North Face Endurance Challenge Marathon Relay 2012

race area
Due to unprecedented rainstorms in the Bay Area, the NFEC this year was one wet, muddy adventure. There was not a dry foot in sight. We lucked out with relatively mild temps (low 60’s) and no rain by the time our event began (11 a.m.). There was a slight tailwind going uphill that translated into a headwind coming down. The true challenge was the slippery sloshy terrain at the top and on the descent. I now know what it feels like to inadvertently glissade down a trail at 85% effort. It’s a miracle I didn’t do a face plant or pop a joint.

“HILL ME NOW” TEAM STATS
Finish time
4:14:33 (22nd out of 59)
Splits (6.56-mile legs)
1:08:28
1:03:13
1:02:18 (me)
1:00:37

I was thrilled with my time since I was not in great form going into this race. A pesky recurring virus took me down every 10 or so days between mid-October and 5 days before the event. Then a surprise episode of vertigo 6 days beforehand made me wonder if I should run at all. In the end I decided to go for it because I was tired of being a sloth. I set modest goals to have fun, complete the ascent without stopping, make it through unscathed, and match or better my time from two years ago (1:06:28). All were met. It was a great day. Thank you, running gods.

NFEC marathon relay elevationwaitingIMG_2298



IMG_2294IMG_2291All donebefore

after

Our shoes before…and after

Advertisements

H2C 2012

REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST LONG DISTANCE RELAY AND H2C ADVENTURE

20120826-194056.jpg

Team Sunny With a Chance of Pain 2012… before the pain

How do I love thee, team relay?  Let me count the ways…

ONE:  Camaraderie. Team relays teach the meaning of having someone’s back. It’s not about the running. It’s about the teamwork. Special mad props to the Van 1 runners for taking on the descent from Mt. Hood to Sandy. Shit is no joke. A serious quad grinding extravaganza.

TWO:  Misery loves company but lunacy does too. Wouldn’t be half as fun to do something completely wacky and somewhat masochistic alone.

THREE:  Running in the dark is the bomb. Truly one the greatest thrills in life. It’s like cheating death making your way through the blackness, feeling your feet hit the road and yet not being able to visualize the point of contact.

FOUR:  Oregon crowd love. Everyone everywhere came out to support us crazy runners. They cheered, they protected (cops and paramedics), they made us hot food and drinks.

FIVE: The Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood. A sweet, cozy little slice of the European Alps in the good ol’ US of A.

SIX: The Oregon countryside with its bucolic rolling green hills. Ah, summer…!

SEVEN: Sleep is overrated. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel after 1.5 hrs of sleep. The power of adrenaline is not to be underestimated.

EIGHT: Meals are overrated. Relaying teaches you how little food you actually need in a given day, even while burning calories running. There is a temptation to eat and drink more than necessary in between legs because of all the wait time and nervous energy. But you don’t actually need more than one square meal. In fact, real food is not exactly your friend in an all-day relay, unless you have a stomach of steel.

NINE:  Running 16 miles over 29 hours is easier to do and recover from than running 13.1 straight. My coach friend was right: it’s not really like a half marathon. In some ways it’s easier (you get periods of rest). In some ways it’s harder (you gotta dial in a 5 or 10K pace each time you run).

TEN: Organized people make the world go ’round. Our team put its trust in a Team Captain Extraordinaire and Mama Bear named Shelley. She rocks. Thank you, Shelley.

MY STATS

Leg 11 @ 4:30PM — 4.82 miles in 40:02. Easy-peasy flat paved trail through Portland.

Leg 23 @ 3AM — 4.18 miles in 33:15. I hauled ass because it was freezing and pitch dark. Didn’t even stop to tie my left shoe laces so they flopped around the entire time. This leg was the most epic!

Leg 35 @ 12:30PM — 7.2 miles in 64:47. Uphill, part gravel in the heat of day. Damn. But I did it.

Off I go!

Off I go!

Done and done!

Done and done!

Chance run in with the inimitable Oiselle Sally!

Chance run in with the inimitable @OiselleSally!

What to wear for Hood to Coast: Oiselle for every occasion

I ran my first Hood to Coast relay last weekend. I have so much to say about that zany experience, but will start by documenting what I wore because it turned out that I had it down to perfection. If I were to do it again under the same weather variables, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I obsessively curated my H2C outfits. I tend to be picky about what I wear while running in the first place, because I dislike being constrained, pinched or uncomfortable in any way when I’m out there doing my thing. I am not the kind of person who can tune out the nagging itchy seam or the digging bra strap. Those types of things will get into my head and cause my entire workout to unravel. With H2C being an out-of-town race, my outfits needed to be dead on. Once I left my house for the airport there was no turning back. No chance of borrowing anything from a teammate, thanks to my lilliputian size. And no time to go buy something at a local store because of my Thursday evening arrival in Portland plus our team’s Friday morning start time.

Here are the 3 outfits I packed for the 3 legs. On top of this I had a hoodie, sweatpants, an extra shirt, a light shell, a fleece beanie and fleece gloves. Basically it was Oiselle apparel plus gear and accessories (#oisellelove):

Here is how it all played out:

Warm Up, Cool Down, Van Riding and Snoozing
1. Oiselle Green Lake Hoodie — This is an ultra comfy, easy-on-and-off, loose-fitting zip hoodie that was perfect for whenever I wasn’t running. The zip pockets were great for safekeeping things that I needed or picked up on the journey but did not want on me while running, like the Office Max temporary tattoo that I grabbed at the Start Line Expo, and cash for my morning coffee. And when it was time to tuck into my sleeping bag on the pasture, I added a down vest on top and was soon counting sheep.
2. Sweatpants — I had a pair that stayed on without tying any sort of drawstring. Again, easy on and off is key.
3. Oiselle Long Sleeve Run On Tee — This was my all-purpose extra shirt and that’s exactly how I ended up using it. It was the warm dry shirt I threw on after my night run. It was the shirt I slept in. It was also the shirt I tied around my waist at the beach in case the air got nippy.

LEG 11 — 4.84 miles flat, 5:30 PM, temps in the high 70’s
1. Oiselle Easy Run Cap Tee in Stripey — The light colored top deflected heat, and the cap sleeves protected my shoulders from the sun but was unobtrusive enough to ventilate the ole armpits (very important, you know).
2. Oiselle Stride Short — Simple and minimal. Given the short distance, there was no need to carry anything on me so the streamlined no-pocket design was ideal.
3. Cap and sunglasses — My doctors have made me neurotic about sun damage (to my skin and eyes), so I always cover up whenever there is even a hint of sunshine outside.
4. Feetures Elite Ultra Light Low Cut socks — These are my go-to socks except when temps fall below 50 degrees. They never bunch up, fit snug, feel smooth and comfortable, and do not interfere with ground sensation.

LEG 23 — 4.18 miles on gentle rolling hills, 3 AM, temps in the high 40’s
1. Oiselle Long Sleeve Renewable Tee — The pear green color increased visibility. Oiselle’s comfy cotton/poly blend kept me warm without causing me to overheat on this short jaunt. The cotton content was not a problem since I was done and out of the shirt within 35 minutes.
2. Oiselle Lesley Knickers — I do not wear shorts unless it is at least 50 degrees out, so these warm, wicking, compressive knee-length capris were the clear choice.
3. RoadNoise Vest — A reflective bib is a must-have during a night leg of H2C. This vest not only provides visibility, it discreetly pumps out tunes and securely holds your phone or iPod on your body…all in one sleek solution! The mesh body is thin and comfortable and allows moisture transfer. The velcro closures let you adjust the fit around your torso so that it sits just right. The flat thin slabs which are the speakers lie in place within earshot without poking your shoulder area or bouncing around. This vest was conceived as a solution to the no-headphones rule at H2C, but the visibility plus music feature makes it a must-have for all runners who like to rock out or listen to the radio while on the move, for the upcoming seasons of limited daylight.
4. Headlamp and fleece gloves
5. Smartwool PhD Run Light Micro socks — I needed the wool to keep my piggies warm.

LEG 35 — 7.2 miles on a seemingly never-ending ascent, 12 noon, temps in the mid 70’s
1. Oiselle Roga Short — I brought out the big gun for this arduous mid-day leg. The light-as-air stretch woven fabric always performs beautifully in the heat. The Roga does exactly what you want your running shorts to do on a hot day: wick and otherwise act like they don’t exist. I thought about stashing a gel in the back zip pocket but never ended up taking one along (I went with a handheld bottle of coconut water instead).
2. H2C Race Tshirt — This was a last-minute swap-out. I admit that wearing the race shirt at the race is a total dork maneuver, but it was the last leg and this was my first H2C and most of my van mates wore their race shirt…yadda yadda yadda. Anyway, it was made of a tech fabric and fit me decently so ’nuff said. My Oiselle race singlet graciously gave way.
3. RoadNoise Vest — This was a strategy solely to keep my motivation up. I needed tunes for my one-hour uphill journey. I can’t tell you how hilarious it was to come trucking along on an otherwise silent gravel fire road in the middle of Oregon’s Coastal Range and eke out Taylor Swift “You’re on the phone with your girlfriend she’s upset….” And I dare say my compadres on Leg 35 appreciated the comic relief. At one point this youngish, maybe late 20-something buff-looking guy (read: not the type to be a Taylor Swift fan) actually turned around as I came up on his tail and burst out in a chuckle because of my non-sequitor music choice. He kept smiling as I cruised past. I credit my RoadNoise vest for breaking the tension of a hot hilly run that nobody was enjoying with a dash of humor.
4. Feetures Elite Ultra Light Low Cut socks — Did I mention that the smooth dense knit of these socks was great for keeping fine dirt and sand off the skin of your feet while running? This feature came in handy on the gravelly path that we ran on for 2/3 of this leg.
5. Cap and sunglasses — Again, gotta protect from the sun.

There you have it: how to get through the Mother of All Relays on Oiselle and a shoestring. Kidding aside, we pretty much had ideal weather so it was easy to stay really pared down. Things like my light running shell and fleece beanie never got pulled out of the backpack. Had a rain storm or some cold front swept through, it surely would have been a different story. But this year, all we needed was the basics and I will definitely be using this formula as a baseline for future all-night running adventures.

Hilarity and a wakeup call

Yesterday was the 101st running of the Bay to Breakers, San Francisco’s madcap running Mardi Gras. I signed up to do it long ago but didn’t start thinking about a costume until last minute. In trying to come up with something runnable and funny, but not laughable, I became transfixed on a cartoon character from a special edition t-shirt that celebrates the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which is this year. I tried to imagine what the racer girl on the t-shirt would look like if she were to jump out of that car and run. Et voila!

B2B101, overall, was fun. Cleaner, mellower, and better organized than previous iterations. Corral A had a handful of tortilla throwers, a few costumed runners, and some naked folks, but no rowdy behavior. Granted, this is the corral where you’re most likely to find the serious folks. But I got the overall feeling that the race sponsor was under a lot of pressure to tidy up this crazy footrace.

The kinder, gentler B2B had its pluses and minuses. I appreciated not having to dodge pools of vomit, bottlenecks of walkers, or groups of costumed frat boys pushing kegs uphill. And I really appreciated not seeing the haters (the Jesus fanatics holding big signs condemning sinners to purgatory) at the entrance to Golden Gate Park. But there were fewer bands than I recall, and the whole experience just felt…well, more ordinary.

Some of the old endearing traditions stayed intact. The nudies. The amazing crowd support on Hayes Street (all the people up and cheering before 8 am on a Sunday morning — God love ’em). The salmon running upstream (i.e., east, toward the start line). And the incredibly inventive costumes, fewer and farther between as they may be.

And I must say that running with a cape on was fun. You do feel faster. It also makes for great race photos. I highly recommend it, with one caveat: When running due west in the morning, the sun pretty much bakes your back, and meanwhile shiny synthetic fabric only makes things feel hotter. To maximize ventilation, you gotta run fast.

Super 9

That, unfortunately, did not come easily for me yesterday. I felt super fly as Super 9 Girl, but my performance was a lackluster. I finished the 12K in 1:05:45. I got smoked by my husband who had been an occasional runner then began triathlon training pretty much at the same time I began my off season. He finished 40 seconds ahead and probably could have left me in the dust long before the final mile, judging from the few times I saw him jog in place ahead of me. I also got bumped (literally) and passed by someone dressed as a giant green android. The costume was bulky and hard as a barrel and could not have been easy to run in. So yeah, lackluster. The off season has clearly taken its toll.

Interestingly, this answers the question of where the line lies between tapering and loss of fitness. For the past 4 weeks I had been running about 2-3 times a week. I mixed things up by tackling some big hills and dirt trails and attending weekly TRX and spin classes, but overall I worked out less, ran less. The result? I struggled to average an 8:50 pace for 7.5 miles when 4 weeks ago I comfortably averaged an 8:46 pace over 10 miles. Lesson learned: a drastic mileage cut over 7-10 days can translate into beneficial taper, but low mileage for a longer period causes cardiovascular regression. For me, anyway.

So thank you, Bay to Breakers, for rounding out the off season on an amusing note. And for providing the perfect wakeup call for my summer training. I’ve got 3 races on deck for the summer, concluding with my debut at Hood to Coast. I’ll be thinking of my new nemesis – the android – as I hit the track or push myself through tempo runs the next 3 months.

Season’s end

Idiot’s luck. Is there such a thing?

I ran the last race of a training season today. By that I mean, I ended a 7-month period of running for the purpose of doing well on successive goal races, interrupted only by one fluke injury that benched me for 2 weeks in December. Training is a double-edged sword. It gives me purpose and discipline and leads me to new achievements, but it is also mentally exhausting. Life happened while I was training. Holidays and birthdays and parties and vacations. I trained around life as much as possible, but the effort of fitting it all in was almost as hard and doing the training itself. After 7 months of this, I am glad to take a siesta.

The siesta actually began early, which was the cause of much consternation. I had today’s 10-miler on the books and meanwhile we decided to go on a 1700-mile family road trip through the Four Corners region for the 10 days leading up to the race. Determined to finish the last portion of my training program (minus the strength- and cross-training), I stuffed my running shoes, clothes and watch beneath the heap of outdoor paraphernalia called for by our plans to visit to 7 national parks and monuments across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. But the God of Vacation triumphed over the God of Running. I sat for hours in a car while snacking with abandon, and outside the car I ate more greasy food than I can justify. Instead of 6 running days, I put in 2. I tried to appreciate the extraordinary scenery around me, but both runs felt staggeringly hard (I’m going to blame the altitude) and ended with me forgetting one of my belongings at the hotel in the haste of showering, packing out and heading off to our next destination. The God of Vacation was laughing heartily.

Yesterday when I returned home and dejectedly pinged my running pal Beth to strategize about the 10-miler, I warned her that I have slacked off big-time the past week and a half. To my relief, she said she hadn’t been running either. So we agreed to forego any sort of lofty goal and just enjoy the run.

Not only did I set a low bar, I showed up at the race more unprepared than ever. I did not eat a particularly good dinner, did not get my preferred 8 hours of shut-eye, did not pin my bib or fasten my D-tag the night before, and completely forgot to put on my Garmin, let alone my heart-rate monitor. I went into the race tech-naked. Beth did have her Garmin, so she was charged with monitoring how we were doing. She kindly refrained from reading off our time for the first two miles, in which we clawed our way up 3 monstrous back-to-back hills in the Presidio. Her first reading came midway across the Golden Gate Bridge at the 4-mile mark. Amazingly, we were on target for a 90-minute finish. On the way back across, having crested the high point of the bridge (the final incline of the race), we felt a new resolve and let gravity quicken our stride the next 2 miles. The final 3 miles were on flat ground, and the typical headwind on Crissy Field was unusually mild, so it was no trouble to hold on until we summoned a 5K pace for the final mile.

We beat our 90-minute goal by almost 3 minutes. I bettered my previous time on this course by 7 minutes. My lungs never screamed and my legs never felt heavy like they did when I suffered my way through the 6-mile tempo run in Durango 5 days ago, and yet I ran 15 seconds faster per mile today. We celebrated our unexpected accomplishment by scarfing down buttered pancakes and egg and cheese burritos. Beth had a Bloody Mary. I stuck to coconut water. Yes, I vacationed and ate junk food for 10 days and PR’d. Who would have thunk it? True idiot’s luck. Or maybe…just maybe…there’s something to be said for resting and letting go. For enjoying vacations. For trusting what we have built into our bodies through cumulative training. For just enjoying the run. I’m really looking forward to the next few months of kicking back and running just for running’s sake.

Enjoying vacation: yoga pose across 4 states

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

You know you’re a runner when…

…you never have to buy deodorant.  You run enough races and wind up with enough free samples in your goodie bags to last a whole year.  Women-oriented events in particular. There’s always good stuff in there beyond the usual energy gel and promotional postcards for some other running event.

In fact, you begin to memorize which races have the best goodie bags and expos and come to rely on the product lineup at those expos to refuel and recover.  You know which races offer chocolate milk, which have the Clif and Luna Bar buffet, the popchip samples, and the pancake breakfast. Yum. Racing = fun.

2012 outlook

A new year.  A blank slate.  Own it, everybody. Make it great!

MY TENTATIVE RACE CALENDAR
JAN 15 – Ballpark 5K
FEB 5 – Kaiser Half Marathon
MARCH 4 – Napa Valley Marathon
APRIL 15 – Presidio 10 – 10-miler
MAY 20 – Bay to Breakers 12K
JUNE 3 – Coastal Trail Challenge 10K (if no Dipsea)
JUNE 10 – Dipsea Race (hopefully)
JULY – TBD
AUG 19 – Northstar Mountain Run
SEPT 15 – Diablo Run Half Marathon
OCT 7 – Bridge to Bridge 12K
OCT 14 – Nike Women’s Marathon (maybe…fingers crossed!)
NOV 25 – Run Wild for a Child 10K
DEC 2 – North Face Endurance Challenge Marathon Relay

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.

Po and the art of cultivating a PR

I did it. I finally accomplished the nagging goal of finishing a half marathon in under 2 hours. My time was 1:55:31.

I won’t recount the picture-perfect race skillfully orchestrated by my loyal running buddy Beth, who generously sacrificed her Sunday morning to ensure I would be evenly paced, sufficiently hydrated, and well fueled for my “revenge,” who took on the entire mental burden so all I had to do was follow her. Because I can’t. The whole thing happened in a seamless blur. Beth moved, I moved. She ate a gel, I ate a gel. She drank, I drank. It was effort for sure, but because I didn’t have to think, it almost felt like I floated through the 13 miles.

No doubt it is wonderful to finally be here. But in some ways I feel like I had already arrived before the race even began. Instead of a typical race recap, I feel compelled to chronicle the ways in which the stars alignedbefore June 5. It began with my failure 4 months ago almost to the day…

Bad race or good race? Time will tell

After I crashed and burned at my first bid to break 2 hours in February, Marissa, who coached the run club I joined in 2009 that catapulted me into “serious running,” helped me accept that everyone has a bad race. I needed to get over it and move on. She also suggested that I redefine what it means to have a good race. I needed to allow more room to give myself a pat on the back.

So in March I stepped out of my (dis)comfort zone and ran a race without a watch. I ran it with no plan, no advance registration, no expectation. I ran by feel. I ran with friends. Not just any friends, but two running pals who were zany enough to spin a casual mention of a race from Sausalito to San Francisco into a madcap reality less than two hours before the race began. In the 6 a.m. darkness we shot text messages back and forth, debating whether we really wanted to slip out into the ominous sky that had been doling out thunder, lightning, and cold pelting rain just hours before. We resolved to suck it up, come what may. We were rewarded with the clean crisp air that emerges after a good storm, unobstructed views of some of the most breathtaking scenery on this planet, and respectable finish times. As we sipped our free cups of coffee at the post-race expo, we were invigorated by our daring and grounded by the joy of running for running’s sake.

That was a good race.

Where there is love, good things follow

In February, when I sought advice from my mentor Lulu from the 2009 run club, she told me to go find the joy in running again. I am a spiritual runner at the core, and people in my running circle know this. I am not at all motivated by the thought of beating other people (with one exception to be discussed later) and I don’t aspire to be fast per se. Running needs to feel good first and foremost, and if I go beyond my comfort zone, it has to be in order to learn something from the experience, to grow from it. The sub-2 goal came out of a desire to discover my inner athlete. To challenge my feel-good-runner self to work hard for a change. I ended up training so hard for the February race that running became tedious, dreadful, another thing to do on my burgeoning list. I needed a system reset.

I gave up the late March half marathon that I impulsively signed up for, took six weeks off from training, retreated to yoga, stripped away rules, ate lots of cake and french fries, ran that impromptu race, ran whenever it suited me, and delved, aptly, into Kristin Armstrong’s book Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run.

Wham! The book was an epiphany. In the opening pages Armstrong addressed the precise question of why she runs. She wrote: “It’s like asking why we love who we love. We love them because of all the precious moments we have spent together, because of all the intimate ways they understand us, the subtle acts of kindness and grace they offer us, the way they accept us – good and bad – the way they offer us insight when we are stuck in a bad place, the way they keep us humble and make us feel great all at the same time, the way their presence is our insurance that we’ll never be numb…” Amen.

Why do I love running? Because of the simplicity of it. Because when I run, I see things I normally don’t take time to see. Because it takes me outside, and nothing grounds you like a date with Mother Nature. Because it brings me inside, and the mental stillness at mile 6 is the closest I ever get to meditation. Because it allows me to reclaim myself when I feel I’ve been divided into pieces and given them all away. Because it prepares me for the real marathon that is life. Because when I run I feel truly alive and free. Because I can, for now.

There you have it. Love of running reaffirmed.

Patience, young grasshopper

Lulu had also said to me in February that she knew I had sub-2 half in me, and that one day when my body’s ready, when conditions are right, it will happen.

How many times have we wanted something so badly it blinds us? We chase it and it runs away. We swipe at it frantically and it floats further out of reach. Then eventually we exhale, let go, stop counting, stop measuring, and the thing we wanted all along falls into our lap.

At the end of March, with my body rested, my love reaffirmed, and my attitude rebooted, I felt ready. For everything this time. I was ready to push towards the goal but also to cope with failure.

When I began training, I made sure to live my life too, and to do it with as much intention as the training. When my birthday came around, I woke up early and made my way through a blizzard to get on a treadmill and crank out the prescribed 6 miles, then went out to a celebratory dinner with family and topped it off with a heaping portion of fruit cobbler a la mode. I kept up with school volunteering, skied with the family, and found another pastime to focus on besides running (bootcamp). I took time, and time took me. I filled it with many things and it filled me with a sense of accomplishment daily, whether it was from a successful race simulation or doing 100 pushups in 10 minutes or pulling off a dinner party for 8 after an all-day school field trip.

I let time pass, but meaningfully.

The joy lies in the journey, not the destination

Ten weeks of training led up to yesterday’s personal record and I can easily recall one running milestone from each week, each one feeling nearly as triumphant the ultimate 1:55 finish. You bet I celebrated those little victories. They were building blocks toward my sub-2 goal. If there’s anything I’ve learned from 2 years of long distance running it’s that the process is pretty much everything.

We see an artfully crafted cake in the bakery window and we say, “Wow, what an amazing cake!” But how many of us actually stop to ponder what it must have taken for the baker make that cake? How often do we actually celebrate the process rather than the outcome? Running has reaffirmed my belief that the true measure of our greatness lies not in who we are when we are tested, but who we are in all the days in between.

It’s in waking up before sunrise to run when you’ve never been a morning person. It is in hitting the road no matter the weather. It is in pushing yourself to the point of breathlessness today, knowing it will feel half as awful when you repeat the exercise next week. It is in knowing to back off when your body raises a genuine red flag. It is in failing, then trying again. Whatever the pursuit, it is in the preparation for the big day that we demonstrate our truest talents: our capacity to commit, focus, devote, create and persevere. The outcome is a mere reflection of who we already are.

Coming into this second bid for a sub-2 half, I was armed with more miles under my belt, a more enjoyable training season, and a better tolerance for self-induced physical discomfort. Pulling our bootcamp instructor Shannon uphill in dogsled has made running at race pace feel cushy. (I’ll easily take any number of minutes of running over the same number of minutes of bear crawl or push-ups.) Acquiring this tolerance and a consistent eight-forty-something tempo pace were huge achievements for me. The sub-2 finish was going to be icing on the cake.

Let’s be clear: who we are at the start line is a product of not only our efforts, but the efforts of everyone who supported us along the way. My husband who tolerated my long absences on Saturday or Sunday mornings. My best friend who immediately sent me a new iPod when mine got stolen, because God forbid I should have to do my training runs alone AND without music. My mom, who congratulates me after every race even though she knows nothing about running. My sons who believe that one of these days their mom will actually win a race. I am grateful to them and so many others for humoring my 6-month-long experiment and quest.

It has been one rockin’ journey.

Inner peace

On the way over Sunday, Beth asked how I was feeling about the race. I told her I felt fine – not nervous, not pumped, just fine. I told her that the previous 2 days on a school camping trip followed by a day of trying to snuff out a lice problem have kept me too occupied to think too much about the race. And probably for the better. I felt an odd sense of non-attachment to the event in stark contrast to February, when I possessed the focus of a hunter out on a kill, albeit a sick one. I did not make time to pick up my race packet in advance. I had not studied the course map to formulate a water and fuel plan. Admittedly I suspected Beth would probably come to my rescue on the logistical front, and sure enough she did. While I drove, she went over our hydrating and fueling plan, fed me directions, told me where to park. While I ran, she regularly checked our pace and told me to either hold, pick it up, or bring it down. All I had to do was deliver what she asked of me, and for that I came prepared.

Except for one thing. Less than a mile into the race, I spotted someone ahead of us and got knots in my stomach. I could tell from her height and build, and the height and build of the woman next to her, that it was none other than the one person in the world that I have a grudge against. That threw me into a silent tizzy – Oh my God, HER? I can’t let that woman beat me. But what if she’s fast? How much faster could I go just to finish first? Do I tell Beth about this? She’ll think I’m ridiculous. She’ll lose all respect for me. Ugh, how am I going to keep it together for two hours with this thorn in my side!? All those thoughts swirled in my head while I kept mum. I resolved to speed past this person and stay ahead, so that maybe I could forget about her.

Then I remembered Kung Fu Panda 2. I saw the movie the day before. In it, Po the Panda takes on a fearsome enemy whom Po is destined to defeat, but in his first few battles with this enemy Po loses focus at the moment when he should be dealing the final blow. He allows the enemy to escape. He is distracted by an inner torment (not knowing who his parents are and why they abandoned him as a baby, and sensing somehow that this enemy knew the answers). This remains his Achilles heel until he resolves to make peace with his internal monsters. Before the final battle he repeats to himself, “Inner peace, inner peace, inner peace” and suddenly his kung fu is transformed. His calm translates into fearlessness and his fearlessness gives him unforeseen power.

So I chanted to myself: Inner peace… inner peace… inner peace… Run your own race. You are here on the best running day we’ve seen in a while. You’re trained, you’re rested. You know this course and it’s nice and easy. You’ve got the best personal pacer right by your side. Don’t blow it. Do what you’re here to do.

The one time I looked for her was when we got onto the bridge at mile 3. She was still behind us. I never looked for her again. It’s nice to know I’ve matured somewhat since high school. Just somewhat.

And the rest is history.

Next up: run a marathon without bonking. Training begins next month… after I’ve had my fill of eating whatever I want and running only if I feel like it.