Monday, December 17, 2018

I'm a Runner! Finding the New Normal

If you know me - if you’ve read this blog around this time of year on any given year - you know that I’ve struggled forever with “being a runner.” These doubts usually bubble up more frequently around the holidays when I’m training for a marathon in the triathlon “off season.” I push myself in the pool but not when I’m running, I’ve said. If I need to miss a workout, I’ll always miss a swim or a bike over a run, because running is my weakness, I’ve said. Then last fall I decided to try running a 50K and in the months that followed, everything has changed. Just a little less than a year and a half later, I’m training for a winter marathon (as usual) and saying proudly “I am a runner” (not usual at all!).

After my “test race” 50K last September, I decided to take a much-needed break from triathlon to pursue a year of ultrarunning. I signed up for the Silver Rush 50 mile run as my big goal race for the year and was so scared of the goal that it took me several months to even be able to say out loud that I was running it. I was definitely excited to try something new.

To say that I jumped with boundless enthusiasm into a new sport is somewhat true, but it’s not the whole story. After Ironman Boulder last year, Trent’s back, which has always been a problem, refused to let him run anymore. That meant he couldn’t be competitive in triathlons. After being forced to quit running he very quickly lost interest in his bike (although he was certainly celebrating dumping swimming, his least favorite sport). Instead, he turned to golf as his outlet, a sport he’s excelled at in the past. To be honest, I was tired and burned out on triathlon. I was ready for a break. Suddenly, just months after moving to a town 45 minutes away from Boulder, the triathlon capital of the world, both of us had lost interest in triathlon.

This change felt like the end of something. Trent and I had met through triathlon. We’d trained together, raced together, spent countless hours talking about triathlon, dreaming together about what was to come. We’d been on the same triathlon team – Big Sexy Racing – and made friends together through the team and through the sport. I remember a conversation we had early in our relationship. He’d said, “you know I’m not going to be interested in triathlon forever. Are you okay with that?” to which I replied, “you know I’ll be a triathlete for the rest of my life. Are you okay with that?” And we’d both said yes. I expected at some point that Trent would find a different goal to chase, but I didn’t expect the same thing to happen to me. Now what? Trent was spending the Saturdays we used to spend on the bike playing golf instead. Clearly I needed to have my own interests as well.

I think I took this picture during my last bike ride this year. It was fun to roll up on Trent hitting golf balls.
Yes, I jumped enthusiastically into a new sport, but I was also trying to find my way, navigating our new normal. I spent the first half of the year feeling like an impostor, trying to redefine myself as “ultrarunner.” I think it was good for me to find my own way in a new sport without a coach. Without any expectations from anyone. Just being a newbie. But there was definitely something missing.

About halfway through the year, I reached out to Nell, who is coaching me now. “Once I’m done with all this trail running, I’d like to find some speed on the road again,” I told her, “I’ve gotten so slow since I moved here.” She agreed and as promised, after my last ultra of the season was complete in September, we started focusing on speed. I’ve signed up with a few friends for the Phoenix Mesa Marathon on February 9, 2019. My goal is to run a new personal best time and prepare to earn a Boston Qualifying time in 2020.

My training plan started filling up with threshold runs and track workouts. At the Longmont Turkey Trot, a 2-mile run (which Nell won, by the way), I freaked out because I tasted blood at the end of the race. I worried that I’d damaged my lungs. “Does it taste like pennies?” Nell clarified. Yes! “That’s great!” she exclaimed, “it means you really pushed yourself.” She explained a little more and then I went home and looked it up. You guys! I really pushed myself at running! This is a FIRST.

Nell in the middle of her group of athletes after the Longmont Turkey Trot.
As the miles have increased and training paces have been dialed in, I’m thrilled to be feeling motivation and drive that I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’m terrified of the track workout every week, but I’m also determined to get out there and do my best. Can I run 4 miles at threshold pace at the end of a 16 mile run? Yes I can. I’m running faster at a lower heart rate on my easy runs. I’m feeling so strong and recovering quickly. I know that most of this is because of a personalized training plan from a badass coach who believes in me and some of it is because of the massive volume that I put in this summer on the trails. It’s all coming together.

Happiness is nailing a track workout, not knowing until later that there were sweat icicles on my hair!
With each week that passes I’m feeling more confidence, even after an occasional workout doesn’t go as planned, like yesterday’s 20 miler. I’m not taking selfies during my runs anymore because I’m working too hard to pull out my phone. I’m not worrying about my weight like before because I’m more interested in how fast I can move my legs than about an arbitrary number on the scale. Holy cow, look what my body can do.

While training for ultras last year was motivating and interesting in its own way, I’m now relishing moving full-speed towards a goal. I missed this. I love this.

You know I’m always looking for the lesson, so here it is. In the spring I was running away from triathlon, somehow looking to escape from myself. At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I know it was always just a little bit empty. Today, I’m running full throttle towards a huge goal that I care tremendously about. The difference in the experience is enormous. Although it may sound pretty simple, it took me a year to figure it out: running towards something is always better than running away.

“Why are you going to bed so early?” Trent complained lightly the night before a track workout the next morning. “Because I want to win this marathon,” I said. He’s looking forward to the trip to Arizona in February because of all the great golf courses in Phoenix. I think we’re finding the new normal.