Remember that time I signed up for a race, trained for the race, and then failed to read my emails (yes I am one of those people who has thousands of unread messages and no this does not keep me awake at night), which caused me to be unaware I could not pick up my race packet on race morning until 12 hours before the race and I didn’t get to pick up the packet? And then I raced anyway and I had a PR for the ten-mile distance but it wasn’t official? I sure do.
And remember how I love to run and I run for running’s sake but I’m also extremely competitive and no matter what kind of shape I’m in or how my training is going I’m always hoping to run faster than I did before? Well, that’s me in a nutshell, running-wise.
Training (a.k.a. Keep reading to find out if CrossFit helped my running)
I signed up for the Urban 10 Miler, same as I did back in 2013, but things were a little different this time. For one thing, I made it my business to read every single email from the race directors and I picked up my packet, as instructed, the day before.
I also trained a lot differently. In 2013, Sweet Pea was just over a year old and I’d had a fabulous post-baby comeback, ran the Santa Barbara half marathon that fall and had a major PR there. I was in some kind of post-baby/breastfeeding calorie burning bonanza, the likes of which I’ve (sadly) never seen before or since. I also wasn’t plagued with the issues I’ve been managing ever since Ladybug was born. Whether or not my 5’0″ body was meant to birth a 9 lb 6 oz baby is debatable but it seems clear that after nearly four years of attempts at physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and strengthening, nature is telling me I was never meant to carry her, deliver her, and return to running any more than 15-20 miles per week.
My baby (a.k.a. Ladybug) just turned four and I’ve decided to listen to my body’s cues and stop trying to force it to run more than it can handle. That began with a big break from running, beginning last April. With the exception of a summer 5k and any running I did as part of my CrossFit workouts, I did not run at all until January. I just wasn’t in the mood.
Since I started running again, the overwhelming majority of my runs have been easy (e.g. very few tempo runs, track sessions, or hill repeats). I’ve done a few workouts when my body felt good, but I haven’t tried to schedule track workouts, tempo runs, or hill repeats with a real strategy because I’m so burnt out having to change plans to accommodate some new (or old) ache, pain, or strain. Since last summer, I’ve been consistently CrossFitting about twice a week, teaching spin class once a week, running anywhere from zero to 3 times per week, and maybe biking, swimming, or hiking occasionally. In a typical week, I’d work out five to six times a week. I’ve also been doing core strength work regularly.
In comparison, in 2013 I was running 4-5 times a week, biking once or twice a week, doing some form of strength training approximately never, and working on my core when I felt like it, e.g. rarely.
I wasn’t sure if I had any business trying to run as fast as I did in 2013. On one hand, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I might be the weakest person at my gym but I can help Dan move the chicken coop, which is not something I could say a year ago. I can now do 5 pull-ups (in a row); a year ago I couldn’t even do one. On the other hand, I’ve never heard of a runner who uses pull-ups and deadlifts to gauge her running fitness. I had two data points:
-After three months of doing nothing but biking riding and CrossFit, my 5k speed had declined.
-During a recent track workout, my 800 speed was 10 seconds per 800 slower compared to last year.
Clearly, CrossFit and running are two very different sports… or are they?
In the ways that matter, they are exactly the same. They’re both about showing up and doing the work. They’re both about trying your best. They’re both about being the best version of you that you can be. They’re both about finding your limits and tolerating discomfort.
Would my determination to do pull-ups and pushups and lift heavy things translate into seeing an hour and twenty minutes on the clock at the finish line of a 10-mile road race? There was only one way to find out.
I slept horribly the night before the race but I took solace in the fact that the night before the night before is the most important night of sleep and I’d slept like a rock the previous night. As usual, I ate my pre-race breakfast of instant oatmeal and instant coffee. I added a scoop of whey protein powder to my oatmeal, which was unusual as a pre-race breakfast, but something I’ve been doing before workouts for a few months. You can read a little more about my nutrition strategy and the reasons behind it here.
I left the house and realized it was not just gray and cloudy, but it was actually raining. Like I could have used a hat with a bill, I was going to be freezing in my shorts, tank, top, and arm warmers, how did I not realize it was raining till now, raining. I was picking up friends on the way and I didn’t have time to go back in the house and get my accouterment so I told myself I can be uncomfortable for ten short miles, just make the best of it.
Because the ten milers were starting the race at the 16-mile mark of the full marathon happening that day, they had us start in waves, three people at a time. After a short warm-up (during which I was pleased to find my legs felt snappy despite), I lined up with my wave. When I registered, I said I thought I’d finish in 1:25. Though I hoped to do 1:20, I said 1:25 because I knew that was achievable and because I much preferred the idea of starting out with people whom I’d eventually pass, rather than get passed when I was already physically spent.
I love the ten-mile distance because it’s so straightforward, and this race was no different; I had a plan and I followed it and it worked. The plan was super simple. I’d go purely by feel (not pace). The last thing I wanted to do was commit to an 8:00/mile pace for the first couple of miles, blow up and hate life for the next eight miles, not to mention having to pay $100 to do it. I wanted the first three miles to feel comfortably hard, the miles three to six or seven to feel pretty hard, and miles seven-ish to nine to feel horrible, and the final mile to feel like death and destruction, and I am proud to say I nailed it. I didn’t let myself look at my watch until exactly six minutes in, at which point my watch read .75 miles and I thought, “If I can just stay right here, I’m good.” And that’s what I did.
I made sure to let my watch display the elapsed time and the mileage, but not the current pace because that’s too distracting for me. I encouraged every single runner I saw, whether we were running opposite directions or if we were passing each other. Because I seeded myself at a slower pace than what I actually ran, the only people I remember passing me were doing the marathon relay. (It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out why some people were running really fast and holding sticks.) At every mile marker, I’d look at my watch, and though my math skills could use some work, it was clear, even to me, that I was killing it as far as pacing.
At the ninth mile marker my watch read 1:11 and change and as miserable as I felt—my legs were like two sticks of lead and my breath was coming out in gasps—I knew that I only had to run a nine-minute mile to make it to the finish line in time to meet my goal of 1:20. As I put one foot in front of the other I thought to myself, “This is what I came for.”
I came to feel this pain, to keep pushing when my body was begging me to stop, to see where the edge of my ability lies, and I was lucky and grateful to do it. Even on this gray miserable day, as my left arm warmer left rubbed against my side, creating a burning red crater where a layer or two of skin was supposed to be, even though I’m supposedly “middle-aged”, there was nowhere I would rather have been, nothing I’d rather have been feeling during that final mile.
I crossed the line in 1:19:01, a 7:54 pace, which was a 34 second PR, earning me fifth in my age group (women 30-39), and 15th woman overall. I was spent and I was happy.
Side note: I am now convinced that, as I wrote about for Colorado Runner Magazine, there’s something to be said for lifting heavy things as a time-efficient way to train to endurance sports when you have experience as an endurance athlete.