Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Make 'em believe

Approximately 12 days before a marathon (and for some reason, Boston more than other marathons) is always when the taper demons and general neuroses start to come crashing down on me with frightening force. So this post might as well come with a warning: MASSIVE BRAIN DUMP AHEAD. There is nothing really coherent about this post, it's pretty much just a stream of things that I needed to get out of my head and onto 'paper'. So if you're interested in the inner workings of my brain, well, press on. First, I want to post something that I wrote this year right around this time (like clockwork, I tell ya) that I for some reason never posted but I really enjoyed looking back on:

"Before I started this training cycle, and even before I had a number for Boston, I said a lot of things. I told my friend Aly after failing to qualify at Lehigh in large part because of crappy training, that the next time I trained for a marathon I wanted to do it right. Go big or go home. When I found out I had gotten a number, I told Andrew that this time it was going to be different - no complaining, no whining, I was just going to do it. And I am happy to say, no matter what happens a weekly from today, that I kept my word on both accounts.

I have never had a training cycle where I so frequently felt such pure joy for running as this one. There were moments in the middle of a long run where I would just close my eyes and feel the wind rushing past my face as I ran. Sun above, earth below, fire within. I remember a 16 miler on the course early on, on a total tease of a January day that made you believe winter might not last another 2 months. The course was packed, and the joy of having one day to run in the sunshine was contagious. I couldn't stop smiling, waving, saying hi to everyone I passed. I think I knew then: this is gonna be fun.  With each long run and workout that passed, something that had been laying dormant for years began to rise to the surface: I wanted this. I wanted to fly down the BC hill on the tail end of a 21 miler, near tears with joy. I wanted to nail an interval workout and wonder when I got that strong. I wanted to run in the silence of the less heralded parts of the course and to look into the distance and imagine: the roar or the crowd, the runners around me, thousands together as one. I have put my heart and soul into this training cycle, and for once, it hasn't been for the sole reason of "PR or bust". Would I love to run a PR? Of course. But that wasn't the endgame when this started. The strength and the fast times came from the heart that went into the training, I think, and not the other way around.

There is, of course, so much general emotion surrounding this race that its sometimes hard to tease things out. But I don't think I would feel any differently if last year hadn't been marred by such tragedy. I would still be unbelievably proud to represent my team on our hometown course. I would still be hoping to PR. But would I find quite so much emotion in the silence of the woods between Natick and Wellesley, in the rise and fall of the Newton hills, in imagining that moment just past mile 23 when my friends and family will appear like a beacon to guide me home? That's hard to say. I think, at the core, I have a much greater appreciation for just how damn lucky I am, and we all are, to be doing this. To even have this chance to push our bodies to the absolute limit for the sake of that one moment - just one - when you cross the line faster than you ever have before, and everything is perfect. And to say: I am stronger than fear. Stronger than pain. Stronger than the demons that chase us. How lucky are we to be able to leave them behind?"

And here I am a year later, still feeling much the same way. Only over the last year, something else has happened: I got faster. And that is what's currently scaring the shit out of me.

Here's the thing: for a long time in my athletic career, I had an unfortunate habit of getting into my head and psyching myself out, BADLY, for big events. The most glaring example of this is my epic choke that lost me a state meet berth senior year of high school, but there are so many others scattered in the dust along the way. Falling out of a turn in my dance solo when it really counted, the epic disappointment that was Boston 2010, my last track 5K in college where I failed to PR after doing so in every single race that season...the evidence is everywhere. And the utter desolation I felt following all of those events has never gotten any easier. I have felt like a failure, and like all of my hard work added up to exactly nothing...which let me tell you, is a shitty feeling. On the flip side of the coin, we had races that I went into with no expectations, or very low ones, where I've turned out the best performances of my life. And that list too, goes on and on. Stew Chase 2013, my cross country PR, both Baystate Marathons, Madison Marathon, NYC Half....all of my PR's to date over 10K came in race where I really had no specific goal in mind. I was just there because, well, trying to run fast is really fucking fun. Over the last couple of years as I've made a resurgence in my running life, I've found myself really calming down about races in general. I show up and I run; maybe I had a few beers the night before, or my legs feel weird, or whatever, but there's no more superstitious prerace breakfast, no song I have to hear, no lucky pair of underwear. And this new carefree attitude has seemed to be working, resulting in quite a few PRs in the last few years. But there's one race that always seems to be exempt from my new policy of "if it feels good do it, and have some damn fun". And that race is Boston.

Boston, what the hell is it about you? Is it the prestige, the history, the fact that everyone knows what it's about? Is it the fact that it's my adopted hometown course, and I know every twist and turn? Is it because every winter, I have a monster training cycle and psyche myself up into thinking this is it, this is the day, I'm going to do it, finally only to get burned by the course once again? Or the goddamn weather, or my own pacing failures? Is it on a course such as this one, "if it feels good do it" just doesn't work as well as advertised? I don't know. But all I know is, this is the 4th year that I've been standing here, in the single digits of April, feeling like I'm going to barf my heart up out of pure nervous energy.

My main concern at the moment is pacing/course strategy. Which connects to the fact that I have a goal time, but am not confident enough to commit to it, having gotten burned by lofty goal times in the past (you know, I actually STILL haven't run under 3:30 at Boston, that goal I set way back in 2010 when I was nowhere near the runner I am now...). I have had my best success in races where I ran by feel and sort of just let the splits unfold in front of me - and for the most part, on days like that, the splits were always faster than I expected. Which was awesome and bolstered my confidence and I think, in turn, lead to me believing that I could continue to run fast. And what happens when I set a goal, and then find myself not running exactly as I had hoped in the race itself? Well, then my mental game goes to hell and I defeat myself in my brain, on top of whatever's going on physically...and I think we all know that a marathon is at least half mental.  And that is at the heart of where I have to get myself to before April 20. I have to go into this race with joy and with heart, with the intention of running by feel, and with a plan to have fun - and yet, I need to have a goal, and most importantly, I have to BELIEVE, without question that I can get there.

Believe. If I had to sum up my life mantra in one word, I think this would be it. It has a magic to it; an aura of possibility. You can believe in fairies, or magic, or Santa Claus, or God. You can sing at the top of your lungs "DON'T STOP BELIEVING", without knowing what you're believing - and really, who cares? You're believing in something. And to be my best self; to run PRs, well, there's only one thing I have to believe. I have to believe in me. I am a diehard Wisconsin Badgers fan, and watching the team's run in the NCAA tourney this year was really emotionally intense. It's so obvious that those guys live and breathe for each other and for the sport that they play, and to come *this close* to winning it all was truly heartbreaking (though in the process they slayed the goliath of Kentucky, which may have been the most magical sporting event I've ever watched). But all that aside, their slogan for this year was "Make 'Em Believe". And I'm not sure that I've ever found a motto I loved so much, or so perfectly summed up what I need to feel when I step up to that starting line (not to mention, it has the special emotional bonus of coming from my beloved Badgers, so there's that too). How many times I'm going to repeat this over and over in my head over the next 12 days, I don't know. But I hope that by the time I cross that line in Hopkinton on April 20, I will be ready to make 'em believe, and more importantly, make myself believe.

So with that said, here are some things I know:
-I had a really, really great training cycle despite the worst winter in the history of EVER
-I ran in conditions that many other people wouldn't, and I didn't make excuses
-I have run huge PR's in the 5 mile, 30K, and half marathon since February
-6 of my long runs have incorporated a "workout" in some form (2 races, 4 long runs with GMP segments and/or fast finishes)
-Paces that used to feel completely insane to me are now relatively comfortable
-I have actually done strength work this cycle
-The Boston course is still a crafty bitch
-The weather could either be incredibly magically awesome, or horrific

Based on these things that I know, I came up with some commandments for myself:
1. The first rule of Boston is you have to love running Boston
2. You are not going to get to feel like a magical pony for the entire race. There are going to be dark times. Ass Panther hill? You're not going to be having fun. This is not a race where you can run equal splits. Accept the suck, and then get back after it. Don't let one slow split or a tough hill define your race.
3. Modify your standards IMMEDIATELY if the weather is looking unfortunate.
4. Even splits are a lie. Even effort is the key.
5. Don't be an idiot.
6. You are ready.
7. Believe.

"Angels are singing and everything's magic": Fuck it, I'm saying it - 3:15 (the fact that this is even vaguely on the table as a goal? Is completely mindblowing to me.)
A goal: 3:18
B goal: PR (sub 3:22)
C goal: sub 3:30
D goal: BQ (sub 3:35)
Goal of utmost importance (as always): Run proud. Run strong. Run with joy.

Phew. Man. This is quite a disorganized post of randomness, but it feels way better to have it out there vs. bouncing around in my brain. 12 days...

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