I’ve been a runner for three years, as of last month.

I’ve been chasing a sub-40:00 10K (6.2 miles) time for approximately 1.5 years.

Had to put the work in first, though.

Like, a TON of work.

That’s why running is my sport: it gives you back exactly what you put in, no more and no less. There’s no way to fake around the work. No way for people to cheat (although I’ve seen them try mid-course) really. You can’t say you trained, when you didn’t: it shows. And it’s you, and your mind. The competition is entirely internal. There will always be people faster (Olympians, professional runners) and there will always be people slower: none of that matters. It’s about you, and the clock, and the work you did or didn’t do. It’s an honest woman’s sport. To lay it all down takes more than mere juevos; going to get that pain day in and day out in order to progress and then throwing it to the wall on race day takes nerves of steel and a will of iron.

Runners know: being faster than someone else doesn’t get us up at 4:00 AM. There’s no way it could. Wanting to master our own self, does. If running were a competitive sport with others, I would have abandoned it long ago. Trying to best others is not what I choose my life to be about. Breaking myself down repeatedly? Feeling the pukey nervous gut-wrenched tummy before a big race and rising above it? Everything. It’s been said that all that we could want is on the other side of fear. True. That is the reason I race. My body likes to run; but its my mind that loves this sport. It’s a mental game. You have to make the body fit, sure, but this is a sport played largely in the mind.

How good can you be?

How good do you want to be?

No. How good are you willing to work to be?

I ask myself that daily.

What am I willing to give up in order to be good? Or one day, better than good?

At last year’s Butte to Butte, I placed third in division, 13th out of women, 114th overall. My time was 41:31, an exciting PR at the time. My pace was 6:41. What would it take in a year to shave off enough to go sub-40:00 on that course?

I gave up TV (already on the chopping block, but now definitely out). I added swimming to expand lung growth (and can now officially swim 2.28 miles at a time…I suspect I can eke out more, but have yet to prove it—I am in danger of breaking a personal rule here, though: never ever talk about achieving something BEFORE you have actually done it). The swimming helped enormously with lung expansion, I have to say. I keep strict control of diet and maintain race weight even when not racing—which means giving up quite a bit of food that I wish I could be having! (For reference, I burn a mere 80 cals per mile when I run…not much. Runners cannot eat whatever we want, despite wishing to). I am up at 4:00 AM, at times 3:45 AM if I have a hill sprint day when I am swimming, too. I’ve added “doubles” most days of the week. Mileage is high…but not nearly as high (yet) as that of a professional runner. These lifestyle adaptations have taken me far.

Wanting is not enough. Hard work can be. I am not a gifted runner and came late to the party. As I should given my lack of experience/work, I routinely place behind the professionals (the winner at this year’s Butte to Butte for the women is a pro for Skechers) and the Olympic trialers who have decorated college careers (the other women in front). But to come from absolutely NOTHING and to be right behind them three years in? It’s not a natural talent, at all. Hard work only. Which means anyone could do it. That’s the great thing about running. If you want to excel, the roads are waiting for you to come work them.

The one natural element I possess (besides slow twitch fibers) that helps with distance running is my weird combination of personality traits. I love to be alone in all of my introversion and never get bored just thinking and thinking for hours on the pavement or track. I see the greater purpose in pain. I am rebellious and stubborn enough to fight against discomfort. Even the thought of giving in—to anything, ever, especially discomfort—makes me angry. Weakness in myself makes me hungry to fight. And my mind likes the eternal challenge of trying to rule over my lazy, hedonistic body and impulses. Who will win today? The mind likes always to win, at this point.

So. Butte to Butte 2015.

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It’s been an awful lot of this, on Friday mornings in the dark all year. I usually run 6 mi before swimming (have to be done and home with all of that before 6:55 AM, when Bill leaves for work), 2 miles of which are hill sprints/charges on repeat. Doing hill sprints in the dark (full moons were always a treat) is kind of rough. Not something I look forward to. But the opening gauntlet of Butte to Butte is the Donald Street Hill. It’s a dramatic hill, brutal, nasty. It’s so nasty that there is prize money for being the first to top it (for both men and women). People come out and line Donald Street just to see that part of the race. There’s even donuts, if you want. And often, a band.

I was the 4th woman up it this year.

I even passed Stroller Dad in the same spot as last year. And then, a mile later, he passed me in the same spot as last year. We’ve both been training.

A word about Stroller Dad. He has a real name, and I have surely stalked him. He’s awesome. A surgeon. His baby girl was a year bigger this year, so he’s hefting around additional poundage. His existence makes me happy. I laughed when he passed me because I am a weirdo who likes excellence in others, even when (especially when) that excellence goes beyond what I can do. Why? Because it means there is more. More to do, if I only work. It’s inspiring. Competitive streaks are death knells to inspiration. It’s better to live a life of awe and possibility, I think. Stroller Dad was with me in my mind when I had my first sub-6:00 mile on the track at Thanksgiving. He runs in my imagination with me all the time, along with a handful of others. We’re friends. I thought I might go past him this year (a litmus test), but I thought it was funny that I didn’t. Mirth is the proper word. The universe was in order then. Without a stroller? Oh yeah, he was a college powerhouse. 33:00 for a 10K. Having a stroller makes him a bit closer to my time.

I saw Stroller Dad show up when I was sitting under my special pine tree waiting to do my strides before the race. There were several other familiar faces, too. I love that about Eugene.

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We were in Eugene for four days the week of Bill’s birthday (which is the week before Butte to Butte), then went to Portland and Astoria and then to Ashland for two days, and then back to Eugene. During the initial four days, I got to train in Eugene. I swam, and I ran a bunch (my last week full on before taper), and I also got to run a hill sprint on Donald Street and do intervals one day at South Eugene HS. After 8X400, I took this picture with Spencer Butte in the background. These memories, plus all the memories I made with my children during those four days, became incredibly important in developing my mindset on race day.

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How and why? Well, Bill had four days of all-access tickets to watch all of Nationals at Hayward Field (this was his seat). I was on my own with K and E for almost all that time, sometimes late into the night. So, I embraced the utter freedom to explore. We hiked. We swam. We saw a movie. We hiked more. We rocked climbed up Spencer Butte. We had picnics at Skinner Butte. We went out late for fro yo. Every night. We went to the Cascades Raptor Center off of Fox Hollow (a street that’s part of the course). We truly lived all we could in Eugene. We made every memory we could.

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Silly faces at Skinner Butte (the ending site of the race).

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Total inspiration from the masters across from Hayward Field. These men and women rock my world.

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I ran to Pre’s rock and paid homage. Legends never die.

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“To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” (Steve Prefontaine)

On that first Sunday long run, there was SUCH a vibe of camaraderie among all the runners. Such an air of celebration. Eugene is a runner’s paradise. I had a blast running/training all over it. I am homesick for it, in fact.

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I ran Pre’s Trail and greeted the sunrise. He used to run right here…

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You know what Frost says about two roads in a wood…

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Love to the masses. This phrase on the bridge over the Willamette would become important to my mindset.

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Racing is largely about mindset, I find. You have to train the body, yes, but it is the mind that must be under control. Even the night before, I was still unsure about the mantra and mindset for this race. Often they come to me, but this one hadn’t….even as late as getting off the shuttle at Spencer Butte! Every race is different and asks something different of me. This race hadn’t spoken to me yet. Only when I sat down and touched my pine tree at Spencer Butte Middle School and looked toward the Butte did the final piece fall into place about an hour out.

“I am at peace, and I am connected.” It sounds woo-woo, maybe, but almost as soon as I placed my hand on the bark of my special tree, this mantra came. I am at peace, filled with happiness to be here in Eugene. Filled with joy to be a runner among runners. And I am connected…to Eugene. To the earth. To its trees. The sky. To the people I recognize from last year. To the raptors on Spencer Butte. To all of our memories here. To the footfalls I made here. To the beauty of this place. I will run to my husband and children at the other butte, to Skinner Butte where we had picnics and spent last year’s July 4th. I will run toward that connection.

Yep. Definitely woo woo. But authentic. And we know it is authentic, because it worked. Legs, mind, and heart working as one.

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This year: 39:46. 3rd in division (hardware is coming in the mail); 6th woman overall; 53rd out of men and women. This time represents the clearing of a threshold. I am looking for an all comers meet now so I can get an official (flat) track time. Setting goals and achieving them are essential steps toward happiness, I believe.

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Being married to my coach helps, too. Thank you, William, for your magnificent brain. With you, I can fly. Thank you for helping me to be my best version of myself.

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My stride was breaking up here, a bit. The last miles were hard, because I had gone out a bit fast (just like I did last year, DOH!) to power up that hill. I did not run too evenly the last couple miles and I feel a bit irritated at myself for that…but my coach says to lighten up and just celebrate the sub-40:00, so okay. I’ll try. Perfectionism dies hard, though, I will tell you that. There is so much that goes into making a race “feel good” or “perfectly run” not just the clock at the end. I know there were strategic decisions I could have tightened up here. Something to work on…

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I did end up in the Sports section of the Sunday newspaper, though. That was cool. I’ve been in the newspaper a fair number of times in my day, but never in the sports section until an unidentified pic appeared in one after Long Beach this year (does that even count?). This is the first time I know about that my name has appeared. Sports section? Me? What a plot twist in life!

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After the race, there is a huge pizza and chocolate milk party sponsored by Track Town Pizza. I look forward to this slice every year. Runner party!

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I do not usually ever have “real” pizza, so this is a treat! I chose the olive. Thought about this ALL YEAR.

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Then we played a bit at Skinner Butte Park (their favorite park in the world thus far).

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And then we hiked/walked up Skinner Butte. It is no where near as demanding as Spencer Butte, but still was a good way to shake out my legs a bit.

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See that butte over there across the way? Butte to Butte. 😉

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Then, the rest of July 4th. We went back to our lodgings, changed, I walked to the market to pick up a picnic, and then the kiddos and I went back to Skinner’s Butte to picnic, play, write, and rest for about 5 hours. Then I took them to dinner and then we picked up Bill and set off FIREWORKS. I love July 4th in Eugene. Love it.

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Our July 4th picnic. It was pleasing, and a tad surreal, and comforting, and poignant to realize that we were in this very spot last July 4th as well. Our special picnic spot near the Willamette at the base of Skinner Butte, where we are now layering memories from one year to the next. I miss it. I look at this picture and my heart sighs a bit. I have so many memories in this place with my children and to be so far away from it is strange, sometimes.

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So, what is next? Well, it is strange not to have any races scheduled right now until Long Beach in October. I like having goals out there, and breaking 40:00 at Butte to Butte was a very big goal all year. I took last week to do whatever I wanted training-wise (lots of mid distance runs, but once a day, swims, no intervals for recovery). This week and for most of the summer session, we’re focused on training goals. This week I had/have a couple big training goals coming at me down the pike.

I met the first one today, on Long Run Sunday: 20 miles, at a 7:35 pace. Never have done 20 consecutive before.

The idea is to start doing some of the classic training Joe Henderson dubbed “long slow distance” (although he did not create the program). The general theory is to run more mileage but at slower paces. I was probably out today a bit fast; it might have been better to hold the pace to 8:00 or even 8:24. I did a comfortable, easy 7:20 pace for the first 10 mi, then water stopped. The back 10 miles were, of course, harder, and my pace slipped. I completed the half marathon today in 1:37-something, a better time than my first Long Beach, and just nice and comfy. With 7 more miles to go, I noticed that by mile 15 I was at a 7:27 pace, and then it slid from there. Three miles (17, 18, 19) of hilly-ness on tiring legs is harder than it seems. From mile 19 to 20, though, I kept thinking of the General George S. Patton quote I love, and chanted to myself on repeat, “It’s the mind. It’s the mind. It’s the MIND!!!”

I got it done, and my legs were frizzled at first, but as the day has gone on, they seem to be rebounding a bit. I had PROMISED Eric to make pancakes with him when I got home, and boy, we sure did. I had that in mind, too, this morning, every time I felt like quitting: “NO! YOU HAVE TO RUN HOME TO YOUR BOY. You promised. Don’t make him wait long.” We had the best time. He wanted chocolate chip pancakes today and helped with every step. I enjoyed one with the kids, but mainly my body has craved other things after that run—it knows what’s in store, no doubt!

Katie’s dearest wish today was to go swimming. So then we walked to the pool and swam—and that felt great! I think the light activity helped to drain some of the lactic acid a bit. I feel pretty good. We’ll see about tomorrow, though… That could be nuts.

The idea will be to run every day this week to get to a certain mileage. I might have to avail myself of the evening swims so that I can get my totals done in the mornings. Or, I might split up some of the mileage and do doubles; I am sure Bill has speedwork on tap.

Some have asked if I plan on marathoning this year. That’s not in the plan right now. My focus is still my favorite race distances: 1oK and half. I have unfinished business there before moving on to a new event. I really want to see what I can do with those distances, how far I can push it. Any long slow distance right now is in service to those goals, as is the swimming. Eventually I do want to branch out a bit but not right now. I could see where it would have been possible to go another 10K this morning, perhaps at great cost (since I am untrained) however doable. But, I would really want many, many more runs at 20 and more before racing a full marathon. Get that distance nice and comfy. I am sure in a couple years or so, I’ll have more of the background to make that a natural progression. So many fun ways to use our bodies, though!

Until next time,
Happy Racing,

SLM

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