Second try at 26.2: Napa 2012

I knew when I went into the Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday that I would earn a PR. The only question was, “By how much?”

The only other marathon I have run (Nike Women’s Marathon 2010) was something of a disaster time-wise. I bonked badly after mile 16 and cannot clearly recall how I managed to get from there to 26.2, but I did. Thanks to that experience, I knew that I could get to the finish line of any marathon as long as I did not have a medical emergency. Plus I knew I was bound to get stronger with time and training. So with 17 months between that and Napa, I knew I would improve.

The answer turned out to be 16 minutes. My finish time was 4:20:39. I should be thrilled, but, figuring Napa is easier than Nike, I had my heart set on a 4:15 finish and feel a little remiss about being off by 5 minutes. It’s funny what a minute means to a runner. Think of all the minutes we while away without concern while sitting in front of a computer or lingering over a cup of coffee on a weekend morning. And yet that same increment of time means so much when it comes to running. Each minute is sixty seconds of dedicated movement. It is the difference between a win and a loss. Making it and not making it. It can feel like nothing at all or a world of pain. For me, those 5 minutes, compounded by the huge dip I felt in the middle of the race, are keeping me from feeling ready to retire from marathoning. They are making me want to do one more.

Here is everything I learned about the NVM and a playback of my experience:

THE NVM COURSE AND HOW TO RUN IT

At the expo’s marathon college on Saturday, there was a panel presentation on how to run the NVM. This is what the experienced NVM marathoners had to say…

The Silverado Trail is canted in alternating directions to manage heavy winter rainfall. The angle can be hard on runners’ joints. Best to run in the middle even though it will add a little distance (about 0.2 mile).

For the first 10 miles, the trail winds through a narrow valley. The Silverado Trail is a quiet road. First mile is perfectly straight. Then there are 3 short hills from 2-3 miles, not steep. After the 3rd mile, it becomes flat again until you reach the first significant hill at 5 miles. It lasts half a mile, and is not very steep or long. Watch out for pot holes at 6 miles. From 6-10 you have a steep then gentle descent through an area shaded by oak trees.

In the second 10 miles, you start with gently rolling terrain then come to 3 hills which are less steep but longer than the ones in the first 10 miles. You are now out in the open. Mile 13 is your first hill, then another longer one at mile 15-16. You then run down to mile 18, and up a bump to 18.5. Mile 19 is a rise to mile 20 – don’t look up. You will be tired, you will slow down because of hill you don’t really see. From the top of mile 20, you can enjoy a gradual downhill to the flats.

The last 10k is completely flat. You will feel like you are stuck on a long endless road. At one point you will see a red barn on your right, and it will be like a painted ship on a painted sea. It will seem like it never gets any closer. Check in with your body, gait, evenness; shake out your hands. You turn at mile 23 into Oak Knoll. It is flat but watch for potholes from 23-24. At the mile 24 turn, you can hear the finish line. From 24-25 is a flat stretch. The last 1.2 miles weave through a residential area to Vintage High School.

THE 2012 NVM AND HOW I RAN IT

I woke up on my own at 4:50 a.m. Turned off the 2 alarms that I had set. Got dressed. Ate my usual oatmeal, drank my beet juice and got into my car to head to the shuttle bus area.

It was pitch dark at Vintage High School. The parking lot was filled. Cruised around and pulled into the first spot I could find. Wove my way around the dimly lit clusters of buildings, following the sound of human voices, to the bus boarding area. Boarded the only one with an open door. The time was 5:40 and apparently that was the last bus. We departed at 6:00.

We arrived at the start area in Calistoga (near Solage Resort) at 6:35. Stepped out of the bus into fog and my body immediately stiffened up screaming, “Holy cow, it’s cold!” It was apparently around 39 or 40 degrees. I had no problem walking briskly (past a long row of buses that had arrived earlier) to the start area. Not wanting to miss a chance to warm up and loosen up, I took off my hoodie and sweatpants, stuffed them into my duffle bag and dropped it off at gear check.

“Goodbye, worldly comforts,” I said to myself. Time to live with what I had in me. This moment at the start of every run when you surrender all else and commit to the road ahead is one of the things I love most about running. Every run (or hike or open water swim or ride down a snowy mountain) is a test of fortitude. It’s your mind and body versus what Nature hands you.

After a quick 200 yard warmup on a small road parallel to Silverado where I felt surprisingly comfortable in my shorts and two layers on top (tank plus fleece zip neck), I did some dynamic stretching next to a row of grapevines and promptly inserted myself amidst the pack near the front. There were no pace sections, no rules around where you could line up. This was a tiny race so everything was very laid back. There was something very fun and homegrown about it and for a small race it was abuzz with great energy. I think the nippy air made us all huddle a little closer and feel bonded in our zany undertaking.

Soon enough someone crooned the “Star Spangled Banner” and then we were off. I put forth a comfortable effort. I got startled by fresh roadkill on the center of the road in the first mile (a rabbit, I think), but otherwise kept thinking about what a seasoned marathoner friend said about not starting out too fast: “If you think you’re feeling good at a certain pace, go even slower.” I slowed myself down several times on the downhills but made sure my pace averaged out on target at every mile marker. The temperature stayed in the 40’s from 7-8 a.m. The throwaway fleece top (a great piece of advice from another experienced marathoner) finally came off at mile 5.

The miles flew by quickly and played out just as described to me by NVM veterans. I saw the camber in the road and stayed on the yellow lines. I was very internally focused, but could not miss how the glorious early morning light cast a golden hue over the vineyards and made the yellow of the mustard fields appear almost fluorescent. I pretty much continued to run in a mindful, solid way, steadily hitting all my splits at a 9:35 pace and average 150 heart rate until mile 14.

From 14 through 18, I imploded. Pace fell to 10:05 then 10:35-45 at an average 153 heart rate. We were out in full sun by that point and temps just reached the 60’s. I remember two hills in this section, neither as steep as the ones in the first 10K. Yet everything hurt – my knees felt rickety, my upper quads were angry, there was numbness in my left middle toes and a stabbing pain in the ball of my left foot at the base of those toes. The warmer temp (remember, I live in the land of perpetual 45-55 degrees) made me uncomfortable. I fell into a mental wasteland. Saw lots of people stopping to walk. That was discouraging. But at that point it was flat, so I was determined not to stop running. Plus I was already entertaining the idea of quitting and was afraid stopping would be the death knell.

At mile 16 I saw my family for the first time and perked up. I smiled for them even though inside I felt lousy. Seeing them convinced me I could not quit (how could I not run across the finish line with my kids and husband waiting for me?), and I gave myself permission to stop/walk twice for about 10-15 seconds each (once after getting water and once to repin my bib). Not sure if those stops did the trick but I felt better from mile 19 on, which is strange given it was a slight hill at that point. Maybe I was just motivated to get past this last incline to mile 20 and go down to the flats. That was my mental strategy for the rest of the race: tackle a couple miles at a time, fight through each little segment.

From 20-26, I worked back up to a 10-10:15 pace. At one of the aid stations, I spotted an angel: a woman was holding a plate with little globs of vaseline. I had been licking my lips for the last few miles from the dry heat, so I gladly swiped up a smidgeon with my index finger and slathered it all over my lips. The turn onto Oak Knoll was another welcome sight: I appreciated being among some trees and going over the quaint little bridge, didn’t mind the pot holes really. After mile 23, I looked for the famous sorbet people and sure enough there they were – bestowing silver trays dotted with red, orange, and pink goodness. I grabbed a red one – raspberry! Soon after that I saw my family again. The boys ran alongside videotaping me and shouting, “Mommy, Mommy!” All I could think was I hope they don’t trip. My husband yelled out that my buddy Beth was waiting for me at mile 24 to run me to the finish. Hallelujah!

Got to 24 and saw Beth’s smiling face. Her good energy was a godsend because the warning held true about the mile 25 flag seeming like it never gets closer. It felt like I was on a treadmill! Thank God Beth was chatting me up heavily because I would have lost it otherwise. She was so good to ask at one point, “So, less talk or more talk?” to which I requested, “You talk,” and she did just that. Her amusing tales were the perfect antidote to the final surreal miles of this “no headphones” marathon. By mile 25, I was able to pick up the pace to the point of emptying the tank the last 1/2 mile, which I ran in the 8’s. So apparently I had energy reserved. Why then did I feel so crappy back in 14-18?

Through the race, I ate and hydrated well — ate all 4 gels, drank at every aid station, and alternated electrolyte capsules between gel and Gatorade. This last part, by the way, breaks the golden rule of not trying anything new on race day. I never trained with Gatorade or electrolyte capsules but made the last-minute decision to add those elements in because it was going to be warmer than I was used to and I didn’t want to bonk. I have no regrets about the change-up and now know what my marathon fueling should look like if I get to do this again.

THE TAKEAWAY

I am okay with how I did, but with reservations. I had several goals, a couple of which were met and some of which were not:
1) beat my Nike time of 4:36 – check!
2) fuel properly – check!
3) maintain a consistent level of energy – nope
4) finish at 4:15 – middle tier time goal and the goal I thought I trained for – nope
5) finish at 4:10 – top tier time goal – not even close

I think a couple of the missed goals was due to cutting out too much volume in training. I only ran 4 of the 6 prescribed days, leaving out the shorter easy runs designed to induce fatigue and focusing only on the four quality runs. The Hansons surely would not approve.

I also obviously have some biomechanical issues to resolve around the wobbly knees and the foot pain (suspected Morton’s neuroma). That numbness still crops up today whenever I walk barefoot on bare floors.

And I think my non-GPS Garmin is partly to blame. Dang thing told me I ran 28 miles at Napa at a 9:17 pace. Pretty confident it was duping me when I thought I was training at specific paces and distances. Time for an upgrade!

To put everything into perspective though: 17 months of additional running experience – 30% fewer running days than prescribed = I should be happy for the 16-minute improvement over my last marathon rather than bellyaching the additional 5 minutes that didn’t materialize. Also, you never know what any given race will hand you. I should be glad the x-factor didn’t beat me up worse.

In fact, I should celebrate all the gifts that I got – the great energy at the cold foggy start; the man dressed as a bunch of purple grapes bobbing up and down cheering us on from the roadside; the beefy guy who yelled, “Marathon runners, YEAH! Ain’t no 5K runners here. You guys RULE!”; the abundant sunshine at this year’s race (often it can be cold and rainy); my husband and kids cheering me through what turned out to be the hardest part; feeling good enough to keep my head up and smile on at every photo op; the raspberry sorbet at mile 23; having Beth there for the home stretch; and getting to know other inspiring women runners on race weekend, including one of Oiselle’s elite runners from Colorado (who finished 6th in women overall), Oiselle’s director of sales, and her running friends.

My marathon glass may not be filled to the top, but it is still half full. Hopefully I can fill the rest at marathon #3 and finally feel deserving of a victory toast. Til then I cheerfully applaud all those who run 26.2 (and beyond) regularly and successfully. Conquering distances like that is nothing short of amazing.

NVM

Advertisements

Peace out, 2011!

My last run of 2011 was a windsucking 10-miler on the paved trail from the River Ranch to Tahoe City.

I was supposed to run 15 miles.  One source on the internet said the route should amount to 14 miles and I figured I’d continue running another mile to the entrance to Squaw Valley then turn back.  But it was not to be…

I was sacked.  I can’t use the altitude as an excuse since I’ve been in Truckee 6 days.  I have no excuse.  I was plain vanilla tired from start to finish.  Knowing what Coach Craig used to say about the body having the capacity to press on even though the brain is sending mayday signals to stop, I probably could have pushed further.  But my husband and kids were waiting for a ride home after a morning at Alpine Meadows. My time was up.

But not all was lost on my final run this year.  It was a brilliant winter morning.  Sunny, comfortably nippy, barely a wind.  The crystal clear Truckee River escorted me until I reached the majestic shore of Lake Tahoe. I spent a few moments standing there pinching myself. If you have never been to Lake Tahoe, you must go. Run, bike, or walk there, if you can. It will take your breath away – this blue rock-lined watery expanse nestled within the jaws of tall mountains.  It will remind you of the smallness of humanity compared to monuments of nature that have existed long before us and would subsist better, really, without us.  And you will feel glad, at least, that your little body got there on its own terms…breathing steadily…dodging ice patches…moving forward all the way.

Tomorrow is another day.  Another year, in fact.  Many other chances to complete a run the way I intended.

Here we go again

Week one of re-training for my second marathon has begun.  The Hanson plan has been adapted.  Pilates, spin, barre/TRX classes mapped out.  Mysterious injury gone.  I am back in the saddle.

But it’s winter. Every December I kick myself for setting racing goals during the winter. How quickly we forget what it is like to run when you can’t feel your fingers and toes, when your eyes water from the sheer cold.  We forget when we live in a place that doesn’t snow. We forget what fair-weather wimps we are.

The March 4 marathon might be a mistake.  I might have rushed into rescheduling my second marathon after conceding that the December 4 race was a goner (thanks to the mysterious, ill-timed, last-minute injury).  But mistakes are magic, reassures a sign in my son’s kindergarten classroom.  In erring, we learn.  I’m willing to see what I learn from having 12 additional weeks to train versus pushing through a germ field, holiday distractions, and crappy weather to do it.  Could be good, could be bad, time will tell.

Surprise beginning

My much-anticipated second marathon ended in a way I never expected: I didn’t get to run it.

Apparently this is common in the marathon world. Of the seven people I know who signed up for the California International Marathon, only three made it to the start line. Of the four who didn’t, two had too many life demands to squeeze in the training, one had a death in the family, and yours truly got injured.

What triggered this injury is a mystery.  I was on a beach vacation in southern Thailand.  I ran once in four days there.  I did no other exercise.  The day I got home (five days before the marathon), I felt very sore in my left pelvic area.  A day later I could not take a step with or swing my left leg without debilitating pain.  It all radiated from the left side of the pubic bone and just inside my left hip at the oblique muscle.

In the days that followed, I popped some ibuprofen so I could function, visited a chiropractor twice, saw my primary care provider once, and waited as long as I could before deciding yay or nay.  I even consulted the Magic 8 Ball – something I always do in my most desperate hour of unknowing…

Will I get to run on Sunday?  Definitely

Will I suffer during the run?  It is unsure

Will I finish? You are not ready to know that

Encouraged by the 8 Ball’s prophecy and by being to walk pain-free, I set out to do a test run the morning before the race.  Wham!  Ouch!  Tightness all around the left hip joint.  Burning sensation left of my pubic bone every time I pushed off, deep soreness in my left oblique every time I landed.  My Garmin said I was doing a 12-minute mile, and I couldn’t even keep that up for more than half a block.  Up went the white flag of surrender.

I called my buddy Beth who I was going to ride with to Sacramento that afternoon, told her the news.  In typical optimistic Beth fashion, she began brainstorming which upcoming marathon I could aim for, which half marathon we could do together as part of my training.  All good, but I realized the only immediate consolation would be to watch my three friends rock this marathon.  I resolved to drive out the next morning to see them at the finish line.

I arrived to a picture-perfect marathoning day in Sacramento.  Forty-something degrees, dry, no wind, not a cloud in the sky.  I found my way to the 20-mile mark and within 15 minutes saw Beth cruising up.  Wasn’t able to find my two other friends.  I snapped some photos then jumped back in the car and headed for the finish line at the State Capitol.

I positioned myself next to the Mile 26 flag.  I looked at my watch.  The time was 10:53 and here came Beth.  She needed a 3:55 finish to qualify for Boston.  I got so excited I ran up to her (yes, on the course), hooting YOU GOT THIS GIRL!  I ran alongside trying to take a photo then drifted back to the sidewalk, still running to keep up.  Guess what? She crossed the line and the official clock said 3:54-something.  And I felt no pain running.

That’s when I knew the injury chapter was over and I could start running again.  Start training for my second marathon again.  I did not see the do-over chapter coming but I’m ready to roll with it.  The joy lies in the journey, after all.

The highlights from this last journey won’t soon be forgotten:  my newfound love of beet juice, the Wednesday morning 7-mile tempos along the Embarcadero with Superstar Beth, the brutal 18-miler on the Sawyer Camp Trail that our coach and friend Craig orchestrated to make the CIM feel easy by comparison, watching Craig’s “boys” (20-something Adonises from his running group) fly effortlessly back and forth on that trail while we were still going the same direction, the supposed marathon-pace run around Lake Merced in heavy rain when every timing device I had ran out of battery, realizing I could run distances of 15+ miles in my Nike Frees with no problem, wanting so badly to stop running the Nike Half Marathon at 8 miles then pushing on to finish under 2 hours, and, of course, watching Beth nail the Boston-qualifying finish.

Over and out.

I run because I can

Almost a year ago I ran my first marathon. A week after feeling like I had been put through a trash compactor from the waist down, I felt pretty much recovered and had returned to the quiet normalcy of waking two sleepy kids up for school, and getting them dressed, fed, and into the mom-mobile. As if the four-and-a-half-hour journey on that cold wet morning never happened. As if the 18 weeks of sneaking in runs between drop-off and pick-up, between the washer and the dryer, before the rest of the household comes to life on a weekend morning, before the first cup of coffee, between rain drops and gusts of wind was a dream. It almost made me want to cry.

Training for a marathon is a lot like having a baby. You prepare and prepare, and wait for months, then the big day comes and you have no idea how it’s going to go. And then it unfolds and maybe you end up with a c-section when you were aiming for a natural home birth, or maybe you cave in to the epidural when you were determined to go without any drugs. And what do you do with that? You’re grateful to have reached the goal safely, but part of you still longs for it to have gone differently…

I believe life experiences have value even in upsets and disappointments, so what exactly did I gain from my first marathon? I suppose I technically joined the ranks of the quirky tribe known as “marathoners” but I feel I haven’t quite earned that honor. Not yet. An honor like that doesn’t seem appropriate until one runs the race right, or at least runs it several times. While it was rewarding in many other ways, that marathon most definitely did not go right from a running perspective (I bonked at 16 miles and spent the remaining 10 miles feeling like my spirit had left my body for dead). So I’m deferring my initiation into the 26.2 club. I’ll not put that oval sticker on my rear bumper just yet. Not until, hopefully, December 4.

What I did gain last year was the knowledge of how strong one can become with time and dedication (and vice versa, with time and neglect). Now there is a sense of purpose and discipline to my running. It is no longer just about slipping on my shoes and moving freely on the open road or trail while listening to my favorite music. I still consider myself a spiritual runner at heart — someone who cherishes running most of all for the opportunity to lose oneself in time, footfall, and breath. But after two years of more serious running, the lure of accomplishment has grown compelling. I feel the need to be the best I can be. That means not hiding behind excuses. That means pushing myself to the point of despising running, then going back for more another day.

I am 10 weeks away from my second marathon. I’ve run in the heat, the cold, the rain, I’ve gasped for air at 6000 feet altitude, I’ve battled lower back pain, I’ve had tempo runs feel easy, I’ve stretched beneath a tree with a handful of San Francisco’s famous wild parrots cocking their heads and looking down on me. My family has missed me on Sunday mornings but my sons always ask enthusiastically when I return, “How far did you go this time, Mommy?” Then we’ll go for hikes or bike rides or to school gatherings after. The family activity clock never stops ticking, and I swear the running enables me to keep up with it. This second marathon journey has been unforgettable already. No matter how it ends, I know I won’t regret it.

Mission complete… for now

It is the first day of November. Two weeks after the marathon. I am now cleared to return to my normal running routine. It has occurred to me often during the stillness of the past 14 days that exactly 5 years ago I was bedridden in a hospital for what would turn out to be 7 weeks. The quest then was to lie still and save my baby. Who would have thought that 5 years later, I would turn around and spend half a day running?

Life is full of irony. Full of celebration and mourning. Achievement and loss. Often simultaneously…

My dear, amazing friend Heather has passed all her post-treatment tests with flying colors.

Every scan and every scope. Yes, she did it. By all accounts, as of now, she beat her cancer. Sadly, though, Heather’s mom, Deb, lost her husband to liver cancer just last week. He had been fighting for a long time. I never knew Blackie but I’m told he brought boundless joy to Deb’s life, and was very much loved by Deb, Heather and her sister Beth. I wish them strength and peace.

You have contributed over $5000 to cancer research

… in honor of Heather or someone you love who has been touched by cancer. Thank you for your phenomenal generosity. Thank you for sharing your stories with me and letting me honor your loved ones on my run. It has been heartwarming to reconnect with many of you, and to get to know some of you better. As you can see, the work is not yet done. Let’s keep fighting cancer in whatever way we can, large or small. Let’s keep showing that we care.

What we think we can, we will. What we think we can’t, we won’t.

My first marathon was an experience that I won’t soon forget. I learned a lot from it but the biggest lesson of all was nothing new: we can do almost anything if we will it. I do see another marathon in my future. For the love of running, and for wanting to take care of some unfinished business. If any of you has ever toyed with the idea of running one but shied away, call me. I will give you a thousand reasons why you should, the first being that if I can do it, you can too. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t. Whatever it is you dream of. Say it with me: yes, I can.

Running among friends: Nike 2010

I did it!

The morning was perfect. Cool, overcast, no wind. My friend Beth and I arrived at the start area in the pre-dawn darkness with plenty of time to spare, thanks to Brian. After waiting for us to gear up and making sure we had everything, Brian gave me a good luck kiss, hugged Beth, and receded into the dark sea of spectators. Beth and I wormed our way towards the front of a crowd of 20,000, and congratulated ourselves on our first victory: not being stuck in the infamous clustermuck at the start line.

We wove steadily through the crowd for the first 2 miles, dutifully holding back our pace. We crested the Fort Mason “bump” with no trouble whatsoever. We high-fived. That put us at the Marina with 3 miles behind us. There I saw my first familiar face from the TNT crowd. Mark, a leukemia survivor and one of our team honorees, smiled handsomely and low-fived me. As we took in a view of the bay, Beth, a sailor, pointed out the calm waters. I gave her a thumbs-up, grateful for the confirmation that we would not have to battle the wind wall that often sweeps through the Marina Green and Crissy Field and stops runners dead in their tracks. Somewhere past mile 4, someone screamed my name. I turned and saw my friend Channie and her family, bundled up in down jackets, jumping excitedly for me. I blew her a kiss. A few minutes later, more shouting. It was our friend Kristen from my neighborhood running store who was running the half. She scooched up to us and gave us pats on the back. A few minutes after that, a TNT teammate who is a faster runner than me pulled up on my right and jocularly asked how I got ahead of her. I said I had no idea, patted her on the back and wished her luck on the run, which she was doing in honor of her dad who passed away from myelodysplasia last year. I felt like I was at a moving party with friends all around me.

Before we knew it, we had a 10K under our belt and were winding our way up the Presidio hill. We got this, we said to each other. At the top, we high-fived for scooting effortlessly up hill number one. I noticed how light and easy it all felt, as though we were on a training run and not running the race itself. But one look around and there was no mistaking this was the Real McCoy — with the cheering voices and ringing cowbells, the “Power Songs” being pumped out of giant magenta-colored speakers, big pink signs that said, “Don’t think, run,” and the army of high school- and college-age volunteers who had more energy than my six-year-old. Beth and I chatted and laughed our way through the curvy and scenic downhill of mile 8. I spotted my friend Mary Jane, a competitive marathoner back in her 20’s, on the sidewalk, and yelled out to her. She waved excitedly then ran up a few blocks to cheer us on again. Amazingly she ended up doing that about 4 times at different spots on the course, and these spots were not close to each other. Beth and I were convinced she had powers of teleportation.

At mile 9, I felt discomfort for the first time, brought on by having to climb our second consecutive big hill in 3 miles. But before I could grumble, I saw a group of men in Pink Panther-like unitards dancing to some disco tunes, cheering us on. They have no idea how much I loved them at that moment. Then came mile 11, downhill towards the ocean. Need I say more?

After that, it was Golden Gate Park. Our territory, Beth said. Two of us plus another running pal have run the length of that park so many times, we could do it in our sleep. The slow incline from the ocean to the DeYoung Museum made my hamstrings a little peeved but we got through it just fine. We saw MJ (again!), Coach Craig from our See Jane Run training, Beth’s girlfriend Stasha, and, at mile 13, my clan. The boys were so excited to see me, one tried to run alongside but ended up tripping, poor guy, and the other scootered along and managed to keep up for a while. At this point, I made my fatal error. I did not fuel up. The last thing I ate was an orange slice at the 8-mile mark, and I had one piece of Clif Blok left, which I tossed into my mouth as an afterthought at mile 15. I had been riding high on all the fun along the way that I did not pay attention to eating. By mile 16, the party all but ended. I saw Coach Gigi for a brief moment as we exited the park and that’s the last I remember of the party.

Around the 16-mile mark, I met “The Wall.” For those who don’t know what that is, this article sums it up nicely (http://bit.ly/dza2qt). For me, it was not just one wall, but many. I was painfully aware of my slow consistent decline every couple miles. It felt like running into a line of giant dominoes, each crash feeling more brutal than the last. My pace slowed until it was 2 minutes per mile slower by the end. Strange thing is, I could have saved myself had I just eaten when others encouraged me to. But the longer I drifted into this infamous sea of fatigue, the more I abhorred the idea of eating anything, particularly if it was sweet. Beth kept asking if I wanted something and I would politely decline. I just wanted to get the race over with. In truth, I desperately wanted to stop and sit down. But given the last 5 months of training and my commitment to everyone who supported me, that was simply not an option.

So from mile 17-23, I plodded along feeling annoyed by everything around me: the rain, the bumpy, cracked asphalt surface of the Great Highway, the wind coming off the ocean and brushing up against my already wet skin, and, in the last couple miles, even my husband’s harmless chatter. Poor guy had stood there waiting for me in the rain at mile 20 as promised, jumping in to run with me as promised, trying to keep my spirits up with lighthearted comments about the girls in front of us who must have been twins, what a scenic run Lake Merced is (I think he’s the only runner in San Francisco who thinks so), and how close we were to the end. But all I could think about was how I had no energy left in my legs (it’s amazing they even moved), how bad I felt for slowing Beth down, how much the bones in my feet hurt, how I didn’t want to talk or listen, and how I just wanted to stop.

At the 24-mile mark, Beth, who had stuck with me through thick and thin since the start, finally took off towards the finish line after getting over the last bump back onto Great Highway. What got me through the last two miles were my husband’s presence (even though I seemed to reject it at the time), Coach Geoff popping up and telling me my stride still looked good and to keep going, and the commitments I made to run mile 25 for Coach Don Womble, a cross-country coach who is battling leukemia and is currently being hospitalized for pneumonia, and mile 26 for Laurie’s mom, who is valiantly fighting against lymphoma at Sloan-Kettering. Given what they are going through right now, this minute, me putting one foot in front of the other was nothing.

My official time was 4:36:04. Not what I had hoped, but I gained a deep respect for the challenges of marathon running and none of it discolors the amazing experience this has all been. The fundraising, the training, even race day itself exceeded my expectation in every way. Post-race, my knees and ankles are really sore (immediately after the race, my feet were too). I am hobbling up and down stairs. My muscles feel fine by comparison and I am not particularly tired. Another couple weeks and I should be back in the saddle. Back to doing what I love and celebrating the runner I’ve become. There, I said it: the runner I’ve become.

Thank you all for being part of an unforgettable experience. And Heather: I’ve got a little blue Tiffany box for you!

p.s. 10/21/10

Here’s a tally of the hills and bumps we ran. Beth thinks I’m nuts for wanting to do this marathon again. Let’s see if she’s right…

– 70 feet over 0.5 mile, Fort Mason (mile 3-4)

– 295 feet over 1 mile, Presidio hill (mile 6-7)

– 150 feet over 1.5 miles, Clement Street (mile 8-9.5)

– 170 feet over 2 miles, Golden Gate Park (mile 11-13)

– 40 feet over 0.75 mile, Golden Gate Park (mile 14-15)

– 100 feet over 0.75 mile, Lake Merced (mile 18-19)

– 30 feet over 2 miles, Lake Merced (mile 19.5-21.5)

– 70 feet from Lake Merced back to Great Highway (mile 22.5-24)

Tita26.2 updates

9/25/10

Goodbye, 20-something miles. See you again in three weeks.

Today we peaked. Completed our last long run, momentously, in record heat. Forgot all about trying to run the first half slower than the last because I had too much fun chatting for the first 9 miles with people who ran faster than me. By the end, I had no motivation to push past 20. So that’s as close a look as I get at 26.2. It remains enshrouded in 6.2 miles of mystery.

9/20/10

I’m four weeks away.

What lies ahead: a 20-mile run, lots of hills, and possibly a visit from Heather.

This is peak week. I’m going to enter the jaws of the infamous Presidio and Clement Street hills that lie at miles 6-10 of the marathon course, just waiting to chew us all up with a 250-foot climb for a mile on one, and a 150-foot climb for nearly 2 miles on the other. Better the devil you know, I say. Then I’ll tackle the last and longest run of the training season. As a reward, my beloved honoree may make a Bay Area appearance the weekend before the race. Heather has healed well and is currently undergoing the post-treatment “testing circuit.” The hope is that the worst is over, and if so, she will come visit. Fingers and toes are tightly crossed!

What I’ve left in the dust: an incredible 18-mile run and a decent finish at an impromptu half-marathon.

I set out on the 18-mile run with low expectations. But on that glorious Saturday morning the sun shone bright and I swear angels flew overhead and sang while the bunch of us wove through 3 pristine bayside towns in Marin. It was one of those rare perfect experiences that completely reaffirms my love of running. To move on foot and be free. To feel the crisp air and bask in the open sun. To take in views of marshes, lagoons, the bay, the city skyline, a peregrine falcon perched on an electricity wire. To listen to the sound of early morning stillness, water sloshing around the pier, children playing soccer. It’s a gift to be able to experience the world on such simple terms. We’ve all been there in some way — on a walk, run, bike ride, hike, or drive through some beautiful countryside. The run also felt like a resurrection after my 15-miler that went south. How uncanny that it happened on the commemoration of 9/11, this lesson in perseverence and rebirth.

Yesterday I ran the Lake Merced Half Marathon on a lark to make up for a missed workout the day before. It was a DSE Runners event and they’re a great bunch of folks. How could you not love a running club whose motto is “Start Slow and Taper”? Two of my favorite running pals were also at the race. We mused over how once a upon a time (18 months ago), we spent 14 weeks training for a half-marathon (my first); and now we roll out of bed and run that distance for fun. My friends ended up placing second in their age groups. I finished in 2:02:45, including 3-4 stops at aid stations to drink water and munch on cantaloupe and Clif Bars. We’ve come a long way, baby.

 

p.s. 9/22/10

And now for a moment of levity.

So much for the good. Let’s keep it real and hash out the bad and the ugly of marathon training too.

THE BAD

– Compression bras. As if I weren’t flat enough.

– Having my glutes cramp up from sitting in an ice bath.

– Wondering every time the phantom knee burn strikes whether THIS will be the run where I’ll finally blow out my knee.

– Gasping for air while running at altitude, as if my lungs had holes in them.

– Gasping for air while running in 100% humidity, as if I had a gas mask on.

– Continually wrestling the demons that say, “This sucks – I’m gonna stop” and “I’m bored” and “Ow, this hurts! I have to stop” and “I don’t really feel like doing this today” and “I hate this!” These mental battles are the biggest challenge of all.

– Consistently missing out on my husband’s Saturday morning pancakes because of a long run.

THE UGLY

– Attaining stalker status at my neighborhood running store. I go there so often, they know my full name. Pretty embarrassing.

– Clearing my nose mid-run (“Thar she bloooooows!”). Paula Radcliffe, female world record holder for the marathon, once squatted on the roadside to relieve herself in front of hundreds of spectators before going on to win the London Marathon. At least I haven’t disgraced myself to that extreme. Yet.

– Last but not least, coming home stinky post-run. I never thought I could sweat so much or reek so badly. Even my kids won’t come near me. On second thought… this may be a blessing in disguise.

8/31/10

“When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever.”

~ Tarahumara proverb, Born to Run

I’m reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and the timing couldn’t be better. Within the first 20 pages I drew enough inspiration to last me the entire week of training. We are sharpening now. Pushing the weekly mileage past 30 and beyond. And I’m feeling it.

A week ago I ran the farthest I’ve ever run (15 miles) and sent my legs into a state of shock. Sirens went off when I passed the 13-mile mark (my previous limit). The mid-day heat didn’t help. My legs screamed, “Oh no you don’t!” and for the last 2 miles I literally had to slap my quads and tell them to giddy up.

Three days after that humbling experience I hit the track for a pyramid workout (400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, and 400m with 45 seconds’ rest between each). I was at our old high school track in Pennsylvania. I noticed an older man jogging slowly but determinedly around the loop with me. Around my 10th lap, I noticed he looked familiar. By the 14th lap, I realized he was one of my best high school pals’ dad. I decided to wait for him to finish his workout so I could say hello. I turned the other way for a few minutes and by the time I looked back, he had already jogged off the track and up the hill towards his home. He must be well into his 60’s, yet there he was doing intervals at the track. The mark of a true Army man. My friend’s dad was a career Army officer and he sure put my wimpy 41-year-old self in my place that day.

Let’s face it: pain is part of running. This is a huge lesson for someone like me who has never pushed herself hard enough to feel sore after any run that wasn’t a race. These days I feel sore pretty much after every run. And these days I run 3 or 4 days in a row.

Why put myself through all this if it hurts? I’m not always certain of the answer, but when I looked at this plaque before I left our high school track, something clicked…

It’s been so long that I almost forgot about the plaque. Fred was our high school classmate who lost his fight against leukemia a few months before we graduated. He exceled at many things, including football. When he came out of his treatment he actually played a few games before leukemia took him back. Why did he subject himself to this grueling sport when he was recovering? Because any pain you experience while pursuing something you love is nothing compared to the pain of being stifled on a sickbed. Pain is sometimes part of the joy of living.

This quest to “run forever” is for you too, Fred.

8/17/10

Two months til the marathon. Two months to the day.

The past two weeks saw me hit rock bottom in terms of attitude. I got to the point of feeling like I was going to vomit and telling myself that I hated running, I didn’t want to do this anymore. It was on a tempo run (the bane of my running life). At 6,600 feet.

On top of being a mile above sea level, there was the challenge of training alone. Seven-thirty in the morning and barely fifty degrees? I dragged my butt out there alone. Yasso 800’s at the track? I found the local high school track and ran those laps alone. I am pretty sure I didn’t push myself as hard since there was no one to pick off and pass, or try to keep pace with. No Coach Gigi saying she wants me to shave off 5 seconds on the next round. But I did it.

The silver lining was that I got to run my 12 miles alongside Donner Lake, a deep blue expanse surrounded by evergreens and skirted by a rocky shoreline. I drank in the golden late afternoon sun until a blanket of gray overtook the sky, and got back to the car just before the thunderstorm broke. The air was crisp and moody and perfect. It was magical.

It’s amazing how one happy experience can be enough to vanquish all the unhappy ones and give you the will to go on. So onward I go… to double my long-run mileage over the next 8 weeks.

7/25/10

Turning point weekend.

Ran my first double-digit distance of the season: 10 miles. Around mile 6, the pesky numbness in my left toes came back which I was able to alleviate by loosening the laces over my instep. But then I got hungry. And then I felt queasy. And on top of that I began to sense some tightness on the sides of both knees and a crunchy pain in the ball of my right foot. I was ready to stop. But walking the remaining 4 miles really wasn’t appealing so I kept going. And before I knew it, I crested the Fort Mason hill, felt no discomfort, and had 9 miles behind me…

Got my first taste of marathon excitement. Came upon runners at the 20-mile mark of the San Francisco Marathon today. Witnessed the dazed eyes, the slack limbs and yet that forward motion that spills out almost involuntarily. That’s going to be me in just 3 months, I told myself. That’s what I’m doing the weekly 400 crunches, 45 pushups, and 60-second plank holds for. That’s what the 10x400m at excrutiating speed is for. And I felt a strange thrill rising.

Watched my sons hold their first charity sale. They sold chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and books they’ve outgrown and donated all $27 toward my fundraiser. My six-year-old said it was the highlight of his day, and that’s a day that included a pony ride, bouncy houses, and a playdate with one of his favorite pals. Makes mama so proud!

7/20/10

Heather is done with treatment and healing well. At last report she has gone out shopping with her sister and to the movies. Fingers crossed that she has seen the last of radiation and chemo and that the post-treatment tests come out well in a few months.

7/16/10

Survived 3 weeks of training in high 80’s temps and 100% humidity in coastal North Carolina. I realized I was becoming bored with my routine and so it was nice to pick up some new tricks while on new terrain. Did some swimming (harder than expected), running on the treadmill (quite pleasant to crank out intervals in air-conditioned comfort), and tennis. Ran the Tri-Span 10K in Wilmington, NC, with my sister-in-law who is training for the Marine Corps Marathon. It was a sweet little event (only 300 runners) but had plenty of challenges (humidity and 3 bridges) and lovely perks at the end (fresh cantaloupe slices, sesame bagels). I finished in 56:15 — not terribly fast but it was a 10K PR and I placed 5th in my division.

But the most exciting development is that I’ve topped my fundraising goal at 3 months ahead of the race! It is said that true generosity is when you have nothing and give everything. I am deeply humbled by everyone who has donated to this fundraiser at a time when there is so little to spare. Your generosity is an inspiration. Thank you.

6/21/10

No more procrastinating. This is the week I will add spinning into the mix. Heather is actually a spin goddess. Apparently she wore crazy costumes when she led class. No costumes for me, but I recently unearthed the NAVY t-shirt that she gave me 2 decades ago when she was at the Naval Academy. Perfect homage to my friend who is now really suffering after 5 weeks of treatment. Hang in there, Wonder Woman. You can do this.

6/9/10

My friend Heather is in her fourth week of chemo and radiation. Last we connected, she was doing stellar. She looked fabulous, sounded upbeat, just felt more tired than usual. You go, girl!

Buddy runs kicked off this week. Despite an ear infection, did an easy, comfortable 3 miles with a nice group of gals. Yes, time flies when you run with others. But who knew that running can stave off ear-related disequilibrium? When in doubt, run. Just do it.

Track also began. My 2-mile time trial was supposedly 14:50. I must have missed a lap. I’m calling it 16:50, yielding a projected marathon finish time of 4 hrs 17 mins. Now let’s see what 4 months of speedwork brings.

The mohawk challenge was completed in just 6 days. Thanks, friends!

5/31/10

First prescribed run on my own yesterday. A massively uncomfortable 4 miles at 6,600 ft elevation (in Tahoe). Cursed myself for signing up to run 26+. Ate multiple servings of marionberry cobbler over vanilla ice cream to make myself feel better.

On the fundraising front, the Facebook mohawk challenge is on: I once had a mohawk. It was a present to myself in 1983 in antipation of losing hair from chemo. Only about 5 people have actually seen it because I wore a wig in public. If I reach $2000 by June 30, a photo will go up on my FB page!

I run to celebrate life


The Team: TNT- SF Bay Area, Golden Gate Run Team

The Contender: Me, 41-year-old latecomer to long-distance running

The Event: Nike Women’s Marathon, 26.2 miles of asphalt and hills

The Date: Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Reason: Read on…

My beef with cancer (it’s not business, it’s personal)

How many more must come within cancer’s grip?

Cancer is all around us. It afflicts people you love. People you know. People you see. Your family. Your relatives. Your friend. Your friend’s mother, father, brother, and sister. Your friend’s friend. It never seems to stop.

My Thai grandfather – the only grandfather I ever knew – passed away from bladder cancer when I was too young to appreciate what cancer was.

But at age 14, I learned for myself what cancer was. I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. I went through 2 major surgeries and 3 1/2 years of chemo. I viewed cancer as a huge disruption to my academic and social life. I wanted it to be over. I wanted my hair to grow back. I wanted to stop missing school. Not once did it dawn on me, at the time, that I could die. No one told me, at the time, that I only had a 30% chance of surviving.

As things turned out, 4 out of 62 students in my high school class, from our tiny little Pennsylvania town, have been touched by cancer. A couple years after my ordeal began, one of my classmates was diagnosed with leukemia; he fought hard but lost his battle during senior year. Recently I learned that a few years ago another high school classmate had passed away from cancer. And in April, a week before I found out I got a spot in the Nike Women’s Marathon, my high school best friend told me she was diagnosed with stage 3 advanced squamous cell carcinoma.

Why fundraise?

I believe in fate. I had been toying with the idea of running a marathon, and running one sooner rather than later, given my age. The Nike Women’s Marathon is in my backyard, so it was a no-brainer to enter this year’s lottery. But the idea to fundraise for cancer research came to me after my friend shared her news. My marathon endeavor suddenly had real purpose. I found my muse. She will be my inspiration to log the many miles over the next 5 months, to ignore the little voice of self-doubt inside, and to cross that finish line come October. And that Tiffany finisher necklace that everyone raves about? That’s going to get mailed straight to her.

I believe in medical research. Medical research in the late 70’s and early 80’s put me where I am today: healthy and alive, surrounded by loving family, graced by wonderful friends, and showered with affection by my husband and two sons. There’s research to cure cancer and there’s research to find gentler ways to treat it. As everyone who has had cancer or cared for someone with cancer knows, what’s awful about the disease is not only that it threatens your life, it can rob you of your dignity. An aggressive disease requires an aggressive treatment, and the harshness of cancer treatment can make a patient lose the most crucial weapon of all: the will to live. Researchers have made huge strides in shortening the time and softening the blow of cancer treatment. They deserve our ongoing support.

Why TNT / LLS?

I do not have a personal connection to blood cancer, but one of the most indelible memories from my cancer experience was walking past the pediatric leukemia ward at the hospital where I began receiving treatment. I remember peering through the glass-covered cut-out on the heavy doors and seeing the toddlers and young children in their isolation tents, their heads completely bare, their parents covered in gowns, masks, gloves and booties, the frail quietness in everyone’s eyes. That scene taught me that cancer shows no mercy. Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among those under the age of 20. But the good news is that the likelihood of dying from most types of leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma has decreased in the 9-year period from 1996-2005 (the most recent period where data is available). The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has played a commendable role in that changing tide. My cycling fanatic younger brother has been a TNT volunteer for years, so I have learned from him the good work they’re doing.

Support my quest for $3000 + 26.2 miles

Please join me in supporting the LLS. My goal is to raise $3000 by August.

  • The LLS welcomes donations of any amount so please give whatever you are able. Your generosity during these challenging economic times is doubly appreciated.
  • 76 cents out of every dollar you give goes straight to research and patient support and 100% of your donation is tax-deductible.
  • Donating online via the green button, above right, is easy and secure.
  • If you prefer, you can mail me your donation. Email me and I’ll send you my address.

And please join me in celebrating life. Life is a marathon. Some days you’re flying across the Golden Gate Bridge under blue skies. Some days you’re running uphill in the rain. But you keep going. You keep pushing, even when it hurts. You go as long as you can. Because being alive is a gift.

Let’s do this in honor of all those who have come within cancer’s grip and what they had to endure in their lives.