Redefining self

Photo credit: John Medinger

I was at the track on Tuesday to take on my first really hard workout since coming back from my injury. The last great (and just plain last) workout I had at the track was in August, so I was feeling pretty intimidated about the 5x1600m at 10k pace with 2 min recovery. I didn't think I could do it, frankly and tried to emotionally prepare myself for it to suck. Nevertheless, I laced up my flats, braved the horrible windy, rainy weather and started running. 

The first lap I was thinking "wow, this is great! I love this! I can do this."
Second lap: "I can't imagine doing this 4.5 more times. How am I going to through this?!?!"
Third lap: "Ok, just make it through this one and I can modify the next one, if I have to. Just hold on."
Fourth lap: "Wheeeeeee, I'm almost done. I can do this, I can do this! Look at me fly."

And so went all 5 intervals. I rocked it. I hit my paces even in the face of a harsh headwind. But even still I had to talk myself through each and every lap. Struggle, fear failure, triumph. When it was over, pure satisfaction. I love these kind of workouts because they scare me, challenge me and push me to knew heights. There is always the possibility of failure in them, but success is always within reach if I really push myself.

This year has been one filled with change. Often times, it has felt like a perpetual track workout where everything involved felt challenging, scared me or ran the risk of complete failure. This year's changes, like these track workouts, is something I have chosen to undertake. I have faced these things knowing that it would be hard, I would fail, I would triumph, I would doubt and would rise.

My life, my path and who I am is being redefined through these changes.  I got married, moved to a different town and together with my husband, started working on opening our own cafe. My life a year ago had such a different set of priorities, a much lesser sense of complication. Running and training was my highest priority. We lived a simpler life: where shall we go run this weekend, who can join us, what shall we eat after we run? These were the things that fundamentally mattered to us. And the fact of the matter is: they still do.  Running, food and friendship remain the driving forces in our life. But now, our priorities are different.

For me the priority shift does mean redefining how I see myself. Going in to the new year, I have no idea how the opening of our cafe will affect my ability to run and race. Running is a huge part of who both Nathan and I are, but so is opening the cafe, we are passionate about the food we are bringing to our community  and we are all in on making that be a huge success. Just like getting married, just like moving to a new place, it changes things and I am now working to discover what it all means to me, how I see the world and who I am. I don't have the answers yet as to how these challenges and changes affect my life, my priorities and my sense of self. I know that, no matter what, I am pursuing the things that I am passionate about and going after them with vigor. Who I am and who I become through process are exciting to discover.

ING NYC Marathon race report

 My pre-race inspiration.

Two weeks ago, I was out jamming on a 35 mile combo trail-road-trail run ready to overlook and train through the ING NYC marathon. Somewhere along the line, I had decided that running JFK 50 mile 13 days after NYC marathon was the more important goal. I was going to train through NYC and take myself down a path, I see now, I did not want to go down. Thankfully I had an epiphany and was able to realign my goals and path before making a huge mistake. I took JFK off my schedule and set about tapering for NYC since there was not a whole lot of marathon specific training I could do at that point. 

The NYC marathon is an incredible event and I was lucky enough to be in the elite women's field and the amazing folks at NYRR even paid my whole way. I am no one in the marathoning world, so the fact that they did that made me feel incredibly honored. In order to show my appreciation for that honor, I realized it was best to not just train through the race. I wanted to, at the very least, show up rested and enthusiastic. That is all I could ask of myself. I had no expectations because I didn't have any specific training for the race to give me an idea of what I was capable of. Sure all summer long I was hammering out sub 2:55 marathons in training runs routinely, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, except that I could live up to my goal of "not making a fool of myself". People would ask me before the race what my goal time was and I could only shrug. Up to the second the gun went off, I had no plan of how I was going to pace myself. I had resolved to just see how I felt.

I arrived in NYC on Thursday afternoon, got settled at the Hilton where the NYRR had put me up with all the other athletes and got settled in. I went for a perfect sunset run in Central Park, the sun had dipped down behind all the buildings and I was treated to a perfect dusk run. I then met Brett and Larissa for a really delicious meal late in the evening, complete with 3 orders of Brussels Sprouts. Friday and Saturday were all about killing time and not walking around too much. On Friday, I probably walked too much. I did a run in the morning, then walked about 5 miles over the course of the day, hitting up the expo to visit friends and going down to Chelsea Market for a good cup of coffee and lunch. I was able to meet up with a friend from grad school and reunite after not seeing each other since I was last in NYC! 

I felt exceedingly average on my runs in Central Park on Friday and Saturday but wasn't particularly concerned. I had no nerves. I was calm. The New York Road Runners run a fantastic event and I really felt that I was looked after exceedingly well even though I am not a big name runner. All of the elite athlete coordinators and race folks were awesome. Seriously good people who work their butts off to make the huge undertaking of this race go. It is an impressive feat. Immense gratitude to the folks of NYRR.


I appreciated the extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings time as I have a hard time adjusting to east coast time for some reason. I got in a solid 7 hours of sleep, woke up around 5am, ate my typical gluten free oats, peanut butter and banana and got dressed. I had decided to wear a bold outfit: Paisley boy shorts and matching paisley sleeves. My whole outfit in fact came from the fantastic gals at Running Skirts. I had planned on wearing a skirt for the race, but at the last minute decided to rock the super short shorts. There was a part of me that shied away from the shorts because I felt very body conscious around a bunch of 5 foot tall tiny little elite runners. But I decided that was a bad reason to not wear the shorts. Fact of the matter is, I know I am fit and lean. And just because I tower over my competition doesn't make me a giant ogre. I donned my kit and headed down to the elite breakfast. I grabbed some coffee and chatted with some of the other runners. We then boarded special buses and had a police escort all the way to the start line.

I thought arriving at the start line would get me nervous. I thought it would get me hyped, but I just felt present. I just felt like it would be over before I could even blink and I didn't want to cloud the moment with anxiety. Before I knew it we were being ushered out and up to the bridge for our start. I did some very light jogging and strides. 

The weather was perfect. Clear, cool. No hat or gloves felt necessary to me. With all eyes and cameras (and believe me there were A LOT of cameras) on us, we were sent off across the bridge. The field strung out within what seemed like feet and I just settled into my own pace. I just ran.

I knew there were several women in the field aiming for "somewhere under the B standard" and I figured that sounded nice and I had about 7-8 women with me for the first mile, uphill. By mile 3, I was running pretty much only with Camille Herron with only a few women in our sights up ahead. I knew that I would likely be running a lot of the race alone, which is tough. But I was mentally prepared just to hang out with myself. After a few miles, Camille sped up and I just kept on clicking off the even splits. I wasn't really looking at my watch but I was averaging just about 6 min pace. And I felt way comfortable. After I passed through the 10 mile mark with this average pace, I contemplated whether or not I should slow down. It felt easy but I knew the second half was much more difficult. I decided not to slow down. I decided to not be scared and to just go for it. I decided that I needed to not be afraid to take risks, to go to the well and hurt, bonk or blow up.

Thankfully somewhere around mile 9 or 10, I was able to hook up with another runner named Jane from Australia. She was welcome company and after a few miles, we were working well together, cranking along. The crowds were amazing and it was cool to have my name on my bib. I even heard one "go fast foodie" which made my day completely (Thanks Megan!).

 Thanks to Brightroom for the photos.

The miles all blur together until about half way, which I hit in 1:19:35. And then came the hills. Every bridge we crossed was another hill to climb and after the halfway point there are several. I kept my effort steady and Jane and I worked our way up and over each bridge. Nearing mile 16, I started to fall back off of her a little bit, but think my body just needed a second to let the GU absorb. We came off the bridge and onto the famous first avenue. The energy was frenetic. The fans were going crazy and I could understand why this spot is such a trap, encouraging you to expend energy you will need (really need) later. Jane and I stayed calm and headed uptown for our quick trip into the Bronx.  

I made a decision somewhere after mile 18. I decided when I was going to go. I had been thinking about it and when I ran LA, I left myself unleash with 3 miles to go. Subsequently, I was able to drop my pace to 5:44 pace (thanks downhill!). This time, I wanted to go earlier. I wanted to gamble, I wanted to not play by the ultrarunning playbook: stay as comfortable for as long as possible, don't hurt. I knew that what I wanted out of this race was to learn how to run a better marathon. So I decided that leaving the Bronx, I would go (about mile 21). I have really only run on the edge of "I don't know if I can hold this" once in recent memory and that was at the OR show's uphill challenge. I wasn't going to try to bust out the last 5.2 miles anaerobic, but I was going to run on the edge. And on a course like this, that is a daunting challenge. Some of the most formidable hills are at the end. The hills just keep coming and don't relent.

We dipped into the Bronx and I could tell that I was soon going to be running alone. Jane slowed a bit, even off our more reasonable pace (a few 6:2x miles) and I accelerated away from her. I am glad we got to share some miles together because it made a huge difference for both of us. Even with the crazy crowds of NY, it is lonely running by yourself.

Photo courtesy Running Skirts

From there, I just did work. I pushed myself. I accelerated as best I could up the hills and pushed myself. I knew the men were coming since I was being passed by police car after police car, but I didn't care. I was flying.

I knew I was having a good day. I could feel it. I was swept along on the deafening cheers of the crowds. It is hard to describe the crowds that lined the course. It was amazing. And then it was just me being pushed along by the crowd.

 Photo courtesy Running Skirts

Coming up 5th avenue, heading up a steady uphill, I finally got the rabbit that would give me yet another gear. Usually in the late stages of a race, I get to look forward to doing some serious "chick-ing" of guys. Well, not possible in this race. Instead, I spotted another female competitor ahead of me and set my sights on reeling her in. I slowly gained on her and finally caught her just after we entered the park and blew by her, saying a few encouraging words in the process. 

The final 2.2 miles, I hammered as hard as I could. They were no 5:44s like LA, but the last two miles have some good roll to them. I just kept on jamming. I was trying to make myself hurt, I was trying to break myself. Trying to see just how much I could squeeze out.

An experience I will treasure: 
Central park lined with fans & just me on the road.
Photo courtesy Running Skirts

I dipped out of the park and then came back in along Colombus Circle. When I saw the 400 meters to go sign, I thought of my track workouts and regularly ripping out low 70s repeat after repeat. I pushed to get as close as I could to a track workout. I was corralled to the side for my finish along the fence and crossed the finish line in 2:42:44. It is likely that no one there much noticed my finish. After all, Meb crossed the finish line seconds before me as the first American man. But not being noticed didn't matter to me. I had run a great race. 

My finish (and Meb's too)

At first, I was not sure how I felt about my race. I didn't feel cathartic like LA. I wasn't disappointed in my time by any means since it was a PR by over a minute!!! Instead, I just felt intensely satisfied. And even more so, I felt excited for the possibilities. I can into NY marathon with no expectations for a reason. I knew I had the strength to run a marathon, but wasn't sure of my speed. This race showed me that I have a lot, a lot, a lot of potential to do something really great not just in Houston but beyond. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of my potential in the marathon. While some of the other competitors close in time to me had collapsed at the finish or were seriously hobbled, I simply felt like I usually do: I have 10 seconds of tired, take one deep breathe and then I'm good! I even jogged back the mile plus to the hotel from the elite tents at the finish line for good measure.

The race was over in a blink of an eye. It almost seems surreal to me at the moment I am writing this, thinking- did I really just do that? I absorbed every moment I could of the course, the people, the race and am so glad that I decided to not overlook the race or the experience. It made it all the more special to PR on a course that is such a big stage and so tough. This race gave me something that is invaluable moving forward towards running at the Olympic Trials: a glimpse into my own potential. I haven't even started scratching the surface yet. I know it, I could feel it as I ran through the streets of NYC. It makes me so excited to have such a great race rather unexpectedly and to think about the possibilities in front of me. 

After facing down a brilliant field on the world stage and finishing 21st overall out of nearly 17,000 women and 5th American, I feel like I can dream bigger, set the bar higher and not shy away from any challenge I set before myself. Thanks NYC.

Splits (from my coach Howard):
6:05 avg for first 3.  First split was listed at 18:14 for 3 miles
12:58 (miles 23-24)
81 last 400 (5:24 pace)

Friend of faliure

Sometimes you have to feel like this (photo by Darryl Schaffer)

In order to feel like this (photo from TrailRunner Magazine)

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. -Michael Jordan (Thanks to Jen Pattee for posting that quote recently)

I for one, have come to a place in my life where I am a friend of failure. I do not seek out only things I know I can succeed at, I risk failure in my endeavors, I try to do thing I am not certain I can do. And when the time comes that I fail to achieve a goal, a dream or a benchmark I had sought, I feel it all, mourn the failing and then strip it all away and find the lesson. I even fail in executing that process every time or perfectly, but I am trying. 

I am learning and growing- the biggest achievement in ceasing to beat myself up over my failings. I am imperfect, so what?!? Instead of seeing that as a bad thing, I have been learning to see it as an opportunity. More opportunity to grow, more opportunity to continue to seek, push and explore? Yes please.

Life is a journey, not a destination and I am certain that I have failed to take the "right" turn many a time on my path. But what I have learned is that even failing to make the right choice, the right turn or getting yourself completely lost is only a failure if you refuse to learn the lessons along the way. You can always work your way back to where you want to be, you can always be found. 

Minimus Maximus

Nathan cruising in to the Finish of Napa Valley Marathon in 3rd place, 2:33:07

This past weekend I witnessed something awesome, something inspiring and something that made me think. On Sunday, I was up at the Napa Valley Marathon cheering on The Baker as he raced his first marathon since October 2009. This was a race he had been really training hard for, at the expense on time on the trails which is really saying something, and was seeing what he could really do if he specifically trained for the marathon. I set him up with a training schedule and a set of paces to workout at. His key runs were based off of a 2:35 marathon time pace chart and routinely in his track workouts he was well ahead of his splits. This pace was also well ahead of his 2:43:xx PR but was also the first time he had actually trained for a marathon since starting ultrarunning. This time, it wasn't a marathon followed by a 24 hour race or some such deal. He seemed primed and ready according to the workouts he was clocking. A few times on long runs our paths would intersect but he would leave me in the dust like I was clocking a 9 minute mile instead of a low 6 which I was actually running at. He would say his workouts were "ok" or "not bad" but I never got the sense that he was really confident in his training (admittedly it was a short training schedule with a hard load, not exactly confidence inspiring, but nonetheless).

When we headed up to Napa on Sunday in the dreary rain, I was not sure how he was feeling. He didn't seem nervous or excited, just his usual more stoic self. I flashed back to Burning River 100 miler last summer where his sister Kristin and I had to kick him out of the car practically and wondered if I would have to do the same in order to entice him out in the rain. But he hopped out of the car and off he went. I went on my own run, met Brett and Larissa for coffee and then headed out to mile 8.5 to wait and cheer.

I can't say I am surprised by what I witnessed. Nathan came cruising along, smiling and being goofy with the little crowd at the bridge there. He was flying, zooming past us less than 49 minutes into the race. In fact, I think it was less that 48. We zoomed to our next appointed spot, mile 18.5 where we barely had to wait for him (especially since I went WAY past where we needed to turn). Again, he came up smiling and being goofy and moving seriously fast. He was not slowing down and I hastened to make it to the finish line to cheer him in. 

It was like crewing for an ultra on hyperspeed. The race was over before my hair was even dry from running at 5am in the rain. He zoomed into the finish line in 3rd place having consistently moved up through the race and PR'd majorly running 2:33:07. It was astonishing. He smiled the whole way and while the first thing he said was something like, "I am so happy I get to go back to the trails now", I don't think he spent the whole race or all of his training miserable and suffering. He did what he loved: he just ran. It was beautiful to watch.

Admittedly, watching his race made me feel a whole host of things: pride, happiness, love, joy as well as some mixed emotions. The mixed emotions are a product of my experience at Houston. Watching Nathan, I said to myself, I want to have a day like that. Not just a day where I run seriously fast, but a day in which I don't spend the entire race fighting with something whether physical or emotional. I had been hoping that Houston was going to be my day but it was quite the opposite. It was a lesson teacher, an equalizer and has made me think a great deal about where my head is and will be leading up to LA next week.

Nathan's run was inspiring to me because it reflected something that I DIDN'T have going into Houston. Nathan didn't have any expectations ostensibly, he just went and said, I'll see the day I have, hope its good. At Houston, I had great expectations. My training had been going good, I had been running fast and Strands kept telling me I could run a 2:42 marathon. I felt like I was ready to run well under the standard. I felt that despite getting sick race week and having stomach issues the day before the race that come race morning, everything would suddenly feel easy. 

Though I hadn't raced a road marathon in a while, I can remember the feeling of starting CIM back in 2008 and thinking for mile after mile after mile "wow this feels easy". I built up this expectation that come race day things would click and I would have a "Devon Day". I think this expectation even a more diluted simmering under the surface version of itself was hugely detrimental. When the going got tough when I didn't think it should be, it mentally screwed me. I became hugely reactive in that race. I recently read a great article called "Why You Should Expect the Worst", which basically summed up my experiences at my best and worst races. At my best races, I came in genuinely uncertain about what the day would hold for me. I usually had diminished expectations for one reason or another. I always felt a comfortable uncertainty, I relinquished my control over what would happen and hoped for the best. I genuinely didn't expect a thing and was prepared for the possible outcomes. At Houston I wasn't. I wasn't prepared to navigate a bad day, I was not okay with any outcome other than meeting the standard. Ultimately, I derived very little pleasure out of running my second fastest marathon ever and my fastest in more than 2 years. Matt Fitzgerald writes: 

Sports psychology as it is commonly practiced is a form of positive psychology, based on happy talk and can-do spirit. That stuff has its place, but widely recommended techniques such as visualizing yourself performing perfectly in races and feeling supremely awesome while doing it may actually hinder performance instead of helping it, because they may send you into races with unrealistic expectations. Going into races with confidence in your ability to achieve your goals is a good thing, because true confidence is inherently realistic. But going into races expecting to feel any better than wretched in pursuit of maximum performance is a form of self-sabotage. Expect every race to hurt like hell and you will race better.- Matt Fitzgerald "Why You Should Expect the Worst"

On Sunday, I was excited to watch Nathan run the race he was prepared to run. He was fit, he had prepared well, he didn't come with any predetermined idea of how things were going to go. He just ran. He smiled, he enjoyed, he challenged himself. Reflecting upon watching him and looking forwards towards my own race I am faced with those whirling set of mixed emotions that came about from watching such an inspiring race. I was faced with the reality that I have lost a great deal of confidence after Houston. I am faced with the reality of struggling with keeping up the same intensity of austere living, though by most standards I am still a monk (or ninja). I am struggling with the toll of so much hard training and so little downtime. I actually understand what it means to consider that I might not reach my goal. I have finally minimized and destroy my expectations. I've maximized view to be okay with a whole host of outcomes. I have finally gotten back to believing one of my mottos from one of my favorite authors, Dan Millman: "No Resistance, No Stress".

Think about it: when we have expectations, and things don’t go the way we expect (which happens quite often, as we’re not good prognosticators), we are disappointed, frustrated. It’s our expectations that force us to judge whether something is good or bad.Leo Babauta "The Elements of Living Lightly".

As I sit here, tapering away, thinking towards race day, I am thinking about last Sunday. I am holding the image of Nathan's joyous smile as he clipped along. Ultimately, at this point, what happens on race day will happen. I have done the work, I have fueled and slept, run hard and easy, stretched and sat in ice baths.  And now, I just have to do my best to be present, take it as it comes and most importantly, enjoy the hell out of the ride. Race day is a celebration of all that has come before it. It is the ultimate practice in being present and frankly the only thing that can truly disappointment me on that day is if I forget that.