Her words resonated with me, as I mentally prepared for the 2015 US Snowshoe Nationals in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Why not me? Why couldn't it be me who races well? Why do I count myself out before the race has even begun? My mantra leading up to the race was 'why not me'. Those three words captured everything I wanted to believe and achieve.
(Rocking the Inov8 Trail Ultras, and Dion 121s)
(There was minimal snow coverage, often time just a narrow ribbon of snow to run on.)
(Early in the Women's 10k race, I am in the middle of the lead pack)
The next km of the course brought us through some single track with a huge 180-degree turn, and I was surprised to see that the leaders were only about 30 seconds ahead...I was still in the hunt! I focused on the ladies ahead as I climbs up from the river. On the next double track, I could still see the leaders not far ahead. The 4km mark was on a tight squirrelly downhill with a few bare patches where we ran across dirt! I hesitated on the dirt section, focused on not falling and not breaking a cleat...and between that and the next uphill/downhill section, by 5km I was running alone with no one in sight.
(Early race in the Women's 10k, jockeying for positions)
I glanced back, and couldn't see anyone - I was running in no-mans land. I'll admit it - at this point, I settled. I mentally gave up. I stopped chasing 7th place and started defending 8th place. I ran controlled, but was thinking of tomorrow's half marathon. I enjoyed the last 5km of the race, winding around the single track and through the trees...and didn't see another racer. I finished in 51:09 for 8th place.
I was immediately thrilled to improve upon my 2014 results - cracking the top 10 in a National Championship is always a challenge. However, the more I let the result sink in, the more disappointed I was in the result - knowing that I didn't give 100%, knowing that I mentally shut down and ran tactically, knowing that my mental strength still needs some improvement.
(Enjoying a bit of alone time in no-mans-land)
Sunday morning, and I was once again lining up to race a National Championship event. It wasn't until we had started, and I was looking around my competitors, that I saw that none of the other women in the top 5 had raced the previous day - I had expected that most folks who would race the half marathon would also be on slightly fatigued legs...but I was apparently incorrect with that assumption. Luckily, one of my training buddies, Erik, also jumped into the half so we ran the first several kms together, gabbing like it was a training run.
(Start of the inaugural National Championship Half Marathon race)
About 6km in, he asked me if there were any females ahead, and I answered that there was only 1 female ahead of me...but that I was more nervous about the female that was only 15 seconds behind me. He offered to put in a surge with me, to try to drop her, but I knew I could only do so much...so I wanted to wait and see where she was in another 10km. He did take the lead and we unintentionally picked it up for a few km of fun rolling single track. Funny how no matter how tired I might be, I will always open up my stride when I'm having fun and enjoying a trail! By the end of my first lap, Erik was about 30 seconds ahead and I was, again, running alone...but without the next female in sight behind me I was content to keep cruising. The first female was long gone ahead of me, so I focused on maintaining 2nd place.
The second lap was pure joy on snowshoes. I took in the moment, enjoyed the trails we were running, and had fun with the solitude that snowshoeing often brings. The 3rd place female was within striking distance, so I cheered her on when the trail allowed, but was sure to keep the pressure on to maintain my gap. I passed a few guys as they faded, but in general was running on my own. The feeling I got for this lap, however, is exactly why I love snowshoeing - it was completely zen.
(Once again, running on my own through the trees)
I crossed the finish line in 1:59:04, good enough for the silver medal on the day. I was proud of that accomplishment - my best ever individual National Championship results have been bronzes (at Collegiate Skiing Nationals and the US 50 Mile Trail Champs). This felt like a break through - I might not have taken the top step...yet...but I took one step higher and proved that I can be among the best in the country.
(Celebrating with my training buddy Erik, who earned a Silver in his age group)