Race, Training

Progress Not Perfection (Keep it P, Keep it G)


When I first started making some big jumps in the last seasons of my collegiate career, Coach AC gave me the sage advice to “Keep it P, Keep it G.” (Keep it Positive, Keep it Gangsta.) I’m not sure exactly what it means or where that wisdom came from (likely a culmination of multiple Zen Twitter accounts and years of deep dives into the best rap pump-up playlists), but I assure you it’s great advice that I still reflect on 5+ years later as I’m getting ready for a race. I think part of the Positive Gangsta attitude (for me, anyway) is focusing in on progress rather than obsessing over a perfect race for the day to be successful.

If you’re in the sport long enough, you’re bound to have some up and down seasons. One of my first blogs I wrote was about struggling after my first ever injury. Now I understand that even though the downs suck, it’s all about how you handle them that matters. As runners, we have a natural tendency to push our bodies to their limits. We ask a lot of these bodies, and finding the edge of how hard you can push is often when you’ve already gone too far. Even if you do your best to fuel properly, recover well, rehab fo’ days and do all the frickin’ clamshell exercises in the world, sometimes you just get injured.

After my marathon this year, I was absolutely psyched. I had the longest stretch of consistent training in a while, felt great doing it, and achieved my goal of a sub-2:37 first marathon (read about my first marathon experience here). Afterwards, I was hardly sore! Daryl and I walked around all day and hiked the rest of the week. When I got home, I took a break from running and was ready to get back to hard training a few weeks later. Oddly enough, that’s when my “plan” took a turn. I had no explanation–I didn’t have any big issues that I pressed through in training, and I was coming off of a break. My body should’ve been rested and ready to go, but on an easy 8 mile run, my shin really started hurting. I stopped to rub it and stretch a few times, trying not to freak out. Thankfully, I didn’t have a stress fracture, but I was advised to wait to run until an angry tendon calmed down to avoid any lasting damage. Unfortunately that meant extending my break from hard training to late February… WAY longer than I had hoped, but I knew that giving my body the break from running it needed rather than forging ahead was the right choice. My goal was to stay healthy and consistent through the 2020 Olympic Trials, so even though this was a setback, I could still choose to train smart and take care of myself.

Fast forward a few months: This season I tied my mile PR and ran my fastest 10 mile since 2016, ran the 25k almost 3 minutes faster than 2017, raced my first track 10k, and PRd in the Half Marathon by a minute and 19 seconds. I think the biggest reason I had success this season was that I was focused on progress in each race rather than putting pressure on myself to hit a home run every time. I knew that before I could run my “best race ever,” I needed to make smaller steps, starting from racing the 15k after only 3 weeks of consistent training and feeling like the dead armadillo I saw on the side of the race course.

BUT, I did not stay a dead armadillo forever! A month later, I covered 10 miles at Cherry Blossom 10 seconds per mile faster than the 15k. Instead of feeling like death after one mile, I made it 4 before I was wheezing so bad I thought when I passed the medical tent they might just force me to stop (Thank you, #allergictoeverything). And yet, Progress!

Next, I decided to run the Grand Blue Mile in Des Moines and jump on the track for a 5k. I’ve never been one to focus on one distance, and keeping things fresh makes getting in shape more fun. I went into the mile with zero expectations (except THIS IS GONNA HURT, but only for less than 5 minutes, fingers crossed) and I had the most fun racing I’d had in a long time. I was stoked to tie my mile PR at 4:40 and feel good doing it. I literally did not have to think about a race strategy outside of “HANG ON HANG ON HANG ON” until I couldn’t hang on anymore, and then try to kick. A 16:15 and a win in the 5k was more good practice grinding out a race when the pace didn’t feel as comfortable as I had hoped. Plus, it was awesome to have my coach there to shout at me in a race, which doesn’t happen often!

Racing the 5k at Drake. Photo credit: Ovals and Trails


After that, I was on to the 25k Champs. I went in remembering how bad I felt in 2017 when I went out too hard and died a horrible death along with stomach issues. This time, the race went out quick, and I sat back. Allison (someone I enjoyed racing almost EVERY SINGE RACE this season) did the same, and we encouraged each other through the early miles to stay on it and people would fall back. I was determined to race smart and pick people off. I had a ton of fun rolling in the last 8 miles, but I finished feeling as though I might’ve held myself back by being too conservative early on. Feeling too good in the last half of the race was a welcome problem to have! I finally felt like I was ready to attack a race rather than wait and see what the race was going to do to me.

My next goal was to get in a few shorter efforts before the half marathon in Duluth (my target race for the season), and I wanted to run a 10k time to qualify for US Outdoors. At Freihofer’s 5k in New York, I gained a lot of confidence by finishing 3rd in 16:09. I was happy to feel like I raced aggressively and wasn’t afraid to die. I lost ground in the middle mile, but I closed hard to finish only 3 seconds behind 2nd and 6 behind 1st. This got me psyched to race my first ever track 10k in Portland 1 week later. Let me tell you, 25 laps WAS A GRIND. I never really felt great, and I didn’t achieve my time goal (I ran 33:19), but it was a valuable racing experience that left me wanting more.

In between races, I stayed with Erin in Victoria, British Columbia. It’s always good to be back training and adventuring together!


Two weeks later I was in Duluth for the Garry Bjorklund Half. I knew I had progressed well throughout the season and was more ready than ever to improve at this distance. I went out with the top three women (Katy, Bethany, and Lexi… all ballers), probably somewhat recklessly. I knew early on that there was no way I was holding the pace we were hitting for the first four miles, and I knew from previous races that Katy Jermann and Bethany Sachtleben were ready for a big day (follow them both–I’ve been racing them for years and their improvement in the last few seasons has been seriously inspiring to me). I avoided doing the math to see just how fast we were running. Soon enough, I did fall off, but I didn’t give in when it got hard. Typically in a race (if you’re not the one controlling the front), your body doesn’t let you make a choice on whether you’re going to slow down or not, you just get to pick what you’re going to do next. When you fall off a pack, it can be so discouraging that you continue to slow down more than you need to, but if you continue positive self-talk, you can get yourself through a lot more pain than you think, and you might just catch back up in later miles. I kept telling myself to keep my foot on the gas as much as I could, focus ahead at Lexi, and I would close the gap. It turned out that I closed 20-30 seconds in the last few miles, not quite enough to change my place, but just enough to get me under 1:13 for 1:12:50! If I hadn’t focused on positivity in those rough middle miles, I could’ve easily run my third 1:14. Seeing my Fargo training partner Reid and my mom right after the race made the day even more fun to celebrate.

I’ve gotten to race a ton in the last couple months, I had fun, and I’m psyched I got through a rough start to the season to see a lot of growth. I hope to carry this attitude of progress over perfection (aka Keeping it P, Keeping it G) with me as I train for a fall marathon and the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Lessons Learned:

1. Celebrate those small victories, even if they seem insignificant. For example, running right at my mile PR was super fun and gave me confidence, even if the distance had nothing to do with what my focus was for the season.

2. Positivity and kindness to yourself goes a long way. Give yourself a break. You’re only human.

3. HAVE FUN. There’s enough seriousness in everyday life. You can take running very seriously and still have some serious fun.

Finally, if you’ve had a setback and feel like you’re never going to “get back,” focus on moving forward from where you are. Someday, that 5th or 52nd small step forward is going to be farther than you’ve ever been.

Yours in progress,

Maddie VB

Race, Training

Running Cal International (My First Marathon!)

Two weeks later, and I’m finally writing about the race! I needed some time for everything to sink in. I wanted to first enjoy the experience and then my time off of training to relax and reset after a long season. Now, I’ve taken two weeks to chill out and am ready to get back to the grind. I’m not sure of my exact plans for 2019, but I’m excited to work towards new goals after a very positive first marathon.

Preparing for the Race


I completed my last tune-up workout (8×200 with 60 second rest). My legs felt awkward, and for the first time probably ever, I ran the first rep too slow (in college especially, my coach was always getting after me about going out too hard the first rep. I’ve finally learned! Thank you, marathon training). The whole week I kept waiting to feel fresh and ready, but I just felt weird! I didn’t have that “pop” that I thought I would have when mileage came down, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I had no idea how I was “supposed to feel” anyway, this being my first marathon ever.  I trusted that when the gun went off, I would be rested and ready to do what I thought I could do.


Even on the flight there, I avoided thinking too much about the race weekend ahead. I still had two more days to relax and get myself mentally prepped for the task ahead. I didn’t want to overthink it and wear myself out with nerves before I got to the start line. After arriving in Sacramento, I found a cute little coffee shop called The Mill, got a waffle and a cortado, and hung out by myself for a few hours before going for a shakeout run. It felt amazing to see fall leaves still on the trees and feel THE SUN.





Friday and Saturday I mostly kept to myself and chilled out as much as possible. This mostly meant Peaky Blinders and The Office binge-watching while snacking on a multitude of carbs all day. Once Daryl got to town, he helped me decorate and prep my bottles in full fashion. (Of course, I had waited to order my bottles in until the week of the race, and I didn’t give myself time to decorate them before leaving. Honestly, this was pretty fun and I was glad for something to do during my downtime!)


The rest of the day was pretty chill; we went to the athlete dinner, watched some more Office, and I took a dreaded ice bath (not fun, but my legs always feel fresher the day after ice-bathing! A good hoodie and some tea does wonders).


I went to bed at 9:30pm that night, which is absolutely unheard of for me. I woke up in a panic–I missed the bus!!! *looks at the clock* 10:30pm. This continued about every hour until 3:15am when I finally said screw it and got out of bed.


I had everything ready to go, for once. I had packed my flats, snack, and warm-ups already, but I checked my bag about 29 times before leaving the room to walk to the elite bus. I had gotten 4 shots of espresso at Starbucks the night before, and brewed some hot water to make an americano. I like to drink half right away in the morning with my oatmeal, and half as I’m getting ready to warm up. I made SURE to grab that espresso before leaving the room, and walked out into the dark.

I sat next to Emma on the bus, and we chatted the whole 50 minute drive to the start line. Driving all that way to the start was definitely strange. Some people put headphones in, some stare out the window silently, some sleep. Once we got to the athlete tent, we all nervously stretch, sip on coffee, pass time. Emma and I had warmed up together before, so it was nice to have someone familiar to get ready with. In the pitch black early morning, I could hardly see my feet shuffling in front of me.

The Race

When I got to the start line, I was calm. I didn’t know if I would have a great race, but I knew there was nothing else I could possible do at this point to get more ready than I already was. I knew I couldn’t force anything, and that gave me a sense of peace. I took a few deep breaths, said a quick prayer: God, help me to run for more than me. Help me to run in a way that honors you and everyone who believes in me. Help me to get the most out of myself. The end. The gun went off, and we began.


I immediately could tell we were out quick. Of course everyone is trying to get off the line, but the last thing I wanted to do was go out to fast and die. My coach and I had talked a zillion times about targeting a realistic pace and sticking to it, not letting my mind and emotions take over just because “I feel like I can do it.” Beth, someone I’d raced quite a few times before, appeared next to me and zapped me into reality:

“How fast are you trying to run?”

“About 5:57.”

“Cool, I’m trying to run 5:50-6.”


A sense of relief washed over me… I thought I had found someone to run with. I also noted how weird it was to have a conversation during a race! Within about 10 seconds, I looked down at my watch and realized we were running under 5:40 pace and I put the brakes on. Not for me today! She pulled ahead and disappeared into the crowd, and went on to absolutely crush it with a 2:31! I, on the other hand, spent seemingly endless miles letting hundreds of people blow by me. I recognized lots of familiar faces and questioned whether I knew what I was doing. Am I sacrificing my race by going out too slow? What if I never catch back up? I pushed those thoughts away and stuck to the plan, a steady unwavering effort.


I spent the next 20 miles just chipping away. Miles 8-12 felt the worst: “This feels too hard for this early in the race. I won’t be able to make it at this pace.” And then, “Calm down, if I run a few seconds slower, it’s okay. Just relax. Keep breathing.” The miles continued to go by at the same pace. I didn’t need to slow down, I just needed to stay steady. I didn’t charge up the hills or sprint down them, I kept my effort even. That meant that although my 5k splits were dead on pace, I had some miles that were in the 5:40s and some that were just over 6:00.

When I got to 19 miles, I started to tear up. I realized, My God, holy sh#!, I’m actually going to finish this thing. I had spent such a long time thinking about my first marathon, and it seemed that everything was going according to plan, something that so rarely happens. Then, my right hamstring tightened up. My right side had been sore and tight for the last few days before the race, even though I was hardly running. I hadn’t been able to loosen it up, and I was definitely worried that it would flare up in the race. Until mile 19, I had all but forgotten that my leg had ever hurt. Suddenly, a wave up nerves crept into my throat. What if THIS is the reason I don’t finish today?! All this way! I felt so good! And now this! I again told myself to stay calm and not pick it up. Just keep running 5:57, and I’m going to get the A standard. If it gets bad and I’m forced to slow down, I can keep it together to run the B standard. I know I can. I know I can. And then it never got any worse. At mile 21, a group of guys and a few women caught up to me, and that was everything I needed to pull me back into “race mode.” I had spent 21 miles basically running in a bubble surrounded by hundreds of people, but now I was finally running WITH people! Without even thinking or changing effort, my pace started to drop. The course flattened out, and we started clipping away at 5:50, 5:40, and I felt great, effortless. I thought of one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower–“In that moment, I swear we were infinite.”


The day before, I had jogged the course finish so I would know what to expect as I approached the final miles. I had taken mental pictures of a few key buildings so even if I was totally out of it, I would remember that the finish line was getting close. I started counting down the blocks. So close! I saw a man walking, his goal race obviously extinct. I had another flash of realization… a mile is still a mile. The race isn’t over. Stay in it. Then I saw my husband, Daryl. SCREAMING. So excited, jumping up and down, telling me I was doing it, to run faster, to finish it up. I turned left with just 300 or so meters to go, and THREW UP. Threw up and kept running. Saw the 2:35 on the clock and kept running. Crossed the line and… threw up again. Then I was fine! It was over! I did it!


Daryl was convinced that I was going to be in the medical tent (I’ve been in much worse places after much shorter races) but I felt like I could just go for a jog. When he found me he was in shock… “Can you look tired or something? Sweat? Mess your hair up a little?” I laughed. Now that the race was over, I felt light, free. The marathon was MY race, and to know that I loved it as much as I thought I would was an immeasurable relief. I couldn’t wait to try it all over again.



We spent the next few days exploring California, visiting endless coffee shops and hiking around beautiful places. It never felt so good to finish a season.