I can’t help but shake my head a little when I think about the past couple months. And if you take nothing from this blog post, it should be that every cliché about the value of patience in endurance sports (and probably life, but that’s another post) is absolutely spot on. Having patience to grind out day after day of training, being an observer of the sport, and taking it all in can eventually add up to some pretty great things.
But, 6 weeks ago, I wasn’t so sure about that. Coming off of IM CdA I felt pretty good – I had, after all, put down basically the same time as Arizona on an arguably tougher course. But, something was still missing from the race. I didn’t have the hunger in the race that I was hoping for. I felt fit going into the race, but something was missing. Arizona was the first time where I ever had the fitness to match the hunger and execute everything together, so I knew what that could feel like…and I wanted that again.
Hillary and I put our heads together and came up with a plan that, frankly, I had no idea how it would turn out. My instinct after CdA was to go full-introvert….crawl into my little cave of training, put my head down, and stay there until I was ready to come out, hungry for a race when Kona rolled around. Hillary pushed me outside of that comfort level and we threw some races on the schedule. In the span of 4 weeks I was going to race 3 times: two 70.3s and a half marathon.
Going into race #1 (Rev3 Dells) I was confident. I was coming off of a 1,200 mile bike month. My legs were strong and I knew it. With a mini taper I was able to throw down the much aspired for PR of 4:59, finally breaking through that 5 hour barrier. Doing so on a hard course was icing on the cake.
Race #2 (Rev3 Maine) was another story. Another mini taper, but with a long week of training in between the races, going into the race my head wasn’t 100% there. I knew I had plenty of excuses that would make sense to explain how I was slower on an easier course this time around. There was a moment on the bike when I had to make the decision: let it hurt, or give up. Honestly, in this race, having to face Hillary and tell her “it hurt too bad to ride faster” was reason enough for me to suck it up. Why? Because I am coached by a woman who is about to take on an Ironman….one week after she just did one. And you better believe it’s going to hurt. And you better believe she’s not going to complain. My coach sets the standard that I hope to match, and in Maine on that day, I needed that. Eventually I found my rhythm, pulled through the low, and was able to execute on the run. Another PR, 7 minutes faster.
Race #3 (Hidden Treasure Half) I was battling the excuses all week, yet again. Having warned me that “we won’t be going into this race rested” I was nervous. I know how much it hurts to have to run hard when you don’t have the legs. That’s part of the reason I shy away from road racing – the trails are always so much more forgiving on your slow days. I couldn’t help but remember when I attempted a similar situation with a half marathon following a big week last year and ran a 1:48, suffering most of the way. But I headed down to the eastern shore for the Hidden Treasure Half Marathon, inspired by the promise that it would be a smaller venue so if it went poorly I could suffer (mostly) alone, and also by the potential of earning some money if it did go well. As I warmed up, my legs felt okay. Not great, but definitely not terrible. I looked around at the start and chatted with another girl who was bold enough to be standing on the front line. She also had twelve pack abs. She looked legit, to say the least. We talked about pace and it sounded like we could run together for a bit. As girls like to do though, she completely undersold herself, and that “bit” ended up only being a mile.
Starting out with her I saw 6:30s on the watch and thought it was in my best interest to slow down early. While I had the sub-1:30 barrier in mind, there was no point in getting greedy here. So I let the couple people I was running with inch away, and attempted to settle in. Around mile 3, the good legs started to disappear, and the legs that had been training hard all week were found. As I assessed how I was feeling overall, the only real observation I could make was that it was the type of day where it was all or nothing – I would stick to the pace, or I would be running 8+’s all the way in. There wasn’t going to be a happy medium here.
In that moment, I made the decision to let it hurt. And this week it wasn’t because I was afraid of having to face Hillary – in fact, I think that in this instance we could have accepted a tough day and chalked up to fatigue. It was for no other reason than I wanted it. Really, really badly. My mind wandered to a quote that has been my inspiration throughout this training block. I found this print back in July, and it has stuck with me:
There would be no more waiting for things to happen. It was time for me to capitalize on the work I had done, take advantage of my hard work. I had the hunger, and I was bound and determined to find out if I had the fitness.
The Hidden Treasure course is pretty technical as running races go. It weaves in and out of neighborhood streets, down through little pedestrian tunnels, etc. We were fortunate to have a cooler day, though the sun was shining brightly making it feel a little hotter than it should have. I guess that’s what happens with a 9am start. My mind was complete mush and doing the math to figure out if I was going to be near the goal time was impossible. All I could remember was that back in March when I raced a half, I was trying to keep 6:50s. So I paid no attention to any number on the watch other than trying to keep the pace as close to that as I could. There were some spectators out in the last mile and they reported to me that I was close, and that’s when I started to feel like I was actually going to make it through this effort alive. The finish of the race is pretty neat as they have you actually enter the civic center for the finishing chute. I took two steps in and looked up at the clock and saw a 1:28. That number was enough to nearly make me stop dead in my tracks. I crossed the line in 1:28:49, ninety seconds faster than the half I ran last March, and knocking the 1:30 mark out of the water. And, it earned me a nice little payday!
The past 8 weeks of training has pushed me out of my comfort zone more than ever before. Starting with bike camp, I was able to do more than I ever thought possible, both in training and in racing. I still have some hay to put in the barn before Kona, but I know what I can do now. And with that comes a sense of peace, rather than a sense of nervousness or the unknown. Having the patience to carry out a training plan day-in and day-out for the past 18 months has gotten me to this point. I have a long way to go, but my mind is clear, and I am ready.