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.

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.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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