Racing With No Expectations….

….Except Maybe a Win!!

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I went into this weekends race with no idea of where my fitness level was. I have not worn my Garmin for over 6 months and have been running solely by feel. The only way I was able to gauge where I was at was by how I felt on climbs, and by one run with my brother where he stated, “this is a pretty good pace.”

I guess you can say that ditching the Garmin was a strategic move. For one, I feel like by monitoring my pace while running I was in a way holding myself back. I had an “idea” in my head of what my pace “should be” and I feel like I was limiting myself by staying in that zone. What would happen if I just ran by feel? Ran until I couldn’t run any faster without over-exerting myself?  Based my effort on my heart rate. I just felt that this was a better training move for me.

So, while I felt like my fitness level was pretty good going into the Summer Solstice 5.5 mile race, I had no idea what to expect. Was I capable of an 8:00 pace or a 7:00 pace? I honestly didn’t know, but I did have a hunch. I had a feeling that I could trust the fact that EVERY training run was done at maximum effort, and with a clear vision of what I was training for.

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That brings me to the importance of this race.

THE HISTORY:

2012:

41:06/7:29 pace

3rd Female/24th Overall

My first year running this race. I ran the entire race flip flopping 2nd and 3rd place with who I would later learn to be Lisa. Lisa ended up placing 2nd, while a few seconds later I finished for 3rd place. I learned I had done a 7:29 pace, which blew me away. On the trails, that pace seemed extremely fast to me. I was happy!

2013:

41:22/7:32 pace

2nd Female/16th Overall

This is the race that has probably fueled a fire inside me more than any other.  I held on to first place until about the 5 mile mark, when I was passed by the girl who was on my tail the whole race. I remember the exact spot she passed me, and from that day forward every time I run the red trail at Gay City I attack that same hill harder than ever. It is true that for every failure, it brings you a step closer to success. There is a finish line picture of this girl breaking the tape with me about 10 ft behind her, trying like hell to catch her. That picture has been burnt in my head as my motivation for the last 2 years

2014:

38:44/7:03 pace

2nd Female/7th Overall

I wasn’t even sure if I was doing this one.  I was running my first 50 Mile Race just two weeks prior, and I was uncertain how my legs would feel.  However, this was the first year we had partnered up with Hartford Marathon Foundation, where we lead a 6 Week Trail Running Series prepping runners for this race.  So, I wanted to run to represented mission FITNESS and our partnership.  I was surprised with my pace, but unfortunately I knew winning this race was going to be difficult as I got past early by a High School girl wearing an All-State Cross Country shirt. I was happy with my 2nd place finish!

2015:

38:29/7:00 pace

1st Female/9th Overall

As I stated earlier, I had a lot of uncertainty going into this race.  However, I also had some things I was certain about.  I had a realization once back in Connecticut and in the woods that Trail Running is my passion. It is when and where I find complete happiness.  It’s my exercise.  My meditation.  My therapy.  But, more than anything, I am starting to realize that it is something I have a lot of potential at.  Racing and placing 6th among very good competition at the Cayuga 50 Mile National Championships last year made me realize I may be able to compete at a higher level.  Being back in CT made me realize that I want to represent mission FITNESS and make my clients and the Owner (my brother) proud.

To commit to being EXCELLENT at something is scary.  I think I always knew I could be an Elite Trail Runner, but I was never ready to ADMIT it and OWN it.  Once I did that, it meant things would get uncomfortable.  I was no longer in my “safe” AVERAGE zone.  I was stepping into territory that few have the desire (or maybe courage) to enter.  However, after endless hours of listening to motivational videos it became so clear to me that I DO NOT WANT TO KEEP ASKING, “WHAT IF?”

I don’t want to look back and think about what might have been. If I could have been one of those runners I follow on Instagram who get to run for their job.  I don’t want to wonder who I could have motivated at mission FITNESS if I chose to become that runner I dreamt to be.

So, my runs started to have purpose.  As I ran the trails, did hill repeats, etc. I would visualize crossing that finish line at the Summer Solstice Trail Race.  The picture was so clear.  My brother would be there with a big smile, and a high five.  He would hug me after, proud of me for representing mission FITNESS for everything it is.  My runners from the Trail Running Series would congratulate me, knowing they were lead by someone who knows what they’re doing.  What I didn’t know is that my amazing husband and Mom and Dad would also be there. As well as an amazing, inspiring friend (Melissa) who gets this trail running thing more than any other friend…and REALLY gets my history with this race.  It was really a dream finish.

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The vision was so clear for me, that instead of wearing our Trail Running shirts from the clinic (which had an image of trees on the front) I would wear my mission FITNESS tank.  A strategic move so the finish line picture of me breaking the ribbon would advertise the BEST fitness facility in Connecticut:

MISSION FITNESS. 

   DREAM IT.  BELIEVE IT. ACHIEVE IT.

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“You have to do what others won’t, to achieve what others don’t.”

As many of you know, I have been training for my first ultra marathon these past couple of months. I signed up for the Bimblers Bluff 50Kish (the “ish” is what is killing me. An extra 1.5 miles. Seems so short. Tell that to my legs when I hit 18.5 miles on Sunday. Ouch) which is October 20th. It takes place through the woods of Southern Connecticut, consisting of mostly single track and forest roads.

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My training has been going well. Much different from my Hartford Marathon training. There’s the obvious: I am training mostly in the woods as opposed to mostly on the road.  However, there are other changes I have made that I am very happy with. I was lucky enough to find a great training partner who has taught me a lot about how to train. Probably because he has ultra running experience, and his wife is a ROCKSTAR runner. the real deal.  (www.msfitrunner.com) So, when a chick that rocks out sub 3 hour marathons & sub 18 min 5Ks tells you to do AB and C to get stronger & faster, you do it. Even if C is running on the ROAD doing 1/4 mile repeats. Yuck.

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But, me & the rockstars hubs do them. Why?  As he says, “coach said so”. Well, turns out, as it has happened through most my sports career, coach may be right. While doing my last 2 training runs (18 & 20 miles at Case Mountain) I felt strong. I felt good (except that last 1.5 miles Sunday). So, I have found a new, strange, love for speed work and hill repeats. I am realizing that training plans and coaches have you do these (awful) workouts because they work.

So, instead of just going out and running different distances at whatever speed feels right for the day, then adding 2 miles to each long run, I am now mixing in some hill repeats, track workouts, core and bootcamp classes at mission FITNESS (www.missionfitnessllc.com), 30-50 mile bike rides, and lots of foam rolling!  I am hoping this will all make sense and come together on October 20th  for a strong race!

Summer Solstice 5.5 Mile Trail Race

Photo Courtesy of Hartford marathon Foundation

Photo Courtesy of Hartford marathon Foundation

Not long ago I mentioned to someone that I follow a local runners blog.  Right away she responded, “I’m sorry, but to me she is way too self-absorbed.  Get over yourself”  I have learned to let people judge without feeling the need to defend, however, I couldn’t help but think, “Is this what people think about me when I write my blogs?”  Maybe.  Probably.  But as I drove out of the parking lot of Gay City State Park on Sunday, after racing the 5.5 mile Summer Solstice Trail Race, I thought, “I need to get my thoughts out there.  I need to blog this.”

So, why do I blog my experiences?  For a few reasons.  One,  I love to write.   Whenever thoughts overwhelm my head I write them down.  More often than not it is in my personal journal, however, when I think it is a topic others may benefit from I put it out on the world-wide web.  I know there have been so many times I have read others blogs and thought, “so, I am NOT the only other person who feels this, thinks this, etc.”  So, here are my thoughts about Sunday’s race.

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Like almost every race I do, I went into this race thinking I set the bar too high last year and would have a hard topping that performance.  (You can read about that race experience at the blog I wrote for  mission FITNESS, “Who Was Pushing Who”).  I came in 3rd place with a 7:29 pace for 5.5 miles.  For the TRAILS, this was a stellar pace for me.  However, upon checking in I knew one of the top finishers from last year was not competing, since she was working the event.  This was the girl I CHASED last year the whole race and placed 2nd, right ahead of me.

This year was nice because we had A LOT of mission FITNESS people running the race, many of which did my Intro To Trail Running Series.  It was also nice because toeing the start line next to me was my brother, the owner of mission FITNESS.  My childhood hero, my fitness inspiration.  Whenever I do a race knowing he will be at the finish line, it drives me a little harder.  I want him to be proud of me when he sees me finish.

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“Racers ready?” BANG!  We took off.  I found myself at the front, staying with the leaders of the pack for the first half mile, as we ran up the pavement park road that would lead us to the trail head.  Doing a quick pace (6:45ish) up a gradual hill, mixed with the anxiety of the race, left me short of breath as we entered the woods.  As usual, once I hit the single tracks I calmed down a little and settled into my pace.  At about 1.5 miles in while on a double track, I ran along side another runner for a while, who complemented my pace and told me I was in first (I knew this) and he had just passed the 2nd place girl, who was a little behind me.  I felt good.  My stride felt comfortable, and my heart rate was starting to settle.  I had a confident feeling that I may win this race.  However, I kept thinking of the blogs I’ve read….”it is mentally draining to be the one being chased.”  I knew I would have to maintain the lead the whole race, and that would be tough.

On the access trail I opened up my stride, and felt like I was doing a good pace.  I didn’t look back, but just hoped I was opening up the gap between the 2nd place girl and myself.   We detoured around a pond, and took a turn.  As soon as we took the turn, it didn’t feel right.  I didn’t pay attention to the arrow (rookie mistake) because I was just following the guy in front of me.  I panicked.  I stopped dead in my tracks, and as I did about 5 people who were right behind me, including the 2nd place female, passed me.    Urghhh.  This was the start of my mental “breakdown”.

I quickly continued running, and passed her again.  Looking back, should I have held back a little? Maybe.  But I was pissed and charged ahead to get back ahead of her.  So, the race continued with her on my heels.  I could LITERALLY hear her breathing for the next 4 miles.  My legs started to get tired, and as we hit the muddy, swampy areas I was losing my footing easier than I should have.  I was mentally breaking down.  I started to think about the 12 miles I ran that past Wednesday, which shouldn’t have been a factor.  With each hill I fought the urge to just let her pass and let this mental game of being chased end.  I felt like Katniss in the Hunger Games.  I battled with the thought of trying to pull ahead with a mile to go, or easing back and trying to “recover” to give myself enough energy to pass her at the end.  However, I knew a “slower” pace would hurt just as much as my “fast” pace, so I decided:  go as hard as you can for as long as you can, and hopefully that will get you the win.

I have never WON a race, and I wanted this so bad.  I wanted it because I felt I deserved it.  I’ve had the lead the WHOLE race.  I wanted it because I knew all my MFers who ran the 3.3 mile course would be at the finish line.  I wanted to win it for them.  I wanted to see the look on my brothers face when he saw I WAS THE 1ST PLACE FEMALE!!!

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A t mile 5, with 1/2 mile to go the girl who was on my heels the whole race passed me.  I stayed about 5 feet behind her, thinking that upon exiting the woods and hitting the pavement I would sprint to the finish, beating her.  I kept telling myself, maybe she made a push too soon and you will repass her.  We hit the pavement, for the last .2 miles to the finish.  You dream of this moment.  That moment that “something takes over you” and you go harder than you knew you could.  Well, I went as hard as I could, but it wasn’t hard enough.  Nothing “took over” but a downhill finish, making it tough to do anything spectacular.

As we sprinted down the hill I heard a Mom tell her young child, “Look!  Cheer!  That’s the 1st Place Girl!”  It hurt.  I was the 1st place girl in the woods for 5 miles.  Then she stole my thunder for the crowd.  Irrational thoughts, I know.  But, I’m a competitor.  It hurt.  Then the second punch to the gut….they were holding up the banner for her to run through when she finished.  This never even crossed my mind during my daydreams of winning.  Dammit.

I ended up finishing 2 seconds behind her, for a 2nd place finish.  I ended up with a little slower time, a 7:31 pace, but the WET trails mixed with my moment of being turned around may account for this.  This last 24 hours I have had a lot of “what ifs”.  What if I didn’t stop and let her run by.  What if I allowed her to keep the lead for a while?  But, these are all learning experiences.  I am new to this trail race world, and I will take all of these thoughts and images with me while I train for my next races.

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I will dream of that 1st place banner being held for ME, while my brother cheers me on, and I will do what it takes to make those dreams a reality.

“Some wish for it, others work for it”