Confidence is a strong word. It’s really important in athletic endeavors (like skiing!) and throughout life. Often confidence in one realm of life breeds confidence in another realm of life. Confidence is something felt by the individual, but also something others can perceive.
Last year, I diligently watched almost every women’s World Cup race because I wanted to know who everyone was and how they were doing prior to watching the World Cup live in Canmore. Throughout the season, Jessie Diggins seemed to be doing better and better. Not only was she doing well at sprinting, but she was doing awesome in the distance races as well. One Saturday there was a 5 km individual start classic race in Falun. Jessie surprised herself and finished 5th overall behind four Norwegians. The next day was a mass start 10 km skate race at the same venue. With what looked like extreme confidence (at least watching it looked like Jessie had mega confidence) Jessie proceeded to try to ski with the Norwegians and was able to do so for awhile, eventually finishing 4th overall behind three Norwegians.
During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I was 11 and had a big crush on the Magnificent Seven (the US women’s gymnastics team). I excitedly watched the team competition which came down to the vault. Kerri Strug was the last US member to go and she fell and sprained her ankle on her second to last vault. She was clearly in a lot of pain but had to land her second vault to secure the gold medal for team USA. It was pretty obvious Kerri was in a lot of pain from her facial expressions but she knew what she had to do and even though she didn’t have a ton of confidence she focused and landed that second vault and man, she she was surprised when she landed that vault! At least per her facial expressions she looked pretty darn surprised. This summer in Rio there was an interview with the Magnificent Seven and Kerri said landing that vault gave her a lot of confidence in her life.
So where does this leave me in regard to confidence?
After high school, I was really burned out on running, and in particular, on running intervals. So I declared that I was not a runner and avoided running intervals and running races. Oh, I thought about doing them, but then thought better. Until I got really slow. Six years ago, in 2010, I vowed to become a faster runner and started doing intervals again. This resulted in surprising myself and running a faster Twin Cities Marathon than I believed I could run last year.
This gave me confidence to continue working on getting faster and made me excited to keep pushing myself through those intervals. I was even motivated to run a PR 5 K even though I had sworn I would never run that distance again many years ago.
It also motivated me to run a 10 mile race. A year ago, I thought about running a 10 mile race in sub 90 minutes (sub 9 minutes per mile). At the time this seemed like a reasonable goal that would be challenging but likely do-able. Zoom ahead to Twin Cities Marathon and I decimated this goal in the first 10 miles of the race. Hence I needed a new goal so decided to aim for sub 80 minutes (sub 8 minutes per mile). This was definitely fast for me and would be hard and I’d have to train, but likely possible as my PR 10 K is a 46:45 (average 7:31 minutes per mile).
This year I set my sights on the Bear Water Run, a 10 (1 lap) or 20 mile (2 laps) race around White Bear Lake on September 17th. This event was perfect because I could run the 10 mile and Erik, who is training for Twin Cities Marathon, could run the 20 mile.
|The map of the course. It's just about a perfect 10 miles around White Bear Lake.|
I diligently ran intervals every week alternating between fast 3-4 minute L4 pace (upper 6’s minute/mile) and longer tempo runs at about 7:45 minute/mile pace. I even slogged through some slow runs at 9,000 plus feet in Colorado. On the weekends I usually ran an overdistance run with Erik that was well over 10 miles. Overall my training went well.
The pace was going to be fast and I somewhat dreaded race day but tried to convince myself once I was in the race the pace wouldn’t seem THAT fast. Yet six years ago, when I was totally out of interval shape, I couldn’t even muster an 8 minute mile and now I was about to string 10 of them together! I wasn’t really sure I could run sub 80 minutes but despite this, I felt ridiculously confident. Despite my doubts, I felt my confidence would carry me through.
Maybe that’s why I wasn’t too nervous the morning of the race. Usually I get pretty nervous and that’s actually a good sign but I wasn’t very nervous race morning. Erik and I had planned that he would run with me for the first 7 miles, and then he would take off and run the next 13 miles at his goal marathon pace (7:15). I had checked out last year's results and it looked like my per mile time would place me in the top fifth of the race so I also planned to start very near the front.
I did start pretty close to the front but we started on a bike trail so the start wasn’t very wide. There were some slow people in front of me and I made quick work to get around them. It’s always hard to settle into a good pace and I didn’t want to be checking my watch too much so I just waited for the half mile autolap while I made sure I wasn’t breathing too hard early on. There was a group of runners already way in front of me but otherwise Erik and I were relatively alone.
|There was a competition between the water stops for Best Water Stop. Unfortunately I was running too fast to fully enjoy all the fun themes/costumes at the different water stops. Photo: Bear Water Run Race.|
My first autolap beeped in at 7:32 pace. Oops, a bit fast which is often what happens in races, and as I had told myself. I still felt confident because I wasn’t breathing too hard and felt fresh. I stopped trying to push and my pace slowed a bit. My first 3 mile times were 7:37, 7:52, and 7:45.
Just before mile 4 there was a big uphill but I kept up my pace, clocking my 4th mile at 7:52. There were water stops every 2 miles and I only planned to get water once or twice. I knew it would be difficult to take in much liquid while running fast. I got some water and had to slow to get enough down. Then at the end of the aid station a woman was handing out chocolate! I’d never taken chocolate before and it was like “to take or not to take the chocolate” in a fast 10 mile. I grabbed it and then thought it was probably a bad idea but I don’t waste food so I ate the chocolate. The jury is still out on whether this overall made me faster, slower, or was neutral.
There was another big uphill and then the course got flatter again. I was still feeling good but thinking I should probably get more water at the 6 mile aid station because even though it was only 62 degrees, it was really humid and my hat was soaked with my sweat. I slowed to take more water and Erik got ahead of me and I couldn’t quite catch up to him. My 5th and 6th mile times were getting slower at 8:07 (water and chocolate and uphills) and 7:59.
At mile 6, the effort got harder which was reflected in my slowing paces. Every half mile I stayed under an 8:10 pace I was elated. By mile 8 I was thinking some good thoughts (Elspeth, even though your are getting tired your paces are still about on target; this is a 10 mile PR, it is SUPPOSED to be hard; Elspeth, you really aren’t breathing THAT hard) and some bad thoughts (this is hard; I want to stop; it’s still more than 20 minutes running time to the finish).
|Running so fast I missed this trio at a water stop. Photo: Bear Water Run Race|
Yet at the same time, I felt confident I was going to do this. I just had to suffer a bit longer. My mile times for 7-9 were still pretty good (8:05, 7:54, and 8:09) and I had put some time in the bank early on in the race. I was going to do this.
I could hear a group of runners catching me. They were talking a lot about running marathons (including Boston) and I assumed they were running the 20 mile race. I tried to speed up so they wouldn’t catch me but they still did somewhere between mile 8 and 9. When they did I said, “stay with them Elspeth, don’t let them get away. Get distracted by what they are talking about.”
This was a good strategy. One guy was talking about why he was buying a new house. I told myself again that I wasn’t breathing that hard. Actually I noticed that as my legs tired and my stomach knotted up, my breathing got more shallow and I had to remind myself to breathe deeper which did help.
My half mile splits kept ticking away. One mile to go. OK, I can do this but I don’t feel like kicking yet. Half mile to go. Maybe I should think about starting a kick but I’m not read yet. More breathing. More listening. Check watch, OK, just a quarter mile and we’re nearing the last turn but now there’s a group of people in front of me. Should I go around them? But then I have to go into traffic. Once we made the last the turn, it was like, OK, gotta go now! So I went around in the grass and at the same time another woman went around the group on the other side. I could not stay with that woman but I did quicken my pace and ran as hard as I could. As I got near the finish the clock was in the low 1:19s and I ended crossing the finish line in 1:19:14. Mission accomplished thanks to surprising myself last year in the marathon and my new found confidence!At the finish my breathing was labored (my last mile was a not too shabby for me 7:46), my legs were really tired, and my stomach was quite knotted up. After I stopped breathing so hard and had managed to eat some recovery food, I tried going for a cool down jog but gave this up after 5 minutes because I was running so incredibly slow. This was testament to me pushing really hard during the race.
|Running fast and looking tired at the finish. Photo: Bear Water Run Race|