The last three weeks felt like a post Marathon blues weirdly enough—lack of motivation to run and to write!—and don’t get me wrong, I was super happy and stoked after that massive PR, but only a few days into the new week, I got really sick and realized that that race in that rain definitely left a mark on my body. In any case, I’m typing up (some of) these words down as I just finished a run this morning and still feeling high while I’m standing inside the subway. The summer will be good and I’ll be fine. Not sure why I am feeling sensitive, but probably it's because I’m going through a lot of changes and the changing of seasons as summer finally starts to show… my body and mind knowing that there’s a bright future ahead.
After the breakthrough in Berlin last September, some solid time off and somehow maneuvering through the grueling winter of NYC, I set some goals for this year. 2018. One of those goals was breaking 1:35hr in the half marathon. I didn’t publicize it nor mentioned it to anyone but a few friends. An arbitrary number I was eyeing and something I kept in the back of my mind for the last couple months. Following the mantra from the previous year, I like to ‘shoot for the moon and (hopefully) land next to the stars'. January including Mexico was rough on my body thus I needed a couple weeks to recover in February. I went from a 60mi week to 0mi which at that point was definitely fine with me. After experiencing my stress fracture in my left shin bone back in 2014, where I remember the pain and misery too clearly, I’d always! rather take a couple weeks off running than taking a full 4month break! I slowed it down and refocused on building strength by visiting Pilates more regularly, picking up Yoga again and climbing with friends to keep it fun! In March, I started building back up. Slowly.
For the ones who follow me on Strava, maybe you have noticed that I stopped going to practice with Black Roses in January and that I found a new routine in running in the mornings again. I have been taking it easy and instead of focusing on mileage and speed, I shifted towards consistency and strength. The word balance became even more important to me. Initially I had planned the Red Hook Crit 5K in April as my season opener, but due to a twisted ankle only 2 days before that 5K, I had to opt out. Consequently, I was concerned with the Brooklyn Half marathon which was only 3 weeks away, but I did my best, resting and elevating, massaging it. Within a week, I was able to run again, but changed my time goals. At that point, I was just happy to be moving. My mentality was pretty much ‘whatever happens, happens. Grateful to be running.’
On top of that incidence, I also made the final decision to leave the team officially. Two days before race day. After 4 years, this was my first ever race, by myself, without any affiliations. I was nervous going into it, emotional but also unsure about the physical state of my body. The night before the race I texted a friend and said to him ‘I think I am going to race without a watch, taking off all the pressure.’ He thought it was a good idea, so my mind was set. I decided to run completely free. My friend Sydney from Toronto also reminded me to write down a mantra, one that I can recall during the race.
Everyone who raced and was out there cheering that morning, knows, the conditions were shitty. It rained and it was cold. I even wrapped my feet and shoes into plastic bags. Doing what I can before race start. Nevertheless, our feet were wet, so we could just hope for the best. Recalling the conditions of the Boston Marathon this year, I tried to keep my energy high.
Mile 1 - 6: the first half of the race is basically a half loop around Prospect Park and then a full loop inside. Home turf for me since I train there most of my mornings. I felt good, but did stop around mile 3 to retie my shoes, they were just too tight and I knew I wouldn’t be able to run with it for the rest of the race. The 1.35hr pace group passed me on the last hill around mile 5 and I said to myself ‘that is fine, maybe I will be able to catch up to them on the flats.’ I kept my breathing steady and continued to push forward and upward.
Mile 7 to finish: after leaving the park, it’s a pretty flat stretch. My feet felt much better, now that the shoes were not too tight, I drank some water and eventually caught up to the 1.35 pace group. I stuck around with them for maybe one mile, ran on the far right but then moved ahead of them. I felt good enough and kept telling myself how many minutes I had left as the big mile markers gave me some sort of orientation. Something, I tend to do when it gets tough... Instead of telling myself 'Oh, 4 more miles to go, I tell myself xx minutes left.' This minute instead of mileage trick definitely helps and keeps my mind afloat.
Around mile 10, I saw some of my old teammates who offered me Maurten to which I kindly declined, knowing that I had everything I needed already in me. Only a mile later, I saw Hector from WRU Crew and his massive high-five gave me an extra push. Over the course of the race, I also repeated the mantras I wrote down the previous night:
Keep on keeping on.
You got this girl. Be strong.
There was also enough time to reflect on various things: my running journey. How only a couple years ago, I was a 10min mile runner, and how I have improved to 7min per mile, but how I am still the same person. The same spirit. I thought about the sentence ‘It never gets easier, you just get faster’—how honest and real that is when it comes to running. The pain is the same pain, we all share it, we all know how it feels, even if we might be at different stages. Then, I think what really carried me through the last miles, while pushing harder, was the thought of myself carrying a nation on my shoulders, representing Vietnamese women in sports and being responsible for the many women and girls to come after me. How in the face of adversity—despite the weather, the foot, the heavy work weeks leading up to this, the heart break—I needed to push forward. Today and every day. For all of the girls and women out there. For me, my mother and my girlfriends.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I only saw 1.38hr at the big clock, I was happy and thought ‘If this is what I ran, I am stoked.’ Two hours later, I received a text message from my friend Riho: 'you killed it!' Happy about the congratulations, I replied with gratitude, laughing about the fact that I didn't know my time since I didn't run with a watch (nor do I have the NYRR app). She texted me a screenshot of my splits and official finish time. I was standing inside a bar, while it was still pouring outside. Staring at my phone, and yup, tearing up. The numbers were insane. Insanely fast. I ended up running an average of 7:09 pace for a half marathon distance!! Not a pace I ever trained at, nor ran, especially at this distance... I shaved off 16+ min off my previous Half Marathon time from exactly one year ago. Wild.
It's been almost a month since the race, and it seems so long ago, but it's nice to know that my body was able to pull that off. No matter what, it's inside my body. Whether I will be able to run that again or not. It was Caitlin, a close friend, who said to me after completing the half “I don’t even think Berlin was a breakthrough but all your training from last year is just starting to show now. I think the Brooklyn Half was the real breakthrough.”
So, what was different for this year’s Brooklyn Half Marathon?
1. Strength training: when we're excited about running only, it is easy to forget about building a strong base and a strong core. I think shifting my focus here has been really key. Instead of chasing mileage, putting in the work on the mat, at pilates and yoga, has been beneficial for my body. While I am not the best at it, I try to do core exercises and classes at least 2-3 times a week.
2. PMA aka positive mental attitude: I mentioned it here before and I'll mention it again. Stay positive not only throughout the race, but more so throughout your training. Take it as a journey, it's a learning process. Like in life, you will have bad days and good days in training. You will feel low and high, ride those waves, and keep at it. Stay consistent, keep yourself stoked, surround yourself with like minded people... and yes, if needed cut out the noise and the energy that drains you. You for yourself first. Always. Cause self care!
3. Balance: hmmm.. I like this word because Gold To Green is all about balance! In the past months, I would say I've been pretty chill about running. Trying not to stress about the little things, enjoying some drinks here and there, embracing other parts of my life (all the art shows please!) and doing other things. It's important to keep your brain + heart stimulated. Again, running can be monotonous and before you switch back on to full training mode, it's important to step outside your runner-self from time to time and gain different perspectives. Be more loose, meet different people, give yourself permission to explore and feed your other curiosities :)
And I think those 3 parts made a massive difference for me... I am still learning and incredibly curious for what's to come, so I am just riding those waves as best as I can. Thank you for reading and making me write this, haha! I guess, I should hit the sheets now 'cause sleep is important too!
Also, 13 weeks left 'till Berlin! Yes, I am doing it again, just putting it out there :)
Wherever you are, I am sending you big hugs, take good care of yourself and hope to catch you on a run. Thank you for sharing this journey with me!