“….Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

-Excerpted from Mary Oliver’s “Starlings in Winter”

I’ve written about a few races now on this blog (my first year of racing, second year of running). I don’t know yet how longwinded this particular entry will be; if there is one truth I have learned, it is that many runners eagerly recount every moment of their races, a fact at which Runner’s World magazine will poke fun. Race stories are much like labor stories, I find. I hang on every word of other people’s write ups, and I could retell my own labor stories ad infinitum. Race or labor stories, sometimes tedious, may not be for all audiences—if you find yourself skimming this entry or even bowing out now, I don’t blame you at all.

But there is another truth I have learned time and again in this journey to do my best as an athlete and that is this: We may not start off as talented as others may be, but with consistent hard work we can sure make a dent in that gap. 

I was telling my husband on the way home from Long Beach this afternoon that it is a great regret of mine that I did not start track or cross country in high school. I wish to goodness I had built my base back then. As we reflected, though, we talked about how any person could wish that about any number of life paths, really. We have to celebrate our lives for what they have been, and then do the best we can with what we have right now. It’s never too late to become what we hope to be, if we’re willing to work for it.

In high school I had a fixed mindset, I think. I thought that athleticism only applied to those who were naturally gifted at sports. I felt like I could never quite fit in to that world, that if it didn’t come quite as naturally as other types of things (although I worked hard at those things, too) then maybe I wasn’t meant to pursue a truly athletic life. I watched various friends excel at volleyball, tennis, cycling, running, softball, and soccer—-and, like so many of us do with so many parts of life, I counted myself out. I can never do that. They are gifted at it; I’m not

So. I am not naturally talented as an athlete. I’m not particularly tall. I have struggled most of my life with my weight. When I was a child and did competitive dancing for awhile, it was clear to all that I was fairly awkward and clunky with my body. My hand-eye coordination has improved since having children…but I am probably not going to be a professional softball player. I was not born to be good at being an athlete of any kind.

But, I do have a determined gene somewhere in the DNA. I was born to be stubborn. Persistent. Hard-working. Scrappy. Never-giving-up. It took me a LONG time to understand that I could use those traits to learn how to pursue a skill so foreign to me. The body has evolved to run, but I will be the first to say that I had to learn how to dig that skill out of the muck. Carol Dweck’s ideas about growth mindset? So right on. We can get better at almost everything (uh, being a pro basketball player is out for me) if we are willing to work at it, take setbacks as learning opportunities, and challenge ourselves consistently to be better at a skill in incremental steps. If I had the chance to return to the classroom, I would be a completely different teacher now having gone through this journey of the last couple of years. It is the honest effort that matters most in determining where we end up. Where we start? Just a beginning. Yes, we are going to have proclivities. But all those things we count ourselves out of doing? Let’s stop that. Instead, let’s resolve to get to work.

My dad started the Long Beach yearly tradition (as it is quickly becoming) in 2012. This was his first half, his first race, and it was a celebration of all he had achieved in putting his health in order. I watched for him from the spectator’s grass area and, though I had started running myself by then, I marveled at his accomplishment and still grappled with the internal voice that taunted, “You could probably never do that.” Somehow, though, the inspiration of my dad’s run began to take hold. He had given evidence of what hard work and will could do. In fact, that was part of his point in running that race: a life lesson that we can change ourselves no matter where we happen to be in life.

Well, one year after his first half at Long Beach, I ran it with him. I raced for the first time last year and wrote up that experience here. In 2013 I ran the 13.1 miles in 1:43.06. The 2013 Long Beach Half remains one of the most intensely emotional races I’ve experienced, for the very fact that each step proclaimed my freedom and newfound self. Last year’s LB Half was also my first race: today marks the one year anniversary of my first year of racing.

This year, the tradition expanded and the meaning widened. My daughter Katie (6) ran the kid’s fun run on Saturday—her first time running at Long Beach. My brother David and sis-in-love Ashley also ran their first half marathon today with us. One of my best friends Steve also ran Long Beach for the first time today (although this is his second half). Every year, we add more people to the tradition. My dad’s first half in 2012 has generated all of these amazing ripples. Look at what he has done here. He was the pioneer for us. He blazed that path long before we ever had the courage to set foot on it.

My plan this morning was to pace at 6:40 per mile. Goals included: 1) Keep the 6:40 pace for 13.1; 2) Break the 1:30.00 barrier; 3) PR from last year on the same course.

It was a good plan. I stand behind it 100%, and I only wish I could have executed it better. I went out a bit fast but not too badly, and I maintained the 6:40 pace through 8 miles. Then I began to suffer. I found out where I am at, that’s for sure. I know I have work to do, and to be much better than I did today, I need to log more miles per week. I scrape by with 30 mile weeks, and what I did today is not bad considering that I really need to drive that quantity up to build a better base.

I did PR, and I did break—JUST!!!!—the 1:30.00 barrier for an official time of 1:29.59. Whew! I wanted a better time, but I couldn’t achieve that today. And not for lack of trying… I gave everything I had, I felt at the time. I just need to work harder to be better.

My pace suffered after Mile 8. I kept driving fairly hard, but it wasn’t 6:40 at that point. For a couple of miles I slipped just past 7:00 pacing. When I got to Mile 10, I told myself as I had rehearsed, “Cool! Almost home, just do a 5K now. No big deal.” I started imagining my favorite 5K route at home, and that went fine until I hit the marathon bifurcation. For some reason my legs started feeling draggy and wooden. There was a bit of an incline portion, and it felt eternal.

I felt like my goals were starting to slip away… And that’s when I became the nutty runner who coaches herself out loud. Come to think of it, I did that in the same spot last year. I let out a couple of deep guttural sounds, the primal ones that happen in labor and delivery. And then I said to myself, “It’s time to have some guts! Fight for it! Fight for it!” Yeah…it would probably be more appropriate to keep all that as an internal dialogue as I do so much of the time; but I find that in really dire straits, saying it out loud seems to help me feel more committed.

And I kept repeating to myself a little personal mantra: pain is temporary, but the victory of the mind over the self is forever. Whatever pain I had to bring on, it will go away, but regret of not making my goals will never go away, especially if I feel like I gave it up without every bit of fight. With that, I started driving… I actually recovered some of my pacing those last couple of miles. Which, as I discovered, comes at a great price. My legs are dying tonight. Bill suggested I take something, but I don’t want to: I do not want an interloper disrupting the full adaptation process my body will complete if I let it do its natural work. I figure that if I put in this kind of race today, I should reap the full benefit of making my body work all the way to repair—thus emerging stronger than I was.

“Then you will suffer for a couple of days,” Bill cautioned gently.

“I know,” I responded. “I know.”

As I write this, my legs are feeling every step of that race today. But I want that strength… Because in the coming year I have work to do. If my legs have to hurt now in order to adapt, then so be it.

Today’s results have me ranked as the 9th place woman out of 8930 women. I will be receiving a 3rd place medal in my division. Top 10 is pretty cool. I’m happy with that.

But I have mixed emotions, if I am being forthright. I’m proud, but only for a few seconds. It’s like that proud feeling doesn’t stick in my chest the way one might think it does, or should. I know objectively, these are good numbers. Top 10 women at Long Beach? Two years ago, this would have been so very improbable for me, so I kind of enjoy it for that reason. I like surprising myself and others. Yet I also know I fell off my pace. I also know I don’t ever want to let myself think for a moment, “Okay, that’s good enough. You can stop working so hard.” Just because I did my best today, doesn’t mean there isn’t more to do… I celebrate, but at the same time in almost the very next breath, I am asking Bill, “Okay, what’s my next goal? How do I get better? What am I going to work on after recovery?” Complacency is the enemy of the self. I found a limit today, and I need to work to get past it….and really, as happy as I am to have made my baseline goals today, I am much more interested in bolstering the areas of weakness I discovered in those 13.1 miles. Mentally, I know there are moments when I could have been more in control, too.

I am not, however, downtrodden about this. When we talk about weakness in our culture, some read that as a source of sadness or something negative. It’s not. I am happy to have discovered some weakness today. I can work on weakness. If I didn’t discover weakness, that would mean I didn’t butt up against a limit today and therefore was not giving my all. If I don’t find a limit, I can’t start to push past it. So this talk of reflecting on what I wasn’t good at? It’s all part of being fully alive and committed to learning, growing, and becoming my best. There’s nothing wrong with identifying weaknesses; in fact, it takes quite a bit of emotional security in order to do so. I trust in the process of hard work. A weakness today won’t be a weakness forever. I can whittle away at it with consistent hard work. I found out exactly where I am at—and therefore, I did my job this morning.

The temperate morning was perfect for a run. I don’t race with music anymore, so this year I really got to savor all the sounds of the race itself and of Long Beach. I heard the birds, the cheering spectators, the waves. It means something to many spectators, it seems, to watch a woman, specifically, go by, especially near the front of the runners. I heard about it several times as I ran. I also teared up near 7.5 miles when I saw some signs that Katie and Steve’s son Alex helped to make yesterday with their handprints. We’ve been friends for so, so, so long and to be running this course together and to see our children’s handprints overlapped together…well, come on now. Tears for sure. Right when I needed it, I saw a burst of sun come through some clouds along the beach and thought of my friend S.H., a light in this world, and I got the chills that helped ward off the discomfort in my legs for a moment. I thought of my family. I thought about how different my life would have been if I had never started running. I ran part of the same path as Katie had run the day before and thought about my strong girl. I thought about my husband, who always believes in me.

The course seemed to go by more quickly this year, and I guess it did…but I don’t mean pace-wise. The 13.1 did not seem as long or scary. With a year of racing under my belt, the distances seemed to fly by a bit more. When I got to the 10K, I thought, “Just one more of these to go!” By the same token, though, I was infinitely relieved to pass the marathon bifurcation—I couldn’t imagine 16 more miles from there!!—which is how I know I am not quite ready for THAT challenge…..yet. But now a marathon is a “someday” goal, and it wasn’t before. I really want to be ready, though. See how these things creep up on you? Ha ha. Never say you can’t!

Pictures!

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Around 6.5 miles

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With Dad, after our finish

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Lunch after the race, back in mama mode!

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Look at her happy, happy radiant face. I love her. Go, Katie!

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Katie told me afterwards that her legs started to get uncomfortable and she thought about stopping to walk, but that she made a conscious choice NOT to stop. That’s my girl. She went sub-10:00 at a 9:50 mile for a new mile PR.

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I think she’s hooked.

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Expo with Steve last night

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This moved me to emotion this morning: firefighters out raising the flag in the wee morning sky.

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And more emotion: I got really, terribly choked up when I saw these three at the starting line.

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This guy? Photobombed my first take, so I decided to join him in the excitement on the second take. I am normally all business at the starting line and have an intense game face, but this moment of levity helped set a good mood for the run.

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I love you, my husband and coach. I could not do this level of work without your guidance.

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Selfies post-race. Steve had an awesome run, too, but that’s his story to tell…

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Two of my reasons for pursuing health and strength. I want to be with them for as long as I can in this life. And to keep up with them!

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Brother and sister

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Our LBC crew!

Going to take a mellow week of cross training and light running… Hoping to articulate some new goals with my coach this next week or two and figure out the next set of races and a plan for spring season. The big race season has ended for me, but there are a couple of winter runs I might try to sneak in on the fly. But since I have nothing major coming up, I can start breaking down my legs with plyometrics and put some more weight training in. It’s been mainly legs and swimming these past months to keep the legs springy and ready for racing. With a bit of a racing hiatus, I can do some other kinds of workouts in addition to keeping up mileage and think about bigger things for the Carlsbad 5000 and some other favorites in spring.

It was also the 30th anniversary of the Long Beach Marathon/Half-Marathon, so that was neat, too!

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