The time has come again where I get to up my mileage on the long runs. This increase in particular has been one I’ve been anticipating as well as dreading. I’ve been extremely excited to get in the double digits for my long run, but was extremely nervous to have Big Smokey be the run I do it on. Mammoth trekkers should be familiar with this run, it is about a 13.2 mile loop with beautiful scenery and a lot of long hills. Going into this run, my mere goal was to get through the run no matter the pace.

Going out, we started as a team. It felt decent, but the pace was a bit faster than I would of liked since I strongly believe in progressing as the run goes on. After about 3 1/2 miles, I decided to fall back and focus on time on feet. I’ll be honest, at this point I began feeling bad for myself and had some slight doubt in my fitness. In an attempt to overcome this, I began playing strategic games in my head to get me through this hump. I figured the front group would begin to disperse as we got to the 6 mile mark and was going to use that as a way to work the hills. Of course, with running comes improvising. The front group stopped briefly to allow one of our teammates to fix her shoe and I knew stopping, especially on a gradual uphill, would completely throw off my momentum. I decided to keep going assuming they would soon catch me again and I would then see if I were ready to run with them. That didn’t happen.

I used the long downhill before the big hill to shake my arms out and mentally prepare. For me, the most important part of a run are the hills and I planned to make a mini workout out of it. As soon as I hit the base of the hill I practiced what my sports psychologist from SMU taught me, repeating the Alphabet in my head. By doing that, I was able to keep focus and make sure my form up the hill was perfect- shoulders relaxed, hips under me, shorten my stride and pump my arms. This mini workout suddenly gave me a second wind, and before I knew it I was flying through the next 3 miles! I couldn’t believe how great I was feeling, it didn’t even feel as though I were running uphill, let alone at altitude. I must add, I love that 5k saying, “run the first mile with your legs, second mile with your mind, and third mile with your heart”. This quote is applicable at any distance if you are able to break it up into segments, and this is exactly what I did. After overcoming the hills, suddenly I began thinking of the song “Simplethings” by Miguel where he mentions “Just be a tough act to follow/You know, a free spirit, with a wild heart”. That specific lyric reminded me to run with my heart- my wild, free heart. Just the thought of the song and those lines inspired me to push through those hard moments. My next challenge was the final gradual uphill a little after 8 miles where I had a panic attack the year before. Again, I mentally prepared for it and began reciting the Alphabet. I was again able to overcome this obstacle and felt so proud of myself that I was not only able to overcome it, but run it strong.

I got to our Athletic Trainer at about 9.5 miles and finally felt the fatigue kicking in. I didn’t want to go too far, so I ended up running back and forth, using the final mile as a mini cool-down and just get time on feet. In total, I ended up averaging 8:28 for all 10 miles and ran my second half of the run faster than the first.

Here are my splits:
7-8:26 (mini hill workout)
9-8:11 (final gradual incline)

While up here, we will run Big Smokey two more times. I will try the same strategy as today but will probably start my first half more conservative (about 8:30 average) and then focus on working through the second half. Also, the next time we run it I will complete the whole loop, which is why I would like to start off more conservative and gradually bring down the pace. I’m extremely impressed with how I feel right now. I don’t feel as tired as I expected and nothing hurts too bad- thanks to my Hoka’s! Tomorrow will be a really nice recovery day and then Tuesday we hit Inyo Craters for a nice 10 miles!

Just Keep Running XOXO

Ashlee Powers

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