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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Going long

   "I'm never doing that again!"  I had proclaimed those words some 12 years ago immediately upon completing the 10k at Empire State Games.  At the ripe old age of 15, I had decided that my 10k career was over.  Apparently, I'd figured that my 43:xx (I think), second to last place (that I do remember) finish was good enough for me to go to the grave with.  After all, I'd mostly just wanted to go to ESG to spend time with my high school partner in crime Christine, eating Reese's Pieces in the Binghamton University dorms, laughing at the horrible pick-up lines that inevitably came out when a bunch of high school kids were being housed together away from home (Did it hurt?  When you feel from Heaven?), and watching water polo, field hockey, and other sports.  The 10k was just my ticket in- no one else wanted to run it, meaning I'd had to beat all of one other girl to earn one of the two spots into the games.  Ironically, two days later, I ran on the 4x400, as well.  But, after that trip, it was back to my high school career, that consisted of cross country in the fall, and middle distance (400/800/1000m) running in the winter and spring, always with a focus on our relays.  Even though I was a halfway decent cross country runner, once track season hit, my 1500/3000m times were pretty miserable.  For some reason, I could not get a grasp on those distances, and besides, breaking our school's 4x800m relay record was always the main focus.  Upon graduation, when looking into collegiate running, I'd labeled myself as a mid-distance runner, and I'd held firm on my pledge to never run another 10k.

  Still, at that point, I should have been clued into the fact that maybe the middle distances weren't necessarily my strong point.  From my freshman year to my senior year, I'd shaved off all of one second from my 400m time- from 64 to 63.  Hardly blazing foot speed, and hardly a trajectory of improvement that suggested I'd be getting much faster.  In the 800m, even with the vast majority of my training/racing, especially in peak shape, focused on that distance, I'd only dropped from 2:29 to 2:23.  Again, a mediocre (on the college level) at best time, without major improvements throughout the years.  In the same time, though, I'd slowly but steadily shaved about 30 seconds off my cross country times year to year.  Despite the fact that I'd faced the high school female runner perils of puberty and weight gain, I had been able to get just a little faster every year (although, the fact that I never was a twig, even as a freshman, helped me adjust better than some).  Upping the mileage entering college, though, led to burnout, a suspect shin, and mediocre high school-esque times during my first cross country season.  Winter track came, and despite pounding out repeats faster than I ever had at the back of the mid-distance group (still highly mediocre times, I should add), I think I managed a 2:25 800 and a 5:33 mile (or so) that first season.  When spring rolled around, something clicked in me, and I came to the realization that I just liked running more.  The combination of walking around UB's large campus on a daily basis, discovering how to eat a proper lunch, and disliking dining hall dinners had dropped 10 lbs from my frame, as well.  I clearly wasn't ever going to amount to much in mid-distance track, but I did have a shot of contributing to the cross country team, so my request to change training groups was met with encouragement by Coach Vicki Mitchell.  I loved the longer workouts right off the bat, and began to absolutely dread the days when I'd have to run any faster than 5k pace.  Long story short, I shaved 45 seconds off my 5k pr in my first race out, and spent the rest of my college days sneaking into the top 5 on the cross country team, and at least getting to compete in the 5k and 10k (yep, I ran another one, despite what I'd thought at age 15) at conference meets, even though I was never anywhere near scoring.  Not spectacular results, but still, I'd improved myself, and I knew I'd made the right move.

   When college ended, I continued on the path of 5k-10k distance road races in the spring and summer, with club cross country racing in the fall.  The idea of half marathons and marathons appealed to me, but the durability was lacking, as tendon issues continued to haunt me.  I found my way into triathlons into 2009 due to injury, and started out at the Olympic distance.  I loved it.  Three months later, wanting a new challenge but concerned about my ability to handle marathon training, I registered for the Musselman 70.3.  Five hours of exercise.  I loved it.  But, I still remember thinking as I ran along Seneca Lake during the last mile that I had no idea how an Ironman was possible.  A marathon did, though, so that came a few months later.  It was miserable.  I hated it and loved it at the same time.  I had no idea how it was possible to run one after biking 112 miles.  I wanted to do it again, though.  I knew I could do better, so I did another one, three months later and 16 minutes faster.  Somehow, running one after biking 112 miles seemed possible.  Still, I wasn't ready to commit to it yet.  Mooseman came and went, and then Musselman the second time.  I can say it was there that the Ironman switch, which had already begun to move, was fully switched on.  I remember finishing the race in a 12 minute pr, grabbing arguably the biggest victory of my life to date, and somehow still having a sense of wanting more.  I crossed the line, spent some time in the ice baths, and then was back up again, walking around and socializing, somehow unfazed.  I think it was then and there that I knew- I was ready to make the leap.  I'd given that race everything I'd had in me, of course, but somehow, it hadn't taken everything out of me.  Something was left, and that something was belief that I could do more; every time I'd asked my body to go farther, it had, so the time to figure out how far I could go had come.  Eight days later, with shaking hands, I hit "submit" on the IM Lake Placid registration screen, and off I was.  I went upstairs, jittery, and, for some reason, cried a bit.  My knew that my life was going to change, even though at the time, I didn't grasp by how much.  Five months later, I still don't think I know.

  Which leads me to this weekend.  I began training with QT2 Systems about a month ago, doing mostly the aerobic base work that Mary had designed for me.  As much as I didn't want to admit it, I did need the recovery after the marathon, and I did need to be forced to slow down.  I knew that my training intensity for 70.3s would not work out too well for Ironman training, as stubborn as I was about it at first.  Then, Dave and I headed out to Boston for the QT2 holiday party last night, and my bike threshold testing and meeting with "the Wizard" himself, Jesse Kropelnicki, who has been helping advise my training.  What the bike test revealed was what my entire running career had suggested from day one: I'm a bit of an aerobic freak.  Kind of ridiculously so, in fact.  There it was, the explanation, plotted out simply and clearly.  The irony is that I started this post over a week ago, before any of this occurred.  I spent several hours mesmerized, as we discussed and plotted out and planned my future.  More intensity, more swimming, more biking.  And suddenly, after several months of worrying about the course I'd embarked upon, I walked out the door in a revived, zen-like state.  I still have a thousand work and life-related things going on, but now, with the tentative plan lined out, even though time is about to become even scarcer, I feel more relaxed and clear-headed than I have in some time.  So, with the holidays rapidly approaching, I'll enjoy my time with family and friends, and use the time to prepare myself for what lies ahead with enthusiasm.  After all, it's a long haul, but I have some of the best in the country available to guide the trip, so I'm ready to go and start the ride! 


  1. Nicely written Jennie! Nervousness is part of the challenge and it is apparent that you are already well on your way to managing that. You have awesome people helping you and you will do well. I look forward to reading more of your posts. Good Luck!
    Ron Gordon.
    CrossFit Gordon