Thirteen years ago, almost to the date, I stepped foot on a 200 meter track to run my very first race. I chose to forgo my third year as a pitcher on the high school softball team to pursue indoor track all because I liked how it was starting to feel to run.
After those 400 meters, I didn’t like the feeling. I wanted to puke. I was dizzy. And I collapsed.
My finish time was 84 seconds.
On February 16th, 2013, I stepped foot on a nearly 300 meter track to run my very first race in a long time. That morning I had run an effortless 5k, a sit and kick of sorts, in a PR time of 21:56. I knew I could go faster but I was waiting for, my next race, the 800 to verify that.
After those 800 meters, I loved the feeling. I didn’t have to puke and I wasn’t dizzy, except for a slight buzz while I waited for my time to appear on the big screen. More importantly, I didn’t collapse.
My finish time was 2 minutes and 39 seconds. My splits were 77 and 82 seconds per 400 meters.
Three days later, I went back to the track for a workout. Something was already different as I completed my strides. I felt anew with a pep in my step, like a race horse waiting at the gate. More importantly, I wasn’t fearing what was ahead of me.
The workout was 2 x 1600, 2 x 800, and 8 x 200. For the last thirteen years, I sat at 7:10s for 1600s and 3:25s for 800s. And 200s? Well, I always enjoyed those. But that night, I aggressively ran 6:50, 6:48, 3:14, 3:07, and an average of 40 second 200s with a 33 second last 200 on the heels of my boyfriend James.
Then it dawned on me. All this time, I was running with my training wheels on.
For as long as I can remember, I have been sensitive to pain. Tense. Uptight. And nervous about a lot of things. It runs in my family and most of it has probably been passed down through our quirky manifestations of anxiety rather than stemming from a single gene. My hands tell it all. I’m sure I have hyperhidrosis but I’m too scared to find out.
The day after my race, I turned 30. I felt exactly the same physically as I did the day prior. But mentally, things were starting to change leading up to the big 3-0. Slowly slipping away were worries about how my stomach looked, worries about the opinions of others, and worries about all the other little things that don’t mean shit in the grand scheme of life. As it got closer to my birthday and the race, I began to put it all together.
A deep breath can go a long way by temporarily calming the body down. The anxiety is still there, but that breath makes one feel more in control. Five weeks out from the race, I was primarily focusing on being in control of my soon-to-be 30-year-old body.
An hour out from the 800 meter race, I had feelings of wanting to puke and then run away. Similar to how I felt when I flew on a plane for the first time or unhappily rode a roller coaster just to fit in. I’ve run away more times than I’m proud of so it seemed like the easiest solution.
I chose the deep breaths.
I was in the fifth heat of five. It all happened so fast, heat after heat lining up like clock worth. We approached the line and set, GO! The gun off, I immediately found myself in last. We passed the finish line to signal the start of our two laps, all ten of us still close in position. I rounded the top of the track and heard coach Glenn yell, “Race Jinger!” Then I remembered the passage from Running Within about never knowing how good you are until you take the risk to find out.
In a matter of three seconds, I went from 10th place to 4th place.
Tunnel vision took over. There may have even been a roar from the crowd. First, second, and third were not too far either. One second my thought was, “I can win this! Go get first.” The next second my thought was, “What the hell did I just do?”
The second thought won. But I’m willing to excuse myself because I was in uncharted territory. Just goes to show the power of affirmations.
I held onto fourth place as we rounded the top of the track again. I heard James yell in a monstrous voice, “Yeah Jinger!”. And then Coach Glenn on the backstretch, “There you go!”
A breath uttered behind me. I picked it up as fast as I could, focusing more on not being caught, when I should’ve been focused on catching third place. Another lesson learned.
Fifth place got me at the line, but I was still in my tunnel vision, feeling that buzz I want more of. Seeing 2:39 put an instant smile on my face.
I felt fierce, fast, and slightly cocky.
Yeah, 2:39 is still slow to some people. But for someone whose previous best is 2:57, it’s a major jump start in the right direction, straight on towards achieving those dream big goals.
Physically, I broke through. But the even bigger breakthrough was mental. Running those 800s meters with tunnel vision on, I never once noticed an ounce of unbearable pain, the pain I’ve feared for so long. I finally took the risk to go somewhere I never have and now I know I’m capable of so much more.
Taking the risk to test your limits is the icing on the cake, the last accessory added to the “It” gown at the Oscars. Breakthroughs are not a one size fits all but what they do have in common is that they stem from a combination of consistency, persistence, trial and error (believe me, LOTS of trial and error), and adding mental training to your physical training plans. It is my hope to share more of my mental training secrets with you in 2013 here at Salty Running!
What’s been your biggest breakthrough?