While I didn't win yesterday, the Colfax Half was a victory for so many reasons.
I started out this blog post writing a Colfax Half Marathon recap, and somehow ended up at the beginning of my running journey. So, the actual recap will be written some day soon, but today is not that day. Today is about another story - a story I've shared snippets of, but have never quite told from beginning to end. Sorry if you feel that it's long-winded - I'm thirty now, so there's a lot to tell haha.
When I started running, approximately 18 years ago, I initially enjoyed a lot of success. I broke junior high and high school school records, I was league and sectional champion several times, I was invited to State a handful of times, I was recruited by many good college running programs, etc. And then - as easily as it seemingly appeared, that success just as easily disappeared. My senior year of high school was a wash. And as soon as I got to college, I became injured with chronic compartment syndrome and sat out of running an entire year. I battled mental illness, huge family problems, my mother's brain cancer, and simply felt lost in many facets of my life. Running had, for so long, been a huge part of my identity - and yet, at this point, it was hardly even a hobby.
A few months after I (finally) graduated college at 25 years old, I picked up running a little more seriously again. I started racing for the Genesee Valley Harriers, a local running club in Rochester, NY (where I grew up). I began prioritizing running more than I had the past few years, and I really began enjoying it again. I raced an entire cross country season for the Harriers, including at Club XC Nationals, and really just had a great time. I didn't necessarily run any PRs that season, but I did see a glimmer of that old drive and natural talent I had experienced a decade prior. It made me happy - but I still didn't set any big goals, or have any (seemingly) unrealistic expectations for myself. I would watch some of my teammates and acquaintances race and think to myself, "How did they get so fast? I'll never have that again."
Fast forward to my move to Denver almost 4 years ago. Once I got accustomed to the altitude, I began training for a trail half marathon. I thought, what better place to train for a trail race than in gorgeous, mountainous Colorado?! I think I got up to a grand total of 40 miles/week, coaching myself through one-to-two days of speed and a long run each week. I remember the first 9 miler I did at altitude. For some reason, it had taken me several tries to advance from an 8 mile long run to a 9 mile long run. It was like I hit this wall in between! So funny to look back and see how far I've come, especially considering I run on average 9 miles/day now at peak training. Anyway - I won that half marathon and thought I was pretty great (the field was comically small. Trust me, it was no great accomplishment. Lol).
After the Cheyenne Mountain Half and after a couple Google searches, I decided to join a local run club called the Denver Track Club. I thought, hey, I just won my first half marathon, I think I'm ready to run with other people now. Well, I was in a bit over my head. My first workout with the club involved 600m repeats at full speed. I literally pulled my hamstring that day and it wasn't the same for 9 months afterward hahah. My coach took one look at me and thought I was a sprinter (I guess I'm considered pretty muscular for a distance runner- but I also don't subscribe to those stereotypes). It took a bit of convincing to get him to coach me in the longer stuff, but I guess it probably helped when he noticed that I sucked at anything shorter than a 5K. Anyway, I ran a few cross country races for DTC that fall, and did OK, I suppose. No stand-out performances by any means, but it was my first full season at altitude so I suppose I should give myself some grace. I did run a decent 5K at the end of the season in 18:35, but I'm pretty sure it was significantly short.
That winter (2017-2018) I decided I would train for my first road half marathon. I picked Colfax, as it was super popular and in May, so I had ample time to train. This was the first training cycle during which I ran over 45 mi/week since college. I was also the most dedicated to a training cycle I had been since probably high school. I really wanted to shatter some glass ceilings I had personally built. I wanted to prove to myself that I still had the skill, the talent, the drive. And I did well! I ran a 1:26 on a long course for technically my second half marathon. My coach was thrilled and so was I. But I knew I had more in me.
I took the summer pretty easy - just ran a couple shorter races here and there - and started ramping up training in early October. I thought, I'll race Colfax again next year and go for another PR. Well, something pretty cool happened this training cycle. I started running workouts I never dreamed of running; of hitting times I never dreamed of hitting. I surprised myself, week after week after week. I rarely had a bad workout. I woke up early to run, ran doubles a couple days/week, hammered out long runs every single weekend. I started running 60 mile weeks on a regular basis, when that had been my peak training last training cycle.
I decided to jump in a couple races before Colfax to check my fitness. I ran (and won) the Lucky Laces 10K in 38:23, and then the Cherry Creek Sneak 10 mile on a hot day in 1:03:31. I was ready. And truly, yesterday couldn't have gone better. I ran 1:23:31 for 13.23 miles (6:18 pace), which was precisely my goal. And now, since yesterday, I feel confident in setting new goals that were once only pipe dreams, or even not at all on my radar. Ones like, "maybe I can run an Olympic Trials Qualifier in the marathon."
So, that's my story. My big, hairy, scary, complicated, beautiful story. I know I'm not the only one with a complicated running background. I'm certainly not the only who's struggled with mental illness, with family stuff, with an eating disorder, who's dropped out of college a couple times, etc. But that's just it: it's my story. Mine. And it's my past. It doesn't dictate my present, or my future. In fact, it's made me a strong AF person, and it's shown me that I can do, and get through, anything.
My takeaways of my running journey are these:
1. Never, ever doubt yourself. Your biggest enemy is your own negative self talk. I've been telling myself for years that I will never again have the success I experienced in high school. I was clearly wrong. Once I started believing in myself, I began to shatter those self-inflicted ceilings I mentioned.
2. You HAVE to put in the work if you want the results. Running doesn't lie. If you don't run the miles, or you shy away from the workouts, or you do everything half-assed, you're going to race half-assed, too.
3. You NEED a good support system. I have the best coach and the best training partners on planet earth. I would not be half the runner I am without them. Some days, as dedicated as you may be, it's really, really hard to get out the door. On those days, you might need a friend to say, 'hey, I'll join you for this run." Or for your significant other to say, "just get out there. You'll regret if it you don't - and I'll have a healthy dinner waiting for you when you get back."
4. You have to prioritize the run. Yes, this is similar to #2, but with the addition of a necessity in protecting your training. As I've shared many times, I battle a lot of chronic illness issues stemming from my digestive system. I know that I personally often cannot run at night. By the time the evening rolls around, my GERD has acted up and I often have stomach cramps due to severe IBS. Thus, I schedule most of my runs in the morning or midday. A lot of the conversations with my friends or my fiance go like, "I would, but I have to run." Lol
If you've read all the way to the end of this extremely long-winded, possibly boring blog post, I really appreciate it. It's a big too lengthy to post on instagram, and I really wanted to take the time to convey my experience as accurately as possible. And stay tuned for the ACTUAL Colfax Half recap - it'll be up sooner than later!