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.
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.
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,