Dohp. My title is already too long. Did anyone see that really funny spoof about the marathoner who tells no one about it? Um, yeah: that’s not going on here in this race report.

If you are a runner or even slightly interested in becoming a runner, though, I do promise an exploration of the runner’s mind in this post. I find the mind to be the most important part of the body to train, as well as the most fascinating aspect (to me) about other endurance athletes.

I could talk all day about what I eat (maybe also interesting—and I plan to address this a little bit) and my daily training schedule. (NOT interesting to most people and something I over-post about anyway).

After the Long Beach Half Marathon in October this year, I didn’t have the heart to post much about it other than a collection of photos on Facebook. I consider LB to be my litmus test from year to year; after a PR of 1:29:59 last year on that course, I set new goals and worked all year to achieve them.

And then, I didn’t. 1:31:16. It was good enough that day for a gold medal in my division and 6th place female overall. But it was not a “good” race. I could hardly explain to anyone except my coach-husbanator what my disappointment was there, but he got it. I came in and spent the first half hour crying and mad at myself. All the gold medals in the world—partly a fluke of who else is running that day, or not—don’t palliate an athlete who knows she mentally slipped up.

My body was conditioned—coach and I knew that from my numbers in training. My mind that day was not on point. There were a number of factors that made mental control challenging, and none of them really matter because other runners coped much better, and the responsibility to train my mind well enough to grapple with duress is mine.

The nutshell: Long Beach was hot. Race organizers gave half marathoners the option of starting at 6:00 AM instead of 7:30. The hitch: if you wanted to compete, per USATF rules, you still had to run at 7:30. Okay, fine. The sun shone brutally out there for those of us at 7:30, and we hit a huge challenge down the beach: three miles of thousands of half marathoners and marathoners walking, several abreast. The dodge game took its toll as I struggled to weave and maintain stride length and pace. When I did attempt surges, I felt I needed to shift gears constantly not to take people down.

I also went out way too fast for my abilities over a 13.1 haul. My 5K was 19:19 and my 10K was 40:12, neither of those being PRs. However, the other elite women took those more measuredly and played it smart. I was hurting by the 7th mile and my stomach started to feel sick. I also deviated from my norm and sucked down a gel. That proved to be not a good plan (I never take anything usually), and my throat stuck the rest of the way.

Long Beach this year showed me what it is like not to race smart.

 

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Even at the Expo, I was feeling so nervous and not in much of a Zen state

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Smiling, but those who know me well can tell that my eyes are troubled with being hard on myself… Would rather have raced well than have a gold medal, any day.

I had also been putting an ENORMOUS amount of pressure and expectation on myself. I didn’t enjoy anything the night before about being there; all I could think of was my fear of not making my goals and making it to the end and being done. (This latter part is especially key). Stress, stress, stress and adrenaline-ville. Even the night before, I was not in charge of my mind.

It has taken weeks to shake off my annoyance at myself. Miles in the pool I have spent thinking about where and how I went wrong. I’ve had to forgive myself and then decide to dig down again. I’ve spent the past weeks continuing with physical training, but also mentally training.

What is the one thing that is always in my back pocket? What is my strength as a human being? It is the capacity to feel everything—negative emotions, too—and convert it into joy. To adapt. I can run like a nervous stress-case intent on that last mile, or I can run like me…open and feeling, in the moment. I am good at being present. I can say, “Okay, I might fail here…but I am going to live it the heck up while failing.” And be a little less afraid. The opposite of stress and self-fixation is an openness and receptiveness to everyone and everything around us. Take what comes; see it; feel it; go with it.

So I immersed myself in the arts, the conduit of feeling. Bill and I saw the Foo Fighters, a favorite of mine; Katie and I went on a birthday-girl date to see Phantom of the Opera. I took the kiddos to a ballet set to Le Carnaval des Animaux. I read Diana Nyad’s new and inspiring book Find a Way; last weekend Katie and I went to Larchmont Village in L.A. to see her speak and to attend a signing. I started and got mostly through McDougall’s Born to Run and focused on what he has to say about running with purity of intent. I’ve thrown myself into our homeschooling and tried to gobble up all the extra cuddle time I could have with my Katie and Eric—a source of pure joy, to be sure. I’ve savored my husband.

On a whim, I signed up for a local 5K Turkey Trot last weekend, having little time performance or placement expectation other than to race it competitively and just have fun doing so. (I need a whole blog to explain how my view about competing has changed since August, in no small part thanks to the coaching of my friend Michelle, a women’s volleyball coach—I absolutely think now that competing with others in the field and not *just* myself has a place and a role that is extremely helpful and even pure of spirit). I ended up winning it, in 19:29, and taking home the grand prize: an 18-20 pound fresh wild turkey. Although I am not a big meat eater and although I initially looked for a place to donate it (couldn’t find one taking a fresh turkey), I ended up cooking it and holding a pre-Thanksgiving with my family. I’ve powered up all week on that animal protein, and I’ve been tickled about what a good narrative it makes with respect to today’s USA Half Marathon race.

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This odd/unique/appropriate prize filled me with mirth all on its own.

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Pre-Thanksgiving prep with my family, a sure source of joy

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Katie and Eric peel and core the apples for our apple pie

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We made a full feast, and my mom brought the sweet potatoes, jello, and oatmeal rolls. We’ve been fueling on this all week—and by this, I mean both the food itself and the festive love here.

So it’s been a journey—a purposeful, intent journey—the past few weeks since Long Beach. And I have had to remind myself that if we can fall down, fail, fail publicly, take ownership of where we went wrong, and then get the heck back up with just as much optimism and gusto, then we are stronger people for it in the end.

Some pictures of the last few weeks:

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Foo Fighters date night with my Oneness, the best coach and husband and best friend in the world for me

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Ready for the ballet

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Mommy-Katie date to see Diana Nyad: first stop, Salt & Straw for a taste of Portland and to try their special Thanksgiving flavors!

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This athlete is SUCH an amazing human being and inspiration to me. I got to ask her how she keeps the doubt out of her mind during an event, and she told me that she trusts her training…and that, at all costs, it will not be her lack of will that doesn’t make it. There may be external factors, but she can trust herself. Wow, was that ever on my mind today. I also found motivation in her friendship with Bonnie and in Bonnie (who was there—this is Nyad’s neighborhood, and many of her friends were there) who is a ROCK of a woman. I pictured Bonnie today at one point, when the going got rough. “Find a way” and “Onward” are efficient mantras. Yes: do not give up…find a way. Find it. Seeing her last Sunday definitely helped orient my head toward a good place.

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We saw Phantom of the Opera (a favorite of mine, I’ve seen it four times and know the score by heart) together for the first time in October at the San Diego Civic Theater—a block away from where I started the race today! And, this is the 20th year anniversary of the first showing that came to San Diego, which was the first showing I saw with my mom back in December of 1995. I display that ticket stub in my room.

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Life is best when we help others. Whatever individual success we have starts with a humanistic love for the members of our species and the other life around us. After their pediatric appointment this week, Katie and Eric helped to shop for a local canned food drive.

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But, for that matter: our appointment had some hard news. Katie has a potential (serious) condition that requires us to see a ped ophth as soon as we can. I was in a state on Thursday. There was no way to shut out those negative feelings or get them fully compartmentalized in time for this race…so I chose to feel them today, and funnily enough, they came online right at the most difficult moment of physical transition (between mile 10 and 11 for me, always). I sat inside of them, let them power my core. Whatever my children face, I have to be my strongest for them. That knowledge began my running/lifestyle journey three years ago, and it is more true than ever. We don’t run well by shutting out parts of ourselves. I only run my best when EVERY emotion is given weight, and I let my core feel deeply. So when I say I run with joy, I don’t mean I run pretending the world is hunky-dory; joy does not come, in my experience, from life being perfect. Just the opposite. (Maybe that philosophy needs its own blog entry, too)!

So today was the USA Invitational Half Marathon, Meb’s brother’s race, down in San Diego. Because all the entrants needed to submit a qualifying time, the field stacked with speed. It was won in 1:07….so that tells you something. I am doing three half marathons in three months, working on my half marathon performance. Pros rebound to race pace faster than I do, so this is new territory for me. My favorite distance is 10K, but I have unfinished business here.

We started near the concourse, ran up to the park (and by up, I mean like four miles of rolling UP), then down to the bayfront and along the airport and back almost to the Star of India.

After a year or more of training, trying, falling short, and getting back to work, I finally achieved a 1:26:46. Third place woman in my age group, 11th out of 1316 females, 80th out of 2435. The female winner raced with me—and won—Butte to Butte in Oregon this past 4th of July! How cool is that? I recognized her, and it brought back memories of one of my favorite places and family trips.

I held my pace steady at about 6:38. I used the hills in the first four miles to entertain myself and compete with men while attending to not going too off my pace. I love to play the pick-em-off-on-hills game, which I used during the Turkey Trot.

By the 10K, I was out of hills to play on and knew I needed to make sure I settled into keeping my mind focused on the middle part. My mind can wander. Indeed, it did start to have the barest fantasy of being at the finish line. Too soon for that! I have found that anticipating the finish line 7 miles out is a kiss of death. My body cannot receive signals of being done. I got my mind off of that quickly, reminding myself to run the mile I am in, savor the day, take in the sights, feel the joy of moving my legs.

I came upon some more men and started using my “I had two babies pain-med-free!!!!” line of thinking. If I can do that for eight hours, I can certainly bear with a little 13.1 miles. When I started feeling my stomach turn at mile 8 or so, I thought, Heck, that’s just like when I vomited during transition during labor. If I vomit, I will not lose my stride. It will take more than that. Do not fear it this time. (I did not vomit).
Approaching the line of sight for Tom Hams Lighthouse, a restaurant in San Diego, I thought of my sweet Eric. Bill and I went on a date there before seeing Crosby Stills and Nash the year before Eric was born. It was at that restaurant that we decided to make him (well, er, not at the restaurant—you know what I mean). Channeling my love for husband and children is powerful indeed, because my love for them all is beyond…beyond…

At one point, I chanted “Find a way! Find it! Find it!” Those miles after 10 are awfully exacting. I took nothing to eat on course this time, but did get a sip of Gatorade and water. For the first time ever, I didn’t fall off my pace and start to die on the half. In fact, I was able to get faster.

Probably creeping out everyone around me, I also roared and grunted and barbaric yawped. Growling. It’s like labor; it’s hard. The pain is helped when I let it out. If I can hear my voice being fierce, I can will my mind to keep going. I don’t care what other people think—and in that way, I run vulnerably. So what if making noise is embarrassing? Who else is out there to motivate me but myself? I also told myself out loud, “Get going!!!” and “FIGHT!” I did none of this in Long Beach. But folks, running isn’t pretty. Why pretend? It hurts like heck, if you want nothing left when you cross—and I don’t. I want to know I spent it all.

Also, and my band people will appreciate this: I have been doing some speed work on the track when the HS band practices lately. I developed a trick of matching my footfalls in a certain rhythm to their faster counts of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Bill has not known about this, but I thought I might be able to use it as a tool if I needed to. Indeed. Three separate times, as my mind began to wander off my legs, I started counting eight counts in repeat to pull my focus back. It totally worked to help keep my pace. Once back in focus, I could use other tools.

Most of all, I summoned the memories I have of San Diego, took intentional joy in the beauty of the day, thought about how there will come a time in my life when I can’t run like this—so just enjoy it. Enjoy this, enjoy this. I used my trick: when I hit mile 7, I told myself, oh no, I am halfway done, that’s less time to explore out here, casting it as a fun adventure that would be over too soon and that I didn’t want to end, instead of as a trial. I played games like, “Hm, I wonder where I will be by mile 9 and what I’ll see?” and “You get to start the day with a great run” and “This is the longest you’ve ever held on to this pace—why not see if you can hold on to it a little bit more?” I did not let myself think about my finish time; I did not add up in my head what I was doing. I just chose to think, “Well, I am having fun out here. I know I am doing my best. Whatever happens is going to happen. I am mentally present, and I cannot ask for more. I will be surprised. Just see how long you can hold this. Do another mile.”

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5:00 AM this morning, heading toward the staging area… I was calm. In fact, part of me wanted to worry about WHY I was so calm, but I partly knew it was because I was ready. I did not guess ahead or skip ahead to the end in my mind, but I knew I trusted my will. I knew I had done mental prep work since LB. I knew there is no harm in trying, and better to try than to give up.

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I was calm last night, too, eerily so. But intentionally, too. I had not enjoyed my night out in LB—and I am with my husband of all people! I want to be outside of my own pressure and self enough to savor him. So I really enjoyed him. I took pictures of the city, what I found beautiful. I let myself BE there, instead of thinking about the next day. Be present. We went to Sorrento’s in Little Italy. I had a kale, goat cheese, orange, and walnut salad and cacio y pepe. The pasta dish was DELICIOUS, but I ate only 1/4 and made myself quit. I ate almost all the salad. In LB, I overate carbs by a large degree—I swear by not doing that, but I wasn’t in total control of my race in LB, starting the night before. I love to run on veggies.  Lots of protein during the week, though, while training.

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Cool division trophy! What’s wild is that on Tuesday and Wednesday I was SO run down. My runs both days were nonsense, I was exhausted, I had a developing sore throat, and a 99.4 fever. So I cut out morning running, slept in a bit, diddled with some mileage in the afternoon, worked on tea and nutrition…and kicked whatever it was away by Thursday. I’ve been worried all week! But I felt great yesterday, though. That was a bullet dodged, I guess.

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After the race, we enjoyed our hotel room together. Here is the view from the balcony, overlooking the race ending point and the bay. I kept thinking about how much Eric would like all the ships, and I loved watching the planes come in.

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And in contrast to the LB Half picture post-finish, here is a candid Bill snapped when I didn’t know it. I am smiling and crying tears of happy joy. There is nothing in the world like trying and working, working, working for a goal for a long time and finally seeing it come to fruition. Today was easily one of the highs of my entire life. Always dream big, and back it up with the work, however long and however much it takes. Keep going, and never give up.

The world is open. We can become whom we want to be. There was a day not long ago (like 2012) at all when I was 62 pounds overweight and could not run a single mile, not even close. And it really isn’t about the weight loss, this message, at all. Whatever it is that you want to become, it is out there and waiting for you. I had gotten myself pretty stuck three years ago, but we are never stuck. We can claw, fight, love, search, and work our way out. We can. You can.

Dream big. Dream bigger than you think you can dare.

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