I have developed quite the love hate relationship with racing. When I started running and racing in 2009, I would love the feeling of completing something I had never done before and really testing myself to see how far I could go. That feeling carried me through my first half marathon, full marathon, sprint triathlon and eventually a 70.3.
But then racing got to be a little less fun. I already knew I could complete the distance, so now what did I have to focus on? A PR of course! I had the mentality that I was only getting better if my race was a PR, and if it wasn’t, I shouldn’t consider it a successful race.
What would really get to me is when I would get to the point in the race when I thought a PR wasn’t possible. I would look down at my time, see that I wasn’t on track for a PR and immediately mentally get down on myself. I would mentally talk myself into fatigue. I mean, I wasn’t going to PR, so it’s ok to walk now right?
As I look at my race medals and go through past memories, I can tell you this line of thinking literally happened during at least a dozen races, but it wasn’t a part of myself that I wanted to admit.
Coach Sam sensed this weakness and did what any good coach does. They call you out on it and tell you to stop ignoring it. It wasn’t quite that blunt or that quick of a conversation, but a culmination of a few different conversations.
The conversation that really hit home was the week before my Go! Half Marathon. Mentally I was in a really rough place. My Dad was battling Cancer and was at the point that treatments were not going to help anymore, he was just at the point that he needed to kept on drugs to manage his pain. Because of this, I was flexing my schedule at work, working 10 hours days (many of them starting before 5am) to be able to stay with him a couple days during the week in my hometown which is roughly an hour away. I was also traveling down on weekends as much as I could while still squeezing in my long runs. Additionally, I had developed a hip pain on my left side that would go from annoyance to very painful at any given time. I ignored it for a long time as running didn’t seem to worsen it, and I really didn’t feel like I had the time to go to a bunch of doctor’s appointments to get it taken care of.
Sam had cut down on my volume a bit and running wasn’t necessarily making my hip pain worse so we decided that I could run the half. I told Sam that even with the hip pain, I had really never felt more physically prepared for a half. My long runs I had been running plenty of double digit numbers and had really been able to pick up my pace a bit at the end.
Sam told me to focus on being calm before the race and to not go into it already setting myself up for failure. She had seen a pattern in me of freaking out a bit before a race and that would lead to me mentally falling apart.
When the morning of the race arrived, I tried my best to stay calm but as I started to feel a little rushed which caused me to be a little stressed. As I was about 5 minutes into my warm up, I spotted an Evolve jacket in the distance. It was my teammate Chris, who I qualify as a pro at racing. He was calmly walking towards the start, not rushed, and with a smile on his face. I stopped him and gave him a giant hug that lasted 5 seconds longer than it should have for someone who is not a close friend or family member. But, man that hug helped.
I finished my warm up and headed back towards the start so I could not be late getting into my corral. Of course, my concern with time was dumb, because Go (and most races) never start on time. Luckily, I had my husband next to me to keep me company and it was in this long delay that I started to have a conversation with myself.
As crazy as it sounds, you have to develop the own voice in your head for a race. Normally, mine isn’t overly confident. But today something clicked. My voice sounded something like this:
“Here’s the deal, Teresa. You are one of the strongest people mentally that you know. You know you really freaking are. Life has thrown you a lot, and the last few months have been the most stressful of your life, and you are here. You have only missed a handful of workouts despite your stress eating, crazy schedule, and living a good part of your life in the car. This race is absolutely nothing compared to what you mentally have been dealing with and you know despite your recent pain, you have never been stronger for a race. You may not PR today, and that’s ok. Your PR is on a flat as fuck course, and this one is going to be hilly and hard. So all you can do is give your best and don’t back down when it gets tough.”
Some calm hit me and I was good. My corral was released. I high five’d Jackie Joyner Kersee for some extra good juju and I was off. My first few miles felt good, and I was actually at my PR mile time for the first 5 miles. I did start noticing my pace was slowing a bit after that, but my heart rate was staying on the high end of the tempo zone, so I didn’t let that get me down like I normally would. If my heart rate was where it was supposed to be, then I was doing exactly as I should. Every so often I would check my posture and remind myself I was strong.
The next few miles were tough and I came to the realization that my PR would not be happening today. I gave myself 10 seconds to mourn the loss, then snapped back into what my goal was for the day- to run my best and not mentally let myself go.
Mile 10 came and I knew this is where my race was really beginning. I pushed myself into my threshold zone and didn’t let myself back down. I reminded myself I only had a small fraction of time left and I didn’t need to walk. I had run at this heart rate plenty of times and my body was capable.
After the nearly 1mile long finish chute, I crossed the finish line 5 minutes slower than my PR and I didn’t care. I knew without even looking at my stats that I done my best racing regardless of the time.
With everything happening with my Dad, I have been really trying to appreciate the gifts in life that we are given. It is a gift that I can race and train in the capacity that I can. I am certainly not the fastest athlete which is always a hard pill to swallow when you are surrounding by other amazing athletes. It’s one struggle that I have yet to overcome. But if I focus on that, what did I do with my gift? Did I great fully accept it and cherish it like I should have? I’d say no, and I don’t what to live my life like that. If I’ve given a gift, I should love the hell out of it.