"Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it."
~ Russell Baker
People ask me all the time how I continuously bang out 80-90 mile weeks when I'm training for a fall marathon. And I get it. Summer training can be brutal. But it's also a gift. An opportunity for me to take advantage of the long blocks of time when my girls are at camp that I don't have during the school year. Plus, on top of that, my daily agenda during the summer is very different; significantly less regimented because we simply don't have as much going on. For example, instead of my typical school year routine which might look something like this - drop girls, run, splash water on face, chug coffee, go to grocery store, service car, drop forgotten lunch back at school, walk dogs, make lunch for myself, shovel it in while driving to XC practice, pick up girls from soccer & gymnastics. My summer day tends to be more like this - drop girls at bus, run, dynamics, core (though, if I'm being honest, I've really been slacking on this lately), coffee, walk dogs, stretch, rest, eat lunch while actually sitting down and tasting the food, second run, desk work, shower, pick up girls from bus. And while the girls are then home with me for the rest of the afternoon, there's a lot more down time than usual so I'm not carpooling to and from multiple activities as I usually do. On a day to day basic, I can get so bogged down by the intensity of my summer training. It's a lot of miles. It's super hard. It's really freaking hot out and that makes everything monumentally harder. But, I do appreciate what I'm able to do with the time that I have during these three months. And I'm trying to make a note of that, particularly on the tougher days, like when I'm staring down a 21 miler and it's 90 degrees outside or I've got a 12 mile tempo run and it's 90 degrees outside or when...well, you got the point. I ran my best marathon last fall. And it should come as no surprise that my training last summer was some of the most quality work I've gotten in since I shifted gears and began upping my game. So, while I'm still chasing big goals and working to reach my full potential as a marathoner, I'll continue to take advantage of these summer months and all that they have to offer me in terms of training. Plus, there's the ice cream. Summer offers a lot of ice cream, too. Just sweetens the deal even more.
For a while now, we've had the good fortune of spending some quality time on Martha's Vineyard in late June through early July with my parents, who come up from FL and rent a place there each summer. For the past ten years or so I've lined up for the Murdick's Run the Chop Challenge, a 5 miler that's held on July 4th over in West Tisbury. This year we had to take off a little earlier than usual because my older daughter signed up to be a counselor-in-training at a day camp on Cape Cod and would be starting on July 1st. I love that she wanted to do this, but I was pretty sad to cut our time on MV short and to miss the race, an event that I always look forward to. But change is good, right? Back in early June I got online and started looking around for a race of a similar distance that I could tackle on the Cape and found the Chatham Harbor Run, a 10K that was happening the Sunday before the 4th right down the street from my in-laws' house, which is where we'd be staying for the month so Rosie could do her thing. Bingo. Rosie and I got to the Cape the night of the 3rd and shut it down pretty early as we'd both had a crazy few days of travel beforehand. Might as well start things off with a bang and hop right into a race the day after we arrived. Well, Rosie didn't race. She slept in. As usual, I got up early on Sunday and went down to have coffee and chill with Clover who I hadn't seen for the past two weeks because she wasn't allowed in the rental on MV. It's sad but fair. She's really hairy and she sheds a lot.
Needless to say, we were both really happy to see each other. The race wasn't starting until 11:00am which was less than ideal given that I was up at 6:15. Five hours is a lot of time to kill and even though it wasn't super hot first thing in the morning, I knew it would be nice and toasty by the time we were lining up. Whatever. The dogs and I went for a walk, I came back and had a second cup of coffee, I did some stretching, I got myself organized and checked the time thinking I must have killed a good three plus hours. It was 8:30. Not even close.
So, I did some reading. Some unpacking. Some more stretching. A little rolling. I mean, I was really having to come up with random stuff to do to kill time. And, of course, my nerves were now in high gear, so there was some useless pacing back and forth in there, too. Finally, around 9:45, Jeff, who was joining me, and I headed out. We got to the school parking lot and went inside to register. Neither of us had cash, which, of course, was all they were accepting, so Jeff zipped off to the bank and I filled out the forms.
Once we were good to go, we pinned on our bibs and then I left for a quick warmup and Jeff went back to the car to stretch in the shade. Side note, I had entry number 411 and as many of you may know, for too many reasons to explain in this post, 41 is my favorite number, so I was very happy about that. As expected, the heat was slowly creeping up and by the time I got back, even with a shorter than usual warmup, I was soaked. Apparently the race used to start at noon but they moved it back an hour because people have struggled with the weather in the past. Thank goodness, as noon would have just about killed me and potentially kept me from doing it all together.
Jeff and I wished each other good luck and made our way over to the line. Race photographer, Rick Heath, captured my pre-race state of mind perfectly in the photo above. A little bit of, oh boy, here we go, mixed with some why do i do this again, and a dab of don't think Rebecca, just go. I love how everyone is focused on the start except for the guy in green who seems to be looking back at me and wondering what the hell I'm doing. The race director told us two things before we took off:
1. We changed the start time from noon to 11 due to the heat. (again...NOON?!?!) Please make sure to take water at every stop & be smart w/ your pacing.
2. Note that it’s a very hilly course & most of the hills are in the back half.
Right from the get go, I knew things were going to be interesting. My pace has typically fallen somewhere between 6:20-30 at the Run the Chop; also a hilly course, though not as bad as this, and usually hot as blazes, so I figured I'd aim for a similar range for this one. That said, knowing the back half of the Chatham race was mostly uphill, I made a conscious decision to start off a bit faster. Within reason, of course. Very rarely is it wise to go out hard & then try to hold on. Maybe never, actually. I did it anyway, crossing the first mile in 6:16. Ok, I thought, one down, 5 and change to go. Giddy up. There was a short climb in mile 2, but it wasn't too bad and we had a little shade for half of it, so I held on fine and crossed at 6:35. Even though my split for mile 3 was a mere 6 seconds slower than mile 2, it honestly felt like it had been an hour between the two miles. The heat was kicking in and we were totally exposed on the road. I cried a little when I digested the fact that I had 3.2 more miles to get through rather than my usual 2. At that point, I stopped looking at my watch. I knew my pace was slowing and the hard part was coming and I didn't want to get defeated. So, I focused on my music. A six minute mile tends to be about 2 songs, plus or minus a little. I needed to run for about 7 or 8 more songs to make it to the finish. Holy shit, I remember thinking, that's a lot of songs. At each water stop, all of us were pouring water on our heads and down our backs. The water was warm at mile 4. That was a bummer. I think it was around mile 5 that I got into step with a gentleman who was running my same pace. This helped a lot as we took turns leading and when I fell back, I'd work to catch back up with him. Mile 5 just about did me in as it was all uphill and my body was basically telling me the party was over. Thankfully, Joseph Andersen, the guy I was now hanging onto for every step, was still pulling me along. Literally. Bless that yellow shirt. Finally, we made it through mile 5 and with one to go, I knew I could hang on. We finished on another uphill; not pretty. But, praise be, we were done.
I rolled across the line in 41:16, successfully creeping in just within my goal pace range; the high end of the range, not that I cared. Holy crap, the 10k is long. Unlike the half, you don't have enough time to settle in and find a groove and are basically riding the pain train the entire time. I am not a fan of the distance and don't see myself lining up for another one any time soon. But, as my coach said, it was a solid effort on a challenging course in tough conditions so I should be pleased. And that was that. Another feather in my training cap. And another personal albeit ugly battle fought and won. What doesn't kill you....
Back in January, I signed up to run the Rose City Mile, an event hosted by the Rose City Track Club (RCTC). RCTC is a running club based out in Portland that I'm connected with through my friend Liz Anjos and since I didn't have the funds or the time to get out to Portland in June, I signed up for the virtual race with the plan being to run it in MA on my own. In January it was cold and dreary and racing a mile outside on the track in the hot summer sun sounded AWESOME. Months went by and life got busy and I forgot about my virtual commitment until I got an email from Liz a couple weeks ago reminding me that I'd signed up and I needed to hit the track and race my virtual mile before June 29th. Oooooohhhh right. I promptly emailed my coach and asked if we could slide a one mile time trial into my training plan for the week while also questioning whether it made sense to do it during this marathon training cycle and secretly hoping he'd tell me it was not, in fact, a good idea. His response? I think you can let it rip and it should not have any lingering impact on (your training). As long as you are properly warmed up when you go into it, I think you can go full tilt. Let's plan on next Wednesday. Awesome. Can't wait. Go team. I haven't run a mile on the track since high school, and I'm 44, so that's a long damn time ago. I've been training for and running marathons since 2007 and the shortest thing I've done in that time frame is the 5K, which I loathe for obvious reasons. So now it's June, it's hot and humid, I'm averaging 75 miles a week and I have to slide a quick mile in "for fun". Why, why, WHY do I do this to myself? According to my schedule, the plan for "race day" would be 11 miles total which included a 2-3 mile warmup, the time trial itself, and then a nice, long 7-8 mile cool down/recovery run. No rest for the marathoner. I was 100% sure that I would not A) know how to pace myself or B) willingly run as fast as I was capable of running without someone there either yelling my splits or running along with me. Thankfully, I know a guy. I know he's wicked fast. And I knew he had to come to Martha's Vineyard at some point during the week when I had to do this time trial to give his dad a ride back to Lexington. So, I texted said guy, aka my good bud Steve, let him know the deal and asked if he'd consider coming out a little earlier than planned to pace me. It was a lot to ask. I know. But, I was kind of desperate and figured it was worth a shot. He took his time getting back to me and then finally sent me a text at the end of the day asking what time I wanted to get this thing done. PRAISE BE! I guiltily wrote back that earlier was better because of how hot it had been getting, knowing full well that his trip over involved a two hour drive and a ferry ride, a process that tends to take about three hours total. And also knowing that he had no reason to get up early, or in this case, stupidly early, other than for this. But, he's a good friend and he stepped up to the plate. He told me he'd be on an 8:30 boat, that I could pick him up at 9:00 and that we could realistically be warming up at the track by 9:15. The guy's is a Saint.
Thursday morning I was up around 6:00am, as usual. Which gave me ample time to stress and overthink things as I drank coffee. What if it's mad, crazy hot? What if I can't run hard for four laps straight? What if I'm a lot slower than I think? What if I made McKenna come all this way and I can't even do it? What have I done??? Classic Rebecca. At 8:00, I made my way over to Oak Bluffs to pick Steve up from the boat. It was in the 70s and the sun wasn't out yet; not terribly hot but the humidity was pretty thick. So, not great but not bad. Steve let me know that he wasn't quite awake yet and we drove over to the track in silence, just listening to music and zoning out. I figured less was more from my end. When we get to the track I let him know that I had to string together 11 miles total so I was going to head out for a 3 mile warmup before we started. He told me he would not be doing that and would see me when I got back. He also told me that he'd brought his spikes, which he admittedly hadn't worn in a very long time, so I knew he was taking this whole thing pretty seriously. Gulp.
During my warmup, the sun began to peek through the clouds and by the time I got back to the track I was dripping in sweat, which I tried really hard not to think about. Steve was pretty much ready to go, so I grabbed some water, did some dynamics and a couple strides and then we went over to the one mile start line. Truth? You know that scene from 'National Lampoon's Vacation' when Chevy Chase is about to jump in the pool and is repeating This is crazy, This is crazy over and over again? That pretty much sums up where my head was at at this point in the game. I can do this I said out loud, to myself. You can do this Steve responded. It's just one measly mile I said. Just one, he repeated. Can you believe how scary one mile can seem to a 44 year old marathoner? I know, it's ridiculous. You ready? he asked. Yea. Let's go.
The goal was to run somewhere between 5:30 and 5:40; 5:30 being pretty lofty but 5:40 safely within reach. Steve let me know he was going to take us out in 82 for the first lap and that we should aim to hold on from there. Wait. I think that's too fast, I said, I need more time to build up. You don't build up in a mile, Trax. The whole thing is fast and it hurts like hell. You just go. Fair point. So, we took off. After our first 200 I panicked as I was breathing like a wild animal. Steve had started out a little too hot and, thankfully, pulled back in the second 200 to get us back on goal pace. One lap done. My doubt seeped in immediately and I didn't think I could hang. I tried to just focus on Steve's back and let him do the work. 2 laps done. I was now dying. Like, it was ugly. The gap between us was getting a little bigger. My breathing was getting louder. 3 laps done. COME ON, TRAX, Steve yelled. I'M TRYING, I thought. But I didn't actually say anything because I wasn't capable of speaking by then. I worked to close the gap in the last 100 meters and finished with everything I had, just a couple steps behind Steve. I coughed and gasped and took a moment to myself. Wow, I said. That was beyond brutal. I didn't run what I'd wanted, did I? Steve explained that my pacing was pretty erratic and that I should have let him do more of the work and just sat behind him instead of trying to figure things out in the beginning. He also explained that you typically turn it up for the last full lap, not wait until the last 100 meters, which is what I did. Turns out, I really don't know how to race a mile. And they hurt way more than I ever excepted. I'll stick to marathons, thank you very much, I said. Steve laughed as I took off for my remaining 7 miles, which he was obviously not joining me for. As I shuffled out, I gave the whole thing some thought. I broke it down into things that were working for me and things that were working against me for the day:
I had a rabbit to help me with pacing.
I was in pretty good shape.
This was new and different and kind of fun, for a change. Kind of.
My lack of experience
The fact that, if I'm being honest, I really didn't want to be doing this. Like, at all.
For real, though, while I felt like I probably had a little more in me, I was pretty pleased with my time, which was 5:48. I don't remember what I ran a mile in back in high school but it wasn't that much faster than this, and that is pretty cool when I think about it. I'm a big believer in the concept of stepping outside of your comfort zone every once in a while. I'm feeling like I'm set with that for the next few months or so. And who knows? Maybe my next 5K won't feel quite as bad compared to this. Maybe.
In the past, my husband has been a pretty fair weather runner; usually hitting the road for somewhere between three and five miles when he goes. Recently, however, he's started running more often and for longer distances. He even doubled last week, claiming his first run was done so early in the morning that he felt like he wanted to go out again in the afternoon. Which makes us both a little crazy, right? Unlike me, Jeff does not listen to music when he runs. Last week we were out to dinner and I asked him what typically went through his mind when he was out there for over an hour. He told me most of his runs broke down into three different modes. First, he goes deep into thought. About whatever pops into his head; work issues, life issues and so on. Second, he takes in the scenery; really soaking things up and observing what's around him. And last, he just zones out completely. Usually, he goes through all three in no particular order. I nodded in agreement. Because, in truth, I do all of the same. I'm guessing a lot of us do. For me, the only difference is that I have music playing in the background.
My long run playlist is compiled of 878 songs which is almost 52 hours of music. When I pick songs for this one, I just listen to various stations on Spotify and if I hear a tune that I like, particularly the beat and the melody, and I think it's got that extra something to keep me moving, then I add it to the list. The lyrics, and on a higher level, the song's overarching message, are not really that important in the selection process. And, until today, I never really thought they made much of an impact on me as I ran. Not so, my friends. This morning I was out for 19 miles, and in addition to thinking, not thinking and observing, I also found myself paying attention to the lyrics of the songs as they played. Like, really digesting them. I'll be the first to admit that a lot of the songs on my long run playlist are cheesy, pop tunes. And as I listened today, I realized said tunes are frequently about love - falling in love, falling out of love, fighting about love, falling back into love, looking for love, etc. What I also discovered, however, is that in most of them, I can put something more related to my own life, like... oh, I don't know, running perhaps... into the meaning of the song and it instantly sounds less like a sappy love song and more like a motivational running song. Let me show you what I mean.
Committed by Ivory Layne
In the beginning of this ditty, the singer is explaining to whoever she's singing to that she's not asking for diamonds or gold. That she doesn't want to box the person in. But that she's gotten to a point where she's looking for more. Seems fair.
Don't let me call you up if your heart's not in it Your heart's not in it, if you're not committed Oh no, don't let me go, oh no, don't let me down Now let's relate it to running. I mean, I'm not expecting to get diamonds or gold from running either. And I should definitely not be calling on it if my heart isn't in it. Because you know, when your heart's not in it, you're not committed. Then, I'm going to let running down, running is going to let me down, it's just not going to end well. We just really both have to be committed. See what I mean?
Another example for you.
Control by Feder
In this one, the singer is straight up telling the person he's singing to that he or she is everything that he wants and he's just trying to put a melody to it. Pretty straight forward, really.
Do you hear the rhythm of my heart Through the beatin' of my soul? When I'm with you, I lose control
Now the running twist. I couldn't help but feel like this was me speaking about running because in running I, too, often lose control. Good and/or bad. Doesn't matter. Either way, when I'm all in, particularly in a race situation, I can easily get out of control; physically, mentally or both. Not that I want that. It just is the way it is. And if I could, I would definitely ask (hypothetical) running, do you hear the rhythm of my heart and the beating of my soul? Because you should. Both are in full force when we're together. See??
Okay, last one.
Count On You by Paperwhite
In the beginning of this gem, the singer is throwing rocks at her lover's window, wondering if he or she will come around. Basically, she wants to know if she can count on them through thick and thin. Again, fair question, no?
Can I count on you To pull me up When it's too much Can I count on you Cause without us I don't know what I would do You're running through my head You're running through my head all night Can I count on you
So, let's say the 'us' in this song was me and running. How many times have I depended on running to get me through? Lots. Let's be honest I need running. Without it, I'm...well...I really don't know what I'd do. So, it's fair to say that if I could, I'd probably ask running if I could count on it the way I assume it can count on me. And running would hopefully answer, Yes, Rebecca, yes you can. You can always count on me. I know, it's a stretch. But, I was getting really tired at this point, so it made perfect sense at the time.
The point is this, music serves a lot of purposes for me when I'm running. It's a distraction, it drowns out my breathing, it pumps me up, it helps me find a rhythm, it keeps me going. And, what I now understand, is that it kind of speaks to me. In weird ways, yes. But I find that I'm nodding my head in agreement or smiling because I can relate to the message. Not necessarily the 'love' message, or whatever message the artist might be singing about, but the message as it relates to me and running. And that's pretty cool. Perhaps it's not what the artist intended when they wrote the song. But, I have to believe that they would be fired up to know that their lyrics have reached me in their own unique way. Try it. Take whatever it is your passionate about; running, ballet, cooking, race car driving, anything really, and work it into the meaning of a song when you're listening. If nothing else, it's kind of fun. But maybe it will provide a little extra motivation or stir up some deeper thought next time you get ready to do what you love. And who doesn't want that?