Since December 2015 when I raced CIM, I’ve taken a break from marathon training. I put my body through the ringer as I trained for an Olympic Trials Qualifier. Instead, over the last half year I’ve focused on base building and shorter distance races, but in 2017 I plan to build back up to marathon training this summer.
In November I won the Amica Seattle Half Marathon, but what was more thrilling, was being able to do so alongside my friend and teammate, Amber Morrison, who won the full marathon. It was incredibly special to be a part of a Bellingham Distance Project sweep, and we felt such great love from our community. The Seattle Half and Full are not known for being fast, rather, indicative of Seattle’s landscape, they are moderately hilly. With this in mind, Amber and I knew we’d have to toss out our time goals, and in the true spirit of racing, actually, intuitively compete.
Because the course wasn’t technically fast, I wanted another “A” race to put my training to the test. It was between the RnR Arizona Half or the Chevron Houston Half. Accepted to both, I decided to let my gut decide; which one felt right? Which could be more fun, more me?
I sifted through blogs and the Letsrun.com message board, looking for some sign to guide me. I understood that the field at Houston would likely be more competitive, but the flights were more expensive and the weather more temperamental. In the past, RnR Arizona has drawn forth amazing talent, especially leading into the 2016 Olympic Trials, when it was used for a tune-up and as a last attempt at the “B” qualifier.
In the end, I went with RnR Arizona. It felt a little more low key, the weather a little more predictable, and I had a good friend in the race. My partner and I booked our tickets and hotel; I got to work.
On January 14th, the day before the race, my partner and I flew into Phoenix, heading straight to the expo for bib pickup. I’m not much of a fan of expos: sensory overload, an amalgam of chaos, of swerving and dodging. A part of me is all, “These are my people. We’re in this together!” But when thousands of nervous people get together, it’s like smelling teenage stress sweat by choice.
An added feature of my dramatization was witnessing athletes or their support crew getting their makeup done by cosmetic vendors or getting their face massaged in wrinkle removing creams, all of which was alongside, literally, a weave vendor. Like, long swatches and wefts hanging on hooks. I don’t mean to imply that you can’t like this stuff and running simultaneously. That, let’s say, a woman can’t be picking up her bib for a marathon, and also want to try some creams, or a new shade of lipstick, or even pick up a new weave for a longer, thicker ponytail.
Anyone can be all of those things at once, but … But? I kind of felt like I was in a time warp, like what it must have been like for the women running the first big races where they were allowed to compete. It was if the male race directors wanted us women to feel included, so they went above and beyond at the expo to provide “women’s things”. It was strange.
I made an error in reserving our lodging. First of all, I’m not so much of a cheapskate as I am a deal-seeker. I’ll take the more exhaustive flight for the better price tag. Yeah, ok, that’s cheap. But my partner deserves better than my relationship to deals, meaning, I knew I shouldn’t go for the cheapest hotel in Tempe, rather middle-ground, as a gesture of kindness to him for being my support crew and in the interest of trying to be more adult. Now, I’m talking middle-ground like Ramada. My error was in not looking at the location, save for it being close to the start. It ended up being right on the highway. Whoops.
They wouldn’t let us check out late, and there was an ever-revolving door in the room next to us, which appeared to be a consistent flow of drug deals judging from my perch at the blinds. The bed was evocative of 1990’s RV plastic, each time we shifted it was like slapping two baby diapers together.
I laced up for a 30 minute shakeout, a run which proffered a hundred angry chihuahuas and pit bulls slamming their bodies against chain link fences, diving through holes in said fences, pulled taut against leashes tethered to the ground. I passed old houses left in ashes from fire, stuffed animals burned and sitting there in the rubble. The cacti were even sad, pocked and rotting. I was seeing everything through a gloomy lens, and I didn’t know how I got there.
I hurried through my shakeout and couldn’t shake an ominous feeling that this just wasn’t it. I felt more sadness than anything, not full of hope or teeming in powerful gusto for the opportunity. I didn’t want to give in to these feelings, when what was physically real was that I had worked for months towards a delicious goal, and an attempt at that goal was hours away.
I rinsed in a shower littered with black hairs, and my partner and I headed out of the city, to Scottsdale, for dinner at a place we were told we needed to experience, Citizen Public House. I had the Hippie Dippie with roasted vegetables, smoked mozzarella, aioli and arugula on ciabatta with fries, the famed original chopped salad, and a glass of red wine. The service was incredible. Scottsdale turned my mood around. The rest of the evening I laid in bed reading.
The race started in Tempe, and was set to take off at 7:50 am. The elites and VIP Pass holders had the luxury of hanging out at the Pedal Haus Brewery, for warm bathrooms and relaxing before the race.
Thirty minutes to go and an elite coordinator walked a group of us to the starting line. After some quick strides, leg swings and the national anthem, the gun. Highly favored for the win, Neely Spence Gracey and eventual second place female finisher, Maor Tiyouri from Israel separated from the rest of the female competitors almost immediately.
Playing with a race strategy a teammate helped devise, I aimed to run the first 10 miles conservatively, and race with heart in the final 5k. For the first half of the race, there were a few of us, which helped me stay engaged, but eventually I found myself alone.
There’s a couple long, ever-so slightly inclined hills which were host to my slowest miles. They zapped me. Leg fatigue showed up as early as mile six, which I couldn’t make sense of. I’d taken a good sized taper and had ceased strength training. The bottoms of my feet were sore, most likely due to racing in the Saucony Type A, the most minimal shoe I’ve competed in yet.
At the most painful points in the race I cycled through a mantra, “I feel strong. I feel strong,” hoping that in simply announcing the word “strong,” a part of me would believe it. It’s really valuable to have a mantra. I think that if you focus on the words, over and over, spelling them out in your mind, you distance yourself from the more readily available and self-absorbed exclamations that start to negate your experience, things like, “This hurts” and “Why do I feel this way so early?” or “I have to change my goal; this isn’t working.” My mantra served me well in that I hung on, even though I knew it wasn’t my day. It afforded me the opportunity to tune-out with positive self affirmation.
In analyzing the experience all I can think of is that when it got just the slightest bit harder, my mental game wasn’t on point, or perhaps traveling the day before the race drained a little more energy than I’d imagined.
However, when I look at the splits, I see that I followed the race strategy well. I had a fairly consistent first 10 miles, and a faster, more passionate final 5k ending in 5:57, 5:54, 5:52, 5:25 (last 0.1). I did not meet my time goal, but was proud to place third in a time of 1:18:48.
After the race, I found my man and my friends, and we walked the promenade munching on the delicious fruit and breakfast burritos provided in the elite tent. Awards had us on stage, presented with plaques, and all at once I felt both proud and glum, knowing that I should feel thankful, but wondering just what it was that was keeping me from this magical land of feel-good-PR-powerful-she-woman potential.
It’s right there in all of us. You just need a little magic, the right situation, the right mindset. You have to be ready to hurt for it.
What do you think is the secret to a break-through performance?
*A little shout out to my friend Sara Ibbetson, who, in training towards the Phoenix Full Marathon on February 25th, earned herself a pretty PR, taking eighth with a time of 1:21:26. Way to kick ass, and good luck to you Sara!