Going Long—Really Long—Again

14 miles.

I’ve had this arbitrary distance floating around in my head for awhile now. As per usual, when I get fixated on tackling a certain loop or workout, I need to do it. ASAP. But I’ve been flirting with this distance for a few months, and the closest I got was 13.1 miles a couple weeks ago because I decided midrun I could manage an unofficial half marathon that morning.

But 14 miles? That seemed… far. Too far for what I can manage these days, I told myself.

Regardless, I wanted to check it off that mental to-do list before marathon training kicks off this fall, which—fun fact!—I signed up for my first marathon since 2015! I plan to run the El Paso Marathon next February. I’ve always wanted to run 26.2 in my hometown and it seems like the perfect comeback marathon after my hiatus from serious racing.

Anyway, one night last week before a shift at work for which there was a chance of being called off, I told myself that if I did get the day off, I’d make the most of the early wake-up and do a really long run. And for whatever reason, 15 miles was the new goal.

Sure enough, I got the call and promptly pulled off my scrubs and laced up my running shoes to head to the Boulder Reservoir. I started off down the gravel road around 6:45 a.m. The sun was shining but the air was still cool (thank God for dry air in the summer!) and I felt fresh. For the first time in years, I tried to settle in mentally for the long haul. I told myself, find an easy rhythm, no need to go fast, enjoy the insanely gorgeous scenery, remember I get to do this, I don’t need to do this, and just cover the distance.

A couple hours later, 15 miles buzzed on my watch. It certainly didn’t look or feel pretty, but the epic views more than made up for it. I was exhausted but elated.

 

Heading into this marathon cycle, after a break long enough that the distance feels more like a stranger than an old friend, my goal is just to complete it and enjoy the heck out of racing with my family on the sidelines for the first time ever. Because it’s been so long and I feel like my body is in an entirely different place, I have no idea what I’m capable of running time-wise. Who knows if training at altitude (and a moderate drop in elevation for race day) plus winter temps (i.e. perfectly mild desert coolness) will magically add some zip to my stride that I haven’t felt in ages?

Along the way, I want to get my feet on as many trails as I can in this stunning new home of mine and hope to meet new running friends along the way. I have no expectations but for the first time in a long time, I’m freakin’ excited to run again.

The Hiatus Is Over. It’s Comeback Time.

One Monday a couple months ago, I found myself at the base of the towering Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, a trail of dusty orange gravel stretched out before me and into the mountains. It was still August, but the cool evening air was hinting at autumn.

We set off along the path, which quickly turned narrow, steep, and rocky. My lungs, still not acquainted with the altitude, began to burn almost instantly. Not long after, my quads followed suit. But we continued to climb, briefly quickening our pace to a slow jog on occasion when the path leveled out before we returned to a slow, painful trudge upward through the trees.

The loop called for more than 2,400 feet of climbing in 3.5 miles, followed by a 3-mile descent. God knows I’m always up for a challenge. But it became clear early on that I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written on this blog. When I last checked in, I wrote that I’d finally decided to start taking running seriously again. I imagined I’d have more time to run because, after a year of working part-time plus taking classes, I’d finally (theoretically) have a regular schedule again. I even planned to sign up for a fall half-marathon to keep me motivated.

Well, shortly after that post… a little life detour called nursing school started. And so began the most challenging 15 months of my life.

Thankfully, running stuck around for the relentless, insane, and incredible ride.

When school started, my life was quickly consumed with all things nursing. My weekends, which were once filled with long runs followed by even longer naps, turned into nonstop study sessions. And instead of waking up early to escape the heat for a sunrise run, I found myself in scrubs listening to a 6:45 a.m. shift report.

But I tried my best to squeeze in a few runs each week because running, as it has my whole life, keeps me sane. Running seemed to help me process this new chapter of my life and the crazy new career I was pursuing. It kept the stress from becoming all consuming and released the tension that would inevitably build up.

Running and I still had a haphazard relationship, however, which evolved with each passing semester. I did sign up for a fall half-marathon, so despite my ever-present exhaustion, I spent the summer trying to rebuild my endurance. Long runs were rewarded with coffee and a donut, because that was literally all that got me out the door. Then for a couple months at the end of the fall semester, a classmate and I dedicated ourselves to completing a 10-mile run, a distance she hadn’t run in years. Each weekend, we pushed ourselves a little farther, spending the miles trying to clear our minds as the leaves changed and fell around us. The morning after our last exam that semester, buoyed by the fact that we’d successfully endured finals week, we laced up on a frigid December day and ran 11.

The spring brought with it a streak of amazing mid-week “mini” long runs. My schedule worked out so that I’d have Wednesday afternoons off. I wore my workout clothes to school and, after sitting for five hours straight, ran 7 miles on the rail trail nearby. During some of those runs, I physically pounded out stress, while others felt effortless thanks to news of a successful exam or an amazing clinical day. Those runs felt like a way to reclaim my life in a small way when school felt all-consuming.

Throughout it all, though, I was never able to run consistently. I missed feeling like my old self, the one that somehow ran marathons not too long ago.

Despite my failing lungs and legs, we reached the crest of the mountain and were rewarded with spectacular views of the sunset. I sat for a moment, gasping for air. I hadn’t felt this spent in months. But wow did it feel good to genuinely push myself again. With spaghetti-like legs, we jogged back down the mountain. On the drive home, I felt I’d run a marathon. Sure, what we’d just finished would be difficult regardless. But boy, did I realize I have my work cut out for me.

Next year is shaping up to be a big one – now that I’m officially an RN, I hope to start working sooner rather than later and get the ball rolling on this new career of mine. (I am beyond excited to start this new chapter in my life.) I also can’t wait to finally settle in to my new home in Colorado. And running wise? 2019 is going to be my year to make a comeback.

I’m not exactly starting from square one. But I’m nowhere near where I was at my best. In theory, “The Plan” is to run a half marathon or two next year and try the good old 26.2 again in 2020. My goal? To feel like myself again. No time goals just yet. The hiatus has been marvelous but it’s officially over.

The climb up the mountain reminded me of my potential, of what it feels like to push myself out of my comfort zone physically and mentally. I hadn’t felt like that in so long and it made me crave it more.

Hey Running, Let’s Be Friends Again, OK?

Today, it finally bubbled to the surface.

(“It” being the urge to pin on a bib and race again, FYI.)

It only took a year and a half, but it happened. If you take a moment, you’ll notice I haven’t touched this blog since last year. That’s because well, aside from being consumed with school and work, running and I have been on a sort of hiatus. I’ll run at least two or three times a week with a gym session, track workout, or mini long run sprinkled in if the motivation strikes. But the only drivers behind my running lately have been 1) maintain at least a shred of fitness 2) stay sane and 3) eat all the pizza.

That said, my fitness compared to where I was a couple years ago has taken a nose dive. For example, on our run to the gym yesterday, what used to be my easy pace felt like a tempo workout. I questioned the pace twice, but my boyfriend assured me we were going much slower than I thought. I tried to pick up the pace in a vain attempt to retain some amount of dignity. My internal speedometer is all out of whack because my fitness has changed in a way I’ve never really experienced in my life as a runner. It’s a jarring feeling, I think because I’ve tricked my brain into thinking I haven’t gotten *that* out of shape.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret backing off from running. My brain and body needed the downtime. But I think I finally miss the old me, a “serious” runner who sets goals and does her best to achieve them.

So today, I texted my boyfriend telling him we should sign up for a half marathon (or two!) this fall. I even threw in the fact that I want to try race it. (And let’s be honest, I hope this post will force me to actually register, too.)

A side note: I’d consider taking on another marathon, but… there’s this little thing called nursing school looming in the not too distant future, and I know better than to subject myself to studying after a Sunday 20-miler. I’ll pass, thanks.

Speaking of nursing school, classes officially start in 37 (!!!) days. Even though part of me is worried school will sap my energy and time to run, I’m hopeful the consistent schedule will help me return to a more regular running routine.

For the past year and a half, no two weeks have been the same. I’m very routine oriented, so this haphazard lifestyle hasn’t been ideal. Because of that, it’s been too easy for me to find excuses to skip a run or workout. I’ve found myself getting into a good workout streak for a few weeks only to lose that fitness (no) thanks to an unexpectedly busy work week or travel or something else.

But I’m tired of feeling like I’m back on track only to have a day like yesterday, running a pace that used to be a breeze but now felt like trudging in sand.

I’m officially over it.

Now with all that said, if anyone has advice for regaining the self-motivation to train consistently again after a hiatus, I would love to hear your insight. Also, thoughts on good fall half marathons in the northeast?

When A Crappy Run Happens…

…a truly great one is bound to follow.

Let me explain.

Whether it’s rational or not, sometimes I get fixated on covering a certain distance. Last weekend, my plan called for 12 miles, but deep down, I wanted to do 14. Hey, I thought, I want a PR at Wineglass, a big one. So why not step it up a notch? 

Sensing my greed, the marathon training gods cursed me with a (literally) crappy run, the kind of crappy that required a mad dash to the nearest Dunkin’ for an unplanned pit stop. Oh yeah, and it was humid as I’ll get out, too.

Feeling blehhhh…

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…I made my way home early logging — you guessed it — just 12 slower-than-molasses miles, the wind effectively knocked out of my sails.

Damn.

But yesterday, with 16 on the menu, things were different.

Once I warmed up, I almost felt giddy, the kind of giddy that puts a spring in your step so you drop your pace a bit just for the heck of it. The kind that feels so good you can’t help but smile a little from the inside out. The kind that almost convinced me to like summer.

Yes, it was one of those runs that can only be described with a high level of cliche and corniness. The air was cool, the sun made the trees a vibrant green and the creek sparkle. I even ran into a herd of deer and past still-snoozing ducks.

And I ran all 16 miles quite a bit faster than the 12 I did the Sunday before.

Hells. Yes.

I told my mom today, after she’d had a less-than-pleasant workout, that the reason I choose to endure the crappy runs is because they make the amazing ones, the ones where you feel weightless and powerful and free, THAT much sweeter.

I know this is by far a groundbreaking realization, but…

Daily reminder: Check.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Remember, the feeling you get from a good run is far better than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were running.” – Sarah Condor

The Man That Started It All

374903_330425866972385_1053253969_n“When was the last time you sweat?”

The words, spoken with a thick Kenyan accent to me, an uncoordinated middle school soccer player, were my first introduction to running. On that summer afternoon, I had no idea that I would spend the next six years sweating in the desert heat through intervals, wearing a dirt groove into the outer perimeter of the park, or fine-tuning my mile splits during distance runs up and down the mountain’s trails.

Franks Munene, a tall, lanky man who wore sunglasses even when the sun had long gone down, looked every bit like a running machine. My dad and I always joked that he had legs like a grasshopper’s. (Although oddly enough, despite what the photo above suggests, I never actually saw him run – or wear running clothes for that matter! That shot was taken well before my time. Even still, I knew the guy was fast.)

But Franks knew running. The runners he trained were some of the best in the city. He had a method to his madness from which he never deviated, and you were expected to trust the process if you wanted to succeed.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning, Franks would pull up to the park in his white minivan, emerge toting a laminated but worn poster full of illustrated stretches, and start my teammates and I on our warmup. And no matter if it was 105 degrees or pouring rain, he’d declare with a grin, “This is perfect weather for running!”

It wasn’t until we’d completed our warmup, stretching routine, high-knees and butt-kicks (“Windows closed! Pick your pockets!”), and strides, that he’d reveal our workout for the day. That “method” I mentioned earlier? It was all in his head, and frankly, there was no way to predict what workout was on tap that day. No pattern to follow. It was a crapshoot that kept us on our toes and gave us no time to really mentally prepare for the pain game he was about to dish out. It kept things interesting, that’s for sure!

unnamedThen we’d churn through repeats around the park, the drop of his arm starting each set. Three laps equalled a mile. Or we’d set off on one of our many routes around the neighborhood. Usually it was some combination of a loop on the roads (there was Short Loop, Long Loop, Dakota, and Small Hills) mixed with a climb up the rocky trails on the mountain to The Mine or Blue Tank. I logged every single run in a little blue spiral notebook, my first training journal.

Sure enough, despite his high expectations (and seemingly impossible split times) that would sometimes leave me feeling frustrated, I was hooked. His passion and dedication for the sport rubbed off on me whether I liked it or not. The days when I’d log a new PR on a route were the absolute best. Sneaking in a workout in the dark before school made me feel like a badass. Climbs to the top of the mountain that rewarded us with views of the city were unforgettable. The competitor within me thrived with each challenge or goal he’d put on the table for me. His high expectations for me inspired me to reach higher. I loved it.

The hard work and commitment paid off. I became one of those top runners in the city. Those efforts landed me a spot on a DI collegiate team.

So why am I telling you about Franks? Because he’s the man who started it all. Sparked a lifelong passion. Made me the runner I am today. That park? It’s where my love of running was born. I took my “first steps” there. Those routes? They still feel like home, so comfortable and familiar, even though I hardly run on them anymore.

It’s been almost six years since I stopped training with Franks. And here I am, still running (obviously) and still loving it (thankfully). If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact he had on my life, I don’t know what does. I couldn’t put into words how thankful I am that he was my coach. That he never gave up on me. That he pushed me and guided me toward my goals. The memories I have at that park, on those runs with my teammates, are priceless.

photo 2I ran into one of my teammates recently in NYC. I hadn’t seen her in years, and I nearly burst into tears with happiness. She informed me that Franks hadn’t changed a bit. The memories came flooding back. Man do I miss it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine 

Hey, The Snow Ain’t So Bad!

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 1.10.13 PMEarly Sunday morning, the temps were in the teens and, after Saturday’s snowfall, the roads still looked like God had poured a giant slushy over them. The parking lot where we usually meet was empty–mind you, this lot is never empty on Sunday mornings. On this dreadmill-worthy day, clearly we were the crazy ones. While I waited for the guys to show up, I sat in my car, toasty and not exactly in the mood to emerge into the slippery Arctic tundra for my 10-miler.

At 7 a.m., the guys arrived and started doing doughnuts through the snow in their compact SUVs. Naturally. Prerun shenanigans like this are honestly one of the few reasons I actually wake up and get my run done at all. They never fail to make me laugh, pull me out of my it’s-far-to-early-for-this-madness funk, and get me excited to run. I love them for it. Find running friends like these guys, and you’ll never skip a run again.

We lurched onto the roads and right up this steep hill beside the lot, spinning our tires… I mean… trainers the whole way up. Yep, that warmed us up! But man was this going to be a rough run. We ran through quiet, sparkling-white neighborhoods with only our voices and the crunching snow beneath our feet to break the silence. Then we reached wide open farmland with the sunrise breaking on the horizon. Stunning moments like these are what made me fall in love with Pennsylvania and remind we why I run.

A few days later, the guys decided to hit the trails at lunch. Initially I resisted the idea, preferring the finally dry roads over the potentially slippery, snow-covered trails. But I gave in to the peer pressure, so off we went… and it was amazing.

The woods had transformed into the definition of a winter wonderland. Armed with trail shoes and Yaktrax, we powered through the powder, breathing deeply and breaking a sweat despite the freezing temps. Like kids on a snow day, we devolved into goofiness (not like we don’t on a regular run), laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. The run was worth every exhausting step.

I stumbled upon a quote this week – summed up these runs perfectly:

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” – Aaron Douglas Trimble

Now don’t get me wrong, I love winter. But this edition has made me seriously wish spring would hurry up and arrive already. I’m so over sliding through my training runs.

But these two runs were the best I’ve had in a while. When the rest of the world stayed cozy and warm inside, we were out embracing the snowy beauty that was SO much better than the view I would’ve had on a treadmill. I’ve got the guys to thank for that. Hey, the snow ain’t so bad after all!

QUOTE OF THE POST: (see above!)

Friday Faves | Top 10 For September

Here are the top 10 coolest running things I stumbled upon this month:

1. I love this, especially because I’m a week away from my one-year marathon anniversary!

2. Shared by my girl Jenny, we’ve all decided this needs to be turned into an alarm tone.

3. My roomie Kelsey DOMINATED her very first half-marathon in Philly! Couldn’t be more proud of her!

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 9.51.32 AM4. Oiselle rocked the RUNway at New York Fashion Week. Could not get enough of seeing real, strong ladies working that catwalk in clothes that, well…basically, I want it all. (Click the link for more photos! // Photo by Arthur Mandel Nolcha.)Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 9.54.23 AM5. Yogi-runner goddess and friend of mine Rebecca Pacheco debuted her first yoga class for runners video for Runner’s World. It’s perfect for all levels of runners and new/old yogis alike. (Not to mention it means I can “take” Rebecca’s class without having to drive up to Boston!) Try it out!14DZkDL6. My co-worker Mark Remy, who decided to come out of marathon retirement to try to BQ for 2014, qualified and GOT IN! I trained with him on and off this cycle, and I could see how much he wanted to run Boston next year. I couldn’t be more thrilled and relieved for him. As for his reaction on social media? “WOO HOO!”

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7. Marathon Survival Strategies, including: “Do not, under any circumstances, think, ‘Where, for the love of god, is the 2-mile mark?'” // This is hysterical and totally worth a read.

8. I cannot get enough of this.

9. A photo of RW Gear Guy’s daughter aka “Gear Baby,” who has already figured out how to use the stick. Adorable.large

10. My youngest brother has started running cross-country for his middle school team. And get this, he’s only 13 and has already figured out how to run for fun without getting bogged down by his brain. Totally jealous. I hope he continues to run just for the enjoyment of it; that’s the way it should be. Love that kid way too much. kyleXCWhat are your favorite things from the month of September? Share ’em with me in the comments below!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Passion is pushing myself when there is no one else around – just me and the road.” – Ryan Shay

A Note To My Future Self That Summer Marathon Training IS Worth It!

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 4.57.36 PMDear Future Megan,

Next summer when you inevitably return from a long run dehydrated and defeated, remember Sunday’s 20-miler. It was epic, it was ahh-MAZ-ing, it was confidence-boosting, you name it. That single run made up for a summer’s worth of slow, sluggish death marches. Yes, it’s hard to see now with stinging sweat in your eyes that the cooler weather will bring with it faster, easier running. But remember that this run proved that it does.

More than once that day, I caught myself experiencing the “runner’s high.” Around mile 12 or 13, we dropped the pace to 7:35. And it felt easy, like we had only 10 steps, not 10 miles, under our belt. I felt smooth and in control, my breathing was relaxed, and I shifted into cruise-control so I could fully take in the gorgeous, sun-soaked scenery around me. (Mind you, I’d been struggling to hold my pace within 8:15-30 range on my long runs so far, so stop feeling discouraged about your long-run splits so far this summer. It’s not worth your time or energy!) Then with four miles to go, I still felt strong, so I decided to try to dip down into the 7s again. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when my splits were all 7:30 or faster. I was giddy for the rest of the day (and week for that matter).

Remember how this run completely changed your mentality going into Marine Corps and how it revealed that yes, you really do love this sport even when you’ve sweat buckets at the butt-crack of dawn Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Remember to feel grateful and thankful for the ability to feel that runner’s high and rush of endorphins that sometimes get dampened by the summer haze. It’s all worth it, I swear. This is your mantra: Summer marathon training IS worth it! 

So go take a cold shower, cozy up in bed, cue up Netflix, and get excited. Fall will be here before you know it!

(One-Month-Out-From-MCM) Megan

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Running is a big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks you, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?” – Peter Maher

Race Report | Saucon Rail Trail 10K

Screen shot 2013-09-02 at 5.36.37 PMIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from my year of post-collegiate racing, it’s this: After crossing the finish line, head directly toward the nearest trash can or open field because I’m… about to throw up. (Don’t mind me, it’ll pass! Just gimme a sec…)

My coworker Meghan, who also won her age group at the 10K today (RW represent!), wondered out loud why we keep racing when, frankly, running so hard that you want to throw up at the finish really isn’t that much fun. Why exactly did we choose to race 6.2 miles in 90% humidity when we could’ve stayed in our cozy beds and let the thunderstorm lull us back to sleep?

Because it’s fun to test ourselves. It’s fun to be able to justify a post-race root beer float (and possibly a doughnut). It’s fun to write “PR” in your training log and decorate it with highlighters. It’s fun to endure those tough miles knowing that you might catch a second wind down the road. And it’s fun knowing that everyone around you is hurting just like you are and that they, too, made the decision to get after it instead of sleeping in today.

I know this isn’t a revolutionary realization, but today’s race reminded me that feeling like crap during a race–because let’s face it, it’s inevitable–IS FUN.

I’ll be the first to admit that there were many weekends in high school and college where I absolutely dreaded racing. Sometimes I’d be so nervous that I’d cry during warmups. Ugh.

I was afraid of the pain I knew was coming. I was afraid of the outcome, good or bad. I was afraid of what others would think of my results. I was afraid of letting myself down. You don’t need a glaring newsflash to know this isn’t a good way to go into a race.

But this morning I stood on the line with 10,000 meters ahead of me, anxious to find out what I could do. The difference between today and most of my racing career, though, was this: I was excited to see what I could do, too. I wasn’t afraid. I was confident. Granted, this wasn’t a goal race by any means, but I knew a PR and an age group (or maybe even an overall) award were within reach.

Before now, even that tiny bit of self-imposed pressure had the power to ruin a race before the gun fired. And because every race felt like the end all, be all of my running career, I was blind to the bigger picture.

A starting line is a runner’s opportunity to do something great, something meaningful. By stepping over that line, you make yourself vulnerable to both success AND failure. That moment is never wasted if you dare to cross it fearlessly in the first place. The key is to learn and grow from both outcomes. Strive for and cherish the good races; remember to accept and move beyond the bad ones.

Today was one of the good ones. I knew my legs might still feel Hood to Coast and Saturday’s 16-miler. I knew it was friggin’ humid outside. I knew that I usually avoid 10Ks at all costs. BUT I felt surprisingly fresh during my warmup, and I had a summer’s worth of speedwork and steamy lunch runs under my belt. I had nothing to lose, everything to gain.

The first three miles felt smooth and under control. I was definitely a bit fast, but lord knows I can’t go out slow and run negative splits for the life of me. I played cat and mouse with the other women around me, sticking to their hips, surging ahead before they’d pass me back. We went back and forth for the entire second half of the race. It hurt like heck, but that didn’t matter. I was competing. And it was fun. 

I even dug down deep for the final .2, missing third overall female by a second. And yes, I rushed through the chute to go gag in private and spare the poor spectating kids from witnessing a potentially nasty, but necessary scene. (Thankfully, it was a false alarm today!)

I pushed myself this morning, and it was worth it.

Annnnd an apparently meaningless 10K can inspire me to hash out the finer details of my running career. Who knew? (I certainly didn’t before I started writing this post!)

Here’s to hoping I choose to fearlessly cross many, many more starting lines knowing that I very well may end up looking like this (taken after Big Sur in April) when I finish: photoQUOTE OF THE POST: “What I’ve learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you’re hurting like crazy and you want to give up. Success is often just around the corner.” ― James Dyson

A Spark of (Invisible) Potential

photo“The weird thing about running is how people keep running faster and faster. Take the great example of the four-minute mile. One guy breaks it, then all of a sudden everyone breaks it. And they break it in such a short period of time that it can’t be because they were training harder. It’s purely that it was a psychological barrier and someone had to show them that they could do it. It’s the same thing if you’re a runner and you’re around older runners, you just get a sense of what’s possible. You have no clue, if you’re by yourself, how fast you can run. You have no sense of what your limits are.” – Malcolm Gladwell, September 2013 issue of Runner’s World 

I read this earlier in the week, and though the realization Gladwell discusses here–that the runners already had the ability to break four minutes, they just needed to learn that it was indeed possible–wasn’t necessarily new to me, for the first time it got me thinking. This summer brought with it the re-ignition of my desire to truly train again after a year’s run-for-fun hiatus post college. (Hallelujah!) That means I want to go to the gym, I want to do speedwork, I want to log more mileage. And now I want to run fast.

Now it’s not lost on me that I’m still very much a marathon newbie. It’s a distance that just doesn’t mess around. You have to respect it. And since it’s still so new, I’m pulling numbers out of thin air when it comes to goal times and potential race paces. Yes, I have my first four marathons as benchmarks, but I’m learning from experience that those first few cracks at any distance aren’t worth fussing over when it comes to what you can do down the road.

Screen shot 2013-08-03 at 1.43.40 PMCase in point: My freshman year of college, I decided to try my hand at the steeplechase. I’m (embarrassingly) uncoordinated–this is why I run–but the challenge was exciting and new. (Trust me, when you’ve spent the last six years running in circles, mixing in a few hurdles is a welcome distraction, intimidating as they might be.) I was the lone freshman on a squad of water pit pros who could leap over the water in fluid, powerful bounds. I, on the other hand, was a pencil-diving pro. I remember thinking, Wow, I will absolutely never run as fast as those girls. I know I’ll improve, but I can’t imagine ever touching their times. This was a game of gazelles vs. baby giraffes.

3274_539101569066_5984858_nI ran my first steeple (above, laughing because I was soaked head to toe) in 12:08 and dropped it down to 11:45 by the end of the season. My teammates were running in the high 11:20s (that’s them on the left!). Dang they were quick. It might not seem like much, but over a 3K, seconds are like months. It’s tough to shave off time.

Fast forward to my junior year when one of my all-time favorite running moments happened. I won our dual meet and ran 11:23 (below). I dropped it to 11:17 at the league championships. I honestly still can’t really believe it. No, the pencil diving never improved. I don’t remember feeling like I had done anything different to get there. Sure, I had gained experience by then. But it felt more like a miracle rather than months of work paying off. Finally a good race in a sea of crappy ones.

But those magical races were few and far between in college because my head was so far up my own a** (pardon my French) most of the time no thanks to unnecessary nerves and pressure. I know my brain held me back more than I care to admit.

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Looking back on those races, I think they were hints at my true potential. But since I didn’t really see them that way, or at least fully believe that I really could run faster, I never did. I was stuck running 11:52s my senior year.

A (ridiculously fast) alum told me then and still tells me now that I could go sub-11 in the steeplechase. That’s like telling me I could run in the 3:0Xs in a marathon. (Which she reminded me of again last weekend). To me, that’s crazy talk.

In fact, one of my coworkers truly believes I have the potential to make it to the Trials if I set my mind to it. Again, say what?

Every time both of them say it without hesitation. They genuinely believe I could do it if I wanted to. She’s watched me pencil dive dozens of times, yet she still thinks I can go sub-11. He’s spent hundreds of miles watching my knees knock together, but he still thinks I can run close to a 3-hour marathon. Their faith in my potential is both unsetting and…inspiring?

I’ve spent my whole running career looking at people that spoke of my potential incredulously, like, Hey, that’s great and all, but let’s come back down to earth. Thanks. So far that mindset hasn’t really gotten me anywhere.

But what I’m starting to realize is that they have the ability to spot those sparks of potential. They have a clear view of them without all of the negative self-talk that fogs it up in my brain. Maybe it’s my year-long hiatus that’s helped me see this, who knows? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m finally getting a sense of what’s possible. And possibly believing in it, too?

So from now on, here’s why I’m going to do to try to help me reach my potential:

  • Keep an eye out for those successful workouts or runs. I remember doing a solo 20-miler in January, and I ran every mile under 8 minutes. I’ll never forget it because when I finished I couldn’t believe I’d done it. I want to remember that run (and the other good ones) when I get to the starting line in October. 
  • Keep an open mind when it comes to race goals. That means not feeling restricted to a specific time goal or pace. I want to run by feel and go from there. If I feel good, I’ll pick it up. If not, there’s always another race.
  • Quit writing off my support group when they’re encouraging me to aim higher. Rather than putting up a barrier, I want to use those opportunities to think about what more I could do to run better.

A 7:30/mile marathon (or 7:00/mile marathon for that matter) seems crazy now. But who knows? It might not seem crazy a year or two from now! I want to leave the doors open for those opportunities rather than locking ’em shut and waiting for something to seep through the keyhole. I want to listen to the people telling me I can break through my own four-minute barrier, rather than telling them that it’s impossible. I know I can trust them since I bet they’ve been in my shoes in one way or another.

QUOTE OF THE POST:  “You have to know your body. It’s part of the beauty of the training process, and once you’ve determined how much your body and mind can take, you can then begin to reach your potential.” – Frank Shorter