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!
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.