Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lessons in Patience

One thing that I was pretty sure that cancer would not take from me was my patience.  Clicking off weeks and months of treatment and months and months of appointments, surgery and recovery, I often thought how this practice could help me become more patient as a person, and a more patient distance runner.  It takes patience to train for, and to run, long distances.    

Prior to cancer I was not really a fast runner.  My strengths as a runner were primarily that I was very patient, and very controlled, and “kind of strong” in general.  Some called it toughness. Whether it was physical or mental I'm not sure.  I was the queen of the perfect repeat, or of the negative split in workouts and many races.  I have many times relaxed and watched as competitors have run past me at mile 18 in order to pass them again at 25.  I’ve been able to control my pace to almost exact times.  I could follow a race plan to a “T”.  Once, I ran a marathon within 6 seconds of my goal time. Also, the average pace of the last 6 miles (of that marathon) was 1 minute faster than the first 20.  A negative split.  That was how I wanted it.  Partly because that's how I trained, and partly because when I had asked the head coach of my running group that time, Steve Sisson of Rogue, if a negative split marathon was possible and he said.. It's very difficult to do... but possible... it was then that I knew that negative splitting the marathon was what I needed to do.

During my cancer treatment I often tried to parallel treatment to distance/trail training in my mind.  It was something that gave me comfort due to the familiarity and the small feeling of control that it gave me.  Somehow, I could “pace” myself through it.  I also felt that if I couldn't train by running, at least I was going to be tuning and strengthening the important skills of patience and control.

Now, after over a year of this practice and 4 months of being back to running, I’m wondering… “Is it possible that, instead of tuning and strengthening my patience and control, I have used them up or let them go?”  Regarding control…I do know that this cancer treatment required me to “give in to THE METHOD” on more occasions than I was comfortable.  It did indeed require patience to continue for the 16 months I have endured, however, now I’m finding myself impatient and eager. I began to realize this about 6-8 weeks ago when I first started having some good runs.  After my warm up, or even before I was warm, I would find myself beginning to pick up the pace much earlier in the workout than I ever would have before. If I was doing repeats of something, like mile repeats, the 3rd or 4th repeat might be the fastest instead of the more desired last one.  This goes against everything that's always worked for me before in training.  I actually even used to lightly mock people like me who would run this way.  I've known it was happening and I've just let it.  I have NOT controlled myself.  I have given in to the temptation to run out of control.

This Saturday I ran a 25K trail race.  This weekend’s race was yet another lesson for me.  This race was supposed to be a training run for me. 

This was my RACE PLAN: Run the first 5 miles easy and then the last 10.5 miles at race pace and achieving a negative split overall.

Here’s how it went:
Mile 1: Too Fast.  *Fastest mile of My race,  but…. I’ll let that slide… everyone was fast. 

Mile 2: Too fast again.  Try to calm down. Try to follow plan…
Mile 3: Try to Pace….Try to be OK with letting these stupid Bitches pass me up this hill. They will pay later.

Mile 4: Running Balls Out! on the downhills!  Not patient! Not controlled…  But SO FUN!  I killed everyone near me for that next mile or two, that's for sure!  Really, I think that trying to keep up with me for those couple miles must have hurt some folks because I think only 1 guy passed me after that.  I did go on to pass maybe 9-10 people the rest of the race.  This all sounds kinda good, but, I kinda killed myself too.  AND I did not follow my plan...! I didn’t maintain control.

Around mile 6 I took some time to ease up and try to regroup and it helped some. It prevented a full on BONK, but some of the damage had been done. It was not going to be the negative split training run I had planned.

Pace and manage.  I don't know where this came from, but this was my mantra from mile 7-14.

At mile 14 I came up behind a woman who I had raced against, and beat, at the 20 miler that I won back in March 2010.  My Heyday J.  I was tired, but I had to catch and pass this person.  At this point this was a good thing for me. It gave me some focus.  Once I passed her, I was able to see the finish line and one person between me and the finish that looked like she could have been in my age group. There was about .5 miles to go.  I wasn’t sure if I had enough time to catch her, but I knew I would be angry at myself if she was in my category and I did not try.  So, I pretended that I heard my friends cheering for me, and I answered, for myself, a question that I had recently heard asked…Do you have something more to give?  And I passed her within 20 yards of the finish line.

Now that I think about it, it’s likely that this woman was just finishing her first loop of the 50K race that had started 30 minutes before my race….  (In the running world, this is probably pretty pathetic that I was trying to beat a girl in the race of twice the distance I was running. But hey, I didn’t know…and I could not take that chance anyway J). That last mile was my second fastest of my race.

Here I am holding my 2nd place in age group award. 

 10th female overall out of 36. 

Despite my disappointment that i did not follow my race plan,  I AM very happy with this.  This place is very similar to something I might have done just before cancer.  As a matter of fact, the last race that was put on by this group (Rogue) that I ran back in May 2010, I got 2nd in my age group and 8th female.  I know now that my body just wanted to see what it could do.  It was in a fight with my mind and this time I let it win.  


  1. Boom! Way to annihilate, Emily!

  2. Congrats Emily on a successful outcome in the 25K! Sounds like your competitive fervor won out at times over your quest to rein in the pace the first 4-5 miles. The important thing is that you were able to re-establish your desired pace mid race and still finish strong. No one touches you on the downhills- you're scary fast!!

    Thank you for being a mentor for me in my trail running intro. You're an inspiration!!

  3. OUT OF CONTROL! Now that's my style. ;-) I think it's good to mix up some runs like this with your meticulously planned ones. Way to put those wild puzzle pieces together on-the-fly for an awesome race!