Monday, May 27, 2013

Managing Expectations, Take Two!

I've spend a lot of time since last Memorial Day talking about taking control of your thoughts and being in control of your mind-to the athletes I coach as well as to my Spin class victims participants.

I talk a lot about how there has to be a balance between your body and your mind.  If you think your body is in control you will (most likely) never reach your full potential as an athlete because your body will complain about hard work.  (At least mine does--and loudly at that.)  I spent most of my life allowing my body to be in control.  ("Oh, that doesn't feel good, I better quit.")

At the same time, if you think your mind should always be in control, you could very easily end up injured.  ("Oh, that hurts?  Stop complaining and get back to work!!")

I didn't listen to my body when my shoulder started hurting and tried to keep pushing past the pain and, well...you know how that turned out if you've read my blog at all.

So...there really is a balance which can be hard to find.

This morning's Cotton Row 10K was all about finding that fulcrum for myself.  Not having been able to truly train for the last seven months (other than teaching Spin class and some sporadic runs here and there) meant I really didn't know what to expect for today's race.  I had "run" the course three times in the 6 or so weeks, but two out of the three were walk/runs.  The weather was really nice compared to years past, but I didn't know if I'd be able to take advantage of it or not.

I planned to run the race with two of my athletes/friends who I was pretty sure were going to be able to break an hour but I had made it clear I was NOT pacing and we had all agreed to run our own races.  I had planned out a race strategy and calculated paces.  I had what I thought was a good plan for me...the only thing left was execution!

I woke up on time and got ready and headed to the race.  Right about the time we got close to where my husband was going to drop me off I realized I forgot my watch!  This is not a race I can just "go run".  The first three miles are up hill, culminating in a short, steep stretch then it's pretty much down hill the last three.  Because I typically go out a bit too fast, I knew from experience it would be best for my watch to keep me in check as much as possible.  Then after "the hill" I knew I may need it to push me when I might feel like pulling back.  My strategy revolved around my watch....and I didn't have it.

My sweet husband offered to drop me off to meet up with my peeps and warm up while he drove back to the house to get my watch.  WHEW!!  "Crisis" one averted.

When I arrived at the meeting spot, only three of the four athletes I was supposed to meet weere there.  The other one is always early so I was a bit worried, but I figured she was either running a tad late or was in the bathroom.  (I didn't have my phone with me because I didn't want to have to carry it with me.)  So we set off to warm up and I realized I had left my water bottle in the car.  This wasn't a BIG deal because there is plenty of aid on the course and the weather was beautiful.  However, I like to have a sip of water available when I want it, and naturally as soon as I realized I didn't have it, my mouth went completely dry!  Just as we were finishing the warm up, my darling husband appeared with my watch and water bottle.  Sweet!

As we were coming back to the start, my other athlete/friend showed up.  (She had been in the bathroom.)  After the announcements and Taps (something that makes me tear up every year at this race)...the gun went off and we were...moving very slowly to the start line!

Mile one...at one point or another both athletes/friends told me we were running too fast.  I was watching average pace and not instant pace for two reasons.  On an undulating course if you are going down hill you'll think you are going way too fast, but going up you'll think you're going way too slow.  Also, my Garmin lies to me on instant pace.  I won't even pretend to understand why but I know this so I don't look at it.  My goal was to have mile one and two be about 9:15 so when we got to the split timer at 9:21 (according to my watch), I was thrilled (I started my watch at the gun so I knew this was at least 6 seconds slower than reality).

In the second mile the course travels through a neighborhood that I love to run in but only "get to" while training for this race.  I love all the houses and always find myself wondering what the people are like who live there.  Today many of them were out on their lawns enjoying the nice weather and watching the race.  I was cheering for them and thanking them...and realizing I may be going a bit slower than what I needed to since I was talking so much!  Mile two split-9:19.  A tad slower than I wanted, but I knew I was still within my plan so I wasn't going to panic.

Mile three starts a stretch of road that leads up to "the hill" and is pretty much all up hill.  There's a short section that goes down, but most of it is up.  The last time I ran the course I came up with an analogy for that section.  I'll spare you the details but this section is like Santa Claus to me.  That thought helped me get through it.

The part that was hard was the fact I had lost my "frathletes".  I didn't know where they were in relationship to me, only that I was ahead.  I wanted to pull to the side to wait for them, but we had agreed to run our own races.  They knew I had a goal for myself and pulling back would have only been an excuse not to push myself.  So I allowed myself to let it go and forced myself to take control of my thoughts.

In this section of the race, invariably people talk about "the hill".  Either they have run the race before and know what's coming up or they haven't and they are asking questions.  This year I largely ignored the chatter.  As I turned the corner to head up, I heard the Rocky theme...but interestingly enough, it didn't pierce my thoughts like it has in the past.   Usually I let that song penetrate my mind and infuse me with strength and inspiration to get up that monster.  This year, as I turned the corner I got up on my toes and started paying very close attention to my running form.  I "ran" for a little ways and decided I was "running" slower than I could walk so I switched gears.  Mile 3 split (part way up this hill) 9:31...still on track since my overall average was under 9:30 (which would give me right at a 59:00 race).

As I neared the top I saw another friend who was running the course for the first time.  He had a plan to walk the steepest part of the hill (the lower section) and start running again at the upper section.  Let's just say he had modified his plan.  As I rounded the corner at the top, I started running again.  I had wanted to focus on recovery for the short stretch before the next turn and that's exactly what I did.  I didn't slow down too much, but mentally I shifted gears and made a conscious effort to fully exhale so I could take nice deep breaths in.  It worked.  Taking a left hand turn, I started the down hill section of the course, and the fastest stretch of the day.

I looked at my Garmin and saw that it said 10:15 (instant pace).  No way (ugh...that's why I don't look!).  I knew I was running faster than that but I had no way to know just how fast.  It didn't feel as fast as it has felt before, and I couldn't seem to make myself go faster.  Interestingly enough, my stats say my HR was up to ...are you sitting down? ...225.  Now...I don't believe this for one second.  I think wha ha happen was (that's from a local radio show...it may not be funny if you haven't heard it...)...when I was in the car on the way to the race and realized I didn't have my watch, I took off my HR monitor.  When Dwayne said he would get the watch for me I put it back on, but I didn't wet the receptors so I don't think it had an accurate reading the whole time, except maybe later when I poured some water down my shirt!).  Anyway...I do know my HR was up so I'm thinking I was giving what I had to give, it just didn't feel like as much in the past because I was a little more "used up" today at that point than I have been before.  No matter...I stayed mentally with it and just kept running with all I had in that moment.

Mile four split (which includes the lion's share of the hill) 10:08.  This was a bit slower than I had intended but I think it's the fastest mile four I've had on this course so I wasn't thrown off at all.  I didn't even look at the average pace at that point.  I knew mile five would be faster and that was my whole focus.  I knew that the most challenging section of the race (the last 2.2 miles) were coming and I started really concentrating on my thoughts and my form.  (It's challenging because I'm tired at that point, but it is down hill...)

I looked for strong runners I could "attach" myself to mentally.  (I think this is a consequence of being in the military and running in formation...something that has never left me.)  I started reminding myself the race was really almost over and to stay strong.  I could hear Dwayne's voice in my head saying, "Don't be afraid to hurt.  Push yourself.  You are a fast runner, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable."  I was pulling out everything I could in my "bag of tricks" in order to run as hard as I could.  I was starting to feel really hot so I got some water and poured it down my shirt and started looking for my husband because I knew he would be right around the mile five mark.

I was still able to give "thumbs up"!
And...there he was with my daughter and my granddoggie!  As soon as I saw them and heard them cheering, I knew I could finish strong.  Dwayne was smiling from ear-to-ear and saying, "YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE IT!!  PUSH!!  YOU'VE GOT IT!!"  Mile five split-8:41.  Sweet.  I had made up the time I needed to for what I had lost on the hill.

By that point I had lost my ability to do math.  I had glanced at my watch once and saw that it said my HR was high but I didn't believe it based on how I was feeling and it had lied to me about my pace coming down the fast section so I had decided not to look at it but to push as hard as I could that last 1.2 miles.  I "knew" I would make it if I held on and gave it all I had.

About that time we were coming up to a major road and I saw an ambulance.  I started praying, "Lord, please let them be blocking traffic."  If I had been in my right mind I would have known, ambulances don't block traffic, especially with their lights on.  As I crossed the street, I saw the EMTs loading a woman up.  I averted my eyes because there was nothing I could do at that point except pray.  I prayed for her, for her family, for the EMTs, for the doctors, for all the people who saw whatever had happened, for all the ones seeing the ambulance load her up and for everyone on the course.  And...I regrouped in my mind.  I made a decision to not allow that sight to have an impact on my performance other than telling myself to finish strong for her.   And then I behaved in accordance with that decision.

The last little bit of the race runs down the street of a former co-worker of mine.  She has fairly severe scoliosis.  She has never been able to run, and will never be able to.  She is an avid supporter of this race and is always out on the sidewalk in front of her house clanging a cow bell and merrily cheering the runners.  I LOVE seeing her, and I love that cow bell!!  And...it's only about 1/2 mile until the finish!!  The course makes a right at the downtown square, then a left to the home stretch (about .3 from the finish).

I honestly had lost sight of all the people I had been staying around.  I wasn't sure if they were ahead of me or behind.  I wasn't looking at my watch.  I knew my daughter and husband would be at mile 6 and I was hoping I would be able to smile at them, but I wasn't hopeful at that point.  But, I knew it was almost over and I was pretty sure I had sub 60 in the bag, but I didn't want to squeak by.  I had read last year's race recap yesterday and saw those famous last words,
"Next year I will have a plan for how I want to RACE this event! I know the course, I know how I run it. I will prepare and I will blow my time out of the water. Mark my words."
Notice the "I'm DONE" look on my face!
Well...I did have a plan and I do know how to run that course.  However, I knew I wasn't prepared and hadn't trained, but I was feeling strong...just not at mile 5.9.  I saw Dwayne out of the corner of my eye, heard him cheering and heard my daughter yelling for me.  I couldn't look over at that point but kept my eyes straight ahead.  There are two banners...the first one is a teaser but it tells me when to turn on my finish line kick so I was watching for it and telling myself, "wait for it...wait for it...okay NOW!!"  I usually try to pass someone as I'm coming in...not this year.  This time I saw the first two numbers on the clock which said, "57" and I knew I didn't want to see them click over to "58" so I focused in on the last two numbers and poured out everything I had....and crossed over in the nick of time!  Clock time was 57:59, gun time was 57:43.  Mile 6 split was 8:49 and the last .28 was 2:12 (an average pace of 7:53).

I immediately headed back to a spot I could go back out on the course to find my athletes.  I had no idea where anyone was.  As I was walking back that way I found my family and told them what I was doing.  I started getting worried when I wasn't seeing anyone and it was well over an hour.  I told myself the ones I was running with early on had finished right behind me and that's why I had missed them.  I saw another one of my frathletes and started running in with her.  That woman is a machine!!  She works SO stinking hard every single day I have to FORCE her to take a rest day sometimes (and even then I don't think she really does back off at all).  She told me she was almost panicked because she had lost her car key on the course.  But she said she knew there was nothing she could do so she kept running and would deal with it after the finish!!  I ran with her as far as I could until I had to peel off and then I watched her cross the finish line strong and then she disappeared!!  I found out later she ran straight to her car where she found her keys in the door!!

I found frathlete 1 who had finished sub 60, she told me frathlete 2 did as well.  I never saw frathlete 4 but found out later she got a little lost on the course; she still finished her first ever 10K race!

I'm VERY pleased with today's race.  I'm THRILLED I ran it in under an hour.  I'm proud as punch with all my frathletes!  They worked hard and raced hard and met their goals.  And...I can not wait to see what next year has in store.  I don't know that I would really say 2:37 off last year's result is "blowing it out of the water" but I think (IF my math is correct) it's about 15 seconds a mile off and that is better than "good enough" for me even under normal circumstances.  When I factor in the last seven months...I don't think I could have even hoped for better than that!!  In fact, I didn't. 

So, how do I get better at "managing expectations"?  I manage them well...just like I did today!!

Thanks for stopping in, and if you read this all, thanks for staying a while!!  Come again soon!!!
:D

1 comment:

  1. I am so proud of you, honey! Love you bunches and bunches.

    ReplyDelete

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