Friday, January 13, 2017

And so it begins...

I've meant to update a couple of times since I wrote that race report but haven't gotten around to it - life is full right now, but in excellent ways! It's probably OK because I think maybe 3 people read this? That might be generous haha. Anyway, enjoy some random musings. And as it seems to do every year for me, Boston training has once again begun. This will be my 6th time running Boston (4th consecutive) and at this point it's hard for me to even imagine spending a winter doing anything other than hauling my body through the streets for 45-70 miles per week in preparation for the big day in mid-April. That's actually one of the things I adore about training for Boston: the sameness. I do variations on the same lead-up race schedule every year, I know them, I love them. I know my routes and the basic patterns in which I run them. I know that training begins in conjunction with the new year and will carry me through the entire winter. It's lovely, really, to have something that gives a purpose to the dark, cold months of the year.

This year's training cycle has begun in pretty similar fashion to the rest of them, with the return to track workouts and the addition of a run longer than 10 miles on the weekend signaling that we are Back In Training. I've actually been pleasantly surprised at how well my body (and mind) have handled the uptick in mileage so far - I went from 25-30 mpw on a good week and pretty much jumped right up to the 40s. I thought this would be more difficult since I pretty much took the summer and fall season off from hard training, so it's been really nice to feel like my body is handling the workload well (could this actually be a benefit of taking a rest season from marathons and focusing more on improving my strength? Maybe!).  There are a couple of things that I say I'm going to do with my training EVERY YEAR, and pretty much every year I fail...I think 2017 is off to a good start on both of these fronts so I'm going to share them here for accountability.

One of my goals has always been to be a more well rounded runner and to actually do things other than run that will benefit my running - strength training in particular. I've jumped on and off the strength wagon about 100 times but I think I MAY have found a couple of things that's going to help it stick this time. One is my newfound love for yoga - I've been going pretty consistently 1x/week since July or August, and I have to say I've noticed a pretty significant difference in my core strength, hip stability, and being more even side to side (to say nothing of the fact that I can actually hold a high plank and do push ups for the first time in my entire LIFE). I also really enjoy yoga! I'm trying to get better at the breath/mind body aspects of the practice, which I definitely think can carry over into running too. There are a lot of positions where you sort of just have to breathe through your discomfort and trust your body to support you, which sounds a whole lot like what you have to do in a tough race. So getting that in at least once a week has been helpful. The other thing is that I decided this year to do the No Days Off thing from Tracksmith (a MA based company that sells amazing, though absurdly expensive running gear). Originally I thought that you were supposed to run every day and I was like thanks but no thanks, but then they posted something on instagram that reframed it as "doing SOMETHING to improve yourself as a runner every day". That resonated with me, and so, that's my goal. I have never and will never be a 7 day/week runner - I can do 6, but for my physical wellness, sanity, and time I NEED at least one day a week where I don't run. So far, this calendar has been highly motivating to get me to do something else on that day - usually a half an hour or so of strength work. Checking off the day on the calendar is so stupidly satisfying and I'm now invested enough that I don't want to break the streak. Which is great!

The other thing, which is definitely still a work in progress, is to RUN EASY ON EASY DAYS! Maybe if I write it in caps I'll actually do it? I think I am getting slightly better at this, as I've done a few runs with paces in the 8:20s-30s and felt fine about it, but I definitely fall victim to the creep back to "default" pace (around 8:05-7:45, depending on the day/fitness level) on a regular basis. Logically my brain knows all the facts about running easy, and I sure know I'm running hard enough on my hard days to justify going truly easy on the easy days, but my body sometimes revolts and decides it's more fun to blast a random tempo on a Wednesday night. I'm trying to get away from that, and I think by differentiating between "true easy/recovery" runs (1-2x/week) and "moderate" runs (more run by feel/I can do what I want) I can convince myself that running the easy run easy is as much of an assignment as the rest of it. IDK. We shall see!

My final goal, which I mentioned when talking about the mile, is to work on my mental game and to learn how to run, for lack of a better phrase, a little more balls to the wall. My apartment building has a tiny workout room that no one ever seems to use, and after a couple of treadmill runs staring at a blank beige wall I decided something needed to change. I found a random running photo I had cut out of a magazine at some point and taped it up on the wall - it's still there, so apparently others are enjoying it as well! As it turns out it's a photo of Pre with the quote "I don't run a race to see who's the fastest, I run a race to see who has the most guts" (or something to that effect) on it. I was thinking about it while doing intervals on the treadmill the other night, and that's such a fitting quote for my vision for the year. I'm trying to have the guts - to train hard, to race outside my comfort zone - to hopefully get the glory (aka...I want some actual PRs this year!) Hopefully I'm off to a good start!

Monday, January 02, 2017

BU Mini Meet mile: well, that was ridiculous

Well, 2016 had one last surprise for me before the clock struck midnight. It's about the least expected result I had racing this year and for many reasons, I think it's one of the best.

On Monday, Joy texted me saying that she had decided to race the mile at the BU Mini Meet on New Year's Eve, and would I like to join her? My immediate mental reaction was 'oh absolutely NOT!' I haven't set foot on an indoor track since March and have done maybe 3 speed workouts since then - the thought of embarrassing myself under the gaze of everyone at the BU oval sounded like a terrible plan. I gave her a very unlikely maybe, and had pretty much written off the idea until Friday, when somehow, between glasses of wine while Andrew and I were out for dinner and a play, I found myself committing to showing up the next day. Of course, that commitment didn't prevent me from having an unnecessary post-play cocktail, or from staying up until 2 am talking with the boy. But the indoor track has this siren song for me that I can never seem to deny; when the track calls I always seem to answer.

That being said, when my alarm went off at 7:45 on Saturday I wanted to throw it out the window and go back to sleep for several hours. Mildly hungover and sleep deprived, I found my way into my singlet, took the train with Andrew to MGH, and then jogged ("jogged" aka I wound up running 7:49 pace for just over 3 miles, I'm dumb) over to BU. For all of my hemming and hawing all morning, there was actually sort of a weird excitement building as I signed myself up for the mile. I seeded myself at 6:15 which admittedly probably was a little bit of a sandbag, but hell, I didn't know! No speedwork! Low mileage for months! The last time I raced a mile was in 2013 and I think I ran a 6:05! So really, I had no clue.

Shortly after getting to the track at 10 I met up with Joy, Aly, and Ali....and then we waited. And waited. And waited. In my head, I was going to be racing by 11 and home by 1 with a luxurious afternoon in front of me before the new year's festivities. That...was not the case. There were 7 heats of the 3K and 215 PEOPLE entered in the mile! At some point we warmed up for the second time, and even then it was still over an hour before we ended up racing...being in heat 16/17 of the mile = standing around for an hour and 15 minutes even once the mile had started! I could tell I was nervous because everything was just far too entertaining. We were giggling and messing around and generally just having the kind of delightfully silly time I've come to associate with indoor track, and it was easy to forget the fact that I actually had to race at some point. We watched Aly run a strong race in heat 8 and time kept ticking slowly onward. My mood swung from giddy and laughing at the absurdity of the situation, to nervous, to anxious anticipation, and back again. I wasn't so much nervous about putting together a good performance - I mean my expectations were about as low as they could get - but it was more the anticipation of the fact that I KNEW that whether I ran decently or not, this was probably going to hurt...and it had been awhile since I'd adventured into the pain cave in a race.

Heat 15 began, and I found myself swinging back towards nerves. But then the call came for our heat, and something odd happened. I found myself, standing on the line, trying to remember if we could cut in right away or not, and I found that I was smiling. Grinning, actually. I was stunned to find just how overjoyed I was to be standing here on this line, getting ready to put myself through 8 laps of screaming pain. I think indoor track always brings me back to why I became a runner in the first place; the competition, the pain, the fight against yourself that for whatever reason seems so much more obvious when it's contained within a building. I did the thing I've done since high school: 3 jumps, shake right leg, left, leg, right leg again. And then, on your marks, and the gun.

The way in which I ran this race wasn't even something I was aware of while I was doing it, but I think it's the most ridiculous part of it all: I ran a 15 second negative split from the half, IN A MILE. I can only attempt to explain that based on my thoughts during the race. We flew off the line, and we weren't even around the bend before blazing in my mind like a siren was the thought TOO FAST TOO FAST TOO FAST. It was hard to watch Ali and Joy fly out ahead of me but I knew I was doing the right thing. I sat, and I waited. Through the 200 right around 45, perfect, I thought. As I had anticipated, my body was confused at the fact that I was currently running at a pace I hadn't experienced in months if not years, and so the first 2 laps felt hard. But I reminded myself that I was in control, that I could make this pace feel relaxed, and so, I relaxed. I began to find my way into a groove, passing Joy, Ali, and a few others and crossing 400 just under 1:30. Great, I think. So what now? I relax in a little bit and quickly find myself in another pack - too slow for my taste, and I pass them.

Lap 1, with that relaxed focus going on. Tom in the background yelling something, haha

Just after the 3 lap mark hanging out with some high schoolers and purple shirt lady

To be completely honest, the next few laps are a blur in my memory. I don't remember looking at the clock and I don't remember feeling anything. I remember coming up on a woman in purple, trying to decide if I should pass her, and then deciding, yes. The same thing happens with a high school aged boy. I feel like I'm in a bubble, everything silent but vague snippets of sound: Tom yelling something at me as I go by, Maggie cheering on her athlete, but mostly I feel enclosed in myself. The track is wide open in front of me and there are 2 laps to go. Far ahead there are 3 older guys running in line. I glance at the clock with 400 left: 4:29. Just under 6 minute pace. A thought bubbles up in my mind, not even a thought really but a realization: I've been holding back, maybe more than I should, and I don't feel that bad. My legs have plenty left, plenty to blast the last 400 meters, and I vaguely recall thinking as I take the turn into lap 7: it's going to hurt, but you're not going to die. And I accelerate.

Let's fly.

I have never been a confident runner. I know that one of my greatest weaknesses as a runner is that I am afraid to "find my edge", as they say in yoga, to really hold nothing back. I spend far too much time in my head thinking 'will I have enough left later' or 'is it going to be too hard'. But in that moment, flying around that turn, there was no fear. I had this absolutely wonderful sense of knowing - knowing that I would not slow down, knowing that I was flying, knowing that I was doing something that I did not think I would ever do again. I just felt like I kept accelerating, on and on. I came around and heard the bell, the clock reading something like 5:12, and I thought: everything. now. I felt powerful and fast and strong and amazing, so much so that the pain was barely even registering. When I turned for home and saw the clock and I knew that I was going under 6 I damn near burst into tears. I crossed the line grinning.


This is what disbelief and joy look like

I watched Joy and Ali finish and then kind of went and lay in the infield for awhile, trying to process my life. I wasn't even aware of what a crazy negative split I had run until one of the coaches told me - "what the heck was that, like 3:05/2:50?" he said. I burst out laughing. "What?!" Because that just doesn't make any sense. Me, run a giant negative split on the track? Me, run one of the fastest miles of my life on a random day with no speedwork? 

It takes awhile for us to be able to stop coughing; oh the beauties of running on the indoor track for the first time all season. Eventually we head out for a short cooldown before coming back to watch our teammates in a 4 x 1600 relay. I am in an absolutely outstanding mood and am just so happy that I made the choice to run this meet today. As we're leaving, Tom looks at me and says "I can't believe you ran that race". The feeling was most definitely mutual. 

And so, 2016, a year riddled with doubts and injuries and sub-par races, ended with a wonderful gift. A reminder of all that I love about running, the reasons why I do this crazy sport, and a reminder that there is always more inside me than I think there is. The last time I broke 6 in the mile was in my junior year of college - I was 20! And to be honest, after a couple of forays back into the mile on the track a few years ago I was pretty convinced that I never would again, that those days of speed were just behind me, and I had to accept that. But maybe that's not true. Maybe if I can just go into every race with no fear and no expectations and just race the shit out of it with whatever the day gives me, I can PR in the short distances again. Hell, maybe I can PR in the freaking mile. I would love for 2017 to be the year where I find that mental strength, where I truly learn to walk on the red line, because I think that's all that stands between me and a breakthrough. To not be afraid of the pain and to know that I'm strong enough to take it.  So, while 2016 may not have been a breakthrough year in many ways, at least in one way, it was. :)