Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

My BHAG for Chicago Is…

Sometime around 7am this morning, I had the following realization:

“Holy sh*t, the marathon is in TWO WEEKS!!!”

Yes, yes, you’d think with how much weight I’m putting on this race, I would have had a clearer idea of when it was. But I swear, last weekend someone asked me how much longer I had till the marathon, and my response was, “Umm, 4 weeks? Or maybe 5?”

Nope. TWO. TWO WEEKS.

That’s a small number that’s feeling like a VERY BIG number.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking, “Since when is this race such a big deal? She hasn’t talked about it much before now.”

Yeah, I haven’t mentioned it. And you know why? Because for me, it’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL.

And you know what I do when something’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL? I go into complete and utter denial. Kind of like how I spent 10 years thinking I was “bad with kids”, then finally realized I was just using this as a more palatable alternative to, “I’m terrified I’ll be a bad mother.” (Whew! There’s a can of worms for a later date.)

Or there’s my personal favorite, “I just can never lose that last 10 pounds,” which I figured out years ago is code for, “I’m terrified to lose that last 10 pounds and then realize everything about life isn’t magically made perfect.”

The interesting thing about me (wow, that sure sounds stuck up, doesn’t it? I blame the wine glass next to me) is that when I go into denial, it’s a really really motivatedkind of a denial.

For example, back in college, I decided I wasn’t as intellectual as my peers. (Especially that guy who wrote that paper on “The Fallacy of the Dust Cover”. The paper was brilliant, but he was still a snot.)

To deal with this inferiority complex, I read every last footnote, did every last extra credit assignment, and joined every student organization under the sun. I once even stooped so low as to wear the T-shirt for a very prestigious women’s group (of which I WAS at least a member – I’m not a total ass – to go cry in a professor’s office and ask to drop a class two weeks before the final…rather than take a C. (He let me.)

My approach to marathon training is roughly on that level. To judge how “good” I am at running, I don’t compare my training to the 98% of the population who barely gets off the couch. I compare myself to my co-workers who run for the elite and almost elite Rogue teams. I often find myself saying I “only” run about 40 miles a week, or that my half marathon pace is “only” in the 9-minute range. And I am constantly trying to get those numbers up and down, respectively.

For the past two months, I’ve had this as the background on my phone:

I’m like a walking BOA advertisement.

And for the last three months, I’ve spent less and less time running with my friends and more and more time on long solo runs, agonizing more over 5-second pace variations than my social standing. (Umm, who ARE you and what have you done with Chris??)

This is not the first time I’ve trained for a marathon on my own. (There was Austin 2004, San Antonio 2009, and the ultimate in loner-dom, Düsseldorf 2011.)

And it’s not the first time I’ve trained for a different race than the rest of my running group (New Orleans 2012).

But this was definitely the first time I managed to train both with my group and almost totally alone.

You see, my long runs were topping 20 miles when my friends were tapering for – and then recovering from – a half marathon.

Then there were the multiple Saturdays that I worked either Clif events or Rogue water stops, thus making up many a long run alone on the Town Lake trail. (Let me tell you, the 3 miles of Town Lake east of I35 are a freaking desert when it comes to water fountains. On one run, I actually broke down and bought Gatorade from that 7-Eleven with the bars on the windows and door.)

Basically, thanks to my stubborn insistence on running Chicago every single year, I’ve become one of the few Austinites left crazy enough to marathon train through our triple-digit summers.

And as training progressed, it wasn’t just long runs I had to do on my own. When my friends’ half was over – and the accompanying girls’ weekend in Vancouver I’m still jealous to have missed – their Wednesday morning quality workouts returned to “base-building” for the next program. I, meanwhile, was still in the land of tempo runs and track intervals.

This summer, I more than once found myself begging people not to wait on me to finish my 3byX crazy miles of pace work (plus 2 miles warm-up and cool-down, of course). Nothing says “you’re slow” like knowing that dude at the water stop REALLY wants to go home.

WOE IS ME!

Or…not.

I might be stretching it a little to find a silver lining in all this, but I actually think this loner training experience was, in many ways, good for me.

For one thing, running on my own when it’s 90+ degrees out made me realize just how much I’ve let my dysmorphic body image take precedence over personal comfort. How in the world have I spent 9 years running marathons, training in Texas heat, and being too ashamed to take my dang shirt off???

I’ve spent 9 YEARS passing 200lb guys running around in little more than Speedos, wondering if they think my arms look fat in a tank top.

Frankly, I am appalled at myself.

Ladies, I have seen the new face of women’s liberation, and it is a sports bra on a 90-degree day. No, my stomach is not flat. No, my legs do not each enjoy several inches of personal space. But, for the love of God, if they can carry me through 50-mile weeks (and yes, I did get back up to 50 miles, ligament or no ligament), then they sure as heck shouldn’t have to do it in long pants!

I am not owning that smudge on the mirror, though.
That was the 6-foot tall dog.
She also unmade the bed. Jerk.

Getting over the line in my stomach was a HUGE step in getting over…myself.

And it led to more big steps.

For example, this past week we had a sub coach, and I really didn’t give two you-know-whats about him having to wait for me to finish my workout.

I don’t mean that in an aggressive, “I don’t care if I’m wasting your time!” sort of way.  I mean it in a much healthier, “I’m finally over my obsession that everyone is judging me for being so slow” way. In a, “My training is as important as anyone else’s, and I’m going to do my full workout,” way.

And when I did that full workout, I realized I was actually only 5 minutes behind the rest of the group. Our sub wasn’t even done picking up his cones and PVC hurdles when I finished my last track repeat. (Bright side: If I had to run farther than everyone else, at least I got out of that “strength circuit” they had to do.)

Getting comfortable with being last – or rather, getting over my obsession that the whole world (like, including the school crossing guard and the scruffy stray cat) was judging me – allowed me to shift my focus to other things.

For example, I now am expert at telling the difference between a patronizing tone and a genuine one when a faster runner says, “Looking good!” (And you sir, from this morning. You were borderline…)

I’ve also had lots of time to practice more useful things, like being in the moment, relaxing my stride, and not letting my head get the best of me. It only took THREE successful progression runs for me to process that it’s 100% my head that gives out in the last 10K of a marathon, and not my legs. (Why exactly did I think I was different than the rest of the running world??? Umm…because I am a special snowflake? Who freaking knows.)

And of course once I realized how much my head was driving the boat, I realized how much faster I actually am than I thought. Not *fast*, mind you, but faster than I thought.

I got the first inkling of this back in March, when I miraculously ran the best time trial of my running life after 6 months of virtually no running. My coach attributed it to cross-training, and in fairness I do think things like spin classes helped me understand simple-yet-not-simple concepts like increasing your turnover rate.

But I can’t deny the fact that I ran better partly because none of my friends were in town that weekend.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way saying my friends slow me down. On the contrary, each and every one of them has a faster PR than me at their preferred race distance. (And almost ALL of them have faster marathon PRs, even though I’m the only one who actually claims to LIKE the marathon.)

It was me running with my friends that slowed me down.

In other words, it was my stupid freaking head.

When I ran with other people, I had two modes:

  • Mode 1: Decide they’re faster than me, label myself “not competitive”, and give up all effort.
  • Mode 2: Feel bad about having a better day than someone and purposely slow down so they don’t feel bad about themselves.

There was NO in-between. No happy medium of my own comfortable pace. I was an absolute expert at expending all my energy on my own anxiety.

Luckily, I happen to have had the opportunity to do a bit of soul-searching of late. (And if I have to explain that comment, you have NOT been paying attention.) =)

Recent realizations:

  1. Saying “I’m not competitive” is about as valid as saying, “I don’t like wine or chocolate.” I am absolutely, hands-down, one of the MOST competitive people I know. I just also happen to not be a…“natural” athlete. I was so incapable of dealing with the thought of working as hard as someone else and STILL being slower than them that I would completely give up on a workout rather than risk “losing” fair and square.
  2. My desire to be a people-pleaser leads me to undermine myself. Emily has told me time and again that holding myself to a slower pace because I’m worried about making someone else feel bad is…and I quote…“just dumb”. Coach Chris has told me to “stop being Mama Bear and just do the workout”. And yet somehow it took explicit permission from BOTH these people for me to feel okay with saying, “Hey guys, I’m going to run this pace today, so please excuse me if I’m running ahead or lagging behind.”
  3. It’s about damn time I stop making excuses and set a good, old-fashioned stretch goal. A BHAG. I’ve done 7 marathons without thinking that running a marathon is difficult, and somehow I’ve never before processed what a strong indication that is that I have NOT been pushing myself. Like AT ALL. Sure, running 26 miles can be enjoyable, but on WHAT PLANET should it feel easy???

So, here’s BHAG #1 for Chicago:

4:22

That’s 25 minutes faster than my current PR. Which leads to BHAG #2:

Master the mental monster.

Yes, 4:22 is a big PR, but it’s also only 10-minute miles. Not actually that hard a pace for me. Probably not even fast enough to make the top half of finishers.

Given my current 5K, half marathon, and 2-mile time trial PRs, 10-minute miles on a flat course should be very achievable. (Believe me, I’ve cross-checked this with multiple online pace calculators.)

Which made me rethink something Coach Chris said at the beginning of this training cycle. I guess I’ll call this one my non-BHA G (if that makes any sense at all):

“4:30, no excuses.”

Three months of running on my own, of leaving my competitive anxieties at home, and of clocking times I never thought possible have made me realize why he said this in a rather harsh way. (Well, for someone who takes minor corrections as “harsh”.)

4:30 SHOULD be relatively easy for me. It’s not really a stretch goal. It’s a safe goal. Yes, I’ll be happy with a 4:30, and yes, part of me is still terrified I won’t even be able to accomplish that. That part of me is claiming I’ll be okay with anything under 4:40, even though I know that’s a big fat lie.

Because I want4:22.

And so, assuming race-day conditions cooperate, I’m going to go for it.

Yes, I might crash and burn. But I’d rather fizzle out from real exhaustion than mental panic.

Because even if my legs give out underneath me, I’ll know I’ve improved in the most important way possible: I’ll have conquered my own self-doubt.

And then I’ll get to work on continuing to conquer it. Again and again and again…

At least it should make some good blog fodder 😉

3 comments on “My BHAG for Chicago Is…

  1. 2012 winner.
    September 29, 2013

    Trash talk before the race! Who woulda thunk it? OK, game on. I'm going to start training for this one.

  2. Emily
    September 29, 2013

    Love this!! And now after reading this and our talk this morning, I am more assured that I too need to get out of my head and quit being afraid to train hard and still "lose." If we never push ourselves we will never grow (faster)!Also, I'm glad you chose one of my more PC quotes to use in the blog 🙂

  3. Jaime Brown
    September 30, 2013

    I also love this! All of it! Go get 'em, tiger! haha I was also terrified to learn I have a race in 3 weeks! Ahhh! Still coming back from injury and still emotionally dealing with the fact that, as a result of said injury, I had to change registration from the full to the half marathon… and I had high hopes of killlllling it. And after a spring season of PRs, am freaked that I'm going to stink up the course out there. Some pressure is good, but not too much. We're only really racing against ourselves. And as my physiotherapist reminded me, 'We can't always have PRs, sometimes we have good seasons and sometimes bad seasons. That's why we have training seasons. You can't be 'on' all the time.' I'll be cheering for you!!!!! Also – love the pic!!! 🙂

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2013 by in anxiety, Chicago, confidence, goals, mind games, time, training.
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