What Are You Afraid Of?

I kicked off Boston Marathon training in January with an interval workout on the Portland waterfront. It was one of those perfect nights for running. Cool, dark, and windless. I used to run the waterfront at night all the time, but since starting a club and coaching a high school cross country and track team, it’s incredibly rare if I run alone at all. I found myself a little on-edge, partly because of the looming workout, and partly out of uneasiness. Will there be any other runners or cyclists out there? Will I attract attention? Will anyone bother me? It was my first workout back since running CIM in December, so no real expectations. This made it all the more surprising when I looked down at my watch during the first rep and it read 5:17/mile pace. It was only for a minute, but still! Maybe it was the hyper awareness of my surroundings and being alone, maybe it was the anticipation and excitement of running fast, but I felt ready to charge. As I worked my way up the ladder, with each interval increasing by a minute until reaching five minutes, my pace hovered in the upper 5:00/lower 6:00 range. Once I was actually out there running, I wondered what I had even been uneasy about. It’s just another night in Portland. There are people out and street lamps up and down the river. I repeated the entire sequence again, heading back the way I came, and that time I started even faster (5:15!) and managed to average sub-6:00 for even the longest interval. It was one of the best minute-based workouts I’d ever had. I felt great!

IMG_4986

The next week I had a four mile tempo run at half marathon effort. Another night run, this time at Hollister Trail on the Nike Campus. It was my first time running on that trail at night, and I was admittedly a little nervous. I had a headlamp, but what if I couldn’t see a root and tripped? What if there was a coyote lurking about? What if there was a creep hiding in the bushes somewhere waiting to grab me? I half-jokingly told my teammates at the nearby track to send for help if I wasn’t back in half an hour. I jogged over to the trail with the mindset of “no expectations, nothing to lose.” I clicked on my headlamp and took off at a quick, light clip. As I raced down the trail, any fear I had totally vanished. The trail was never far from the road, and I’ve run it a bajillion times–how was this any different? Who’s afraid of the dark? First mile, 6:04. Whoa! I told myself to relax and settle in. Second mile, 6:02. On the one hand, I felt like the effort was right around where it was supposed to be. On the other hand, those numbers scared me and I thought, you’ll never last. I backed off and the third mile was in 6:08. With just a mile to go, I gave it what I had and finished off with a 6:01. For the sake of comparison, my splits from the same workout early in my CIM training cycle (so, sometime in September) were 6:25, 6:25, 6:18, 6:17. To be able to hit low 6:00s at a similar effort felt unreal!

After those first two solid workouts, I thought about the possibilities of the season, and Boston, and how the reality of some of my long term goals seemed to finally be unfolding. I vowed to be unafraid of the faster paces, to lean into them, and not to back off out of fear for how bad I might feel later in the workout.

Then it all got harder. A week later had a workout alternating 10K pace and half marathon pace. I was all over the place. My 10K pace was too slow, my half pace too fast. Two weeks later, I had a six mile tempo run. I was so excited to try and nail 6:00/mile pace for that workout. If I felt relatively good for four miles, what could I accomplish if I really dug deep for six miles? In the end I averaged 6:15 and it felt terribly difficult. It was a blow after things had started so well in the beginning of the season. On the upside, it was my fastest six mile tempo ever. Progress, still.

The next week I had mile repeats (five to be exact), and for the first time this season, I performed worse than I had in the past. Last season I’d averaged 5:52 over the same workout. This time I managed 5:55. In the aftermath of that humbling workout and feeling quite disappointed in myself, I did my best remember, and accept, that the path to success is never a strictly upwards trajectory. Maybe part of hitting those great paces early in the season was that my legs were fresh. Maybe it helped that I had no real set expectations and put no pressure on the workouts. Leading up to that point, and still, the weekly mileage has accumulated, the long runs have gotten longer, the overall workload greater. I’ve been craving more and more sleep, more food, more everything. My legs were, and still are, tired.

Last week I set out for yet another tempo on Hollister trail- this time, 8 miles at half marathon effort. After two weeks of setting big expectations and being disappointed, I just ran. First mile was a little hot in 6:08, but then I settled in and found a groove. 6:14, 6:14, 6:10. The second half was where I had to come to terms with being in true discomfort. There were many times I bargained with myself or thought of quitting. I had started the workout when it was light out, but with every 1 1/2 mile loop around the trail, the sky, the trees around me, and the ground in front of me turned a shade darker. 6:17, 6:15, 6:19. The last mile was totally in the dark, and that time I had no headlamp. I searched desperately for the wooden posts marking every 400m, afraid I’d totally miss them. I picked up my feet to dodge any unseen dips or roots in my path. I allowed myself to care and push a little more, even though the pesky little voice in my head kept asking me why I bothered at all. Final mile, 6:12. Average pace, 6:13. Ever so slightly faster than two weeks before, and two whole miles longer.

At the end of the week, this past Saturday, I entered in a 3K race in an indoor track meet at Boise State University. The track was on a raised platform as if it were a stage, curved up at the sides, with absolutely nowhere hide. I felt relatively confident going into the race, though I got a pang of nerves as I was ushered to the start line and squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder with twenty other women. We clamored for place as the gun went off, elbows flying and spiked shoes perilously close to the next limbs ahead. I hung on for two or three laps, when the entire field began to put a gap on me. 12 laps remained, and I was running alone. Hundreds of people were watching. Pride called for me to step off the track and be done with it; pride also kept me going. I finished a full lap behind the other women. The stadium was painfully quiet during that final solo lap, but for the sound of my footsteps.

Following the meet, I set out to run a long, long cool down to make my goal of 20 miles total for the day. I was still marathon training, after all. I ran through little neighborhoods and winding roads up and up into the foothills shadowing the city. I discovered some trails snaking through the desert-like terrain all the way up to the snow line. I was treated to a beautiful peachy sunset and was tempted to go even farther up to a lookout, before sense told me it would be very dark soon, and being in the mountains alone at night wasn’t an awesome idea. I finished out the run through some more neighborhoods on the hillside, passing by windows of families cozy at home gathering around their dinner table or television, and felt proud of myself for putting myself out there on the track despite having a truly awful race, and for being independent enough to travel and run and explore new places on my own.

The role fear plays in my life–our lives–has especially been on my mind lately. There have been countless times in this training cycle, such as simply the act of running in the dark, or the fear of failure, or fear of embarrassment, could have gotten in the way of an opportunity to grow. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now I’ll put on a brave face, keep putting myself out there in the face of failure or disappointment, and have faith that all the hard work will get me where I want to go.

What I’m Looking For: CIM Recap

Two weeks since running CIM, yet I’ve barely been able to stop. On the one hand, that race was everything. Not a day went by in 2018 when I didn’t think about the impending journey from Folsom to Sacramento. On the other hand, it was just another Sunday in the swirl of work and general busyness. Time management has never been my forte, yet somehow I just barely squeeze it all in, imperfections be damned. If marathoning is any sort of reflection on life, that was the picture I painted with this one.

IMG_5725-2

Folsom

Curled up in an aisle seat of one of the hundred or so school buses parked by the start line, I stared straight ahead at the stretched vinyl of the seat ahead of me and let out a slow exhale. The guy next to me in the window seat removed one of his earbuds, smiled at me, and asked, “Nervous?” “Yes.”

It was a chilly morning, crisp and clear, and I wasn’t going to leave that heated bus until it was absolutely necessary. Once my wristwatch read 6:35AM (the race would begin at 7:00AM), it was go-time. I wished my seat buddy good luck, hopped off the bus and jogged into the frigid air under a still-dark sky.

In a sea of strangers, I was lucky enough to spot some familiar, friendly faces in Chloe, Grant, and Dominique, all friends I’ve met through the running circuit in Portland. I remembered that Grant and Dominique had a similar goal time, so I planned to find them at their meeting spot by the 3:00 hr pace group in the starting corral. Little did I know, the only entrance into the start corral was from the very back! The gun would go off in about ten minutes, and there I was (along with many other frantic runners) clamoring my way toward the front of the pack as if I was trying to battle my way toward the stage at a sold out Taylor Swift concert. I finally made it to about ten feet behind a sign reading “3:00” before the runners were so packed in it was impossible to squeeze through any more. Thankfully I found Grant, but we were unable to spot Dominique.

I crouched down in the minuscule space I could call my own to retie my shoes. I finally removed the old sweatshirt I’d been wearing as a “throwaway” warm up and tossed it over the center barrier (it would be collected and given to a charity later).  I placed my hand over my thumping heart for the singing of the national anthem. A growing chorus of runners sang along. One more exhale. We were off.

The Race

I was in no rush at the start and just allowed the first couple miles to unfold. I knew there would be a right angle turn early on, and positioned myself on the outside of the curve as to not get tangled in the mess of legs. Grant and I ran side by side.

Mile 1 – 6:51
Mile 2 – 6:48

At first I thought I would settle in with the 3:00 hr pace group, but it was a mob. Maybe 50-100 people. The sheer sound of footsteps was nothing short of thunderous. I couldn’t see the ground in front of me and had to get out. The crowd had settled on the left side of the road, and I was running on the shoulder in the thick of it. I weaved deftly forward and to the right, trying to waste as little energy as possible, until making my way to the right side of the road, finally able to breathe, and nothing but clear views ahead. A few seconds later Grant caught up and said, “Wow, you’re good at that!”

Mile 3 – 6:36

After that I settled into a groove. It occurred to me around 4-5 miles that nothing was bothering me. I spent much of this season rehabbing from a tendon strain near my ankle. It never truly went away, the pain always somewhere around 2-3 on a scale of 1-10. But that day I felt nothing. I had a perfect, working ankle, with a low mileage training cycle, a whole lot of rehab with Vince at North Lake PT, Rachel at Tangelo, Amy & Olivia at Athena, Tracey & Ivy at Katona Pilates, and two weeks of tapering to thank.

Mile 4 – 6:41
Mile 5 – 6:48
Mile 6 – 6:47

It was somewhere around here that Grant started to pull away and I didn’t go with him. I wasn’t sure how I felt so early in the game, with 20 miles ahead.

Mile 7 – 6:48
Mile 8 – 6:51
Mile 9 – 6:57

I was feeling pretty good though still a little unsure at this point. Every time I slowed down just a hair, there would be a rumble of footsteps encroaching on me–the three hour pace group. For the past four years I’d been trying and failing to better my personal record of 2:59:22, and just behind me was a very real representation of that monkey on my back.

Mile 10 – 6:45
Mile 11 – 6:43
Mile 12 – 6:58

A few steps forward, a small step back. Again, the dull roar of footsteps crept up behind me. No. I wasn’t having it. A mantra entered my head which is too inappropriate to post here, but the more polite version would be, “Away with this noise!” I pulled away from the pace group, sailed across the timing mats at the halfway point, and glanced at my watch. 1:29:26. Time to go.

Mile 13 – 6:50
Mile 14 – 6:40
Mile 15 – 6:42
Mile 16 – 6:45
Mile 17 – 6:35

It was during this stretch that I finally felt like I could tell myself, “I’m doing this.” It was all happening. My body felt good, I had a ton of energy, and I’m pretty sure endorphins were kicking in all over the place because I felt high as a kite.

Mile 18 – 6:50
Mile 19 – 6:47

For as good as I’d felt in the miles past the halfway point, it was around 18-19 that the fatigue started kicking in. I can’t pinpoint exactly what felt bad. Nothing felt bad. I was just tired. I’d taken a Honey Stinger gel at mile 5 and another at mile 10. I knew I should take another one, so I did, but it wasn’t easy. The simple act of tearing the tab off the capsule seemed an awfully arduous task. I’d been taking water or electrolytes at every aid station (as was the plan). The intake of calories combined with the fatigue was just making me feel super nauseous.

Right around that point I saw my Rose City Track Club teammates who gave me big cheers, were holding a giant pink RCTC sign, and Shasta one of my best buds gave me the biggest smile and just looked so excited. It was exactly the lift I needed.

Then, somewhat cruelly, at the 20 mile mark there was a giant inflatable arch made to look like bricks with a giant banner reading “THE WALL” that the runners had to go through. Perhaps it was meant to be a morale boost, like, “break through the wall!” But to me it was a like an announcement saying “Here is the dreaded wall marking 6.2 miles of torture ahead! Good luck with that!”

I took my lap split one more time.

Mile 20 – 6:53

From there, I vowed to not look at my watch again and to just run as fast as I could. That’s all I could do. No energy wasted. 10K to go. Just get to the Capitol Building in downtown Sacramento. Every step forward was another step closer.

A few days before, my coach Greg and I talked about a game plan going into the race. I would be “nice Liz” at the start and cruise through the hills and get to the halfway point feeling comfortable. But then once mile 20 hit, I’d unleash “Black Friday Liz.” BFL! We knew there would be carnage from those chasing faster times in that final 10K and I’d be picking off as many as possible.

I summoned another burst of energy. A pack of runners that had gotten away from me around middle miles were starting to come back.

According to Strava data:
Mile 21 – 6:47
Mile 22 – 6:49
Mile 23 – 6:55

It wasn’t really that I was going faster, but many other runners were beginning to fade. At that point I had to create so many mental tricks to keep going. What helped me the most was thinking back to my many long runs on Sauvie Island in Portland. When I’d hit the 20 mile mark at CIM, I told myself, “Wow, that’s only half a loop on Sauvie! I’m so close!” When I got to the 23 mile mark, I told myself, “Okay, pretend that you just made it back to the parking lot, but you have to add on 3.2 miles. That’s just 1.6 miles out, 1.6 miles back. Treat it like a progression run. Just maintain to the turnaround then finish strong.” This was all imaginary, of course, but visualizing those familiar check points really helped break down the rest of the race into manageable portions.

Mile 24 – 6:58
Mile 25 – 7:08

My plan to not look at my watch sort of backfired, in hindsight. I had no idea I was running that slow. That’s not to say had I known, I would have run faster. Who knows? I’d also just like to say “run brain”, as many like to call it, is tricksy, farce, and apparently makes you mildly delusional. My thinking in those later miles was “Wow, I feel surprisingly good this late in the game. I’ve got 2:58 in the bag. Maybe even 2:57! How low can I go? Better start composing a tearful, self-congratulatory speech now!”

At the 40K mark I did some quick math- add 2K worth of time to the current clock time. Okay, say I run a 6:50 mile, that’s 1600ish meters. Add a 400 to that for 2000, that’s one lap around the track, maybe call that another 100 seconds just to be safe. How, or why, I was calculating anything at that point is beyond me (just run, idiot!), but what I did conclude was that I was far behind where I needed to be and had to HURRY UP!!

I made so many promises to myself in that last 2K. You never have to do this again. No more marathons ever. Call it your swan song. I don’t care anymore. You don’t have to care.

Sacramento

I saw the familiar royal blue of Grant’s Portland Running Co singlet just ahead. Get to Grant. He went with me. We tore toward the capitol side by side. Ahead of the final turn they separated women to the left, men to the right, and just like that he was gone. I kicked an ugly kick toward that finish chute, crossed the finish mat unceremoniously, and peered down hesitantly at my watch a second later. I told myself I didn’t care, but the truth is I was prepared to be pretty crushed, again. I did it, by a hair. 2:59:18 on my watch, and later 2:59:17 on the official results. Five seconds better than my best from 2014. I buried my face in my hands and stumbled down the finisher zone, half in shock and half in a daze. After a year filled with anticipation and many years of heartbreak, I finally found what I was looking for–hope, relief, and finally a step forward.

I found my friends Fionna and Carissa in the finish chute. They were chasing the Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying standard of 2:45:00 or better. I tentatively asked, “How did you do?” Instead of responding they asked, “How did YOU do?” “I did it! I PR’ed…” and then I couldn’t help myself, “Did you do it?” “We did it.” “YOU DID IT!!!” We gave each other huge hugs. I couldn’t have been happier for them. They trained hard together all season for that goal and they both made it by a long shot, with minutes to spare. Then I suddenly realized how horrible I felt and had to politely excuse myself to go puke. The humanity!

IMG_5916
Thailyr, Dominique, Myself, Marla, and Grant

Little by little I found my friends and teammates; those that ran and those that had come to cheer. We exchanged race stories and took photos. There were tears of joy and tears of heartbreak. I noticed that every marathoner finishers’ lips had turned blue and we should probably get inside before we all got hypothermia. My teammate Ashley brought me a cup of hot soup and it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. And just like that, a very long chapter finally came to a close.

Postlude

I wrote the following caption on an Instagram post but thought I’d share it here as well.. a glimpse of what’s next.

When I met you I was blown to pieces
Heart all over the floor
Ever since you put me back together
I can’t believe it, won’t believe it, uh!
Look what I found

This song (Look What I Found from A Star Is Born – yes I am super basic – also it is a great song) has been in my head on repeat since CIM. I found what I’m looking for in Sacramento. A small step forward after seemingly a million steps backward. The dream is still alive. Next stop- Boston Marathon in April, with the goal of placing as high up as possible. Winter in Portland is just beginning. Lots of dark, cold, rainy days ahead. Let’s do this thing.

The Twisty Turny Road to CIM

My pursuit of marathon greatness has been a tumultuous path, to say the least. I began 2018 in an upward swing, running one PR after another in the mile, 5K, 10K, and half marathon. I had a seemingly perfect build up to the Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in June, pictured above, only to have a bad day for what seemed like no reason at all. I shook it off and spent the remainder of the summer “playing” at running, entering just-for-fun races like the Portland vs Seattle Relay (we won!), the off-the-grid urban race Take the Bridge Portland (I got 2nd!), Ragnar Relay NW Passage (we won!), and the Dual Duel 10K on the track (I won!). I spent a nice chunk of time not running at all and road tripping around Norway, dreaming of what the next chapter might bring.

_DSF6466

California International Marathon, otherwise known as CIM, has been on my mind since the very beginning of the year. I started a handwritten running journal on January 1st and wrote out every single date leading up to race day on December 2nd, 2018. Official training began mid-August. Most of the focus was maintaining volume from the summer and incorporating tempo-style workouts once or twice per week. Every workout was hard. Every workout I doubted myself, but found some way to play little mind games, convincing myself to try just another lap, just another mile–just get to the finish! Every workout went really really well. My pacing wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, but I didn’t worry too much about that because it was still early in the season. I was still able to maintain or better my pace from the beginning to the end of the workout, each time. Below is a quick snapshot of my training.

14 weeks out:
48 total miles
Fartlek – 1 min/2 min/3 min/4 min/5 min w/2 min rest x 2. 6:20-6:40ish pace
14 miles on Sauvie Island w/12 miles @ 6:45

13 weeks out:
62 total miles
4 mile tempo – 6:25, 6:25, 6:18, 6:17
16 miles on Crown Zellerbach Trail w/14 miles @ 6:50

12 weeks out:
56 total miles
1 Mile @ 10K rp on the track / 4 min. rest / 4 mile tempo on Hollister Trail / 4 min. rest / 1 mile @ 10K on the track – 5:56, 6:20, 6:19, 6:20, 6:20, 5:52
16 miles around the waterfront w/14 miles @ 7:03

11 weeks out:
65 total miles
6 mile tempo on Hollister Trail – 6:22, 6:22, 6:21, 6:20, 6:20, 6:20
18 miles progressive on Wildwood Trail from Lower Macleay @ 8:23 (1,781ft of climbing)

10 weeks out:
18 total miles
5 x 1 mile @ 10K rp on the track w/400 rest – 5:53, 5:53, 5:54, 5:53, 5:51.

Annnd kerplunk. I woke up the next morning hobbling out of bed, my ankle sore and throbbing. I had noticed a bit of stiffness in the days leading up to then, but had thought nothing of it. I consulted a doctor right away and she told me in a matter-of-fact way that it was likely a stress fracture. That quick conclusion put me in a pretty dark state for the next 24 hours. A stress fracture would mean a TON of time off to heal, and I would have pretty much had to say goodbye to the goals I was chasing in the near future. I engaged in a whole lot of negative self talk. How could I have been so stupid to want more? How could I have been so selfish? Who was I to think I was capable of reaching for crazy big goals? I got caught in a downward spiral of self-loathing and a whole lot of melodrama.

The very next day I went in for an x-ray, a different doctor poked and prodded around my anklebone, and said, “Ehh, this doesn’t appear to be a bone thing, I think your muscles/tendons are just a little irritated”. And that was that! I took a bit of time off to let things calm down and have been getting a whole lot of help from Vince Blaney at North Lake PT and Rachel Wysocki at Tangelo to get back on track.

9 weeks out:
16 total miles
6.4 mile long run (sad!)

My first thought after two weeks of very little running was that CIM was over. I didn’t want to run a marathon if I wasn’t adequately prepared going into it. I’ve done that at Boston twice and New York once- each of which I was coming off of an injury going into the training cycle, starting from zero. Those races were not pretty, however neat to take part in. However, several people that I trust, including my coach Greg, thought I still had the capability to run well at CIM with this setback, and that I shouldn’t be so quick to write it off. Unlike Boston/NYC, I would not be starting from scratch. 2018 has been a really successful year with lots of PRs. I’ve already had some really good long runs and workouts in this current training cycle. There were still eight weeks left until CIM when I was having these conversations of “should I, shouldn’t I?” Still a solid amount of time. I wasn’t totally convinced that I’d be ready (I’m not still not convinced), but I decided I’d try my best. I proceeded to train with every intention of racing CIM.

So here’s where I’ve been since this whole weird ankle thing:

8 weeks out:
30 total miles
5 x 500m @ 10K pace then 5 x 500m @ 5K pace – 1:50, 1:50, 1:49, 1:49, 1:50 / 1:47, 1:44, 84 (400m whoops!), 1:45, 1:45
Portlandathon 5 mile – 30:43, 6:08/mile, 1st place. Felt comfortable and like I could have pushed more. Faster than my early season tempo runs!

7 weeks out:
33 total miles
10 miles ‘midweek long’, avg 7:59
16 miles hilly around Lake Oswego, avg 8:09

6 weeks out:
39 total miles
5 x 2K @ threshold pace – 7:37, 7:36, 7:37, 7:36, 7:31 (6:06/mile pace)
18 miles flat along Venice Beach/Santa Monica, HOT, avg 7:23

So, the good: my fitness seems generally fine. The bad: my overall volume is super low. I would feel better having a few really successful long runs with marathon pace miles thrown in, and speed work back in the sub-6:00/mile pace. There’s still time for all of that. My ankle is steadily getting better. I need more days of rest than usual between the harder efforts. Ultimately I want to give myself a chance at CIM. I would much, much rather take advantage of the likely great weather, advantageous course, and running with a ton of my Rose City Track teammates on a hype-filled weekend in Sacramento, opposed to waiting a little longer and running some mid-winter marathon by myself, consequently throwing a wrench in my 2019 plans which include Boston Marathon(!) in the spring.

I’m reminding myself that no marathon training cycle is perfect, and even when everything goes to plan, it can still be a crapshoot on race day. Perfect training doesn’t equal perfect execution. Maybe the obstacles thrown my way now will make me more resilient in the long haul. I know I’m better than my current marathon PR which is almost four years old. It seems worth it to give it my very best shot.

Go Fast, Take Chances: Tenacious 10 Recap

My spring racing season has been full of near misses. In February, I set a mile goal of 5:20 and crossed the line in 5:25. In March, I set out to break 38:00 in the 10K and finished in 38:07. From there, I was determined to run sub-18:00 in the Shamrock 5K (way off at 18:30), then tried again at the Carlsbad 5000 and came painstakingly close in 18:01.

IMG_9325

In a knee jerk reaction, I signed up for a 5K on the track in April with the plan of clicking off perfect, even splits to reach 17:59 or better. The skies were angry that day, delivering face-pelting rain and a steady 25mph wind. I finished in 18:19, but I knew the slower time wasn’t simply because of the weather, but my defeatist attitude before the race even began. I spent the cool down with my RCTC teammates Shasta and Fionna fighting back tears, and eventually stopping to ugly-cry for a few moments. I was so frustrated and disappointed in myself. As Steve Magness put it, “When stress and fatigue are at their highest, there is no faking your way through it. No putting on a facade. You don’t have enough energy or willpower to maintain a mask of how you’d like to be perceived. It’s all raw and it’s all real.”

IMG_9196.JPG
In the midst of a frustrating 5K on the track! Photo: Alex DeCino

On the upside, over the next few weeks I knew I was getting fit. It hadn’t taken me long to recover from Carlsbad or the 5K on the track, whereas in the beginning of the year I’d feel sore for almost a week following races. Workouts and long runs were going along like clockwork, and when going in for a routine sports massage, rather than listing all the things ailing me that needed attention, I found myself saying, “Actually, I’m feeling pretty good!”

Going into the Oiselle Tenacious 10K last weekend, my plan was to take another stab at that sub-38:00. 6:06 per mile. 37:30-ish would be better, as that would coincide effort-wise with my half marathon goal at Eugene the next weekend, but I wasn’t feeling greedy. 37:59 would be just fine!

I carpooled up to Seattle the day before the race with Theresa, a fellow Volée runner from Portland. It was our first time getting to hang out and we bonded over our love for Broadway musicals, cats, and Chipotle. We arrived in time to catch 2x Olympian / World Champs Silver Medalist Kara Goucher do a talk and Q&A at the Oiselle Flagship Store. I always love hearing Kara speak, plus it was fun learning about her game plan for the Tenacious 10–she hadn’t raced in a while and planned to test her fitness in the 10 miler. She also revealed one of her big goals for later this year, which I won’t repeat here, but I was really happy to hear she’s back in action. One memorable takeaway from the talk came from someone asking what Kara’s favorite recovery tool or method was. She answered right away, “Sleep.” It was an excellent reminder that no fancy gadgets in the world can replace the benefits of sleep!

IMG_9296
Kara and me!

Later that evening we attended a pre-race talk with 2x US 5K Champ Lauren Fleshman. She spoke on some of her best experiences as an athlete, describing in great detail her zeroed-in focus while waiting to grab the baton in a high school Distance Medley Relay, before running the 1600 of her life and sealing the win for her team. She is a great storyteller. She then prompted everyone to think through their game plan for the race the next day. She had us imagine how we wanted to feel after crossing the finish line. Words such as “free” and “elated” were tossed out, and honestly the only word I could think of was “pain”! It’s not that I desire pain, but I did want to envision myself feeling like I had given my very best effort. She also said that she likes to break up her race into sections, or acts. With Lauren’s prompt, I emulated her game plan for miles 1-4 to be Act I (smooth sailing), mile 5 as Act II (lean into it, focus), and mile 6 as Act III (all heart). Someone asked if she had a mantra, to which she responded, “I’m DOING this!”

I stayed the night in a big house with a bunch of runners including Theresa and several Haute Volée (Oiselle’s pro/emerging athletes). On the one hand, I felt sheepish about my ambitions as most everyone there was much speedier than me. On the other hand, it was inspiring to be in the company of so many accomplished women going after big goals of their own. My roommate Rebecca, an 800/1500 specialist, said she planned to run around six minute miles for the 10K. I said “Oh! Maybe I could try to hang with you,” and she just looked straight at me and said something along the lines of, “You could TOTALLY run six minute pace. You could run faster than six minute pace!” like it was no big deal at all. Easier said than done- but I appreciated her belief in me!

The morning of the race started super relaxed. I was the first to rise and grabbed some coffee, had my traditional Honey Stinger waffle topped with peanut butter, and settled in with a good book. Then I’m not sure if it was the caffeine or the nerves creeping in or both, but by the time I had gotten ready I was bouncing off the walls. I piled into the car with Theresa, Rebecca, Lauren, and Erin (aka Jungle Chicken) and we were off!

Whatever nerves I had mostly began to vanish as we entered the beautiful Gasworks park. I immediately recognized some familiar faces then suddenly it was like one big running family reunion. I almost forgot I was there to race! I ran half of my warm up with a big group of women including Carrie Mack from Bend, who commented how great it was just to have fellow runners to warm up with.

As the start time approached, my nerves started right back up again. Why am I even standing toward the front? I don’t belong here! What if I trip on those train tracks? What if I come up seconds short of my goal AGAIN? Lauren, standing nearby with her pacer sign for the 7:00/mile group, must have noticed my internal freakout because she zipped right over, gave me a big hug, and said “We’re DOING this!” Ahh I’m doing this!!

The starting horn sounded and just like that I was flying among a wave of colorful, winged singlets. I told myself, “Be cool, be cool, be cool” as to not get swept away in the hype of the first mile. I settled in at a quick-but-not-too-quick pace with Rebecca and Hannah Calvert, who had a similar goal of 6:00ish per mile, close by. Perfect! I peeked at my GPS watch which read we were around 5:50 pace, a little fast, but I felt good and was able to check off the “smooth sailing” box as part of my Act I.

Just up ahead, I noticed, was Kara (she was running the 10 miler, which had a simultaneous start) and maybe 4-5 guys who were probably very pumped to be running with her. I was already a little ahead of pace, but I thought, “Hmm, which is better- falling back a tad to keep a more manageable pace, or picking it up just a hair and running with this big pack, not to mention Kara Goucher??” Over the next mile I did my best to reel them in little by little. We went through the two mile mark in 11:45, so around 5:52 pace.

I settled in with the pack and did my best to zone out and just run smoothly and comfortably. I could tell the pace was getting a little hot for me, but it seemed like too good of an opportunity to not keep rolling with them. We went through mile three at 5:50 and by then I was starting to huff and puff. Maybe I could have rolled the dice and kept going, but I feared completely blowing up in the later miles so I backed off a bit. The runners were beginning to string out. Carrie zoomed by me, hung with the group for a bit, then broke away from them like a bandit. Lyndy Davis, stud runner from Portland, was just ahead and I thought, “Just stick with Lyndy!” I tried to hang with her for a little bit, but again eased off the pace feeling like I was in uncharted territory. Mile four in 6:05.

That 6:00+ mile was a wake up call. I was entering the fifth, and arguably the hardest mile of the race. As my coach Greg would say, anyone can run a fast final mile- it’s the second to last mile that you have to work for. I had NO idea how fast I was running. I kind of stopped looking at my watch. I just knew I was slowing down, and if I let up any more, that sub-38:00 would slip out of reach yet again. Lyndy was getting farther and farther away, but I did everything I could to keep her in sight.

IMG_9315.jpeg
Around mile 5ish with Lyndy up ahead! Photo: Lynn Carlson

I approached the Fremont Bridge which lead back to Gasworks park, where the finish would be. I heard footsteps coming up behind me- it was Rebecca! I said something like “Good job, let’s go,” and as she went by me she simply said, “Relax your shoulders.” It was a small thing, but something manageable I could do. I relaxed my shoulders. It helped.

unnamed
Rebecca just after passing me – notice my look of desperation directly into the camera!

I entered the final act, mile six and beyond. All heart. The finish line was near and I stuck with the plan, running with all heart knowing each second could count. I crossed the line feeling exactly as I had imagined- totally spent.

IMG_9499.JPG
Final stretch! Photo: Heather McWhirter

What I didn’t expect when I looked down at my watch was to see a number starting with 36- 36:44 to be exact! My first thought was that something wasn’t right- maybe I’d cut part of the course or something funky had happened with my watch. Then I thought about my quick splits in the early miles and how I closed as fast as I could. Not a mistake! When the realization actually set in I was in total glee. I found Theresa, who had also run a huge PR of 34:52 and placed 4th in a very competitive field. We hugged and couldn’t stop exclaiming how psyched we were.

Image-1.png
We did it! Photo: Heather McWhirter

We rounded up and took some photos at the finish line, and cheered on runners as they finished before heading out for our cool down. I was inspired to see Oiselle founder + CEO Sally Bergesen crushing it down the homestretch, finishing in 40:50 and sealing the masters win. I didn’t get to see Kara finish, but saw later that she won the 10 Mile handily in 58:16.

IMG_9322.JPG
From left: Theresa, Lyndy, me, Rebecca, Carrie, and Mel (the 10K winner!) Photo: Zach Klonoski

Reflecting on this race and how it went down, I am still a little bit in shock. That was literally the best race of my life. I tend to set high goals and expectations for myself, as if every race were destined to be an “A+” day (which, as any runner knows, rarely happens). But my takeaway was that this breakthrough hugely came down to belief. Throughout the race I kept waffling between the feelings of “I don’t belong here,” to “Of course I belong here!” in the context of everything from what the numbers on my watch read to the people I was running with. It’s scary to let go of what you think you can do and just “do.” It also helps to be surrounded by strong, confident women that believe in each other- I said it last week, but it’s amazing what women can accomplish together.

My next race, the Eugene Half Marathon, is tomorrow morning. A week or two ago I posted very publicly my long term goal of qualifying for the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials. The qualifying standard is 2:45:00, or 6:17 per mile. Before I can even think of attempting that down the line, I want to at least run that pace for a half marathon- hence my goal for Eugene: 1:22:30. My best is 1:24:54 from the 2016 Corvallis Half. If I have another A+ day, maybe I can knock it out of the park. My ultimate goal is to run within myself, prove I can hold that pace, and run with all heart heading down that homestretch at Hayward Field.

A Little Bit Closer: Carlsbad 5000 Recap

Early Saturday morning, the day before the Carlsbad 5000, I drifted in and out of sleep. I dreamt I was crossing the finish line over and over again and the giant digital clock would read 18:29, 18:30, 18:31. Each time I woke up I thought, phew, it was just a dream. See, I flew down to Carlsbad, California this weekend with a big goal of finishing under the 18 minute mark. Anything higher was quite literally my personal nightmare.

That day I visited the race expo with my friends Shasta and Alex to pick up our bib numbers and enjoy the city. The nerves I had felt the night before started to fade as we took pictures, lazed in the sun drinking smoothies, ran a course preview, took a dip in the hot tub back home, and later that night made a family dinner of spaghetti with red sauce and garlic bread.

Sunday morning, the day of the race, I had a very similar reoccurring dream, but that time the clock read 17:56, 17:57, 17:58 and I would squeak by the finish line just in time. Each time I would wake up and think, omg yes, I did it! then seconds later have the realization that I hadn’t actually accomplished anything and the task was still ahead.

IMG_8974
Stopping to smell the roses before our warm up.

I took it as a good omen and felt super optimistic about the day. I woke up with lots of energy, the sky was clear and the temperature was cool, and during the warm up with Shasta my legs felt fresh and ready to go. We joined the throng of 30-somethings at the start line (each age group got their own separate race) and made sure to get a spot right near the front.

IMG_8991
Pre-race power stance!

My plan was to be gutsy and go out in a 5:35-5:40 mile. My approach at the start is typically really conservative, but after such a slow opening mile at Shamrock last week I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. I went out fast, and basically so did everyone else! The field was crowded with men and women combined, and I weaved around more than I probably should have. It was a little alarming not being able to see the pavement ahead of me at such a quick pace! As we turned the first corner and dashed under the iconic Carlsbad sign stretching across the road, I heard an announcer exclaim, “and here are our first women, 1-2-3!” I assumed there were at least several women between me and the top three, but I learned later that in fact, I was in third place.

IMG_8979
Getting out quick!

I went through the first mile in 5:37, just as planned. The crowd began to thin out and I relaxed the pace a little bit and tried to find my groove. We went around the first hairpin turn at mile 1.5 or so and I found a small group to run with – Orange Tank woman, Black Sports Bra Woman, and Blue Singlet Guy (above). As we approached the halfway point my breathing started to get wildly out of control and I slowed my pace even more. Blue Singlet Guy said, “Stay with us!” So I picked up the pace and surged a head a little bit. I knew my second mile would be slower, and it was–5:58. Eek!

There would be no option but to drive hard in the third and final mile if I wanted my dream goal. My breathing was getting ridiculous and I felt bad for anyone running near me that had to listen to it. I passed Black Sports Bra Woman, but Orange Tank Woman and Blue Singlet Guy were running strong and surging away. All the alarm bells in my body were going off and I felt a barely-resistible urge to fling myself off the road and into a shrub.

It’s inevitable in the late stages of any race that I’ll start to reason with myself, saying what time I finish in doesn’t matter, that I worked hard and did my best, and it’s okay if I try again another day. It would have been so easy to give up in that third mile, and it went against every natural instinct I had to keep fighting. I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to reach my goal, and how a little temporary pain was nothing compared to how meaningful a fast finish would be.

IMG_8987

I ran in seemingly slow motion to the final turn and fought with every step to the finish line. My friend Arlene from Dukes Track Club, who was cheering along the sidelines, told me later I was working so hard that my lips had turned white! Just like in my dream the digital clock ticked up and up – 17:57, 17:58, 17:59, and with a gasp and yelp I crossed over the timing mats. I thought maybe I had done it, but I was afraid to find out.

785041_272299696_Medium
Dying.

I reunited with Shasta, who finished in 18:17 (a PR by 21 seconds), and Alex who had been running around the course cheering and taking pictures. I bumped into Oiselle friends from all over, plus my friend Kimberly who I had roomed with at Kara Goucher’s Podium Retreat. It never ceases to amaze me how small the running world is.

IMG_8975-1
Podium retreaters reunited!

It would be a waiting game until we knew the results, so Shasta and I set off on our cool down which was also serving as that week’s long run. We caught part of the elite women’s race, ran along the coast, then I branched off to get in some extra solo miles as part of my marathon training (more on that in a bit). I reveled in the sunny, clear day and took in the scenery of dramatic cliffs and surfers dotting the waves. I didn’t know what to think of the race, other than that I had never worked so hard or hurt so bad. On the flip side, I was finding my stride again with each passing mile, clipping away at 7:30s and my muscle soreness fading away. I strode along blissfully in the unknown of my race result, disconnected from the world as I had left my phone behind, and fully enjoying the feeling of running with the sun on my face and wind to my back.

I finished with fifteen total miles for the day feeling thoroughly spent. The moment of truth would arrive, as I downloaded the race app on my phone and pulled up the unofficial results. 18:01. Soooo close. This made for the third time this year that I’ve narrowly missed a big goal by mere seconds. I’m proud of the way I ran, but I’m selfish and want so much more.

In a knee jerk reaction, later in the day I did a quick search for open track meets in Oregon and found that Linfield College (where I ran the Icebreaker 10K in March) is hosting a track meet including the 5000 in two weeks. I went ahead and signed up. I’m inclined to take a time trial-style approach in this attempt, aiming for steady 86 second laps until going for broke in the final 200. It’s on!

In other big exciting news, I’ve been accepted into the elite field at Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon on June 3rd! This will be my first Rock ’n’ Roll full marathon, which seems fitting as San Diego was the first-ever event of the series. I’m very excited to get out there and see what I can do. Other upcoming races on my calendar include the Oiselle Tenacious 10K and Eugene Half Marathon. Hope to see you out there! -L