Earlier this month, I ran what was arguably my best race to date. It was a familiar setting - under the lights at Stanford, on a track I've raced on for over a decade, with my family cheering from their favorite spot by the finish line, Coach Dena perched along the rail. Though the scene was one I know well, the race brought me into new territory.
On April 3, I ran almost a minute PR in the 10k, finishing 3rd to Gelete Burka and Shalane Flanagan in 32:09, currently #2 in the US this year and under the Olympic Games qualifying standard of 32:15. I knew that I was fit coming into this race and thought that 32:20 was possible. But 32:09? I was (and still am) ecstatic!
The race played out perfectly for me. Shalane and Gelete took off in a race of their own; I and the rest of the field let them go. I settled in behind teammate Kirsty Legg, who was a perfect pacer, bringing me through 2 miles comfortably in 78s. After Kirsty stepped off, I latched onto a group with Angela Bizzari, Katie Matthews, and some collegians and went for a ride. Relaxed and controlled, I felt great as we came through 5k in 16:17, right on pace.
But then our pack threw in some 79s and I started to feel antsy. It was still early, but my body said it was time to go. I've felt this way in a race a few times before: you feel amazing and you know it's your time. Your brain, ever the practical organ, is telling you to be patient, to wait - there's still a long way to go. But your heart is beating louder, drowning out the brain, pumping blood to your muscles that are screaming "let me fly!" In my experience, when you feel this way, it's going to be your day, and you better seize the fleeting opporunity and GO.
So although it was early, I went (causing some shock and anxiety to my poor mother watching in the stands). I took the lead of the chase pack and dropped the pace to 77, then 76, then 75, and soon the pack was reduced to just me and Dominique Scott. We switched off positions as the laps dwindled and together, we started to close the gap on 3rd place runner Lanni Marchant.
We started lapping runners, and as Dominique and I came up on a big group with 700 to go, I saw my opening. I swung wide into lane 2 to pass the group and moved ahead of Dominique into 4th. 600 to go, and Lanni seemed out of reach. But I still felt good -- the pain of 9,400 meters somehow hadn't manifested itself yet. I guess after the death march that was miles 21-23 at CIM, a 10k on the track felt very doable! I kept pressing.
As I approached the bell lap, I heard Gelete and Shalane fighting for the win. Determined not to get lapped by Shalane, I surged. Around the curve, I heard Dena yelling to look ahead - suddenly, Lanni was within reach! Here's how the last 200 meters played out:
In the final 50 meters, I was able to soak up what I had just done and truly enjoy the moment. Races like this one are few and far between, and thus should be treasured. Those final strides will forever be etched in my memory.
I keep getting the question, "What caused this breakthrough?" Honestly, I'm still answering that myself. When I look back at my log and scroll through months of data on Strava, I think it comes down to a few factors. First, time -- I've been working relentlessly at this dream for 5 years now, and this big improvement was a long time coming. There's no substitute for years of hard work and the cumulative effect of all those miles, and on April 3, it finally paid off!
Another factor is running a marathon - racing 26.2 this fall was truly one of the most difficult things I've ever done, requiring mental fortitude I've never had to tap into on the track. Certainly, a 10k on the track is never easy, but it's a different (and in my opinion, more manageable) type of pain and mental effort than a marathon. 26.2 made me stronger in so many ways, and thus made me better on the track.
Finally, I credit this breakthrough to stability. I'm settled in my new home in Providence, happily married, have great training partners, and have been working with Coach Dena for a few years now. Life has dealt me a pretty wonderful hand right now, and I approached the race with a feeling of deep gratitude and peace. The ups and downs of the past few years have leveled off, enabling me to better focus on and prioritize my running.
Truly, there are no magic beans, no secret workout, no special diet or huge weight loss that got me to 32:09 (trust me when I say this, young female runners - you can be fast in ANY body type! Restricting calories and making unhealthy choices is NOT the path to a breakthrough). I still work full time, take on too many side projects, fly too many red-eyes and enjoy my fair share of red wine. I'm living, fully, but there's balance and it's stable. I'm happy! Things are going great, and I'm excited to keep training hard and running fast.
Heartfelt love and appreciations go out to all who've been there for me on this journey -- my husband, my family, Dena, friends near and far. Teammates, supporters, sponsors, fans - you all are incredible and I thank you for the texts, tweets, and all-around joy you've sent my way. Thank you!!
Next up for me is chasing a fast 5k at Payton Jordan!