Can I Be “F40-44” Forever?

2013 in review

I’m a little afraid to say how great 2013 turned out to be. I often kept thinking “is this my peak year?” and “what happens next year?” Well, that’s malarkey. I know that 2014 will be whatever I make of it, regardless of circumstances.

So while I’m already daydreaming about the 2014 season, some themes from 2013 are stuck in my mind.

Stuff I learned in 2013

40-44 year old women are friendly and ruthless

I love my age group. You don’t understand: Women aged 40 to 44 are the kindest, most thoughtful, most inspiring people, while also being shamelessly competitive, utterly ruthless and impervious to pain. They’ll cut you, man. But they’ll hug you afterwards.

I met wonderful people this year, milling about waiting for my age-group start at triathlons. These are the warrior women. The moms who never had time for themselves. The divorcées with something to prove. The cancer survivors. The “I lost 100 pounds” women.

I’ve had the most entertaining trash talk, followed by the most amazing heart-to-hearts this year. And just look at the results: Women in the 40-44 age group routinely whoop the 20- and 30-year-olds. Maybe we want it more. This will be my last year in this age group. I can only hope the 45-49’ers are maniacs too.

I had a great experience during a half marathon this spring. In the last mile of the course, in a spread-out field, I could feel a woman sitting just off my left shoulder, in my blind spot. I could feel her intensity — she was focused on outrunning me in the last mile.

I dug in and thought “no way.” We both ran faster and faster incrementally, sprinting for the last 200 yards. I just held her off, and we finished in a heaving, breathless crumble, instinctively grabbing each other for a sweaty handshake and hug. Yeah, she was in my age group.

It’s really nice to run without a watch now and then

I had a few timing snafus this year. At a half marathon in the Rockaways, the mile markers were way off, and most just weren’t there at all. I don’t have GPS watch; I have a cheap Timex, so I’m used to punching a button to get my split times. So without reliable mile markers, I had no idea on my pace.

It was kind of great to ignore my watch and run on feel. I found I enjoyed the course more, and the whole race had a great flow in my mind. And without knowing my exact pace, I ended up pushing myself harder, easily notching a PR.

I’ve since tried watch-less racing in two sprint triathlons. For those shorter distances, who cares? I’m going all out anyway. Knowing my exact times gains me nothing, and it’s so fun to just GO. I don’t plan on giving up my cheapie sports watch.

Throw the training plan out the window once in a while

I knew I wanted to run a fall marathon, but the tri season was still in full swing when I should have switched over to mostly running. But I wanted to keep cycling and swimming. So instead of the specific training plans I’d followed for past marathons, I just focused on long runs of 15 to 20 miles each weekend.

It was completely liberating to hit the bike on a nice day instead of “having” to do a 12-mile mid-week run, or I’d move my long run to a Sunday or even Monday to sneak in a last-minute triathlon.

My head was in a much better place come marathon time, and instead of those last few weeks of endlessly trudging training runs, I relished picking routes and distances. You can read about that marathon here.

It’s okay to move the goalpost

I notice a lot of disappointed people, frustrated and even angry with their performance in a race. Everybody has a bad race, but this year I stopped beating myself up about it. If my pace was off, if I wasn’t feeling great, I tried to enjoy the course, or tried to people-watch. Or I’d pick another goal, such as focusing on my bike positioning or running form.

Sometimes I even changed my goal time mid-race. Or even focused on one or two fellow racers (“If I can just beat her…”). Sure, I had some races where I wanted to do better, but I also had races where I blew my own expectations out of the water. In my mind, they balance each other out.

I’m eager to see what lessons 2014 sends my way, and what I’ll be typing here this time next year. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be good.

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