The Origin Of Speed

I know that it is not a shock to any of you, but I ran the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA last Sunday. As you are well aware by now, I enjoy running and racing, but this wasn’t just a race; it was also an opportunity to fulfill a promise to myself. The promise was to let go, and run as fast as I could from start to finish.

 My happy place.

My happy place.

I remember the first time I knew I was fast. I was in the 3rd grade, and it was early in the school year because I hadn’t made too many friends yet, (we had just moved to Claremont with my mom after my parents’ divorce), but every day when I was dismissed from lunch for recess, I threw my crumpled up brown peanut-butter and jelly laced lunch bag into the trash can like a boss, and bolted across the black top toward the playground. Those ten to fifteen seconds of extreme arm and leg pumping were a joyful and legitimate expression of speed that made feel alive, and insured my lonely little eight year old self that I was special.

 50M Dash at the Vista Track Meet, 1989. That's 9-year old me in the yellow T-Shirt screen right. 

50M Dash at the Vista Track Meet, 1989. That's 9-year old me in the yellow T-Shirt screen right. 

As the years progressed, I explored various avenues of developing my speed; however, some instances were more daunting than others. For example, I remember nervously asking my track coach my freshman year of high school why he put me in the 4x200 varsity relay team during an important invitational track meet? “Because you ran a 0:28 last week!” That’s not Allyson Felix fast, but it is pretty quick.

 Allyson Felix showing how you close out a race.

Allyson Felix showing how you close out a race.

My favorite event was the 100m hurdles. That event takes a lot of practice because there is a rhythm needed to develop in between each hurdle, the “3-Step.” I finally achieved the illusive 3-Step during spring practices after my junior year season. The timing was hilarious, it would have been much more useful picking that up few weeks prior, but I was also very excited to exploit my newly cracked potential during my senior year. To sum up, I had an excellent senior season. I actually finished second place in the 100m hurdles at our league finals, then was quickly brought back to earth when I got creamed during my heat at CIF Prelims.

 Claremont Invitational at Pomona College, 1994. This was before I grasped the 3-Step.

Claremont Invitational at Pomona College, 1994. This was before I grasped the 3-Step.

Nevertheless, I left high school thrilled with what I accomplished, and under the naive impression that I could leave my speedy ambitions snuggly in my youth. I was wrong.

Cut to February 2016, I had just admitted to myself and the world on this here blog, that maybe my years of speedy potential had plateaued after running a proficient, yet lackluster LA Marathon. I started to believe that after twenty years of competitive running, the last fifteen saturated with marathons, had finally taken their toll on my mid-to-late thirties body and I was starting to slow down. Just typing those words upsets me. Nope. I wouldn’t give up on the one super-power I truly felt I possessed. This teen of the 90’s wanted her speed back.

I have made many careful choices in the last year to recapture my run speed. In the process, I discovered that even though I am not as quick as I was when Dylan was making his devastating choice between Kelly and Brenda, a 0:28 200m is a bit of a stretch today, I have gained something even more meaningful, grit. According to Angela Duckworth, the incredible author who wrote the book Grit, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.” I am positive that I have plenty of passion and perseverance in regards to running. I suppose training for and completing 10 Ironman’s and 42 marathons will help cultivate grit in a person, or maybe I have as much now as I did at eight years old screaming across my elementary school? In any case, I am on a mission to challenge myself every day, in every work out, and then let it all fly on race day.

So, what happened at the race on Sunday? Did I fulfill my promise of letting go and not holding back? Let’s find out…

 Huntington Beach, Ca. Just off the shuttle bus walking toward the start.

Huntington Beach, Ca. Just off the shuttle bus walking toward the start.

I went into the race with a goal finish time of 1:32 hours, an insanely fast time that I never would have dreamed of hitting a year ago, but had complete faith that I could that morning because my coach believed I could do it, and honestly, I did, too.

The strangest part about race morning was that I was not nervous at all. I was ONLY excited. I don’t care what anyone says, there is a difference. However, the ultimate good omen of the day was when I pulled into the parking lot and not only found a roomy spot waiting for my large black truck to slide into, but also a luxurious lineup of 4x port-a-potty’s set up to make mine, and many other runner’s morning much more efficient. Thank you, Surf City!

I lined up fairly close to the front at the start, but once the gun went off, I needed to jaunt and duck around a few runners before I found the perfect spot tucked within the 1:30hr. pace group. Yep, cruising at a 6:45 – 6:50min. mile pace felt comfortable… Wha?? Who am I?

 Near the finish, and feelin' it.

Near the finish, and feelin' it.

Another HUGE factor in my race was a note I had from my coach to eat a couple of gels during the race. I realize that may not seem like an outlandish request, but I have always been very minimal with my race nutrition, a strategy she felt could use some tweaking. Those of you who have read Chapter 5 of my book know why I have trepidations when it comes to my tum-tum. Therefore, I made sure to practice eating the gels during simulated race workouts, because I wanted to prep my gut for the extra dose of calories it would ingest mid race. Thankfully, I was able to take down the gels just fine in practice, so my confidence was high that I could do it during the race as well. Good news, the gels worked.

The race played out better than I planned it would. I was under my 1:32 hr. pace all day, but I did drift behind the 1:30hr. pace group just before mile 8. I’m not quite there, yet. Nevertheless, I wanted to push hard every step, I was perfectly fine leaving the race hobbling if it meant I had given it everything I had. I did start to waver and crept over 7:10min. miles around mile 11, but I was still running as hard as I could, I just couldn’t run any faster. Then just after mile 12, I found another gear, pushed harder, and dropped back down to just above 7min. mile pace, and sprinted into the finish shoot in 1:31:02 hours.

I definitely followed through on my promise, and am thrilled with where my fitness is now at 37 years old.:)

Next up is another date with the LA Marathon on March 19th. I can’t wait.