Two Oceans

The Art of Unlearning

Women Run Strong Panel w/ Kelly Roberts, Susie Chan and Sophie Walker. Photo by @annarachphotography. 

Women Run Strong Panel w/ Kelly Roberts, Susie Chan and Sophie Walker. Photo by @annarachphotography. 

What seems like forever ago now, on April 21st whilst in London for the marathon, I had the awesome opportunity to be a part of a Women Run Strong panel, hosted by Kelly Roberts and Susie Chan. Over 100 women and a handful of men, joined in for a shake out run and question and answer panel. It was so cool to be part of, so many interesting questions and great connections with people that I might not have had the opportunity to make. Personally, I don't love public speaking, but in the question and answer format, I felt like for the most part, answers came easily and I was able to share my thoughts and experience in a way that I am proud of and possibly was helpful to those at the panel.

There was one question that did hem me up. It was the self-introduction, the question of "who are you?". I awkwardly mumbled something about "I'm a runner, I own a bakery....yep that about sums it up." Thankfully, Susie had mercy on me and bragged a bit on my behalf. I found it to be an interesting moment for me. After such a hard few months with injury, setbacks and personal struggle, the question of self-definition is in fact a hard one. And I realize now, maybe it always has been. After that evening, I realized that I needed to unlearn somethings about identity, self-definition and how confined self-definition can be limiting. And over the last month, I've thought about this a lot.

Before I was in London, I was in Cape Town, South Africa. I had arrived there two weeks prior, hoping that perhaps some time away could help me reset after everything, especially after the month of March. I had hoped I might find some peace, some resolutions and mostly my mojo. I had hoped that I might start picking myself up off the floor of the arena and doing the real rumbling I needed to to get back to myself. Oh, and race one of the biggest and more competitive ultras in the world, Two Oceans. It was going to be that easy, I would just get on a plane and fly about as far as I could away from everything.

But of course, it wasn't. I got off the plane and was met with terrible jet lag, insomnia and face shredding and swiftly descending depression. The earthquake that was my month of March had passed, but I was not prepared for the tsunami of emotion that would come in its wake. It flattened me. One of the major problems I now faced in my mind was one of self-definition and identity as it pertains to racing. Though I don't self-identify as "Devon, the 2:38 marathoner and 14:52 100-miler, etc, etc", when I show up to a big race (like Two Oceans) I don't view myself as "participant", I view myself as a "competitor". And yet, I realized, I was not in a place to race or compete in Oceans. I was not in a place to run a fast marathon in London 8 days later. I was hoping to complete the races, I was hoping to simply not hate every step. I had got on the plane because I simply couldn't bear the month of March, heck all of the preceding 6 months, to cost me a visit back to a place that very much holds my heart. I hadn't thought about the implications of racing until I was nearly toeing the line to do it.

One run can change your mind. The moment it flipped.

One run can change your mind. The moment it flipped.

One of the errors I had made was skipping the middle part of recovering from injury. The process should go: get healthy, train, then race. I had gone from get healthy to racing. I had internalized some pressure to get back to racing and cause me to rush once I was back running. And now I was toeing the line with a foot that had broken a month earlier, fitness that was questionable at best and a mind that was trying to wrap itself around the very real possibilities of not just slow times, but struggling to even finish. I was limiting myself by my competitor self, I knew I had to mentally be at peace with every available outcome. And I didn't want to go into the race afraid of any outcomes because I knew I would miss the experience. It would be hard and I would hate it, I would leave myself and I would fail myself, and likely be miserable.

Good friends can help you see yourself better.

Good friends can help you see yourself better.

I didn't want to be miserable in my experience at Oceans or London. And so through a lot of reflection, and a lot more friend time, especially with my lovely friends Kim, Susie, and Nic I started to understand that accepting who I am right now is not a failure. Accepting where I am now and what I am capable of right now, doesn't mean that this is who or what I will be forever. If I run slow now, then I simply ran slow, nothing more. If I run slow now, it doesn't mean anything about what I am capable of in the future and certainly means nothing in the scope of my career. I finally found a way back to my core values that drive who I am as a person: passion, patience, hard work, perseverance, intelligent stubbornness and fight, so much fight. And I realized that those who matter don't mind, and those who mind (how fast I run), don't matter. I am enough, just as I am.With that, I found my mojo, my peace and my perspective.

The two performances that followed made me so proud. Yes, I ran my slowest Two Oceans, but I ran far faster and stronger than I had expected in my wildest dreams. And I recovered so quickly and well, I was shocked how good I felt. I followed up 8 days later with a 2:54 marathon in London. It was hard, I suffered, but I fought and far exceeded the "best case" scenario 3 hr finish that was expected. Most importantly, I discovered a part of myself that is scrappy, unafraid. A part that celebrates how hard I fight for the day I have instead of a time on the clock or a place in the results. Between these two races, I started to redefine myself as "Devon, the warrior" instead of "Devon, the competitor". Yes, I love to compete, but if I am going to race for a long time (I've been doing this for 12 years and hope I get another good 20-30+!), I have to connect with my own journey and my own battle for the finish line above all else. Yes, I can have audacious big goals, but I can also race just for myself and against myself. My wallpaper on my phone currently reads: "You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way" and I believe it.

Crushing a 3:10 marathon during a 115 mile week.

Crushing a 3:10 marathon during a 115 mile week.

I returned home to California invigorated. Mojo found! And started training in earnest for Comrades, which will be held in a weeks time, June 4th here in South Africa. I had a solid 4 weeks of training, averaging over 100 miles per week, but that is by far not the most special part about this training block. To me, the most important part of this training block has been waking up every day and simply doing the best that I can with what I have. Gone is the instinct to compare every run with a former fastest self. Instead, I was finally able to see myself getting stronger each day, feeling better each day. I stopped lambasting myself for not being fast enough, doing enough, being skinny enough, etc and started to see that each day I was doing the work, hitting the milestones I needed to and most of all, enjoying and being excited by the process. This is the first training block, perhaps ever, that I have done, where day in and day out, I've celebrated where I am and what I did do. I've done what I can in a short amount of time, I'm as fit as I could hope to be, and ready to journey and to fight. Whether that means I finish first or last, fast or slow, perfect day or shit hit the fan sideways day, I am ready. To me, who I am truly is the person that stands on the start line, knowing that all I need is within me, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.

Learning to Race again: Tale of Two Oceans 56km

I never really thought it was possible to forget how to race. Once I started ultrarunning in 2006, I raced so frequently that it was a skill sharpened and refined often. Between 2011 and 2012, I frequently nailed A, B, and C races. It felt good to know how to push, how to plan a good race for myself and how to get the most of out my body on race day.

My last big A race I completed was Comrades Marathon in 2012. That is nearly 3 years ago and it didn't go as well as I would have liked but it was an amazing experience. Since then, I have completed a lot of marathons. Some even could be considered "C" races, like Napa Marathon last month which felt perfectly executed. I thought after that race that I still knew how to "race", but really, as I learned over the weekend, it is a skill and sometimes being out of practice in its subtleties will stop you in your tracks from having the race your fitness might warrant.

Doing airport laps in Heathrow on my 5 hour layover. 1.5 hours walked in my fresh Oiselle styles and HOKA Cliftons!

Doing airport laps in Heathrow on my 5 hour layover. 1.5 hours walked in my fresh Oiselle styles and HOKA Cliftons!

Last week, I flew half way around the world to take on my first ultra for the first time in two years. I was excited to return to Cape Town, South Africa for my second attempt at the Two Oceans Marathon 56km event. It is the second largest ultra in the world with 11,000 entries in the 56km distance. That is insane compared to any US ultra. I love the event, the energy and the insane competition. I had goals for the race which thankfully didn't need modification when the course was rerouted due to wildfires in the cape. The reroute meant doubling the size of the first climb and the outlook for weather was extremely windy. I wanted to "race" this but didn't feel any pressure internally or externally to perform. I've fallen off most people's maps in the last two years and it puts me in a nice comfortable dark horse position. My racing this year has all been training so the efforts don't really reflect the kind of shape I am in. Going in to Two Oceans, I felt fit enough to win if I ran a good race. I feel strong and good on the hills. My goal however was to be smart and use this race to prepare for my big goals at Comrades. Comrades is THE race I am focusing on and I would give up everything else for that goal. I wanted to use Two Oceans as a solid lead up for Comrades, remember how to get my legs under me while traveling so far and make sure I still know how to race.

Live streaming of the televised coverage of the race

Live streaming of the televised coverage of the race

I flew to Cape Town on Tuesday, arriving on Thursday morning after 30+ hours of travel. My body was ok, I had slept enough (more than I usually do, ha!) on the plane, I was tight but thought I would be fine. Thursday turned out to be quite hectic and I was unable to get anything to eat until almost 2pm after eating nothing since the evening before. It was a product of being in a group of people and having to go with the group (picking up everyone, picking up the van at the airport, going to the expo) I believe this underfueling was the root cause of some of my energy issues on Saturday. Thursday to me is the most crucial day of fueling for a Saturday race and I barely ate that day, let alone ate enough carbs. This will be one of the main things I focus on for Comrades.

Ultimately, a few things leading up to the race including tightness and bad fueling lead me to not have the race that I wanted. A few mistakes on race day further held me back. I don't think that my fitness was accessed at all due to these mistakes. I could be disappointed about it, but I am not, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn them now so that I can better prepare for them next time.

Photo by  4OMTOM .   Used with Permission.  Finishing kick. I came from very behind this lady to beat her by 1 second at the line.

Photo by 4OMTOM.  Used with Permission. Finishing kick. I came from very behind this lady to beat her by 1 second at the line.

I flew halfway around the world and lined up with some incredible talent. The gun went off and I had the day that I did. I fought the 30 mph headwinds, the hills and myself. I battled to the finish line and was incredibly proud to finish strong passing two women in the last 1000 meters, including one woman at the line. I finished 7th place in a stacked field on a really off day. I am pleased with my progression even if at times it seems to be incredibly slow. 

Photo by   4OMTOM  . Used with Permission. Happy to be done; with Nedbank Team Manager Nick Bester

Photo by 4OMTOM. Used with Permission. Happy to be done; with Nedbank Team Manager Nick Bester

I am working on coming back. I am working on regaining and surpassing my former fitness and taking on big goals. That is not easy, it is not glamorous and it doesn't always go to plan. If the journey were easy, it wouldn't be as worth it to undertake. I absolutely love Two Oceans Marathon and I will go back again, and as often as I can. I really appreciate being a part of the Nedbank Green Dream team. I am so happy I had the opportunity to put myself out there on this big stage and begin to learn to race again. It makes me even more excited and dedicated to what is to come.

 

Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (56k) Race Report



It is a long way to go for a race. 22 hours flying over, 31 flying back. Fatigue, jet lag and being lost in time.

I wouldn't change the experience for anything.

Several months ago, I contacted the Nedbank Running Club about running Comrades with them. I knew that Kami, Mike Wardian, Ellie, Lizzie had all run with them in the previous iteration, so I was keen to sign up with them. Comrades was my big focus after the Trials. I figured it was a down year on the course and I had the speed that it would take to fight for a podium spot. I didn't even know about Two Oceans Marathon until the team managers Nick and Adriaan offered me a chance to come and run it. As luck would have it, my schedule allowed for it and I coordinated my details and set my sights on running a strong race in the 56k road event. I thought it would be an excellent introduction into racing in South Africa and give me a taste for what I had coming in June at Comrades. I trained hard for Two Oceans, researched the course as much as I could, and covered every little detail and before I could turn into a raving monster was on my way back to Cape Town, South Africa to race.



Flying for that long is an endurance event. Luckily, on the first leg between San Francisco and Amsterdam, I was able to upgrade to Business class using mileage and was able to get some sleep on the 10+ hour flight, which made the remaining 11+ hours a bit more bearable. I arrived in Cape Town, downed some food and went straight to bed on Wednesday night. Thursday and Friday I passed the time easily with short runs, hanging out with my Nedbank teammates, resting and checking out the expo. As much as I would have loved to revisit some of my old haunts from when I lived there, I was very focused on being boring and resting. I planned my days around eating and napping. The only excitement of the week came when I got to go to a press conference and answer lots of fun questions from the media.

I quickly realized that ultrarunning in South Africa is different. Not only does Two Oceans have 9,000 people running the 56k, it has live TV coverage, a course lined with people (even in the rain, I would find out) and is a huge deal. Ultrarunning in South Africa is not ultrarunning, it is just running. There is no dividing line between 42k and other distances. Running is just running. Coming from the states where ultras are so niche, it is down right shocking to have the "big city marathon" feel at a distance longer than a marathon. We could stand to learn a lot from the way they are doing things there. 

Race Day:




I was up at 3am downing sweet potato puree, bananas and sunbutter, staring out the window to see if it was going to rain. I knew it would eventually but was hoping it would wait at least until we were underway (thankfully it didn't start raining until 12k into the race). We left the hotel promptly at 4:30 am to head to the start with about 40 total athletes for the Nedbank "Green Dream Team". It was quite the international group and included runners who were doing both the half marathon and the 56k. We managed to get quite close to the start line and park away from the major crowds down a quiet side street. 

Homemade gel carrying device 

My new race kit 

 Rocking the bun huggers.

 Always travel with duct tape.

Eventually Mike Wardian and I roused from the car and went for a short warm-up jog down the street. I couldn't really tell how I was feeling. My legs felt fine, my mind felt fine. Not excited, just fine. It was like I couldn't decide where my head was at or how I could wrap my brain around the journey in front of me. I have never been in a race like this. It is an ultra distance race, but is going to take some serious speed to excel at. I really had no idea what to expect. I think my mind was torn between a marathon approach and an ultrarunning approach. Now in hindsight, I see that, much like the US running community, I just need a running approach. I need to run my races ferociously and be unafraid. I think when I toed the line at Two Oceans, I was a bit timid, my strategy conservative. I was not lining up going for broke. I was lining up playing it by ear. I don't regret my approach at all, but see now where I can work on for the next time.

I tossed my clothes in van and trotted over to the startline. Nick and Adriaan were suppose to be around to escort me to the front for media, pictures and a good position, but I was unable to find them, so I just tucked in to the front of the A corral a few seconds before they let the B corral move forward. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder with people. For 12 minutes, I just stood there hoping that when the gun went and the pack charged that I would stay on my feet. 

The most beautiful thing to me right before the race was when they sang the national anthem "Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika". Everyone around me raised there voices and sang loudly and unabashedly. When the singing was over, we all braced ourselves and with a bang, we were off.

I am not use to being in such a big crowd and I also knew that I had no idea how fast the leaders, mainly Elena Nurgalieva (one of the Russian twins), would go out. Elena and her twin (who was not running due to injury) have won the race a bunch of times. I knew I wanted to stick with her if it was comfortable and at the very least, whatever I did, not go out in front of her. 

Huge masses of people (ok men) took off like it was a sprint. I zigzagged around looking for some space and finally managed to spot Elena and the rest of the leading ladies. We fell into a pack of about 8, along with about 30 guys who were determined to pace off of us. Pretty soon we were joined by a small army of cyclists all clad in matching Garmin kits and they were trying to do a head count of the top ladies in the pack.

It took me a while to find my groove. I was hanging out at the back of the pack but found that I was having to significantly alter my stride to accommodate for the shorter runners in front of me. About 7km into the race, I hit the brakes for a minute and let myself get out of the back of the pack and have some room to stretch my legs.


There was ample water on the course, so I grabbed a pouch (like a water ballon) every other stop or so, whenever I was feeling in need of it. Soon it started pouring rain and I settled in for the long haul. At this point, I was still not sure how I felt. I knew there were some big hills ahead and I was uncertain how a big climb would feel immediately before and right after the marathon mark. I resolved to just play it smart and not run outside of myself. I made a conscious decision to run my own race and let the pack go if they pushed.

I was never at a loss for someone to run with. From the time the rain started at 12k until we began up Little Chapman, I was accompanied by a Swiss runner and a experience South African runner. We chatted, grabbed waters for one another and laughed at the ridiculous amount of rain that was falling. At one point we had to run out of the road onto the sidewalk to escape the completely flooded road. The Nedbank folks had handlers out on course at 27k and 36k and I grabbed another batch of Gu's from them each time.

We started to head up the long approach to Little Chapman (which is about 2-3km of 2% grade), it then pitches up much more steeply along a winding coastal road. My South African friend bid me farewall as he prepared to dig in for the climb. I felt good, so I kept motoring on and found a new group to run with. On some of the switchbacks I could see the lead women's pack a few minutes ahead and felt good about where I was. I was nearly 35k into the race and felt like I was just getting warmed up. I was relaxed and comfortable.

I fell into step with a fellow named Hans and we pushed our way to the top. Nearing the top, I caught up to a female runner who had been dropped from the pack. It gave me a nice boost of energy and I hit the top feeling very confident. The next 7k run you right back down the other side of the hill into Hout Bay where the marathon mark is. Running with Hans, I was very careful to heed all the warnings I'd been given and not trash my quads running too hard downhill. The kilometers clicked by quickly and I breezed through the marathon mark somewhere around 2:50. I had initially planned to possibly try and run as fast as 2:45 through the marathon mark, but the weather and the way the race unfolded lead me to be more restrained. I didn't feel like I was racing. I just felt like I was running along, enjoying the cheers from the spectators (to me there were a ton, but evidentially, when its not pouring, the course is lined) and clicking off kilometers. My brain wouldn't allow me to think about the race itself for some reason, it was only allowing me to focus on getting up and over Constantia Nek, the biggest climb of the day. It seemed my whole effort was moderated to get me to the top of the hill with minimal suffering. 

After the marathon mark, I began the climb to the top. I didn't back off on my effort level and put my rain soaked head down to dig in. Pretty early on the ascent, I was passed by Adinda Kruger who was 3rd in 2010. She looked super strong and so I didn't make any attempt to go with her (and her husband who was pacing her the whole way). I had resolved to run my own race up to this point, why would I change that now. It was the first time in the entire race that I felt a slight twinge of competitiveness. I told myself, "I'll get her on the down".

Constantia surprised me or maybe I surprised Constantia because I cruised up the hill very well and arrived at the top feeling good. Really good. Right at the top is the Nedbank Green Mile and I was cheered through an army of supporters and over the top. I waved my arms wildly and incited the crowd into a frenzy.

The slight twinge of competitiveness became a flipped switch. I was at the top. It was game on. Just like that, I had a moment where I realized that I had been running way too easy and I had way too much left. I also knew that the majority of the last 8km were downhill. The slight uphills were short and sweet and since I had nothing but energy to burn, I began the chase.

I tossed aside my remaining gels and turned into a hunter. I knew that the leader(s) were about 5 minutes ahead as of 48km, so I could only be sure that Adinda was close enough to catch. I began flying. I was possessed. My legs didn't hurt, the previous kilometers melted away, feeling like a simple warm-up to get me to the point of this tempo workout.

I hammered down the hill and spotted Adinda just ahead, now joined by one of the Garmin clad cyclists. I knew I was in 7th place at that point and on a slight uphill just past the 50k mark (which I went through in 3:23, a 50k PR), I passed Adinda and left her behind. She seemed to be spent and didn't try to keep up with me. I kept pushing, harder, harder, harder. I wanted to squeeze every last saved ounce of energy out of my legs. I knew I was strong enough to sustain the steep downhill pounding so I urged myself on.

And then I spotted my next prey. I was able to identify the next woman up ahead because she had her own bike escort (I had one at this point as well). I pushed to catch up with her and flew past her without a sound. I was into 5th place and she could not move to keep up with me. I rounded the next bend and spotted 4th place up ahead. I cracked a joke to my bike pacer about going in for my next kill and I swept past her in a turn, moving in to 4th place. I was ecstatic. I had gone from being overly conservative to back in it. I knew I had more in me and I also knew that the last two kilometers were rolling uphill and I would need to be ready to run eyeballs out to the finish. I was nearing the turn on to the highway which marked the end of the downhill and the final push to the finish line when I saw her- 3rd place. 

In that moment, I had to learn how to race. I knew nothing of how she was feeling, how much fight she had left and how my move on her would effect her. I knew I had to go by her with authority and not give her the chance to hang around. I used my ninja skills to silently approach from behind and then kicked passed her in a bold move. I pushed and pushed and pushed and didn't look back. I couldn't look back. I had to urge myself ever forward and not show fear. I had no fear, I felt too good to feel fear. I knew in my heart there was no way that she had enough to keep up with me feeling that way. I was flying. 

I didn't relent. I just pushed until with 1/2 kilometer to go, I looked over my shoulder and she was long gone. I kicked up my pace and shot off the road onto the grass at University of Cape Town which was now a complete mud pit and tip toed my way to the finish line in 3:47:29. Good for third place and a huge late race comeback. Crossing the line, I felt a deep abiding sense of satisfaction in my accomplishment and in my race.

I was quickly ushered into the press room to answer questions at the press conference, then off to pee in a cup for drug testing. The rest of the day flew by in a flurry of socializing, awards ceremonies, and dodging the rain and mud puddles.

Looking back on this race now, I realize that I barely tapped my potential in this race. And that is ok. It is awesome to think that I am still in a place in my running where I can learn more, do more, race differently. I have room for growth. I played this race very conservatively because I had no idea how to wrap my head around everything: the course, the distance, the pace, the competition. In the end, I ran one hell of a gutsy race and a flawless finish. I am stoked, so stoked to have made it onto the podium in such a huge race. I don't think I have ever come in 3rd place in an international race or a race with 9,000 people. Two Oceans was just the beginning. Now I have my sights on Comrades and I am excited and nervous to see what I can do at it; the world's biggest ultra!

 Nedbank teammate in the top 10!

Ladies Top 10

Some fun post race adventures before getting on my flight:









I came here by: Uthando

The following poem is one I wrote for my Honors thesis under Professor Linda Bierds after returning home from three months living in Cape Town, South Africa.  Today, I journey back there and this journey is much more to me than just another race. It is a return to find an important part of myself.


I came here by: Uthando



I came here by two: they were barefoot and shy, they held to the outer edge of the circle of older basketball players like the shanties, dilapidated shacks and streets made of dust held the
lush green oasis of the Peace Park.
Everyone was watching the coaches talking,
while they watched me with expressions
I cannot unravel; they gained
courage and divided and conquered me,
one to each side of me, head on hip,
my hands reaching down to cup the
sides of their faces; they each took my hands
and kissed them softly with little lips that seemed
to have only known their mothers and
fathers, they kissed my hands with knowledge like children grown old in too few years; I picked
them up in my arms off the cool wet grass,
one to each hip and carried them away
with me as far as I could, across the sanctuary,
yet not crossing from grass to dust.
I carried them back again, away from the sun’s heat
into the cool shade of the lemonwood tree,
staring into their dark brown eyes and saying
nothing because there was no language
between us, they kissed me on my pale white cheeks and I on their deep black foreheads until someone said we have to go now; I placed them on the ground, waved goodbye and I watched them run behind the car, so
as not to be left behind. But it was I who was left behind. 



copyright 2003 Devon Crosby-Helms

Hungry hungry hippo

On Robben Island, 2003. Yes that is me. 

Photos in this post are from my time in South Africa in 2003.

Inevitably at some point during taper week the following conversation will take place:

Me: "I feel fat"
Nathan: "Taper crazy"
Me: "No really, I am feel like all I am doing is eating! I am going to be a hippo before I get to the start line"
Nathan: "Taper crazy"
Me: "No you aren't listening, I am stuffing myself. I just can't stop eating."
Nathan: "Yeah, you are getting really fat on all that butternut squash you are eating."
Me: "I hate racing. I am never racing again."
Nathan: "I loooove you. Taper crazy."

No matter how perfectly you plan your taper, or how precisely you execute it, chances are, at some point you will feel tired, sore, fat and out of shape, all of this will likely be accompanied by a ravenous, insatiable appetite. In other words, exactly how you should feel during taper. 

Despite racing 18 marathons and 28 ultras since I did my first race back in 2003 when I lived in Cape Town, I have yet to really make friends with this aspect of taper. I can know its coming, steel myself against it, but somehow some proliferation of these feelings occurs. I often ponder how nice it would be to arrive on race day not feeling like this. But I know, deep down, that these feelings and distractions are actually a vital part of getting to the start line with my mind and body right.


When I break it down, the hungry, hungry hippo I become during my taper (of any duration, usually a two week taper), makes a lot of sense. I come in to taper off of really high mileage, high intensity weeks. I feel primed and like I could do a little bit more, not exhausted or in need of a taper. Just one step removed. Coming off 100-120 mile weeks into a period of comparative rest allows your body the space to feel tired, sore, the flood gates of hunger opened. It is a necessity of a good taper not to be restrictive, to nourish your body to give it strength for the race and to recover from the work. I keep my diet super clean during taper, but there is really little departure from my regular day-to-day diet than usual.

The fat and out of shape feeling that accompanies the ravenous hunger is a little mind trick that comes out of simply having more time on my hands and nothing to do with it. When I start cutting back mileage, I am spending less time running and more time in my own head. I don't necessarily fill up that new found time with stuff and instead try to do what you are suppose to do in taper: rest. 


All of these things are crappy to think and feel, no one enjoys doubting them self or berating them self or questioning their training. The longer I race, the more I recognize this whole thing as a neurotic preparation process. Feeling like a hungry, hungry hippo who is utterly destroying my careful preparation through an imperfect taper process, destroys any unconscious expectations on myself and mentality prepares me to have whatever kind of day is in store for me. It makes me more present, because I ride the spectrum from feeling super fit and primed to feeling completely incapable, and therefore have no choice but to just accept my fate. Usually by race day, I am simply at a point where I say "we'll see how it goes".

Tapering is not a fun process. It is a necessary process however and absolutely vital to going into a race fully prepared. While I may never embrace the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies taper, I am slow learning to recognize the patterns, not fight it and let it produce the result it needs to.

I may still feel like a hungry, hungry hippo (yes, I know that I am not), but I as I enter my final week of taper, I am embracing the process, instead of fighting it. I am preparing to do battle, to enjoy the heck out of myself at Two Oceans in Cape Town running for the Nedbank Team, to return to where my running career (as an adult) began and to explore what is possible.

Besides, hippos are super cute.


Limits

Doing 16x400 on the Treadmill in Seattle
Photo by Jonathan (clearly)

It feels like only yesterday that I was sprinting the finish at Napa Valley Marathon securing the win and breaking a 20 year old course record by a mere 7 seconds. Since then I have been both exploring and knowing my limits.

I have been reading the book Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald and not only is it a fantastic read, but it is also helping me have the confidence to believe I know myself and to listen to my body. Over the last year, I have worked incredibly hard with my coach and in my running to really develop a method and rhythm that works for me. I have come to realize that I tolerate high mileage well and that I adapt to intense training pretty quickly (Fitzgerald talks about this in his book). I have also found that shorter training cycles work for me and prevent me from burning out. Looking back on the last year of training, I can also see that after a race, whether A race or otherwise, I usually need about a week to really get my head straight and my mojo going again. This is why having a digit running log is great, you can map the peaks and valleys quite clearly.

Napa Valley Marathon was suppose to be a controlled effort used as a precursor to the upcoming Two Oceans race in South Africa. It was a great race and the perfect boost in my training. Despite it being "training" or qualifying it that way in my head, I wasn't ready to plunge immediately back into hard training. It took me a week. I ran lightly and only as far as felt excited to do. I took naps. I skipped my long run when I really, really wasn't into it. And for once, I cut myself some slack about it. I figured it was best to know my limits and not push through and have a bad run. Taking that extra day off really refreshed me and by Monday morning, March 12th, I was ready to drop some serious intensity and serious mileage. 

Last week I hammered. I ran in crappy, nasty rainy weather. I went to Seattle to cheer on my friends at Chuckanut 50k and I ran on a treadmill to do my intervals because the weather wouldn't stay calm enough for me to do them outside. I ran as hard as I could for as long as I could on the Alter-G. I pushed my limits and just when I thought I was at my limit, I pushed a bit more just to make sure. I ran 119 miles last week and got in some high quality tempo and interval work. I had a decent long run and was satisfied with how the week went.

By the end of the week, I was definitely walking a fine line of being at or over my limit. Running on the Alter-G at faster than my 400 meter speed for a few miles at a time had my hamstrings tight and sore. A lingering sore spot in my foot (from Napa) became more and more painful. I walked on the edge of that limit and took a risk of it being too much. Thankfully, it wasn't.

Monday I took a much needed rest day and Tuesday I only did one run in the afternoon after having my massage therapist Scott go to town on my legs. The run felt good and I enthusiastically hammered out a very tough 8x800 in 2:36-2:40 pace on Wednesday. Thursday I hit the Alter-G again for a progression run and was flying along at 5 minute pace after 45 minutes of sub 5:30. It was awesome. 

Next week taper begins for Two Oceans and I feel like I have done all that I can do this training cycle to prepare myself. I have pushed my limits and I have also respected my limits. I have learned a bit more about myself and started to actually recognize patterns in my own training. I look forward to continuing to chase and push my limits and see what can be uncovered.