Despite what some crappy dog training TV show may have shamed you into believing, all unwanted behavior is not the fault of the owner. Maybe some, but definitely not all. Dominance Theory in reference to our canine companions as been extinguished decades ago through the real work done by actual animal behavior experts. Forget trying to "be the alpha" or "the pack leader" while attempting to make your dog behave. Instead, I believe that even canine behavior is shaped from both Nature (genetics) and Nurture (experiences). To modify behavior we need to step back, identify what is happening, recognize the limits of our dogs, determine what we have control over, and work slowly to try to change what we can change in safe and healthy ways. At least, this is my approach.
I hope by posting updates about our experience, rwe may be able to help other dogs and their owners realize the there are many different positive effective tools available to help manage challenge, distressful, even dangerous behaviors safely. I hope Yazzy and I can help others who are suddenly feeling overwhelmed find some peace.
Maybe we can even save some lives along the way.
We adopted Yazzy from NorthStar Pet Rescue on May 15, 2020. We were clearly informed that Yazzy was going to be a project and offered the chance to meet her before we determined if we could assist.
Yazzy and her family (mother and 5 other siblings, all guestimated to be just about 13 months old) were picked up as strays and brought to a shelter in Texas. NorthStar became aware of their need for help and stepped in. Medical care was the first priority as all dogs were suffering from two types of mange. Fosters step up to take on the challenging task of caring for these feral dogs while they healed. Karen had Yazzy and her brother Yoseph for most of this time.
When I met Yazzy, it was about 2 months after she was picked up. She had healed from her mange but she needed a lot of behavior work. Juli was fostering her in NJ until she found a home. She was able to share that Yazzy did bite her finger once when she was removing her from her crate after her transport but that was the only incident of biting that she was aware of. Otherwise, Yazzy preferred to stay out of people's reach. She was curious and highly food motivated. But she was quick to appear overwhelmed and fearful. She would approach people for treats but as soon as the treat was taken, she was immediately back to defensive growling. Despite her personality challenges, we decided to keep her and try to work on helping her relax.
Before agreeing to take on Yazzy, I made sure Sidney was just as interested in helping to manage and reshape all the behavioral issues that would come along with trying to give a sweet dog a good home. Sid was 100% all in. In hindsight, this is hilarious.
Yazzy is not our first feral dog. Lapis and Piper were both feral before we adopted them.
Yazzy is not even our first feral with aggression issues. 6 years ago we adopted Piper from death row based upon a picture (not recommended!). Unlike NorthStar, who was 100% upfront with us about all Yazzy's behavioral challenges known to them, the NC county shelter that housed Piper was simply thrilled to dump her on any unsuspecting fool that was willing to open their home to her. In part, this is because the staff at that high kill shelter truly wanted all he dogs to have a chance. Piper was slated to be euthanized in about 2 days when we asked about her. Unlike the rescue adoption process, the county shelter adoption process took minutes and felt like more of a first-come, first-served type situation. You want her... She's yours!
Piper came to use with severe anxiety, serious resource guarding, and a tendency to snap without any warning. After two days with Piper, she had tried to bite me 8 times and I was already in the process of looking for a place to help. I didn't think I could keep her. I had never been so afraid of a dog in my life and she was living in my spare bedroom.
I quickly learned that once you get an aggressive dog into your possession there are three choices: (1) attempt to use behavior modification to train dog to be safer, (2) manage any behavior you cannot modify (knowing your dog will ALWAYS need some special treatment), and (3) if you can't do 1 or 2, then euthanize. Of course, rehoming an aggressive dogs is possible, BUT there are a lot of ethical, morale, and legal issues that come with rehoming dogs with bite histories.
Patricial McConnell wrote this piece that was a huge eye opener for me. It helped me to see how much "trouble" we were in and how hard I would need to work to help keep Piper alive and everyone she is near safe.
I was fortunate to have had some people in the dog-rescue field offer to help me try to rehome Piper if I needed to but in my heart I knew this would most likely NOT turn out well for Piper.
I have multiple graduate degrees in therapy, psychology, and counseling. I work with humans who have behavioral problems as well as humans who want to improve their lives or skill in some way. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work educating myself about how to use behavior modification techniques to help a feral dog reduce stress and anxiety . I felt like Piper's last hope to help her move towards calm safe behavior which was needed to save her life.
Enzo was our first dog as a couple. He was not feral. But he was a stray when we found him. He was extremely dog-aggressive. He was a sweetheart with people. To attempt to help Enzo overcome his dog-aggressive reactions we sent him to Dog School. He went 8 hours per day, 4 days per week for 2 months. At the end of that bout of behavior training, he was returned to us with the statement "Some dogs can just never be around dogs off leash safely. Good Luck."
But I sometimes don't believe what I am told. We wanted a second dog. When Enzo started to show small signs that he could tolerate at a distance the presence of other dogs, we decided since he to adopt Piper.
As you might imagine, living in a house with one dog-aggressive dog and one human-aggressive dog was no picnic.
So I called a dog trainer who claimed to one of the best "aggression specialists" in NJ. After one phone consult, he turned me down as client, stating that I was already managing their safety the way he would recommend, by keeping them separated, By using the classical and counterconditioning method I knew of and positive reinforcement I was already doing all I could do. He stated he didn't feel there was much more he could do for me that I wasn't already doing. He refused to take my money because he didn't feel confident in anyone's ability to try to help me change behavior that he wasn't hopeful could be changed. He got all this from one phone consult and he was the "aggression expert" He wished us luck.
Sheesh. Talk about feeling overwhelemd and hopeless,
So I built my own treatment plan that required a lot of Rotisserie Chicken, slow introductions with tons of positive reinforcers, and four months later... all the baby gates were removed. I had managed to successful counter condition two aggressive dogs at once to be both safe with people and safe with each other!
Keep in mind, this doesn't mean there are no rules or limits. Enzo and Piper never fought but I could never achieve helping Enzo to cease his dog-aggressive reactivity towards strange dogs out in the world, so we managed that. Piper stopped using aggression as her go-to response to anything new BUT as with all dogs who were once biters, I do not let her interact with strangers. Anyone who isn't a stranger gets a lesson about how to interact with Piper. Piper has two rules now: Don't take my stuff (but trade me and you can have anything you want from em) and Don't move me (ask me to follow you somewhere for a treat and I will happily move myself). Follow those rules and she is a loving brilliant dog is not interested in aggressing at all. Most people who meet piper have no idea she had such a challenging past. She presents as a very calm, well-behaved, obedient girl who follows all directions from me willingly. She absolutely adores anyone she see has family or friend. She has never tried to snap at anyone else since we adopted her, although I do know that if I need to handle her and I will always need to be careful with her. For example, I am certain that if she every had any type of medical issue she should be muzzled, which is fair and I can live with Piper's rules and she can live with ours.
So in summary with aggression, I believe we can only expect to modify behavior to the best of the ability of the dog, and the rest of the work to maintain safety needs to be done by setting limits and respecting boundaries.
Lapis is our third dog. She too was feral. Sid found her in Afghanistan while deployed. She was a very very young girl when she met the soldiers in Kandahar. Because she was able to be socialized before her adult teeth began to emerge, her association with humans is pleasant and positive. She is a sweet girl who just wants to play her heart out.
If Lapis is "dangerous" in any way it is because she is too rambunctious. She is still young, not quite 2 years old now, so we are expecting that with some maturity she will slow down a bit more. Her only undesirable behavior is that she get too excited when she see other dogs and out of frustration of being leashed tried to pull, jump, or bark to get towards them. She is making me work to try to figure out how to manage her. However despite how loud she can be sometimes, she is safe.
Ok that all explains how I ended up adopting feral dogs with behavior issues. So back to Yazzy.
It took three days for Yazzy to permit me to touch her. She had to drag her leash around during that time because it was impossible to convince her to sit still. She was so fear-reactive that it was almost impossible to get that leash back on her once it was off at first so we left it on.
She was great with going potty outside from day one. By day three started learning things, basic obedience (sit, lay down) or simply tricks (shake). She followed me everywhere. She stopped growling, lunging, and snarling at me.
I could see that Yazzy was a very fast learner. When she was calm, she was focused and could figure out puzzles (which is what obedience training is) easily.
However, he reaction to anyone else besides me was feeling unmodifiable! I was "in" her circle of trust, but everyone else (except Piper and Lapis) were "out" including Sidney.
Yazzy's behavior was interesting. She could clearly learn skills and retain them. Sit, lay down, back up, turn, shake, stay, wait, go inside, walk nice... all were learnable. But she could NOT learn that Sid was safe. Every single day for two months straight it was as if we were starting over. Everytime Sid left a room and returned it was as if she was meeting her for the first time, even if just moments before she was playing ball with him or taking food from him.
Her reaction towards him was violent sounding, clearly fueled by fear and distress. She would get hackled from head to tail, lunge, jump up and down in place, snarl, muzzle-punch his ankles if he walked away from her. He would do absolutely nothing that was obvious to us to trigger her. He presence was the trigger. I once watched her growl at him while he was sleeping quietly in his lazy boy chair. I once observed her get up from a nap to run upstair to growl at him because he opened a drawer in the kitchen.
After two months of making only minor gains at counterconditioning at a glacial pace, Yazzy then transferred her aggressive actions toward Piper. That was it. It is one thing for her to act out towards Sidney. We can modify this over time, but we draw the line at allowing escalating aggressive behaviors to be directed at one of my dogs. Piper has come too far to suddently be turned into a target.
The next morning I made an emergency appointment at the vet and asked if I could have her prescribed behavior medication. On 7/18, we started her on Prozac.
Prozac has about a 70% efficacy rate at reducing aggressive behaviors in dog. It takes 3-4 weeks to load up in the body before it reaches a therapeutic level. We are currently now just past the two week mark.
The aim of this treatement is to reduce the chance that Yazzy will tip over her emotional threshold into an aggressive behavior. A dog that is over their threshold cannot be conditioned to make new associations. By helping her say below threshold when around Sid or other people who frighten her (anyone but me), I should then have a better chance at using the desensitization and counter-conditioning methods of behavior modificaiton to reshape her emotional response to things that she perceives as threats which actually are not threatening in any way.
Once her behavior has been modified, there is a great chance that we can taper off the medications and the new learned behavior should stick (if not, we can stay on the meds if they work)..
Almost one year ago, while recovering from my first of 4 surgeries I wrote post hoping that I would be able run just one more marathon. I wasn’t sure if I could ever run again and if I ever had the chance I wanted to aim high and not squander the opportunity to shine.
Charleston was emotional. After Sid and I lost Enzo to cancer, a few days later I got an email from the Charleston Marathon announcing the race date of 1/11. We found Enzo on 1/1/11 and this date close enough to feel like a sign. I sitting was outside working at the time. As I read the email, a red cardinal landed nearby. Some believe this is also a sign that you are being visited by a loved one who has passed.
At that point, I didn’t hesitate. I registered myself and personalized my bib. Then I sent Sid, who was inside, a text to let him know what I did.
And once he saw the date, he texted me back that he just register himself too. This would be his first marathon. He, too, personalized his bib for Enzo. We didn’t even discuss that part. We just both did it.
Let's pause for a moment to remember the little soul who made Sidney and I better people.
After my last surgery on October 4, I had 13 weeks to prepare. I had spent the 12-week interval between my prior surgery and this last one using a Run/Walk training plan to build my base. Once recovered from my last, and fortunately minor, surgery, I picked up my training intensity and got to work. I was quickly on fire and making huge gains in short periods of time.
But starting the Thursday before Christmas, on 12/19, I got very sick, I suppose it was bronchitis? I really don’t know. I had three days with a fever and then an obnoxious cough that lasted for 3 weeks. Once the fever broke, I resumed my training despite having that serious cough. The only time the cough stopped was when I was running, so it was hard to not just go run.
If I had more than three weeks before my "A Race", I would have rested but this was peak week and I was about to taper so I powered through. I am happy with my decision to continue to train the best I could. I cut out the very fast highest intensity work. I cut out the hill repeats. I cut out lifting. I did manage the best 24 mile solo training run of my life on Christmas morning and then I started to pull back from a 115 mile peak week of training. I hoped to be well by race day.
My chest congestion lasted until about 4 days prior to Charleston (about 3 weeks total). I was coughing so often for so long that I strained a muscle in my abdomen and caused inflammation in the cartilage in my rib cage that has been waking me up at night for weeks now.
I actually did not get the abdominal strain and costocondritis (rib cage inflammation) confirmed) until 1/28 (this week when I saw three doctors to help me rule why I have been in pain for this long. I am still in pain from both of these problems and I haven' run very much at all since this race. I was concerned that I gave myself a hernia from the coughing. I was terrified of the rib pain. I am grateful both are not serious.
I raced a 5k on 1/1 despite this pain because it wasn’t excruciating at the time and I really wanted to see a 5k time before I set my final race day goal for Charleston. I had already dropped my weekly mileage from 115M to 60M that week. But I was not feeling any better. After that race, my mind starting drifting to worries about a possible ovarian issue. Or worse, my biggest fear which kept me up at night and led to stress eating too much chocolate, my fear that my abdominal pain was related to my colorectal illness and it was recurring. I am exhausted by this illness. It has been a tremendous struggle to stay mentally at peace through this ordeal.
With a significant and sudden major reduction in my training volume and the appetite of a runner training at 100M+ per week, I ended up 5 lbs heavier than I wanted to be by Charleston and this made me feel a little less confident. I worked so hard only to show up heavier than I was at the start of my last marathon and also now with abdominal and rib pain and whatever else was not 100% fro 3 weeks of bronchitis. This was not how today was supposed to start.
Everything I have done as an athlete since my last two surgeries was in preparation for this race. Even the walking I was doing in July when I couldn’t run non-stop for very long was to help me build my base for this race. Racing for Enzo and with Sidney kept me motivated when I feared I would never be able to run again.
I made a spreadsheet with my weekly goals and the check-in race times I needed if I wanted to run my best in Charleston. I got off to a good start but I fell off my schedule at the NCR Marathon, despite finishing second.. And when I won the Sly Fox Half in 1:28, I happy with my time but I knew it wasn’t nearly as fast I wanted to be by mid-December. And then I got bronchitis 4 days later. Excellent!
Sid had a hard a time too. He made it up to 18M in training without much trouble. Then he ran the Ashenfelter 8K and pulled a hamstring. He wasn’t able to get any more quality training done since that happened on Thanksgiving Day.
Although both of us felt like a mess, nothing was going to stop us from racing for Enzo and giving him our best effort.
As I walked to the start from the school, I pointed to the giant paw prints painted on the ground (the school’s mascot was a bull dog) and I said to Sid, “OMG, Enzo is here with us and by the size of those prints he is a Giant! He is everywhere!” It took all my strength to hold back tears.
I weaved my way up front, feeling just not well. My lower left abdomen was sore and painful whenever I lifted my left leg.
I started at the front of the race anyway. Matt lined up next to me and asked me if I was trying to go low-3 again (like at NCR where I ran a 3:08 on 11/30). I said I was planning to go out hard to find a pace I could possibly hold on to. I would either achieve my goal or blow up trying. Today was the day to take some risks.
It was 64 degrees at the start at 7:10 am. The humidity was already over 90%. By the finish we would be close to 80 degrees with 90% humidity. Runners around me suffered and I was 14th OA.
I got a fast start off the line. I don’t hold this. I do this for a few seconds, so that I can count ladies as I settle into my pace. My first mile was 6:44 and I was comfortable. I also knew this was going to be the coolest temperature of the day
My plan was to sit just at 3:00 pace (6:53 pace) through Mile 16 and if I felt like I had the ability to pick it up from there I would do so. If I needed to hold that pace, that would be find too. As long as I sat at 6:53, I could dip under sub-3 with a kick to the finish.
I was pleased with my work. I felt like I was holding a sustainable pace through M13. At this point I considered picking up the pace but I just didn’t feel like I could hold a faster pace for the last 10 miles. However, I really didn’t feel bad. I just knew the weather, especially the wind was challenging.
I just need to say how much I dislike wind.
This course was primarily north with a wind coming at us from the north, however the first 5.5 miles of this race went south. It was easy to hold a faster than average pace with the wind helping a little. But at 5.5 we turned north and that is when the work really began. There were several sections that had no shielding and long stretches in the wind made my pace drop 30 seconds per mile until I got out of it. It was a constant battle adjusting pace to deal with wind-resistance.
I decided to wait until M20 to make a push for sub-3 but by Mile 16 I started to feel the heat catching up with me. I was feeling overheated. I started to get goose-bumps and chills and I know this is not a good sign. But I was running well and I wasn’t falling apart. I was just not able to shift gears.
From the out and back sections, I could see the first place female was significantly far ahead of me and I was just as far ahead of the 3rd place woman. I couldn’t win and if I just help my pace I would finish second. I decided to set my sights on passing as many men as I could in the last 10 miles which was hard because I was most often running completely alone during that time.
Some of the men (there were no women) around me were struggling. I passed one who was sitting on the ground massaging out a hamstring. I passed another who was throwing up on the side of the course. It was clear the warm weather was a factor. I passed everyone I could pass, even with my own pace fading into the 7’s. I felt that I was running very well for the conditions and for not be heat acclimated.
And then at M22, I buckled. It was bad. I almost went down. It was sudden and it was shocking. I was unstable and getting so fatigued I could not lift my left leg without straining. I didn't know if it was the abdomen pain that buckled me or the heat. The day after the Charleston, I could not walk with about searing abdominal pain so I know I made the strain much worse. But this was the day to leave it all out there.
I didn’t notice the pain during the race. I did notice I could not lift my leg properly. I felt like I was having mechanical problems rather than limitation from pain. Sometimes I am really good at not allowing pain to register. I think today was one of those days.
At 4 miles to go, I just took the race one mile at time, trying to stay upright and finish as strong as I could. Despite not negative splitting this one and not achieving my A-Goal of sub-3, I am so very proud of my work. I knew I wasn’t feeling 100%. I knew the climate was going to stress my system. But every time I felt tired I looked at my bib and knew why I was there. Enzo is my CoPilot and He will not allow me to give up!
After I finished, I waited for Sid. When he came through, finishing his first marathon in 4:45 despite having screws in his knee that prevent him from running painfree and with a strained hamstring that was not healed, I was overwhelmed with joy for him.
We were both flooded with emotion at soon as we saw each other. He said “At mile 9, “I could feel my knee was having trouble and I could feel my hamstring grab if I tried to push myself, but I wasn’t running this for me. I was running for Enzo and I was going to finish it”.
He explained that when it got hard he slowed down, but he must not have looked that good because a cop actually gave him a donut!
For the first 10 miles, he was confused about why so many people were cheering “Go Sidney! Go Sidney!” We don’t know anyone except Veronica and David in Charleston and they weren’t on the course yet. After a while, he figured it out. A female runner nearby was wearing a sign on her chest with her name, "Sydney", printed on it and people were cheering for her… LOL. But then at M22 when Veronica and David were actually cheering for Sidney. He didn’t look up right away because he just thought “Syndey” was back.
And I laughed at first at his stories and then my eyes welled up because I know how much pain Sid had to fight through to finish. And only Sidney truly understands that there is no amount of pain a marathon can cause that could ever equal the pain we carry daily now that Enzo is no longer in our home.
Today we ran in honor of him, for his memory, to express our gratitude to have been given the chance to know and love him. Enzo will forever be alive in our hearts and through the sharing of our memories of him, but the void he left can never be filled and this is as it should be. Thank you, my boy. You gave me #OneMoreMarathon, #ForEnzo, #TheLittleMonster, #TheMonkey, #TheKing
I always offer my athletes the opportunity to complete "Race Performance Journals" after each race as a way to learn from their experience. I encourage them to review their prior journals before their next race to remind them of their impressions and help them to prepare for the upcoming event.
I complete my own journals (and sometimes I share them with my athletes), but I also write and post my race reports which function the same way for me.
Often I ask my athletes if they would like to share their own race reports on my blog too. I This Creating Momentum Athlete Spotlight is just one way I celebrate the success and learning experience of those who work so hard with me chasing their dreams.
Below you will find an amazing race report written by Rene. She had suffered a major life-threatening illness at the end of 2018. It was sudden, shocking, and scary. I was scared for her! But she was able to get back up, recover well, come back strong, and is now setting new lifetime personal bests! I could NOT be more proud of her.
Here is her Steamtown 2019 Race Report sharing her PR experience! Enjoy!
I couldn't have asked for a more perfect race morning. I woke stiff as I've been quite stiff lately. Tight calves and achilles as well as rocks that have built around my trocanters along with annoying glute knots have been rather annoying to say the least. But despite all of that, I'm not in PAIN. Thank God for the massage I got on Friday. I'd be much worse if I hadn't gone for one.
The weather is perfectly perfect. Holy cow is the moon bright! Chris and I hop in the car and head for the bus location. We find a perfect parking space, hop out of the car and walk to the buses just ahead of us. Chris hugs me, reassures me that I'm going to do great and kisses me goodbye. I hop on the bus. Yes! The front seat just behind the driver is open! I get carsick so this is a big deal. I leave space for another passenger to sit with me. A man from Ireland sits down. His name is Manny. We chat a bit and I learn that he is running for his son who has Chrone's disease. I share my story as well. We speak of our partners, children and races we've ran. I hydrate at the 6 o'clock hour and then eat part of my breakfast just after.
We arrive at the high school where we are greeted by a ton of amazing, and very energetic, highschool students. They cheer for us as we walk up the sidewalk and into the school. Manny and I wish each other a great race and part ways for our own preperation. I finish the second part of my breakfast. Fueling done. To the porto lav I go! Ah that's better. Man I had to pee. Good. I'm hydrated. I loosen up with a jog and dynamic stretching. Porto lav again. Again, I'm hydrated. Good. I chat with a fella that Chris and I had seen during dinner last night. I think his name is Ben. I'm terrible with names. This will be his 139th marathon. Holy crap! He's a seasoned chap, older than I. Perhaps in his later 60's. He's super friendly and I love his New York accent. It is now 7:40 and the race begins at 8 so I bid my new friend good luck and farewell and head to the start line. Hmmm...more porto lavs. The line is short. In I go for the last time!
Now to the start line area. I'm sad here at the start line. I ran this race in 2016 and spoke to my grandfather right before the race. I asked him to read Isaiah 40:31. He did and he prayed for me. I wasn't able to speak to him this time. He gets tired quickly and isn't always able to keep his breath. I didn't want to make him sad because of my need. God is amazing! A pastor prayed over us runners before the race and he recited Isaiah 40:31! Tears well up in my eyes. Pull it together Ré. You can cry after the race. Ahhhhhh I'm warm but I need to de-layer. My dad gave me an old long sleeve shirt that I could toss before the race. He must've worn this to work. It smells like a machine shop mixed with Snuggle lol. I take it off, give it a kiss, pay thanks to my dad and toss it aside. I head to the front, second row, behind some crazy serious looking runners. BOOM! The cannon sounds and we take off running!
Don't get caught up in the hype of the downhills Ré. Hmmm hill hype. That's funny. Focus. Stay between 7:30 and 7:50 for the first half, then hold for the second half. Folks are passing me but that's ok. I'm focused. I've got it. Mile 1 in 7:23. A little fast so let's slow it down a bit. Mile 2, 3 and 4 within range, low 7:30's. Oh hi! We've been next to each other for a bit. I introduce myself to my new race buddy. Her name is Molly. She's in my age group and making a comeback just like me! She hasn't run a marathon since 2013. She's been busy having children and being an awesome wife and momma. She's doing great! I tell her my comeback story. We chat comfortably for a bit and I realize I'm flying. Crap! Mile 5 at 7:14. SLOW DOWN! I tell my new friend that I need to slow my pace and I'll see her later or after the race. I run miles 6-22 within range, low 7:30's except for 3 miles that were just below 7:30 and 3 miles that were in the 7:40's. Good job Ré! You've got this! You'll definitely get the 3:22. Maybe even a PR today!
Mile 23. Crap...the last leg of this race sucks! I forgot how much it sucks! The uphill miles begin here. Mile 23 in 7:56. Stupid hill. Mile 24 in 8:21. What in the name of all things evil is this?! This is the worst uphill ever! My legs are going to fall off and my soul is going to fly out of the spaces where my legs used to be. Hold it together Ré! You can do anything for 17 more minutes. Mile 25 in 8:01. Ha! Take that you stupid hill! Oh come on! Mile 26. You suck too! 8:19 for mile 26. Once I get to the top of the hill, which is almost at the end of mile 26, I push with all I have. I push with everything I have left in the tank. I see the clock. My PR is 3:20:50. I can beat it! Run! Just run!
I cross the finish line, smile and all! 3:20:43 gun time, 3:20:42 chip time! A new PR! I can't believe it!
Well, I almost didn't go. Most of my morning was spent in contemplation of just staying home. But since I knew I was going to run something anyway, I decided I might as well just show up, try my best, and use this race as a workout at the worst.
I have had a lingering cold for two weeks. I am guessing mild bronchitis? Who knows. I don't feel horrible. I had a fever two weeks ago. But the last week and an half I have had a cough, chest and head congestion, a constant stuffed up nose, and stupid split lip that will not heal (likely from breathing dry air all day through my mouth since my nose is non-functional).
The only time I actually have felt ok over the past two weeks is when I run. But I stopped doing speed work. I cut back the intensity but I did crank up the volume because it felt good. The activity clears my chest and I can breath. Then I stop running and my head fills with congestion again. This is getting so old.
I was looking forward to this 5k race because it is the first 500 points race of the year for the 2020 USATF-NJ Long Distance Running Grand Prix. I wanted to start off well.
My last 5k was frustrating because I thought I could run faster than I did. I felt I had no final gear. I didn’t like that feeling.
I was hoping to run this 5k faster that the last one (19:38) but mostly I wanted to have a kick at the end. If I felt great I wanted to run 6:05 pace or better here today. I would have loved to see at least one 5:59 mile. To be fair, this race has a decline to the finish so there is really no excuse for me to not have a faster last mile than the one before it which has in incline. However, having what is probably some type of bronchitis for two week is not really setting me up to succeed. So I lowered my standards.
I got 2.5 miles of warm up before the start and actually gave myself enough time to use the restrooms and focus on my race without panic. I timed my pre-race routine. I need at least 30 minutes of pre-race time to get my act together. From here forward, that pre-race time needs to be protected time for me, free from chit chat or other people's problems. It is the minumum amount of time I need to focus and that doesn't even count warm-up miles. I can run warm up miles with people and chit chat then. But at 30 minutes to gun time, don't talk to me anymore. It's not you, it's me ;)
I lined up towards the front, two rows back, and wondered if I would be able to hold low-6 minute pace with a chest cold? I would try. I would let myself fall off pace if I felt I needed to based upon my body’s response to the effort. I was comfortable with that plan.
The gun went off and I started off a bit fast. I look at my watch and I see 5:40 for the first tenth of a mile or so. Ok. I can run.
We turn toward the incline and it feels like a mountain to me. Ugh. At least it is short. I didn't want to slow too much until I knew where I was in the race. I got jammed up at the start behind some guys who were not aware I wanted to get through. I had no idea what place I was in for women. I saw some ladies doing strides before the race so I suspected some were there to race fast.
The first lap of the park is clear and the lead runners get to take the inside of the loop. But when we start lap two, one problem with the bigger turnout is now the leaders have to run in the outside lane of the circular road because runners are lapping the walkers. This adds unavoidable distance to the runners race, but not really too much. It just feels "wrong" to have to run so far outside the tangent.
Just before Mile 1 I am passed by a female runner and wondered how many more were ahead of me. One specator then said I was 3rd... the rest said I was 2nd.
I have no idea what happened to me in Mile 2 that cause me to lose 13 seconds. It didn’t feel like I faded that much but I did. I know I slowed up when I merged with the crowd I was lapping but I just moved over and expected to run long. That is fine. The Clock Time didn't matter to me today. I dont need it for any reason. I could see my watch's data for pace even on a long course.
I was getting hot. I had worn an extra layer to the start. I was going to throw it to the side before we started and I should have. But the wind was kicking up and we were standing around long enough for me to feel cooler than I wanted to feel at the start. I thought I need it the whole way. But by mile 1, I realized I did not need it and it would slow me down. I fumbled to try to pull it off.
I was struggling with my breathing at the same time as we were running back up the initial incline part of the loop. I can’t bear to call it a hill. It is not steep, but it was definitely impacting my breathing so I slowed down.
At 1.25M, I was losing contact with the woman who passed me. I knew that I could not hold the pace I started off with and still have a kick so I let her go. It was too soon to chase her down. I need to wait until 2/3 of the race before I felt ready to dig. I told myself that 2nd place is good, if I was in second, as the spectators advised.
At the half way point around the park on loop 2 we hit the streets. It felt good to be out of the crowd. The road has some turns and I can see the lead female runner out some distance in front of me… and then I see her look back for me.
I used to tell myself that looking back really isn’t a big deal. Everyone looks.
Well, I will tell you that I know now that it IS a big deal. I saw her look and then I glanced at my watch and it said 1.72M. Then out loud but softly to myself I said, “I saw you look for me! I saw you look!” I just knew at that moment she was worried about something and wanted to know how far back I was. I felt, whether true or not, that if I could work hard enough to reel her in I was going to have a really good chance at passing her.
Spectators love the underdog. “She is right there… 30 yards… 20 yards… you can catch her!” Their energy was fueling me to push harder.
And then suddenly, all the noise faded.
I was autopilot.
Voices became muffled.
I wasn’t racing HER anymore.
All I could feel was my heart pounding in my ears while I was caught in the middle of a battle between My Ego-Oriented Self and My Self-Doubt. The winner of that fight would determine my placement. This no longer had anything to do with my competition. This was about ME fighting ME.
“The race is almost over. It is big race. If you take 2nd place, you get an almost perfect score. That is great! You are doing so much better than you thought you could do today. You aren’t going to nail your target pace anyway. That pace was the real goal. Who cares if you win a local 5k? You still aren’t running as fast as you wanted to run. Be happy with second. Let her have the win. Why suffer? For what? One or two additional points? A win doesn’t make up for not nailing your goal. You know that. Besides, you may try to pass her and find out that you can’t hold her off anyway. That will just add insult to injury. Good plan. Go out and lose twice in once race. She is probably running jsut as fast as she needs to run to win and she will just pull away from you if you challenge her. Why make things harder than they need to be,” says The Voice of Self-Doubt and Lame Excuses.
“Knock it off! What are you even talking about? She is RIGHT THERE. You could practical reach out and touch her. You just ran an entire mile as hard as you could to chase her down and NOW that you reeled her all the way in you want to back off? Who ARE you? Do you even know why we are here? Sure, you hoped to run a goal pace that you aren’t going to run today. BUT you probably have bronchitis! You are not 100%. And you are still running faster than the last 5k you raced. We are here to compete and that means fighting for the win. You don’t just let people have it. That is crap and you know it. How can you get this close and give up? Who does this? Not you. Don’t you hear the crowd. They believe in you. Believe in yourself, Dammit. The downhill part is coming for Christ’s Sake. Even the course is on your side. When will you listen and understand that you are better than you think you are. You spent a year WISHING you could race again and now you have a chance to win and you wont go after it? Why? Because you might lose? You would rather CHOOSE to lose than TRY to win??? This is illogical. Stop Thinking! You are NOT good at that right now. Just RUN HARD. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO LOSE!,”... The Ego fired back
Well, you can’t argue with that…
So at 2.82M miles in I was right there next to her and I had to decide what to do. My decision was a 5:24-paced burst that sent me fast down that same incline that knocked the wind out of me earlier in Mile 2.
… and moments later I was suddenly running alone.
Where is the finish?
I could see a turn into a parking lot. Some tables were set up. Was that the finish? Who knows. My brain was ordered to stop thinking. My legs are burning. My lungs are on fire. I need this to end right now because I am falling apart. My form feels like a distaster. Where is the clock? Where is the mat? Where are the people?
OMG!!! That is NOT the finish. We aren’t done yet.
I hear breathing. Someone is coming for me. It is getting louder.
Self-Doubt to Ego: “See. I told you. I knew you couldn’t do it. That is her coming back to blow past you just before the line. You made your move TOO SOON, Dummy. Well, you tried your best. It was a good effort. This is still a really good run. You can still be proud no matter what happens.”
Ego: “Ignore the Doubt. This is not over. Whatever you do, DO. NOT. LOOK BACK. Trust your self. You negative split everything. It is what you do now. It is your superpower! Just believe in yourself and focus. Run. Fix your form. Your wheels are falling off. You are getting all twisty. Who taught you to run like that! That is not how to run fast. Straighten up and concentrate. Get ready to fight. It is not over until you cross that line. Never Give Up. The harder you push, the sooner it ends. You haven’t lost until you lost and you are winning right now!”
Just before the final turn, the breathing is in my ear and I am passed… by a guy. I try to go with him but he is too fast for me.
And then I finish. First. I did it! I held her off!
I look for my inhaler. I can’t breath once I stop running. This was so awesome. I dreamt about racing like this for the last year of my life. I thought it was over. I was so broken I thought I would never feel this way again. I am so happy.
Five seconds later, I am shaking my competitors hand and thanking her for a great race.
Then 2.5M of cool down and my work is done for the day.
Time: 19:29 (6:16 official pace.)
OA 17th place/975
USATF-NJ Grad Prix Cat I - 500 pt.
For years, I have been sharing race reports on a blog I created on blogspot.
Shannon McGinn, MS, MA, JD, EdS. is the owner of Shannon McGinn Creating Momentum, LLC.