Complacency, Caution, and Confidence: An ongoing attitude adjustment

I was looking over my race recaps (putting together my brand new races page) and I realized that they all follow the same basic pattern. By the end of the post I’m satisfied (Hyannis), happy (St. Pat’s), or even elated (NYC!), but at the start they are full of doubt: “I wasn’t sure what to expect,” “I wasn’t exactly sure what my ‘strategy’ was going to be…I was at a total loss,” “I was in a weird place.” Wow. I know I joke about being a little bit clueless, but this is a bit much.

SO. In honor of my recent and ongoing runner’s high, I’m officially proclaiming an attitude adjustment and cutting back on the bullshit.

This is less about the obscene amount of food on my plate, and more about adopting the Happy Buddha Zen of my shirt.

This is less about the obscene amount of food on my plate, and more about adopting the Happy Buddha Zen of my shirt. (Photo courtesy of 8)

I know that relatively, I’m still pretty new to running, especially the longer distances. However, I’ve been doing it long enough, and have access to enough different resources, that I shouldn’t be totally unsure going into a race. Yes, I know that there will always be a level of uncertainty about racing; The weather, course conditions, and fellow runners are only three of the many external variables. And there are just as many, if not more, internal, personal variables that can change the outcome of a big race. But still, at the very least, I should be able to have an idea of my capabilities, assuming decent conditions.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I can hold sub-8 minute miles. I shouldn’t spend an average of two days pre-race panicking and stressing myself out, as well as stressing out the people around me. I was talking to a friend after NYC and he mentioned that he saw so many people strung out before the race started. I was shocked that those people could be so absorbed in their negative concerns that they were missing out on enjoying this great thing they were a part of. Then I realized that I WAS one of those people. Well, shit.

A big part of this is that I think I am still learning, and I’m sure I’ll be learning for many more years to come. I’m still figuring out how to best arrange my race schedule, how to balance recovery with improvement, how to pace myself, etc. Obviously, that, paired with the race day variables, will lead to me not knowing what to expect. But, my attitude adjustment comes in not making that my focus.

The other Buddha in my life. He found me in '08 and reminds me to check in with the Universe from time to time.

The other Buddha in my life. He found me in ’08 and reminds me to check in with the Universe from time to time.

I was talking to another friend and I said that 2013 seems like a good year to go big, to stretch myself, to try and achieve something crazy and maybe even a little bit impossible. In order to do this, I need to not care that I don’t know exactly how my race will play out. I need to just know that I’ve put in the training and that I can go beyond my “comfort” zone. I need to set big goals – not goals that I’m pretty sure I can achieve, but ones that will actually make me work for them.

I need to get over myself when it comes to hills, speedwork, and courses that don’t fit my ideal. Who cares if I keep PR-ing if I only register for flat courses that don’t include loops or out-and-backs?

I know this is all over the place, and maybe doesn’t make a lot of sense. But my point is that I want to work my butt off doing this thing I love, so that I’m more confident on the starting line. And if I’m “not sure what to expect” on race day, I want it to be because I’m pursuing something big, a reach goal. And even when that uncertainty is there, I don’t want it to be doubtful uncertainty; I want it to be able to embrace it as thrilling, exhilarating uncertainty. I want to start my race recaps saying that I went for it, with whether or not I got it being relatively irrelevant. Essentially, I want to combine the approach I took to running when I first started (13k with no training? No big deal. First half a week after my first triathlon? Whatever.) with the ability I’ve gained over the years.

I know, I know. I want a lot of things. But I think this is something worth pursuing. Not unlike that BQ I want to chase down. Bring it on, World. This year, I’m ready.

Boom. Attitude adjusted. And on the internet, for accountability. I’m going for it.

So totally in love with the Universe. No room for negativity here.

So totally in love with the Universe. No room for negativity here.

Advertisements

The Magic of NYC

I was in a weird place going into Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon. I was thrilled with my Hyannis time, but still annoyed with my shoes, and those stupid four seconds. I was annoyed with myself for letting a few seconds, in horrible conditions, prevent me from enjoying what was actually a huge accomplishment. I was concerned about my hamstring, and unsure how to balance easing off and resting, with feeling ready and well prepared for NYC. I was too hungry or too full. I was tired, both physically and mentally. I didn’t feel like finishing my swim workout on Friday, so I didn’t. And I didn’t even care.

I was very aware of all the things that felt “off”, and that was stressing me out. I didn’t want to be tired, or stressed. I had heard from a friend that the NYC half course was The Best Course Ever, and I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to go fast, but I didn’t want to hurt, and I was terrified that I would go into some weird zone, miss everything going on around me, and just not enjoy the race. Wah wah wah, panic, panic panic, rinse, repeat. Super fun, y’all. Sorry for that glimpse into the scary place that is my head. I swear it’s not usually that bad.

My parents were wonderful enough to drive me to NYC so they could watch me run, and by Saturday night, I think we were all tired of dealing with my mental spin cycle. We ate some carbs and they went to bed while I laid out my clothes for Sunday, gave my legs one more once over with my stick, painted my nails neon green and passed out.

Image

Up before the sun

Sunday morning came quick and COLD. 29 degrees cold. With a balmy 40 predicted as the high for the day. I BUNDLED up, and I was lucky enough to have my parents wake up for the super early start, so I could wear my warm clothes to my corral and not have to worry about checking them ahead of time. In the park, the energy was starting to build. Runners, volunteers, and spectators were everywhere. I made it to my corral and was the first person in the porta-potty. Call that overshare if you like, but I called it a sign that good things were happening.

Image

Normal amount of patterns

The sun came up, the corral filled, and music started playing. I was jumping around/dancing to stay warm and just felt good being at the start. I triple knotted my shoes – NO chances this time. We started moving towards the start, corral by corral, and I was ready – and excited! We crossed the line, Garmins beeped, and we were off!

Image

Happy Steph, running

Sort of. Of course there was the giant crush of people at the start. Finding paces, warming up, running four across… I didn’t want to weave and waste energy. Instead, I decided to be zen about this: take opportunities when they arise, and stay calm when they don’t. The hills were in the first half, so I could probably expect a slower pace to start anyway. I’d negative split. Make things up later. Stay positive.

And somehow, with that decision, my whole outlook shifted. It took me until well into mile 1, but I finally felt good. I felt calm, relaxed but excited, and ready to take on the course. My first mile beeped in at an 8:06 pace. I knew I needed to maintain an 8:00 or lower to break 1:45. I decided to let that be my last “slow” mile, saw a gap up ahead, and took it. I saw the first hill and I swear I actually thought “My shoes are triple knotted and I can do anything. Bring it, motherfucker.” which was SO ridiculous that I laughed out loud, but I ran up the hill, no problem.

The race kept getting better. I survived the hills, took the little opportunities to move up when I could, but kept my weaving to a minimum; my watch distance stayed right on track with the mile markers. I still felt like I was staying out of my head, and was able to enjoy everything happening in the park. There were dogs! Cowbells! Ponds? Pretty! SO SOON, we rounded a corner and I realized that I was seeing signs for corrals again. We were almost finished with the park and with that the first 6 miles. When did that happen? No time to wonder. We turned right onto 7th Ave and out into the streets of New York.

And that’s when my love of life, and all things running, turned into a full blown couldn’t bring me back to earth if you tried Runner’s High. I could see the lights of Times Square up ahead. The lights of Times Square! The road felt like it was moving in a decidedly downward direction, and my legs still felt fresh. There was something so magical about seeing no cars, buses, taxis – just runners filling up the streets. Bands played and the lights just kept getting closer and closer. I couldn’t stop smiling.

We turned down 42nd and made it to the West Side Highway. There was a little bit of wind, but what was wind after all those hills? I triple knotted my shoes; I’m ready to take on the world. As a side note, I love running along rivers. Give me a city with a river, and a pair of Brooks and I am one happy girl. I spent the summer of 2012 falling completely in love with New York and part of that was because every time I came into the city, I made time to run along the West Side bike path. So when we turned, I felt like I was on my home turf, and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be.

I passed mile 9, with my pace still holding strong. I was feeling good, but was a little worried; I was approaching the dreaded 10 mile mark. Those last 3 miles got me in Hyannis, and before that in Dublin. I didn’t want that to happen here. As I was telling myself that ALL I needed to do was maintain the pace I’d been keeping pretty consistently – easy right? – I looked up and saw one of my best friends, 8, and her parents up ahead. I knew they were going to try and be out on the course, but I also knew it was very cold and very early in the morning, so I would have understood if they had opted for a warmer, later start to their morning. But there they were! I waved and they whipped out their cameras while cheering super loudly (impressive multi-tasking). The people around them joined in. And just like that, I wasn’t worried about mile 10.

Image

Courtesy of 8

Image

Another one courtesy of Super Photographer 8

At mile 12, my mind thought perhaps I should have some sort of moment of doubt so that I wouldn’t start thinking this was easy, but at that moment I happened to be running past the 9/11 memorial, and there is no room for negativity in the shadow of the 9/11 memorial. Sorry brain, none of your crazy here. Not this race.

A good portion of the last mile (1/3? Maybe?) was in a tunnel. The energy was literally echoing and I knew we were almost there. I could pull a 10 minute mile and still PR (LIKE. HELL. was I going to let that happen, but it was nice to know, just the same). We passed a sign saying 800m to the finish. I was close enough to measure in meters! There was a little hill to get out of the tunnel, but no big deal, laces tied, whatever. 400m to go. I could see the 13 mile marker up ahead, and I picked up my pace a little bit. There was a turn right past the marker, so I took the right, and I kicked.

I made a point of not checking my watch right at the finish. Who really cares? I didn’t want to waste a minute focusing on anything but what was going on around me. When I finally did check, I couldn’t quite believe it. My time was a full three minutes off my Hyannis PR. I didn’t think that was possible, and I knew my Garmin got a bit confused in the tunnel but I wanted SO BADLY to believe it.

8 had been tracking me using the app, and by the time I got my phone back – after hurling myself at my mom and dad in the reunion area – she had already texted me my official time: 1:41.57. A brand new, unbelievable, PR.

Image

This is what happy looks like

This race was incredible. I had such a shaky start after weeks of weird issues, both physical and mental, but the NYC half captured all the best parts of running and reminded me why this is something I truly love. Yes, the PR was great (really great), but the fact that I managed to pull it off, after having decided that I didn’t care as much about the time as the run itself, was even better. I kept a consistent pace, faster than I thought I could (7.47). I felt fresh and ran mostly by feel; I didn’t let the numbers psych me out, and I just soaked in the awesome experience. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was having my family – and the people who are basically my second family – there. I’ve run a lot of races on my own, and that’s fine, but having people along the course and waiting at the end makes crossing the finish line that much sweeter.

As for the race itself, it was well run and organized. I am SO grateful for the volunteers and spectators who came out in the freezing cold (seriously, the water at the early stations froze) to cheer for and support the runners. The NYC Half is definitely a race you have to do at least once, and I know I’m going to do it as many times as I can. I swear the high from this year might just carry me to March 2014.