Thursday, July 4, 2013

Post-Run Thoughts About My First Trail Race and Limitations

Limitations.  What are they really?  Do they exist to the extent we often believe they exist?  What beliefs do you hold about your limitations?

I have been challenging my beliefs about my limitations over the past week and a half at a startling rate for me.  Oh, sure, I have seen some of my perceived limitations dissolve before my eyes, but not to this extent, beginning with my first trail race on Saturday, June 22.

It was early in the morning, not quite the break of dawn, as we headed towards our destination in Cumming, GA.  We were on our way to pick up our race packets and ready ourselves for that first trail race.   Our training has typically been on paved road surfaces or concrete sidewalks with just a few trail runs.  My thoughts were to just get out there on the course and see how things went, not focusing on my pace or heart rate; rather, just allowing myself the experience.  I was successful in keeping my eyes off the heart rate screen, but not so much off the pace.  I ran with my daughter and we started out strong.  We actually started a little too strong, as we were swept into the flow of runners, but we managed to rein it in and drop down to a pace closer to our typical first mile speed.  It took some pushing down of the pride to do this, as most of the runners swallowed us up quickly and were gone (and we didn’t even start middle of the pack!).  I just kept reminding myself that we had 5.5 miles to run our race.

Well, this strategy paid off for us, because as time went on, still within the first mile, we began passing some of the same runners who had raced passed us over the start line and we never saw them again.  We passed a few handfuls more over the next two miles, some walking, some running, and, again, we kept our pace, overtaking them and staying in front until the end.

For the next mile or so, we were on our own, seeing only a few runners in front and behind us.  We stayed with a consistent, but fast (for me), pace as we pushed on over the course.  I was huffing and puffing pretty hard, but my body felt good, so I kept pushing those perceived limitations.  I knew I would either push past them and be able to keep my pace or I would hit a wall and have to slow down to finish.  What was not up for consideration was not finishing.  I knew I would finish if I had to run, jog, walk, or crawl across the line.  About this time, I looked up and saw my daughter with her right thumb up, pumping her arm up and down and I heard her say, “We got this, Mom!”  From that moment on, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would cross that finish line running.

Where I really felt the limitations being blown away was in the final mile when we passed a runner, who then immediately sped back past us, only to fall immediately behind us as we held our pace.  As we passed him the second time, I gave him a thumbs-up and said, “Great job!”  For the rest of that mile, he tried desperately to pass us.  I could hear him plowing up behind us, then fading back again, just to repeat this process many times over.  The pattern that emerged was one of being almost caught on the downhills, but then pulling away on the uphills.  I pushed myself to keep my pace, racing down the declines and powering up the inclines.  It was there, on those inclines, he couldn’t keep pace.  It was there, on those inclines, I found that I could keep my pace up.  It was there, on those inclines, I found that I had more energy and more heart than I thought possible.  When I thought I might back down, especially on the last significant climb, I steeled my resolve and drove my body up the hill, telling myself the entire way “I got this!  I got this!”  And, sure enough, I got it.  I raced over the finish line, completing the course in 1:04:58 for a pace of 11:49.  That 11:49 was a PR for me.  A big PR.  My best average pace time has been right around 12 minutes.  On the road.  With less severe elevation gain/loss.  For me, to PR on a trail run that was 5.5 miles with more elevation gain than I am used to felt fantastic.  To know I pushed past several perceived limitations felt even better.

As the week following the race unfolded, I found myself wanting to just ease back into the running, giving my body some time to recover from the exertion I put forth that Saturday.  Monday and Tuesday were typical run lengths for me, but my pace was way off at 13:19 and 13:34 min/mile, respectively.  My legs felt heavy, my body felt heavy, and I just didn’t want to run.  On Wednesday, I went for a shorter run of just two miles and still only managed a 13:16 pace.  Paltry, to say the least.  Thursday, I decided to wait until evening to run, even though I don’t like running in the evening.  I know, I know.  I was just putting off my run because, again, I didn’t want to go.  So, when I finally got out there, it was already getting dark and now I was questioning whether I was even going to get my run in before full darkness descended.

About a mile into the run, a slow rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance, but I decided to push on and get as much distance in as possible.  Less than a half mile later, another low rumble could be heard.  At this point, my two boys could be seen coming back down the path towards my daughter and me, since they had heard the thunder and thought it wise to turn around and go back home.  I wanted to get to the end of the trail we were on and thought it was possible to do so and still get back home before any storms came rolling in.  Boy, oh boy, was I wrong.  We made it to the end of the trailhead, turned around, and started back.  The end of the trailhead is about 1.8 miles from home.  Not a terrible amount of time away, though the times I had been running all week were certainly longer than I would normally take.  Less than a quarter mile on our way back down the trail a massive boom paired up with a sizzling snap, crackle, and pop, could be heard and seen overhead, as well as felt through my entire being.  Still under a lot of tree cover, I told the kids we needed to start pushing it hard to get out from under the trees because they can come down fast.  We were running fast (not so much for the boys, since they run a faster pace, but my daughter and I were running hard) to clear the trees when my husband called and asked where we were.  I told him through gasps of breath we were on our way back down the trail, to which he said he would be at the end of the trail waiting for us.  We cleared the trees some minutes later, I saw the car (as the crow flies, about a ¼ mile away, but as the trail goes between waist deep weeds, about a ½ to ¾ of a mile), and we continued booking it, running as fast as our legs would carry us.  We finally reached the car with me huffing and puffing (the kids were no worse for the wear) and we scrambled inside, soaked to the bone, and headed for home.

I learned from this run that I have a LOT more in me than I realize.  My previous best pace EVER for one mile in any given run had been a 10:47.  I ran the final mile of that thunderstorm run at a 9:35 pace.  Not only did I run at my fastest pace ever; my heart rate also stayed below 100%.  Don’t get me wrong…I was pushing it hard enough that I was going about 99% of my max and I couldn’t have kept it up for a lot longer, but I proved to myself that I could run a lot faster than I thought, further than I thought.  Having kept that in mind over the last few days, my runs have gotten stronger and faster, again.  I am pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, but still training in a zone that is optimal for what I am working towards: increased fitness, strengthening of my heart, increased endurance, and increased speed.  My desire to run has returned, stronger than ever, and it feels good to make the necessary sacrifices to go after my goals.  I think it feels so good, despite the hurt involved, because I know I am capable.  I know my limitations may not be limitations at all, but rather, perceived limitations because I have not yet pushed myself past those boundaries.  The sacrifice feels good, too, because it’s exciting to do things I have previously thought impossible.  It’s satisfying to prove myself wrong.  It’s gratifying to go to bed at night knowing I have given more of myself than I have been willing to in the past and that I am reaping the rewards of the choices I am making.

So, I ask again: Limitations.  What are they really?  Do they exist to the extent we often believe they exist?  What beliefs do you hold about your limitations?  What will you do to challenge your limitations?

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