the difference.

this post is one part race report and one part inspiration. i woke up at 6am saturday morning ahead of the Ice Age half marathon. the race was slated to begin at 9am, so i figured i would hop out of bed, grab a little food and coffee and hit the road by about 7am to get there with just under an hour to start time.

the morning went off, pretty much, without a hitch. i actually rolled out of bed and into the running clothes i had laid out the night before. surprise, surprise…i was prepared. within minutes, my things were packed and i decided that with the 40 minutes before i wanted to leave, i’d quickly hit up the Madison farmer’s market. i narrowly missed it the week before and i wanted to grab some ramps, asparagus, and the most important thing – bacon! so, i made a quick loop, grabbing what i came for – plus a few more things, saying “HI” to some friends along the way, and jumping back into my car just before 7am. i swung by my house to drop off my goodies and was on my way!

the drive was easy. i grabbed my timing chip and bib in minutes and while relaxing in my car before warming up and deciding what i’d ultimately race in, i saw that fellow former-Badger, turned professional triathlete Gwen Jorgensen had won her second WTU race in Asia sometime in the last 12 hours. i got pumped up watching the highlight video and was really ready to go. my own silly goal in my mind was that i’d better beat Gwen’s finish time in my measly half marathon.

(read that with sarcasm, please. heck, it least it put a time to beat in my mind)

soon enough, i changed into shorts, deciding i would be warm enough wearing my MS Run Athletes kit (top and shorts) along with arm sleeves for the race. i warmed up and headed to the start line area with just under 10 minutes to 9am. when i arrived, the race director noted a discrepancy in start times posted on various online outlets and shared with us all his decision to postpone the start to 9:30 to allow for the mistake. so, i relaxed a bit more. took in some more water. and took the opportunity to stretch and warm up again.

one thing i’ve learned throughout my running ‘career’ is that for me, a warm-up is an important game-changer. i seem to get better as i go, as a general rule of thumb, which is probably why i enjoy ultra running. but more on that another time.

so, we started promptly at 9:30. the only thing i’ll note about the start is that there was a woman and about six men who took off like rockets right out of the gates. somebody made a comment about the woman in the group – which i find particularly funny because was the eventual overall woman! HELLS YES! i never saw her, but went out mildly aggressive to get away from the crowd a bit and gave myself until the first aid station to try to get settled into a rhythm. it was ok, but the first section of the loop was hilly so i eventually settled in, probably around mile 4ish. i had a bit of company for a mile or so which helped break things up – and i love having a brief conversation here and there. i think that helped me feel settled.

near the last mile i notice my friend Kristin who was doing the 50k up ahead. i didn’t have enough juice in me to sprint, but i caught up to her and we chatted for a bit. it was REALLY good to see a familiar face on the course and seeing Kristin, whom i admire greatly, lit a spark in me. we parted ways, but i told her i’d see her at the finish later and i took off again. at that point, i was near the half-way and noted my time, primarily so i could work to stay steady on the second loop.

i had another buddy for a bit of the first loop and then sort of got into my groove and just went. the second loop was good because i knew it would be hilly and also had some flats that i knew i could look forward to. there were also lots of 50k runners joining onto the course which was just the perfect amount of distraction. i loved running by them and telling them “good job.” this is one of the best things about trail running! anyway, i hammered away steadily and probably about halfway through the second loop i noticed a man who had passed me at about the same point in the first loop up ahead. he hadn’t disappeared and i decided i would work to chase him from that point to the finish.

i eventually caught and passed him with more than 1.5 miles to go and finished in 1:51.20. that was good for 6th woman, and officially 2nd in my age group – though they handed me a first-place plaque – which i realize today is incorrect, though the real #1 woman in my age group was the woman who won overall. anyway, i’ll take it! i’ll take it because i went out there and put out an effort that i was truly proud of. i remembered my motto, “constant forward motion” and that kept me pushing on, even when the hills seemed endless. oh, and i did beat Gwen’s time.

but another reason i brought up Gwen and also Badgers is two-fold. first, a great coach that i looked up to while at the UW had some media availability last week and he said something that really hit home. you can watch the video by clicking this link, but his wisdom that prevailed in my mind was, “the difference between the first eight and the second eight is simple. the first eight pulls harder, pulls longer, and is more determined….” (the specific comment is at about the 1:50 mark in the video)

and then today, this morning, in fact, i read Gwen’s race report which touched on a similar note. she says,

“Bobby McGee once told me, “Do you know what the likelihood of you feeling great at the Olympics is?” I shrugged as I had never thought about it.  “Zero percent,” he said. And he is right. The chance of feeling great on the one day you work towards for four years is pretty slim.”

and this is true, wherever you are in your sport if you’re trying to reach the next level. you’ve got to show up, do the work, and realize – the truth of the greats isn’t that they’ve trained so that their best race doesn’t hurt – they’ve trained to have the determination to push through no matter how hard it gets.

so on saturday while i was out there, when it felt particularly tough, i reminded myself that the best i could do was to keep going – to persevere – to not give up. i may never compete at the elite level but i do know what makes the difference in getting me from where i am to where i’m going.

it’s as true for running as it is for every facet of life.

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