Last weekend, I returned energized and excited from racing the USATF Masters Outdoor Track National Championships in Michigan. It was a pivotal meet that was the culmination of months and months of hard work. I raced the 800m and 1500m distances feeling the strongest I have ever felt, and came back home on the biggest runner’s high.
So, I shared this emotional post on Facebook the other day, “After a weekend of racing and breaking my own barriers, I’ve become a wiser and better athlete. I’ve fallen in love with track and racing all over again!” Laura, one of my New Balance Masters Racing teammates, responded to that post, “Can you share any of your new wisdom?” I wrote back, “That is a loaded question.”
When I wrote that post, I was thinking about my growth as an athlete over the last year and how everything my coach and I have worked on came together at the perfect time. But her question really got me thinking about everything that happened at Nationals and I simply couldn’t fit it into a response on Facebook. So, I thought why not put it in a blog post? ☺
Success Takes Time and Patience
What I have painfully learned about running in the eight short years I’ve been doing it, is you work your ass off for very tiny gains. And if you are the instant gratification type, you will constantly be disappointed. It is definitely a sport that tests your patience.
I also grew to appreciate that running is more than a PR or a race time. It’s about enjoying the journey by embracing the highs and the lows, having faith in the process, and trusting your coach.
Taking a Risk on A New Coach
In September of last year, I changed coaches. I knew I made the right decision but with every change there is always a lot of anxiety. My new coach, Ryan, coaches completely different than my old coach. While I trusted him and went into the change with an open mind, I was still anxious.
What I learned from Ryan about racing track (which I’ve only been doing for 2 years) is it’s not just about running fast in circles. It’s about constant strength building, learning how to strategize a race and getting comfortable enough with that feeling that comes from running hard so you can take a risk. You guys know the feeling I’m talking about: When you push yourself to your limits and it feels like you’re being set on fire and rolling around in broken glass. Obviously it’s pretty hard to get excited about that, because who in the hell would want to put themselves through that?! Lol!
So, for the last year, that’s what my coach and I have worked on. Pushing me in tough new workouts, having me race frequently so I can get comfortable with race strategy and race tactics, and more importantly, getting me comfortable with taking risks.
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back to Learn More Lessons
While the journey has been exhilarating, it definitely has come with its fair share of frustrations. Most races I felt strong both physically and mentally but even when you are feeling your best, races don’t always go as planned. Sometimes I felt strong but the speed just wasn’t there so I fell short of my goal time. Sometimes I was just tired because of my busy personal life or sometimes I just screwed up the race plan.
After each race, my coach and I would go back to the drawing board, looking at what I did right in the race and what I could have done better or needed to improve. One thing we learned is I’m the type of athlete that does better without a scripted race plan and executes race strategy best when it’s done based on effort and how I’m feeling. I like to call it racing with reckless abandonment. My coach isn’t too thrilled with that term.
The final and probably most important lesson we learned is I was responding to the training a little slower than he thought I would. As you know, not all athletes are the same. So, once we figured out what needed to change in my workouts, things started to turn around. Of course, none of this happened over night. This process carried on over the course of several months. So, you can imagine how frustrated I was. I worked my ass off day after day, making sacrifices and kept falling short.
There were days when I definitely lost confidence and questioned everything about running. I was finding it hard to have faith and believe when I kept falling short. But what I later came to realize is that all of those experiences were grooming me to be the athlete I knew I could be. And while trusting the process was the hardest in those frustrating times, it was teaching me the greatest lessons about myself: I’m a fighter, I’m not a quitter, I work my “effing” ass off everyday, and I do deserve all good things that come my way. Most importantly, I was exactly where I was meant to be in my running journey.
So, at the end of it all, at the USATF Masters Outdoor Track National Championships, what I learned is my coach is “effing” awesome (of course I already knew this). Everything he taught me about getting stronger and having confidence was true. He never steered me wrong.
My Races: Where Everything I Learned Finally Came Together
While I was waiting at the track for the 800m, my first race, to get underway, the race conditions were not ideal. There were 20-25 mph head winds and it was hot! But I was confident I was strong. I decided I was not going to let these less than ideal conditions get in the way of everything I had worked so hard on. In the past, they would have “wrapped me around the axle.” 🙂 But as my coach always tells me, “Great things come out of less than ideal situations. Everyone is going to be worried about the weather. Use that to your advantage.” So armed with that truth as I waited to start my race, I relaxed, stayed in the zone and focused on having a strong and confident race.
When the gun went off for the 800m, I settled into a controlled hard effort. Heading into the bell lap, against the head wind, I still felt surprisingly good. Let me rephrase that – as good as you can feel in an 800m! I was worried pushing hard against the wind during the first lap was going to leave me struggling during the last lap. This was a scenario my coach and I actually talked about. How hard do you push in the wind so you still have some left in the tank to finish strong? The answer: I needed to have confidence in my strength and take a risk.
So, with 300m to go I assessed how I was feeling. (For those of you that race track, you know these thoughts are fleeting. There isn’t much time to think.) I was trying to figure out when to surge. My kick is my strength in racing. I was feeling good. My legs felt strong. And I remember vividly saying to myself, my coach was right, I do feel a lot stronger than I thought I would. And with that I surged with 200m to go, still feeling good even against the head wind.
There was another competitor about 50ish meters ahead of me. I wanted to catch her but I knew I was going to have to kick hard again to make that happen. It was a risk. I knew if I took the plunge, there was no letting up. I had to commit. So, I trusted in everything my coach and I had worked on and with a bit more than 100m to go, I went for it. I found another gear, I was relentless and I caught her at the finish line! It was a great race. It was also a good confidence booster going into the 1500m a few days later.
When I stepped on the track for my final race, the 1500m, I went in with a new confidence. I had proven to myself in the 800m that I was strong and fully prepared. I felt ready to take another risk and it paid off.
I raced hard with one of my good friends and fierce competitors. Together we pushed each other, I took some risks and we helped one another get to the finish line strong. We surged at various times during the race and held on, and in our final lap, I wanted to pass her. But once again, I knew if I made that move I would have to commit. I could not slow down. So I took the risk and I passed her. I raced hard to stay in front but eventually she caught me at the finish line. It was so fun! I felt like a true competitor. I felt like everything my coach and I had so carefully worked on came together and as a result I had one of my best racing experiences.
I left Michigan feeling inspired and excited to start my new training cycle – excited to grow stronger, faster, and better!