Today I attended an all-day CPR/First Aid/AED course at the Santa Cruz chapter of American Red Cross. This is one of the components of RRCA’s coaching program, and I’m happy to say that I am now one step closer to becoming an official running coach. Three wallet-friendly certificates now live in my purse – hopefully I won’t need to use my new skills, but should I encounter someone in need, I am ready!

I’m also ready to run Portland – mostly because taper-induced nerves have suddenly started to kick in and I want to get it over with! I’m really excited to race, but now that Boston is out of the picture, I can’t help but put a bit more time pressure on myself, which wasn’t the original plan given my hip injury. The original plan was to see how I felt and just try to run a respectable race but not attempt anything insane. As a good friend pointed out, however, I am insane! Who am I kidding, thinking I’m going to go into a race and not try my best to beat my previous time?! I thrive on self-competition – I love to prove to myself that I can do better! And after a somewhat tough running year so far, I could really use a “win” in this area.

Part of the struggle is that Portland feels like a total wild card. Maybe I’ll have a great race – or maybe I’ll crash and burn – or perhaps I’ll just get a decent time but nothing spectacular. I have no idea! You never can truly predict what will happen on race day, but you can make some educated guesses based on your performance in various training races and the overall success of your training cycle. I don’t have any longer races to look back on – just a couple 10ks which were more about building back miles after my injury rather than testing my marathon pace and planning my race strategy. If you compare Portland to NYC, the course is relatively flat and I’m a couple pounds lighter, which obviously both act in my favor. However, I didn’t put in as many quality sessions or miles and thus my confidence is slightly shaky in terms of how long I can maintain an ambitious race pace, if I decide to go for it – either at the sub-3:35 or 3:39 level.

Furthermore, I can’t discount the possibility that I will feel mentally drained from my intensive Friday and Saturday 8am – 5pm RRCA course. It might be a bit overwhelming and confusing to receive so much information, some of which may contradict what I currently practice in my own running, right before running a big race. Or will I feel jazzed up and even more excited to get out there, armed with knowledge and a new certification under my belt? Will I be able to control my diet as strictly as I did in NYC last year, without having access to a kitchen (or microwave or fridge) during the day? My greatest paranoia, from my Paris experience, is having GI issues again. Will not having my parents’ incredible support throughout the race (they saw me five times in Paris and three times in NYC) or other friends cheering me on along the course make a difference? These and so many other factors (weather, sleep etc) beyond my training may affect my performance in Portland, which makes it even more necessary to play things by ear.

The good news is that I have seven days left to mull over my race strategy and decide what feels right on marathon eve. In many ways, I really believe that despite some huge gaps in my training, I can pull off a PB and run a sub-3:39. I would be happy with that – any improvement on my time would be awesome. And then I have my occasional crazy moment and think I should just go for sub-3:35 and see what happens – although I realize that’s a huge gamble. My strategy never is to start out faster than I’ve trained to do, but rather slightly under goal pace and bump it up gradually, cranking it out in the last few miles. In this case, I did practice running 8:11 min/mile a few times just to see what running the new BQ time felt like, and it felt pretty comfortable yesterday in my six miler. However, I can’t confidently say to myself (right now, at least) that I could continue that pace for 20 additional miles….

Then again, when you’re really determined to do something and you convince yourself that you CAN do it, it’s amazing what you’re able to accomplish. Mental strength is key – it’s the only way I was able to finish NYC as strongly as I did, with the last few miles paced in the 7:50’s. My legs said NO WAY but my mind said YES YOU WILL, because I knew if I didn’t crank it up a notch, I wouldn’t reach my goal and I had worked too hard to let it slip away.

So whatever I ultimately decide to set as my goal, I just need to have faith that I can achieve it. There’s nothing else I can do at this stage, other than rest sufficiently and eat wisely. And when my nerves and negative thoughts inevitably start piping up about having only run 18 miles in training, I will just repeat my mantra:

I will do this. I can do this. Because I have done this.