Craft Classic Atlanta Half Mary Bang!

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“Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course”.

~James Clear, Atomic Habits

After a year and a half drought from racing half marys, I was ready to race Craft Classic in Atlanta. I was ready to put into a test the fitness buildup I’ve worked on so hard with Coach Dave and to have a glimpse of what was possible for Baystate in the upcoming month.

Every race has a purpose and I chose them carefully. There’s the analytical approach of selecting a race, and most importantly, an energy connection of why I choose a certain race. Craft Classic Atlanta was the perfect race for my timing. It was an out of state race, it lined up well with my marathon date and training schedule; the weather was slightly manageable to race, and the course appeared to be hilly. It was hard to detect how challenging the course was on paper or from the images of the course preview. However, it still provided an idea that I would have to work. How much work? Well, that became clear only on my way to Atlanta and while touring Atlanta with a runner’s eye.

Months after months I have been putting in the work on the track, pavement and on the dirt roads of the Serengeti (Clermont Clay Loop). The amount of physical effort I have worked on can be seen through my data. However, the amount of mental effort and work I have been developing is still a work-in-progress and yet, cannot be quantified. In anticipation of Craft Classic and Baystate, I worked with sports psychologist, Adrienne Langelier, a contributor to Kara Goucher’s book Strong, who has also worked with many other athletes and Olympians. I wanted to work with the best and do my very best on this journey. I was ready to play hard.

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I did the work. I studied the course to the best of my abilities with what I had. I was ready to play and have fun. It was party-on-the-pavement day, as my friend Leah says. As every race goes, peeing minutes before the gun goes off is a must. It isn’t a surprise that the potty line was a mile long; therefore, I crossed the start line by myself. No biggy.

From the get-go I was faced with a downhill, and of course, the uphill is right around the corner. Perhaps with half mile in, I saw my hubby cheering me on which helped me a little bit to remain calm. But the enthusiasm was short lived because right after waving at him, I was faced with another uphill. It was steep and I was analyzing how to maintain the pace my coach assigned for this race. This is where MENTAL FITNESS started to payoff and getting put into practice. As my coach said, the first 5K is about feeling it and getting into the flow. My psych coach said to be aware of distractions and work with them, while my philosophical and gut instinct is to breathe, stay calm, work with the problem to find a solution.

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After 3.1 miles of feeling it out and seeing nothing but hills and downhills, and cuts after cuts, I realized that, THAT IS IT! THAT IS IT, Celia. This is what you got. The entire course will be composed of uphill, downhill, curves and cuts. There was a sense of tranquility after acknowledging this distraction. I knew what I needed to do, and that is, work with the course. This has been the staple of my runs, daily trainings and life. I work with what I have; I take pride on that, I don’t force anything; I’ll take what is given to me, and I will find a way to get it done to the best of my abilities given a particular circumstance.

At the 10K mark, the goal still had not changed. My focus was still on managing my energy, my race and focusing on a PR. However, another distraction showed up and now I was facing the “pace chart” distraction. I was off the pace that my coach assigned. I start to feel concerned and noticed my breathing trying to get out of control. So, guess, what? I worked with it and I eliminated it. I stopped looking at my watch for the pace. I had to precisely focus on feel while knowing that I had to push and embrace discomfort a little kinder.

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By mile 10, the pounding, the cuts, the ups and downs started to take its toll. By mile 11 my left quad was feeling the pounding of the massive downhill I was running on. I looked at it and I could sense that there could be consequences. It was then that my mental fitness shifted to the next gear. The power of meditation practice and visualization techniques were being presented to me. I could hear my coach telling me how great it would be to race a hilly course. At this point, I felt an immense sense of gratitude and the struggle shifted to enjoyment instead of pain. This next level of gratitude allowed me to relate and visualize my favorite athlete’s struggle while doing the same thing I was doing. I imagined Eliud Kipchoge’s mannerism and eloquent form at the 40km marker of his race. I felt fortitude in his strength and created the same for me.

I carried this feeling with me to the finish line and crossing it strong as if I had done this before. This race is so special to me on so many levels. It is the first race I have ever won a first place in AG. However, it is the mental strength I brought in today and how I handled distractions that made extra special.  I was mesmerized by the hills and its difficulty. Hills are a matter of perception. It is subjective from person to person. Love or hate them, I choose to love them.

Final Score:

1:49:31 – PR – 1st AG – my very first AG on any race!

“Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

Fast Forward to Baystate

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“You gotta know who you are.”

~Demone Harris

It has been a busy year. Marathon training consumed all the energy and time I had, and life is happening at the speed of light. But in a nutshell, here are some of things that happened in between the big day at the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, MA.

Training. Training. Do I need to say more?

Orlando Runner’s Club 5K – June 22 (Orlando, FL)

OMG! What was I thinking? A 5k in the middle of Central Florida summer? Yes!!! If it wasn’t for Coach Dave, I’d never had the craziness to take on upon a 5K in the middle of summer. The warmup shenanigans revealed all that I need to know. It was hot and sweaty, so get ready to suffer for the next 3.1 miles.

I lined up where I belonged, and that is, the front row. The first mile was faster than I should had ran at 7:32; faded at mile 2 to 8:02 and tried to decrease to a decent pace for mile 3 at 7:48 and closing the next .10 mile at 6:56. It was painful. It was extremely hot. It was #badass. It was a PR. It was a place at the podium.

Final score:

24:05 PR – 2nd Place AG – mental fortitude gained

Baby Goat 5K – July 27 (Tampa, FL)

After having a blast at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp kick off the day before, including meeting OLB Demone Harris and taking a selfie with WR Chris Godwin, it was time to show to my own party. Again, it’s July in Central Florida, the heat and humidity are off the charts. Summer in Florida is guaranteed to rain and rain heavily. This week and the day before the race, it was no different. It rained a lot!

Nothing new here again as far as prepping and doing my warmup. But today, things felt different. My warmup simply felt horribly hot, exhausting, uncomfortable and heavy. The race didn’t start until 8:00 a.m. which might as well consider a 12:00 p.m. start time.

Right off the bat the race organizer disclosed the potential danger on the course. A puddle. There was a puddle within the first quarter of a mile from the start line. I didn’t make a big deal of it.

Gun went off, here I go, feeling ok but somewhat heavy but still in pace for another PR until I saw the puddle. It was a swamp. Literally. I was scared to run on it and misplace my footing. The water was dark like a lake. I walked through an ankle-high puddle as I internally cried feeling sorry for brand new Adidas Adios 3.

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I tried to pick up the pace, but my legs had nothing to give.  All I could feel was the wetness of my shoes, hear the squish-squish sound, and feel my legs heavy as a brick. By mile two, I knew this was how the race was going to go. It was not my day. The mental strength was there but the physical strength was not responding to it.

Bottom line: learn from it, have fun and get to the finish line!

Final score:

25:29 – 2nd Place AG (but award only for the first place)

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Track Shack Celebration of Running 5K – August 17 (Orlando)

You know it is still a furnace in Central Florida this time of the year. It literally feels that we’re just starting summer. The only difference is that I now have a good mental and physical memory of what it feels like to race a 5K in the summer.

The only elephant in the room was the internal pressure I felt to PR. I mean, Baby Goat 5K had to be a fluke and an off day because I can certainly do better than that! The good indication, besides the heat and humidity is that I felt so much better during the 2 miles warmup as opposed to the previous race.

As usual, I lined up in the front and went for it. At one point my pace was a 6:47. But it didn’t last long as the course started to pick up some steady elevation. I finished mile one at 7:32. There was more baby hills along the route and of course, I was overheating since mile 1. That brings me to close mile 2 at 7:43 and mile 3 at 7:47 with the last .14 at 6:36. By a miracle it was an 8 seconds PR. I can say that I am done with 5K’s for this summer AND still pursuing that perfect 5K negative split.

Final Score:

23:58 – PR Redemption – no AG because there were way too many people.

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Craft Classic Atlanta Half Mary – September 7

You know what? This race was too good and special. It deserves its own post.

Racing 5Ks are hard. There is very little to no time for adjustments. The race can go your way or against you in matters of minutes. It teaches perseverance. It teaches grit. It teaches patience. It teaches figuring out, learning, reshaping, recreating who you are!

During my brief interaction with Demone Harris as he autographed my hat, I asked him: what do you do to keep your mental toughness sharp? Without hesitation he responded: “you gotta know who you are.”

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Best Damn Race: Yes and No, but Yes

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“When falling short on a race goal, peace is found knowing and feeling you never gave up, not matter what the odds, and by giving your all.”

~Celia Westbrook

February was a hard month of training and a hard month dealing with health issues. My mom was here visiting us from Brazil, and although I (we) made it work, it was hard to balance out family time and training. Had not been for health issues, I think I’d had done a better job at that.

Despite losing one week of training, I did the best I could to control what I could control. I’d say that for this race I nailed on nutrition because I was already prepping to race without my husband’s assistance carrying my fuel and meeting me at a certain mile marker. I also nailed mental toughness. Hours of mental strength training listening to audiobooks – my last one before this race was Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover, a MUST listen/read to anyone – watching marathons and Kenyans running documentaries, all paid off.

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This race has taught me how to best deal with race technicalities and to really consider the challenges that the course brings. I knew there would be cobblestone/brick roads, I just didn’t think that while running it would feel THIS overwhelming. I ran OUC last year which includes a similar route to Best Damn Race, but this was the worse. OUC counts for 2 miles of cobblestone/brick roads, this one is probably 4 miles worth of it. I PR’ed at OUC (1:50:54) and I ran on the course the whole race. Hence, I was out of running for two weeks after the race due to a horrible case of tendinitis on my left foot that had signs of stress reaction. Yeah, that’s horrible. Whereas at BDR, I minimized this terrain, but it cost me time AND no injury!

It took me a while to see the good things about this race’s performance. Gratitude is everything to me and it enriches my perspective. I could not be happier than knowing that my mom was there waiting for me to cross the finish line and that she would be wearing my medal. That was the best gift of all and I will be forever grateful. Without further ado, let’s run with me in this recap!

MILE 1-5 = 8:57 / 8:50 / 8:37 / 8:41 / 8:43

The weather was a nice 53 degrees; my mom could not believe I was removing my jacket and singlet. I finished my GU mix of water, did a last-minute potty stop to empty the bladder (I’d only pee in my pants if a BQ was at stake), grabbed my mix of GenUcan 10oz disposable bottle, and an overcrowded starting got me in the back of the pack. Hence, dodging through runners and running on the sidewalk trying to minimize running on brick/cobblestone road for the first .50 mi of the race already! More bricks and more sidewalk to come plus getting stuck behind a pack at the entrance of Lake Underhill Park. I tried to keep my cool and a lot of the negative thoughts shut. It was a hard.

MILE 6-10 = 8:25 / 8:21 / 8:21 / 8:15 / 8:20

From mile 6 forward it felt like I saw green pasture. I tried my best to stay below 8:25 pace, but the tough route with more cobblestone road in sight made tough. By mile 10 I had already finished my mix of GenUcan and I felt a steady flow of energy but my legs were definitely about to get tired.

MILE 11-13.1 = 8:30 / 8:31 / 7:53 / .10 @  7:24

Yup, my legs were getting tired and for some reason it felt that I was running a 8:10 pace to only realize it was 8:30/8:31 ughh. From the get go of this race, it felt out of my control and playing catch up in doing the best I could to adjust to where I wanted to be and feel. I’m still trying to figure out why miles 10-12 are the hardest for me. I didn’t feel a crash; otherwise I’d not had ran a 7:53 for mile 13.  At mile 11 I knew my chances to PR was non-existent, but I guess denial or persistence won because I never gave up giving my all.

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I am thrilled and grateful!

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“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not the attainment. Full effort is full victory.” 

Mahatma Gandhi