The Best of times, the Worst of times and a Win
The end of April marked my goal race this spring. I wanted to run the Eugene Marathon (a marathon without biking all day before) in under 3 hours. To get ready (or TGR, like my old coach used to say, which a bunch of us thought meant “tiger” for the longest time), I chose three lead up races: The Steveston Icebreaker 8k in chilly January and The First-half marathon in mid-February and the Sunshine coast Fool’s half-marathon in the beginning of April. Let me tell you it was literally the best of times and the worst of times.
Winter training featured chilly, icy and sometimes snowy runs. Having a good swimbikerun aerobic base, I assumed I’d adjust quickly and see immediate improvements (and I secretly was hoping to uncover my inner elite runner, have a break-through performance and have to quit my day job for my decorated elite running career). It didn't exactly work out like that.
Every tempo run and speed workout I did felt like I was dying. I’d start workouts where I thought I should, thinking I should actually pick it up in the last half but would quickly explode out the back. Over. And over.
I distinctly remember one tempo workout on some nearby gravel beach trails. I told my coach, “you know, I really look forward to Saturday tempos. From all my distance training, it feels like a workout I could really master compared to track, but every Saturday so far, I feel so slow and I die. Any advice?”
The answer was a blow to my imaginary internal elite athlete. “Well, you’re probably not as fit as you think you are. I mean, runnings really hard. You have base, but speed take time” Ouch. I was hoping for something about the frosty conditions or air quality or shoes or SOMETHING, but it was true, and I guess I’d be keeping my 9 to 5.
As weeks went on and the Steveston 8k approached, I was dying a little less and doing well in workouts a little more. In my mind this meant I was going to run a breakthrough best time at this 8km and probably podium. Maybe set a record? Probably need to do that Usain Bolt pose too. Wrong. So. Wrong.
A Personal Worst
On race morning, we arrived at the race site. The wind was aggressive. In fact, there were power outages surrounding us and the BC ferries were canceled due to stormy conditions, but we would still run, because what else are we going to do on a Sunday morning?
The gun went off and funneled everyone in to a 4km straight shot in to the wind. Everyone was running on an extreme slant, one shoulder down to brace the winds and impromptu gusts that would force a quick step a few inches in the other direction. Immediately off pace, I did my best to stay calm and kept my eyes open for a tallish person to tuck behind for a human shield. I finally reached the turnaround, my pace seemed beyond salvageable, but I didn’t lose hope because surely the tail wind home could put thing straight. But it was also strong side wind (aka not straight at all) and it thrust me along at uncomfortable angle, faster than on the way out but not enough to pull it back together. I crossed the finish line in a personal worst time since elementary school and I was still devastated. No Usain Bolt pose needed.
A Personal Best
That 8k really rocked my confidence and scared me just enough to be hyper diligent in my training for fear of exploding in the upcoming half-marathon. One of the game-changer workouts we did often was “over unders” on the actual half-marathon course. For me, it would look something like 1km at 3:45-3:55 and 1km at 4:15-4:25 for 13-17km and I think these sessions more than anything grew my confidence and my fitness (the long uncomfortable kind) for the race. During these, Kat Moore, a local speedster would always say “don’t give it an inch! Not ONE inch” on the one and only gravel sections in the last 6km of the race course and that really stuck with me.
On race day, I was aiming for 1:24 with the instructions to bank time in the first half of the race because the last half wouldn’t be as fast. On the startline I downed my first gel (Huma – yum!), the gun when off and I give’r. The first km was too fast of course, and so were the next few, but whatever, bank time, right? Half of the race goes by, I down a second Huma and I’m still banking time and feeling good. I keep intending to slow down (“easy I think to myself, there’s still time to go and you’re die”) but intention is not translating to action and I’m holding my pace waiting for the moment I start a long fade to the finish. But it’s not happening either. In fact, I hit that gravel section and “don’t give it an inch. Not ONE inch.” plays on repeat in my mind. I hunker down and accidentally make the gravel section my fastest of the entire race. I take note and wonder when that will come back at me, but it doesn’t either. I see my coach in the last 2km, he says, “less than 7 mins to go!” and even though I feel pretty good, I think “Why would you tell me that?! 7 minutes is a long ass time!” Anyways, I round the last corner on a slight uphill that feels like Everest at this point and sprint for the finish with a personal best time of 1:23 and change. I forget all about the Spiritbreaker, I mean, Icebreaker 8k and celebrate.
Two months and many long runs later, it’s race time again 3-weeks before my marathon. Dylan gave me a choice for this weekend “you can either race a half-marathon or do a soul-crushing 24km tempo on your own. Your choice.” Oooo, that’s a toughie…
On race morning, Lee and I have a bit of a domestic because he accidentally ditched me for the warm-up and I just stood around waiting for him instead of getting my warm-up in. Oh well, I think to myself “if I have a bad race it can be his fault and if I have a good one, it’ll have been against ALL odds”. That’s healthy.
I’m on the startline looking around and I only recognize a couple women near me. We chat a bit about the course (it’s a hilly one) and our training (two of us are aiming for the Eugene marathon). The guns goes off and two of us run the first 5km together. As kilometers tick by and we cruise up and over the sunshine coast, I find myself completely alone. I recognize Lee and a friend way in the distance, think to myself that they should really be a lot more ahead of me and wonder how far ahead the lead women are because I can’t see any of them.
I get to 16km and a spectator cheers “go girl, first women!” Pardon? I just assumed I was way behind because no one had said anything for the last hour. I assumed they were wrong, but more people said it.
I was winning! Well that’s fun. In the last kilometer I was closing in on the finish but also on Lee which meant he was having a bad day. Right behind him was our friend Dave. Passing Dave would feel nice since he had only registered the day before and said he hadn’t been training much but passing Lee would be less fun for obvious relationship reasons. That’s a small margin of error to work with because they were only meters apart. In the end I just went for it, I passed Dave within 100 meters of the finish and finished 4 seconds behind Lee as the first women by about 2 minutes. It was really fun, but I had a new challenge, the local news wanted to interview me, and I had no idea what to say. Is now the time to channel Usain Bolt? Unlikely. With sweat and probable gels and who knows what else crusted to my face, I told a convoluted account of the race as the news person stared blankly at me and that was that. I left the sunshine coast $300 richer, with a race well run and a relationship intact.
More than anything each of these races and especially the combination of them reminded me of the shear resilience it requires to apply yourself, to have goals, to succeed and fail, to strive, to yearn, to compare, to focus, to doubt, to hope, and even more so to do it day in and day out. I know with certainty that I have yet to have my best race but it’s likely I haven’t had my worst either. And, That’s the gamble of sports. If I didn’t do sports I wouldn’t experience personal worsts and the sensation of burning (lungs and chaffing!) but I also wouldn’t experience the indescribable self-satisfaction of accomplishing something really hard.
Next up came the marathon where I had all three of these race experiences in one.