Last May, 2016, I sat in a room full of strong, capable women and really thought hard about what running means to me. I was at Oiselle‘s Southern Bird Camp held at ZAP Fitness, where professional runners sponsored by Reebok among other brands train. I had come to a challenging place with running, and didn’t exactly know how to answer the question, “why are you here?” Not to mention I didn’t yet know anyone, and was experiencing my usual anxiety around new people and the thought of speaking about myself to them. Around the circle we went with introductions. Everyone took their time, and we all gave each other space to let out what we had inside of us. My turn finally came, and I choked back tears and started talking. I was here because this was a mother’s day gift from the husband and our littles; I wanted to give myself space and belief to set goals, improve, and also learn from those inevitable moments of failure or falling short. I wanted to silence that voice in the back of my head whispering to me that my goals and dreams around running were somehow silly, or immature, or were not worthy of my time and energy. I realized at that point that I was occupying this strange space between desperately believing in my capabilities and potential, and giving up on myself as a runner.
It’s an understatement to say that I learned a lot at Bird Camp. I left with a proactive perspective for figuring out how to work toward the best version of myself. Shortly after this experience, I had the immediate focus of running my first 50k in June 2016, and then I promised myself I would take time to regroup and get healthy. I did just that, learning that I had been running with anemia for I don’t know how long. I put on the brakes, and made a lot of changes to get healthy. I allowed myself fluidity with running, and didn’t adhere to a training plan. I just ran by feel and without pressure. I did this for a few months. In that time I ran a relay with some of my teammates, and also a hometown favorite race (the Fincastle 5k/10k), where I have free entry for life from winning it in the past. We crushed the team relay, and I won the overall Fincastle 10k. Even though on paper these were solid efforts, neither of the events were exceptional in terms of my performance, and I was okay with that. I was just trying to have fun and rekindle my desire to train and be a competitive runner.
Around December 2016 I was ready to look ahead to what I wanted to accomplish in 2017. I reached out to my friend Patrick Woodford to see if he would be interested in coaching me. We started training in the last week of December. I told him I didn’t want to race too much, and my goals were to spend the entire first half of the year prepping for the Eiger Ultra 51k, an ultra marathon held in July in Grindelwald, Switzerland. I had woken up at 4:30am on the day registration opened for that race to secure a spot for myself and the husband. After a successful, but rough, first 50k, I wanted to redeem myself at this distance and see what I could really do. Plus, it was a great excuse to have an epic family vacation as well. Shortly after we started training, it became apparent that the time I took off to get healthy had paid dividends. My body was responding really well to the mileage increase and workouts, so we readjusted some of the “check-in” race goals I had leading up to the Eiger. For the Charlottesville ten miler, I changed my goal from 1:10 to 1:05. I ended up running 1:06:15, which I never imagined I would be able to do, much less after fewer than three months of training following a long break. Then came time to tackle a serious demon. Last year at the Anthem Star 10k, I completely imploded on the course. I still didn’t know at the time what was going on with my health. The 10k this year didn’t fit in super well with my training plan, but I went for it anyways because I really needed a win against Mill Mountain. I just couldn’t let the 2017 race roll around without going to show that mountain that I had come back from the thrashing it had given me last year.
I think the Blue Ridge Marathon races call to the people that live in these mountains, and increasingly to so many people beyond those geographic borders. The courses are relentless, tough, inspiring, humbling, and showcase our city’s beauty in the best possible way. They also highlight how passionate our community is about the natural beauty in which we live, and our desire to get out and move in it. All sorts of people with all sorts of abilities and goals take on these races, which is so inspiring on many levels. In the 10k alone you are able to fully appreciate how Roanoke is continuing to grow as an outdoor oriented city and economy. A “quick” 3.5 mile run up Mill Mountain puts you in the middle of some beautiful mountain foliage and trail systems, all before emerging back into the heart of the city’s downtown for the finish. The longer distances showcase all of this much more dramatically, of course. I love the 10k because I can fit it into my training plans even on years when a BRM race is not a main focus for me. This year saw the most competitive year in the 10k, as it continues to grow in popularity, with the fastest times run on that course in it’s history. Two of my male Roanoke Endurance Team-mates (Tyler O’brien and Nate Michener) ran under the previous men’s course record, taking the top 2 places in the men’s race. I took top female, with a PR and a new course record. I’m happy to say I slayed that demon that was hanging over my head with this race. Our team is in it’s nascent year, and our strong performances across all of the races (from the 10k to the Double!) help to fold us into that wonderful larger community (you can see the long list of RETsquad accomplishments from that day here). Roanoke is indeed a runner’s town.
For those considering any of the Blue Ridge Marathon races, I would encourage you to sign up early and start your training plan early as well. The marathon is fantastic (I’ve run it before too), but don’t discount the 10k (or the half for that matter – which my girl Natalie Patterson crushed this year). It’s not just a race that is for those that cannot handle a marathon, and it doesn’t have to just be a stepping stone to one of the longer races. The element of speed needed to compete in it, against yourself or others, is nothing to shirk and is a whole separate challenge apart from what it takes to run the full. When someone asked me if I was running one of the BRM races, I found myself once saying “Just the 10k!” Afterward, I rolled my eyes at myself, and promised that I wouldn’t say that again because the “just” discounts my race. I knew how hard it was going to be, how much it would hurt and take out of me, especially with the goals I had in mind. I want to see the 10k continue to grow as a goal race for others in it’s own right. So run it and wear it proud, all of you Anthem Star 10k-ers! And of course a huge congratulations to all of the runners no matter the race distance :). I’m looking forward to next year already.