July 21, 2011

What Are Flats?

Guest Blog by Oiselle Team Member Alyssa Godesky.

When Alyssa isn't racing her heart out she's writing about it on her running blog, which you should definitely check out. It's a funny, honest look at the sport of ultra, tri, running and more. Plus there are hilarious videos, illustrations and even a baby mullet!

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Six years ago, I became an ultrarunner. In the span of three weeks I signed up, trained for (if you can call one long run training!), and ran the JFK 50 Mile. In three short weeks, I was hooked. Over the next five years I ran over twenty ultra marathons, with a few marathons sprinkled in for training :) I also discovered that triathlons were a great way to cross train and put a few of those under my belt.

This year I took a look at my running and triathlons and decided that to get faster you need to, well, run faster. This would require some work at the shorter distances and really seeing what kind of speed I have in my legs. So, after a 100 miles of beautiful, muddy, rough trails in Hawaii at the HURT 100 in January, I said a goodbye to ultrarunning for the year. My first event after the hundred mile trail race was, quite literally, as opposite as it gets - a 1 mile road race.

Thinking back to middle and high school where I had run a mile for time, I was hoping to go under 6 minutes. A lofty goal for someone coming off of endurance training, but I was also fairly confident in my ability to endure pain. And to be fair, it was a net downhill course :) I arrived at the race and for the first time in years, actually had to complete a warm-up; in ultras it's usually understood the first 5 miles are the warm-up! Then the group I was running with started back to our cars. "Wait," I said "the start line is that way" (pointing in the opposite direction). "No, we have to get our flats," they replied. "Ummmm......what are flats?" I got some laughter in return: they thought I was kidding.

As I neared the start line and found my place near the front I felt like an outsider. I didn't feel comfortable without a hydration pack on my back, or a water bottle in my hand. I didn't have a GU on me and I couldn't fight the impending feeling of doom that it brought. There was no spare set of shoes and shorts waiting for me down in the road in case I decided that mine were uncomfortable.

I ended up running well under 6 minutes that day. But it wasn't my time that I was most proud of. It was the fact that I was willing to break out of my comfort zone, forget about the details, and for a few minutes, just run. Over the past 6 months I have raced a handful of road races in my quest to get faster. Some have been better than others, but the one thing that they all have in common is when I toed the line I truly didn't know how it would end up. There are still many moments when I yearn to be on the trails, running in the middle of nowhere with no second thought of time or distance. But then I flash back to the present, finishing a mile repeat and barely able to speak or even stand up. And I know I'm getting tougher for a time when I'm racing in the mountains again. I know I'll cover the ultra distances faster and stronger than I ever did before.

Breaking out of a running niche that had become my comfort zone was scary and nerve racking, but it has also been strangely empowering and meaningful. It is important to take comfort in not only the peaceful and calm moments that running brings, but also in the chaos and the unknown. Let go of your expectations, and you will end up having some fun. Though, I still haven't brought myself to actually buy a pair of racing flats yet :)

When was the last time you ran out of your comfort zone? What did you learn? Will you do it again?