It was the most surprising race of my relatively short athletic life. There were no expectations. The only goal was to finish, collect my medal and continue my new adventure of racing around The Great Lakes. Oh and to eat pancakes and purchase Coffee Crisp hot chocolate mix. Because that’s what I do when I travel to Canada.
The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon had been on my bucket list for a few years. If I could explain what it is about visiting Canada that brings me such joy, I would. But words fail me. I’d say it’s because I’m a border baby, but that can’t be all of it and anyway this discussion of my secret desire to be Candaian is a digression.
Back to the race.
My goal race for the fall was The Mighty Niagara Half Marathon which runs along the Niagara River from Lewiston through Youngstown, finishing in the town of Porter at the aptly named park “Porter on the Lake.” (We finish at Lake Ontario. Great Lakes theme in tact.) I wanted to run a certain pace — a time I had run before but life got in the way of my goals and perspective and training. And I crushed it. Happy dance. Goal achieved. Mission accomplished. Boo and yah.
I kept some speed workouts over the next four weeks just to stay on point for Toronto. I had a general goal of wanting to run the goal time I set for myself for Mighty Niagara. That sounded like a good starting point. Anyway, I didn’t care about my time. I was in TO, yo. #TheSix as the kids these days call it. I didn’t even look at the race course that closely. Lack of knowledge became a mistake. As the course turned west on Lakeshore (for the waterfront part of the marathon) I kept looking for the turnaround. What mile was it at? Miles didn’t matter since the course was marked in kilometers. I think I may have screamed with joy when we finally stared headed backing east again.
As I glanced down at my watch as the miles ticked off (my TomTom was set for miles so I didn’t have to do too much math while running) I noticed my pace. It was ridiculous. I had no business running this fast. I had no business feeling this good. Not at this pace. I waited for the blow up. But it never came. I crossed the line, stopped my watch and swore like a sailor.
That was my half marathon PR. By two minutes.
International roaming charges be damned! I turned on my phone and the first message was from Jim, my trainer/strength coach, congratulating me on a bad ass race.
And as it’s December and time to reflect, I look at what I achieved athletically this year and owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jim and the staff at IMPACT Sports Performance.
To recap 2015, I focused on running. My main goal was the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon which was all about heat, hills and humidity. I threw in the Cleveland Half Marathon in that training block then turned my attention to the fall with the pair of 13.1 races a month apart. I there in some 5ks and 10ks just for fun.
I started working with Jim in April and was committed to the time and finances. I no longer was working with a sport-specific coach, choosing self-coaching with the help of some talented, knowledgeable and patient friends. But I needed some sense of structure. I needed some sense of community. IMPACT was clearly a great facility and the staff trains plenty of elite athletes from pros to high school (and younger). With my job the location was convenient. If I was going to live at downtown hockey rinks all winter, I might as well get a work out done.
I could write about the strength program, about the total body work and the running-specific exercises we did to train my legs to be faster, stronger and more explosive. And clearly that all worked. I didn’t become a badass distance runner, but my speed increased without me even noticing it. My endurance was better. My times kept decreasing. Each race, regardless of distance, turned into a season best. I am confident strength training helped get me there.
But it was more than just about deadlifts and squats. That may be the least important thing. Because what meant the most to me, what truly changed my running, was being in a place where I could find my confidence. See it doesn’t matter that I’m not an elite athlete. No one really cares what my average pace in a 5K is. I come in, work to the best of my ability, and they treat me like an athlete. Not a lesser-than athlete. Not a isn’t-that-cute-that-you-still-want-to-try-this athlete. As an athlete who has goals which motivate her but don’t define her.
Within this comfort zone, I’ve been able to push myself. OK most days it’s Jim who pushes me. I sometimes roll my eyes at what he thinks I can do. Nearly every time he’s right.
Physically I’m stronger. My body is leaner. I’m running faster. But the real reason I set that unintentional PR in Toronto this year has nothing to do with my training program. It has to do with (finally) stepping into my confidence. It has to do with embracing the process in ways that are real and meaningful and more difficult to explain than a inspirational Internet meme. It has to do with being surrounded by people who inspire me, motivate me, encourage me and laugh with me. Those are the things which have brought me to my most satisfying year as an endurance athlete, ready to define a new set of challenges for 2016.