Written by Ann Brennan
Originally published in June 2011, republished because it was on my mind during a run today. I often need reminders of just what it takes to meet the goals I have set for myself.
On Friday afternoon, Coach Jeff emailed me and asked if we could talk about Sunday’s 10k. I rolled my eyes, hung my head, and thought two things, “What could he possibly have to say about this race.” Jeff and Blaise (my fast husband) confer by phone before races. They talk splits and strategy.
But Jeff seldom asks me to talk. He is the ultimate “man of few words.” So, when he asks to talk, there must be a reason.
Unfortunately, because Jeff is a man of so few words he always gets straight to the point and on Friday the point was a little unpleasant.
“Ann,” he said with only the slightest pause, “you are the great underachiever.”
He went on to say that he does not think I try in races, that I am afraid of failing so I don’t give it my all, that I am capable of more than I give.
I wanted to argue with him, but I couldn’t. I knew he was right. I have written here about the mental games I have played with myself for various reasons over the past couple of years but when it comes down to it, Jeff is right.
While I tell people that they probably can run faster than they believe is possible, I do not practice what I preach. I have stopped racing as fast as I know that I can.
Three years ago I was racing. In every race I was giving it my all and I discovered that I really could run faster than I had given myself credit for. That year I set PRs in every race I ran. Then injury and illness struck over and over again and I began to revert back to my old way of thinking. I stopped trying.
So, on Friday afternoon as I sat on the front porch listening to Jeff call me the great underachiever I could not argue. I knew he was right.
“I want you to race. Push yourself on Sunday,” he told me, “I want you to run a 9 minute pace.”
Calculating that out, it meant I had to run the race in 55:55.
Just minutes before I called Jeff I had been content with the idea that I would come in in under an hour. I would have been happy with that. Instead, I was now looking at knocking over 4 minutes off that time and I was looking at doing it the morning after my in-laws 50th Wedding Anniversary party. But I didn’t argue. I couldn’t argue, because this was (excuse my language here but it is the only term I can think of at the moment) “shit or get off the pot” time.
Suddenly that is exactly what it felt like. Here I am working with not one but two coaches. With Jeff coaching my running, swimming and biking and Dan at helping me with my strength, mobility and flexibility it does seem like the time to either race or give up on it all together.
So, I raced. Using the dynamic warm up I had just learned last week with Dan, the plan that Jeff had laid out for me Friday afternoon and my husband who was prepared to help me push through the last mile, I raced my 10k.
I should say I did not race gracefully. I did not race smart. But I raced. I took off too fast and suffered for it later in the race, but I raced the entire time. I didn’t slack off. I stayed focused and I raced.
The truth is that Jeff had pissed me off a little bit and that 55:55 no longer seemed like a challenge. Instead it seemed like an insult. Of course I could run 55:55. Of course I could run better than a 9 minute pace.
I had been fine with the idea of running a 60 minute 10k before Jeff called me the great underachiever but that 55:55 lit a fire and there was no way I was going to be satisfied with that time now.
So, Sunday morning as I raced the Dawson’s Father’s Day 10k, I pushed and I ran. I gave it my all, coming across the finish line two minutes faster than Jeff had suggested, in 53:54.
Looking back on that phone call I have a couple of questions. First I wonder how Jeff felt before the words left his mouth. I am not the easiest person to talk to. Truth be told, I am pretty controlling. I like to be in charge and seldom give up control easily. And while I am guessing it is difficult to approach anybody with a statement like “you are the great underachiever,” I would think it might be even harder to approach me.
Second, I wonder whether he knew. Did he know that I needed to be pushed and underestimated? Did he know that I needed to be shoved rather than guided?