by Sarah Duffy
Back in Charlotte, I’m sitting over glasses of wine with Stacy - my training partner, competition, running mentor, and wonderful friend (Stacy wears many hats J ) – recounting the magic that was the Humana Rock N Roll Chicago ½ Marathon. She listens intently as I describe my meal planning, shakeout run, and every mile of the race. Each time I take a pause to breathe, I see that she just continues to slyly grin as I verbally try to figure out how it was that non-goal, not well trained for half marathon ended not only in a PR but also in one of the strongest, most controlled race I’ve run to date.
“I can’t figure out how I was able to sustain that pace. How did I not mentally blow up when my second mile was a whole minute faster than what I wanted to be running at? And then HOW did I manage to kick at the end?”
There are many, many reasons why I love Stacy. Anyone who meets her can feel her love and joy for life, and that joy is just infectious when you’re around her. But she also has this incredible ability to clearly see what I am so blind to. Her answer is so simple that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before: I was able to do all the above because, for once, I wasn’t racing for myself. I was racing as a team member. I wasn’t thinking about MY pace or MY physical strength. I was running for and with my friend.
My friend Josh & I met a year ago and quickly figured out that we were good running partners – about the same pace, get along incredibly well, don’t mind the silence during hard efforts, and continuously push each other. When we talked about the Chicago race, we set a pretty simple plan: 1) Take it easy and have fun 2) don’t hurt yourself.
You probably know where this is going, because since when do race “plans” ever pan out as hope?
The gun went off and we stampeded into the Windy City. No..seriously. Mile 1: 6:26.
“Well that was dumb.” Okay. Wait and see how mile 2 goes. We’ll settle down.
Mile 2: 6:07. Ha..ha..ha…WHAT? And just like that, I had no idea what to do next.
“Now what do you want to do?”
Josh’s answer was so simple: Shut up and just run.
Just run. That I can do.
A wonderful thing happens when you stop worrying about pace. Your body takes over control and runs at the speed it is capable of, not the one you force on it.
Miles ticked by – 3, 4, 5, 6 - the splits steadied and became incredibly even. We kept checking in with each other – “How do you feel? Comfortably Uncomfortable. Should we slow? Probably. Do you want to? No. Okay then J
There is a picture of Josh & I that was taken at mile 6 which perfectly captures every emotion of this race. It’s blurry, which I think is all too appropriate. But in the picture, we are smiling and laughing, looking around at the crowd as we speed past the camera. That was this race. It was a blur. It was exhilarating. And it was a team effort.
By talking through the events of the race, the miles that I can and can’t quite remember, I realized that for the first time in any race (after the first 2 miles, of course), I felt more in control of my pace than I have on any other run – race or training. I knew what it felt like to speed up, and knew when we slowed down. And once we found that “comfortably uncomfortable” pace, I fell into the rhythm and ran the most freeing, happy, and controlled miles of my life at a pace that ended up carrying me to a PR finishing time.
Could I have done this on my own? Probably – but I don’t believe I would have had the confidence to try had Josh not been by my side.
On any other day, and in any other race I had my heart and mind set on a time goal, the first two miles would have freaked me out, setting me up to be too mentally fatigued and frustrated to race well. But it didn’t. Together, we started to believe we could hold the pace. We were in this together whether we held on or not.
When you work with others you become better. Better at being in the moment. Better at getting the most out of yourself on THAT day. Better at jumping in unprepared and rolling with it; at having fun, at letting go of control. You become a better runner, athlete, and person.
We are stronger and better because of the great team we surround ourselves with.