It’s the summer of 1998 and I’m here.
Raw. Beautiful. Largely untouched. Open sky. Open water. It’s a wildly lovely place.
Wildly lovely and I’m one hundred percent here. All sensed on board.
Not only am I here, but I’m irked. Not because of the long days full of fishing nor for the sheer beauty around me; that’s all good. Nope, I’m irked because I’m losing. I really can’t stand to lose, especially at Hearts. In the circles that I run in, Hearts is the card game of choice. This game it’s me, my dad, and three family friends. I may be 17, but I’m decent at Hearts. But we are toward the end of a game, and I’m losing every hand and about to lose big. Taking every trick, I have the queen and 95% of the hearts – if you’re unfamiliar with Hearts, that’s bad – I am losing. Beyond the cards in my hand, I’m sitting in a draft of thick campfire smoke. At night in Canada, the mosquitoes are so thick you have to sit in either a pool of DEET or a pool of smoke… or be eaten alive. I’ll choose smoke any day. Smoke is just pouring into my eyes. Tear ducts siphoning the sting down deep into my sinuses. Frustrated that my competition has me beat so badly that the last hand I literally throw my cards down so I can stand up to get a quick breath of air out of the smoke. I’m standing and everyone looks and they realize I’ve also taken the last trick. I’ve taken all of the points. Now, I don’t know your house rules but with us, if someone takes all the points in a round they actually give all of the other people one hundred points and their score zeros. So while I was playing blindly, I was playing the cards I was dealt. Feeling like I was loosing miserably, I ended up winning big.
I ran a half marathon about six weeks ago and it went pretty well. I ran a personal best by almost four minutes and it turned out to be a decent time to add to my “running resume.” What that meant for me practically speaking was that I earned elite status entry into the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, December 7. This is a race that I’ve wanted to run for a long time and now that card was placed in my hand. Should I play it? I wasn’t sure.
Prior to finishing that September half marathon, I’d been planning to hit the Des Moines IMT Marathon and then, sort of, call it a season. Take a little break. You know, enjoy the holidays. Now all of the sudden, I’d been dealt a surprisingly different hand. There was Des Moines. There was California. And then I stumbled upon the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, (Indy) November 1. I have family there, which is always a plus when deciding whether or not to travel to a race. Always nice to get to visit family. Plus the race seemed flat and fast. I deliberated for about a month. About two weeks out from the Des Moines Marathon I decided, I’d throw all caution into the wind and play all three. I’d run the Des Moines half marathon, Indy full marathon AND the full CIM.
So far how is this hand playing out? Probably better than I’d hoped.
Prior to the half last weekend, and since the previous half, I’d been putting in huge miles, done several highly intense training days and spent a week at altitude. When I say highly intense, I mean stuff like two long tempo runs in one day: am – tempo run 14 miles half of them at 6 minute/mile; then pm – progression tempo, 8 miles starting at 7:20s and finishing around 6:30s. So I felt like I’d done some hard work, but you never know and you never feel prepared as you should. At least, I don’t. I wasn’t even sure if I could run any faster than the previous half. I wondered if my 1:19:51 was a fluke. Maybe that was all I’ve got?
Well, cut to the chase, the half marathon began and I felt great. I shot out and had my mental half marathon game plan running through my head. I was ready to get a quick start. Finished the first four miles averaging around 5:50 and that was fine by me. I kept pushing. By the mid-way point, things started getting hard. Doubt and a wandering mind are no good. The mind wants the body to think about other things like the puppy dragging its owner around the park, going for coffee, or the little girl who wants to give a high-five. Actually, that was the only high-five I did give; would have loved to have given more.
I slowed to around 6:00-flat for a few of those middle miles.
About there the course doubles back and passes oncoming runners in the 9, 10 and 11+min pace groups and that’s quite fun. People were so encouraging and they made me smile. They pushed me on to a little bit faster pace. Then we hit miles 9-10 and I was starting to feel it. I knew that I could maintain my pace but pushing much faster was not happening. I saw some good friends between miles 10-11 and that also gave me a surge. Pushing to the final (the only) hill and last 1.5 miles, I knew I had the second place gal not too far behind me. Actually figuring she was gaining, I expected to see her zoom by me at any point. But that didn’t happen. Muscularly I felt really good, no pains, no major fatigue, but I was definitely feeling the mental fatigue and the strain on my lungs. I ended up seeing second place where the course has runners run a little out and back U-turn. She was so close. But I was also SO close to the finish. I tried to smile. “Look cool,” I say to myself. Then I hit it hard. I finished the final mile again near 5:50. Flying over the bridge to the finish line was as surreal as the rest of the race. It was truly a special and memorable run. And yes, I’m very glad I played that card.
What’s next. Well so far, I feel great after the race and feel like I’m recovering faster than from my previous half marathon which was a minute and a half slower. I’ll put in some easy miles for a couple of days and then a marathon-pace specific workout about ten days out from Indy. If all goes as planned, I’ll run a sub 2:43 marathon in either of the next two chances I’m given. Then I really am going to take a little break. The cards may or may not be stacked in my favor, but I’m not worried. Really, it’s not so much about luck as it is favor of the Lord. I’m good to go with the flow that He gives me. I’ll do my best to play well the cards I’m dealt.
Some things to which I continue to attribute my improvement:
- Beets: maybe it’s just a placebo, but I’m going to stick with the plan: 10 days prior to race: 1-2 beets/day or the equivalent in juice. NeoElite Beet Shot the morning of race
- Altitude: again might just be in my mind, but isn’t running something like 99% mental?
- 100 mile weeks: not saying you should try it, but high mileage is my friend
- Renato Canova-style workouts: google it. Too much to explain here.
- Game Plan: I’m no pro at mental focus, but I’m developing my mental fortitude and I have been going at my races with a better plan than ever before in the past, thus running faster and not worried about my competition.
- Nutrition: I’m eating more but probably eating less. Frequent smaller meals seem to be the ticket for me. I’m more and more convinced that big meals make big people. Think about it, unless you’re burning exorbitant amounts of calories, three square, huge meals a day are probably each exceeding your caloric need. Maybe not, but frequent (every 2.5-3hrs) smaller meals are working for me. Other than that, I’m eating less for supper and more for breakfast. Actually, I usually have something right when I get up and before my morning run, especially if it’s a long/hard workout. I used to deal with side-aches; I now believe that was because of too-little food in my guts because since starting to consume a little more before I run, I’ve had 0 problems. Zero!
I’m thankful for the chances to run these races, for supportive family and friends, and for the drive to not always do things the easiest nor most conventional way.