Conquering failure feels really good. My attempt to construct a long maxi skirt out of my red knit was utter failure. It did although fuel my fire to defeat the simple skirt. After turning the red knit into a dress, I dug deep (into my stash of old fabric) and mustered up the strength to give the skirt a go once again. Et voilà! A comfy knit skirt with a foldable waist band. I love it!
Conquering my running failures has not come quite so quickly. Late in my 20s I had a slight amount of success in races as an age-group competitor. Very slight. I was a 3:20:0 marathoner and a 20:50 5k-er. I knew I had more in me but hadn’t been able to get it to spew out, so I took coaching from a highly respected and knowledgeable running coach with numerous national-level accolades. At the start he very fittingly asked for a rundown of my goals. I shared target times I hoped to beat for most road-race distances including, breaking three hours in the marathon all the way down to running an18-minute 5k. He sounded encouraging that, “For sure, we can get you close to 3:00 in the marathon, but…”
As a personal trainer, I understand the roll of a coach or trainer is to push an athlete but also to help her understand limitations. True, my goal was to take three fast minutes off of a three mile race. Lofty? Maybe. I tend to be a realistic thinker. In my mind, things were not adding up. For starters, the training I’d done on my own for my 3:20 marathons was very shoddy: no speed work, not much cross training, and absolutely no tempo runs. Furthermore I knew that since I had run X, Y, and Z times in the past, then genetically I was designed to hit the marks at which I was aiming. I was not just shooting from the hip. That is, however, exactly how Coach made me feel when he said, “…but… that 5k time is smokin’ fast!”
Telling a runner that a goal time is really (smokin’) fast in a questionable way is as if to suggest, “Ah, maybe your dreams are set a little too high? Get ready for this to not happen.” I felt deflated by the reality that maybe speed was in fact not my thing and ready to recalibrate all of my running goals.
Fast forward three years and I have met or exceeded all of my running goals. How? Well, it wasn’t as easy as grabbing a seam ripper or new yard of fabric. It took thought, careful planning and training. Here’s some of what happened:
I continued receiving coaching for six more months, but things continued to stagnate. I could run long and easy forever. Then in races I’d get out hard and after a minute feel like I was drowning from the waist down, as if I had Kool-Aid pumping through my veins instead of thick red blood.
In the middle of this training block, I spent 10 days chaperoning high schoolers in France and was welcomed home by my first sinus infection. Since I’d never had one, I thought that the pressurized feeling of blood rushing into my nasal passages anytime I bent over was just jet lag. I know, I’m forever an optimist…or an idiot. The sinus infection lingered for six weeks, while I thought my fatigue and strange blood rushes were a result of a busy school year and, again, persistent jet lag. Finally a Z-Pak, some serious Neti-potting and a couple of days off school, and I was as good as new. I assumed also that my running would improve. Still, nothing.
Summer hit and I made a coaching substitution. My husband, a physical therapy student and Vo2 max junkie, was ready to take on the challenge of ‘me’ and began writing my workouts. I loved (and still do) having an in-house coach. In terms of my conditioning nothing really changed. If anything, my fitness worsened. I was able to increase my mileage gradually. My speed work was still embarrassing and I started to feel blood rushes in my head all of the time. Every time I stood up I’d have to grab onto something for fear that I’d black out. Not a sinus infection for sure this time!
J went to a running symposium toward the end of the summer hosted by GrinnellCollege. They bring in pretty big name people like coach Joe Vigil, the renowned Olympic distance coach and Adams State College coach to share ideas and inspire. I believe it was during a session break when he texted me, as if it were a 911 emergency, “Go to Wal-Mart and buy some Feosol.” I did. This changed everything.
One of the first symposium topics was iron. J knew that each summer day I spent at least four hours riding and training horses. When not running, cross training, or horse training, I was gardening. Basically, I sweat all day long. My iron consumption was next to nil, since I was feasting mostly on wonderfully local or home grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Plus, he knew I often felt lightheaded. So outside of the running, there was a missing link. In a doctor’s office I wouldn’t have been called anemic, although probably borderline, but my Ferritin level was appalling. Ferritin is an intracellular protein that acts to buffer the amount of iron in the blood, keeping it from going too high or too low. I had my Ferritin level tested three weeks after I’d started to take the ferrous sulfate supplement. Even then I was just about one number above dead.
Running I thought was starting to feel different. Ascending hills didn’t feel quite so much like I had on a parachute. Yet, I wondered if the supplement was just tricking my mind like a placebo.
A few days after my blood test, I was preparing for a horse show.
The night before the show, I took my horse to a friend’s and planned to leave the vehicle at her barn to facilitate a quicker departure in the morning. Leaving my means of transportation, my horse and truck, I would just run the six miles home. I stayed long enough to settle Chief in and blab a while. When it was starting to get dark, I knew it was time to hit the road. The bee line to the farm was one mile along a calm highway and then about five miles of eerily quiet and dark gravel roads.
I started out easy. Once I hit the gravel the low light of the sun setting made me more and more and more anxious about the dark back roads. Instinctively, I began picking up the pace thinking I could outrun the darkness. Scary vehicles with dim lights started to flood my mind and make me want to pee my pants. Not even half way and the sun was gone. I crested a hill and could see just to the bottom of the next rise. In the low spot I see the exact vehicle I’d envisioned with lowly dimed lights. Turn around? The thought crossed my mind. Pee my pants? That, too, hit me. Then, upon taking another look, I realized it wasn’t a kidnapper van with fog lights. It was a small tractor that I could hear purring. As I approached, I saw the ricketiest old man slowly lugging shut a field gate. So rickety that I sped off to run by him quickly without being spotted afraid that I, myself, would scare the man into a heart attack if he saw this crazed runner-girl. Maintaining my speed, I headed for home.
I finished the run feeling so strong. Running felt effortless. I checked my pace and it averaged about 6:35. Since I knew I did the first mile at around 8min. that meant the last five miles were, well… smokin’ fast.
Ladies, I suggest getting your blood work checked. (So excited to read about a fellow runner-girl with 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon dreams taking my suggestions to heart). We lose iron monthly but also by sweating and urinating. Sounds crazy but we even lose iron through the pounding of running because the blood cells in the capillaries of the feet are mashed with each footstrike. If you have felt some of my same symptoms, a supplement might be a good idea. Again, get checked out. I mentioned Feosol, which was like a miracle pill for me. Now, I have switched to a chelated iron supplement and take it probably about five times per week. The Feosol is good, but maybe a bit too concentrated. Too much iron is as bad as too little. Strive for a balance.
Run Fast. Smokin’ Fast.