Editor’s Note: Ashley, a Second City Fitness client, began training with Jeff in late February and is blogging about her experiences. Last weekend, she snagged a huge PR in the Wisconsin Half Marathon and smashed a long-time goal. Yesterday, Jeff wrote about how “The Ashley Project” is progressing and talked about the race, which he ran along side her. Today it’s her turn.
It’s been almost a week since I ran the Wisconsin Half Marathon, and I’m pretty sure there’s still a smile on my face. After 10 weeks of training with Second City Fitness, I finished my sixth half marathon in 2:57:50 – a personal best, even with a bathroom stop! I managed to cut 20:20 off my half marathon time from mid-February and snagged a PR by 14:37. Most importantly to me, I finally managed to break the elusive 3:00 barrier.
Looking back on the race, the time I cut off is impressive. But there’s so much more than those by-the-numbers accomplishments. I think about how nervous I was at the start of training and how confident I felt when we lined up in the corral. (Confession: there was a hefty dose of race-week hysterics. Just ask anyone within earshot of me in those last seven days.) I’m blown away by how easy the bulk of the race felt and how strong and steady I was along the course – until those last two godforsaken miles. An hour after the finish, when I limped to the car, I realized that I probably could have done even better.
The race itself was gorgeous. We ran by huge, old mansions in Kenosha, through part of the city’s downtown and then back north, along the water. But a lot of the run itself is hazy. As a run-walker, I’d planned on doing 5/1 intervals (five minutes of running, 1 minute of walking) for the whole course, thinking I’d throw in a few 4/2s every so often if I got tired or needed a break. (At this point, because of my pacing commitments with Chicago Endurance Sports, all my long runs had been at 4/2s, so I’d never run further than four miles with the 5/1 intervals.) Instead of being tired, I felt almost invigorated. During the first 7 or 8 miles, I’d hear the Garmin beep an alert to change to a walk and I’d be frustrated and think: “Man, already? I don’t want to stop. I’m in the groove.”
I asked Jeff, who usually runs a far, far, FAR faster pace, to keep me entertained on the course so I wouldn’t think about how tired I was. It’s a strategy I use when I’m pacing runners and it also helps the time fly by. This time, though, I knew I’d be the one needing the distraction. And boy, did he deliver. Not only was I occupied and laughing, but it helped the miles fly by. (Poor guy, he was hoarse – and sore – by the end of the whole thing. What at trooper.) We spotted Kristin and the Second City Fitness mascot doggies probably four times on the course. I also got a chance to wave at my friend Amanda, fellow #RunChi member Chuck and one of my CES coaches.
In my many weeks of pestering Jeff about the plan for race day (I am painfully detail-oriented), he explained that we’d be shooting for a negative split and running the race like it was a 10-mile warm up with a 5K at the end. We’d start out running around a 14:00/mile, drop the pace for the second mile, and try to mostly hold steady around 13:15-13:30 for miles 3-9, before ramping it up for the final push. The plan worked.(It’s worth noting that with the bathroom break and some extra distance, I finished with a 13:20 pace.)
We passed Amanda, out cheering for us at mile 11 after she finished with her own kick ass 2:01 PR. It wasn’t until another half mile later that I realized I’d miscalculated how much water was left in my fuel belt and was getting tired, thirsty, sore and cranky. (FYI: This is not a great combination.)
With a mile left, I started to pick up speed. And I managed to cover the last quarter mile with a 9:35 pace. This was also I threatened to punch Jeff. Why? Not because he was pushing me too hard or because he was yelling – it was the opposite. As we closed in on the finish line, Jeff started congratulating me. He said he was so proud of me. And that I was about to reach the goal I’d worked so hard for over the past 2+ months. Panting, I turned to him and said: “Jeff, I swear to God. I will punch you if you make me cry right now. If I cry, I can’t breathe and I need all the air I can get.”
Gracious? Maybe not. But I was pushing as hard as I could at the end and felt the telltale lump in my throat.
As we ran into the chute, Jeff started shouting to the crowd “she’s getting a PR! She’s getting a PR!” And I swore, I heard people cheering my name.
As I kicked across the sensors, it was a rush of emotion – and a frantic effort to breathe. I turned and gave Jeff a hug and panted “thank you,” which still doesn’t seem adequate enough.
All along this journey, I’ve been humbled by the support and encouragement I’ve gotten from friends, my CES teammates and from Kristin and Jeff. In my first blog post, I said how I was discovering that Jeff believed in me even more than I believed in myself.
“The Ashley Project,” as Jeff calls it, is turning out to be about far more than just improving splits and snagging PRs. It’s about shedding doubt and insecurities and learning to believe in myself the way he believes in me. I tried to remember that in the final days before the race. When I started having a panic spiral, I repeated the Henry Ford quote that Jeff loves: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” So by the time I woke up on race morning, I’d decided to simply believe I could do it (after all, I thought, why would Jeff set me up to fail?) and that I was in the mood to kick a little ass.
Seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes is, at first, profoundly uncomfortable. Those first few weeks of training made me want to alternately squirm or hide under the covers. But as my body’s gotten stronger, the rest of me has too. It hasn’t been easy and the journey certainly isn’t over – in fact, it’s really just beginning – but with each mile of that race course, I felt myself becoming a stronger person.
Now? I can’t wait for what’s next.