It’s been awhile since my last blog post (I keep telling Griffin I’ve been having writer’s block), but I’m finally back on the blog to talk about my last race and what’s happened the last eight months.
In my last post I wrote about some of the lessons I learned in my first year of professional running and how I was excited to use these lessons moving into this year. In my head, the fall was going to consist of my best workouts ever and lots of happy miles. While there was still a lot of solid work put in and some wonderful miles with my teammates, I quickly found myself crumbling under the high expectations I was beginning to put on myself after the success I had this last summer. As soon as things weren’t going perfectly in workouts, I would begin to panic and overthink things. I began to fear going out too fast and the watch became my enemy once again. I just wanted so badly to have the same feeling I had at worlds all over again and had built up this internal pressure that I had to prove to myself that the medal wasn’t a fluke.
One of my coaches, Pascal, could see me struggling with this and had an important conversation with me late in the fall. He discussed with me that I shouldn’t be using success as a negative thing, but rather just confidence that I belong training and competing at this level. He reminded me that I was still Courtney, who was going to work hard everyday and give it my all, and that the success of last summer was an accomplishment that would only help me get to where I want to be as an athlete, not make things harder.
Going into our winter phase of training I was in a much better mental state and things were starting to come together while we were at altitude camp in Woodland Park, CO. I had some great workouts and really enjoyed training at altitude with my teammates. I felt ready to go for the U.S Cross Country Champs and really wanted to show the work I had been putting in.
For the first half of the race, I felt relaxed and ready for any move that was made. Somewhere in the next kilometer though, something changed and panic began to set in as I wasn’t able to cover a move. I saw my goal of winning the race slip away and negative thoughts began to fill my head. I was happy to be able to keep some composure and finish fourth, but disappointed to fall short of my goals and feel as though I hadn’t raced to my full potential that day, mostly from a mental aspect. I was quickly filled with joy though, when I realized my teammate Emily had won the race. Emily has been a wonderful friend and teammate to me and for her to win a national title was incredible.
When we returned to Portland after altitude and the race, I was determined to make my next training block better than ever. I had shown signs that things were moving in the right direction while at altitude and I wanted to keep it going. I began running my highest mileage ever and started to string together several of my best workouts. I paced the 5k at the Husky Invite and 9:10 for 3k had never felt easier. I was so excited about how things were going and wanted more than anything for it to stay this way.
Over the next several weeks I continued to have some of my best workouts while keeping my mileage the highest it’s ever been. I soon became obsessed with having the perfect training block because in my head that’s what it was going to take to reach my goals for this year. It’s funny how our brain alters our memories of previous training blocks before big breakthroughs. The previous two years, which I had considered to be very successful, l had plenty of moments of doubt and workouts where it seemed at the time like everything was falling apart. But in the end the collective work led to some great results. Despite knowing this, I still became hyper focused on perfection.
This worked for awhile, but soon led to my nerves getting out of control going into workouts. I would get so nervous before workouts I would barely speak on the warm-up and I had the mindset of “when am I going to fall off” during each rep. The watch again became the enemy because as soon as I would realize we weren’t on the correct pace, panic would set in. I was just so afraid of disappointing everyone if things weren’t perfect.
Jerry pulled me aside one day because he could see me really struggling mentally. I told him I’d been so worried I wasn’t doing enough. He responded with a piece of advice that I try to follow each day now. He told me that all he expects from me is to show up and be the best Courtney I can be each day. Some days that means knocking it out of the park and some days it’ll be just barely hanging on. But as long as I was the best version of myself, it was a step in the right direction.
This conversation really changed my mindset and had me focusing on taking training day by day, and appreciating every step I make. It’s helped me to realize I’ve learned so much when it comes to running (and want to keep learning more!) and part of the challenge of the lessons is figuring out what tools to use when. Just because you’ve learned a lesson, like learning to trust my instincts over looking at my watch, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to take continual practice to get better at using this tool. Each day is an opportunity to learn new things and figure out what tools to use when.
Since then, my training has been going really well and I’ve been finding a lot more consistency, while also really falling in love with process of running all over again. I’ve raced twice so far this track season, one 1500 and one steeple. Both races were good steps in the right direction. The 1500 is always a challenge for me, as I’m not the speediest, but it was a wonderful opportunity for me to put myself outside of my comfort zone and work on race tactics. Overall I was really pleased with the decisions I made during the race, just felt like my finishing speed wasn’t quite there yet, but that is something we are working on!
My first steeple of the season was at the Oslo Diamond League last week and it was an interesting first one. One of the barriers was set at the men’s height (6 in higher) which caused a pileup on the first lap. I was able to stay on my feet, but fell pretty far off the front pack. I was a little panicked the next lap (I need to work on staying calm next time) before refocusing and working the rest of the race to pass as many people as I could. I ended up finishing fourth and scoring my first ever Diamond League points which was definitely a positive. I know my fitness is better than my result, but I walked away pleased overall and very hungry for my next steeple.
I’m now back at altitude camp in Mammoth Lakes, CA with my teammates until our U.S. Champs which I am very excited about! This year’s competition will be in Des Moines, IA which means I will get to see a lot of family and friends. I am excited to race again soon, especially back in the Midwest! Thanks for following!