It takes time to build strength, speed and endurance. Months at the minimum but likely, years for the body to grow.
The beauty of sports is knowing that you have time. This active lifestyle that we all enjoy (or are learning to enjoy) does not require a finish line to feel accomplished. It is only with goal setting, the fruits of your labor are often most celebrated when you finally cross that "finish line", knowing that you did everything possible to prepare the body and mind for the adventure ahead. For athletes, ultimately, your longevity in a sport is increased by following a realistic, balanced and quality-structured training plan and reduced if you expect to progress too quickly and overlook the significant variables that contribute to successful performances. Goal setting can be useful but it can also be abused. Nothing great is ever accomplished quickly.
For the past three months, Branson 70.3 was always on my mind. During every hard workout, every sport nutrition fueling plan, every good night sleep, every Campy walk and every massage, I thought about my Branson 70.3 race day. A distance that I remember well back in May at the Rock n' Rollman. but long enough to forget the aches that come with racing the 70.3 mile distance. Above all, my training was enhanced knowing that for the first time ever, I would be able to share this exciting opportunity with Karel.
I'm a firm believer in goal setting for it keeps me on track. Thankfully, my path was very straight in my training for this event and was filled with lots of fun, progress, learning and memories. Sure, a few bumps along the way but no u-turns or wrong turns.
The thoughts that filled my head during the past 3 months were years in the making. Funny thing is that the goals that I had set 3 months ago, were reached beyond my imagination on race day. In reflecting deeply about my race day performance on Sunday, I now realize that sometimes dreams can come true. Thoughts that had only occurred in deep sleep (thus far from reality) and were unimaginable "goals" back in 2006.....6 Half Ironman's ago and 2 weeks before I met Karel.
The mind is an amazing thing. It can play games with you if you feel you are "doing good" but someone puts thoughts inside your head to question whether or not you are "doing the right thing." I ignored the outside chatter as to anything "best, only or can't/shouldn't" in terms of diet, sport nutrition and/or training. It's hard to tune it all out but I realized that success is reached in many forms. What's the best form? The one that works for you and allows for consistency, good health and progress.
I've had my share of downs with racing, specifically in terms of racing with a undiagnosed hip injury (likely piriformis syndrome that I still have to monitor, hence the extra emphasis on hip strength, massage, tennis ball rolling on my butt and quality training) at Kona 2007. Without a single "injury" setback this year (although a few modifications for preventative measures), I quickly recognized that my successful race season was always plagued with one constant limiter.....MY MIND.
Nevertheless, my amazing friend Gloria along with my "think outside the box" husband, have given me the strength to reach higher limits in my racing (and training) this year.
Recognizing that my only limiter for every race this year was my mind, I embraced the scary thought that I could actually race strong at Branson 70.3. Thankfully, the body and mind did not disappoint.
One of the several reasons why we picked this race, was for the 3-loop run course. I absolutely love loop courses and seem to run the best when I have opportunities to revisit the same parts of the course, receive energy from the crowds and see competition.
The cobblestones were not comfortable for running so with the course closed to athletes in the street, I opted to run on the outside of the cobblestones to avoid possibly landing on the wrong spot on a cobblestone.
As I was running, I stuck within my uncomfortable comfort level and reminded myself that I had trained hard for a 1:40 run. With a PR recently in May (on a much hillier run course) of 1:42, I realized that being more conservative on the bike would make for a stronger run. And I've realized that no matter how strong of a cyclist or runner you are, you can not bank time (or go for a mph time goal) on the bike and expect a strong run. There has to be some kind of compromise, perhaps to bike a few minutes slower in order to avoid a 10+ min slower run/jog/shuffle/walk.
I forgot to put on my HR monitor but with the cooler 60-70 degree temps for the run, I was confident that my fatigue would not be related to the heat. In training, I have used perceived exertion, heart rate and pace for my sets (track, long/group runs, brick runs) so despite only running between 20-25 average miles a week, I felt confident going into this run for a strong race.
I noticed that the first 2 miles came quickly. Likely because I had no idea where the route was going (aside from reviewing course maps) so this was a welcomed surprise to run a semi-technical course with several turns, one or two short punchy hills (super short), a loop around a park and an out and back in another park. It was a great, non boring run and I loved every mile of it.....at least for the first loop.
I was running strong and saw Karel as I was nearing mile 3. I gave him a big smile and he smiled back. Instant boost for the legs!
found myself running with mostly guys in the 70.3 race and confusion as to my place with the other shorter races going on. I passed 2-3 women in the first 3 miles of the course, that I remembered on the bike. After making my way back to the town, I once again enjoyed the unknown as to where I was running to. On the way back from the first loop, we ran on the outside of the million dollar show fountain, close to the water. I loved this little bridge that gave a little spring with each step.
After passing the fountain, it was time to run into a small park for the final turn around before starting loop #2. At this point, I think I passed another female but still had not seen the girls who were leading my age group.
I remember seeing a girl in black and yellow on the bike and with her bike racked near me, I figured she was in my age group since we both exited the water close together.
There was another female, #20 that I kept spotting on the run course but I wasn't sure if she was an age grouper (with a low number) or pro because I was getting closer and closer to her within each loop.
When I started the second loop, the mind games began. Some people sing songs in their head, others think positive thoughts.....what do I do?
I do math.
It is the oddest thing but in every training session and every race, I find myself adding, subtracting, multiplying and doing equations. I am not a math guru but for some reason this helps me pass the time by and makes me forget about any fatigue in my body. I was trying to figure out how long each section was on the bike, what mile I would see Karel again, how long until x-spot on the course, what pace I would average if I slowed down to x-pace.....seriously, I do every type of math problem possible, even trying to figure out paces that I am not running. But it works and I free my brain to this tactic that seems to help me out.
Throughout the run I sipped on my 300 calorie huckleberry gel flask at every mile w/ water at aid station and sipped as needed between the miles. I felt alert and well fueled with absolutely no stomach discomfort, cramping or abnormal fatigue. I found myself getting warm on the run so I also used water to cool my body temperature. I walked as needed when I found myself not being able to keep good form, so I think at 3 or 4 aid stations, I moved through with a quick needed walk. Since I walk in almost every run training session, this was nothing new for me and very welcomed. Karel on the other hand told me he was really struggling with this new feeling of running 13 miles off the bike so he was scared to stop for the worry of not being able to run again.
With the mind games continuing, I told myself that after my 2nd lap, I had 1 to go. Such a novel thought to keep myself focused.
I noticed that the girl in black and yellow was slightly slowing down when I saw her on opposite parts of the course. Still running strong, she started the run (after looking at results), almost a mile (or 6ish minutes) ahead of me and I just couldn't seem to catch her.
The crowds were amazing and I heard lots of "go pink" which made me smile and give a big thumbs up. I also noticed my friend Jenny Fletcher, Oakley Women Pro triathlete, who ended up winning her first Pro race! After seeing Karel for the 2nd time and realizing that I was still running strong (according to perceived exertion for my pace was slowing), I decided that I was not going to give up until my body gave up.
Having an incredible race thus far, I was not going to let my body win over my mind. I really had to dig deep on the 3rd lap. Thinking about that 12 mile marker on the way other side of the course, I figured "hey, Campy can run 4 miles, so can I!"
I remembered the same feeling at the 2012 Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon when my body wanted Soooooo badly to stop but I was not going to surrender and risk not winning my first ever running race. I remember reading Bree Wee's blog at IMKY this year, nearly being caught by Jackie Arendt in one of the most exciting female races I have watched on Ironmanlive.com
I also remembered the many athletes (including my own) who may not ever have the chance to win a race or an age group award but still push to their limits because they want "it." It was with this determination and refusal to come all this way to not see what I am capable of achieving, that I decided I would go for it.
Mile 10. I could see her.
Mile 10.5. She was getting closer. Either I was getting faster or she was slowing down but it was happening.
Mile 11. I was running behind the girl in black and yellow. The girl that I assumed was winning the amateur/age group race. As my body was hurting beyond belief from the effort I was running, my body went numb with excitement.Mile 11.2. Footsteps behind her, I was scared. "What if she had another gear?" I asked myself. For I had used mine all up. I was on cruise control with an exhausted tank. My mind was still strong and I felt fueled but as you can imagine, there comes a point when the body will scream and beg to stop.
Mile 11.3. I did it. To the left of her, I ran by her and didn't look back. OMG. "Did I just pass the first place female for age groupers?"
I kept on running and saw Karel for the last time. Neither of us had much of a smile on our face but I think we both felt each other's pain.
I have to share a funny story, real quick. I ran over the last timing mat after I passed the girl and I was SO excited for all our fans (thank you!) to see that I had passed her. Ughh, the tracking didn't work on the run (later did I find out) and that was the main thing that kept me running strong....so thank you Trimarni fans for keeping me going even though you had no idea what was going on.
On the way back from the loop in the park, I saw the girl who I passed but didn't allow that to slow me down. As I passed mile 12, I had no idea if I was really in first place for everything seem to hit me hard.
I walked through mile 12 aid station but didn't look back. It was a quick stop and I resumed running to great Karel at the finish line.
The longest mile of my life never ended........
Thankfully, the cheers became loud, the volunteers were fantastic and I was finally out of my gel flask. It was officially time to finish this race.
I ran to the far left to signify my finish of this race and I entered the finishing chute, all alone.
I ran across the line, only to hear the announcer say "I think this is the 2nd amateur female finisher, Marni Sumbal from Jacksonville, FL"
I fell to my knees and was asked by a volunteer if I needed medical. I politely said "no" and used his help to shuffle me to get my medal and hat. Karel was waiting for me and gave me the biggest hug. I told him that I thought I was first but we both said that 2nd was still a phenomenal finish.
Later did we find out (about 3 hours later at awards) that #20 (Joanna Anddler) was listed as an age grouper but was racing as a professional.
So, the most exciting news was finding out that not only did I place as the first female finisher across the line but I also had the fastest age group run (which was a 6 min PR for me), I set a course record for my age group (30-34) AND Karel was listed as 6th place (45 seconds away from 5th) only to also find out at awards that the 5th place guy was listed in the wrong age group! Talk about a bunch of fantastic surprises!! Karel said he gave everything he could in the race and felt extremely accomplished when it was over. He said it was the hardest thing ever and he has never been more excited about his 5th place award. Karel ended up running 1:33!
My splits for the run:
Mile 1: 7:12Mile 2: 7:10
Mile 3: 7:12
Mile 4: 7:13
Mile 5: 7:16
Mile 6: 7:16
Mile 7: 7:25
Mile 8: 7:37
Mile 9: 7:28
Mile 10: 7:36
Mile 11: 7:33
Mile 12: 7:45
Mile 13: 7:38
We both ended up receiving slots to Vegas for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships but we had decided pre-Branson 70.3 that we would not take them. With Karel's first IM next year in Lake Placid and my 6th Ironman and an unknown of how the day will turn out next year, I am willing to take a chance on a possibility to qualify for Kona Also, the turn around from IM Lake Placid in July and the 70.3 WC in Sept, is not something that I want to put my body through. Realizing that if I were to qualify for Kona next year (always a goal), I will need to ensure a proper recovery to do two Ironman's within a 4 month window.
But it made me super happy to let the 3rd place girl in my age group know that I would not take the slot. I remember when I received a roll down at IMWI in 2010 and it was the coolest feeling in the world. It was a nice feeling to return the favor and to share the excitement with all the 70.3 WC qualifiers.
Words can not describe how much is means to me and Karel that we can inspire others to set goals and work hard for them. Fitness status (or weight) has nothing to do with goal setting. If you want something in life, go for it and never let excuses get in your way. A strong heart, mind and body is all you need to succeed in life. Enjoy life to the fullest.