Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Journey

On facebook I posed the question: "how does one become more competitive?" One answer flipped a switch in my head: "I think there is a natural mellowing out that happens when one get married and has kids." (sorry for excessive colon use.)

You might be thinking that that is not a particularly illuminating point. However, it got me thinking. Purposefully or not, I am constantly comparing myself to my training partners and competitors. If they run faster than me, they must be doing something or thinking better than me. What if, I am a mellow married mom who enjoys pushing myself and isn't a balls-out predator when I race. So what? Will that mean I will never reach my goals? No! Does that even mean I am actually underperforming right now? No! In fact, what if I am actually doing my best and racing and running very well for myself right now. What is the harm in self-acceptance? Nothing. Self-acceptance doesn't mean I am content to be a low 18 5k'er. I can go for improvement and still accept my racing style, my strengths and weaknesses and my self, generally.

It's easy to get sucked into this self-deprecating spiral during a hard training cycle. Miss an interval, or a milage goal, or a race dream time or whatever, and everything seems for nothing. The world stops. There is SOMETHING wrong with me if I don't do x, y or z. But there's not. We just are what we are and it can actually be ok!

On the advice of E, I read these two blog posts. One by Magdalena Lewy-Boulet and the other a response from Camille Heron. Both stressed the importance of tenacity. After my Johnnycake Jog disappointment I flirted for a brief second with bagging my running dreams. What was the point of all that hard training and butt-busting for 1 second? Mrp addressed my frustration and urged me on: "the difference between champions and everyone else is that the champions keep going after disappointment."

Tears welled up in my eyes as I typed that. I think I finally get it. I am not doing anything wrong. I'm just not there yet.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


It seems like all my life I've worked just hard enough to get an A- and then coast along content with being good, but not great. In law school I graduated in the top 6% of my class. That's really good, but I felt content with this and never felt compelled to go for the tippy top. In my jobs I was always content to be just a little better than I needed to be, but never went for the gold.

E and I jumped in a 5k last night. She won and I came in a close third (30 seconds behind E and 8 seconds behind second place). The local paper was there and interviewed us. I read the article this morning. I said I was happy to take third. Who says that?!

At the Johnnycake, there was the fast chick wave of finishers starting with NC and more or less ending with me in 7th place. The next finisher after me was over a minute back. Last night there were three of us up front and the next female runner after me finished 45 seconds after me. I'm seeing a trend: A-. I'm content to be in the back of the fast wave and unmotivated to go for the gold--that is until I'm rehashing the race! Then I berate myself for being a pansy. But I don't think I'm a pansy. I'm just accustomed and comfortable at the back of the top pack.

And even before these two races mrp has told me time and again that I need to become more competitive if I want to run to my potential. Coach G went on and on about the same thing after Johnnycake. Ok. Sounds easy. But how the heck to I go from the content A- girl to getting out there and going for the A? Any ideas, tips, suggestions? I need a running tutor!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Putting the Fun back in the Run

Looking back over the last few weeks of training, it is abundantly clear to me that I lost the fun in my running. Track workouts became chores. I dreaded tempos. Long runs were slogs. I had anxiety about when I could get my miles in. I had to treat myself to breaks to get through easy runs with the kids. Basically, I had to grit my teeth and get through these past few weeks when usually I can't wait to hit the road, track, treadmill, etc.

What happened?

As the temps increased and the goal paces decreased I simultaneously put more and more pressure on myself to nail my workouts. I was training with E for our track workouts and as she gained her strength back and had an easier time on the track, I had a harder time. When she pushed the pace, I felt like there was something wrong with me that I couldn't keep up and I would get frustrated and berate myself or give up. I did this even when I was actually meeting or even sometimes exceeding the goal paces, just because it felt like I was sucking when I couldn't keep up. Craziness!

It's easy in group track workouts to feel the need to a) keep up with everyone else and b) give in to the temptation to race a little. I wasn't doing this for the first few weeks, but before I knew it there I was doing everything I knew I shouldn't. I have a tendency to internalize everything and make mountains out of molehills and despite my best efforts I got sucked down that rabbit hole once again.

But, the Johnnycake race was a wake up call. It was a gift in disguise. I realize that running was not fun for a few weeks there and instead of focusing on nailing workouts and keeping up with E or anyone else for that matter, my goal right now is to put the fun back in the run. It seems counter-intuitive, but my problem is not a lack of hard work or passion. I have all the physical tools and most of the mental tools I need to race well and set big prs. What I'm missing is the lightness and joy that allows me to run free. When I put pressure on myself and high expectations it's like running under a heavy dark cloud that holds me back. So expectations are out the window. Goal times are just aspirational. I am going to focus on fun and joy and freedom and the escape that running provides me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Johnnycake One-step

Well, after a few steps forward that was one heckuva step back. Over the last few weeks I went from being certain I'd be in contention for money and sub-30 at the Johnnycake Jog along with E and CV to just making it to the starting line in one piece. I still had high hopes for a big 5 mile pr, and I will tell you that 1 second is not what I had in mind!

I should take a figurative step back and explain what's been going on. I'm training with E and NC much of the time and they are both very accomplished runners. They have both been rebuilding after spring marathon training which has provided me an opportunity to keep up with them. It's been great! But the downside is that lately, as the training paces have dropped and the temps have risen, I find myself struggling mightily to hang on. I've dropped out of track intervals and tempos or struggled to run way slower than prescribed. It's tough after weeks of nailing every workout and tougher when everyone around me seems to be running faster and faster. It's all perception. I know. Yet, it's a struggle.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to say about yesterday's race. When I was running I felt like I was working hard, but when I didn't even feel like I raced. During the race I felt like I was racing and focused, but afterwards I remember a few things that maybe suggest there were some things I could have done differently. Given 24 hours to reflect, I realize I was running scared (and tired, but when is that not the case during the middle of a training cycle!) I was in self-preservation mode: I told myself I was racing, when really what I was doing was running safely hard and protecting myself from blowing up.

It was scorching hot and humid as we waited on the line. I was petrified to go out too fast and was worried I was going to die in the heat and humidity. I also insisted on not using the garmin and just using time splits. I went out a little behind E and watched her gap me nicely and then let 2 women who I should at least be able to run with pull ahead of me by the mile marker. I told myself they would come back to me and that I needed to run my own race. Looking back I think I was being stubborn and not pushing myself hard enough. I think when I race again I need to see my first mile pace on the garmin to set the proper tone for the race. I ran out in 6:07 when my plan was 5:55-6:00. I notice that I can get myself into a pace groove and it just depends on where I start. 6:07 felt hard, but a 6:00 wouldn't have felt much harder probably. Maybe I would have blown up, but at least I would have tried and set myself up to possibly achieve my goals. Running a disappointing safe race is not exactly a better option than blowing up!

For the second mile I let the women ahead of me really gap me. I told myself to stay smooth on the hills. Again, fear dictated my pace. Running 6:31 was probably too smooth. But I think if I had set a faster tone and been fired up and willing to go for it rather than running afraid, this wouldn't have been so slow. I passed a couple of people I know by the end of the mile. One was a guy who runs with us at the track from time to time and he stuck with me for a couple of miles. I noticed everyone around me was breathing hard and I hardly was. I think my perception of my effort was not quite the reality. Looking back I think I was afraid to push myself too early because I was so afraid of blowing up and wanting to bail. I wasn't running free: I was running scared.

The third mile has a few downhills to make up for mile 2. All I could think about was the last 2 miles out in the sun and although I certainly had upped the effort it was still not quite what I could have done. Still scared. Still holding back. The dude from the track was still with me and his crazy breathing was reminding me that I was relatively relaxed and doing well! I messed up my watch during this mile, but the mile marker dude said 18:51 at 3. On a positive note, I never let the slow splits get to me. Although I think because I was afraid, it was actually comforting and reinforced the idea that I was not going to blow up. I ran 6:13 for this mile.

The last 1.8 miles or so are down one long straight road. I made the turn and started gaining on the woman ahead of me. I was making decent progress for a while, but not fast enough and I kind of gave up on that pursuit. Before the race I told myself I would focus on dudes and pass them over the last stretch. I passed one dude and caught up to one at the line, so I kind of did that. I wasn't quite the animal I hoped to be the last 1.8. My last two miles were 6:14 and 6:11. I saw coach with 400 to go and he was screaming at me to pick it up to break 31. I felt like I was giving it everything I had, but at the same time I also was not fired up to really go nuts either. At the 5k a few weeks ago, I kicked. I found a new gear with 400 to go and went! Yesterday, not so much. I thought I crossed in 31:17 which is exactly the time I ran in 2007 when I ran an awesome race and set my pr. But the official results have me at 31:16.9 (ha!)

I hit the chute and was so happy to be done and then I saw E and NC and heard they ran great and was STOKED! E, NC and I took a photo and celebrated and then I bent down to take my chip off and started to cry. Gosh, I was so frustrated. In 2007 when I ran almost the exact same time I did mile repeats @ 6:26-6:27 pace. This time I did mile repeats in the 5:40's. I've run 5 miles tempos in 6:18 pace and ran 6:15 for the race. 5th place was just 30 seconds ahead of me. There's no reason why I shouldn't have been fighting for that. It's so frustrating.

But, I went into this race committing to use it as a learning experience and not as a barometer of my worth as a person or something like that. I promised myself that I would not dwell on it and let myself learn from it and move on. So, I just wanted to reflect on it and document what I think are the lessons and then that will be the end of that! Basically there are a few things.

1. As Coach G said after the race, "there will come a time when you realize that it hurts whether you run one pace or faster, so you might as well run faster." While I felt like I was running hard yesterday, I would have felt like I was running hard 10 seconds per mile faster. I might as well have tried.

2. I am working hard and keeping up with fast runners, but that does not mean I am as fast as they are. I still need to be patient with myself and realistic. I think it would have helped some to have the goal to just break 31 rather than hoping to break 30. I think when I knew I couldn't break 30, breaking 31 seemed like a lame goal and not worth fighting for, so I didn't.

3. Freaking go for it. Don't be afraid. Have a target for the first mile and use the garmin to hit it. At least try and set the tone. It might not work out, but at least give it a shot.

So that's what I think I've learned from the 2011 Johnnycake Jog and these 8 weeks of speed training. I'm closing the book on this chapter and looking forward to a day off today, a down week this week and moving on the marathon training next week!

Friday, July 08, 2011

No Need to Nail Every One

Resolved: I am not going to worry about not "nailing" every interval or every tempo mile. I am busting my butt (literally if the lingering soreness is any indication) and I am training with three super-fast friends who I am over the moon that I can keep up with at this point. Obviously, I want to nail every workout, but crud, that is just not realistic. I am still logging great workouts in my world and I am just not going to beat myself up about imperfect workouts. The point of my training is not to have a beautiful running log filled with perfect workouts. The point of my training is to log big pr's this year, which I can't do if I'm overtrained or injured.

I have been struggling with my tempos most weeks lately and I was feeling under pressure to nail one so I could feel good about the workout (as if not hitting a split or two or making minor modifications makes for a workout to feel bad about!) The goal last night was 2 x 3 miles @ 6:20; 6:20; 6:15 with no break.

I met NC and E-speed at the park and we rolled out. After a nice 2 mile warm-up on the bridle path we started the tempo. I felt pretty good running 6:17 and 6:18, but my breathing felt a little harder than I would like and my butt was feeling sore, only helped a little bit if I got more toward the middle of the road and off the cambered side.

Somewhere during mile 3 I fell back a little and my pace slowed to the 6:2x's when this was supposed to be faster. This is a slower mile and was last time we ran the route, but my butt was even more sore and I decided that my best bet was to go the opposite way around the upcoming loop while E and NC went the other way and stop and decide whether this was helping me or hurting me. I ended mile 3 near a water fountain and jogged over for a drink and decided that I would try to jump back in when the girls swung by and just see how it goes with no pressure to finish. NC was about 5-10 seconds ahead of E and she encouraged me to jump in with her. I figured why not--I could always fall back and run with E too that way.

According to NC I missed about .8 miles. I didn't look at my watch for almost a mile. I just hit lap on the Garmin when NC's beeped and rolled with her until her last mile. She got ahead of me (she was supposed to run 6:10 for mile 6) and I rolled in a few seconds behind her feeling ok. Turns and trying to hammer made my butt hurt more, but my breathing was way better these last 2.2 miles and I generally felt more relaxed and in a good groove. I ran all but one mile under 6:20 and still got in 5.2 at a good pace.

An imperfect, but good workout. And that, my friends, will have to be good enough!