had already happened. Normally, I would feel that behaving in such a way would “jinx” my performance, but I was going to try this. My mental game had been the weak link for so long that this was worth a shot. What did I have to lose? I felt like I needed to go into this race with the unwavering confidence that all of the things I was proclaiming to myself in the mirror – positive, patient, limitless, flowing, letting the race come to me, brave, transcending discomfort, strong, ready, a sub-four marathoner – were true. After all, my coach and teammates believed these things about me, why shouldn’t I believe them about myself? It felt weird, saying these things to myself, but I kept doing it. Even if just a small part of me believed, maybe it would make a difference.

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The morning of the race, I had sore areas on my posterior tib and my heels that I was slightly concerned about. I gave them a pep talk. Out loud. “Ok legs, we’ve done 600+ miles and you can do 26.2 more. Then we rest. You are strong, you are ready. Let’s do this!” And again, I repeated my affirmations in the mirror. “I am brave. I am a sub-four marathoner.”

I lined up at the start and was pleasantly surprised to see pacers. There was even a 3:55 pacer. I thought “Great! I just need to stay comfortably behind her!” I followed her for the first mile. 8:57. Perfect. Second mile. 8:44. She was going way too fast! But I didn’t freak out that I had run the second mile that fast. I took a deep breath. I told myself, “You know how to adjust,” (words directly from my coach to help counteract my tendency towards catastrophic thinking), and I let the pacer go. Banking time was not the strategy I was going for. I lost sight of the group several minutes later, even though I was running under the average pace needed for a 3:55.

As the miles ticked off, one by one, I remembered to be patient. “I am patient. I am relaxed.” My coach had told me not to be scared when I started to feel discomfort, and those were very important words for me to remember. When I started to feel discomfort, I acknowledged it, and moved on. “I’m getting warmed up. Each mile is different. One mile at a time. I am flowing. I am letting the race come to me.” I focused on the process. Mile by mile. Keeping my splits in check and being careful not to go too fast. Around mile 13, the 3:55 pacer was in sight again! However, also around that time, the wind picked up and I found myself running into a nasty headwind. My next two splits were 9:07, even though the effort felt harder. My initial reaction was discouragement and I could feel the negative thoughts trying to creep in. My body started to tense up and I could feel the fear and anxiety in my stomach. I had to work hard to stay positive. “I am positive. This is fun! I am doing it! I feel great!” I thought if I told myself I feel great, it might be true. I knew that my coach and teammates would be at the mile 16 aid station, which was also the turnaround point. I reminded myself that I was running towards them, that I was excited to see them, and that once I turned around the wind would be at my back. Seeing my coach and teammates at mile 16 was wonderful, encouraging, and definitely provided me the mental boost I needed at that point in the race.

I glanced at my watch and noticed after seeing my friends and turning around with the tailwind and slight downhill I had picked up the pace a little too much. So I held back, reminding myself, “Be patient. The race doesn’t start until mile 20. This is your warm-up. You are doing great.” I knew from experience how much can go wrong in the last 10k, so every time I started to think it was going well, I worked to temper any excitement and to just stay with the moment. To stay present and to run the mile I was in. Mile by mile, I was working my way to the finish line. When I got to mile 20 the 3:55 pacer was still in sight. “Be brave,” I said out loud. “Go with her.” I picked up the pace a bit for miles 20 and 21. However, that proved to be a little too much and by mile 22 I was back to 9 min/mile. Mile 23 was difficult and at the end of that mile a biker got in my face and said, “Do you need help?” The course was not a closed course and I didn’t know if the guy was a race volunteer or a spectator joking around with me. Either way, it messed with my mental game. This is the part of the race where your mind is overriding your body’s signals saying “Hey, can we stop or slow down?” and you are leading with your heart, and when this guy asked me if I needed help I started thinking “Do I look that bad? Do I look like I need medical attention? Am I about to collapse, but I’ve somehow convinced myself I am fine?” It took me a good half mile to collect myself and get back on track. Miles 24 and 25 were my slowest at 9:10 and 9:20. I could see the 3:55 pacer, who I had almost caught, getting further away, and was trying so hard to keep her in my sight. “Don’t let this race slip away from you now. Keep going. To that tree. 400 meters at a time, 200 meter pickups. You can do it.”

Coming into mile 25 my friend Kylee appeared like an angel in white on the side of the Greenbelt. She ran beside me to the end saying words of encouragement, but never expecting a response, as she knows well the pain cave you are in at the end of a marathon. My family was there at the last .2 and Kylee took photos which I will treasure forever. I crossed the line in 3:55:59, an eight minute PR and my first sub-four time after three years of trying. It was so special to have both my family and Kylee there to share that moment with me.

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Coming into mile 25. Dying. Photo by my friend Kylee.

Although of course you need the training and a healthy body, I firmly believe that it is the positive and process focused thinking that got me to the finish line in under four hours. There were three points that I looked at my overall time during the race: the 16 mile mark because I told my friends what time I thought I would be there, the 20 mile mark because I knew what time I wanted to hit that point, and when I saw Kylee so I could mumble to her how much time I had to will myself to the finish in under four hours. The rest of the time I was focused on the process. On each mile and properly executing the mile I was in. On staying positive, relaxed and keeping the right mindset. I didn’t try to force it. And when I did all of that, 3:55:59 was there waiting for me at the finish.

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Did I just luck out and happen to have a good run that day? Maybe. And certainly things like weather and the way I physically felt on that day were important.  But I don’t think that was all of it. I think the positive self talk and intentional confidence, as weird and unnatural as it felt to me (and even if it felt like I was faking it), made a big difference. So I have made a commitment to implement it throughout my training (not just during the taper) as well as in other areas of my life. Let’s see where it takes me. Onward!

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Choosing Happiness: My 2017 TCS New York Marathon Race Report

“So I went to New York City to be born again. It was and remains easy for most Americans to go somewhere else and start anew. …. and when the [train] plunged into a tunnel under New York City, with it’s lining of pipes and wires, I was out of the womb and into the birth canal.” ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Like most marathoners, I have a love/hate relationship with the 26.2 distance. I am drawn to it for its elusive nature and unpredictability. As a type A control freak I want to control and dominate the marathon, yet it refuses to be controlled. I come back again trying to control and it will continue to teach me that it cannot be controlled until I let down the walls of perfection, let go, and open my mind to the possibility that perhaps what I had in mind for the race is not what the race had in store for me.  I come out of each marathon a better, more self-aware person.

Prior to the November 5, 2017 TCS New York City Marathon I gave some real thought to the why of the marathon. Why do I do this? Why do I intentionally put myself through this pain and suffering and call it my hobby? Lauren Fleshman says that as runners we are privileged to be able to choose our form of suffering. Not everyone can be so fortunate. For me, being able to go to that place of suffering and to push through to the other side helps me realize that I am stronger than I think I am. There is beauty in the suffering, particularly when it occurs collectively. The struggle offers  the ability to practice coping skills that are needed in real life, and allows me to learn more about myself and about humanity.

New York was marathon number six for me. Marathon number five (California International Marathon in December 2016) did not go as planned. I had trained to run a sub 4-hour marathon and my training went really well – right up until the taper when I started to develop pain in both of my femurs.  As a result I found myself in an MRI just four days before the race. I had some swelling in the bone, but was cleared to run. I rested until the marathon, had a good 22 mile run and was on pace for that sub-4 time, but ended up limping through the last 5k and hobbled over the finish at around 4:22. Aside from the extremely disappointing last 3 miles, it was a good run and I learned a great deal about pacing and positive thinking.

The sub-4 hour marathon time is like that cute, popular boy in high school that would flirt with me but never ask me out on a date. At times the possibility feels so real to me I can taste it, but it has remained just out of my reach. In training for New York, rather than focus on a time goal, my coach had me run fewer miles and less often with the goal of getting me to the start line injury free. Even with this plan, I developed some shin pain in my left leg. With some last minute modifications and physical therapy we accomplished the goal of getting me to the start line feeling healthy, yet I felt under-trained. My mind wanted that sub 4-hour time, but I understood that my body may not be trained for it. All of the stars would have to align just perfectly. And in a race like New York, with the long wait before starting, the crowded course, and the bridges and multiple turns in the second half of the course, I wasn’t sure if I should attempt my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) on minimal marathon training.  Regardless, it was in the back of my mind.

I left my hotel room at 5:20 a.m. and took an Uber to meet my friend and teammate Sarah in midtown Manhattan. We waited in a very long line that wrapped around several blocks to catch a bus out to Staten Island.

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On the 90 minute bus out to Staten Island

Once we arrived in Staten Island we went through a security check (thanks NYPD for keeping us safe!) and then waded through the masses at the start village to find our starting waves. Sarah was wave 1 green and I was wave 2 orange.

My friend Jessica was also wave 2 orange so we had the pleasure of waiting in the corrals and starting together!

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At the start!

I will never forget standing at the start line and hearing and feeling the thunderous boom of the start cannon followed by “New York, New York” and thousands of runners climbing the Verrazano bridge to begin their 26.2 mile journey through New York’s five boroughs. It brought tears to my eyes.

As we started our run, a light rain began to fall. The first mile is a gradual uphill to the crest of the bridge with the second mile being a gradual downhill to the bottom of the bridge. This is the greatest elevation change of the entire race. My first mile was around a 9:30 something and my second mile was around an 8:30 something. My coach and I had discussed anywhere between 8:45-9:15 as a suggested marathon pace and I was trying to feel out what was comfortable, while keeping the pace reigned it. I did not want to run under a 9 minute per mile pace (with the exception of the downhill mile). I ran comfortably through Brooklyn and tried to relax and follow the runners in front of me while enjoying the crowds and the neighborhoods.

The day before the race I had the honor of hearing Meb Keflezighi speak. Before Meb spoke, Mary Wittenberg, the former race director for the New York City Marathon, also spoke. She gave a great overview of the course and some wonderful tips on course strategy. But the piece of advice that she gave that really stuck with me was this: “When I was the race director I used to always tell people to keep their heads down and run. But then I ran the race.” (Wittenberg did not actually run the New York Marathon until after her time as a race director.) “Now I tell people the exact opposite. The crowds are what make this race. Enjoy every moment. High five every child, every police officer.”

There are three start waves in the New York Marathon: orange, blue and green. The three colors run a slightly different course until mile eight in Brooklyn when all three colors merge. The merging caused a large bottleneck which was exacerbated by enthusiastic spectators that were migrating onto the race course. To make matters worse, the rain had picked up slightly making the roads slick. Suddenly, I was unable to run even a 9:30 pace without significant weaving or throwing elbows.

I tried to keep close to a 9 minute per mile pace in a effort to stay on track to finish in around 4 hours, but I found it extremely difficult. I was having to zig-zag in and out of runners, I slipped slightly on a GU packet, and ran up suddenly on a wheelchair participant that I was unable to see due to the crowds. I was also elbowed by another runner trying to jostle his way through the pack and witnessed a curse word laden fight between two runners, one of whom believed she had been wrongly shoved. It was not a pretty scene and it was not how I wanted the next 18 miles to play out. I could feel the frustration growing inside of me as my pace began slowing. And then I made a choice.

For the month prior to the marathon, I had struggled with finding happiness in my running. Filled with paranoia of recurring injury and fear of being too “slow,” my workouts had been marred with feelings of unworthiness and doubt. Instead of congratulating myself for showing up, I would beat myself up for not being good enough. This led to two of my workouts being cut short in the month leading up to the marathon due to my anxiety while running. Both my coach and my mental health therapist had expressed concerns to me about going into a race in the mental state I was in. I was not confident in my ability, not confident in my body’s health, and I was constantly beating myself up. I would try to relax and do positive visualization in the week prior to the marathon and end up in a panic. It was not good.

Before leaving for New York, I had written down all of my negative feelings about my running and the race and given them to my coach to destroy. I did not want them anymore. And in mile 8 in Brooklyn, I chose happiness. I chose running to build myself up, not beat myself down. I took Mary Wittenberg’s advice to heart. I high five’d all of the kids, thanked the police officers and volunteers and tapped on the signs in the crowd that said “Tap Here for Power!” When I saw my husband at mile 17, I stopped and gave him a big sweaty hug. After all, I was running THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON! I would never again have this chance in my life, so I better enjoy it and get the most out of it!

When I made that choice there was a small voice in the back of my head that wondered if I was somehow giving up, if I was making an excuse not to try my best, or if my coach would be disappointed in me. I quickly quieted that negativity and told those voices that choosing happiness is the best choice, the stronger choice. Mental strength is so important in running and in life and I was making a choice that would not only get me to the finish line healthy, but would also help me enjoy the experience along the way. Having a mind that can stay relaxed, focused and positive will help me post faster times when my body is physically ready.

I smiled my way through Brooklyn and Queens, enjoying the crowds and going with the flow. I enjoyed seeing the different neighborhoods, reading signs, listening to music. Running over the Queensboro Bridge was amazing: going from the silence, solitude and camaraderie with other runners to the loud cheering on First Avenue is something I will never forget. Around Mile 21 runners cross the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx back into Manhattan. When I crossed it there were two people at the top of the bridge with signs reading “Last Damn Bridge” and shouting “Really! It is!” It gave me a good laugh at a point during the race when I really needed one. I so appreciated all of the spectators who came out to cheer in the rain!

At Mile 22 I started to feel something tightening in my hip flexor. This is the point in the race and the point in my body when things started going south in my last marathon. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that this was not my story any longer, that I had left my fear and negativity with my coach, and continued running. Before I knew it, my mind drifted on to to the fact that I was running towards Central Park and towards the finish line! Turning into Central Park and the last two miles of the course in the park were probably my favorite part of the race. At that point, I knew I would finish, and finish running strong! Being able to run across the finish line and run across the finish line of New York — the same one that Meb, Shalane and Stephanie Bruce had crossed just a couple hours earlier — was absolutely amazing.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s 4 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds of not beating myself up mentally. Four hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds of choosing to race happy. Do I still want that sub-4? You bet I do! And when I get it, which I will, I will enjoy every bit of it. I will not feel disappointment because I ran a 3:59 and not a 3:57. I won’t get there by beating myself down. I will only get there by building myself up. One good choice at a time.

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When Almost is Good Enough: My California International Marathon Race Report

I completed my fall goal race today, the California International Marathon from Folsom to Sacramento. I trained for this race with the hope of breaking four hours. Until the past couple of weeks when a new leg issue started plaguing me, I believed it was possible. But these things happen and I arrived in Sacramento just thankful for the opportunity to be there and participate. Last night I sent my coach the following revised race goals:

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I started this morning nice and easy. My legs felt good! I lined up well behind the 3:58 pace group and told myself no matter how good I felt, I would not pass them until after the halfway point. When I started to think about my leg, I employed one of many distraction techniques.  I put my hand over my heart and thought about my running friends back home who cheered me on during so many of my workouts and were cheering me on then. I thought of my family. I looked at the beautiful scenery. I absorbed positive energy from other runners and spectators. I reminded myself of all of the strength training I did and told myself that my muscles were strong, that I was strong. I kept smiling, and I kept going.

One by one the miles ticked off. Effortlessly. I found myself inching closer and closer to the 3:58 sign and wanting to pass them, but reminded myself of my promise to hold back. I relaxed, stayed consistent, and enjoyed the view and each mile.

After the halfway mark I allowed myself to pass the 3:58 pacers and run my own race. I put my music in and looked forward to meeting my coach Gretchen at mile 15. She wouldn’t actually be at mile 15, but I had a mental plan to meet my coach and many of my running friends for one mile each during the race, and the first was Gretchen at mile 15. This strategy proved to be very effective. It not only gave me something to look forward to, but it kept me mentally present, running only the the mile I was in. I met Gretchen at the start of mile 15, listened to her words of encouragement, and followed her to the next mile where I met my next friend.

I have no idea how far ahead I pulled from the 3:58 pacing group but at some point just before mile 20 they caught back up to me. Also, around mile 18 or 19 the race started to get mentally tough. At mile 17 I was still smiling, having fun and running to the sidelines to Tap For Power on signs, but that stopped around 18 or 19 and then when the 3:58 pacers caught back up to me I started to worry. I felt like I had hit that inevitable late marathon slow down. I felt myself mentally starting to slide with thoughts of defeat trying to creep in.

At that point (and this happened a couple of times between 18-22), I remembered my commitment to myself, my coach, and my family. I remembered all of the hard work I had put in and what I came here to do. And at that point I thought “I commit. I will not give in, I will not give up. This is like my tempo runs. Hang on.” I focused on my breath, I focused on my form. I remembered Meb saying that he repeated the word “technique” in the later miles of Boston when he got tired, so I tried that. I thought of my coach Gretchen and her hard and beautiful effort at California International in the later miles when she qualified for the Olympic Trials. I focused on the next tree, the next street light, anything to keep me in the moment and to keep me from giving in. It was hard, I was hurting, but I was determined. I had a sub-4 marathon in my sights!

I used these techniques with success, as each mile (painful as it was) I found myself pacing close to a 9 min/mile and on my way to a sub-4 marathon. I passed the 22 mile marker and knew if I could do just four more of those, I would meet my goal. My leg was speaking to me, but I passed it off as late marathon muscle fatigue. “Hang in there, stick with the pacers and GO!” The pacers were women wearing pink, our running team’s signature color, so I pretended they were Boise Betties, which made it that much easier. I was hanging on for dear life.

At mile 23.5 I felt a sharp pain in my groin that radiated down my left leg all the way to my knee. I stopped to stretch it out and when I tried to start again, my body would not allow me to run. I hobbled to the finish, crossing the line in 4:22 something. I had to be assisted to the icing tent and am having a hell of a time walking.

With the way I feel now, I am so proud just to have finished. The race did not end how I ideally would have hoped, but I am so proud of my effort, I learned a ton, and I met so many wonderful people along the way. I ran a solid, consistent 23 miles, I finished the race, I had joy in my heart, met my revised race goals, and I am so thankful for the experience. I walk (well, hobble) away a wiser and stronger runner today. Thank you, California International Marathon. I’ll be back!

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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!)

 

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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Run Naked and Tune In to Your Internal GPS

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Earlier this fall I promised myself (and Coach G for accountability) that I would run the Turkey Day 5k “naked.” Don’t worry, no need to keep the kids inside (I left my streaking days behind in college) — I’m not talking about taking my clothes off, I’m talking about running sans GPS watch. Scary, right? How would I pace myself without technology? How would I do without knowing anything about my time? I’d heard some positive things about running without a GPS watch and was curious about trying it, but my type A personality is quite attached to glancing at my watch every so often while training and racing so I was not sure how I would do without it.

Coach Jenny Hadfield suggests that runners practice running without GPS devices so that we can tune into our own bodies and run at the pace our bodies are ready to run on any given day rather than becoming hyper focused on the number on the watch. While GPS watches are a valuable training tool, when overused they can prevent us from finding our internal GPS.  Hadfield created three “effort-based” zones that we can try to visualize when running:

  • Yellow Zone (Easy): You should be able to have a conversation and talk in full sentences.
  • Orange Zone (Moderate): You should still be able to talk, but only in one or two word responses.
  • Red Zone (Hard): You do not feel like talking when running in this zone. You need all of the oxygen you can get and do not want to use any of it for speaking. This is the anaerobic zone.

Coach Hadfield recommends that when racing a 5k experienced runners warm up in the yellow zone and split the race evenly between the orange and red zone. So with that in mind, I put painters tape over my Bia GPS sports watch and prepared to give running naked a try.  I pressed start on my watch, peeked under the tape to make sure it was running, put the tape down again and crossed over the start mat. I tried to find someone who seemed like he or she was running about my pace to pace myself off of, but that proved to be a difficult strategy. This might work in a longer race like a half or full marathon, but in a crowded turkey day 5k, it was just not possible.  I was surrounded by all types of runners. Fast runners, slow runners, families running together, a runner in jeans, and runners in costume. I tried to just run in a straight line as best I could and find some sort of groove without doing too much weaving in and out of other people.

The urge to peek underneath the tape was strongest during the first half mile or so.  I kept looking down at my watch only to see blue painters tape with the message “Run Happy!” written on top.  But how far had I gone? What was my average pace? My inquiring mind wanted to know! After glancing down at my wrist at least 27 times in the first 3 minutes of the race, my brain finally got the message that it was not going to get any answers there and I began to focus on other things like my footfalls and my breath. Ah, perhaps THIS is how you tune in to your body! I was breathing hard, but not too hard — Like I could speak in two or three word sentences. I was in the orange zone! Exactly where I should be. I focused on my breath and tried to pick up my pace ever so slightly every time I passed a mile or half mile marker.

The last mile, and particularly the last half mile, felt very intense. I did not want to talk at all, but when a teammate passed me I did use a little bit of my precious oxygen to cheer her on.  (Nice work, Emily!!) I was certainly in the red zone. I felt like I was slowing down and had to dig deep mentally to maintain my pace to the finish. I crossed the finish, stopped my watch, and looked around for my teammates. I did not see a timing clock at the finish line so I still did not know my race time. When I finally did peek underneath that painters tape, what did I see?  A 2 ½ minute PR!

Not only did I run my best 5k without looking at my GPS watch, but I also ran faster than I thought I was capable of running on that day. Had I looked at my watch and seen the pace I was running, I likely would have panicked, thinking thoughts like “Slow down! That’s too fast! You won’t be able to keep that up for the whole 5k!”  But by using the Coach Hadifield’s zone method I was able to go by feel and run the pace that my body was ready for on that day. And I surprised myself. So try running naked sometime. You might surprise yourself too!