I like to tell people I’m very mental. Running is very much a mental sport, and you meed to be mentally strong. I avoid saying I am mentally strong because I haven’t fully mastered maneuvering my mentality. I could be one of the mentally strongest people on the field, but then I can have a mental spout where very little comes out of me. I’ve been having somewhat of a mental barrier lately.

With being injured for so long, I got used to being comfortable while running. That threshold pace has become foreign to me, and the pain of finishing hard has become somewhat fearful. This has been showing in workouts. Off the course, my confidence and desire is there, but when I need to put it in action I have been lacking. This week we started our two workouts a week routine, and this weakness began to show almost immediately. Tuesday, we had a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Fartlek which is always a struggle for me because the stop-go, but it I instantly fell into a comfortable pace I got uncomfortable during the 4 minutes. I remained in a rut until the 2 and 1 minute where I was able to toughen up enough to get the job done. Luckily, I haven’t had a hard time remaining positive and was proud that I was able to finish the entirety of the workout and get progressively stronger towards the end.

I was very much aware of my barrier at this point, and talked to my coach about it a little as well as debriefed with myself. When we had our goal setting meeting, sharing my goals really put things in perspective because I truly believe I could become great again. The days between our two workouts went well, I was feeling more energized and worked at getting uncomfortable, especially when we ran McGee Creek.

Hills for me are my greatest confidence boosters. I love hill runs, especially when they are on a narrow trails with rocks; it’s like a miniature obstacle course. The beauty I find in these kind of runs are that you need to move fast in order to maneuver through the trail. My coach likes to call me a billy goat, and that makes me feel powerful. Getting through McGee Creek on Wednesday helped me a lot as far as getting uncomfortable and enjoying the feeling. I truly believe this goes back to the summer going into my freshman year of college, every long run I did in the canyons out in Newport Coast and El Moro. Not only did these runs challenge my strength, but also my endurance since I had no option but to make it back no matter how far I made it out. I still miss these runs and liberated when I have the opportunity to run on a trail that is just as challenging, if not more. Because McGee Creek was our recovery run, it didn’t really matter what pace we went; I honestly feel that no matter what effort you put in you will run about the same pace on that trail. The next day I felt even better and was even able to run my first double. I powered through the double yet felt great and used that as motivation to do the workout well.

I normally journal my meals and runs in brief, but after our goal setting meeting I was inspired by both my coach and our alumnus Katja to buy another journal purely dedicated to talking in depth about my runs and how I felt. The night before our Friday Lactic Threshold (LT) I put as a goal to stay with Katja and my teammate Aliya. Upon arriving to the canals, I was put in a separate group resulting in me adjusting my goal to stay with my coach Jess and teammate Kelly. The first two miles felt fine, I was proud of myself for making it this far since in previous years I fell off around a mile and a half. After passing the two mile mark I started feeling uncomfortable. My natural reaction was to ease up and for a moment I justified that I already did better than previous years, then I reminded myself of the quote I mentioned before: Run the first mile with your legs, the second mile with your mind, and the third mile with your heart. I reminded myself that it takes heart to get through this final mile and got back with my group; my fitness is there, I just needed to remember why I am doing this and how much I love the sport and competing. When we got to the three mile we had a 4-5 minute rest and I was a little confused by how I felt-I wasn’t tired at all. My initial thought was that I was feeling fine cardiovascularly but not energy wise. I will be honest, though I was positive and in high spirits, I did have some doubt that I would be able to do another 3 miles at that pace and justified that my mileage is still “too low”. My coach reminded me of my goals I wanted to achieve and this is what I needed to do to reach them.

Post-workout with two of our freshmen, Maddi Moore and Taylor Taite
Post-workout with two of our freshmen, Maddi Moore and Taylor Taite
I lined up and started with my group. Immediately I got light headed, I call this my oxygen depth- I don’t fully understand why it happens or how to regulate it. My first thought was to catch my breathing up with my rythmn, but when that didn’t work I got more freaked out and decided to back off the pace and catch them when I felt better. A mile passed and I only got slower. In the distance I could hear my coach’s car and I feared he would make me stop the LT if I didn’t change my pace. It old made sense for him to after following me long enough, I was going an average of 7:11 mile pace by a mile and a quarter. Just before the halfway point, when my coach was right on my tail, I stopped and asked him if I could reset. I felt totally fine but my mental state was completely unfocused. He agreed and told me to regroup and go the next half mile hard then gun through the last mile. As he drove off I backtracked and jogged back a few feet before doing a running start into the final half. That moment of resetting did the trick. Though I did not get back to the set pace of 6:35, I was able to go 6:53 for the first mile and ended up negative splitting the final half mile with a huge grin on my face.

That final mile and a half hurt, especially the final 3/4’s of the mile which was a straightaway to our vans. I was focused and pictured my competition right there with me. I finally hit the wall and broke it, something I have been unable to do in forever. I finished the LT feeling energized and happy. I found the joy in running through the pain. With all smiles, I finished my cool down at a faster pace than our warm up and felt as though I could have ran more. It was great to finally overcome this barrier that has been haunting me over the last few months, but somehow I felt like there was more in the tank. Rather than disappoint me, that fills me with more excitement, knowing how strong I have become in the last few months and with patience I will get back to that monster machine I once was.

Backtracking to me acknowledging this deficit, I have been trying to get ahold of my high school coach and greatest inspiration in this sport, Coach Sumner. I finally got a hold of him last night and explained to him my challenge. When I say this, I mean it; the guy knows me more than I know myself. He instantly told me something I would have never been able to put into perspective myself. He said, “What would you tell Raquel if that was her going through that”. Something so simple, but so true. I felt a bit ashamed, but glad he was able to bring me to the realization; I expect so much out of others but often fail to hold myself to the same expectations. He then told me to imagine Raquel, my younger and possibly more talented sister, being there and to tell myself exactly what I would tell her. She looks up to me more than anyone else, and she is the last person- aside from Coach Sumner- I would want to let down. That motivated me even more, how can I expect her to believe in her dreams when I am not even working towards my own. I’m extremely hard on her when it comes to school and running, but often forget I must lead by example to be truly effective. After talking to him I decided to keep her in sight and use that as motivation for pushing past my limits and not losing sight of my goals when the going gets tough.

As for this coming week, I have two major goals before my opener at the Mustang Challenge. The first goal will be to stay with Katja on our long run tomorrow, the other to remain tough in our mile repeats on Tuesday and run all the given splits for it. The remaining part of the week I will focus on recovering before my race and aim at winning the race. I plan to finally reach my goal of running a 16:30 5k, but I also would like to see the course and be sure it is a realistic time for it or if it should be readjusted, but for now the time standard remains.

I’m looking forward to these final four days in Mammoth, and can’t wait to share my progress throughout the week!

Just Keep Running XOXO

Ashlee Powers