A Breakthrough, Thirteen Years in the Making

Living out the Salty Running Manifesto by being brave and trying new things!
Living out the Salty Running Manifesto by being brave and trying new things, like racing in my sports bra.

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.

Living out the Salty Running Manifesto again by loving my body for what it does.
Living out the Salty Running Manifesto again by loving my body for what it does.

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.

Flickr contributor's description: Even kids on...
Goodbye training wheels! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

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I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. My biggest breakthrough was realizing I could actually run a sub 8:00 pace and that I wouldn’t die. There are still some days I don’t believe it but I’m getting more confident

    1. Yes, confidence is a huge factor. Sub-8 pace was always a mental hump for me, too. I think the first place to start is with positive affirmations or reframes (“I can do this, I am strong, etc”) and making sure to repeat or change these thoughts even outside of running! Good luck and keep up the great work!

      1. I agree with affirmations / mantras. Lately mine have been “I am not going to die” (ha – it really does help me through those intervals on the treadmill) and “stay the course” (meaning I need to stick with my scheduled workout and not cut corners). I can thank Caitlin Chock for that last one. It really helped me pound out some hard workouts last week.

        1. Great affirmations! You made a great point too on the Fake It Post by Salty today. Once you get over the fear of failure, the sky really is the limit!

  2. I think my biggest breakthrough is actually being ok with not winning. I am a very competitive person, and for a while not being able to run as far or as fast as other people stopped me in my tracks. I always used my back as an excuse. (I had 2 back surgeries 7 years ago and have rods in my spine, I was always really nervous about the rods popping out.) (they won’t.) Now I just get out there for the love of running, and how my body feels running, and how crazy it is that my body can do that! I only care that I finish in the top half, otherwise I’m just pumped that I can run a half marathon, and train for a full marathon. I’m running Boston this year and I am SO PUMPED and just looking forward to finishing 🙂

    1. Great point, Mary! That was part of this breakthrough as well. In the past, I would be afraid of finishing last. Even going into these races, I told myself that it was possible I would finish last, but so what? As long as I put in a good effort, I would be happy with the outcome and learn from any defeat. Thanks for sharing your success and best of luck at Boston!

  3. Jinger, this was an awesome recap of where you’ve ‘been’ and how far you’ve come thus far – both mentally and physically! Thanks for pacing me last night at Kent Track!

    1. Thanks so much Barb. I think I gave some of this post away to you last night when we were talking 😉 You are welcome for the pacing and continue to be such an inspiration! Cannot wait to cheer you from afar at the Indoor Championships!

  4. I love this post – some of my biggest breakthroughs about everything have come through running. Running in just a sorts bra was a huge one. I still don’t like bikinis, but this morning I ran on the treadmill in a gym full of boys and didn’t think more than one thought about it. Even at my thinnest I couldn’t have done that. Being able to do that is huge, and it took until I was almost 30 to feel comfortable with my body.

  5. The first breakthrough came first from biking with the big boys… Guys that were faster than me made me work harder. The second breakthrough came from not skipping days (I was switching off between cycling and running days at that point). But the catch is that to be a better runner you have to run; not cycle, not do insanity videos… Run. And that leads into the biggest breakthrough that came from getting over my fear of high mileage, putting in a minimum of ten miles a day, every day, and focusing on only one sport, running. The magic happened pretty quickly. Within about three months I jumped something like seven VDOT rows on Daniels’ training chart.