Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Transition is the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another, and once again, I am in a time of transition…which always makes me uncomfortable, excited, nervous, and just plain odd. For me, transition has always been that murky, gray area where you do not have a full plan. I like plans. Ask anyone that knows me…I can make any plan depending on desired outcome; however, I feel like I am floating in the ocean, the lighthouse is a beacon ahead of me, but I cannot yet see the shoreline. t also feels like quicksand…stuck, sinking but fighting to pull yourself out. I know I have a path to find and just need to follow my senses to the trail head.
Like my training in the last few months, I’ve struggled to write this post. Thoughts have floated through my brain only to disappear when trying to put pen to paper. Are all the recent changes to blame, causing more frustration with each failed writing attempt or long run? It has only been recently that I feel I have the words to adequately express myself. Over the last two years, I have hit a number of personal and professional milestones – a wedding, a move to D.C., an epic honeymoon, a top 10 finish at JFK50, a marathon PR (3:21:35), my first 100 miler (combined with a sub-20 hour and 4th female finish!), a 2-year job detail in one of the most demanding and rewarding environments, and another move back to Virginia Beach to my Command. Each milestone provided me with an exclamation point…a symbol of completion to mark a readiness to embark on a new stage and adventure. While I’ve felt ready to move forward, a restlessness fills me…a sensation of being in a holding pattern. I’ve found myself hesitant to fully commit to taking the next step. Is anything holding me back? No. I simply have not been able to break out of a state that is similar to how I’ve felt after major races or an overseas deployment, which while understandable after the intensity of the last two years, is no less an uncomfortable place to find oneself. I’ve found my training runs to be less than satisfactory (in my mind) and I long for the sense of purpose I normally find in my training and race schedule. Already in an unusual state of mind, I recently threw myself into some activities way outside my comfort zone. I figured I was already in a prolonged, uncomfortable state so I might as well push even further to see how I feel on the other end.
Training For Speed: After four 50 milers, a 100 miler, and several marathons I have perfected my “set it and forget it” pace. This is the pace (~8:25 x mile) I can comfortably run for hours. This is also the pace at which I did almost all of my training in order to maximise the time I had to train while still getting in the needed miles for my ultras. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that pace. I feel strong, comfortable and fluid. I also love that after years of training at that pace, I know exactly how long each training run would take. This always helped me plan my runs around my busy work schedule.
In a fit of inspiration, clarity, or delusion, I decided that I was restless because I needed to change things up and decided I would specifically train for my upcoming Chicago Marathon with a PR in mind. I have NEVER done this. I always race to “complete not compete,” and if I get a PR then I am ecstatic. Over the last two months I’ve become very familiar with the saying, “from Hero to Zero.” I have continuously come upon moments of failure in this new training plan. For the first time EVER, I’ve had to call for not one, but two pick-ups when I found myself without the ability to run the rest of the way home. I was running at a faster pace, but found myself struggling with water and nutrition intake and my endurance. While some of these problems were likely attributed to the extreme heat and humidity of this summer, I blame myself for pushing my run pace up at the same time as increasing my distance because I just “had to” keep my normal marathon training schedule without making adjustments for how I’d acclimate to speed training. I’ve felt “foolish and weak” and would finish each run lying on my living room floor thinking about how far I’ve fallen from recent successes. Although my combined weekend mileage remains fairly high, I’ve yet to go above 17 miles in a single run. While I feel more anxious than normal pre-marathon, I also am embracing the challenge of pushing myself harder than normal…even if the results have been less than satisfactory. I have never claimed to run and race for endurance because it is easy. I do them for the challenge…the test of my limits and mettle. Come the morning of 9 October, I plan to accept those challenges and to see what happens during those 26.2 miles. As Queen Bey sings, “Imma keep running because a winner don’t quite on themselves.”
Ragnarok: No, not the Norse myth foretelling a series of future events, including the great battle foretold to result in the death of a number of major figures, the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water, but a Ragnar Relay. Already floating in a murky sea, I jumped without a life vest into another unknown body of water. With nothing to lose and hoping to gain some new energy, I jumped on the chance to run in a 206.7 mile Ragnar Relay which included 11 x complete strangers in two minivans, 30-ish hours of running, cat naps, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and dreams of stretching out our legs fueling us to the finish festival. Was I crazy? or brilliant? Perhaps a bit of both.
All I know is it is almost impossible to be worried about hitting your marathon training goals when caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of your team and the 200 other teams on the course…decorated vans, kills, hilarious costumes, inspiring motives, camaraderie, and an epic and delicious breakfast at IHOP. During the course of the relay, I ran the equivalent of 29 hilly and fast miles (7.4, 9.7, & 11.9m) and pushed myself to the limit only to hit the finish with so much love and energy for running that I felt like I could have gone even further. While the little devil on my shoulder continues to increase my worry about the upcoming marathon, I know I can push to the finish after Ragnar. Ragnar taught me that uncomfortable can be fun, and I should break out of my self-imposed training box more often. At Ragnar I did not just step out of the box, I SMASHED it. I took a leap that these 11 x strangers would not be serial killers (they definite WERE NOT!), and that I would be able to pull my head out of behind so I could be in the moment and enjoy this new experience (I DID!). As I ran towards the big, orange finish festival with my 11 x teammates and new friends, a huge smile broke out on my face and I felt light and airy after weeks of quicksand.
Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” – Leonardo da Vinci
When I first lost my way, I went from a 100 mph pace, a clear set of goals, and a decided path to not knowing what I planned to do or how I was going to get to my next goal. Instead of enjoying a slower pace and some down time, I jumped into a new, tough goal (speed training for a marathon PR) thinking I needed a challenge to lift me up from the quicksand. In the end, smashing my “normal” and jumping into something cmpletely new (Ragnar) provided me with the sense of fun and adventure I needed more than anything else. It brought the fun back into my running. Not a normal example of relaxation, I still feel rejuvenated and ready for my next phase. Maybe it is a new PR, or maybe it is living in the moment for each and every one of those 26.2 miles on the streets of Chicago. I’ve struggled more in the last few months of training than I can recall, but now I can embrace those challenges and know I am prepared not only for future obstacles but for the fun and adventure that comes with not always knowing where the road may lead. Maybe I’ll even find another rainbow…