Into the Unknown
Race car driver Ashley Freiberg is providing a series of blog entries exclusive to espnW on her first experience competing in the ING New York City Marathon as part of Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation team.
As a race car driver I consider myself a 24-hour athlete. Everything I do, day in and day out, ties into my performance, including my physical training, nutrition, sleep habits, mental technique ... really, all aspects of my daily life.
For those who read my first blog, you know that I am preparing for the ING New York City Marathon and that I have been training for only around seven weeks, which has made it an "interesting" experience.
When the Born This Way Foundation asked me to run on its team this fall, I jumped at the chance, not only to support something I strongly believe in, but also to accept the new challenge of a marathon.
I can be a bit of a goofball, and a few days after I had signed up, I was bouncing down some stairs, and with a big leap off the last one, I heard a loud snap and felt shrieking pain as I landed on my foot sideways (yikes!). My foot was an impressive rainbow of black and blue, but I wasn't thinking it was so pretty when I realized I had to stay off it until it healed.
It would be accurate to say that I had some serious panic. Sure, I run as part of my training for driving, but my longest run up to that point in my life had been only seven miles, and my foot injury would delay my marathon training for almost two months.
Searching for ways to approach the new timetable, I reached into my driving experience for what has worked.
I have always completely immersed myself into whatever it is that I am doing, constantly striving to learn more about how to make myself better, faster and stronger. Jumping into this new challenge made me realize that I was essentially starting from square one.
Just like driving has a lot more to it than sitting in a chair and pressing down the pedals, running has a lot more to it than putting on your shoes and hitting the pavement. I needed to know things like: Is my form correct? What training plan should I follow? How do I prepare in the safest and most efficient way possible?
I immediately started to research and learn. I dove straight into the Internet, books and magazines, and I asked runners I knew for advice.
Most experienced runners looked at me like I was crazy for trying to take this on with such little time, but I am a bit of a terrier, and once I start digging, I don't stop.
The first thing I found was that most training plans are about six months long, but since I only had seven weeks, I took the general pattern of the training plans I researched, and built a personal plan that I hoped would work for me. We'll see!
One of the most valuable things I have learned in racing, and in life in general, is that there is no one “right” way to do something. Everyone is different and reacts differently to certain situations. In this case, I had minimal time to turn seven miles into 26.2 miles, so I knew I would need a different approach.
When I prepare for a race weekend as a driver, I make sure that I have done everything to be as ready as possible. I study track maps, in-car video, data and notes from myself or from others, and I make sure that I am physically ready. I also visualize how the race weekend may go so I am ready for any situation.
In order to be prepared for Sunday's marathon, though, there were still things I needed to learn. What layers of clothing would I need? How do I stay well-fueled for the race? How often should I fuel during the race? How will I carry my fuel? Could I rely on the feed stations? I started experimenting and trying different things during my training runs -- I've made it up to 20 miles! -- and kept notes on what worked best and what didn't work.
So even with all of this preparation, I still have my worries. The biggest thing I am struggling with is understanding what pace I should run at. I live in Vermont, which is very mountainous, and I can't even run a half-mile without managing to go uphill. Even though NYC is not the flattest of marathons, it will be to me. My goal is to find a pace and stick with it while not having my competitive spirit get caught up in the excitement.
I can't help but stare in awe at the photos from the start of the race, when thousands of runners are crossing the bridge. What is it like to be shoulder to shoulder with people and still manage to run your own race and your own pace? All my training has been as a solitary runner; I don't even know the etiquette of group running, so don't mind me!
I know that as I stand on the starting line, there will be all sorts of questions and unknowns. In some ways it will be like life -- you can't get too wrapped up in what is to come because you don't always have control of it. I will have to take each step as it comes and enjoy the journey.