You probably think that running professionally would entail a constant pushing of the envelope. In many ways it does. Marathon running is entirely different from other distances. To be successful in the marathon, one must be incredibly in-tune with his/her body. It's a constant evaluation of all systems. “How's my fueling? How's my pace? Any aches and pains yet? What is the next 5k stretch like? Am I set up right for where I want to be on that stretch?”

In a way, it keeps the runner in a protected little bubble of a comfort zone. The first 30k is really spent IN the comfort zone while making sure there is enough cushion of pace, fuel, and focus to bring hell to competitors in the final 12k. The big risks in a marathon are taken in training runs. We might have a big breakthrough on workouts that gets us to take a calculated risk in the race. It is known to the marathoner though that this IS the NEW comfort zone.

This week, I ran something completely out of my normal element; I ran USATF Club Cross-Country. I also left my comfort zone in a race for the first time in a while. It felt GREAT!

For the first half mile, I couldn't convince my legs that it was a race. They also questioned my decision to wear spikes. In the next half mile though, I found the lead pack and settled into the pace. I felt amazing through about 4.5 miles before it hit me that I haven't trained much at 4:35-40 pace. I may have faded in the last mile and a half but this was one of my most satisfying races in a long time, probably since the marathon trials in January.

Training this week I feel more confident in my ability to run fast again. I found I'm already more comfortable challenging myself on intervals. That's a great thing since I'm NOT marathon training right now and I SHOULD be stepping outside of my comfort zone.

Cross-country reminded me of running and racing at its purest. The time means nothing in cross-country; the only thing that matters is how well each person competes! Here's to 2013 being a more competitive year for me racing—short and longer distances. Have a very merry Christmas, everyone.