Thursday, February 16, 2012

I'm brave but I'm chicken shins.

I'm sure most of you know what it is like to be singing along to a song on the radio, and suddenly have somebody tell you, "Hey, you're singing the wrong words!" It's actually a pretty fun conversation-starter to ask people what song they've accidentally botched up over the years...

When my older sister Kara was little, Tina Turner's "What's love got to do, got to do with it..." song was pretty popular. However, she popularized a new version of the song in our household when she sang: "What's Love? Cock-a-doo, cock-a-doodle it!!" To this day, if I happen to hear that song, I still think it sounds like Tina is making rooster calls instead of the intended version.

I'll never forget when I was singing along to a song when we were young, and suddenly my sister gasped, and proclaimed: "You SWORE!" I was insistent I had not. The song was Alanis Morisette's "One Hand in My Pocket" and the line I sang was "I'm brave but I'm chicken SHINS" ...As it turns out, she's not saying shins, and I bet you can fill in the blank of what she was really saying.

Now that I've shared that random tid-bit from my childhood, you're probably wondering where I am going with this. Ironically enough, this is the message I took away from my race last weekend at the USA Track and Field Classic: I'm brave, but I'm chicken shins.

I flew out to Feyetteville, Arkansas last weekend feeling confident in my fitness. This was going to be my second race of the year, and my first against some pretty heavy competition. My training had been going incredibly well, and even though I haven't competed in a lot of really tough indoor 1500m races before, I thought I was ready to make it known in a big way that Heather Kampf can run a dang good mile! So we get to the track, I warm up, and then finally find myself on the starting line. Just before the gun goes off, I looked around me at the field of competitors, and could hear my inner dialogue saying: "Common Heather, you can take these girls." Sounds like a good thing to think, right? The only problem was, even in my head, the inner voice was saying it without conviction. It felt fake, almost sing-songy, like something you rehearse saying but you don't truly believe.

I'm not sure psychologically what happened to make me feel like I was forcing my positive self-talk rather than internalizing it, but if you've seen the results, it's clear that my head wasn't on right for this race.

I got out in decent positioning for the first half, but felt like I was all over the place. The race felt chaotic and uncomfortable because I was alternating between trying to pass people and being passed, getting boxed on the inside, and flying out into lane 3, getting stepped on and being pushed. About halfway through the race, I got so sick of all the jostling, that I mentally shut down. I allowed people to pass me, hoping that maybe after they pass I would be free to run my own race. In a nutshell, I "let the race happen to me" (as my coach would say), rather than actively pursuing MY race. Before I knew it, I was near dead-last, and didn't really feel like I was racing at all.

While I might have started out with a brave front, I ran the race like 'chicken shins', and I definitely regretted wasting a good opportunity to race. I ran 4:16.76, which technically isn't a bad time for me at this time of year, and an improvement from my earlier race this season...but nothing like I thought I was capable of doing that day.


Afterwards, I had the opportunity to talk with my coach pretty extensively about what was going on in my head, and how it turned into a sub-par race for me. I've discovered that somewhere along the way, from college to the pro's, I seem to have decided that I shouldn't expect to lead or win races. I decided that being somewhere in the middle of races, and improving on my own time is good enough. I started to doubt myself, and stopped seeing myself as a champion.

When I was in college, I ran races to WIN races. I got out in front, and made people WORK if they wanted to beat me. I CONTROLLED races, races never controlled me. I didn't care who I was competing against, because their past in running had nothing to do with my opportunity TODAY to run faster than them. That attitude made me pretty successful, and I think it is about time that I take RISKS in my racing, be willing to go where I have never been before, and expect to surprise myself with big PR's and big wins. There is no way for me to reach my ultimate goals if my expectations are mediocre. I keep saying I am so excited about my fitness level right now. I am pumped that I am running faster workouts in the early indoor season than I have ran in later outdoor seasons in the past. All that is fine and dandy, but nobody cares what I do in a workout. I have to do it where it counts.

I am truly thankful to have a coach that reminds me of these things. On a daily basis, he says things that build me up. One of my favorites is, "This is going to be the year of Kampf!" Our last conversation ended with him saying, "If it is going to be the year of Kampf, you need to MAKE it be the year of Kampf." Well said, Dennis, well said.

While I know it isn't possible to change my confidence-level overnight, I am aware that I can make a decision to race with a commitment to make it count, and to run like I mean it. If I race with that commitment, I truly (and I'm not just saying this) believe that the confidence will follow.

I plan to practice that mentality this weekend, where I will race again at the University of Minnesota in an 800m race. This will be my last race before the USA Indoor Championships the following weekend, Feb 25-26th in Albuquerque, NM. I'll keep you posted on how things go, and as always, thanks for the support!