“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”
The world’s longest blog…. seriously! Get a good seat, because this is a novel.
For more than two years my running goal has been to qualify for the Olympic Trials. My initial attempt in October of 2013 resulted in a sub 2:45 (by 2 seconds!) performance in Twin Cities. This was encouraging and more than a 4 minute PR. I thought for sure I was on track to knock out the sub 2:43 in 2014. I was sure of it. Positive. Cocky. Confident. When I found myself at the Elite Women’s start of the Boston Marathon in April 2014, the weather was perfect, the field was deep and I went for it. (I was also fresh off a huge Half PR). The Boston hills crushed me and I ran solo from mile 10 on, which was really tough, but I still clocked a low 2:46 proving to be my second fastest marathon ever. It really didn’t faze me not getting the trails time on just my second attempt. “I’ve got lots of time,” I thought. I decided to get back to hard training and go after it again in June. But then (dun, dun, dun) the ANGRY PUBIS. I’m not going to rehash. You can read about my ridiculously named, but nonetheless painful and annoying injury here.
The pubis set me back… a lot; more than I cared to admit or certainly accepted during the second half of 2014. Denial is something I (and probably most athletes) have to conquer along with the physical injury too. An ill-fated OTQ attempt in Indianapolis in November 2014 was just a bad idea all around. DENIAL. I was in shape, sure, but certainly not 2:43 shape. Because of the pubis I lacked in a lot of speed work. I ran a lot of miles, but I couldn’t admit that the pubis was holding me back. DENIAL. It still ached and felt off … but I just couldn’t let go of the fact that I would be missing out on an OTQ opportunity if I wasn’t training hard and racing. DENIAL. It didn’t help me much that the weather was terrible on race day (30 degrees with 20+ mph winds). Brrrr. I also made classic rookie mistakes. I didn’t wear enough clothes. I wore compression socks to race in (I hate even running in them!) I still wonder, What was I thinking that morning? That’s just one race I’d like to forget. So 2014 closed and I found myself even further from reaching my goal.
Time to get up and get back to the drawing board for 2015.
This was a new year. I would do things differently. I would focus on getting faster and stronger. I would try and be positive and boost myself up rather than let the negative thoughts and dark doubt that mounted from a lame 2014 bring me down. Did I mention I wanted to get faster? I thought I would force it if I had to… (Famous last words). I would train at faster paces. I think a symptom of being a road runner is over-analyzing pace, splits, finish time. It creates a gross time and pace obsessed monster/robot often trolling race results to see what everyone else is racing and comparing other blogs and Facebook posts continually wondering, “Am I doing enough?”
In February, Andy and I traveled to Puerto Rico. I had a work trip/meetings and they were kind enough to allow spouses to tag along. Andy discovered a few hours away from where we were staying, there was “the toughest paved 13.1 miler on the planet.” For the love of God! This seems right up my alley (Um, yeah…no!).
Medio Maraton San Blas has been around for more than five decades and always featured the world’s best and 2015 was no joke with lots of east African talent. Nothing about this day felt standard race procedure … 85 degrees, 900+ ft of elevation gain, 4:30pm start, 200,000+ spectators vs. less than 600 runners, not much English speaking around us …. But it was AWESOME! Is this how racing is in other parts of the world? Sign me up again please! I ran by feel (not pace) since this race presented three H’s I’m not accustomed to: hot, humid and hilly. Surprising myself (and my husband who loves hills and warm weather), I ran strong, with my last two miles the fastest. I picked off gals until the end finishing 11th overall, and first “gringa” or “Americana” as I was called on the course. Check out this video here for a sense of the mayhem. I won $350 for placing first in my age group too! That helped ease the costs of the trip for sure. Although I had built a small piece of confidence, finishing strong and placing well, my slow time concerned me (of course). TIME OBSESSED.
Next on the list was the Eugene Marathon in early May. Flat, fast and loaded with runners gunning for the sub 2:43. And my family would travel to watch since it was in Oregon. This was the toughest build up I’ve ever had into a race. I had 6 solid weeks in the upper 90s & a few 100+ weeks in there. Lots of speed work too. My taper started about 2 weeks prior to the race. The taper went horribly wrong. I felt awful. My lower back ached. All. Day. Long.
Even the day before the race I was in pain. I remember standing in my kitchen making hamburgers the weekend before the race thinking my body felt strained and unpleasant all over. The only way I can describe it, is when your hands are white from being cold, then you run them under hot water and that stinging/pain ache sensation when you start to warm up. It freakin’ hurts. That was my whole body. I still have no idea what this was.
On race day, I felt tired and slow until the 5K….then it was like a switch went off. Miles 3-10 I felt like I was jogging; 6:10s were clicking off like clockwork. Then I felt the grossness in my stomach. I had the sour gut until we went through mile 15. I decided I should make a pit stop. So I did. In a bush (so glamorous!)… it probably took at the most 20-30 seconds. I wasn’t very far off the pack once I finished. I thought I could catch up… so I hammered mile 15. That mile was a 6:11 …. So if I took 20-30 seconds to use the bathroom… that means I dropped a 5:40-5:50. That was stupid! By mile 20 and 21, my legs were seized in cramps and not moving fast anymore. I ground out 7 minute miles to the finish and ran a few seconds beyond 2:47. Sad times for me. Another marathon failure. TIME OBSESSED.
Get back up.
Luckily, the prospect of running the Missoula Marathon 8 weeks after Eugene lifted my spirits quickly. I LOVE the Missoula Marathon. I don’t know what it is exactly… hometown pride, racing on roads I train on, sleeping in my own bed, Higgins Street Bridge, people cheering for me not because they read my name on my bib, but because they are my friends, ten years of participation… probably just a combo of everything, but it’s a love affair I can’t deny! The goal for this race was NOT to run a sub 2:43, but to gain some much needed confidence back and run a strong race (and win some cash too $$$!!!). The turnaround time was short from Eugene, so the training was short and not as intense.
Race day was magical. At mile 20, I knew I had enough in the tank to take this all the way. I faltered a little at mile 23, but overall my last 10K was fast. Hearing the crowd on the bridge was something I will never, ever, ever, ever forget. I tear up just thinking about it. I ran a high 2:46. I felt like I was “back”! The taper was right, the race was spot on and I felt like if I could run a 2:46 in Missoula (overall elevation gain, humid summer race, running solo) surely in the late fall I could go sub 2:43 on a flat course with a girl pack. TIME OBSESSED.
Two marathons in 8 weeks was hard for me to bounce back from. The burnout was deep, but I thought that might happen, so the remainder of July and August was just funning (or fun running…get it?). Training resumed in mid-September for a 12 week block leading up to California International Marathon (CIM) the first weekend in December. CIM is known for its deep elite field with lots of Americans going for the trials standard. By race day, there were approximated 60 women lined up to go sub 2:43.
My training build up was dialed in and flowed great. I couldn’t have asked for it to go any smoother. I rocked workouts I’d never been able to do before. I felt good. Confident AND fast (finally!) like I knew I could do this. I knew even not on my best day I could make my obsession a reality. That 2:43 was mine. I knew I had it. I was ready. Not only was my body prepared, more importantly my brain was ready for me to succeed.
Race day weather was actually pretty good: somewhere in the low 50s with cloud cover and a little drizzle, low winds. I did feel like I was more tired than I should be at the half split, but I just stayed with the group which quickly dwindled to 15 people toward the second half of the race. Just hang on, I kept telling myself. By mile 14, I knew something was wrong with my foot. Every heel strike with my left foot I got a shooting pain in my heel. What was this? I’d never had heel pain before. By mile 16, the pain was increasing and I was limping a little. By 18, I fell off the pack. I saw Andy at mile 19 and I limped over to him. I exploded into a mumbling, sobbing disaster. About all I could do was point at my foot and apologize profusely. He asked me, “Why are you apologizing?”
To say I was disappointed doesn’t even scratch the surface of the deep layers of raw emotion. I felt I let everyone down. So many friends at home and the Missoula running community, my parents who drove all the way down to Sacramento, my bestie Rachel who used her airline miles to come cheer me on, Andy, my coach… but above everything, I let myself down. It was my first DNF racing and my last attempt at cracking the trials standard.
It’s so hard to accept continually failing at something. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t keep trying. In this case, I’ve just run out of time. I pride myself that if I want something, I work hard and go after it. So many successes in my life and work are not because of talent, but because I have a tough work ethic, and overtime I have achieved whatever it was I set out to do. This applies to running as well, up until I’ve tried going under 2:43.
If you know me, I’m not a “Woe, is me, I failed, wah, wah, wah…” person. I’m not looking pity, or for people to tell me I did a good job and I’m not looking for acknowledgement. I’m a ‘tell it like it is’ person.
I set a goal for myself and I failed. That’s just that. And writing about it is very cathartic for me and another step forward.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, failure that is. (Although wine and chocolate did help for those first few days coming back to reality after the race.) I couldn’t even bare to look at social media to see my friends and teammates who reached their goals and were rightfully so celebrating. I was happy for them, truly, but my own sadness was too much. I couldn’t even take phone calls from my biggest running supporters and friends to explain what. It took me about 4 days to be able to talk about CIM and OTQ without sobbing.
A long conversation with a great friend put some positive wheels in motion. She told me to grieve. She reminded me it’s OK to mourn what could have been. This was a loss I needed to acknowledge, accept and keep going; take my time and use it to fuel future fires.
So, yes I’ll be sad for a bit, but I’ll get back up.
FIVE DAYS LATER…
Luckily, work was insane post CIM and working 10-11 hour days was a welcome distraction. Then the bombshell. Call it what you want, extreme good fortune, pure luck, divine intervention…. But the strangest thing happened Thursday night following my Sunday DNF race. Right after my first appointment with the PT for some dry needling on my calf, I received a message from a fellow trials-seeking runner in Arizona mentioning that the IAFF had lessened their Olympic standard so more countries could participate in the Olympic marathon (also following some more lenient track and field standards too). Their new marathon standard was sub 2:45. USA Track & Field would soon make a decision to adopt the IAFF standard to their ‘B’ standard. I honestly didn’t think it would happen. But I was shocked Friday morning when Amy sent me the link to the press release and a “you’re in!” message. I think I sat at my desk for a solid two minutes ignoring the ringing phone, staring at my computer, contemplating this.
What the What? Is this really happening?
I kept it to myself for about an hour. It was just too good to be true. Maybe they’d take it back. I was still raw after the DNF failure six days prior. This was too much. How could I be at my absolute lowest to quickly find out my goal had been realized? I finally texted the link to my mom and all my friends and told my co-workers. It was surreal to say the least. After a two year roller coaster that I thought was over … I’m going to the Trials. By 2 seconds. (My gun time at Twin Cities was 2:44:59.) Two seconds. TWO SECONDS!!! I can’t even (still) wrap my head around this. Within a short amount of time a lot has happened. USATF contacted me to register, Oiselle (the most encouraging and fly sponsor EVER) put me on their elite Haute Volée team, social media blew up for me and the other 47 athletes (men & women) who were now going to participate in the trials. I bought plane tickets and an Airbnb (VRBO is so 2015).
It’s been a few weeks since CIM. I still can’t run and my foot still hurts. The trials are a short 6 weeks away. The foot is getting better though. Tendons are hard to heal. My PT and coach are both really cautious, because if I come back too soon and re-injure the area, I won’t be able to participate at all. I can walk on an incline and cycle. The running will begin soon though. It has to. I think 5 weeks of running should be enough to not embarrass myself at the trials. So I have two goals for the trials: Start line & Finish line. Please cross your fingers for me.
Contradictory feelings continue to bounce around my head. Probably because I’m not running right now and that’s when I do my best thinking and compartmentalizing. I’m still grieving my CIM race while trying to remain positive to get over this injury in time to run February 13. I’m torn between being happy I get the opportunity to participate in the trials and an overwhelming feeling I didn’t “earn” my spot like the other runners. I know in a few years, it won’t be discussed the bonus two minutes added late to the Women’s B standard, but I would be lying if I didn’t mention the thought crosses my mind frequently. Either way, the opportunity won’t go unused or wasted. I’m doing everything I possibly can to get to a healthy state.
My best races this year were races where finish time wasn’t a big deal. Place, running consistent and finishing strong were the goal. Racing to race and not for a time is so much better for me at this time. After I get this foot thing under control, this will be my focus: less finish time obsession. Time to #WomanUp2016!! So it’s not all about time, at least not for me, not now. My journey has been filled with so much good stuff and some real heartache too.
I’ll be honest, if I could go back, there are certainly some things I would undo and things I would do differently in the past two and half years. That’s called a learning curve and since I started running competitively very late in life, I’m bit behind. But regrets? Nope! These lessons will only make me a better human and stronger runner in the future.
So thanks, Vince. I think I will.
Keep. Getting. Up.
Thanks for listening to my ramblings!