It’s been far too long (over two weeks!) since I ran the Kauai Marathon. Life has been a hectic roller-coaster since then– one that I feel very lucky that I get to ride, and included things like a jaunt to Chicago a few days after.
I’m just getting back into the swing of my life. So, what happened a few weeks ago?
If I had to sum up my marathon experience for Kauai 2016, it would be one word: trust.
Okay, maybe two. I’d also add, “surrender” to this list.
Today, a post popped up on Facebook that reminded me that, two years ago today, I ran the Maui Marathon.
It was a big deal for me, Maui 2014, because it was my first marathon back after a 1-year hiatus from racing. After being hit by a car a few years before, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to run a marathon ever again, much less at the same speed I had before.
Somehow, miraculously, I PR’d that race. I don’t think that it was any particular special training (though I had begun doing more yoga and was generally in better shape). I think that, once I decided to return to running and rebuild my running capabilities, I had no choice but to trust that my body could do this. There was no goal or time I was trying to hit, I showed up to that race with one goal: show that my body could still surprise me.
It’s fitting that I write this post today, then, because Kauai was a similar study in letting go. After years of marathon running, I am sometimes quick to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details (that I sort of nerd out on).
At the end of the day, though, being a runner and athlete are about so much more than the race or the game. We put so many hours into building these bodies to perform. At the end, all we can do is try and honor the work we have put in. We have to trust that we have the tools we need to do well already built into us.
The week before a race, I do everything I can to get out of my head.
I have to, or I’ll jut go nuts, frankly. I’ve done enough marathons to know that overthinking my process to close to race day can be dangerous. I became a runner out of joy and accomplishment, got real into it, then had to re-learn to love it without being so caught up on time.
Kauai was my 10th marathon, and I felt like I had a pretty strong handle on my game plan. Yes, I had to run my 20-miler 10 days before on a Wednesday morning before school started (yeah, that was rough). Sure, I’d been incorporating CrossFit and even a little Muy Thai into my training, but I had been here before.
Per my race experiences from last year, I spent the week before slowly increasing my carb/starch intake (meaning lots of rice bowls, occasional pizza, and even a beer or two).I also did my best to taper, but this time supplement with other cross training.
My boyfriend, Chase, was kind enough to take the trip with me. If I’m honest, part of me was really worried about bringing him. I’m kind of a loner when it comes to racing. I can get moody and in my head (see above struggle). I have to be picky about what I eat (I ran my third LA Marathon with food poisoning. It was horrible). And after the race, I am often a weeping mess of sweat and snot. Normally, I have only subjected my parents to this because they love me unconditionally and are good people. It’s not exactly how I wanted my boyfriend-of-four-months to see my just yet.
Still, this is one of the nice things about dating another athlete. Instead of feeding into my anxiety or being annoyed that I couldn’t do normal fun things like hiking or eating all the ice cream, he was super supportive and made sure that I took care of all my pre-race needs.
He also did a great job of making sure I didn’t take myself too seriously. The night before the race, I was studying the course elevation and said, “BABE. LOOK AT THESE HILLS. I AM RUNNING ALL THESE HILLS. IT IS GOING TO BE SO HARD.”
He looked over my shoulder and smiled. “Don’t worry, babe. Your ego is way bigger than some of those hills.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
In the days before, we ventured around the island and did things that would make me not use my legs too much. This included a lot of snacking, picking up my race packet, and driving to Waimea canyon.
Fortunately, we stayed about a mile from the start and finish line. This cost a little extra but was totally worth it. The VRBO we got was gorgeous, and it meant we could both sleep in a little before the race.
The day before, I ran a quick little 2-miler to shake my legs out. I felt good. I have to admit, I was feeling more competitive than I wanted to let on for this race. Last year, I had finished second in my division and 9th female overall. I wanted to see if I could at least stay at the same place.
I woke up the next morning itching to go. I quietly slipped my gear on, kissed my boyfriend goodbye, did a quick sign of the cross and set out to the start line.
Oh Kauai. You beast of a race. You beauty. You gem.
I had (and continue to have) nothing but fond memories of Kauai. It’s a small but spectacularly well-run race (in part, no doubt, to the influence of Bart Yasso and A Runners’ World). The race started off with an ‘oli welcoming us to the island, and we were off.
But honestly , I don’t know what I wrote last year, but THIS RACE WAS HARD GUYS. It was so hard. See below for the pacing shenanigans caused by the race’s beast of a course.
The first few miles are a gradual incline and are a good mental preparation for the rest of the race. There are some rolling hills, but it’s mostly a slow climb up.
Then, there was a hill at mile 4 and 6 that were just brutal. Yes, the tunnel of trees is gorgeous (and provided a nice opportunity to mentally try and check myself), but my pace had seriously slowed down. By mile 6, I was beginning to freak out. I was tempted to call Chase and tell him not to meet me at the finish line because I just may not make it there anytime soon.
Then, I had this moment of clarity when we finally had a brief respite from the hills. Your body is built to do this. I knew that I had the physical and mental tools to at least run a race I was proud of, so I didn’t want to count myself out yet.
I also made another executive decision: I turned music on. Normally, I’m a huge proponent of running quietly (or was last year), but to be honest, I had not been training silently. I asked myself why I was so hesitant to hit ‘play’ and realized the only thing stopping me was my ego. I also knew that the music might be a helpful mental tool to get me to chill out, so I turned it on.
Honestly, the rest of the race is a blur of pain and hills. Some quick notes:
- I definitely felt top heavy at the beginning of the run. I don’t know if this was psychosomatic or not, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m adjusting to my body a little bit. About 3 months ago, I started doing CrossFit (which I have loved and will need to write about at some point). This has been great for my overall fitness, but did add an additional inch of muscle to my biceps alone. I’m pretty sure I’m carrying a little more weight up top, which isn’t necessarily bad (especially given my results), but something to think about.
- I have to get over my own resistance to walk some of these hills. I should’ve remembered from last year that it’s the only way to get through some of them (seriously, those elevations are brutal on your body). I also think that taking walk breaks can be helpful. As you can see, really the entire course, especially at the half-marathon point, is a series of brutal, soul-crushing hills in some of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen.
- I had another near mental breakdown around mile 14. I was sure, sure that I wouldn’t place or finish anywhere near last year’s time. I had been passed by a few folks I had wanted to use as my pacers. I was feeling down. I was in a bad mental place. Then, at 15, I finished another brutal hill and made up time on the downhill. I took a breath and reminded myself what I’ve always known: marathons are long. You have to play the long game. I kept pushing.
- At mile 18, I found grace and gratitude. The course opens up to this beautiful downhill. To the left was all trees, to the right overlooked this gorgeous, green vista. It was magnificent. This is strange, but I just heard my grandfather’s voice saying, “Appreciate this, mija.” and started crying. Hard. I just kept saying “thank you, thank you,” because I realized what a blessing it was to have full use of my legs and run them in all kinds of beautiful races. I tried to hold onto this feeling.
- I trained for this race, and it showed. Miles 18 and on were really where my training kicked in as well. I had specifically trained with Kauai in mind over the past few months. I knew how mentally difficult the end of the race is after those hills, so I made it point to do my daily runs (4-6 miles at half-marathon pace) after hard workouts (e.g. I’d do a CrossFit WOD, slip on my running shoes, and head out to run). In the last few miles of the race, I was able to keep my pace up, thinking, This is just like a post-CF run. Push! I passed quite a few folks in those stretches, so I’m glad the training helped me finish strong.
- At mile 21, I knew I was in the home stretch. My pacing had been so everywhere I didn’t know how to measure where I’d finish. I figured I’d just suck it up and get it done to the best of my ability.
- I even finished with a little kick. At mile 25, I was so eager to be done (and rejuvenated by the women who give out ice-cold mint-scented towels. Bless you, ladies) that I pushed my pace and finished as close to sprinting as possible.
So, how’d I do?
Kauai Marathon: 4:02:05
- 1st place in my division.
- I didn’t expect this at all. I knew I had course PR’d, but figured this was a tough pool. After cleaning up a little and getting some water, my boyfriend and I walked to the results to see if we should stick around. I plugged in my bib number, saw this on the computer and started crying.
- 6th woman overall
- 30th overall
This race really taught me the value of preparation for a race– both mentally and physically.
Physically, I’m really happy I’ve started finding ways to use my cross training to better prepare for the race. I made a calculated choice to train for endurance over speed knowing Kauai’s course (e.g. adding the runs in after CrossFit, or purposefully adding short runs after other workouts). I have no doubt this is what allowed my body to stay strong even when my mind was in another realm.
Mentally, I think I learned that you have to train like you perform, and you have to trust that training. I definitely could have done some better mental preparation here. I wish I had more carefully read my race report from last year or looked at my pacing from last year to remember how hilly it was!
Still, I think that trusting my experience and surrendering to the course really allowed me to dig myself out of some difficult mental spots throughout the race. I also think that not allowing myself to freak out in the week before the race helped me enter the overall course with sense of humility, excitement, and joy to run
And, really, that’s what it’s about, right? We endurance run for the sheer joy of it. We run because it lets us find that absolute, unfettered sense of freedom and happiness we had as children on the playground. We run because it’s part of our being. You can’t do this sport if you don’t truly find a sense of pleasure in the run, even when you’re in the worst of it. You have to be able to dig into the deepest part of what hurts, look
I learned that this sport forces you to dig into the deepest part of what hurts, look over the crest of that pain and see the other side. In the end, you know it’s going to feel good again; you know that at the end of the race is the culmination of every hour you have put into your training. The early mornings where you dragged yourself, lead-footed and still sleepy, out as the sun rose. The quiet evenings where you reflected on your day as your feet beat down the moments the sky turned from blue to pink to black.
Every single one of the miles prepared you to find yourself at mile 18, cruising down a hill surrounded by beauty, crying with gratitude and smiling with the sweetest sense of surrender you could ever imagine.