Friday, December 1, 2023

Trying to Keep the Dream Alive

During one of my last track workouts, as I fell off the pace, I realized I didn’t want to go to CIM. It will be the death of a dream. I don’t want to watch it die.

But, if I truly don’t want to do it, I wouldn’t still be here: at the track, in the cold, mid-3K repeat. I would have quit already, gone home, gotten warm. Yet my feet continued to pound the track. I hadn’t stepped off, I hadn’t given up entirely. Not yet.

On the cooldown, I tried to talk myself back into fighting for this dream. My main disbelief comes from the fact that I have to run nine seconds faster per mile than I did for my last (and best, by far) marathon pace workout. As I drove home, I listened to Des and Kara’s podcast. (Highly recommend! Despite this next bit…) They were discussing first marathons and bad marathons and, if they were a coach, whether they would tell their athlete to go out hard or conservative. Kara, my running idol, said that if you had trained at 5:20 and the pack went out in 5:15 it would be dumb to go with them. “That’s a lot of time in a marathon.” 

Whomp, whomp. That’s exactly what I was trying to convince myself was not crazy. (For the record, Kara also admitted she’d probably go out hard regardless, because that’s how she races. Also, was she just talking about first marathons? Let’s hope so.) 

Maybe the way to tell how bad I want something is to notice how bad I desperately hold on, despite the evidence. I feared watching the dream die, but I couldn’t let it go. What was the alternative? Giving up without a fight? 

It wasn’t just that CIM would be the death of a dream, I didn’t want to go if achieving the dream wasn’t even an option. I don’t care about any other outcome. I could go for a PR, but even if I made it, I would be bummed I missed the standard. I’d wonder if I should have gone for it. I don’t even think I have the drive to go after “just” a PR, because that’s not where my heart is. When the race gets tough and I have to fight, I don’t think I would. Not for anything less than the original dream. I have to at least try. And if I fall apart spectacularly, have to drop out in agony, whatever, at least I will know I tried. I can miss my goal in two ways: (1) not even trying because I think it’s hopeless/too crazy or (2) going for it anyway and finding out for sure. I’m choosing the latter.

Once I accepted I was going to go for it no matter what, I had something to focus on during the taper: my mental game. I need to get better at arguing myself back into trying, to not giving up on myself, even when it seems impossibly hard. 

I had to come up with my reasons why this isn’t crazy. 

1. Sorry, Kara. Advanced Marathoning says it’s not stupid 

Back in 2014, I thought I had to hit goal marathon pace in practice exactly, but I proved in Pittsburgh (and again at CIM in 2018) that I could run four seconds faster on race day than in practice. I didn’t believe that was possible until I did it. Maybe nine seconds is possible, especially with the help of the pack. 

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

And just two days ago, looking back through my much-bookmarked copy of Advanced Marathoning (trying to remind myself of what race day warmup consists of) I instead happened upon a post-it on a page about how if you have a pack to run with, going out 8-10 seconds per mile faster than planned is okay. 

Which brings us to… 

2. The power of the pack

A lot of my confidence and hope relies on the power of the pack. In Pittsburgh, despite being unsure I could make it when I didn’t run that pace in practice, I ran alone. I still made it. I run all my workouts alone, even the half marathon a few weeks back. Having a group to work with, to not constantly fret over the pace, is a huge advantage I don’t usually have. 

With the pack in 2014
With the OTQ pack in 2014

The benefit of having a pacer is well studied and undeniable; world records fall with pacers. The only time I’ve ever run with a pack was in 2014, at CIM, when I first qualified. It was an immense help. This time will be harder, the task greater, the pace faster. But I’m a more seasoned athlete now. Back then I had to take ten minutes off my PR, I had to prove I was an athlete good enough to qualify. Now I just have to prove I still am. And just take off a measly two minutes.

Now, about those two minutes... 

3. I fight harder for big, meaningful goals. With deadlines. (That happen to be this weekend.)

I’ve thought about CIM in 2018, when I set my current PR, a lot. The last 10K was ugly. How am I going to fight through that this time? And run faster than I did then? 

I talk a lot about having big goals and I also come up short a lot. But when the goals really matter, when something big is on the line, something that matters even more than a PR, I have an extra fight. CIM is the last day to qualify for the 2024 Trials. It’s my last shot. There’s no giving up in the middle and thinking I’ll be back another day. In 2018’s CIM, I was going for a PR, but the time was flexible (I wanted to run 2:38, or break 2:40, or just get a PR, I already had my qualifier secured) and so when it got ugly in the last 10K, I didn’t have as much fight as I would if those times meant something more. 

And finally: 

4. The trajectory is trending up

This year has been unlike any other. I was on crutches in January and yet somehow ran near my best ever by November. I feel like I am on the upswing more than ever, like my fitness and breakthroughs are coming at an alarming rate that I’m not used to. Who knows what I’ll be capable of on Sunday. 

....Still, it’s going to be hard as shit. 

Going into a race is willingly walking towards torture. (Why do we do this??) You know you are in for hours of suffering, of forcing your body to push through exhaustion and pain, or battling your mind as it goes to the deepest, darkest, ugliest places. It’s terrifying. 

I’ve been reminding myself that its only about two and a half hours of pain, after four years of dreaming of this, working toward this, running through pregnancy and the postpartum period (wishing I could be in this shape), of biking and swimming and elliptical-ing through injury (wishing I could be this healthy). Thousands of miles, hundreds of hours spent working my butt off when I could have been sleeping in or relaxing. In the grand scheme of everything, suffering for a couple hours is a drop in a bucket I’ve already filled. What’s another 2.5 hours? It’s worth it. Otherwise, I may spend hundreds of hours regretting I didn’t go for it, I didn’t give it my all. 

“If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment a few hours, would you capture it? Or just let it slip?” --Eminem, Lose Yourself... mostly

I’ve been visualizing the course and the race. I’m reminding myself that it will be hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m adding to my mental arsenal of mantras and quotes and strategies to call on. I’m really focusing on what I’m going to do when I want to give up, when the pack starts to slip away. I’m picturing those moments, and how I’ll respond. 

“You want to spend all your time thinking about what you’re going to do, not what’s going to happen.” – Mike Smith, NAU coach

It’s going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I can do it. I am capable. 

Every time I’ve gone into a race trying to qualify, I’ve qualified. 

Every time I’ve gone to CIM, I’ve PRed. 

Time to try to make it 3 for 3. Time to try and keep this dream alive.

Keep dreaming big, 


Friday, November 17, 2023

Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon

I started the Richmond half marathon thinking I might finally be able to get a PR, after five years of struggle. Not all the workouts indicated that, but I focused on those that did, and tried to stay positive. The weather was perfect and race morning (navigating the start/porta potties/bag drop, fitting in my whole warmup and drills…okay, some drills) went off without a hitch (a rarity). A perfect day.

I got a little panicky around mile 2. The pressure of the pace, the race atmosphere, the distance, often gets me really anxious early on. I don’t love that this race starts with a 2.5 mile straight shot down Broad Street—admittedly a weird thing to say because that seems like a great, easy start—but it makes me feel like we’re starting forever. Those first miles feel long. 

Somehow, I put the panic aside (turning off Broad helped), reminding myself I was right on pace. I was doing fine. I saw my wonderful family cheering at mile 4 and was all smiles (still on perfect pace). I told myself to break up the race into 5 miles, 10 miles, and the final 5K. “Just get to 5 miles on pace.” Nailed it.

I knew my 10K split from when I ran my PR here in 2018, because it’s actually my 10K PR. (Maybe I should have gone after that much softer PR instead…) If I could get to the 10K around the same time as I had back then, I would know I was right on it.

Instead, everything fell apart. 

First of all, I was caught by the woman I thought I had put away on the bridge around mile 3. Now I was in third. Then the sixth mile marker came. I had been running consistent ~5:55s. Mile 6 was 6:10. I cursed, loudly. What the heck just happened?

Here’s what happened: we ran the wrong way through the park. I suspected this when I looked at my Garmin afterwards. GPS watches aren’t perfect and mine is often off by 0.01 or 0.02 per mile, no biggie. (I turn the automatic laps off when racing, and press the lap button when I pass an official mile marker. This usually helps, since GPS watches get gradually more and more off as the race progresses. It backfired here.) This mile was 1.07, which seemed like a lot. Sometimes mile markers are in the wrong spot and a long mile is followed by a short mile, but not here. My Garmin map looked wonky, didn’t match the official course, and I suddenly remembered a sharp turn that had felt unusual when we were running. I put it to Instagram and yep: a lot of people ran the way I did. (Everyone? Not one person replied saying they went the correct way.) Many people had similar experiences to mine, they were on pace and suddenly they were quite a bit off. But of course many others told me I shouldn’t have let it affect me so much. We all have slow splits sometimes. Move on, get over it.

I didn’t get over it. 

I didn’t know any of that then. I knew (1) I had just gotten passed and (2) I had slowed significantly. (I hadn’t slowed at all. My watch shows that my pace actually picked up in this stretch.) 

As I was trying to figure out what the heck just happened, we also passed two significant landmarks: (1) the water stop where I had dropped out a year ago, with the rock where I sat and cried that I was officially injured and done for the season. I thought passing this would feel like victory, like getting revenge on an ex. “Screw you rock! I’ve moved on! I’m doing better than ever!” Instead, I suddenly wanted to drop out again. 

(2) The 10K marker. There were people cheering and a water stop, so I couldn’t see the time until I was right on it. Another cold dose of reality. Twentyish seconds off where I needed to be. 

This was a lot to process in the span of roughly a minute. Competition flying by, slow splits, memories of failure, realizing I wasn’t doing what I hoped. 

Next up: the biggest hill on the course. 

(Spoiler alert: mile 7 did not go well.)

Much later, when I realized that mile 6 wasn’t quite right/I hadn’t slowed, I berated myself for letting it get to me so much. Why hadn’t I just done what I had promised I would and put that mile behind me? Move on to the next one. Try to get it back. Sometimes mile markers are off. But I never assume mile markers are off (unless the next split is ridiculously fast: “Ohh a short mile, the other one must have been long, thank God!”). Almost always it’s my fault, I slowed. And so I assumed that again. (Also, here the 10K split unconsciously confirmed correct mile marker placement.) I gave up a lot in this section. Other runners were entering the park as we were leaving and I got so many cheers (thank you!!) but I felt awful. I wanted to tell them, “No, I’m falling apart, I can’t catch that girl, she just caught me. I’m not going to PR. It’s not the day I wanted.” This is not the attitude I promised myself I’d have. And when the mile 7 split came and it was also slow, I was not in the least surprised. 

Again, mile 7 is right in the middle of the race and contained the biggest hill on the course. It was probably always going to be a slow one. But none of that mattered. I was going dark. 

Mile 7

I did try to get it back. Told myself to just get a mile under 6 minutes again. But I knew my goals were out the window. Instead of finding a positive spin, a way to tell myself a PR was still possible, I was again thinking about dropping out. (“When I see my kids next, I’ll just pull over and hang out with them… Nope, not a good look, Mama. Gotta at least finish this, however slow.”) I was thinking about how I wouldn’t bring my whole family to CIM (something I had been debating). CIM wasn’t going to be the celebration I envisioned: OTQing out the window, PRing out the window. Down the dark spiral I went. 

I did at least, keep running. I finished the thing. And I did, with every mile, tell myself to get back under 6 minute pace. Though how much I fought for that, I don’t know. The only mile I did get back under was the last one, which is (1) the final sprint and (2) wildly downhill. I just glad it was over.

When I finished, a volunteer immediately thrust an award in my hands. “Congratulations, you were fourth place woman!” I hadn’t even caught my breath yet.

But wait, wasn’t I third? I said that, out loud, and not very kindly. “I thought I was third!” It was one of those moments where you’re not really upset at what’s in front of you (I don’t care about third or fourth). It was the time that crushed me.

I walked away and fell on the grass crying. It was over. I had an opportunity to prove my fitness, to get a PR after five long years, and I didn’t do it. 

It was (is) so obvious my goal of OTQing at CIM is delusional. I keep thinking about what coaches say about being realistic about your fitness, about not forcing a sport that needs patience, about not going out at a pace that is much faster than what you’ve done in training. How can I be in PR shape when I can’t even run close to my old PR in the half?

As I walked through the finish area, in tears, thinking about how all my dreams were out the window, my hope lost, many kind runners tried to pick up the pieces, strangers and old teammates alike. Charlie Ban, of notorious DC running fame, told me exactly what I needed to hear. “You don’t give up yet! You don’t give up til it’s over.”

Hang on. That sounds familiar… 

Didn’t I just write that on my own dang Instagram?

“But, Charlie/pessimistic Teal, I just ran 13 miles at the pace I need to run for DOUBLE that in a few weeks.” 

But … hang on, hang on. Wasn’t that Instagram post about how I ran a 7-mile tempo run at 6:08 pace and then ran more than double that (16 miles) at the same pace five days later? 

Maybe this was a final marathon pace workout! Okay fine, it was a race and not a workout, but I was still alone. Charlie reminded me I do this the hard way (all my training, even this race, all alone). At CIM there’s going to be a huge pack, all doing exactly what I need to do. 

“Get on that train and hold on,” said Charlie. This half made me think getting on that train, going out with that pack, was completely bonkers, a suicide mission. 


I can’t give up until it’s over. I have the taper to shore up my confidence and mental game. 

And on December 3, I try again, for another PR. Kamikaze style. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Fumbling for the Switch

I feel myself giving up on this dream. Imagining the finish, the women celebrating OTQs, I am picturing other women, not myself. I am accepting how to get over the fact that I won’t make it. Trying to come up with other goals that are still worth fighting for.

This is self-preservation. My mind trying to have an admittedly healthier attitude to my goals. I know that they don’t matter, that my family loves me no matter what, that my self-worth should not be based on running an arbitrary time within an arbitrary window. That factors like weather and sicknesses will always be out of my control. 

In the words of Laura Green: no one cares. Whether I make it or miss it by many miles, no one cares. 

But I care. 

I do this for me. Really and truly me alone. I know it’s a selfish habit and in times of guilt I try to rationalize it (it makes me healthier, happier, more energized, a better mom, etc. etc.) but truly I do this because I love it. Because I want to see how fast I can be. Because I love that “holy shit I can’t believe I just did that” finish line moment. Because I want to believe in myself again. Because it does add to my self-worth and makes me feel good about myself. Because I love the training, even when it’s not going as well as I like. I love starting my Wednesday with a “medium" long run (what any rational person would call a long run) and feeling slightly exhausted but also fulfilled all day long. 

There are days, months, years where it breaks my heart. The heartbreaks have been racking up the past couple years. I’m desperate to hang on to this goal because I don’t want to admit my best days may be behind me, that I’ll never get to the level I was once at, that I’ll never line up at a Trials again. Age catches up to all of us eventually, I don’t want to believe it’s already caught me. But it’s been five years of struggle. (Admittedly, having a baby took more than 2 of those years.) And annoyingly enough, I don’t appear to be getting any younger. 

Still, I love it. I care about it an unhealthy amount, I know that. But I need to care, or I’ll give up. 

There’s a switch that needs to be flipped on race day and hard work out days. You have to think it’s super important in the moment or you’ll give up. The marathon is so grueling that there will be a moment where it’s overwhelming, it’s too much, you want to give up, give in, not care. Your mind is begging you to slow, even slowing your body down against your will. You need to fight back, you need to care about it like it’s everything in that moment. As ridiculous as it sounds, it needs to seem like life or death to push yourself to new depths. You need that adrenaline, that belief, that unreal power that allows someone to lift a car off a child. Your brain will seize on any crack in your armor, any speck of “this doesn’t matter.” It will compromise, give in, and give up. 

But then you cross the line, stop the watch, end the workout, and it needs to not matter anymore. Flip the switch back. Running doesn’t matter in the real world. Leading into big workouts and race day, the switch needs to be on “unimportant” or the anxiety and pressure will be overwhelming. Moreover, the switch probably needs to stay like that—nice and chill and comfortable—until mile 15 or 18 or so, until that moment of reckoning, or you’ll be too stressed to run relaxed. 


HOW?! How to flip the switch at the right moment? How to not care that much, to let it go, until that last moment? And how to run fast from the beginning—nice and chill and relaxed, but also fast—if you’re trying not to care? This last bit is the struggle I’m having in my workouts. Trying to relax and take it mile by mile and let the fast pace come to me… but when it doesn’t, and the times slip, how to stay engaged and fighting? While also relaxing so you’re not forcing it? I want to force it. It seems my only chance. But I know that’s not how this works.

Trying to channel this finish line fight...
even when the finish line isn't in sight.

If I put too much pressure on myself, I’m not likely to run well. But if I give up on my goals now, I’m not going to run well either. I wonder if my recent workouts going poorly is me giving up: too many years of struggle, too many doubts seeping in, too many excuses. My mind trying to preserve itself. 

The pressure I put on myself seems astronomical but it’s because I want it. I know no one else cares, I know it doesn’t matter. But it matters to me. I think I thrive under pressure: I need that do-or-die reason to fight. I can feel myself trying to let it go, starting to let it go, and maybe that is healthy. But the part of me that is still grasping on, knows I need to grab it with both hands and hang on like life depends on it. (Even though I know it doesn’t.) 

I need to believe or I don’t stand a chance. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Race Report: 2020 Olympic Trials

Before I get into any of my usual rambles, I need to say thanks to Atlanta Track Club for doing an absolutely phenomenal job putting on the Trials. Every detail was planned out with the athletes in mind. They made it easy to get in touch leading up to the race and on race weekend provided all our meals, hotel rooms, and a super special commemorative poster. The volunteers' enthusiastic, eager-to-help spirits made me feel like the entire weekend had been staffed by Trader Joe’s employees. The personal fluid stops—with 3000-plus individualized bottles—got a lot of press, but on top of that they also had tables with small water or Powerade bottles and, I kid you not, volunteers cracked the seal on every single one so it’d be easier for exhausted racers to open them. Before the race I was asked if I would care if there weren’t t-shirts again and said no, because they were so generous with everything else. Turns out there weren’t t-shirts and I was a little upset, but glad I had so many Oiselle Trials items as wearable mementos. (And after the race, my uncle’s friend literally gave me the volunteer shirt off his back! Told you the volunteers were beyond generous.)


Elite races often come with more to-dos than just picking up a bib and running the race: there are specific time slots to drop off bottles and a mandatory technical meeting (an hour-long presentation of rules and logistics, most of which you’ve already read in your email, but always concludes with at least a few inane questions. There’s sometimes helpful Q&A too, but the real draw—besides it being, you know, required—is spotting all your running idols. I sat a row or two in front of Molly Huddle and Emily Sisson, although they were not actually sitting together, weird since they are joined at the hip in my mind.) The Trials also requires uniform and shoe checks: USATF has ridiculous rules about the size of sponsor logos on Trials’ uniforms; it’s why you sometimes see duct tape on people’s clothes. The shoe thing was new this year, thanks to recent controversy, and involved an official using a small camera to measure the sole's thickness. They also warned us that the top three athletes might have to send their shoes for further testing.

Speaking of shoe controversy, Nike offered free Alphaflys (the newest and most controversial shoe) to every Trials participant. Despite breaking the cardinal rule of marathoning (nothing new on race day!), the marketing ploy worked as nearly a quarter of the field wore them. (I didn’t wear them but did take a pair, which just shows I’m good at following rules but really bad at resisting free stuff. I’m ashamed of my Vaporfly purchases in the past and am hereby switching to similar shoes other companies are releasing. If you’ve tried any, let me know!)

On Thursday, after snagging my most expensive pair of free shoes ever, I went to a party hosted by CIM for everyone who ran a Olympic Trials qualifier there. (I still give credit to Pittsburgh for my OTQ, since it came first, but I ran faster at CIM seven months later.) We each got a photo tile of our finish and the opportunity to hang out with Meb. My daughter’s initials are actually M.E.B. (not intentional but an added bonus once we realized it), so when he walked in, I immediately—and in the most awkward way possible—ambushed him with, “My daughter’s initials are MEB!” Of course, he brushed off my awkwardness like the pro he is.

Meb and MEB and me. (Credit: Husband.)

After that, all athletes were treated to dinner at World of Coca Cola. Mostly everyone was focused on carbo-loading, but I did snag an Olympic pin from 2004, which I loved since I’m such an Olympics nerd.

Friday (after free breakfast and Normatec boots in the athlete hospitality suite) I got to do a photoshoot with Oiselle. I caught up with Haute Volée friends, Sally, and Dr. Lesko while Kara told us we all looked fierce as hell. (Is there a better pep talk than Kara freaking Goucher telling you that you’re amazing??)

Chatting with Oiselle's CEO, Sally Bergesen (Credit: Julie Lowry)

Squad (Credit: Julie Lowry)

Then I did a shake out with old GRC teammates (Kerry, Catherine, and Kristin, all characters on this blog who qualified), the technical meeting, more carbo loading and finally sleep.

Like the 2016 LA Trials, race morning was strange. I ate breakfast (bagel) when I woke up and lay around reading and watching TV before eating another breakfast (oatmeal) two hours before the gun. (Breakfast for both meals because those are foods I’ve eaten before races in the past.) I was strangely mostly calm about the race that morning and all weekend. Paradoxically, this feeling (which I’ve been experiencing more lately) makes me worried that I’m unprepared, like I haven’t fully accepted the race is happening. Physically I was certainly ready, but mentally I wondered. I’d done what I normally did, coming up with three reasons why I would succeed. (I came up with six!) But the lack of crushing nerves made me wonder if something else was missing. My mom guessed it’s because I’m a veteran (this is my 18th marathon; I started losing count at 15), which may be true but I still felt unsettled.

Moments of anxiety did pop up of course; there’s nothing like being in a hotel with 700 of the fittest runners in the country to make you doubt your own ability. Like LA, being around all these skinny runners I recognized from the internet left me feeling inadequate. (I did really treasure the moments someone recognized me from the internet. To all the blog followers who reached out, thanks so much! Meeting you was a highlight of the weekend.) I tried to brush it off and remind myself: I deserve to be here, too! I qualified just like everyone else.

I also told myself this was a race I could shine at. I get intimidated by people’s times at other distances but had to remind myself we weren’t running a fast half (or 10K or 5K, thank God). The hills and distance catered to my strengths. And I was ready: I had trained on the hilliest routes I could find. I planned to run the first lap conservatively, to feel out the hills and the course. I’d get passed by possibly everyone, but that was okay. I’ll catch them later. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I suspected the hills I trained on were worse than the ones on the course. After a lap I’d know if that was true and if so, I’d pick it up for the second lap. I hoped to pick it up again on the last lap but more than anything focus on catching as many people as possible. I wanted to beat my seed (95) and hopefully also finish higher than I did in LA (72). In LA, I beat my seed by 45 spots, despite my oft repeated assessment that I am not a good heat runner. I AM a good hill runner, so surely I can do better here. The doubts did elbow their way in: everyone is so much faster than in 2016! But I tried to remember that not only was I faster too, this was my kind of race.

LAP 1: MILES 0-8

It started like every other race, a mass of fit bodies crossing the line, some trying to surge ahead. But most races don’t have 450 elite women, the vast majority of them with PRs only five minutes apart. (Has any race ever??) That surge of bodies had nowhere to go. The leaders set the pace, the rest of us stuck jogging in a giant mass behind. My watch read 7-minute pace. Nothing to do except continue in the mass and try not to fall. People fell. I watched as women jumped aside a few rows ahead and saw Kaitlin Goodman on the ground. She hopped up, grabbed her sunglasses and ran on. Her sunglasses got knocked off? Jeez, that must have been a hard fall. (It was.

I hit the first mile in 6:22, pretty close to my target. When I dared to look up from my own two feet (don’t trip!), I saw the leaders still weren’t far ahead. (They came through the first mile in 6:13.) As the road opened up a bit, women streamed by me and I had to remind myself to let them go. Relax, even the leaders are taking this easy. Reminding myself to be conservative led to overthinking: Is this easy enough?? My watch read low 5 minutes, confirming my Garmin’s inaccuracy in the downtown miles. Ignore it. My second mile was 5:58. Downhill, but too fast. Relax and let everyone go.

Mile 2 mass. I'm in the gold sunglasses
over Fulton's right shoulder. (Credit: Dad)
Alongside our crowded mass slowly moving forward, the crowded mass on the sidelines emitted the most deafening roar I’ve ever heard. I wanted to look for family and friends cheering but I. Could. Not. Make. Out. Anything. But. NOISE. It was incredible. Is this what Taylor Swift feels like walking onto a stage? (If the stage was somehow miles long...) My brother and his family were the first I distinguished and, in my memory, this was at mile 4. After looking at photos and the darn course map (which I supposedly had memorized beforehand), though, it was actually just after mile 2. (Something about the loops of this course really threw me throughout the race, in a way that LA didn’t. I had to consciously think through what mile I was on the whole way.)

I hit the turnaround (mile ~3.5) and headed back downtown, the more uphill direction. So far, the hills weren’t bad but the wind blew at us relentlessly. At times I felt pushed sideways. Somehow my left foot kept getting blown into my right ankle, leaving scars afterwards. I’ve never been good at drafting and was embarrassed it appeared I wasn’t trying to tuck in at all, but my attempts didn’t provide much relief.

Mile 5. Finally able to recognize my parents in the crowd.
(Credit: Dad)
I went back through Cowbell Corner, Oiselle’s cheering section and the loudest part of the course. It was a wall of sound and I was Taylor Swift again every time I ran through it (six glorious times). Or maybe Lizzo, because those moments made me want to belt “Good as Hell” at the top of my lungs.

Just before I turned off Peachtree, I saw the men starting their way up the out and back. This confused the heck out of me. The organizers had said that they didn’t expect the men to catch the women until around mile 21. If the out and back is about four miles long, they are only four miles behind me. Aren’t they going to catch me way sooner??? How embarrassing! I freaked out without bothering to think it through or do the math. I can already see them, surely they’ll catch me! (Like I said, I was immediately super confused by this course. But spoiler alert: four miles is actually a long way to make up, even when they run much faster than you.)

Around mile 6 I saw my sister cheering with a large sign that said “RVA loves Keira and Teal.” How the heck did she get that?? (She found a sign and made friends last time, too.) There seemed to be people cheering for me every block. Sure enough, a few hundred meters later my husband and daughter popped up, a pleasant surprise since I hadn’t been sure where they’d stand. Just after that I grabbed my first water bottle: a purple one with Frozen characters on the side, an homage to my daughter. Apparently a little girl helping her mom volunteer noticed my bottles and tracked them down after the race. (Pro tip: if you want your bottles recycled, go with Elsa.)

At mile 6, I was in 286th place. The stream of people going by me had dwindled to a trickle and I started to catch a few people. I caught up to my teammate Carrie Mack, a badass runner who absolutely crushed her last marathon. We ran together for a few miles and I was so glad to be side by side with her. Early on I told her to be patient — “A lot of these women will come back to us” — a reminder to myself more than her.

With Carrie. (Credit: Cheer Everywhere)
We headed back towards the start and I told myself I was right on pace (though I was possibly overthinking it all too much). Best of all, the hills were not as bad as the ones I trained on. The worst were just after the water stop in mile 7 and a long, gentle uphill towards the start of the loop (mile 8). I am ready for worse. I can do this. I averaged 6:16 for the first lap and was in 273rd place. Start conservatively: check.

LAP 2: MILES 8-16

Helping my goal to drop the pace was the fact that the lap’s first few miles were downhill, so picking it up didn’t feel as drastic. Side by side with Carrie, we hit some splits around 6:05-6:10, the fast end of my goal. This is great, I’m doing it!

Mile 10. (Credit: Brother.)
Back through the roar of Cowbell Corner, past my family stationed on both sides of the road, to the turn around and back towards downtown. I told myself not to worry the splits were fractionally slower on the uphill way back. We had been fast on the downhills, we're averaging 6:10 this lap, it’s all going according to plan! Around the halfway mark, Carrie got a few steps ahead. I should have gotten back next to her, but we had been going back and forth a bit so I didn’t consider it a big deal. But then the gap grew. Regroup, get back with Carrie. I didn’t. It’s my biggest regret of the race.

I hit the half in 1:21:41 (on pace for 2:43:22). Before the race, 2:42 seemed doable if the hills proved reasonable. I was a hair slow, but with a plan to negative split that’s perfect. Yet despite logic (which was lacking for me this entire race) and everything I told myself before the race, the half split stressed me out. A seed of doubt planted itself: what if I can’t do this? I’m not doing it! I tried to ignore it and move forward. I’m doing fine. This lap is faster. I’ve got lots left to give.

The fourth time going through Cowbell Corner’s insanity, I finally spotted my friend Megan. Dressed in head-to-toe Team Teal/BB Blue with a teal feather boa to top it off, she was impossible to miss. And yet it took me four tries (two out and backs) to see her. That is how crazy the crowds were. 

Cowbell Corner. Can you spot Megan? (Credit: Julie Lowry)

Even after Carrie dropped me, I felt like I was catching people and maintaining momentum. I caught a small pack after we made the turn onto Edgewood (around mile 15). I led a bit, taking the wind but not minding because it gave me purpose and a dose of motivation. It didn’t last long and we broke up a bit as we headed to the turnaround at the end of the lap.

I averaged about 6:12 pace for lap 2; I had picked it up. I was in 194th.

The end of lap 2. (Credit: Jake Tuber)

LAP 3: MILES 16-26.2

Trouble hit at the start of the last lap. My mile 16 split (marking the end of lap 2) read 6:26 and I resolved to stop looking at splits from then on. (Mile 8 on the same stretch was similarly slow. I wish I had realized that then and not been so hard on myself.) As we rounded the turns at the start of the lap, which I couldn’t really remember even though I had made the same turns less than an hour before, a couple of the people I had recently passed went by. What’s happening? I trained on harder hills; I am ready for this. I started conservatively; this last lap is my moment to shine. Why aren’t I shining, dang it?? The wind and hills and doubts took their toll and my mentality fell from hanging on to my dream to settling for just finishing it. Another major regret. At one point I did realize with relief, Hey, at least the men didn’t catch me!

I was ignoring my watch so I needed something else tangible to mark progress, to keep me in the game as much as possible. My last lap plan was to catch as many people as I could, so I decided to count. (Don’t worry. Like that old Adidas ad suggested, I didn’t count them out loud.)

At times counting proved surprisingly difficult. As I approached a group, I’d try to remember what number I was on but then I’d be running side by side with someone for a bit and wonder: did I count them yet or not? And obviously I had to subtract when someone passed me. Before the race I told my brother to count my place on the last lap. (I knew the number would be too high before then.) I assigned him the task since he had counted in LA, when I was in about 100th. I figured it’d be a similar number this time. As I ran by around mile 18, he shouted “184” which made me both extremely embarrassed that I was so far back (You thought you’d be top 100, ha!) and feeling terrible that I made him count that high. (He had two first grade helpers, one who later told me she counted all 600 competitors.) I started counting before I saw Brother and so opted to just keep my tally instead of think about my overall (depressing) place.

13…14…15… nope, got passed, back to 14… 15

Even though I didn’t look at my watch, I knew I was catching people not because I was picking it up, but because I was slowing slightly less than them. Catching people had been my biggest goal on the last lap, so ostensibly it was going according to the plan. But also, it wasn’t. I wanted to be fighting. Instead I was just surviving.


Near mile 21. Megan (and her boa) are in this photo, too.
(Credit: Julie Lowry)

Before the race, I told my coach to yell “There’s more there” on the last lap. That had been my mantra all season: to dig a little deeper and find more strength, more fight. Here was the moment to use it… and I couldn’t. I kept pressing forward but couldn’t find the fight to press harder. The place and time I had hoped for seemed too far gone.

I tried to remind myself this was the last time through, the last time up and over these hills. Except for the mile 7/15/23 hill, the hills didn’t seem that brutal. Still, they (and the wind) broke me in a sneaky, slow way by their pure relentlessness. I felt prepared, but here I was basically crawling.

Just after mile 21. (Credit: Dad)
45… 46…

Finally, just after 23 miles we turned off the main loop and onto the final section: an out and back under the Olympic rings and then the last mile back to Olympic Centennial Park. My sister shouted I was 138th, revealing my tally to be pretty accurate, but from there it petered out. Counting became too hard; I think I counted 50 like six times. The out and back seemed too long, I could barely see the women making the turn. I did see Jordan Hasay going the other direction and was surprised to be only about a mile behind her.

Heading to the finish. (Credit: Cheryl Treworgy, 
aka former WR holder and Shalane's mom)

The course map showed the last two miles contained the worst three hills, but I couldn’t remember where exactly. Is this hill one of them?? As I headed up MLK Jr. Drive, a volunteer (who turned out to be my uncle’s T-shirt-giving friend) told me just two more hills. Thank God, only two more. Finally, I crested the final hill and saw a sign for 800 meters to go. An 800! I can do that. Then 600, 400, 200 came pretty quickly. I found a sprint in the final meters and edged out two more women. Later I almost wished I hadn’t found a sprint, because it proved there was more there. Why couldn’t I find that earlier, dang it?! (Science reveals why.)

I finished in 130th place in 2:45:27, about 80 spots and three minutes slower than I’d hoped.


"Everything hurts and I'm dying." (Credit: Dad)
Every muscle had been fully pulverized and screamed in pain. Standing with my family at the finish line, I ached to lie down on the road but there was a real possibility I’d never get up again. Later in the hotel room, I realized there was nothing I could do, laying down hurt as much as standing up, so I might as well… go out and dance?? My family met for a big celebratory dinner and then Husband and I headed to the Oiselle party, where we stayed out later and danced harder than we have since we became parents. It was the most fun I’ve had in a while and it didn’t matter how badly my legs and pride hurt.

Team Teal, 2020 version. (Credit: Ben, another member)
With Husband at the Oiselle party (Credit: Julie Lowry)

Until the next day.

I woke up to the realization the Trials are over. And they didn’t go how I wanted. I truly thought I’d finish much higher than I did. Why couldn’t I at least run my seed?? I regretted not staying with Carrie. I regretted not pushing more that last lap. I regretted settling, as my C goal was basically to do anything but that. I regretted not starting my finishing kick earlier. But it’s over now, and as much as I want to, I can’t go back and rerun it. When I saw friends and teammates at the finish upset by their race, I tried to comfort them and tell them what an accomplishment it was just to be here. The next morning I realized I needed to hear those things myself.

Husband, Daughter, and I flew straight from Atlanta to Mexico. (Well, with a layover in Orlando, where my bag got lost and I rode a plane with too many drunk spring breakers, but I digress.) The three of us haven’t been on a vacation together before and Husband and Daughter deserved a heck of a celebration for supporting me so much over the years. Mexico was amazing of course (beautiful weather, beautiful views, beautiful endless margaritas and chips and salsa…), and I tried to stay in the moment, suppressing thoughts of the Trials that kept popping up. If I thought about it, I knew I’d start crying (It’s over! I can’t redo it!) and I couldn’t waste vacation time wallowing.

If I search for positives, Atlanta unexpectedly made me realize maybe I did better in LA than I thought. Ever since 2016, I’ve been bummed at my place and blamed the weather. Turns out I may have handled it better than I thought. Maybe in a few years I’ll look at Atlanta and realize I did better than I feel now. This time I finished 130th out of 390, in the top third of the deepest field in Trials history. In LA, I was 72nd of 149 finishers, only the top half.

The sadness isn’t only that I didn’t race how I hoped: it’s also that the experience is over. The star treatment, the parties, the hype: it’ll be four more years before it comes around again. That’s tough to think about. But if it’s anywhere close to as special a weekend as this one was, it’ll be worth the wait.

Dream big,

Friday, January 31, 2020

Race Report: Houston Half 2020

In December of 2018, I crested a new peak of my running career: I set a slew of new PRs and finally found my way back after having a baby. Surely it’d continue; the longer away from pregnancy, the better I’d get. Right?

Wrong. Instead, 2019 found me tumbling down the side of that mountain. I thought the spring was a slump, but then I slipped farther down in the fall. I wondered about iron levels, burnout, general stress. I tried new things: stepping away from the marathon, getting a coach, treating myself to massages and sports psychology sessions. I kept hoping things would change, something would click. But as I started training for the Trials, I realized I was in possibly the worst shape of the last six years.

Back in the fall, I signed up the Houston half marathon as a fun tune up for the Trials with a big field of other qualifiers. After last season's goal half went poorly, a part of me thought Houston (which is flat and fast) might be my chance for a PR. But then I continued to stagnate.

A week before the half, Coach Latter had me do ten miles at marathon effort on a flat course. Yes, the Trials course in Atlanta is a roller coaster but I needed a confidence boost more than anything. I’d been trying to go into workouts with the mentality of just giving my best on the day, whatever that meant, because. really what else can we do? Armed with that attitude, I started relaxed, despite being more than a little doubtful of my ability to hit the splits Coach suggested.

But then… I felt great. It was like God had simply lifted the weight that I’d been dragging around for the last year. I ran fast without killing myself doing it. My average pace tied my best ever for this kind of workout. (Though I’ve gone farther at that pace, it was later in the season.) It was the best workout I’d done in over a year. Is it possible that instead of being in the worst shape of recent memory, I'm actually in… one of the best??

I didn’t know what that would mean for Houston: which version of me will show up? The Teal of the last year? Or this new, effortless one? I knew I had to adopt the same attitude as I had before the workout: not put too much pressure on myself, give what I could and see what happened. I called it my attitude of curiosity. My loose goal was to go out around 6 flat for 5 miles, see how I felt and go from there. If this new Teal showed up, I’d try to knock it down to 5:55 for the next five miles. Then assess again at ten and give whatever I had left.

This attitude made me unusually calm. The humidity that choked Houston the day before lifted, so the only weather concern was the wind. I told myself wind didn’t matter, there was no pressure on me to hit a certain time anyway.

In the first mile or two, I found myself side-by-side with another woman, clicking off just under 6:00 miles. We realized we both planned on 6-flat, so worked together for the next few miles. (I didn’t want to jinx myself by confessing hope that I’d pick it up at some point.) I kept missing mile markers (in the whole race, I only saw half of them), but the splits I saw showed we were ahead of pace. My running partner said mile 3 was 5:52. I felt good, relaxed and effortless, but tried not get ahead of myself and to back off to 6 flat until we hit 5 miles.

One of my Oiselle teammates, Shari, caught us a little before 5 miles. She confessed also missing mile markers (it wasn't just me!), but clearly felt good. I debated going with her but felt loyalty to my 6-flat friend. Plus, we hadn’t made it to 5 yet.

Fortunately I actually saw the 5 mile marker and knew it was time to go. I told the girl with me that I was going to go for it (“But you might see me later!” if my plan backfired. Yikes, would it?? No, I felt good.) I figured I could catch Shari and work with her. In the meantime, I was in no-woman’s land, but no matter. I was having a great race, I was back! Maybe I can even PR!? I even broke out in a smile a few times.

I hit the 10K and tried to remember my 10K split from my half marathon PR. In my optimistic state, it took a long moment to realize my split was slower, but I convinced myself I felt better. In that race I had gone out a little faster and slowed in the middle. Today I started slow, held myself back, and now could go for it. A negative split: this is the smart way to do it!

I kept focusing on reeling in Shari. Catch her before you see Dr. Lesko, so she can see us running together! I didn’t. But I still felt good, even as I kept missing mile markers. My PR pace is 5:54 and miles 6-8 averaged that pace. By my math, it seemed I was knocking on PR territory.

After mile 8, we looped around a block and started heading north. Somewhere in that loop, Shari seemed suddenly out of reach. I caught others but, as the wind started gusting in our faces, I ran on alone, not wanting to tuck in and slow down. I figured I was still running well if I was passing people, but missed another mile marker. I didn’t comprehend how far off my PR pace I was until I saw the total time at mile 10. (Miles 9 and 10 averaged 6:02.) I reminded myself that mile 10 was another place to assess and dig deeper. Surely I could still break 1:18! But mile 11 woke me up to the reality a bit more: 6:05. Yipes. What is happening?

Mile 12 finally turned us out of the wind (a 5:56 mile, though I don’t remember seeing that split) and I tried again to find another gear and really dig. There’s more there! The effort wasn’t getting me anywhere though, and I briefly felt like that old, frustrated, weighed-down Teal. Back in the city in the final mile, the wind knocked me sideways and the sun blinded me so I couldn’t quite see the finish or the time on the clock. I finished in 1:18:15.

At first I was only a little bummed; that time was much better than I expected only two weeks ago! But then I realized I ran a nearly identical time last March and was disappointed then. Mostly I just couldn’t figure out what had happened: I felt so good for so much of it! It wasn’t until writing this I realized my early miles weren’t as fast as I assumed and how much the wind in the final miles slowed me. Immediately after the race I fretted like an older person looking back on her life, “Where did all the time go?”

But there wasn’t much opportunity to mull the ephemeral nature of time: I had to get back on the course to cheer on the marathoners. It was the last day to qualify for the Trials and some friends and I knew people going for it. We cheered at mile 24.5 and I witnessed both old GRC and new Oiselle teammates qualifying. I also got to cheer on my friend to her first marathon finish and her sister to a new PR. We spent the rest of the day celebrating and the whole weekend reminded me of how much I love this running community, a welcome distraction from my own finish.

Later I realized that even though the time didn’t end up being what I felt capable of midrace, the disappointment also represented hope. If the last year has been a slow tumble down a mountain, then maybe last fall I hit the bottom. And now I’m climbing out. I’ve already crawled back to where I was last spring, which wasn’t so far from the top. I just need to keep climbing a little more.

Dream big,

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon 2019

Whenever I’m struggling midseason, I tell myself that it will all come together in the end. Friends and family echo the sentiment, because it has before: CIM 2014, Pittsburgh 2018, CIM 2018. Of course, there are also data suggesting the opposite: seasons that were resounding flops from start to finish, like this year’s Boston, Grandma’s 2015, and the 2016 Trials. As the Richmond half marathon, my peak race for this fall season, approached, some workouts supported the former, optimistic possibility. I wanted to believe it.

Instead, with less than two weeks to go, it fell apart.

At the end of an easy run, my Achilles started to tighten. Pretty immediately, it felt more serious than a random niggle that is forgotten by the next morning. As I watched the NYC Marathon with my Oiselle teammates, the tension in both my Achilles and my mind rose.

I took the next day off. Inspired by a comment from teammate Carrie Mack, I took the day after that off too, feeling hopeful it was one more day than I needed. My leg felt fine by then, and I wondered if I was being overly paranoid, perhaps a bit wussy. Am I just making excuses? The symptoms didn’t all match up with Achilles tendonitis, but horror stories from friends with Achilles injuries scared me.

I ran the next few days; it was tight the first day, then eased up, but by the third day, it was back to nagging. I took Saturday (what would have been my last long run) off as well.

The roller coaster of the week—will I run or not?—drove me crazy. I had the same feelings as before Grandma’s Marathon in 2015, when I got a stress reaction 3 weeks before the race. In the week between feeling a potential injury and the diagnosis, I was a wreck fluctuating between trying to cross train/hold on to my motivation and trying to come to terms with the season possibly being over. Both times I just wanted to know one way or the other—WILL I RUN OR NOT? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME!—and every day I woke up with a different gut feeling. More than anything, I didn’t want to compromise my training for the Trials (which was set to start after a quick post-Richmond break). If I raced, even if I raced well, and it set me back a few weeks, I didn’t think it’d be worth it.

I couldn’t get an official doctor’s appointment until after Richmond, but my coach hooked me up with a PT who could see me informally (and quickly) and she diagnosed it as a calf strain, not Achilles tendonitis. That was a huge relief (less recovery time) and she told me if I spent the week cross training, I could still race. I elliptical-ed the next few days but did one last easy workout the Wednesday before the race, to see how it felt and make a final determination if I could race. My leg felt fine, but it was harder to hold the pace than it should have been. (Likely because I hadn’t run for days.) I cross trained the next day, with a quick 10-minute jog to try to get my body back in running mode. The day before the race I did my usual easy shake out, the only normal run of the last week. When I got home my husband asked, “Feeling fast and ready?” I replied, “Let’s just go with able to run.”

That day, I realized my attitude needed to change. I was grateful to run, yes, but I was also making excuses, focusing too much on the training upheaval of the last two weeks. If I wanted to get the best out of myself, I needed to prepare myself like any other race, ready to give my all. I told myself the few days before the race had been pretty normal: a short tempo (though it felt hardshut up, pessimistic Teal!), a day mostly off, and a shakeout with strides. The calf, for all my obsession over every sensation I felt there, seemed fine.

I wanted to salvage the season right at the end, to prove all the work I’ve put in and changes I’ve made (working with a coach and sports psychologist) had an effect. I trained differently, so couldn’t compare to past seasons (possibly a good thing). Maybe I’m in better shape than I think! Maybe the unusual last few weeks will leave me super tapered and super hungry! Starting at 5:55 seemed reasonable and, in the place in my brain where hope and ambition run unfettered, I thought maybe I could pick it up later on.

Race morning was cold (yay!) but windy (not so yay). For the first two miles, it blew directly in our faces. I tried to tuck in to a group, but as always the case with early racing, groups were still fluid, splitting and reforming left and right. Near the first mile marker, a man pulled up alongside me and a few others and asked what we were hoping for. I was the only one to respond, “5:55” and as I did we hit the marker in 5:54. “Bang on.” The man said he was shooting for 5:50s, but this was good for now. My main theory for my poor performance in Twin Cities is that I ran alone and had no one to gauge off, so I was happy we formed an alliance. But after another half mile or so my watch read 6:05 pace. Our pack held steady, other runners weren’t passing us, so I tried to trust the collective pack more than my watch. But no one else had mentioned their goals. After another quarter mile or so, I started to doubt the group and forged ahead. Mr. 5:50 came with me. We hit mile 2 in 6:05.

For the most part, my sports psych efforts focused on not to berating myself when I hit a slow split. Relax, breathe, let it go. To my credit, I did that with that second split. Fine, we just need to get in a better rhythm. The wind somehow slammed us again as we made a right turn onto Arthur Ashe Boulevard and formed a new pack of maybe three guys and two other women. Mr. 5:50 beckoned us to share the work and I tried to do my part. I felt better when I was the one pushing and leading; I’ve honestly never felt like drafting helps me that much (Am I not doing it right?? Is the benefit so minuscule you don’t really notice it?) but I did appreciate the power of the pack and people to stick with. Mile 3 was 6:00. I wanted to scream, “We’re still going too slow!” But also: Relax, let it go. Don’t tense up too much. Mr. 5:50 is still here, he’s fine with this. It’s fine.

As we turned down an out and back, our pack started to reel in Kate, a Oiselle/Raleigh Distance Project athlete. I wanted to pull her into our group, but instead somehow I got dropped in the move. My pack pulled ahead, with Kate a little off the back, and me all alone behind everyone. What just happened?? Mile 4 was another 6 flat.

Mile 4: What just happened?
As we turned back onto Boulevard and headed toward the park, I caught Kate and told her we could work together. Mile 5: another 6 flat. (Did I notice or appreciate my consistency? I did not. Except to say running 6 flats consistently bummed me out.) As we entered the park Kate dropped back a bit. I felt good and like I could catch some of the people ahead, who had either been eaten up by my old pack or splintered off the back. The park is the hilliest part of the race, as soon as you enter it goes slightly up. But the main issue for me on that day was the potholes. (I actually had a temporary brain fart on the word “potholes” and distracted myself for a bit debating: Is it potmarks? That’s not right…Distractions always welcome midrace!) I felt my ankle wobbling: Oh no, this is what does my calf in! But then: My calf seems okay, fine actually. Paranoia brought more awareness of my ankle working than I’ve ever had, making me cautious and my stride feel awkward. (Like when you focus too much on one word and it starts to sound weird.) Still, I hit mile 6 in 5:56. See, I’m feeling better.

But after a disappointing next mile (6:03), as we headed up the last uphill and out of the park, things seemed to be going downhill fast. Kate caught me and I couldn’t stay with her. If I have any big regret after a race, it’s almost always that I didn’t fight harder to stick with someone. As always, as Kate ran away I told myself to not let the gap grow, that I could still catch up. Instead, she became another regret: the ones that got away.

And as always, the thoughts of dropping out came. Why am I doing this if I’m just running slowly? Usually I tell myself to continue because at least it will be a hard workout to help me later on in the season, but this was my last race of the season. It wasn’t going to help anything. Am I risking hurting my calf just to have a mediocre race? But truthfully my calf felt fine. Am I just making excuses? The pretty stupid reason I kept going: my clothes were in a bag at the finish. If I stopped, I’d have to find a way to get there and that seemed like a (very cold) hassle. I could stop when I saw my family around mile 10, but that seemed like the wrong message to send my daughter. (Even though, at two, I’m sure she wouldn’t understand or care.)

The "Another Disappointing Race,
Guess I'll Just Try and Finish" Face.
It seems like all year, when a race got hard, a make-it-or-break-it moment (should I stick with that girl or let her go?) I lacked the drive to fight. I feel like I can dig deeper in workouts than races (to be fair, workouts weren’t continuous 13-mile intervals). Realizing I once again didn’t have that fighting spirit, with 4 or 5 miles to go, was not a great spot to be. I told myself to get back into it: The victory today will be not giving up! At mile 10: The victory will be making the last 5K my fastest! But my mind and body didn’t cooperate with each other.

Around mile 10.
The last few miles are a blur of not really caring at the slower splits coming in (for those who do care: 6:07, 6:12, 12:11 for miles 10 and 11, 6:09, and 5:52 for the last downhill 1.1) and being heartbroken over this race, this season, this year. People passed me left and right and I couldn’t muster a fight. Earlier in the season, finishing in the top 3 was my goal. Lately, top 5. Through about 8 or 10 miles I was in the top 10. In the end, I finished a devastating 14th in 1:19:12.

The last mile.
My time is an eternity from my preseason goals. Given my marathon time, I hoped to be knocking on the door of a 1:15 half and a 56-minute 10 mile. That seems laughably ambitious now. But I thought surely, with a season dedicated to those distances, I’d close the gap.

Certainly the season didn’t end on the best of notes. I can’t be sure how much the calf strain affected me (what would I have been able to do if the build-up had ended normally?). But I can’t dwell on it too long. I have to find a way to get that fight back (and maybe an entire year of disappointing races is the fuel I need). Training for the 2020 Trials started yesterday. Time to turn the page.

Dream big,

Friday, October 18, 2019

Race Report: 2019 US Ten Mile Championships

Analyzing Philly led me to two broad conclusions: the weather sucked (thanks, Captain Obvious) and I got too anxious about it, trying too early to fight, flail, and force my way to a pace that should have come easier. Twin Cities Ten Mile would be different. First, the weather was down-right perfect, relieving some of the latter issue since worries about weather went out the window (into the fresh, crisp fall air). Also, I’d spent some time talking to a sports psychologist and working on ways to not get so tense and anxious so early in the race. As a bonus, I focused on being grateful to be there. Twin Cities Ten Mile was also the 2019 US Ten Mile Championship and I was allowed in the field despite not making the listed qualifying time. Without the standard, I got an entry but no support, so I paid my own way and ended up with two days in a hotel room all to myself. As a mom of a two-year-old, there may be nothing better than a solo, silent, weekend getaway (my first as a mom). Race schmace, I was going to enjoy that part.

Busy focusing on myself and my own head, I didn’t really think about the rest of the championship field. But when I arrived in St. Paul and the hype started building and friends starting relaying pace goals, the reality of racing the field (not the clock) set in. At brunch, a Oiselle teammate who raced a few years ago said she found herself way off the back after going through 2 miles in 11:20. That was much faster than I planned to run (I hoped to start no faster than 5:55 for the first 2-4 miles—or 11:50 at mile 2—and then try to cut it down). How quickly am I going to get left behind?? Still, I remembered that last year some people had run over 60 and I planned to be about two minutes under that. When I ran in the elite women’s fields at Cherry Blossom Ten Mile and Boston I had women to run with. Everyone I talked to was going out faster than me, but surely I’d find some ladies to work with.

Man oh man, was I wrong. I got dropped in the first 200 meters and literally laughed out loud. Seriously?!? It didn’t surprise me that the leaders went out hard, but I couldn’t believe that everyone else did too. They all have way more confidence than I do. I forced myself to slow down, to let them go. Surely some of them will come back. When I saw the mile 1 clock come into view, I tried to slow even more. Wayyy too fast. Coach is not going to like this. (Coach has yet to reprimanded me for a fast start, but for some reason I was very concerned about it at that moment.) Even with my attempt to slow, I hit the mile in 5:42. (It is downhill.) I could just barely see two ponytails ahead of me, and only two. Everyone else was long gone.

In the dark, as I ran alone along the river, a fox darted across the empty road in front of me. Go right ahead, Mr. Fox. I’m the only other one out here.

Lonely and far from having the start I wanted, it was time to practice my relaxation techniques. My plan was to do a quick body scan after every mile marker, focusing on relaxing my shoulders and arms. If I was in my head too much, I’d pick something external to focus on (a tree, a sign, any landmark). I didn’t want to tense up too much from the splits I was getting (fast or slow). In the second mile, I knew I needed to relax the pace, but didn’t feel like I totally slowed. My watch pace was hovering around 6:05-6:10, a bit slow, but good enough to even out that fast first mile.

Man oh man, wrong again. I hit the second mile in 6:32. WTH?!? Was that mile long and the first short!? I told myself it must be and tried to reign in any thoughts of a disaster unfolding. But I also realized that even if the markers were wrong, I was still way over pace at two miles. (After the race I noticed my Garmin, which is often off by a hundredth or two, called that mile 1.08. Still, I trust the official markers far more than wrist-based GPS.) I tried not to let that get in my head--Just get back on pace for the next mile--but the reality of that mile would haunt me.

Despite some uphill in mile 3, the next two miles were right on my planned pace of 5:55. But as I told myself I was doing it—Relax, I’m back on pace—that stupid 6:30 would pop back up. Actually, you’re still way slow. Also, you’re in last place. I tried not to let these thoughts bother me and kept reminding myself to relax, to focus on the mile I was in, but I think the tenor of my thoughts drifted downhill. If you had asked me right after the race, I would have told you mile 4 was too slow, but it was actually perfect. I started worrying the men were coming. (The race had an equalizer: the men started about six minutes behind the women and the first person—male or female—to cross the line got a bonus.) Of course, they’re coming, they’re going to pass you eventually. I could hear cheers, which assumed was them coming over the mile 3 bridge, way before I expected to. Why did this bother me? I have no idea, but I was clearly starting to stress. Try to get to mile 5 before the men catch you. Otherwise, it’s just embarrassing.

I didn’t. The embarrassment was just beginning. Mile 5 was 6:08 and I think I started accepting it wasn’t my day. How defeatist was I? How much did I give up? I don’t remember, I think I tried to stay in the mile, to remember my relaxation techniques, but I couldn’t get my legs to go. My stomach wasn’t right, I wanted to stop and use the bathroom. Who cares, I’m running crappy anyway. I’m running slow and in Dead F’ing Last, it doesn’t matter. This is an embarrassment. Again, I wondered why I was doing this. I guess I didn’t deserve to be in this field. 

Mile 6 was slower still (6:13) and I started thinking I was once again running my VA Beach/Philly pace. (I wasn’t; I was still averaging faster, but that’s where my mind jumped to, which was decidedly defeatist.) I wanted to drop. If I’m in such dire straits I have to stop completely, then surely that would excuse away why I ran so terribly up to that point. But all I really wanted was a porta potty and even that wasn’t dire yet. Despite nearly always wanting to, I’d never dropped out of a race and didn’t want to start a trend. DFL is better than DNF. At least I’ll get a workout out of it. Once again, did just deciding not to quit mean I gave up a bit? Could I have pressed harder?

At mile 7, whether because the course starts going slightly downhill after three miles of slight uphill or because I realized I was only three miles from the finish or because I could once again see a ponytail ahead (amongst the guys continuing to stream past), I seemed to find a slightly new gear. This is the marathoner in me, it just takes this long to get me rolling. Somehow I missed mile markers 7 and 8, but I had the sense that, although I was still far from the pace I wanted, I wasn’t continuing to slow like I had at Philly. (I was actually right about this one: I averaged 6:06 for miles 7-9). Just get to the finish line… and then keep running for the restroom.

With a mile to go I dug a little more and tried to push. Even though I had nothing really left to fight for I tried to give it what I had and finished in 1:00:29. The only (albeit minuscule) victory of the day: unlike Philly, the last (downhill) mile (5:41) was my fastest, even faster than the blazing start. A reminder that there’s always more left than I think.

Classic stop-the-watch pose. Even when the watch shows
a disappointing time, God forbid it shows two extra seconds.

But to recap, I started at the back of the pack and passed no one. A steady stream of guys—and a fox—passed me. I finished minutes off my goal time. It was… demoralizing.

The stomach issues immediately eased off and after some all-too-familiar tears with a teammate in the tent, I spent the rest of the day trying to enjoy the last moments of my “vacation”: getting a free massage in the VIP tent, going to a bakery, reading on the plane. I thought at any moment the dissonance between how I wanted this race to go and how it actually went would come crashing down, but, back at home, it was back to the business of real life. It wasn’t until I sat down the write this, a few days later, that the reality of this race hit me. I have no idea why it went so poorly. The weather was absolutely perfect, the weekend stress-free. Maybe running alone for so much (i.e. the entire race) let the race mentality ease off a bit; I train alone and think I can race alone, but of course I run best when I have people to work with, even if only for a few miles. Maybe my training’s not where I thought it was and my PR hopes were a little delusional. Maybe my ferritin is still low. (Editor’s note: I did get the latter checked. In August, it was even lower than last May, but is now getting back to May levels. Which, to be fair, were still less than ideal.) Maybe it was just a bad day, which we all have, but that doesn’t make that explanation any more satisfying. It felt a lot different than Philly; it wasn’t so aggravatingly tough, I just couldn’t go. (Maybe I was too relaxed??)  That makes it even more frustrating.

Although I know no one cares as much about my running as me, and probably no one even realized I got last place until I wrote this treatise about it, I’m embarrassed by my performance (and this entire year). Maybe I didn’t deserve to be in that field. But I do not, in my heart, believe that to be true. Yea I got last, but someone had to. My ten-mile PR remains decidedly sub-par (I’ve run faster for the first ten miles of a half marathon), but I think I deserved to be there based on my marathon time. Why I can’t get my other PRs in line with that one is the crux of this chapter of my running story.

One more race to go. How will this chapter end?

Dream big,