Deena Kastor, mental training and my Big, Hairy Audacious Goal

Junior year of high school, about the time I quit outdoor track because I was injured so much that it had sucked the fun out running, the BAA announced that for the centennial Boston Marathon in 1996, they would allow non-time qualifiers to run.

I saw my only chance to ever run Boston, even though I wouldn’t be 18 in time for the race. One reason I had given up track when it stopped being fun was because I was not at all competitive, in the sense of helping the team score points. (I’m plenty competitive in general.) If it wasn’t fun, I had better things to do with those 15 hours a week.

A track teammate scoffed at me, pointing out I wouldn’t even run a 5-mile long run. There was no way I’d ever run a marathon.

She was right — then.

Twenty-odd years makes a big difference on almost every front, and in a lot of ways, 2018 Jennie is a better runner than mid-’90s Jennie.

I’m getting ready to run my fourth 10-miler in two weeks, and my fifth half-marathon two weeks after that. Last year I ran enough races to get into NYC through NYRR’s 9+1 program, and I realized earlier this week that I’ll get seven races this year without even trying — so I signed up for a volunteer shift next weekend for my +1 and will probably run two more races to do 9+1 for a second year.

I realized at some point in the past week that I’ve been approaching my half-marathons from an unproductive perspective, and I need to run them more like I ran the Bronx 10-miler last year. (Hopefully with better weather — Bronx had 90-degree heat.) Run the course, race the others runners and don’t worry about time.

Brooklyn Half is my goal race this spring, and I’m confident this approach will make the race a success.

But threaded through this second running career has been an underlying statement: I’m 20 years older than in high school, so my times will be slower. Qualifying for Boston would mean running within a minute of my HS 2–mile PR pace for 26.2 miles. Thus, qualifying for Boston will always remain a goal out of reach.

Except a few weeks back, a discussion cropped in comments on a post in the Sub-30 Club among a few members who are just two or three years younger than me. All were high school runners, and all are what I call “speedy Subbers.” As it turns out, all are now faster as we approach 40 than they were at 16 or 18. And all can point to how they know now that they could have been in better shape in high school.

The same is true of me. The more I understand the science of running, the more I realize I was more or less destined to not do that well in high school because I didn’t have an aerobic base, and I was enough slower that I was essentially running every workout all-out trying to keep up. Now I know that was essentially a recipe for destroying what base I did have. And since I was plagued with injuries, I spent summers not running because I wanted to let everything heal.

My coach tried a different approach my junior year, and in hindsight he was trying to give me the tools to succeed. All I saw was that I wasn’t supposed to run the full workouts because I wasn’t good enough. That, plus the injuries, was the final straw. If I couldn’t even do the workouts everybody else did, what was the point?

Now I have Coach B, who is super science-based in her approach. She answers my questions, and I understand the science behind training in a way I didn’t 20-odd years ago.

Professor Badass is one of the few people I’ve dared mention my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) to up until today: I want to qualify for Boston.

Crazy, right?

She told me that she’s convinced that almost any runner can qualify for Boston if they want it badly enough. At time, I scoffed. I downplayed my dream by saying really, I wanted to know I had done everything I could to qualify for Boston, even if I didn’t ultimately manage a BQ.

How on earth would a HS 7:10 miler (and my second-fastest mile time was more than 20 seconds slower) ever qualify for Boston?

When I worked for Molly Huddle’s hometown paper, we had an archived profile of Molly from before the London Olympics. In it, she talked about how after her first season running in high school, she wanted to get better. So, all through soccer and basketball season, she also ran 5K every day. By the time outdoor track rolled around, she had transformed into an elite runner at the state level.

She built her base, and worked off that.

Now, I’m no Molly Huddle. I’m also 100 pounds heavier than I was the year I ran both my HS mile and 2-mile PRs. But seeing several Sub-30 friends prove that running faster than HS PRs is possible, even all these years later, tells me that those PRs aren’t limits.

I’ve been reading and listening about mental training and its importance for runners, including Deena Kastor’s book Let Your Mind Run. I thought I was doing well. And then talking with a fellow spectator at Boston last week.

“Oh, I’ll never run Boston. I’m not fast enough,” I said.

Well, yeah, if I keep telling myself that, I never will be fast enough.

So for the first time, I’m putting this out there publicly: My goal is to run Boston.

Not next year, or probably in the next three years. Among other things, the weight has to come off, and doing that while training means it will take longer. But I’m choosing to believe Professor Badass: I can run Boston if I want it badly enough. NYC this fall is just step one.

As Ted Spiker said in his Sub-30 column, “we might not win the race, but we’re going to win ours.”

This is my race, and I will win it.