Project Boston: A new half-marathon PR + thoughts on being “one of the faster ladies”

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When I originally set out to write this post we were two months away from Boston, but now we’re closer to six weeks away and so I figured if I was going to check in with an update, I better do it now before much more time passes and my next update is the obligatory pre-marathon taper madness post.

Oh, and before I continue, can I just mention how much you all amaze me?  I launched my Free to Run fundraiser thinking I’d be lucky if I could raise $1,000 in two months before Boston, but the superstars who read this blog and who know me in real life helped me attain 90% of my goal within two weeks!  I still have more to raise, though, so if you haven’t contributed yet and you’d like to, now’s your time!

TRAINING UPDATE

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m doing the Run Less Run Faster training program. This is the second time I’ve trained with this plan, but this time I’m doing the advanced training plan, which has me in this whole new world of marathon training, complete with 10-mile tempo runs and multiple 20-mile long runs. I’ve been able to handle it so far which *knocks on wood*

Speed work: This has been the most challenging part of the training program for me. The target paces are quite aggressive, and I’m often several seconds off the target for each interval. I figure that making the effort to attain them is probably more important than actually attaining them, and I’ll mention why that is in a bit.

Also, sometimes I’m just not up to speed work, maybe because my work schedule meant I had to do my long run on Sunday or because I was coming off illness or because my IT band was bugging me, in which case I just run the distance prescribed in the plan but I do so at an easy pace and without any intervals.  I try my best to stick to the plan, but I also listen to my body. I simply don’t see the point in running my body into the ground. The point is to be healthy and strong, not broken down and exhausted.

Tempo runs: THESE HAVE BEEN MY FAVORITE. I love tempo runs anyway but these ones have been spectacular, letting me see just how much my running fitness has improved over the course of the past few months. I also love how tempo runs take you right to the point where speed and endurance meet, but without forcing you to run so hard you feel like puking.

Here’s an example of a tempo run that I loved. For this one, I started my warm-up even though felt so unenthused about the whole prospect of running hard for four miles.  Work stress had been affecting me, I was tired and fussy and my eyes had that watery feeling like I had been crying even though I hadn’t been.  When I got to the end of my warm-up and prepared to pick it up a notch, I gave myself the saddest pep talk ever.  I said really quietly to myself, “Just try, okay?”  UGH, SO PITIFUL.  But you know what?  IT WORKED. I ended up having a fabulous run. It turned my whole mood right around.

Long runs: These have gone pretty well so far, although I did have one I had to cut short because I got a late start and by the time I hit mile 16, the temperatures were in the mid-70s. I’ve successfully completed two out of the three 20-mile runs that I’m going to do during this cycle, which feels kind of amazing, if I am being completely honest with you. It makes me feel extremely badass.

My one teensy concern is that I’ve been running the target paces about 20 seconds slower than the program calls for, but like I said, it’s a teensy concern. I do have one bigger concern, which is that I have yet to do a long run on any hilly terrain.  I mean, I run up and down overpasses but LOL at the idea that an overpass is the same as running in New England.  I do have plans to run the bridges in two weekends and then the following weekend I’m going to run on the 10-mile clay loop out at Clermont while Brian does an Olympic triathlon.

In all I feel like I’ve been doing well with this training cycle.  I missed one run due to illness – because I am NOT the kind of person who works out when sick – and I’ve done my cross-training.  Plus I’ve been doing a lot of yoga – hot and otherwise.  Everything’s been feeling pretty damn good.

NEW HALF-MARATHON PR

In the previous section I mentioned that there were a few parts of my training I was having trouble nailing, but that I wasn’t too worried about it.  Well, here’s why: because on Feb. 5 at the Best Damn Race Safety Harbor, I set a new half-marathon PR.

Actually, “set” is too gentle of a word for what I did to my old half-marathon PR.  How about “I smashed the fuck out of my half-marathon PR”? That’s pretty much what it felt like.

I’d set my previous PR at the same race the year before, primarily because the conditions were perfect – not too windy, sunny and chilly enough that I was uncomfortable before the race started.  The course is actually a little hilly, which I dig because it gives my legs a bit of variety to play with, and it’s really pretty.  Safety Harbor is one of like a dozen adorable artsy little waterfront communities in Pinellas County that help make this area such a great place to call home.

Anyways, I wanted to PR here again so I decided to latch on to the 1:40 pace team and then take off at some point midway through the race. Brian and I had a conversation where we tried to figure out a strategy, and he suggested leaving at mile 9 and picking it up by 20 seconds or so for the last few miles.  I balked because I didn’t know how I was going to find it in me to run 7:20s at the end of a half-marathon, and I decided that maybe a smaller increase in speed at the halfway point might be better.

Well! Guess which one of us ended up being right about this?

Somehow I found myself running alongside my friend and teammate Kristin, with whom I’d recently had a really lovely 20-mile run throughout Clearwater and Safety Harbor. Kristin is one of those naturally fast runners, and the pace we were at was pretty much effortless for her, which left her with tons of energy to cheerlead for the rest of us.  We weren’t able to talk much during the run, because I do have to work fairly hard to maintain that kind of pace, but having her next to me and listening to her talk gave me a serious psychological boost.

We were perfectly on target to run a 1:40 all the way through mile 9, and then Kristin led a little group of us as we picked up the pace and splintered off from the 1:40 pace guy. I’m still not really sure how this happened, but I noticed my Garmin was beeping at me with mile splits that seemed impossible: 7:13, 7:16, 7:10, 7:12. A sore spot had developed in one quad muscle but I didn’t want to stop running. I wanted that new PR, dammit, and I was going to get it.

We hit the final turn towards the finisher’s chute and I basically sprinted that last tenth of a mile. I was besides myself when I saw 1:37:32 on the big digital clock. I’d knocked two minutes off my old PR and posted yet another finish time that would have been unthinkable to previous versions of me.

I collected my cute medal – a 7-inch paddleboard made of stained glass! – and talked to some teammates for a bit, then went back down the course so I could cheer for Brian when he finished a few minutes later.  Then I rang the PR bell, put on some warm clothes and settled in a camp chair to celebrate with a beer.

When the final results were posted, I was thrilled to see that I’d finished third in the 35-39 women’s age group (which as you probably know, is full of some fast chicas) and I was the 13th female overall in a field of several hundred women. When I collected my AG award and climbed on the podium, I realized I was standing alongside two of the area’s fastest women.  It all felt quite surreal.

THOUGHTS ON BEING ‘ONE OF THE FASTER WOMEN’

After the race, I posted a photo on Instagram and Facebook with the following caption: “On the podium with some of the fastest women in the area, which is a totally surreal feeling.”

A few people commented, basically saying, “You’re one of them, silly goose!” And then Tracy from Fit is a Feminist Issue wrote, “Knowing some of your back story, I can sort of understand the surreal feeling of it all. But surely the new identity as a speedster endurance athlete is starting to sink in a little by now?”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since then.  Like, is it possible I’m just suffering from imposter syndrome, as Pumpkin writes at Salty Running?  I concede that it’s possible – particularly as I have struggled with imposter syndrome in other areas of my life in the past – but truthfully, I don’t think that’s what it is at all.

To me, imposter syndrome is a symptom of confidence that wavers, and shaky confidence has become much less of an issue for me in the past year or so. I wouldn’t have gone for that PR, for instance, if I didn’t believe it was attainable.

(And as a quick aside, I just wanted to say that while I definitely get a kick out of those “Lord Grant Me the Confidence of Mediocre White Men” t-shirts, I don’t actually want the overblown confidence of mediocre white men.  I would rather be capable of taking a frank assessment of both my strengths and my weaknesses and making decisions about my capabilities based on that assessment. I don’t want to wildly overestimate my abilities any more than I want to inflate my weaknesses until I see nothing else when I look in the mirror.  All I want is to see myself as I actually am.)

So anyways, while I think imposter syndrome is a very real issue for a lot of female runners, I think my conflict is actually a lot simpler than that, which is that I am faster than most but not as fast as many.

This is the peril faced by anyone who tries to run fast – the awareness that there is always going to be someone who is faster than you. I still remember Gasparilla in 2014, where all of the top local runners showed up at the starting line in hopes of winning some dolla dolla bills at that race, only to get totally smoked by the likes of Abdi Abdirahman and Jen Rhines.  The top local runners may be the fastest in our little community, but lots of people are faster.  And I’m not even as fast as the local elites.

Of course, I recognize that most people are not Abdi or Jen Rhines or even local elites, and that most people are not like the weenies on the Lets Run forums, who once referred to a guy who ran an 18-minute 5K as a “slow fatty.”  Furthermore, I know that previous versions of me would be agog at the idea of these legs ever running a single seven-minute mile, let alone several of them in a row.

It’s like that book Zoom, where your perspective of the world changes entirely based on how micro or macro your view is.  In a way it almost makes the whole thing seem rather pointless, because what is defined as “fast” is fluid and subjective. Only a handful of people can run the way in a way that almost everyone in the world would agree counts as fast.

And yet, this “pointless” pursuit – the pursuit of running fast – is also very important to me.  It is so important to me that I get up at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays so I ran 10 miles before going to work.  (Seriously, talk about a “I don’t even know who I am anymore” moment. I have those a lot lately.)  It is so important to me that I’ve dedicated several years of my life to it. There’s almost nothing else in my life that has received that kind of long-term sustained focus – only writing has received that level of dedication from me.

I don’t do it for money or attention or glory, because I know that I am literally the only person on this planet who gives a shit about my times.  And I certainly recognize that this thing that I dedicated so much of my time to is utterly selfish.  It is just about the least important thing I do with my time.  It’s something I do purely for myself out of love.

And here’s why I love it. I love how alive it makes me feel when I’m pushing up against the edge of my physical abilities. I spend all day long sitting in front of computers beneath fluorescent lights, putting words together and banging away on a keyboard, and sometimes I need the reminder that girl at your core you are an animal.

I love knowing that I can push a little harder and a little further, and that sometimes I will surprise myself with what I am capable of.  When you’re in your middle years, you’re supposed to have figured out all this shit about who you are, and so discovering that this awesome adventure of figuring out who I am and what I can do didn’t come to an end when I was 25 years old has been invigorating, especially since I now understand that it doesn’t have to ever end.

And shit, I love it because it’s fun.  It’s not even Type II fun where it’s fun only when it’s over.  It’s fun while it’s happening.

I know it’s not going to last forever, or even a long time, so I’m trying to take advantage of it while I still can.  Once I start to slow down and those PRs stop coming – because it’s bound to happen, it always does, no one can outwit biology – I’ll be ready to change my focus to something else, but for now?  I just want to see what I’m capable of doing.

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15 responses to “Project Boston: A new half-marathon PR + thoughts on being “one of the faster ladies”

  1. Oooh, I’m so excited for you! I can’t wait to see what happens at Boston.

    Personally I don’t think imposter syndrome has to do with wavering confidence because you see it all the time in academia. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we feel that somehow a mistake has been made somewhere and we don’t belong and will be ” found out.”

    Good luck to the rest of your training!

    • Thank you!

      I’m actually really fascinated by imposter syndrome because so many capable people I know experience it. I don’t really have it so much anymore and I feel like the reason I don’t is because of confidence gained through time and experience. I’m curious to know more about your thoughts on it?

  2. “And I certainly recognize that this thing that I dedicated so much of my time to is utterly selfish. It is just about the least important thing I do with my time. It’s something I do purely for myself out of love.”

    I’m going to challenge you here and say that something you do purely for yourself out of love is one of the most important ways you spend your time. And question whether the framing of tending to yourself and cultivating joy as selfish is a result of gendered pressure to attend to everyone’s needs and wants but our own.

    I’m guessing there isn’t an MWM out there who has to overcome the label (whether internally or externally given) of “selfish” when caring for himself and doing something that brings such joy and challenge.

    • Oh Josey, you make such a good point. Can this be one of those things where I think we’re both right? Because I agree with your point, that it’s important to find things that bring us joy and to be OK investing time in them. I do, I do, I do.

      I think my point is more inspired by the fact that I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who have invested a lot of time and effort (and in some cases, their health) into becoming faster, and it comes at the cost of other aspects of their lives, like their families, friendships and relationships. And it’s like, you’ve sacrificed all this, and for what? You’re not a pro. You don’t make money doing this. No one is going to stand up at your funeral and give a eulogy where they’re like “he neglected his kids and his wife left him, but hey, he qualified for Kona!” Like, your race medals aren’t going to keep you company when you’re old and forgotten in a nursing home somewhere.

      So to me, part of keeping balance in my life is to have some perspective about this in the grand scheme of things, and to remember that there are in fact lots of very important things in our lives, and that running and triathlon are just a couple of those things.

      Like I said, I totally think this is one of those situations where we’re both right, and it just depends on which perspective you take of the topic at hand.

      • I think we can totally both be right! And I totally agree with what you’re saying, though I do question if it’s being done out of love or compulsion when it gets to the point of ruining health/relationships/etc.

  3. “I an literally the only person in the world who gives a shit about my times” – well, yes and no. By letting us readers into your head, now we’re invested too. It’s so completely delightful – to read about you training and running with so much joy, to follow this transformation and discovery wherever it may lead, to see you doing things for yourself that you deserve. See you in Boston!

    • Grace, that is about the biggest damn compliment that you can ever give a writer, which is that I took something fairly ordinary and made it so compelling that you feel invested in it. Thank you so much for this. 😀

  4. Awesome post! I also agree with thespanofmyhips above that things you do for yourself out of love are important, even if they are arguably selfish.You won’t have any energy to give to other people if you don’t take time for yourself and your own passions.

    Also, I am going to spend my whole Patriot’s Day wondering how you’re doing 🙂

    • I agree with you and Josey/spanofmyhips. I expanded a little on my point to my comment to her below, but basically my overall point is that I try to keep perspective about this so as to avoid becoming monomaniacal to the exclusion of other things that are important in life. The whole phenomenon of amateur triathletes getting divorced because of their sport is sadly a real thing. That’s sort of what I was thinking about as I wrote that.

  5. I love this post! I got a little chill thinking about why you love running. I’m so excited to follow you at Boston, and to hear your thoughts about the whole experience. I love how much gratitude and appreciation you have for the sport and for your progress – it’s contagious. 🙂

  6. I finally sat down to read this post.

    “When you’re in your middle years, you’re supposed to have figured out all this shit about who you are, and so discovering that this awesome adventure of figuring out who I am and what I can do didn’t come to an end when I was 25 years old has been invigorating, especially since I now understand that it doesn’t have to ever end.”

    Snap. I’ve been discouraged lately to hear so many able-bodied/mostly “healthy” late 20 to late 30-somethings complain about “being old.” Maybe that is just a thinly veiled excuse to mean “I am afraid of trying.” I’m not sure?

    On another topic, I don’t really consider myself a runner. Except one problem–I run almost every day. Not particularly fast or far, but I do run. Of course, calling myself a “runner” would mean setting more goals (if only for myself) and potentially failing. But, you are right, nobody really gives a shit but myself! Ha.

    That said, when I feel like I am not a runner or when I think “Why do I even do this?! I’m not sure I even like running” I think of the Free to Run organization and those 30 women in Afghanistan who GOT TO RUN in the half marathon a few days ago.

    Not that I think comparing experiences should invalidate your own…but yeah, that does put some things in perspective.

    Thanks for another great post.

    P.S. I emailed you, but it may have landed in your spam folder?

    • I appreciate you taking the time to read through this hella long post. I had a bunch of things to say and I suppose I could have broken them all down into three separate posts, but I felt like it all was part of a larger overarching theme.

      about young adults talking about being “old” – I joke about that a lot myself, just because it’s kind of surreal to, like, hear the music I grew up listening to on classic rock or to realize that my 20 year high school reunion is next year. But like I said, it’s mostly just joking. My dude is nearly 20 years older than me and he’s shown me very clearly how you don’t have to stop evolving and growing as a person just because you reach adulthood, and it makes me excited for all the possible things that lie ahead: learning new skills, maybe a different career, things like that.

      I suspect your theory might be on point for some people. I worry that our culture doesn’t have a lot of room for learning how to do things or being a beginner, which can make people feel awkward when they try to do something new and they aren’t very good at it and they don’t see other people being new and not very good at things as well. IDK I have a lot of thoughts about that.

      re: calling/not calling yourself a runner – I’m a huge proponent of “you are what you do” and if you run, then you’re a runner! Just like if you write, then you’re a writer! If we have to wait for someone to bestow those titles on us before we’ll use them to identify ourselves, we’ll be waiting a long ass time. 😀

  7. Thank you for your response. Yes, I suppose we all would be waiting a long ass time for those titles if they were up to other people (besides ourselves).

    And yes, joking about being “old” is something I do as well, but “acting” old is something else entirely. I don’t mean eating dinner at 530 pm or reading books on a Friday night with a cup of tea (check, check), but rather limiting yourself to growth (as you already described so well).

    As far as being a beginner, I do think that gets harder the “older” you get. For one thing, so many athletes are “old” when they are young, so if you are 30 and there is a sixteen year old killing (insert activity/sport/thing) it is tempting to think “Oh, I can’t start to do that NOW.” Of course, when I start feeling like that I am always inspired by the women who take up weightlifting in their 70s or beyond…

    Thank you again.

  8. Pingback: Congratulations, Caitlin! #bostonmarathon #fitandfeminist | Fit Is a Feminist Issue·

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