Back in 2007, I won the Napa Valley Marathon. Going into that race, I had no expectations. I had moved the weekend before, I had gone on two long-ish runs (one was unplanned) in freezing cold weather. I didn't really taper and came in with the idea that I was merely tuning up for Mad City 100k, my first 100k a month later. I was pleasantly surprised by my performance.
Then, I was a much lower mileage runner and had just begun to scratch the surface of running. I enjoyed a very anonymous status. I could have run fast or slow, race or not and no one would have noticed. After a few years on the scene and some success, that is no longer the case. I am not complaining, heaven's no.
Now, when I come to a race, I can't fly under the radar. And it has changed my mind-set about planning my racing schedule. Last year, I didn't race a ton, much less in fact than the previous two years. When I went to set up my schedule this year, I wanted to tailor everything towards Western States. I selected American River 50 miler (April 10) and Ice Age 50 miler as my tune up races for States and then decided to add Napa Valley Marathon (March 7) as an early season "speed workout". I figured it would be fun to start the season out by racing a marathon, albeit without fully focusing on it. I wanted to keep my schedule light, so I could race well at each race without robbing myself of recovery or peak training for States.
But then I decided to run Lake Sonoma 50 miler (March 27) and Miwok 100k (May 1-instead of Ice Age 50) and that changed things. Suddenly I went from having a very light racing schedule to one in which I was wondering how the heck I was going to get any training in there at all. While some people can be very successful at racing quite often, I know for me that I cannot go into each race trying to red-line.
This past Saturday, after a great 33 mile run on the Miwok course, we were eating Papalote burritos and discussing racing, expectations and prioritizing races. What it comes down to is that I have to make sure that I maintain my focus for each race and race according to MY plan. Not according to the hype, expectations of others or even ego. While it may not be easy to listen to people tell me I am sand-bagging or hear after a race (like last year at Way too Cool), "what happened?" when I ran a smart, not "A" race pace, I continually remind myself: what are my goals for this race? Why am I here?
When looking at all the upcoming races, I remember something Gary Robbins told me last year at TransRockies. He said (regarding the six stages of TR), "you don't want to win 5 days and end up in second on the last day". I take that sentiment and apply it to my racing schedule this year. I have to remember what my ultimate goal is. I want to win the war, the battles are inconsequential. While expectations may exist externally, I will try my best from putting them on myself.
Sunday's Napa Valley Marathon will be a test of that. I have not tapered, I am battling a cold and I haven't done a single long run on the road. I have no expectations for my performance. I don't even have a goal time. I don't think that I will be making an effort to hang with the 6-7 women who are all going for their Olympic Trials qualifier. This is their "A" race, not mine. Doesn't mean I won't put in a good effort but I have reasonable, forgiving expectations of myself. I am mostly just looking forward to enjoying the race, the race weekend, hanging out with friends, eating good food and drinking wine. I love the adventures, the challenge, I love just running and carry that with me as I toe the line and see what the day has for me.