Confidence used to come and go in waves. When present, it was overwhelmingly powerful. But in its absence, I was equally powerless. This year I have been working to halt the sin curve-like fluctuations, and instead transform that line into a gradual up-slope, which instead builds on itself week after week. The dependence on what happened last in practice was both exhausting and unreliable. A shakeout and strides the day prior is no less telling of race day results than the number of pushups one can do. But that’s the thing about fitness—it’s not just one thing, it’s everything combined. So why allow any individual session to ever dictate the confidence you should have in your fitness? Exactly, you shouldn’t. The week before heading down to Furman [where I would go on to run a PR of 3:34] I posted the best 400 workout of my career [8 x 400 @ 57-58-57-57-56-56-54-52 w/ 2.5/3.5 mins rest]. I walked away with a ton of confidence. I hit race pace, and it felt fantastic. Then I ran faster than race pace, and it still felt fantastic! This was the workout that told me I was ready to set a personal best. My confidence had been building on itself for months, and this was a big step forward. But a few days later, just before the race, I ran another workout that was supposed to be easier, yet was significantly harder. I struggled to get through 12 x 400 @ 67 w/ 1 min rest. My body was exhausted. Lining up for the race, I had to push back the feeling of tired legs and heavy breathing that I had experienced just a few days before. Instead, I thought about the many months of uninterrupted training, and the feeling of gliding along at the pace that mattered, and then closing in 52. It is OK to have a bad workout. It happens all the time, but it is what you do when your body is worn down that is important. Many athletes try to push through it as they are worried about losing fitness, or they blame a lack of such on a poor workout performance. However, the right move is more often than not to back off and recover. Your body is telling you to slow down for a reason. Rarely will fighting through heavy legs result in lighter legs.
A week after Furman, I would be challenged again with maintaining self-assurance despite less than ideal conditions. A small spider bite-like mark appeared on my right calf and I originally thought nothing of it. However, a couple days later the mark had grown quite sizably and had become painful. I initially went to the hospital, was given some antibiotics to treat it as if it were a bite, and thought I would be on my merry way. Unfortunately I woke up the next day and the mark had grown. By that evening, walking had become excruciating, and my calf was throbbing. I sent a picture of the mark to my doctor, and it was back to the hospital I went. The initial confusion was cleared and I was diagnosed with MRSA. After a few days in a hospital bed, in which I could not sleep a wink and where I obviously did not do any running, I was sent home with some antibiotics and well wishes. I now had about two weeks until USAs, but as Gags reminded me, ‘wherever you finish, it won’t be noted with an asterisk because things didn’t go perfectly leading in. ‘
Training had suddenly gone flat following the admittance. Whether it was from the antibiotics, lack of sleep or just the broken rhythm, it is unclear. Nine days out from my prelim in Oregon, I was due for some work at race pace—which resulted in a post-workout trash can visit [but I did hit my times!]. A few days later I had to stop some long intervals half way through because my legs felt as if they were carrying an extra 50 lbs. My body was not responding, but I wasn’t overly worried because I was willing to listen. I had finished off the antibiotics, and I was committed to sleeping long hours each night, but most importantly, I took my runs easy. My legs were coming back to life. The Thursday prelim was a small, but stacked field with a number of us who probably “deserved” to be in the final, but there is a reason we race. Although I felt strong aerobically, my legs were not turning over the last 100m like I needed them to, but I held on to get the final time qualifier. That was the rust buster I needed. My legs opened up a bit, and I got my ass kicked, but I felt normal after that and a resurgence of spring returned to my steps.
Saturday came and I was calm and relaxed leading in. I have learned that I do my best racing when there is a balance between nerves and normalcy. In the past, I would focus on the first portion of the race; how do I get out that first lap? But this year, I have been focusing on the final 150m instead during my pre-race visualization. That is where the race really starts. After cruising along at a reasonable, but not swift first 900 meters, the race took off and I was close enough to the front that I was able to respond and connect to the group. It was a game of follow the leader meets hold on for dear life and I came in 6th. I crossed the finish line wiped out and knowing that I had done everything in my power to give myself the best chance on the day, and that’s all you can ask for. I wanted a top 3 finish and the opportunity to represent the USA in Beijing, but this whole year has been a tremendous leap forward in my fitness and more importantly my racing. It is better to walk away from a race being happy and finding positives in the performance—it keeps you sane. If I continue to close the gap on the front of the field then I will be there when it counts most with 150m to go next year. The next level comes with consistency, mileage, a better lifestyle and more hope, but most importantly confidence that I belong there.
My Summer Schedule: 7/7-Cork, Ireland (1 Mile) 7/11-Madrid, Spain (3k) 7/18-Heusden, Belgium (1500) 7/23-Toronto, Canada (1500/Pan Ams) This season has been incredible, and I am excited for what the summer has ahead. Big thank you to Hoka One One the New Jersey*New York Track Club and Flynn Sports for the continued support!