Sooo... what's next?

I've been asked this question a few times since the Trials.

I don't know where to begin.

It's so hard to come off of the "high" of racing at the Trials. Honestly, what other goal could I have that motivates me as did qualifying for/racing at the Trials?

Before I answered that question, for anyone, including myself or Jerry, I needed to take some time off. First, I needed to heal the achilles, so it wasn't even possible to run or make the next concrete goal. Definitely a good thing, because otherwise I think I would have forced myself to get into running too quickly.
Second, and most importantly, I needed a mental break. I've never needed to take much time off to recharge before, but I absolutely needed it after this cycle - it surprised me. After 1 week totally off, I struggled to convince myself to start cross training the Saturday after the race. Once I got on the elliptical, my brain didn't fight it. Instead, there was the familiar, "Oh yeah! You really do enjoy working out!" feeling. That first week, I did whatever I felt like doing. I thought about making some kind of hour-based plan, but my brain totally rejected the idea. So that meant doing whatever I felt like - an hour on the elliptical or bike, sometimes P90x (something new, sort of fun :)), or both.

This last week I've found myself wanting to do more, push the limits. I find myself wanting to do at least an hour and a half of cross training, plus the hour of p90x. Wish I had more time in the day and I might do more... guess I've turned myself into an endurance athlete junkie :)

This week I was also able to meet up with Jerry. Perfectly timed. Anytime before this and I wouldn't have been able to even talk running, planning, or goals. But earlier in the week I had been able to toss around the idea of another cycle.. thought a little bit about what my goals might be...

I had sort of planned to be "done" after the Trials. When I made this pact, I had thought it'd be a miracle if I even made the Trials. But -- now that I had qualified, competed (and 69th!) -- was I okay with returning to a more normal life, not chasing PR's (esp. in the marathon?). Was I okay with a 2:44:12 lifetime PR?

... And the answer was "no". I'm not happy with my 2:44 at the Trials. Yes, a PR. Yes, a great place amongst the women there. But, no, this is not my full potential as a marathoner. Everything went right for my Grandma's finish: tail wind, rainy/cool weather, someone to run with the entire way, legs that felt springy and snappy. Everything did not go right at the Trials: flat feeling legs, no rhythm, the achilles injury, not an ideal taper. I know I am capable of much faster, that sub 2:40 is definitely within reach.

So -- there will be one more marathon, likely Grandma's or Chicago. I need to make sure this achilles is 100% before I jump into anything, but once it is, Jerry will have me focusing on my 5k/10k speed for at least a couple of months. I really missed that this cycle: taking a month or two to develop and perfect a certain system before moving on to another (Daniels' elite has you working all three systems throughout the 3-4 month cycle). I really felt like focusing on VO2 max first, and then moving into tempo and MP suited me much better. So, I'm excited to get back there :). (You don't know until you try it, right? :)) The thought behind focusing on speed is to make that 6:00/mile pace seem much easier (vs. racing a 5k at 5:30 or whatever pace my short little legs can move at).

I need to give myself a little more time, though, before jumping into anything too structured. What has made me a good runner/marathoner in the past has been my love of the sport, love of chasing a goal, and love of pushing myself as hard as I could to achieve said goal. I'm not there yet, and I know it's not something you can force - or fake your way to, for that matter. I need to get my signature "Dream Big!" "Let's go for it!" attitude and smile. Once I fully get that back, then I know I'm set for the next cycle -- and to chase down something big :).

I'm also excited to embrace the reality that I can compete with the top women in the US (with exceptions, obviously). Prior to the Trials, I had the mindset that it would be a miracle to even make it there and assumed that IF I did, I'd be last or near last. Now, I'm coming to the reality that if I chose to race most marathons that I'd be racing for the win, or keeping the first few in sight and then slowly reeling them in. That's an entirely different mindset. I have to be confident in my ability, confident in my training, confident in my ability to out-hurt others (which I 100% am), and fully embrace the idea that I'll be racing with the top from now on. I need to start as close to the lead women as possible, let them start out faster but keep an eye on them... and then work my way up past them :). Might seem weird, but it's a different mindset, a different way to race (vs. just thinking: wow! I'm so lucky to be here! I'm not that talented, I can't try to stick with these other women).

The other thing that I need time to process is the life commitment that it takes to train and work full-time. As much as I loved the craziness of it, it was exhausting. That's all I did: work, run, work, run (sometimes eat, sometimes sleep). I woke up every morning and thought through the meetings I had, the reports I needed to produce/analyze, the presentations I had to give -- and then thought about how I'd fit a noon run and a PM run in, as well as strength and a chiropractor visit. Our house was constantly messy. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, except I would just love to have a clean house, dishes done, laundry done, etc. I made time for laundry when I had run out of clean socks... dishes piled up until the weekend (Tupperware bowls were used most Fridays when we ran out of clean regular dishes!)... you get the picture. When you're in a cycle and are in love with chasing a goal, that stuff doesn't really matter... but when you're signing up for another cycle... it's hard to embrace not having free time, struggling to fit in time to do errands/clean, not having a social life, and just being constantly tired...

But on the other hand, that craziness has become a part of me. I truly love chasing goals, reaching for everything I have. So as much as I hated how crazy things were, I also loved it... if that makes any sense...

Test run of a mile or two tomorrow. I really HOPE it goes well. Before now, I wasn't lamenting being sidelined. But now... I'm ready. :)

Nichole Porath

Nichole is a blogger, elite level runner, and coach. She ran professionally for Brooks for two years after qualifying for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials. During that time she founded TNC endurance, where she coaches and motivationally speaks to organizations large and small. This blog details her rise to national-level racing, and continues to follow her as she gets back into racing after starting a family. Read on, friends!

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