North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k: RACE RECAP

FINALLY – I’ve gotten around to writing my race recap for my first ever 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge. As many of you know, I did not have a good lead up to the race. After my last 20 miler in my building phase, I developed perineal tendonitis in my right ankle. I had to take off for the remaining three weeks leading up to the race, except for a few attempted runs sprinkled in there. I went for a lot of walks (as long as they were not painful), started physical therapy, and I also ran on an underwater treadmill a few times to keep my legs moving.

Eventually race weekend approached and I needed to make the decision whether to attempt racing or not. I saw my orthopedic doctor the day before the race and he gave me the go ahead to race, as long as the pain didn’t keep getting worse as the miles piled on. So, the day before I made the decision to go pick up my race packet and give it a try.

Here’s how it all went down!

DAY BEFORE RACE: Friday

On Thursday night, Erin surprised me by flying in to see me race! I knew my mom was coming, but I had no idea Erin would be there until she walked through the door with Dave. It was a surprise for my mom as well, and we all had a really nice dinner before heading to bed early. I did a little bit of packing for race day but I was trying not to stress too much about what I was going to need. Race day promised to be hot and humid – it was supposed to get up to 92 degrees midday. I knew my hydration and nutrition plan needed to be on point.

After my doctor’s appointment, Erin, my mom and I went to the grocery to pick up last minute snacks for race day. Afterward, Erin and I went on a short and slow shake out jog for about 3-4 miles, and I was excited to not have any pain in my peroneal at all. We stretched for a bit and then headed to packet pick-up to get my bib.

On the way home we made a quick pit stop at the running store so I could buy my mom some new running shoes for her birthday (yay!) and I could grab some extra gus, even though I already had PLENTY. Once we got home it was around noon and Erin advised I stay off my feet for the rest of the day. So we all just snacked, watched TV and finished getting my race bags ready for tomorrow.

I drank PLENTY of water all throughout the day and made sure to include extra electrolytes for the hot forecast the next day.

RACE DAY:

My alarm went off at 3:45 AM, but I was already awake. Surprisingly, I felt more excited than nervous even though I had no idea how the day was going to go. I prepared all my tailwind mixtures (filled my 70 oz bladder in my Nathan race vest) and made an extra Nalgene full in case I needed it. I stuffed some ankle braces into the back of the pack in case I needed them out on the trail, got dressed and we were off for Algonkian Park!

I took a salt pill first thing after waking up and Erin told me I should plan to take another right before start and then every 45 minutes until I finished. The first time I ever took salt pills was during our ultra Ragnar relay and they helped me A LOT, so I completely trusted Erin’s plan. She’s an Ironman after all and has raced in 100+ degree heat, so I knew I was in good hands and felt so much more comforted having her at the race.

We got to the start a little earlier than I expected, but that’s okay – earlier is always better than late. Erin and I walked around a little bit to get my ankle warmed up and the sun rising over the Potomac was incredibly beautiful. Everything felt surreal. Even though I was unsure how far I was going to get/if I was going to finish, everyone else believed in me. I hardly felt nervous – just ready to get the day started.

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pre-start!

As we neared start time, I got my vest situated on me, sprayed myself with bug spray and sunscreen and lined up. It was a 7 AM start, so the sun was still coming up and there was plenty of cloud coverage. I wore a hat anyways because I knew it was going to get sunny later and I didn’t want to forget to put one on during transition.

My start was slow. I had no idea what pace to go out at and I didn’t want to pull my peroneal from pushing it too fast. The race director let us know the path would single track early on, but I felt comfortable with the group surrounding me. My breathing felt very easy even though it was incredibly humid, and my ankle felt fine. I carried on with them for a few miles until the trail abruptly narrowed and I realized I should have gotten myself out much faster.

For a few miles I got myself stuck in this long line of runners with no ability to pass. It wasn’t until one of the first uphills when everyone started to walk was I able to speedwalk/jog past them. It was around these first hills where I could see all the runners ahead of me zig zagging up the next hill in the cover of the tall trees, and I felt this overwhelming sense of happiness. I was doing it!

Around 5-6 miles into the race I finally settled in to a pace comfortable for me. I have no idea what it actually was because the tree coverage definitely screwed with my Garmin, but it felt between 9:00-10:00 min/mile. At this point the trail was familiar to me from the many, many times I ran here before. It was pretty muddy but not unbearable and I was happy – I seriously couldn’t stop smiling.

Going out to Great Falls, the hills didn’t seem so bad. I power hiked most of them and because I had run them so many times before, I knew exactly what was coming next. When we detoured around Riverbend Park, we had to run alongside this road before hopping back into the woods. It was here, right around mile 11 that I hit a tree root hard and stumbled forward for a few violent steps before I caught myself with my hands on the ground. I didn’t fall all the way, but the jolt was hard on my bad knee/ankle. I started jogging tentatively after I brushed my hands off and was surprised there was no pain. I told myself not to think about it anymore and I carried on until I made it to Great Falls Park.

Mile 13 was the big aid station where Erin, Dave and my mom were allowed to wait with my bags and help me. From some of the slipping and sliding on the trail, my shoes were rubbing me the wrong way and I could feel blisters starting on the inside of my heels. Even though I had did all my trail runs in these shoes/socks, I decided to switch out of my shoes at the aid station and put on a brand new pair I just got the week before. They felt amazing. I decided it had to be my shoes giving me the problem and didn’t change my socks (IDIOT!). Other than the shoe change, I took a few more gus from Erin and hurried on my way. I still had PLENTY of tailwind in my Nathan even though I had been sipping it every mile and drinking with the gus/salt pills I took every 45 minutes. My quads were starting to feel a little fatigued but I knew I was going to feel it early, given I hadn’t run for 3 weeks prior.

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around mile 18!

Miles 13-19 were several loops in Great Falls. It started off with a pretty big hill and I walked most of it, taking some time to hydrate and eat a Gu. My feet felt much better and I didn’t have rubbing on my heels anymore so I thought I was all set.  Around mile 17, I felt my perineal starting to hurt a little bit so I slowed it down. There were a lot of rocks on this part of the course so I focused instead on not turning my ankle instead of going fast.

 

Mile 19 put me right back at the big aid station and I stopped to eat a clementine, drink some tailwind and take a few more gus. I decided not to change my socks because I thought the problem was gone…and I really regret this. I was feeling pretty good mentally/physically – I was hydrating well, eating well and my legs felt as good as they could for not running 3 weeks beforehand. I said good bye to my fam and told them I’d see them back in Algonkian Park. The sun was fully out at this point and I was started to feel hot, so we squeezed some ice sponges on my quads, neck and back before I headed out.

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making sure I have everything I need…wish I changed those damn socks!

Miles 19-31 were challenging. And it’s not just because of fatigue in my legs – honestly I didn’t feel NEARLY as bad as I thought I would – it’s because of the mud and blisters I developed. I think the two go hand in hand, honestly. The mud was SO BAD that I couldn’t run at all, let alone walk without almost wiping out. My blisters fully formed on the inside of my heels and it was so painful every time I took a step. I fantasized about taking my shoes off and running in my socks. But I kept my spirits up – kept smiling and told myself to just get to the next aid station.

At one point, probably around 25 miles, I felt this building sensation in my right heel and then it was FIRE. I think the blister popped. It hurt for the next 5 minutes or so but then the pain went completely away. About 20 minutes later the same happened on my right heel and even though it hurt like a bitch, it made the rest of the race so much more bearable. If it wasn’t so muddy, I think I could have made it through this part of the course 5x faster.

There were a few other runners around me and we were all so frustrated with the mud. I saw a lot of them wipe out, and then we would commiserate together with how shitty the course was left for us. It wasn’t until mile 28-29ish that we finally steered away from the flooded trail and got some better footing. But it took us out into the sun and it was BRUTAL. I didn’t realize how hot it actually was until I had the sun bearing down on me and I got frustrated I had to walk again from the heat, especially since I had finally got through the mud.

As we neared the finish, I didn’t even know how close I was until I was practically upon the end. In my head, I visualized having to run the same loop in the field next to the finish line that we made when we started in the AM. It wasn’t until I saw Erin and Dave and they let me know it was right around the corner, and then I got super excited.

When I made the turn and saw the finish line right there I had so many emotions. Excitement, pride, and gratefulness. I was so happy as I ran across that line and was handed my medal. Half of me couldn’t believe I was able to do it. I think the other half always knew I was going to make it to the end, given the tendonitis or not.

I tore my shoes off right at the end of the chute. It was instant relief. I have pretty calloused heels and it looks like all the slipping and sliding in the mud created friction against my heels and caused the inside to blister. I’ve never once gotten a blister on the inside there, even wearing the same sock and shoe combination on the same trail. Oh well.

POST RACE:

After enjoying a much deserved beer, me and my fam headed home to relax for the rest of the day. I thought I was going to be crippled my tendonitis, but I was actually walking fine and the pain didn’t flare up like I feared. Actually, the worst part was when we got home and I sat down after my shower and my knees were throbbing constantly. After some icing of both my knees and ankle, Erin and I went for a little walk and it helped my legs feel a little better.

So, there you have it! It took a little longer than I would have liked to get this post up, but that’s how it always goes for me. These past two and a half weeks have been very easy going for me as I’m still dealing with a little bit of peroneal pain. I’ve started running up again, but it’s very slow and careful. I know it’s time to start ramping up my training again, but with the tendonitis still there in the shadows, I’m trying to incorporate more cross training in than usual. Hopefully it goes away soon!

Once my training is more consistent, I’ll definitely start some weekly training logs. My goal now is to get to my 57 mile run healthy and happy, so I can make the most of the day and make my donators proud!

As always, if you want more consistent updates on how my training is going, you can always follow me on Instagram @amd022.

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All done – YAY!
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Training Update X2: March 6 – March 19

I missed a weekly update! I kept writing it in my weekly planner but I never got around to actually making the post. Eventually, I decided it would just be best to do a two-week update.

I’ve ran plenty of miles and it’s been an interesting past two weeks. So let’s just jump right into it. It’s a lonnnggggg post – so buckle your seat belts.

Monday, March 6: The first run of the week! I took it nice and easy so I could see how I was feeling for the rest of the week.

3.2 road miles – 25:25 minutes, 7:56 min/mile pace

Tuesday, March 7: Workoutttttt day. As per usual, I opted for the treadmill to get my speedwork done. I felt good and strong, and enjoyed the slightly different tempo workout than I usually do.

After a 15 minute warm up I did speed intervals – 2, 4, 2, 4, 2, 4, 2 minutes with half time rest in between. I felt strong the entire time and once the workout was done, I hopped outside for a 2 mile cool down. Because it was so nice, I ended up walking for a mile after my cool down and I saw a bald eagle!!!

15 minute warm up and workout (6.4 miles) – 45:21 minutes, 7:05 min/mile pace
2.1 mile cool down on road – 17:10 minutes, 7:53 min/mile pace
1 mile walk – 18:43 minutes

Wednesday, March 8: Pretty standard day. Not much to say other than I ran outside for five miles and felt alright.

5 road miles – 39:39 minutes, 7:55 min/mile

Thursday, March 9: Early on, I decided I wasn’t going to run today. I wanted to give my legs a rest before a long weekend of running and I wanted to sleep in as long as I could to rest up for the miles as well.

It turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day. I couldn’t wait to leave work and go for a walk in the 70 degree weather. As soon as my shift was up I drove home eager to get outside and it was awesome. I walked for about 4.5 miles talking with my sister on the phone and it was the most relaxing time I’ve had all week.

4.4 mile walk – 1:10:43 mins 

Friday, March 10: Earrrrlllyyyy morning. I helped out at the Arlington store because they were short staffed, even though Friday is usually my day off. In order to still get my long run in, I thought it would be a good idea to run to the store. I packed a bag (not my awesome hydration vest) with food, a change of clothes, and some other necessities and headed out early to try and beat the impeding rain.

The run started out sucky. My stomach was really bothering me this morning and I had bad cramping before I even got out the door. I was unsure how the run was going to end up, especially after a shaky first two miles but things turned out not too bad. The last two miles to the store were uphill and I felt really strong, so I’m happy with this. By the time I made it to the store I only had 7.5 miles so I added on a few miles until I hit 10.5, and then headed to Peets to have coffee until it was time to open.

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happy after my morning run!

As soon as I sat down in Peets, the sky opened up and it was a torrentiallllll downpour. I timed my run just right and was so relieved to make it inside before the cold rain which than turned to snow. Had it rained on me, it would have gotten my bag soaking wet and even though I wrapped everything in plastic bags, my clothes probably would have still somehow gotten soaked. It was nice to watch it come down while I warmed up and sipped my coffee.

After working at the store, I ran into DC to meet Dave at his worksite. Since we were driving to our friends’ house in Maryland when he was done work, it made most sense for me to just meet dave at work and leave from there. The run was very windy but my legs felt good for the most part. I wasn’t as tight as I thought I might be, but that’s probably because I was hustling at work the entire time.  I ran about 4 miles and walked the rest of the way to the worksite.

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Once at our friends’ house, the guys did a lot of drinking. I left around 11 pm to drive home and sleep in my own bed, because I knew sleep was never going to happen at the house. Still didn’t get as much rest as I wanted, but there’s not much else I could do.

AM RUN: 7.7 road miles – 1:03:49, 8:14 min/mile pace THEN 2.8 miles at 24:23, 8:41 min/mile pace
PM RUN: 4.4 road miles- 37:24, 8:18 min/mile pace

Saturday, March 11: Longgggg run day! I wish I could have slept in longer because of going to bed so late, but I had to get up and get my run started early so I could celebrate dave’s bday with the guys.

I headed to Great Falls Park and was on the trail earlier than I’ve been able to make it in the past. It was pretty chilly this morning – in the teens – but I heated up SO FAST. I was in a long sleeve and jacket and tights, and within 10 minutes of running, I wished I wasn’t wearing my jacket. But oh well.

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cheezin’ half way through the run

The run was really beautiful. I practiced the trail how I plan to race it come 50k day and I walked the big uphills and took time to hydrate and eat plenty. I made it out farther on the trail than I have before and it was so peaceful having the forest all to myself. I definitely was feeling tired on the way back, and ended up stopping a mile short of what I originally planned. But I’m not even mad – the run was amazing! Considering my tight achilles and sore legs from the day before, 17 miles on the trail was perfect.

The rest of the day was spent with Dave and the guys celebrating Dave’s upcoming bday. They did a lot of drinking but I only had two beers or so throughout the entire day. I left the house around 8 pm because I was so exhausted, and I enjoyed the rest of the night to myself laying on the couch and relaxing before bed.

17.1 trail miles – 2:37:35, 9:13 min/mile pace

Sunday, March 12: I let myself sleep in nice and long this morning because I was feeling so tired. Didn’t feel like running when I woke up so I went and got Starbucks instead and sat doing a crossword and relaxing before work.

Work wasn’t too bad, and once I was done I decided to head out for a quick shake out before dinner. It was a beautiful evening, and thanks to Daylights Saving there was still sunlight! My legs were a little sore, but I felt a lot better than I thought I would with all the running around this weekend.

2.6 road miles – 21:09 minutes, 7:57 min/mile

WEEKLY MILEAGE: 52.1 MILES

NOTES ON THE WEEK: 52 miles!!! yay! Really happy with my long runs this week, despite the extra stress of late nights and traveling around. Made me feel really confident for my training to come.

Monday, March 13: Nice and easy run this morning to start the week. I felt really good and fresh, just a little tight in my calves/achilles still. It was a beautiful morning, especially given I knew the weather was going to get nasty tomorrow.

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the calm before the storm

4.2 road miles – 7:56 min/mile pace

Tuesday, March 14: Dave’s birthday! And snow! Haha, a lot was happening this day. Woke up to a wintry mess and learned my morning meeting was cancelled. So I slept in and kept delaying doing my workout because I felt so tired. When I woke up again, I learned the store was opening late, so I still had time to do my workout. I felt like I was being given all the signs to go and get my run in, so after some coffee and breakfast I headed down to the treadmill. I told myself I didn’t have to do my workout if I wasn’t feeling it. As much as I didn’t want to run on the treadmill…I don’t mess around with the ice anymore (it’s what took out my knee in college).

Once I got warmed up, I actually felt good and decided to do the workout. I ran 6X5 minute uptempo repeats with 1 minute rest in between. My 5 minute repeats were in between 6:30-6:15 min/mile pace and it felt great!

After my work out I headed to work and it was slowwwwwww. I guess no one wanted to come out in the snow/rain mess and I got to head out early which was super helpful because I wanted to pick up some cupcakes and grab some wrapping paper for Dave’s gift.

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pretty snow falling at work 🙂

We went to Hibachi for dinner and it was delicious! I got so many veggies and fried rice – makes me hungry just thinking about it!

15 minute warm up, 6X5 min uptempo repeats w/ 1 min rest – 7.3 miles, 50:30 minutes, 6:55 min/mile pace
2 mile cool down – 8:10 min/mile pace.
Total of 9.3 miles for the day

Wednesday, March 15: I was tired today. Decided to make it my rest day for the week. Did a good amount of icing, stretching and rolling!

Rest Day

Thursday, March 16: Not a good day. I wasn’t feeling great in the morning at work and then a headache started up in the afternoon. I left around 4 PM and usually I am super excited to get out the door and go for my run. But I felt so tired and unmotivated. I knew as soon as I got home I was going to collapse on the couch and not want to move. And that’s exactly what happened.

So, right before my shift ended at work, my right shoulder started to hurt. And it wasn’t just a little bit of pain here and there…if I moved my arm pretty much any way, I had radiating pain from my joint down into my arm. I didn’t lift and boxes or do anything weird…the pain just started randomly. At first, I wasn’t concerned about it. But as I got ready to leave work the pain got even worse, so I knew I was screwed with trying to get my run in.

I sat around watching tv for a few hours until Dave got home and I felt awful. I was even more tired than I was while at work and if I tried to move my arm the pain was ridiculous. Since Dave was going down to the gym to get a quick run in, I decided to try and join him. But getting dressed was a struggle. Putting my shoes on was a bitch. I got so frustrated and upset I told Dave to just go without me.

While dave was out of the apartment, I waffled back and forth about going down to join him. Against my best judgement, I decided to try and run and I trudged down to the gym.

It sucked. I was running slow but I felt horrible. Every muscle in my body hurt and I made it 3 miles before I had to quit because of the pain in my shoulder. I was supposed to go 7 today.

I’m not mad about missing out on a few miles because I know it happens and it’s best to listen to my body when it’s hurting. I guess I’m more angry about all the pain and fatigue, seemingly for no reason. But now, in retrospect, it’s possible I was herxing a bit.

3 mile treadmill run – 24:00 mins, 8:00 min/mile pace

Friday, March 17: St. Patrick’s Day! This day has been highlighted on my calendar – not because of drinking festivities, but because I had 20 miles marked down for the day. It was my first time going for 20 since marathon training quite a few years ago and I was actually pretty nervous about it. I decided to skip out on the trails because of the snow and ice still lingering, and I’m happy with my decision given the amount I still ran into out on the paved trail.

I was a little worried about my shoulder because it still hurt this morning. It wasn’t as bad as last night, but if I moved my arm in the wrong way it sent radiating pain down my arm. I thought my hydration vest might bother me a little bit, but when I put it on before my run, it didn’t really make a difference.

Starting out, I did not feel good. I tried not to let it get in my head and around 5 miles I started to feel more like myself. I was running down the Mt. Vernon Trail and by this point I made it to Roosevelt Island and had the bright idea of trying to run some trails on the island. BAD IDEA. There was still so much ice/snow in the back trails and it took me FOREVER to make the loop because of all the stumbling on the icy/melty snow. In the spots where the snow melted away there was so much mud I was slipping all over the place. Trust me, after one loop of this mess I was done and high tailed it back onto Mt. Vernon to cross into the city and give the canal a try.

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Any time I stopped (and I stopped a few times to stretch/eat) – my shoulder ached. I have NO IDEA why and what the hell I did but at least it didn’t hurt while I was running.

The tow path was a bit better, and only a few icy spots. It was nice running on the soft, flat trail for a bit but I was definitely starting to feel fatigued by 16 miles.  I reallllyyy had to talk myself through the last 2 miles of my run but I felt so amazing once it was done. I decided to walk for a good bit when I was done the 20 miles and I’m super happy I did. It helped flush some of the building soreness out of my legs and by the time I got back to my apartment I wasn’t feeling too bad.

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After icing, stretching, rolling and showering, I really didn’t do anything for the rest of the day. I kept my feet up and hung out on the couch until Dave got home. I started feeling really fatigued in the evening so I called it an early night after one Guinness and went to bed around 9:30.

20 mile run – 2:48:52, 8:26 min/mile pace
1.4 mile cool down walk – 26:24 minutes

Saturday, March 18: Long run numero 2 day! I woke up feeling pretty sore in my calves/achilles. It took me a few steps getting out of bed to really stretch out, and I waited a bit before heading out the door so I could make sure I was warmed up. My shoulder wasn’t really bothering me as much, so one plus!

It was a really nice morning – a bit warmer than it’s been the past week. I started out veryyyy slow and I could feel the fatigue in my quads/hips, and the tightness in my calves. There was no real pain so I kept trucking along, and I actually started to feel better as I went. Before I started, I thought I was only going to make it 3 miles, but then 3 miles turned into 6.

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I stopped to use the bathroom around 6 miles and thought about calling it quits, but I made myself head out the door for one more mile, and it turned into 3! I felt really proud of myself for getting 9 miles in and walked to Starbucks when I was done for a delicious coffee.

The rest of my day went okay. I stretched, iced and showered and headed to work to help out for a few hours. Walking around the store helped keep my legs loosened up, and as much as I didn’t want to go in, I think it helped me a bit because the rest of my evening was spent sitting.

9 road miles: first 6.2 miles in 52:56, 8:32 min/mile pace.  2.8 miles in 24:11, 8:35 min/mile pace.

Sunday, March 19: I woke up this morning not really feeling too sore, but not actually feeling like getting outside for my run. I walked to Starbucks instead and grabbed a coffee and did a little bit of planning before work instead. Ragnar is right around the corner so I’m frantically making lists for packing and what needs to get done before we leave.

Work ended. up being CRAZY today. It was absolutely non-stop. No time to eat, no time to drink…almost no time to breathe! My throat got so dry by the end of the shift, I pretty much gulped down my entire Nalgene to try and feel better. I was starting to get light headed, which happens to me often, but this was certainly from the lack of food and water.

Considering how busy it was at work I had no desire to go out for a run. I cooked up some gluten free pasta and ate two bowls when I got home and then had a few gluten-free (essentially Oreos) cookies.

By the time I finally felt well enough to attempt to run it was dark out, so to the treadmill I went. It was actually a pretty good run. I went around 8:00 min/mile pace and listened to the playlist I’ve been putting together for Ragnar and it got me super pumped up. Other than a little bit of calf tightness, the run felt really easy. I was actually shocked when I checked my Whoop monitor and it said this run was a higher strain than usual. It could be because of the stressful day and long miles this weekend…idk. But I iced up after and will be rolling out my calves as well.

5.5 miles on the treadmill – 43:28 minutes, 7:54 min/mile pace

TOTAL WEEKLY MILEAGE: 51 MILES

NOTES ON THE WEEK: I’m okay with how this week went down. I skipped out on a few miles because of not feeling great, but I’m not worried about it. I got my bulk long runs in and I’m proud of myself for pushing through this weekend.  Running 20 miles, then 9 miles, and then 5.5 miles is something I used to think I was incapable of, but I’m learning my body can do so much more when I listen to it and believe in myself.

With Ragnar this upcoming week, I will probably take it very easy leading up to the event. I don’t really care if I don’t hit as high mileage as my training plan wants me to – I’m only concerned on performing at Ragnar and having a great time. So lots of stretching for the calves/achilles until the race and then we’ll take it from there!

As of tonight, my shoulder pain is virtually gone. I don’t know why it came on so suddenly or what caused it. I’m just happy it’s subsiding. I don’t want to blame it on lyme because I honestly can’t see how it’s related, since the pain didn’t feel like that arthritis sort of ache I get in my knees/wrists/other joints.  Let’s just hope it keeps going away and never comes back!

Finding myself the hard way

I’ll be brutally honest here: I SUCKED in my race today.  There’s no way around it or better way to say it – I tanked a 5k I should have never signed up for in the first place.

I could give you a million excuses as to what went wrong: my shin felt like it was going to explode, I’ve been extra fatigued/sick lately, I haven’t raced since April, I went out too fast…but I’m not one for putting weight in my excuses.  I was exactly on pace for my first two miles (6:07 and 6:15 downhill) but once I hit the flatlands I let the dull ache in my shin rattle my mind.  The “what-ifs” flooded in, the “I can’ts” screamed louder than I expected. I’ve ran multiple 5ks in my past few weeks of training at 19:30 pace and done half mile repeats at 6 min/mile pace, so I know my pace wasn’t the problem.  My head just wasn’t in it.  It’s just fucking three miles, I tried telling myself but it didn’t matter.  As soon as the pain came creeping in I used it as my scapegoat.

I know how to run through pain.  If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s staying mentally strong when the rest of my body is whining and crying for reprieve. I’ve been doing it for 16 years and I’ll continue to do it until I cannot any longer.  There’s not a day my right knee doesn’t ache and remind me of the early arthritis there, the thin white scar from surgery always smirking up at me challengingly and knowingly.

What happened today had nothing to do with being out of shape – my heart was never in it.

It was a beautiful morning for racing.  Despite the humidity it was in the 60s and the gray sky stayed overcast – a perfect autumn morning.  I warmed up and felt good despite the shin pain.  I kept to myself as I always do and pushed away any doubts.  It was my first time racing in my uniform and it stressed me out.  The need to prove myself filled me entirely.  I took all the fun out of racing because of the uniform I had on my body, and I knew it in the moment.  I knew right then, ten minutes before the gun, my heart wasn’t in the race and I didn’t want to be there.

Over the years I’ve learned I’m not a short race kind of person, but I guess I haven’t learned my lesson yet.  I have no speed and I lack those fast-twitch muscles essential for kicking.  I do strides, tempo workouts, intervals, but ALAS – nothing.  I build strength over distance and I’m most successful when the race is  AT LEAST a 10k (and even that’s still too short).  I trust myself  with long distance running.  When I was training for my first marathon it didn’t matter I was only running four times a week and less than 30 miles a week.  I did hard bike workouts and always hit my long run.  I wasn’t surprised when I qualified for Boston Marathon off my first marathon attempt, and it’s because it didn’t matter I was low mileage – it’s because I believed with my heart I could do it, so I did.  It was that simple.  I never doubted myself finishing for one moment.

But today the first mile felt like an eternity.  I thought about dropping out.  As my feet slapped the pavement I wondered what in the hell I was doing in a 5k with a bunch of fast racers who actually trained for this?  I felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself in that last mile, but as I stopped to walk 2.5 miles in (absolutely loathing myself) I also learned what I really want these days.

My competitive edge is gone.  It’s been gone for awhile now, but I certainly realized it out on the course today.  I don’t care when someone passes me – it doesn’t motivate me, it doesn’t propel me to go faster.  What I care most about these days is having fun and enjoying my running, especially when I don’t know how many years I have left (I know I will have a knee replacement in my future – just hopefully not any time soon).  I care about getting healthy again.  I care about trying to enjoy every little moment in life.  Racing in uniform, I put too much pressure on myself to succeed because I was afraid of letting others down.  But after this morning it’s clear to me I need to stop caring about what I think everyone else is thinking, because all I do is forget myself in the process.

Lately, the woods have been calling.  I fantasize about running beautiful trails in the mountains, losing myself on dirt paths through the forest and climbing to new heights both literally and physically.  In high school and college I didn’t just love cross country because I loved competitive running (although I did then), but I also loved letting go and becoming one with nature, losing myself in the surrounding trees.  With each foot fall I’d pound out a little bit of my anger and fear, and I was never afraid to chase my dreams through the hills, fields and foliage.  Nature makes me feel strong.  Nature fills the emptiness inside of me even running can’t fill.  When I combine the two I feel invincible.

I won’t say I completely regret today’s race (90% regret) because without failure, I can’t learn more about myself.  This morning I put on a bracelet my father gave me when I broke 20:00 minutes in a 5k for the first time back when I was in middle school.  I hoped it could bring some sort of luck, spirit and competitive edge back to me.  I watched it jingle on my wrist during the race but it didn’t inspire me to go faster.  Back then, breaking 20 was exactly what I wanted.  And as much as I wanted it this morning I didn’t have the heart to actually go after it.

Big changes are coming my way.  Maybe I’ll find out what’s going on with my health (I’m in the middle of being tested more extensively for Lyme disease and other tick borne diseases after I found some abnormal flags on blood work from last year) and maybe I won’t but I’m going to make changes now.  I’m following my heart and going to be looking into trail racing.  I plan on competing in an ultra Ragnar Relay next year and perhaps even a 50 miler on my own.  I’m going to start eating a more plant-based diet to try and bring the inflammation down in my body and see if it can help not only my dismal health but my running as well.

I’m always afraid to talk about my dreams and aspirations because I’m afraid of failure.  Because I don’t believe in myself.  But I’m going to believe I can do this because it’s what my heart is screaming for me to do, and has been for awhile.  I’m going to believe I can do this because if I let my fear of failing and what others think of me shape my life, than I’ll never really live.

And all it took was a shitty 5k this morning for me to realize it.

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the bracelet says “sub 20 award” 

© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved