Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cinderella Goes to Houston

I've never been a huge fairy tale fan--fancy, puffy dresses really aren't my style, and I guess just was never convinced that those perfect, happy endings were representative of REAL life. There were no posters of prince charming in my childhood bedroom. Some people might say that I had a mature perspective for a kid, or maybe I was just a cynic from a young age...

As an alternative to dreams of riding off into the sunset on a white horse, I've always been a strong believer in hard work as a vehicle for accomplishment, and a believer in reciprocity for said work. Study hard, get good grades; train hard, run fast... I was never waiting for the perfect life to drop in my lap, but I guess I always had this expectation that if I gave my best effort I would have something to show for it. In some ways, that expectation was my version of a fairy tale, the embodiment of how (the ideal) life should work.

Fast forward 20-something years and thousands of miles run later, and my view of fairy tale endings has gotten more cynical. Forget prince charming, after my my college running career was over, I didn't have much confidence in hard work either. I had no expectation of ever competing, at any level, again. It was easy to see why I was discouraged. After a high school career spent as a the big fish in the small pond of Colorado 3A running, during which I improved steadily for 4 years, I commenced my college career expecting more of the same. With new training partners, a fantastic coach, a higher level of competition, and the obligatory increase in miles and hard work, how could I not improve?

I wasn't really counting on spending my years as a collegiate athlete trying to claw my way back to some semblance of fitness after a freshman year characterized by 3 surgeries and 9 months of no exercise whatsoever. I walked away from my college career with a few great memories and some amazing friends, but primarily with nothing to show for it running-wise except a lot of frustration. Despite diligently completing every imaginable form of cross-training, running 80+ mile weeks, and getting enough rest, my best college race times were slower than what I had run as a sophomore in high school. Not exactly the outcome I had envisioned. It's fair to say I wasn't exactly planning on a post-collegiate competitive running chapter, let alone a successful one.

But life always has a few surprises up its sleeve. And so here I sit, writing a blog as a member of BRC/adidas. My post-collegiate running has already surpassed my expectations: I have been fortunate enough to be able to enjoy running, train hard, and stay healthy. As a bonus, I have set new PRs at every distance from 800-half marathon. The cynical side of me is slowly starting to regain confidence in the power of hard work (mixed with a little patience). Fairy tales? Nah, still don't believe in those. Then I traveled to Houston for the USA Half Marathon Championships.

The best word to describe my experience in Houston is AMAZING. The elite athlete committee was absolutely fantastic--I literally felt like I was living in a fairy tale world the entire weekend. "Do you like dark chocolate? Here, have as much as you want." Yes, that actually happened. They took care of everything we needed all weekend, from food to transportation to hassle-free race-day logistics. And then there was the race. With perfect weather, a fast course, and some very tough competitors, I was able to pull off a 5+ minute PR, feeling controlled and strong throughout the race. Sure, the next time I run a half-marathon I might aim to knock off 3-4 seconds per mile and get an Olympic Trials qualifying time, but when I crossed the finish line Sunday I wasn't thinking about the near miss, or what I could have done to make the race just a bit more perfect. This time, I just enjoyed the moment and appreciated the race for everything it was, rather than all the things it was not. I'm healthy, happy, and getting faster. And when I think about where I was just a few short years ago, the race on Sunday sure feels a lot like a fairy tale.

Now that I'm back in Colorado and the magic carriage has turned back into a pumpkin, I am funneling the glow of the weekend into motivation to keep training and to keep striving for new and higher goals. I may never believe in fairy tales, but this weekend reminded me that even "real life" has great moments that challenge credibility. And just when the cynic in me starts to wonder if the whole thing was real, if it really happened, it's then I'll find that glass slipper...

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