Monday, March 31, 2014

Hills & The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Something really awesome happened this weekend, not to me, it happened to one of my athletes during our Saturday group run.  The run itself was seemingly unremarkable- miserable is probably an appropriate descriptor- it was 46 degrees and raining.  Part of our route went through a closed road which is under construction that the rain turned into a muddy mess and we had to cross this section twice since the course was out-and-back.  I'm talking mud the texture of quicksand, for a good 75 feet.

Okay, this MAY be a slight exaggeration.
The route I picked was pretty hilly.  Well, in fairness, it was not just hilly, it was HILLY. Several large, long, steep, scary hills. Naturally, I did not warn my athletes, I just told then which direction to go and they headed out, me peddling my bike along side of them.

Fast forward, 30 minutes later...remember I said that this route was HILLY?  Well, the three worst hills are in the last mile of the course and they are brutal. I was riding along side of two runners, Jessica and Beth, when we got to the first of these hills and they were holding a 10 minute per mile pace.  I put on my coaching hat and encouraged them to hold that pace up this REALLY long hill...and they did.

But their legs, sadly, were pretty much toast at this point.
Then, a little over a half-mile later, we hit the second of the aforementioned hills, not as long as the previous, but pretty darn steep.  Jessica began to pull ahead (speed demon) but I stuck with Beth.  What Beth didn't know at the time was that she was holding a pace that I had never before seen her run.  I had been working with her for more than 2 months and this pace was incredible for her- and she was 3.5 miles in.  Impressive.  But she began to struggle on this second hill.  Her breathing pattern changed and it became obvious to me that she was panicking.  I encouraged her to settle down as we got to the top of this hill but we both knew that the excruciating uphill finish was still coming.  I coached her through breath control and form but I could feel her frustration.  So I did what I had to do, I let her in on the secret: "Beth, you are running a 10-minute per mile pace, so if it feels hard it's because you're killing it not because you're weak." I don't think she believed me at first but I assured her that she was in fact running faster than she ever had, for almost 4 miles, in the rain, through the mud. And with that, she found her second wind.

Here she is in between Hill #1 and Hill #2.
When we got to the third and final hill, the end was in sight.  I told her that all she had to do was get up this last hill and finish strong. I told her she could slow down but she could not stop.  I stayed by her side, offering encouragement, as she powered up the hill to the finish crossing in just over 40 minutes.  She was in tears, she had done the impossible.  I gave her a big hug and was overcome with pride.  This was an amazing accomplishment and I had the great honor of being there beside her when she pulled it off. 

What I haven't mentioned yet is that Beth had been told by a doctor that she could not run due to lower back issues.  That didn't stop her from doing my beginner's 5K program (she was actually the reason I did the program- her request prompted me to create the program) where over the past 8 weeks, we'd worked her up very gradually, from 1.5 miles to 5K.  On this particular Saturday, we went 4 miles and she crushed it!!

You earned it Beth! 
I've found, both in my own life and with the athletes I've coached, that most often the barriers to achieving awesome things are just stories in our heads- an internal monologue of self-doubt, fear of failure, and excuses- they're not real and they have very little, if any, basis in fact or reality.  Sometimes it starts with an external influence (a diagnosis, naysayers, etc.) but when we internalize it, it becomes our own voice, a voice we trust blindly, a voice we don't question.  It plays like a broken record in our minds, preventing us from taking a chance, stepping outside of our comfort zone, and finding our own greatness.

True story.
I have been guilty of this on numerous occasions myself.  I even blogged about my own struggles with this before (see The Big Box post). These stories are self-imposed limits. The things we tell ourselves, consciously and unconsciously, make us stop short and ultimately keep us from seeing and reaching our true potential.  So, what if we just changed our minds? What if we decided to start telling ourselves another story? What if we picked up a new script? Take Beth for example, what would happen if instead of the "I can't run" story or the "I'm not strong enough to..." story, she told herself the "I am a strong and powerful runner who eats hills for breakfast" story? I'll tell you what would happen, she would power through a very difficult 4-miler at an incredible pace.  She would recognize that the only barrier she ever really had was the story she was telling herself and that story was fiction.  The problem wasn't her body, it was her head.  She thanked me profusely but it was all her.  HER legs, HER back, HER will. The only thing I did was give her another story to tell herself. 

This is why I so willingly challenge my athletes with hills.  I know they hate it but hills expose runners for what they truly are.  Hills build character and tenacity.  They are just like any other life struggle, you'll discover more about yourself in the middle of them than at any other time.  Avoiding challenges is not a habit we should get into, in running or in life.

Are you a hill seeker?
Way to go Beth!!  I know you've set your sights on a 10K on April 27th and you can bet I'll be there to hug you when you crush that too.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

RACE REPORT: St. Patrick's Day Weekend Activities

As you saw in my previous post, I am injured and can't run so I had to scrap the half-marathon and 5K I had on my race calendar for this past weekend; instead, I did something I never get to do- I served as a one-woman runner support the same weekend. (Runner friends: if you have never been a part of a race day support crew before, you need to do it immediately, it's so incredibly exciting and rewarding.) Eight runners from my beginner's 5K running program signed up for a couple of races over the St. Patrick's Day weekend.  I had planned to run with them before...well, you know.  These ladies had worked so hard over the past weeks in my training program and there was simply no way I was going to let any injury stop me from being there to support and hug them when they crossed that finish line.  So this post will include two race reports, neither of which I actually ran in...

Rock & Roll USA Race Report- My weekend began at 4:00AM on Saturday morning when I got up, readied myself and packed a bag full of race day essentials for my runners. I had three 5K runners and one half-marathoner (not a beginner but I'll get into Lauren later) to support and I planned to take the role of coach and race day support crew very seriously.  I even made a sign.

My very first race sign-making experience!
I helped my runners get focused in the corral, pinned on their race numbers, made sure they had water, held their belongings, and gave them each a pre-race hug to wish them good luck.  I found a place at the finish line and camped out with my camera where I waited with anticipation. When my first runner, Alissa, crossed the line, I teared up.  She came in so fast and strong.  It was a VERY emotional moment for me when I looked up and saw the clock as she crossed the finish line.  But then the next two, Emily and Dodi, came in with the same gusto only minutes behind Alissa.  I was absolutely overjoyed.  When I saw these ladies post-race, I hugged them so hard. I was so proud of what they'd done and how far they'd come.

 Not even two "bad" runs leading into race day and a calf cramp at the start could stop Dodi (on the left).
Baltimore Shamrock 5K- at 10:45AM on Sunday, this crew of four 5K runners and I met up and drove Baltimore.  I revised my sign from the day before to include this group of runners...

...even adding some St. Patty's Day flair.
I walked to the start with my runners, got some pre-race photos, hugged them all, wished them luck and walked back to the finish area to await their arrival.  I found a spot right at the finish line and before I knew it the first of my runners, Jessica, was cruising in WAY faster than anticipated- three minutes faster!! The race is 3.1 miles so, doing quick math in my head, she took almost an entire minute per mile off her goal time- totally incredible!! That made me get emotional again (I'm such a sap, I know). The rest of my runners, Lauren, Beth and Sasha, came in with amazing times too and each time one crossed that line, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in them and for them. Each one looked so strong at the finish, Beth was even throwing elbows on her way in- that's my girl :) I was totally blown away by this group, they made it look easy.

Too much pre-race hydration and free post-race beer plus horrible Baltimore parade/race traffic equals emergency bathroom stops at random hotels and hospital emergency rooms.  Adventures in Baltimore...but that's another story for another day.
It was a truly unique experience for me to have the opportunity to support so many awesome runners in one weekend. I expected to feel pretty bummed that I couldn't run these races with them but all I felt was overwhelming pride and joy. The memories made at these two races will be with me for years to come.  


So, back to Lauren (in the left picture above she is furthest to the right and in the right picture she is behind me with the green t-shirt).  Although she is not anywhere close to being a beginner (she was a pacer for the participants and served as my program support), she also had some accomplishments as well that I have to highlight and share.  This gal didn't just run (for the first time ever) back-to-back races, she ran a half marathon PR (by an astonishing 5 minutes) on Saturday and then a sub-30 minute 5K on Sunday! A truly awesome and inspiring athlete! I hope that she got a glimpse of just how tremendous her true potential is (I see it regularly during our 5:30AM workouts- it's undeniable). Congratulations, Lauren, on your amazing back-to-back finishes and thank you for your efforts which helped to make this 5K program a success!!

As I shared with my runners recently in a program wrap-up email, I am blown away by the progress they've made and the transformations that have occurred. It was only eight short weeks ago that this group began the process, many were convinced that they couldn't run 1.5 miles without stopping, and they smashed all expectations!  I couldn't be prouder of this group and I'm so incredibly grateful that they have allowed me to be a part of their journey. What an awesome honor to have been their coach.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Setbacks and Life's Little Inconveniences

Four weeks off.  That's the prognosis I received last week from my orthopedist.  As a runner and an athlete, I know these days will come.  You can't push your body to the extent I push mine and expect that nothing will ever go wrong.  Fortunately, these times are very infrequent for me but when they come they tend to be HUGE.  Last time I sat in that chair, I was looking at a fractured hip and 8-12 months off of ALL activity.

Truthfully, I had expected worse news when I entered the orthopedist's office last Friday.  Two and a half weeks ago, in the middle of a Hurricane workout (don't ask) I was no longer able to put weight on my right leg.  My lower leg became extremely unstable and it felt like my shinbone was breaking.  The pain was eerily familiar and I knew in an instant that I had a stress fracture- there is simply no mistaking that feeling, once you've felt what a stress fracture feels like you never forget it.  A thousand thoughts ran through my head.  How am I supposed to coach the 20 runners in my beginner's 5k training program if I can't run?  How am I supposed to launch a running club in three weeks if I can't lead the weekly group runs? I have a bunch of races this Spring that I can't transfer out of.  And on and on and on.  There simply could not be a worse time to be injured.  I felt my 21 Promises slipping away.

I immediately set up an appointment with my orthopedist who promptly ordered an MRI and a week later I was back in his office to hear the news.  Dr. Hampton walked in, shook my hand and asked when my next race is.  March 15th, half-marathon...nope! Okay, next is March 16th, 5k...nope again! April 12th, 17.75k...eehh, probably not.  May 4th, 10-miler..DING DING DING!!! Diagnosis- severe bone bruising on my tibia. It's a stress-related injury from (over)use.  Before a bone cracks it "bruises" and becomes very weak. Apparently, my shinbone is so bruised that one more jump, one more mile, could (literally) be the straw that breaks my tibia. It means 4 weeks of no running, jumping or impact of any kind.  If there had been a stress fracture, I would be off for 6-8 weeks.  I had caught it just in time and saved myself 2-4 weeks.

What does it mean? It means I have to scrap four Spring races I'd planned to run, three of which I had already registered/paid for, one was my guaranteed ticket into the Marine Corps Marathon.  It means that I am going to have to fight extremely hard to come back from this injury and salvage the rest of my Spring race season. It means that it's going to be way more difficult to keep my 21 Promises. It means that I am going to lose a ton of ground and momentum so I will have to think very strategically.

Think. Think. Think.

In life, there will always be setbacks and inconveniences.  For every goal you have, there will be a hundred obstacles in your way.  There will be many moments where you'll have the wind knocked out of you.  If you let it, the universe will hand you a thousand excuses for why you couldn't reach your goals and you'll never run out of reasons for throwing in the towel.  But the object isn't to never get knocked down, it's to never stay down.  Bottom line, I made Promises and I intend to keep them. ALL OF THEM.

After the hip fracture 3 1/2 years ago, I promised that I would never take another run for granted because it could all be gone in an instant.  I vowed to come back stronger and faster and that's exactly what I did.  This time will be no different.  Accomplishing all 21 Promises was going to be challenging if everything went perfectly, now it will be borderline impossible.  Sure, I could curl up in a ball and scrap the list OR I could work my tail off doing what I have been cleared to do (bike, swim, weight train), maintain my fitness and allow the bone to heal so that, come April 1st, I am ready primed and ready.  In truth, I know it will be a very steep uphill battle but if I can pull it off, it will make for a really awesome blog post.

That's my motivation.