“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” Elizabeth Edwards
Moments after the NYC Marathon I was very emotional. I had finished 11th, but as the 5th American. So if the Olympic Trials marathon were to be contested on this day I would not have made the Olympic Team. For another time in my career. My confidence was low. Here I was training my butt off, acting as if I should be in the conversation of the top American women trying to make our US Olympic Team. I was 5th American, and still there were 5-10 other women who weren’t even in that race who have a legitimate chance to make the team. I thought maybe the marathon isn’t my event anymore, I can’t hang with the best.
Do you know where this negative internal dialogue got me? Nowhere, not a better place in the race, not a different outcome, but instead I cheated myself of the chance to properly reflect on the race, discover what I could have done differently, and be proud of the training I did to get here. I let it sink in a bit more, and then I texted my agent Josh. “What do you think about CIM, terrible idea or no?” He said “yeah probably a terrible idea but how are you doing physically and emotionally?” It was a valid question. Was I making this decision under an emotional conflict or was it a thought out rational plan. The more I pondered the idea the more I realized it might not have been rational but it surely wasn’t emotional. I simply wanted to spice things up a little and take a risk. You see I want more children and so I don’t know how long my career will keep going. I’m 34, almost 35. So now felt like the time to get a little crazy. In the past 3 years since having my kids I felt we trained smart, calculated, and conservative, for the most part. Coach Ben brought me along gradually and because so I haven’t had a major injury in years. (I’m sure I just jinxed myself) So I was feeling confident in my body’s ability to recover after NY and roll the dice by running CIM 28 days later. Now it was time to do the scary thing, ask coach. Here’s what he had to say and his rationale in the decision:
When Steph asked me about doing CIM it was only three days after she finished the New York City Marathon. My initial reaction was that she was thinking emotionally, rather than rationally. She assured me that was not the case, however, and laid out her reasoning in a very calm manner. Her case was based around the acknowledgement that she and Ben have a desire to add to their family after her competitive career ends, which, in turn, means that she has a very finite number of opportunities left before that day comes. That's a pretty powerful point.
Once I was on board with the idea I knew I needed to be 100% on board. Much of the success I have had as a coach, in my opinion, has been based on belief. I am, by nature, a very self confident person. I believe in what I do. When I work with an athlete, like Steph, that has that same sort of confidence in herself then we are halfway to a really strong relationship. The final pieces are me believing in the athlete and the athlete believing in me. But that belief has to be complete. The athlete can feel it if it's not, and vice versa. That's when things break down. I knew that I couldn't "let Steph" do this. I had to want to do it as well. And that's what happened. I remember joking with her in a text message about a week into this whole crazy experiment that I was getting really excited about CIM...but not to tell anyone. I wouldn't want people thinking we were going to do things like this all the time!
To me, all of the above was the most important part of this whole process. As far as training, I just took a very pragmatic approach. First and foremost we had to recover from New York City. So we took one whole week completely off. Then we ran very easy every day for the next week. That left us with two weeks to go. At that point, the thinking was to do a workout every three days and try to do enough that she would maintain a good chunk of that NYC fitness, but not necessarily try to build on it. There simply wasn't enough time. She ran a 40-minute fartlek on Monday, the 19th. She ran eight miles at marathon effort on Thursday, the 22nd. On Sunday the 25th, we let her loose a little bit and she finished a 14-mile run with three really fast miles. The final workout, which she and I actually brainstormed about together, was a controlled version of "The Lumberjack"-- 4x400, a 2-mile tempo, 4x400, a 2-mile tempo and another 4x400. That was it. CIM was four days later and I suppose...the rest is history.
Coach Ben and I have a solid relationship. I’ve worked to earn his trust and he in return has mine. He wanted to be clear this wouldn’t be a normal occurrence but he was on board with me giving it a go.
I woke up so calmly on that Sunday. It was a crisp and cool 39 degrees with light winds. Coach Ben had heated up my dark roast coffee and bowl of white race and delivered it at 4:15 am. I ate a Picky Bar along with the rice and coffee and packed my bags. Ben too would be lining up alongside of me in hopes of having a solid day, and running in his mind a respectable time. Had he not had a series of hiccups the last few weeks, including falling on his bike with our son Riley and hitting his knee, I’m 100% confident he would have had a day. His training and mileage had returned to a high level after a year off from a pelvic stress fracture. Even though he walked away in 2:24, coming undone the last 10k, he is still hopeful and proud he finished what he started in that race.
I had nothing to lose and nothing to prove. If I fell apart and ran a poor race, people would have thought of course she just ran NYC 28 days ago. But there was this slight chance, glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe I could pull this damn thing off. It may seem pompous to say this but I’ve never raced a marathon with more mental strength than physical than CIM. My legs were dead and heavy by mile 10. I had 16 to go. That’s a scary distance to still have ahead of you when you’re feeling that fatigued. I played every positive mantra I could drum up in my head. I was Rocky fighting Clubber Lang, Rocky fighting the Russian Ivan Drago, and Rocky fighting himself. How much pain can I push through, how tough can I be, and how do I want to define myself? It was another weekend I left my boys, another month I asked my therapists to keep me healthy and get me to the starting line. I know they don’t care, but I owe them. I owe them the time and sacrifice they put into me. I owed myself a chance to finally destroy a 7 year old PR, even if only by 15 seconds. A PR is a PR. As my agent Josh says “that’s the best you have ever been.” So own that and be proud. Don’t look ahead or behind. Own the moment. For you never know if another PR is 3 months away, 7 years away, or this is it.
Although I ran 2:29:21, and placed 2nd at the US Marathon Champs I’m still not a contender for the marathon team. At year’s end I was ranked 9th in the US for 2018. I’m in the trials, yes, and I will be gearing towards 2020 in Atlanta, but I have steps to take, and work to do, and I will put in the time. Because although there are no guarantees, I guarantee I will use 2019 to work on my weaknesses, to believe in myself, to stay healthy, and to put myself in a position to be a force in every race I line up in. Whatever that outcome may be, I’ll know that’s the very best version of me on the day.