I didn't want to run a half marathon this year.
I've lost a bit of my taste for racing, somewhere. I've learned that I would prefer training block after training block after training block, and I don't like interrupting that with the taper/race/recovery mess that comes along with race day. But I also have learned that I need to be doing things that get me out of my comfort zone (sigh), so a half marathon it was.
By this point in my life, I've run a fistful of half marathons, about half of them off the bike. And almost without exception, I've lined up with something nagging - maybe I'm still getting over a cold, maybe I had a devastating back injury and haven't run in two weeks, maybe this wahh, maybe that wahh. If I had lined up for the marathon like I had originally planned, I would have been in that situation. Because bouncing back from the mess my life was all fall to a marathon the second week of February, that would have left something nagging. But when I stepped to the line Sunday morning, my mind was empty, calm, clear. Peaceful.
I didn't have any time goals going in, not even secret "scary goals" in the back of my head. I had process goals, and basing my day around execution and not around the final number, that is starting to work well for me. I had no idea what my overall time was until after I passed the mile 12 marker, when I flipped my watch screen over for a split second, and then flipped it back. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to run on Sunday, and that's what I ran. I don't believe in race day magic, not really, not anymore. With a few exceptions, I had a solid six or seven week block of training going into this race, and I'm not surprised, shocked, impressed, horrified, or enthralled with the race I had. I am simply, quietly, pleased.
Part of that is MAF training, I think. Before I trained by MAF, I swung back and forth between crazy leaps of improvement and devastating set-backs due to injury, back and forth, over and over. Now I don't make those swings anymore, I'm off that roller-coaster. Instead, I move forward slowly and steadily, I am laying bricks in the foundation of my house. Then suddenly it's been over a year since I've been injured, suddenly I'm in the longest stretch of time I've ever been in, since I started running in 1999, without an atom bomb of injury being dropped on my training. Part of it is my Sonja, for sure, we all know that, and part of it, this time around, is working through a training cycle with these ladies. They are rock stars and I'm lucky to have found them here in Boulder (well, they were already here, but now I'm here too).
So, the race. I
forgot to turn off auto-lap before the race started, and for
some reason thought it was a good idea to lap at mile markers anyway, so
my data is a disaster of messed-up splits. I don't really care. The
race took a few splits here and there with timing mats, so I know what it looks like I
did on paper, but the truth it, I don't really care about that either.
I'm not sure I'm interested in narrating the day with splits and times
and hills and nutrition and hydration and all of those things, not this time. For the better part of the race, my mind was blank, an empty space (insert joke about it being empty all the time here; go ahead, walk through the door, I opened it for you). I ran 10-11 miles of the race without music, and only put in the earbuds near the end with the hope that it would let me hurt a little harder. It didn't. The course was described as hilly and challenging. It was. I got down two gels and a bunch of water at some point between the start and finish. My form collapsed into a nightmareish mess in the later miles. That all happened. But those details just aren't interesting to me right now.
I will tell you, I will tell anyone, openly and honestly, that what holds me back in racing is my mind. More precisely, my fear of hurting on the run. I used to be afraid of race-day blowups, and I'm past that, or maybe I'm not and it's the same thing as it was, just wearing different pants. I am afraid to hurt, I am afraid of what it looks like out there on the edge, and facing it is the only way I'm ever going to get the F over it. It's fascinating to me that I'm not really afraid of it in the water, and it's been a while since I've had a block with a lot of cycling in it but I'm pretty sure it doesn't show up there as loudly as it does on the run. The voice in my head, the one that tells me it's okay to slow down, to walk, to ease up, the weenie that hates to go ouch, that voice didn't pipe up Sunday morning. That voice, along with all the other voices in my crazy little brain, was silent.
So I lined up, and I ran, and I hurt myself a little bit harder than I've ever managed to do so in the past. That's progress. But is there still room for growth, do I still have the ability to hurt myself even harder? Absolutely. I knew it was true before I looked at my data, and I know it's true now.
I said a long time ago, somewhere, that I'm not so much concerned with numbers this year. Seven weeks in, I'm glad that is still true. I couldn't even tell you what my official finishing time was on Sunday. What I will tell you is that training is continuing to be a vehicle for change in my life. And not because of how much I ran on which day for how fast, not because how many hours I rode at how many watts, not because of any of that. The change is walking down the road of learning about myself, about constantly trying to do things better, to discard the noise and trash and stay true to the work that needs to be done. To talk less, to do more. Last month I ran a ten miler. I executed it like I was supposed to, I reached as far as I could reach on that day with those legs. I was relatively unconcerned that I squeaked out a PR. This weekend I ran a half marathon. I executed it well; as Sonja keeps telling me, I went looking for the floor of my well. I found it, I dug out a few shovelfuls of dirt and now my well is a tiny bit deeper. It doesn't much matter to me right now that I took another handful of minutes off another PR - what matters is that when I went out and stumbled into the pain, I didn't give into it. Instead I said hello, I made friends with it, I ran 13.1 miles straight through it without any drama or problems or disruptions, and then I was done with it. The next time I go out looking for it, I'll be a little bit less afraid and I'll be able to reach a little higher. But for now, I am at peace. I am simply, pleased. I said it two years ago after my first half marathon, and I'll say it again now because it continues to resonate with me.
Life's this game of inches.