From Mile High to Motown: Personal Best at 7,400 Feet
The second in a series of posts from Bad Angel guest bloggers Laura and Brent, who live in Denver and are training for their first 26.2, the Detroit Free Press Marathon, on Oct. 21.
I have read that visualizing what you want to achieve over and over again can lead you to success in actually doing whatever it is that you wish to do. You look outside your body and see yourself as someone great. Maybe you’re fast, elegant, confident, as if you are in a movie. Or, maybe you are Prefontaine — with an even better mustache. Sometimes, it works.
I recently ran my fifth half marathon (as a part of my full marathon training) in the high mountain altitudes with the least amount of “long” training runs under my belt. A few weekends before the half, I struggled with my 10-miler – went out too late in the morning and wasn’t properly hydrated and the relentless mountain sun got the best of me. I maybe completed 8 and walked a lot of it. I beat myself up, imaging how this would put me behind and somehow jeopardize future training and eventually lead to my failing to complete a full marathon. Dramatic, right?
The next long run was an 11-miler, and I bounced back with a decent outing, visualizing along the way my goal for the half marathon and how I would finish. It was also cooler and I did a better job of focusing on breathing. Each mile, I said, “You are going to set a PR at altitude,” in my head. On shorter weekday runs, I continued to think about what it would feel like and look like at the finish when I “PR’d.”
So, with just about two months of training behind me (for better or worse), I lined up with the other 3,100 runners and got ready for the very beautiful, and very mountainous, Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon. The altitude at the start was more than 8,500 feet, and we would cross the finish at just around 7,400 feet. The course had a lot of rolling hills, but the net was a decline in elevation. I tried to make sure I didn’t go out too fast, but I did have a hidden agenda to pass the 2-hour pacers if I wanted to achieve my goal, so I kept an eye on where they were.
The race day was great: cool, light winds and the sun hiding behind some clouds. For about five miles of the race, we wound around a dirt trail that followed a mountainside creek. The course continued through an old mining town and past a zip-line adventure park. At some point, I passed the 2:05-ers and came up on the 2:00 pacers. After what felt like a short time, I was nearing the town of Idaho Springs, Colo., and the last three miles of the race. I was getting tired, legs and ankles burning, feeling like I needed to breath some oxygen into my thighs.
I have noticed that at higher altitudes, if you stop focusing on your breathing, your pace drops dramatically. You can start getting light-headed, cramps, weird chills and all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. I was sure to stop at the water station and take in some deep breaths.
I continued to repeat, now out loud, “Let’s do this, you are only a few miles away from your best time. Do it!” I didn’t turn to look back, but I knew that I needed to stay in front of the 2:00 pacers if I wanted to achieve it. So, I did.
Over those last three miles, I continued to visualize crossing the finish line. I finally came around the last half mile and turned the corner where I could see the finish. I probably had the biggest, goofiest smile I ever and kicked it in to cross the finish line, where I spotted Brent. I could not wait to say, “I got my best time! This is the fastest I’ve ever finished a half! I love you!”
High fives all around.
My official time was 1:59:00, beating my past record of 1:59:36. Is that a super impressive finish time? Not really. I didn’t even beat my previous time by a whole lot. I also don’t have a sweet Prefontaine mustache. But, personally, I felt pretty outstanding! Visualizing these “little victories” and accomplishing them has given me more inspiration to keep going toward the full marathon in October. It’s an exercise in mental training as much as it is physical. So, if there’s one thing I went to the mountains to be able to tell you, it’s to go ahead and imagine your awesome self.
Yours In All Things Bad,