My worlds collided at the MV 20 miler that left me feeling exhilarated, relieved and I’ll admit it- overwhelmed. I was faced with an angry knee that had debunked my recent training, two athletes racing with goals of their own, a friend who I hadn’t seen in 3 years and an ex I hadn’t seen since well… the last time. Oh, and I had 20 miles to race. Why do I put myself in these situations? I’m a masochist. It’s the only damn explanation. Well, that and I’m addicted to running.
The MV 20 miler is a race of pride for many who are brave enough to go to Martha’s Vineyard in February and run 20 miles. The weather this time of year is a complete crapshoot. It could be 50 degrees and sunny with a light breeze, freezing rain and 40 degrees or 10 degrees and a blizzard. And not to mention the inevitable gusts of wind that lift you up and move you across the course when you run on that tiny strip of pavement that leads the way from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown. So who wants to run it next year??? I do. Why? Cause why the hell not!
This year mother nature must have decided to
punish and torture engender mental fitness within runners in some others part of the world as the 2018 MV20 miler hopefuls faced a day of light winds, 35 degrees and sun. Dare I say that it was near perfect running conditions? Yes, technically there was a strong headwind from miles 5-7 and 17-20 but I’m pretty sure that’s inevitable when you’re running on an island.
My athletes (Sarah and Mary Beth) and I arrived at the start around 10 am for an 11 am race start. I was a complete ball of nerves with a resting heart rate of 90 (when its usually 38-42). Don’t you love how technology can confirm that you are losing your shit? I know I do. Deep breath… and now another. I was worried about running 20 miles on a knee/ hip that while getting better had been giving me some serious grief in the previous two weeks. I was nervous about my athletes running their own races and achieving the performance they had trained for (mamas always worry). And yes, I was mildly freaking out about seeing my ex for the first time since October. The whole morning I felt like an overstimulated toddler who had stayed up past her bedtime: if you even looked at me the wrong way there was a strong chance I was going to burst into tears. There were simply too many feelings in my midst and I was having trouble processing them so quickly.
I retreated into myself and tried to simplify the quiet chaos that surrounded me, “You’re here to run. Just run.”
At the race start I joined up with my friend, Sarah Slater. An ultramarathoner who races (and often wins) 50 and 100 miles much more frequently than road races Sarah made an exception to hop in on the MV20 miler. Weeks ago my goal was try like hell to run 7:15s for all 20, but then my hip and knee started acting like jerks so my goal… umm…evolved to run with Sarah as fast as I could until my legs told me otherwise. I smart runner. 🙂 At the start we agreed to run 7:40-7:50 pace together for the first 12-13 miles and then empty the tank. We griped like mamas. We chitter chatted like girls. We ran like runners. The miles ticked away at a comfortable 7:30-7:35 pace (faster than we discussed, but it felt goooooood). We started to settle into the race and the paces dropped into the 720’s. Sarah kept saying, “too fast” but she was still conversational and her breathing wasn’t labored. I’m going to go out on a line and say that it was faster than Miss. Ultramarathoner thought she could run, but right in her wheelhouse of her current level of fitness. Sarah’s used to running 50+ miles of technical trails at a slower pace, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not strong enough to hit quick paces on the road.
At mile 14 our girl talk went from conversational to quiet. The race had just begun. My body was holding up and with six miles to go I was willing to start throwing down to see what my legs and mind could do. Miles 11, 12 and 13 were completed at a 7:19, 7:21 and 7:19 pace, respectively; these paces were far from comfortable, but manageable. My mental goal was to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Somewhere in mile 14 my mind flashed to a study described within the book I’m reading, Endure. It described two groups of athletes who either engage in low or high intensity workouts. The study revealed that pain tolerance increased by 41% with the group of athletes who engaged in high intensity athletics. Furthermore, athletes who set goals on the road and who are willing to tolerate pain for longer are subject to faster race results. During the race I translated this information as such: You are going to be uncomfortable. Discomfort doesn’t mean that you CAN’T. YOU CAN. So start believing. Embrace the discomfort and keep running. Fatigue is a state of mind.
I can’t emphasize enough the level of discomfort I experienced from mile 14 through 20. I was holding a 7:20 give/take pace and if I wanted to I could slow down. I could ease the discomfort at any moment if I wanted to. But the fact of the matter is that I didn’t want to. I was no longer running; I was racing. I used my mind to push through the final 6 miles of the race. My legs were tired. My body was beyond uncomfortable. But my mind was on point. I left Sarah (or so I thought) and I leaned into my pace to throw a 7:10 down for mile 14. I turned my attention to the athletes on the road ahead and started picking them off. Close the gap. Lean in, Kass. Focus on the mile you are in. Get to the next mile. Just get to the next mile. I chose to ignore the discomfort enveloping my body and focused on getting to the next mile, then then next mile. I saw another female runner ahead of me and told myself, She looks tired. She has run 15 miles too and she’s slowing down. Close the gap. Lean in. Was she tired? I have not a clue. Didn’t matter. I told myself that she was tired. Heck, I was physically tired. I silently pushed onward with an encouraging inner monologue at my side You have a 5k to go. Three miles, 21 minutes, about 5 songs. Focus. Hold the pace. Push. The final 5 miles were a series of rolling hills and I held on to a sub 7:20 as best as possible: 7:22, 7:15, 7:18, 7:13, 7:18 and 6:52.
During the final mile I noticed a female runner wearing bunny ears ahead of me. My personal self thought it was hilarious, but my runner-self was annoyed. I refused to be beat by a bunny-eared maven. PUSH LIKE HELL. YOU GET TO STOP IN 4 LAPS AROUND A TRACK, 3 LAPS, less than 4 minutes of running left. I did it. I caught the damn pink bunny and miraculously managed a 6:52 in the final mile. I crossed the finish line with a final time of 2:28:18 (7:25 splits) and nailed 6th place woman (2nds in my AG). Mere seconds after I finished Miss Slater rolled in!! SHE HELD ON LIKE A BOSS! I am so insanely proud of her. She told me she was maxing out her fitness at 7:30s. Liar! Haha. She has some serious fight in her. Sarah and I are currently in negotiations for future races … it’s possible I’ll do a few ultras with her if she does some road races with me :). I’m pretty sure we just want to hurt each other on our own turf. Muhahaha.
Inundated with so many emotions pre-race I am incredibly happy with the race results and the day. I had a blast hanging out with Sarah, survived coming face to face with the ex, am proud of my athlete’s efforts on the road and best of yet- my body didn’t blow up! Horray! In fact every day since the race my knee/hip has felt a little bit stronger. Maybe it’s the PT or the reduction in weekly mileage. All I can say is that I am starting to feel like myself on the road again. Phew!
If I learned anything during this race it is that the mind is an incredibly powerful muscle. In the final 6 miles I passed 5 other runners, three of whom were female and one within the final .25 of the race. I couldn’t have done that without being willing to be uncomfortable. I find it affable how willing I am to be uncomfortable on the road and yet not in life. Life’s uncertainty overwhelms me and yet the uncertainty during a race doesn’t seem uncertain at all. Rather, the uncertainty ins a race feels like a challenge. My runner self loves challenges. My other self not so much.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- why can’t we always be running? Life feels simple on the open road.
Cant stop, won’t stop.