Friday, March 15, 2019

Race Report: Rock-n-Roll DC 2019

The main problem with the Road to Gold race being a confidence buster was that the very next weekend I had the Rock-n-Roll DC half marathon on tap, which I originally hoped would be a PR attempt. It came a little earlier in the season than last fall’s half PR but in January, in my optimistic, goal-writing state, that didn’t matter. Road to Gold would be a stepping stone to tell me I could handle that pace at the half.

But when that race went south, I wasn’t left with much to go on. The first part of Road to Gold was the only time I held sub-6 minute pace for longer than a mile all season, and after that I completely fell apart. So going out faster than 6-minute pace for the half seemed dumb. I figured a decent plan was to start around 6:00 until the big hill just after mile 6, then try to cut it down or do whatever I could at that point. With that kind of start I’d need to run sub-5:50 from halfway to the finish to PR, and I couldn’t convince myself that was possible. (My PR is 1:17:26, 5:54 pace.) So “whatever I can do”  became the vague goal that let me off the hook a little. It was a telling sign my confidence was shot.

The trouble is, when I’m not going for a PR, my mental game suffers. I’m in this nebulous zone where I don’t know what would be a good effort on the day or whether I’m giving myself excuses from the start and cutting myself too much slack. And in the final miles of a race, it’s really hard not to have a tangible goal to grasp on to/to pull you forward. But without any real idea of where I was, I had no better plan.

The weather was basically perfect. Once again, a bunch of ladies passed me in the first mile. I tried to not care and let them go—do NOT start too fast—but still hit the mile in 5:52. I had thought top three was possible, but I was in maybe seventh or eighth place at that point. Let them go, maybe they’ll come back to me on or after the hill. A guy nearby asked his friend if a pack of ladies just ahead of me was going for the Trials standard. No way, I thought. But then my stupid doubts came up: could they be? (The standard is sub-1:13 and if they were I would definitely eat my Twitter words.) I definitely can’t stay with them then. Am I in over my head at this pace? (But no, they definitely were not. Rock-n-Roll DC has never had those kind of times.)

But I found a pack of two women I knew and we started hitting 6 flats, so I was running according to plan. I was still mentally questioning myself way too much for so early in a race, but I told myself to stay with the women and work with them. It’s early still. I’m not hurting, I’m just letting doubts and fear in for no reason.

I tried to relax until we got to the hill, which I felt like we crawled up: are my legs even moving?? But the two women I was with dropped back a bit so maybe I survived it slightly better. I passed another woman before the next mile marker and was starting to feel more positive. My split for the hill mile was 6:23, but I knew from the past that although I often lose 20-30 seconds in that mile, I make it up on the downhills later on.

The next section rolls a bit and I tried to embrace the hills. (I’m a strength runner! Hills are my jam!) I felt strong and saw my sister who told me in was in fifth. I saw a ponytail ahead and thought I could surely reel her in.

Around mile 10. Photo by Caitlyn Tateishi.
Just after mile 8, Shauneen, one of the women I had been running with earlier, caught me. We had run together on GRC so I knew how tough she is. I tried to stay with her and was shocked when I actually could. I was telling myself the hills were helping me more (not sure why I thought this, maybe because I originally dropped her on the biggest hill) and that bold assertion helped me stay with her. We dropped a 5:50 on a rolling ninth mile and were back on 6-flat pace. But just before the tenth mile marker and the biggest downhill, I let her go. I think I got scared of the pace or gave myself the excuse that the downhill would help her more. This is my biggest regret of the race, because I had been surprised when I didn’t immediately let her go at mile 8, that I was capable of staying with her and it wasn’t killing me. But eventually I let fear get the better of me. Mile 10 was a 5:42. (That mile has the most downhill, but that’s probably the fastest split I’ve run in any race ever.) I watched Shauneen reel in the woman in front of her and was confident I could get her too.

The countdown began: just get to the spot where Husband and Daughter are cheering (mile 10.5). Ok, big cheer, lots of love, check. Now get to Cowbell Corner (mile 11.5). Lots more love, lots more cheering (the Oiselle team is LOUD y’all), check. There’s a slight uphill there, as my Oiselle teammate Courtney had reminded me, and while I definitely felt it, I still felt strong. Until all of a sudden, I didn’t. I was tying up left and right and struggling to keep it together. My split for mile 12 (after four solid miles) was a 6:09, the second slowest of the day.

Mile 11.5. Photo by Caitlin Kovalkoski

I could hear cheers for Jenny, the other woman I had supposedly vanquished back on that big hill and knew she was close. She caught me but once again I surprised myself by not immediately letting her go. The tying up from the last mile eased a little bit and, while I can’t remember what exactly I was thinking during this section, it was basically just: don’t let Jenny go. Stay with her. We ran basically side by side for the last mile, until the final curve up a hill when I started sprinting and was surprised I could actually manage it. I held off Jenny, but didn’t catch the woman ahead. She seemed too far gone, but she was actually just 2 seconds ahead, the same distance I put on Jenny. My other regret: I should have started sprinting earlier. (My last 1.1 was 5:46 pace.)

I finished in 1:18:13 and sixth place. It’s my second fastest half and a course PR, but it felt… just okay. It was certainly better than the previous week’s race (I ran a faster pace for 5 miles longer) but it was far from where I wanted to be at this point. I had hoped to run the full marathon at close to that pace in just five weeks. That doesn’t seem possible now. Is a PR even possible? I’m not sure. Like I said above, I really struggle in the no-man’s-land of not going for a PR. I just have no desire to go into a marathon, having done all this work, without the intention of going for it. So the realization starting to dawn on me really began to bum me out.

But the weekend’s activities were far from over: there was brunch with the Oiselle team, dinner and drinks with GRC friends and babies, and on Sunday morning I got to go to an event at Summit to Soul, a woman-owned specialty store in DC. They recently launched a partnership with Oiselle which means you can now buy more #flystyle there than anywhere in the country, besides Oiselle’s flagship store in Seattle. (So if you’re in DC, I highly recommend you check it out. And if you live in DC, join them for their weekly Wednesday night runs!) I gave a talk about my running journey and how big I dared to dream, how much I had to believe in myself and how far I’ve come because of that dreamy ambition. I tried to stress that God has given all of us so more much potential than we know, because I truly believe that.

Talking at Summit to Soul. Photo by Samantha Giordano Kim.
… Maybe it was a talk I needed to hear myself. Maybe my early season goals were a little far-fetched (shocker, I know), maybe the odds are long, but all I can do is my best in the remaining workouts and then spend the taper as I always do: trying to shore up belief in myself, my training, and that it will all come together on April 15.

Dream big,


  1. Maybe it's about finding the *constructive* gap between goal and result—not so you can excoriate yourself for having failed to predict the future but so that you can quantify the outcome you've achieved so as to better modify the plan so as to better serve the dream. It's all data, right? Or at least that's what I try to tell myself when the gulf between my performance and my expectation feels suffocating.

    A ridiculous amount of the game is supposed to be mental—like, 50 percent? 70? More? I dunno. But maybe the *real* skill is in training 'til you can insti-alchemize poisonous regret or woulda-coulda-shoulda into wisdom, into something actionable that can be applied to the next race. Or figure out how to translate that internal voice from frenemy into Coach-Sage.

    Teal, thinking back, what are the beliefs and practices you understand *now* that would have been most inconceivable or even shocking to you as a newer runner? Like in your 4-hour-marathon days or not long thereafter—whenever it was you became a dedicated runner but were decidedly more eager than impressive to anyone but your mom.

    I ask because sometimes I find it SO HARD to scale the advice, lessons, and routines of elite and subelite runners to my own abilities and conditions. You've bridged the gap. What do you think was essential or helpful, and what ended up not being all that important? What was TRASH POISON to your efforts?

    Anyway, you're amazing. I can't tell you how much I love sharing your journey. And for sure, seeing you rep the Oiselle Haute Volée is doing certain Science Things to my brain about dreaming as it relates to effort as it relates to achieving.

    You're the literal best.


    1. Hi DJ--Sorry for the serious delay on responding to this! After I first read it, I thought about it a while and tried to come up with a good answer, but didn't come up with much. I think the main thing I've learned over the years is how important the mind is and really having a positive/I can do this mentality (like you said), and also that EVERYONE is dealing with the same doubts. Watching the London Marathon yesterday, one thing the commentators mentioned a couple of times is how good Eliud Kipchoge is at the mental game, that's what puts him above the others. But no matter the level, everyone has doubts that they can't do it/aren't good enough and I think realizing that can be helpful. I didn't appreciate how much the mental stuff mattered when I started and I just assumed elites and fast people didn't have that same struggle. So when I would think, "oh I can't do this," I was also simultaneously assuming everyone around me and ahead of me wasn't having those thoughts, that's why they were able to do things I couldn't. But that's not the case, and I think recognizing that is one way to start to overcome them. Even the winner of the race probably wants to drop out at some point. So if you go through a bad patch too, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you, it's just the nature of racing.

      Anyway, that's probably not that helpful or surprising, but that's what I came up with! Thanks as always for following along!