Thursday, December 23, 2010

Doing things that scare you

I don't normal consider myself someone who has many fears. In fact, I cannot bring to mind anything that I truly fear. I like to challenge myself, I like to try new things, I am unafraid to fail.

Since last Summer and even more intensely in the last month or so, I have been doing something that is a little scary to me. Pushing my outer limits. Practically this means, I am working on getting faster, digging down into that place of "I don't know how good I can be" and seeing what I bring up. Marathon fast running, try and make the Olympics fast running.

I came to running after a career as a basketball player and don't have a long legacy of track running or even shorter distance road running. I came into the sport, ran a marathon, ran two more and then started ultrarunning. I never really tapped my potential as a marathoner and I really like marathons. Short, fast and sweet. But running a 2:49 marathon (my PR) 3 weeks after a road 100k World Championship is not pushing that limit. That is pretty safe. In ultrarunning, even though I could blow up, DNF, lose or have a bad day that doesn't scare me. Running 50 miles fast in 6:28, finishing with sub 7 min miles doesn't strike me as pushing my limits (in fact it feels down right comfortable). What scares me is the red line. In my running, I tend to not red line. I have talked about this before a bit, about learning to that "this is so hard I don't know if I can hold it" and holding it place. It is an uncomfortable place, but for where I want to go, I must go there.

For Houston and the prospect of making the Olympic Trials, I happily go there. It has not been easy. Tuesday mornings I wake up nervous about the days track workout. I run my warmup not knowing if I can hit my prescribed paces, wondering if my lungs and legs will sustain me lap after lap. At the track, I cannot hide from my own progress. I can't just run by feel like I often do for ultras, I have to run by watch and splits and miles. It is a totally different ball game. It's hard but in a good way. It is pushing me to go beyond myself. I am becoming a different athlete because of it.

Looking back, leading up to Western States, I felt like I was all in, like I was doing everything to make that race be great. Barring the kidney failure, I think I would have run a great race. But I realize now, I was just doing everything I wanted to. There is more I could have invested, I could have worked harder at the gym, been better about race specific work and had a more athletic diet. I was committed, but I wasn't all in. I am all in for Houston.

Yesterday at the track, I had a moment of transcendence. I was pushing hard in my final 800 meter repeat, getting blasted in the face on the back stretch with wind, tired, pushing and wondering if I would be able to hold the pace. I came around the final turn and hit the straight away and instead of holding on for dear life, I suddenly found something: the next gear. I powered through the final 100 meters in my fastest split of the repeat and finished the 800 also with my fastest split. Then I followed it up with a 75 second 400 meter repeat hitting my prescribed split right on the head and utilizing the next gear again. It felt amazing. I was so tired and happily exhausted, drained in a good way that I don't often feel. That next gear showed me that the red line is something I can manipulate, I can work very close to it for a while (like I have been at the track and in tempo workouts), feel like I am going to run face first into it and then bam, the red line retreats a few paces and keeps me hungry for its pursuit. It is hardwork, it is scary, I could fall on my face and do horribly. But ultimately, the work itself is the reward and the race is just the victory. The things I am learning about myself as a runner right now are amazing and inspire me daily to keep after it.

Photos by Nathan.


  1. Great post! I've been leaning towards longer distances in workouts/races 1) because I'm better at them, but also 2) because short distances and the prospect of "blowing up" scare me.

    I've made it a goal to get my butt to the local indoor track this winter to race a few 1500's and 3000's. Even if I come in last, pushing my limits will be a victory in itself :)

  2. Running 75 splits on the 400 after a long grueling work out is a good sign. Back when I was running seriously for UConn, we used to do this monster, swift 8 miler - full of hills the back country of Storrs delivered in spades - and then finish up with a group mile run; well more like a race. There are records on that mile, and they are super slippery, lightning fast. If you can pound out a gnarly front end and back it up with 75 splits, my speculation is that you've got Olympic Trials on the front burner. Good luck with the qualifier. You would be rounding out the strong contingent of SF athletes headed that way.

    Nice snaps by Nathan, btw. Incidentally, I'm venturing a guess, but your blog (particularly this post demonstrates) is probably the best writing about running that I can find today. Don't get me wrong, I still hold Doc. Sheehan at the top of the game (well ahead of Jim Fix, even though Fix changed the game for most every day runners), and if you haven't read his book "On Running," I would commend you to it.

    Blog on friends. Blog on all.

  3. Runner's Kitchen- I agree, the pushing the limits has revealed itself as the reward in and of itself.

    Windspike- Thank you for the comment and compliment, that is really awesome of you to say. Truly appreciated!

  4. I love following your running and your blog. You are inspiring to this running mom. I am rooting for you. Can't wait to see how you do in Houston. You are one amazing lady.

  5. Just wanted to echo what Windspike said -- I think your blog is phenomenal. Not a runner, but a huge fan of your writing!

  6. "Barring the kindney failure, I would have ran a great race" - Sounds like an ultrarunners bumpersticker- hilarious!

    Though I am too old and slow to be anything olympic, I have to face my fears of DRIVING to GET TO my 50 K events ! Next week its downtown Vancouver (yikes!) So running has been therapeutic more ways than one.

    And I repeat as above, your blog is always great inspiration.. Now how to get that GF muffin mix out here...

  7. girl i think you're amazing and am absolutely so inspired by this post - and by many others you've written (also love your tasty recipes).
    windspike is dead on! thanks for taking us along on your journey.
    here's to many more negative splits!! rock on.

  8. Great post Devin -- you inspire me as someone who can go from ultra/trail to track & road and back. Do it all, and go for the Trials!

  9. I've run many races with you and PR'd in the process (almost always a few minutes after you, of course). The last two years I have found a similar fascination with the House of Pain - try holding your form while in pain, and it turns out you can dig a shitload deeper. It's actually quite cleansing.

    I'm going to Napa Marathon this year to go sub-2:40, the same course where you pulled me to my first sub-3:00 in 2007. If I'm going this fast these days, you MUST be going faster!

    Perhaps you and Nathan should join me, eh? Sub-2:40 or DNF, no other options. Don't just qualify for the Oly Trials - thrown down the glove, girl. ;-)

    Elanor Roosevelt smartly said "do something every day that scares you". It sounds like you have embraced that fully.


  10. Thanks for the comments everyone!
    Scott- that is going to be awesome. I hope you achieve the sub 2:40.
    I am definitely going to throw down the gloves.


You may also enjoy:

Related Posts with Thumbnails