Beaten by my own mental game

  • This was printed in August of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 66th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

“Pass fast” — it was the code name for the trick my middle school cross country coach

taught us for beating other runners in a race. Pass runners quickly enough so that they

won’t want to hang with you.

I’ve never forgotten that trick, and I use it when I can. I’ll slowly gain on an opponent

and pass them as quickly as I can, making sure to monitor my breathing and perfect my

form so that it appears I am passing them effortlessly.

By putting on this little performance for about 20 seconds, I can usually get the other

runner to back off and let me pass them. Sometimes my act is so good that they give up

completely and begin to walk.

Other times my charade has absolutely no effect on the strong-minded runner I’m trying

to pass, and I end up racing them for miles until one of us gives in and gets passed.

I ran the Hell Of A Half marathon in Exeter on Saturday and found several opportunities

to employ my technique — but in the end, I was beaten by my own trick.

I hadn’t run or seen the course beforehand, but the hills had been described to me as

brutal, tough, long, steep, and “why they call it Hell…of a half.”

I run repeats every Monday on different hills that embody every combination of long and

short, gradual and steep. I wondered just how bad Hell’s hills were, but I was confident in

my training.

The 13.1-mile race started at a comfortable pace. I estimated I was in fifth place out of

the women and would probably stay there, as I was running injury-free and well rested.

After catching up with a running buddy of mine, Rogelio Montes, I decided to match his

pace for as long as I could.

“You’re the fifth woman,” he said. “Try to move up.”

Following his lead, I ran a short “tempo,” picking up the pace until we were just behind

the fourth-place girl. “Another little short tempo,” he whispered.

I knew this game! Pass fast!

I relaxed my shoulders, swung my arms confidently at my sides, calmed my breathing so

it wouldn’t sound like I was huffing and puffing as I passed the woman ahead of me, and

went for it.

She tried to hang on for about 10 seconds, matching my stride. But I repeated “pass fast”

in my head and slightly picked up the pace. I lost her within four seconds.

Rogelio and I found our race pace again and stayed comfortably behind the third place

woman until we decided to make a move again.

After a 20-second “pass fast,” I was in third.

Around Mile 5 I lost Rogelio, who said afterward that the hills got tough on him. I used

the first climb — and my weekly hill repeat training — to overtake the second-place

woman.

I ran a couple of miles without ever glimpsing the first-place woman. When I hit the

water station just after Mile 7, a man from the Mavericks, a Visalia running team, told me

that the first female was having a tough time on the hills.

“She’s ready to give up, you can catch her,” he told me.

When I caught up to her at Mile 8, which was on a tough incline, my “pass fast” tactic

caused her to let out a sigh and begin to walk.

From there, the pressure was on. As the first-place female, the race was mine to lose. I

went from being the hunter to the hunted.

As the course climbed and curved, I looked back to see the women I had passed early on

in the race — they were closing in on me. Just after Mile 11 we crested the top of the

race’s final hill. I was about 100 meters ahead of the second-place woman, and I had

never known anyone to pass me on a downhill stretch. But she did.

As I flew down the backside of the hill, recklessly reaching a six-minute-per-mile pace,

Monique Jacques, of Fresno, flew right on past me as if I were standing still. I recognized

it as a “pass fast” move, but it still defeated me.

Mentally I settled for second place. Then I got passed again around Mile 12, when

Madera-native Kristin Rigby sped past me on seemingly fresh legs.

I finished third, glad that I had placed, earned a pretty cool flame-shaped trophy and run a

half-marathon personal record of 1:41:50 — but upset that I had fallen victim to my own

trick.

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