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Yesterday I ran the Honor Connor 5K for the 2nd time. I was comparing my 2015 & 2016 performances this morning and had a major epiphany re: my running (and my coaching in general).
In 2015, I coached a Run for God 5K Challenge class at my church; Honor Connor was our goal 5K. My only personal goal for the race was to finish quickly enough to go back out on the course and run in with each of my classmates, which I got to do (with the exception of speedy Phil, who finished a few minutes before me and was probably the most joyful runner on the course). A couple of my runners won AG awards, which made me so incredibly proud. It was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed every minute – I didn’t PR and I didn’t AG place but I didn’t care, because it wasn’t about me.
Due to scheduling conflicts (Girls on the Run, my Big Sur marathon training), I was unable to coach a spring R4G class this year. I ended up running Honor Connor alone as a baseline run for the Sub-30 Club #getyourPR project, which is an 8 week initiative to set and crush time goals in the 1mi, 5K, 5mi or 10K distances. I tried to run by feel rather than aiming to hit a particular pace, but I still found myself obsessing over time as I ran.
I was 3 seconds faster than last year’s run on the same course, but I was 5:21 off my 5K PR. Nothing was necessarily “wrong” with my run, other than me feeling slow and vaguely unhappy. There was no joy or pride in my performance.
Finally to the point of this post: it hit me this morning that I enjoy running so much more when I am helping someone else reach their goals. Probably 75-80% of the races I run are at someone else’s pace, whether I am running with my best running friend, cheering on my GOTR girls or R4G folks, meeting a new friend on a course and helping them finish or pacing a group. When it’s my turn to aim for a pace above my current personal ability, that’s when the wheels fall off of the most important part of running: the sheer joy of it.
And if I think about it, this applies to my coaching in derby and in personal training as well. I’d rather help someone else achieve their goals than try to reach my own. I’ve long said I’m a better coach than I am an athlete, and yet I need to have a certain level of fitness as an athlete to keep up with the skaters and runners that I coach.
So what’s the solution? Do I find a running coach/pacer for myself so that I have someone who will be proud of me (which is very motivating for me as a people-pleaser), since I clearly have a hard time being proud of myself? Do I scrap the idea of aiming for a PR for awhile in order to preserve/regain the joy of running, even if that means not working toward pacing faster groups because I have limited myself?
Maybe I’m still burnt out and recovering from Big Sur Marathon. I feel like this running ennui is the state I’ve been in since Dallas Marathon in 2014, though – I went from that injury-tainted 26.2 debut to the letdown of Cowtown Marathon 2015 (canceled due to an ice storm so I ran it on a treadmill) to the highs and lows of checking my #1 bucket list race off my list a month ago, with a subgoal in 2015 of running 12 half marathons in 12 months (I ended up running 13 + the treadmill marathon).
Perhaps the solution would be to just stop running for awhile and concentrate on strength-training and kickboxing, but I don’t know if that would help or hurt me since I have self-identified as a runner since I was 7 years old. I just want to find my way back to that mindset I had when I was 7, when the sheer joy of running across a field full of cows and sunflowers was the only thing that mattered.
That’s enough self-absorbed navel-gazing for one day. I’d rather be writing meal plans and workout programs for other people.
Instead of sleeping, I am obsessing over choosing my next marathon.
The funny thing about checking off the #1 item on your bucket list – the dream that motivated you to want to run again when you couldn’t even walk, the thing that represented rebirth after a piece of you died – is that once it’s been checked off, there’s a big empty spot on the list. I assumed the other items (Black Mountain, NYC, MCM, London, etc) would each shift up a slot. And I’m sure they eventually will. But I find myself keeping #1 open as I try to decide what would fulfill the requirements of fulfilling me. And having just run one of the most beautiful & toughest road races in America, it’s a tall order to fill.
My current choices are all fall/winter races & all within driving distance. Two represent redemption & are repeats: Dallas in December, which I limped through with herniated discs & severe sciatica against my chiropractor’s advice in 2014 & Cowtown in February, which I ran virtually on a treadmill when ice storms caused the organizers to cancel the marathon in 2015. Both left me conflicted & unsatisfied for very different reasons. Both are relatively flat/fast & neither conflict with anything else on my schedule.
The third option is as close to a Big Sur experience as I can get in my home state: a very small race with incredibly challenging elevation, little to no spectators & breathtaking views (it is marketed as “the most beautiful marathon in Texas”). It’s in November, which means I’d be training for hills in the extreme heat of summer. It falls on the weekend between the 5K I help organize and the 5K I direct & it’s right in the middle of my coaching schedule for my fall church running group & for Girls on the Run.
3 guesses as to which one I’m leaning toward. Guess I just like a good challenge.
I’m terrible at timely race reports, mostly because I go through a multi-stage process every time I run a race.
* Stage 1: Finish Line – Elation. Over-the-top, I-love-everybody-and-everything style joy. I want to dance and sing and kiss strangers. I am the greatest.
* Stage 2: A Few Hours Later – Critical Analysis. I review my performance and nitpick how I could have done it better. I could have been so much greater.
* Stage 3: A Couple of Days Later – Endorphin Crash. With dopamine levels completely depleted, I am convinced I am the slowest runner ever and that I had no business running a marathon. I am the worst.
* Stage 4: When Race Pictures Are Released: Self-loathing. I swear I was running and not slowly walking like every photo seems to depict. Also, do I really look that heavy in person? At least I’m smiling…I mean, I look vaguely maniacal, but it’s a smile. Is there something worse than worst? If so, I’m that.
* Stage 5: Acceptance – Generally a few weeks post-marathon, when I can look back and laugh. (I also call this my Apathy Tipping Point, wherein I have cared so much that I finally stop caring entirely.) I’m cool.
So yeah. That’s why I’m typing a race report tonight for a marathon I ran 3 weeks ago. It’ll be long. Settle in.
On Sunday, April 24, I crossed #1 off of my running bucket list: Big Sur Marathon.
A bit of background on why it was such a big deal to run this race: after shattering my left tibia/fibula in 2007, I spent about 5 months on crutches recovering from ORIF surgery (2 plates, 17 screws & a rod). My surgeon told me I’d walk with a permanent limp, that I would have to quit roller derby & that running long distances probably would be too painful. So of course I immediately started looking up destination marathons (after I ordered new derby skates, naturally). Google Image Search brought up Bixby Bridge – I was in awe of its majesty & the beauty of the entire coastline. My Running Bucket List was created right then with Big Sur Marathon as my first entry.
Fast forward through 6 more seasons of derby, 2 marathons, 25 half marathons & around 60 shorter races to 2015, when I entered the lottery for Big Sur. I told my awesome brother Kris what I was doing & he immediately put my sister-in-law/best friend/favorite running buddy Jenny on the list too, unbeknownst to her. In fact, Jenny had no idea she was running a 2nd marathon until I texted her to let her know that we’d both gotten in! Thank goodness she is incredibly cool about surprise race registrations.
Training went smoothly and I got to the start line without any injuries (unlike my first marathon). Jenny, our friend Ted and I had all been stressing for awhile over the strict 6 hour time limit and the drive up and down the course the day before hadn’t exactly set our minds at ease. This was going to be the toughest course I’d ever run by a long shot.For the first 5 miles, we were physically (and mentally) sheltered from the coastal winds by redwoods. We were ahead of our goal pace (Ted was even farther ahead, disappearing into the distance with the 5:30 group while I had Jenny and me on target for a 5:45 finish). We were appreciative of the cool weather and the peaceful beauty of the woods.
We’d read that the first 5 downhill miles are deceptively easy, but knowing that didn’t prepare us for the force with which the 30-40mph winds hit us when the trees gave way to coastline. By the time we hit the 10K mark, it had started drizzling lightly and the headwind was already brutal. We were in danger of dropping below cutoff pace if this wind kept knocking us back.
Jenny and I had made a pact that if one of us was hitting the pace faster than the other then we would part ways. I hated to take off without my favorite running buddy but I was still trucking along despite the headwind, so she urged me to run my race and she’d see me at the finish line. I ran into Ted around mile 7 on a rough uphill and we spent a few minutes together before I pushed ahead. I was on a mission to beat the clock (and the 6 hour cutoff pacer that was now far enough behind me to relax a bit).
The sound of the taiko drummers at the bottom of the 2 mile, 45 degree climb up Hurricane Point made my heart beat faster as I approached. Miles 11-13 are the most grueling of the course with a few false summits and morale-crushing views of what’s to come before the top of the mountain. I was so happy to have applied my ElevationTat to help me track my progress and anticipate water stations – it came in handy so many times during the back half of the course, too.I kept my head down and pushed onward and upward. At the very top of the mountain, just as the Mile 13 marker came into view, an extra-hard gust blew across a few other runners and me – it was like nature was trying to knock us down one last time before the descent to Bixby Bridge. I later heard that the gusts were up to 49mph and I absolutely believe it, as we were staggering sideways and seriously discussing holding hands to keep from getting blown off the cliff into the ocean.
The descent to Bixby Bridge was as emotionally charged as I expected it to be, and when I heard the first strains of Michael Martinez on the famous grand piano I burst into tears. Crossing that gorgeous bridge represented so much for me – the realization of a dream I’d held onto for so long, the accomplishment I’d worked so hard to get to. I thanked God, wiped away my tears for the photographer and then prepared myself for the second half of the course.
The back half of Big Sur features 13 rolling hills over 13 miles. They’re nowhere near as steep as Hurricane Point, but they’re bigger than this flatlander is used to and the roads are steeply banked, resulting in a dramatically uneven camber that might be more of a challenge than the actual hills. 15-19 are lonely miles, since there’s not much out there besides ocean and mountains – I saw more cows than humans, which is cool because that pretty much sums up my childhood on the farm anyway, minus all the water. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hit the 22 mile marker with 15 minutes to spare on the cutoff time – this is a sweep point with a clock and a large sign that lets you know you’ll be riding the bus back to the finish if you’re not there by 11:50am. At this point, I texted my husband (finally had reception after 20 miles) to tell him “I think I’m really going to finish this race!” There may have been more swearing involved, but you get the point.
I had read a lot about the famed strawberries around mile 24 at the top of Strawberry Hill – people went on and on about these strawberries and how they were the best anyone has ever tasted. Naturally, I was looking forward to finally eating one of these berries. Naturally, they were all gone by the time I passed the empty tables. I told myself I’d eat all the berries I wanted after a couple more miles and pushed on.
The last 2 miles were filled with spectators telling me how close I was to the finish. I couldn’t wipe the goofy grin off my face as I heard the announcer’s voice wafting out from the finisher village. I made the turn into the chute and I was finally, FINALLY there. The announcer said something sweet and funny about me being the most colorful runner on the course, but I barely heard her as I looked up and saw my friend Ted waving at me from the side. He got this picture of me getting my medal, which I deeply appreciate.
My official time was 5:47:45, which was nearly 3 minutes slower than I’d hoped for but good enough to earn a medal. I finished this one without the crippling back pain and sciatica that caused me to limp like a wounded animal at Dallas Marathon. My knees even felt pretty good and I was relatively agile for somebody who’d just run for nearly 6 hours. I expected to be more sore but was incredibly thankful not to be (especially next morning when I had to sprint up/down stairs and through a terminal to avoid missing my flight due to a mobile boarding pass issue).
I got a wonderful hug from my Sub-30 Club friend Shannon, picked up my post-race snack box (which was seriously nice, although there were no strawberries) and found Jenny, who had a horrible migraine from the wind. I hate that she felt so miserable for so long while waiting for me to finish, but I was so thankful that she was there.
We got home the next day and the stages of marathon processing began. Then my husband made this shadowbox for me (to hang next to the one he made after Dallas Marathon) and I finally found a 6th stage of the process: Pride.
Thanks for making it through this looooong read. Hopefully my next marathon report will be shorter, since I plan to be a little faster in general by then.
I’ve been trying to type up a race report for Big Sur Marathon for hours. This came out instead. Race report will come eventually, but for now this is where my head is ‘til the ol’ dopamine levels return to normal. (At least I’m self-aware about my current state.)
There’s this lady I know who I’d really love to be better friends with, but sometimes I wonder if she even likes me at all.
I know she genuinely loves all of her other friends – she tries so hard to be good to them and to help them all with whatever they might need. I see how she looks for the best in everyone and every situation. I hear that she makes other people feel inspired and motivated, and I am so proud of her for that. I know her goal is to lift everyone else up.
But me? I don’t know what I did to her to warrant it, but she doesn’t treat me at all like anybody else she knows. I’m the only friend she compares negatively to others. I’m the one to whom she says unkind things and eyes critically. I’m the one she gets pissed at for missing goals or for not being flawless, even though I know she doesn’t give a rip about that stuff with any of the other people she hangs out with. I’m the one whose writing she picks apart, whose conversations she overanalyzes. She was such a jerk when I played roller derby. She’s pretty rough on me about the other sports and hobbies I enjoy, too. I don’t think anything I do is ever really good enough for her.
I try really hard to make her proud, to impress her, to show her I’m worth her time and affection. Sometimes she seems pleased with me, but then she almost always finds something in my actions or accomplishments to complain about after the initial pat on the back. She tells me to look better, to try harder, to do more, to be more.
I get that she just wants the best from me. I just wish she’d be more accepting and try to love me unconditionally instead of making me feel bad about not being as perfect as she’d prefer for me to be.
I may never run as fast or as gracefully as she wants me to. I may never accomplish all of the things that she demands of me. But if I could just get her to ease up a bit and to see all of the good in me, I think we’d really enjoy looking at each other in the mirror a lot more.
I had such a great conversation with Katie and Sue when they interviewed me last week for Runner Girls Podcast. I talked a lot about falling in love with running as a kid, about running as a pacer and about coaching Girls on the Run. The interview can be found here:
The wonderful hosts of the Back of the Pack Endurance podcast interviewed me last night about running, roller derby, aerial arts, my experiences as a first-time race director and my upcoming gig as a balloon art model. I come in around the 1 hour mark in this episode and they let me ramble and giggle to my heart’s content!