Sunday went well, way better than I would have predicted and even better than I hoped. Why did I break an American Record I had been eyeing for about 4 years? Well any great race performance is attributed to a certain amount of physical and mental preparation. And while I know I am fortunate to have quote on quote natural physical talent I think a greater contribution of my success is mental more than anything.
After crossing the line in Rio my season was over and that meant some well earned rest and recovery mixed with a heavy dose of socializing accompanied with lack of sleep and neglected nutrition. But hey you can only live life making such calculated decisions, adhering to the utmost discipline and sacrificing normalcy for so long before it wears away at you eroding your motivation and drive. Normally this means post Olympic/World Champs I take two entire weeks off from race walking where I can do as much leisure activities and cross training as I please followed by another 1-2 weeks where more and more race walking is gradually added in until I’m into a routine week of base season. This year was unlike any year where I had a “fun” (or more like suck it up and do it) mile race on Aug 31st at the Hoka One One meet just 12 days after Rio, followed by the National Race Walk 10k on Sept 18th. Because of these two “races” I couldn’t completely take off. From Aug 20th-31st I trained a total of 17k RW and 22k running. From Sept 1st- 18th a total of 70k RW/elliptical with the longest walk being 10k just two days before the race to show myself I could do the full 10k.
The 10k was a huge eye opener in regards to two things 1) I never ever want to enter a race feeling that crummy in warm up, a feeling only magnified once the gun went off and 2) that A LOT of racing is mental and 1/2 of fitness is our perception of the shape we are in. Honestly that 10k “race” made it a heck of a lot easier to do my first fartlek when I did resume training because if I could walk 10k off of less training the morning after a late late night wearing high heels and partying the night away for my best friend’s bachelorette party than I sure as heck could handle 2x(4k/1k) with 4ks at 5:00/km target pace. I had three nice building weeks with total mileage of 101, 123, and 128km and three key fartleks 2x(4k/1k), 2x(5k/1k), and 2x(6k/1k) the later completed one week before 30k race day. This left me one week for taper.
I knew based off my last fartlek where I averaged 4:59/km for 14k that I could for sure handle 20k at that pace, I hoped to be able to hang on for 25k and could maybe hang on despite crashing to a sub 5:03 average for 30k. How much would I slow 20-30k was a huge unknown and for anyone that’s raced long distance races you know how ugly the crash can be!
Maybe I was crazy for thinking 30k @ 5:00/km was a doable goal but complacency is not rewarded. The night before the race as I thought out my race strategy I wrote this in my journal: Due to life schedules on opposite coasts I did not even hash this plan out with Tim. Knowing how I race 1000x better with someone rather than solo I talked this race plan out with fellow racers Katie Burnett and Nick Christie to see if they would be onboard with Katie attempting the same fast pace out of the gate. Katie and Nick have both been logging solid mileage geared at conquering the National 50k in Jan 2017. We knew we would both be taking a chance and were both curious enough to give it a shot. After all what did we really have to loose, and the potential to learn and gain a racing experience seemed well worth the risk of a painful crash and burn.
Race morning was a great temp with abundant sunshine at the start and stronger winds than preferred but hey this is fall in NY and with winter just around the corner you embrace that sunny 55deg weather! The gun went off and away we went! We settled nicely into a 4:57-4:59/km pace. Racing with Katie was great the course was a large 2k horseshoe which meant every other turn the other person had the inside and thus the ideal tangent making it easy to race alongside one another. We could see Mike Mannozzi gaining ground on us. By 11k we were a trio and the pace got ever so faster hitting 4:54s per km. Then Mike continued moving forward and the next thing I knew I was at 4:52/km pace and not even halfway through the race. I had a decision to make, go for it again taking an even bigger risk or settle and ease off. A quick peek at my heartrate that was in the mid upper 160’s, screamed GO FOR IT! And so I followed Mike’s lead. We went on to drop a few fast kms, my fastest being 4:48! This was faster than the fastest split in my training fartleks. I managed to hang on to him until just around 24k. After that point I slowed quite a bit but not before splitting 2:03:35 for 25k and bettering my own American Record by 4 min and 11 seconds! My last 5k was very slow as I could feel my sugar levels dropping, and exhaustion started to set in. I was able to keep my stomach in check despite it beginning to express its annoyance with me at 17k! I crossed the line in 2:29:18, over 5min ahead of my PR and 2:12 off the American Record!!!
I believed that the potential was in me but would have bet it would take another month of training to reveal it. Needless to say I was beyond pleasantly surprised. Katie went on to PR and was only 3 seconds off my old 25k record despite a quick bathroom stop, yes full out stop! She too PR’d and split her 20k in a time that was probably a top 5 lifetime performance! All the while training to build her 50k engine. Mike too improved his PR as he negative splitted each consecutive 10k finishing over 2min ahead of me! We all decided to go for it, and because we used each other we were able to maximize our efforts. Yes not every racing risk ends like this but when the stakes aren’t too high there’s nothing wrong with giving it a shot. After all you’ll never know if you don’t try!
Sunday I gave it a shot. I committed to a pace, told myself I was capable of achieving it and then cast away all doubt. I did not over think it, and maintained an unwavering belief, a belief I clung to even when my stomach churned, my legs ached, and a light-headness swirled around. I am starting to firmly believe that training, day in and day out, mile after mile, is more about teaching the mind how to handle a state of uncomfortableness, how to embrace pain, and how to push through more than anything. Yes we get physically stronger with each workout, but we also condition the mind to learn how to cope through the physical pain that is accompanied with racing all the while growing in confidence. In the end, “unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow!”
Thank you to all who helped to make today’s race possible especially Gary Westerfield. Thank you to my SEGVTXC girls who helped the judges and cheered me on! Of course thank you too to my SEGVT girls who helped give me the confidence in training the past three weeks to go ahead and take a chance with a blistering pace! Thank you to everyone who came to support and cheer especially the Newhoff’s who despite having relocated to PA came to cheer and showed what it means to be part of the Walk USA family. Of course my husband Joey made it possible with handing me my bottles, reading my splits and cheering. I also was super excited to have my Dad there loud and clear cheering and best friend Jon!
Lastly, thanks to the Oiselle sisterhood for all your good vibes and encouragement. I love being part of such an amazing group of inspiring and uplifting women! Saturday there were quite a number of amazing performances from our Team! #HeadupWingsOut!