I don't normal consider myself someone who has many fears. In fact, I cannot bring to mind anything that I truly fear. I like to challenge myself, I like to try new things, I am unafraid to fail.
Since last Summer and even more intensely in the last month or so, I have been doing something that is a little scary to me. Pushing my outer limits. Practically this means, I am working on getting faster, digging down into that place of "I don't know how good I can be" and seeing what I bring up. Marathon fast running, try and make the Olympics fast running.
I came to running after a career as a basketball player and don't have a long legacy of track running or even shorter distance road running. I came into the sport, ran a marathon, ran two more and then started ultrarunning. I never really tapped my potential as a marathoner and I really like marathons. Short, fast and sweet. But running a 2:49 marathon (my PR) 3 weeks after a road 100k World Championship is not pushing that limit. That is pretty safe. In ultrarunning, even though I could blow up, DNF, lose or have a bad day that doesn't scare me. Running 50 miles fast in 6:28, finishing with sub 7 min miles doesn't strike me as pushing my limits (in fact it feels down right comfortable). What scares me is the red line. In my running, I tend to not red line. I have talked about this before a bit, about learning to that "this is so hard I don't know if I can hold it" and holding it place. It is an uncomfortable place, but for where I want to go, I must go there.
For Houston and the prospect of making the Olympic Trials, I happily go there. It has not been easy. Tuesday mornings I wake up nervous about the days track workout. I run my warmup not knowing if I can hit my prescribed paces, wondering if my lungs and legs will sustain me lap after lap. At the track, I cannot hide from my own progress. I can't just run by feel like I often do for ultras, I have to run by watch and splits and miles. It is a totally different ball game. It's hard but in a good way. It is pushing me to go beyond myself. I am becoming a different athlete because of it.
Looking back, leading up to Western States, I felt like I was all in, like I was doing everything to make that race be great. Barring the kidney failure, I think I would have run a great race. But I realize now, I was just doing everything I wanted to. There is more I could have invested, I could have worked harder at the gym, been better about race specific work and had a more athletic diet. I was committed, but I wasn't all in. I am all in for Houston.
Yesterday at the track, I had a moment of transcendence. I was pushing hard in my final 800 meter repeat, getting blasted in the face on the back stretch with wind, tired, pushing and wondering if I would be able to hold the pace. I came around the final turn and hit the straight away and instead of holding on for dear life, I suddenly found something: the next gear. I powered through the final 100 meters in my fastest split of the repeat and finished the 800 also with my fastest split. Then I followed it up with a 75 second 400 meter repeat hitting my prescribed split right on the head and utilizing the next gear again. It felt amazing. I was so tired and happily exhausted, drained in a good way that I don't often feel. That next gear showed me that the red line is something I can manipulate, I can work very close to it for a while (like I have been at the track and in tempo workouts), feel like I am going to run face first into it and then bam, the red line retreats a few paces and keeps me hungry for its pursuit. It is hardwork, it is scary, I could fall on my face and do horribly. But ultimately, the work itself is the reward and the race is just the victory. The things I am learning about myself as a runner right now are amazing and inspire me daily to keep after it.
Photos by Nathan.