Saturday, January 23, 2016

Houston Marathon Race Report 2016: You Have To Want It

For a couple of years, I've been saying, "Wouldn't it be cool if I could qualify for Boston at the Houston marathon at age 40, like my Dad did?" Well yes, it would be cool. But saying "wouldn't it be cool if" isn't enough. You have to say "I Want This" to be able to make big things happen.

I've been struggling with this for a week, because I didn't have a bad race in Houston last weekend. I ran 3:51:06, which is a minute and a half faster than last year, a new PR. But I didn't reach the goal of running a Boston qualifying time of 3:45. My body was in shape to run a 3:45, but my brain wasn't.

Standing in the corral before the race, I talked to a guy in front of me, whose cotton "throw away" shirt had a Boston Marathon logo on the shoulder. I asked him if I could touch the logo for luck and he smiled, said yes, and told me "good luck." To verbalize "I'm going for a BQ today" to a stranger made me feel like an impostor; clearly, I'm still struggling with the "I'm not a runner" thing.

When the gun went off and the crowd surged towards the start line, I got teary and thought, "here we go," and asked myself, "how badly do you want it?" which is pre-race habit now (thank you Bree). The answer was, "probably not bad enough." That was my honest truth to myself on the start line of this race.

You know how in the first few steps of a running race, you kind of know how it's going to go? Well, I took the first few steps and thought, "oh man, this is going to be a battle today" because it didn't feel easy like it was supposed to. Sure enough, the first mile was an 8:47 - I needed 8:30s to meet the goal for the day.

I was wearing a borrowed Big Sexy Racing tri top (thank you Trent) and felt a boost of energy when I saw a couple of guys in the same gear ahead of me. I sped up to catch my new teammates and introduced myself. And then things started to look up! These guys (Greg and Matt) confessed to being undertrained and were running the full marathon as a "training run." This means they were actually running at the pace I needed to hold. I was thrilled to jump in with them and their friends and run with them for the next 10 miles. We held the pace and some fantastic conversation and I was thinking, this is pretty easy!

Then, they said they were stopping for a bathroom break and instructed me to run ahead. They told me not to let them catch me. I agreed and kept running, but as soon as I was alone, I started to fall off the pace. The next 15 miles were a constant battle of looking at my Garmin, seeing a number I didn't want, and picking up the pace, only to lose it a moment later.

I felt a boost of energy seeing my awesome family at mile 15 and again at 23. They were all dressed in pink and cheering and it was wonderful to see them. A big shout out to my brother Adam who has spent his last 2 birthdays standing on the Houston Marathon course!

These kids! My awesome niece and nephews - how could you not smile when you run up and see this!?
I've posted this photo of me and Henry a thousand times, but has anyone noticed the man in the cat shirt over my shoulder? You should have heard people cheering for him!
You know it's bad when you're counting down the kilometers because they're smaller than miles. By mile 23 my pace was slower than 9:00 and I had long lost all hope of a BQ.  But then I realized that I might not even get a PR, and that was unacceptable. I didn't do all that running this fall to not even run a new personal best on a beautiful, perfect day. So I pushed through the hills (yes, there are hills) and when I reached mile 25, I decided to run as fast as I could to the finish line. I ran that last mile at a 7:45 pace.

Dad saving my life with a Coke at mile 23. Practicing our handups for Norseman. ;)
What did I learn from this experience? Well, I learned that I'm a stronger runner than I've ever been, which is good, but that I need to push myself further into the pain zone if I want to reach that BQ goal. If I'd run as fast as possible in the last 6 miles, I wouldn't have been capable of 7:45 at the end, so I know I can run faster at the next one.

The next one will be at the end of Norseman in August, and I'll be fully motivated to run as fast as I can, chasing that black T-shirt. There's no "wouldn't it be cool if" about that goal.

And I've signed up for the Houston Marathon again for next year. Third time's a charm.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Motivation: Lost and Found

After 6 years in the sport, I suppose it was just a matter of time before I lost some motivation to train. It’s been a few months, and I’ve found it again (hooray!), which is why I’m writing this today, but, oh my goodness, for a while it was not good.

So what happened? I trained hard last year until Ironman Lake Tahoe in September. I knew after the race was over that I’d have a lot of “life stuff” going on. I came back from California and finished the process of buying a house. I moved into it. I prepared for and gave a huge presentation at work. And then after that, I traveled for work every other week for 6 weeks, which is completely out of the ordinary for me. Then came the holidays…I could go on. It also didn’t help that my most motivating training partner had back surgery and wasn’t available to work out with me for a couple of months.

It’s really easy to let all of those things become excuses not to train, and that’s what I did. For the first time in years, I skipped workouts. A bunch of them. I always had great excuses for it.

So what happens when you don’t train for a couple of months? You lose fitness. You get a little bit fat. You have a crappy performance at a race that you signed up for “just for fun,” and you realize that that isn't very fun. You start to lose confidence in your ability. You don’t feel good about yourself.

Getting into Norseman in November was the motivation I needed to at least show up to every workout, even though at first, I was still just going through the motions for many of them. I’ve been training for the Houston marathon, which is in 2 weeks, and I’ve got a pretty big goal for it: to qualify for Boston. My running times over the last 2-3 months have been ridiculously slow compared to the winter marathon build I did last year. I started to really doubt myself and lost all of the confidence that had grown over the last year and a half. I asked my coach, should I still be shooting at this goal? Is it ridiculous? And she said, let’s just see what happens.

Little by little, over the past 6 weeks, my motivation has been returning. I’ve been working harder and harder at every workout session. I’m watching my diet again. I’m starting to feel like myself. And guess what? My run times are improving. Thank goodness.

Looking forward to the road ahead.
Motivation for this sport takes many shapes and can change over time. At first it’s just seeing if you can train to finish a particular event. Maybe then it’s competing with your friends. Maybe it’s chasing a cute boy on a bike. Eventually though, it all comes back to internal motivation: how badly do you want it? That’s what it takes to be great. That’s what it takes to get out there and do the work every day, even when it’s cold, or early, or dark, or raining.

The best reminder for me came a week ago, from one of my new Big Sexy Racing teammates. Christine Cross, winner of Ironman Louisville last year, posted this on Instagram:

I've heard versions of this before. What I love about this is the reminder that someone at Christine’s level is still thinking this way – it’s never easy, and the only way to excel is to work hard at it every day. Hard work works. There’s no way around it.

I feel recharged and motivated to tackle the challenges ahead this year. And I'll say this with confidence: you might beat me, but it’s not going to be because you trained harder than me. I’m going to do everything I can, in every workout, to be focused and to improve myself for the season ahead, so that I can reach the Big Goals that I’ve set – a BQ, a black T-shirt at Norseman.

Happy New Year! And happy training. Let’s go chase some dreams!