A few of the topics tackled on Kelly Roberts’ excellent (and real af) podcast Run, Selfie, Repeat, have been marinating in my brain. In one episode this past November, she talked about stepping outside of your comfort zone. More specifically, how your comfort zone evolves, and how what once scared you becomes comfortable, and then you catch yourself hanging out in a place where you are no longer really taking risks (I’m paraphrasing what I’m sure were much more eloquent words, words probably set partially to Kelly’s own particular brand of singing). I listened to this particular episode during a run (as I listen to many podcasts) a few weeks after completing my first marathon. Over the ensuing months, I have been asking myself where my comfort zone now is after achieving this BIG SCARY GOAL of completing a marathon. I’ve been living in this world of “what next?” When I first heard this episode of R, S, R, I immediately reacted negatively and started listing off all the things I was doing that challenged me: continued hot yoga, attempting inversions in yoga, growing my social media following and starting this blog. BUT…but. There was a “but.” So, I’ve been sitting with that “but” (yes, I see the pun there). The “but” has been haunting me and as I start turning toward beginning training for my first big race of the season, the Finger Lakes 50s 25K, it has gone from being a lowercase “but” to an all caps “BUT.” Earlier this month, on Frun day, I got some time to run with a friend of mine from my running club, Rebecca. Rebecca is an excellent human; a nurse, a mom, divorced (now engaged!) and one of her kids has autism, just like mine. She’s funny and lives out loud. We have a lot in common. After enduring knee surgery last year, she has worked so hard at coming back to being active and decided not only to come back to running, but to start training for triathlons! Rebecca, who by her own admission, isn’t the fastest runner (much like myself), went ahead and decided to up her chances for success by hiring a coach – the wonderful Dick Vincent who coaches many athletes in my running club. My first thought when Rebecca hired Coach Dick was “she is so brave and bad ass!” My second thought was “I didn’t know we could do that!?”
By “we” I mean mere mortals, not the super speedy runners and sub-elites I frequently run with at club group runs, track workouts and races. Just us regular folk plodding along at our own pace getting shit done but not winning any age group awards or anything. I always assumed people like me (and me, in particular) didn’t “deserve” a coach. I had this notion that a Coach is something you earn by being fast and winning races and knowing what your lactate threshold is. I talked to Rebecca about this on that run a few weeks ago and she basically told me that was bullshit and that Coach Dick, unlike some coaches out there, works with all types of runners and that we deserve the support of a coach as much as anyone else. I know Dick. I’ve been around him for a few years. He embodies the inclusive spirit of our club. He’s also a genuinely good person and master of puns. Running, for him is not just about hard work, but it’s about enjoyment and, dare I say, family.
Let’s talk a bit about how I’ve, and many other runners I know, train for races. I began running 4 years ago as many people do, with a Couch-to-5K training plan. Thank god for technology! I was able to download an app that told me how long to run for and when. When I got into Marine Corps Marathon in 2017, I googled different training plans and cobbled together something that worked for me. This is how I’ve trained for my previous half-marathons, as well. I mostly just pounded miles on plan and cross-trained – in my mind, that’s what “training” is.
For marathon training, I also went to ART religiously to stave off injury (it worked!) and learned how bad I am at fueling for long runs and races and corrected that. I achieved my goal of completing a marathon and not getting injured (except for losing all but 3 toenails, but I don’t count that as an injury). All those 100s of hours pounding pavement made me realize how much I loved and missed trail running, though. So, once I had my super awesome very heavy kickass medal
given to me by a Very Tall Marine, I knew that 2018 would be all about getting back on trails for me.
Although I am not a fast runner, I have a lot of strength and stamina, both mentally and physically, and to capitalize on that I realized mid-way through marathon training that my eventual goal was to run an ultra. Having little kids makes that kind of training tough, so for 2018, I decide to try my hand at a 25K trail race – while not quite an ultra distance (it’s about 15.5 miles on trails), it’s definitely a stopover on the way to ultras (for reference, any distance over 26.2 miles is considered an ultra) and certainly longer than any trail race I’ve run in the past (longest I have ever run on trails at one time is about 7 miles, although I covered about 16 miles over 3 legs on a sprained ankle in Ragnar Trail Wawayanda in 2016).
I did some research and settled on Finger Lakes 50s because it’s not too far from my home city (about a 3 hour drive) Finger Lakes 50s is one of those races you have to sign up for the minute registration opens because it often sells out in a matter of hours. It is a race near Ithaca, NY (a just under 4 hour drive from where I live), it has a generous course cut-off time, it’s a loop course rather than point-to-point, and you get to run with cows (their slogan is “Don’t let the cows out!” and their race logo is a cow).
Finger Lakes 50s is a race that has 3 distances: a 25K, 50K and 50 miles and the race only accepts 250 runners for all distances combined. The cut off time for the 25K aligns with the other two races, which gives a slowpoke like me plenty of time to finish the race without too much worry on being swept from the course. I sat on my laptop the morning of registration and although it took about 45 minutes and a lot of refreshing to my computer (and my phone, which I had going simultaneously), I managed to score a spot in the race. Hooray! I goaded my friend Karen into trying to register too and she also got in! Double hooray! After getting into a race, the next thing I started thinking about is training. I’ve trained for all sorts of races, both road and trail, but a 25K? on unknown trails I won’t get to preview before? I have no idea where to even begin.
I started searching on-line for workable training plans – in the past, this has yielded plenty of results, but 25K is a strange in-between distance and finding training plans specific to trail races can be difficult. I’ve spent the last two months searching and not coming up with anything but a plan specific to an entirely different trail 25K. I decided my vague plan was to train like I was training for a half, but on trails, once winter takes her leave of us here in the NE (will winter actually this year? I’m skeptical). I asked Karen what she was doing to train and she basically had the same plan as me. As time has gone on, though, this plan has left me unsettled, would it work? Sure. I can grit out most races and snag a finish. Would it get me to an optimal performance and set me up for a more successful race with less chance of injury? Certainly not. With this distance on trails, and because I want to use this race to gauge a possible pivot into ultras, I feel completely out of my depth. That’s where Rebecca and Coach Dick and moving out of my comfort zone/allowing myself to succeed come into play. Rebecca’s hiring of Coach Dick made me think, maybe I did deserve a coach after all. Not only that, maybe I needed a coach for this particular race. Don’t we all deserve to do the best we can, even if we will never be the top of our age group or have be sponsored by Brooks? After all, aren’t I out here promoting athletes of all skill levels? Doesn’t that include myself? Hell, until a few months ago, I didn’t really think that the type of runner I was would end up with 3 ambassador stints from 3 amazing companies (Zensah, Skirt Sports, and Honey Stinger), but putting myself out there and earning those ambassadorships has broadened my mind on that topic. Was I, by not taking this next step, obstructing my own success? Was I holding myself back because it’s easier to say “I’m slow. I started when I was older and this is as good as I can do,” then to explore my potential with the help of a professional? Was I scared to try and get better because I might not succeed? Of course, the answer is yes to all of those questions.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I started Operation Pema, so named for the awesome Shambhala Buddhist nun who has written so many books on the topic of going into your fear and making friends with uncertainty. It started by attending my running club’s Tuesday night track workout a couple of weeks ago. This weekly workout is run by Coach Dick himself. I had been saying for two years I was going to start going to this workout. I’ve said it to friends, I’ve posted it on FB, I even wrote it as one of my training goals in my Believe Training Journal last year. I’ve even had friends message me to tell me they were going to the workout and I should join them. Yet, I kept not going. It’s not often I’m intimidated, but track was intimidating. Track is for those fast people, those same people who deserved coaches and won awards and raced for teams. But you know who goes to track? Rebecca. And another friend from running club, Deanna. I felt comfortable running with them. They were normal human runners, like me. If they didn’t feel intimidated at Track Tuesday’s, than it was unlikely I would. Or, perhaps I would, and I’d do it anyway. This was all a mental game for me. I know most of the people who go to that workout. I’ve run other group runs with them, I’ve gone to Trail Running Camp with them, I’ve been on a god damn cruise ship with a number of them for an entire week! I know these are good-hearted, fun, hardworking, supportive people. For some unknown reason, track workout has been one hurdle I couldn’t seem to get over (pun intended). I had run track in my youth (800m), but it had been decades since I’d done more than sporadic, unstructured workouts there, often with my kids to get us all moving and out of the house. Finally, I realized that much of this was tethered to ego. I needed to get over myself – no one was going to give a shit if I was slower, no one was going to be criticizing me or even watching me – they would be focused on their own workouts. And I had the security of Deanna and Rebecca.
Plus, this would give me an opportunity to approach Coach Dick about a possible training plan for my 25K. So, I went. And, of course, it was fun and hard and everyone was great. And I mustered up the courage to broach the subject to Coach, who was, of course, receptive. After that night, we started a dialogue and planned an initial meeting. This week, we met up and chatted through my running history and my goals and started the coaching process and then we both went over to track workout.
The interesting thing about that meeting was that Dick’s spin on who I am as a runner was vastly different than mine: whereas I see myself as slow and old and think of the fact that I didn’t start running until age 36 as a drawback, Dick was thrilled. “You’ve got fresh legs! You’re only 4 years old! You haven’t even hit your S curve! Your best running is yet to come!” Huh? Wait, really? I joked with him about my “toddler legs,” but this was a spin I hadn’t heard before. I kind of thought I had accomplished the pinnacle of what I could accomplish when I crossed that marathon finish line last October, but maybe this is just the beginning? Could that be?
So, the bottom line is, I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone again. The line has moved from a few years ago, it has moved from even 6 months ago, in terms of where I’m comfortable and how far I have to go to get uncomfortable. For now, it’s track workouts and the new subset of runners that brings me in regular contact with, and hiring a coach, a thing I never thought I would do. Hiring a coach is scary – it means someone is going to hold me accountable. For real. And it means pushing harder. Because I am paying for this. I’m a single mom, so this is a significant investment for me financially, but I truly believe it’s worth it. Working with a coach also means setting myself up for the possibility of greater successes – giving myself the permission to get better at my sport and see where that leads me. I’m excited for this new terrain. Just as I am excited for the trails to thaw out (hopefully) in the next couple of weeks so I can start practicing for the unknown rough terrain of that 25K. I’ll be documenting my journey here. I’m sure working with an actual coach will result in my confronting some old emotional baggage as well. But, this is the logical next step on my journey, even if it’s an uncomfortable one.
What are you doing to set yourself up to be successful? Where can you push boundaries? Spring is the time of growth and rebirth – perfect time to ponder these questions and spring into action (this is the most pun-filled post ever. You’re welcome).