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.

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Putting the (f)un back into the (r)un

I still remember the scene from Rocky III when the sportscaster interviews Mr. T before the big rematch with Rocky.

The sportscaster asked, “What’s your prediction for this fight?”

Mr. T barks in response, virtually spitting into the microphone, “PAIN! Lots of PAIN!”

That is how I would sum up the first 3 weeks of training at 6000+ feet altitude.

It was rough. Even with my unexpected 1st in AG and 2nd female overall finish at a local 5K at the 2-week mark (a total fluke which I attribute to the local rockstars flocking to that morning’s 10K and half marathon instead), I found very little reward in running. It just felt so darn hard. My paces were way off what they normally are, and I could not tell if I was just losing it, or if it really was the altitude.

2012 Truckee 5k medal

Approaching the third week I reached an all-time morale low and actually envisioned hanging up my running shoes for good. I just didn’t want to do it any more. That day I had bombed at a 5-mile moderate tempo run. My lungs burned even though I wasn’t even going that fast. My right knee felt “bunchy” and unstable. My attitude was the pits. That lovin’ feeling was gone. And as I sputtered through several stops and restarts to the finish like a broken down old car, I contemplated what my next pastime would be. What does an ex-runner with a wrecked knee do for fun? Swim? Lawn bowl? Birdwatch?

Just when things looked bleak came a ray of light. It was called the Donner Lake Triathlon. I didn’t compete in it, but participated in the most fulfilling way: as volunteer, support mom, and cheerleader.

My son was signed up for the Kids Triathlon. He had never done one but decided almost on a whim two weeks before the event to go for it. He’s an active, hardy kid who likes sports generally, but had never taken an interest in endurance pursuits except for swimming. I am guessing he was inspired by his daddy’s recent entry into the triathlon world. So for my son’s age group, the event consisted of a 25-yard swim, a 1-mile bike, and a 1/2-mile run. As if his decision to sign up wasn’t surprising enough, right away he came to me and said, “Mommy, can you help me train?” I realized then and there that I love training someone a thousand times more than training myself.

He only needed my input on the biking and running. He owned the swim part because he was already in the midst of two weeks of swim lessons, and his group was comfortably cranking out 15 laps at each lesson. For the bike/run part, I mapped out a course that would be a similar terrain to where he would bike and run, and serendipitously the street we live on fit the bill to a tee: mostly flat with gentle hills and exactly 1 mile long. I had him bike the whole mile then work up from running 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile. We trained as often as he wanted, which turned out to be about 5 times total in 14 days. He would bike alone while I waited at the transition area, then get off the bike and run home while I rode his bike.

Highlights from our training experience:
— Our biggest issue was the transition. On Day 1, my son came cruising up, barely braking, tossed the bike sideways onto the road, unclipped and yanked off his helmet and hurled it in the direction of the bike. Yes, the transition needed a little polish if we wanted that bike to last him through the event and beyond.
— Me pedaling an 8-year-old’s bike intrigued many a neighbor strolling our street. They smiled politely, I smiled politely, no one uttered a word about the spectacle that I surely was. Since I am only 5’1″, barely bigger than 8-year-old size, I am sure they wondered if I was riding the bike for real or in jest. I thought it was fun to keep them guessing.
— The best part of each training day was the reward smoothie, which the whole family got to enjoy. We shared the spoils, no matter who conquered the challenge. My two sons say I make the best smoothies and I gladly accept the compliment.

Then the big day came. I got a special front row view of the whole thing as a volunteer course marshal at the bike in/out area. It was amazing to see kids as young as 5 jog up with their bikes — wet, shivering, but undeterred. They hopped right up and motored along. Minutes later they would come cruising back and move onto running. When you watch kids do a triathlon, you realize how a triathlon is really just a magnification of the holy trinity of summer fun. Kids move through it with ease. They don’t stress about it. They jump into it and go as fast as they can. My son had a blast. But having a blast is something you take for granted when you’re 8. As soon as he finished and collected his medal, he asked, “So now can we go crawdad fishing?” Yeah, triathlon one moment, crawdadding the next. Ain’t no big thang.

The day after the kids’ event, the grown-ups had their turn: a sprint and an international distance. My husband and several people we knew were racing, so my other son and I headed back to the event area with our big cheering voices and virtual pom poms. We arrived just in time to hoot and holler for my husband’s 7-minute-mile dash to the finish. We treated ourselves to a big recovery breakfast at a nearby diner (remember, we share the spoils), then I threw on my running garb and apprehensively set off for the prescribed 10-miler on my Hood to Coast training plan. Being deep in a running funk, I was not looking forward to my first double-digit run at altitude this summer. So I decided to distract myself by making it a spectating run — i.e., I went in the opposite direction of the international distance triathletes, hoping to bump into folks I knew and cheer everyone on.

A few thoughts from that experience:
— Time flies when you’re cheering other runners on, even when you’re running uphill. The power of distraction is potent.
— It feels good to draw a smile out of tired athletes. I clapped, held thumbs up, gave the knowing nod and yelled for each one. My favorite sighting was a guy I called “Wig Man.” He was scooting along wearing a huge black ‘fro wig. As if trying to finish a 10K on an 80-degree sunny day after swimming 0.9 miles in a frigid alpine lake and biking 24.8 miles up and down 1200’ wasn’t enough. This race seemed like no big thang to him either.

At what point does a pastime morph from something we do for fun to something that feels like work? How do you draw that line between pushing ourselves to grow and pushing ourselves over the edge? Maybe every runner should wear a silly wig to at least one race a year. Or plan to go fishing after another. Just to keep ourselves in check. To remind ourselves not to stress and to have fun. Life is too short to beat ourselves up pursuing a hobby.

#Maketherules

I recently had a revelation that I might actually be a fast-twitch runner, rather than a slow-twitch one. A very slow fast-twitch runner.

No scientific analysis here, just an online quiz and a hunch. These questions were posed by the training plan I’m following for Hood to Coast. It asked: “Which workout leaves you feeling more beat up the next day? a) Long tempo runs; b) Short sprints.” I paused, dug deep, and realized that while I dread and hate feeling the burn of speed workouts, I usually wake up the next day feeling normal. A hard tempo run, on the other hand, will leave me sore the day after.

It also asked: “What is your race style? a) You struggle in the middle but outkick others with a fast final quarter-mile sprint; b) You pass a lot people during the middle miles?” Hands down I consistently go to a very dark unhappy place in the middle — miles 8-9 in a half marathon, mile 4 in a 10K, mile 16-18 in a marathon — and then I get a second wind and pull out all stops at the finish.

All this time I thought I was more naturally suited to go the distance and lived happily in the comfort zone of long, easy-pace miles. But if I’m actually more geared to run shorter and faster, I need to a) stop dreading speed workouts and b) start appreciating how well I’ve done at 13.1 and 26.2, considering, instead of beating myself up for not having run them better.

I won’t start filling up my race calendar with 1-milers and 5Ks just yet though. I won’t stop running half marathons and beyond. I might have a 5K makeup, but I still love the feeling at the end of a 10, 15, or 20-mile run of having left everything out there. Of having been transformed in a day. All my troubles, worries, all the stress of the day — gone. Like a snake shedding its skin.

Besides, we are driven by the things we are not. Goal setting, by definition, involves striving for something we can’t do yet. And that’s why this fast-twitch gal will continue to run distance events. I’ll take what I’ve got, thank you, and shape my destiny.

It’s like the recent Nike ad in celebration of last week’s 40th anniversary of Title IX: “If someone thinks you can’t, then you have to.” I was never athletically inclined when I was younger so I really can’t speak to what Title IX meant to me when I was a kid in school. But I can appreciate the sentiment of not being limited by what people say you should be able to do. I say girls and women everywhere should follow their dreams. And if the rules stand in our way, we should dare to make new ones.

Hood to Coast for newbies: some primers

Week 2 of my training for Hood to Coast.  I was supposed to get a good night’s sleep so that I could hit the track first thing in the morning and stay on schedule despite the summer travel coming up tomorrow.  Instead, what do I do?  Spend hours researching the Hood to Coast legs online.  I have been given the privilege of selecting my leg (instead of picking one out of a hat at a white elephant party, then stealing someone else’s if I don’t like what I get). Meanwhile I have no frame of reference, having never done this — or any other — relay.  I needed to get the scoop.

The good news is that there are tons of really great Hood to Coast race recaps on many people’s blogs.  The bad news is that I stayed up until almost 3 a.m. and now cannot fathom getting my butt out there in the damp cold to run intervals around the track, given the 4 paltry hours of sleep.  Then again, that would actually be good training for H2C, since the word on the street is that you pretty much don’t sleep for more than a couple hours between your legs.

Among the most useful summaries of the H2C legs are these primers by Jason Effmann (part of his On the Road to Hood to Coast series) that deserve special recognition because they had me just about falling off my chair laughing despite only 4 hours of sleep.

HOOD TO COAST PART I, VAN 1:
http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs068/1106633098899/archive/1106892221297.html#LETTER.BLOCK9
Don’t miss this hilarious video at the bottom of the post:
http://youtu.be/EL1hLU_LBvs

HOOD TO COAST PART II, VAN 2:
http://www.ohsusportsmedicine.com/2011/08/on-road-to-hood-to-coast-jason-effmann.html?m=1

Now, off to get me a cup of coffee.

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.

New is good

It’s official: I’m running the Hood to Coast Relay!

{HAPPY DANCE}

A friend in Portland had to back out of the event because of a persistent ankle injury. Knowing how much I’ve been wanting to do this relay, he tapped me on the shoulder. I submitted my registration on his team yesterday. I’m pinching myself, I’m so happy!

Rumor has it, Hood to Coast is the best running experience on the planet. Two hundred adventure-filled miles from a mountain top to the deep blue sea. Roughly twenty-four hours of running, eating, sleeping in a van, more running, more eating and apparently sleeping in a cow pasture. I’ll be the newbie on a team of Portlanders who have run this race together for years. Not only will I be new to this event, I’ll be new to relays, new to 99% of my teammates and new to running through day and night. Foolish? Perhaps. Nerve-wracking? I suppose. But at the moment I’m too excited to feel anything else.

I am psyched to have a new goal to work towards as a grand finale to the summer. The timing couldn’t be more ideal. One last month of running for fun, then I’ll begin the three months of trail running that I had planned. That should break my legs in nicely for Hood to Coast’s hilly course.

For now it’s time to sketch out a kooky costume for me, my husband and my friend for our bid at the infamous Mardi Gras of running known as the Bay to Breakers. Ideas welcome!

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

Like strawberries and shortcake

Today I went on my last run as a 42-year-old. By happenstance, my husband was able to accompany me. He and I hardly ever get to run together. We usually have to tag team our workouts so one of us can be with the kids. But today both kids were in ski school and we both had a run on our agendas, so we went for it.

He suggested we run along Donner Lake (10 minutes’ drive downhill from our house in Truckee) versus in our immediate neighborhood because the lake is at a lower elevation. I frankly did not see how 600 feet could make a difference, but also did not see the point of arguing, so I agreed.

As soon as we arrived at the lake, he muttered, “Oh darn! I forgot my iPod.” Really? – I grimaced to myself. We are here to run together and you were planning to listen to music? Sheesh.

A half-mile into our run, where the two of us ran side by side sharing the bike lane, I noticed that he was weaving as he ran. And whenever he veered in my direction, I ended up running on the dirt off the road. “Please stop,” I told him. “You’re running me off the road.”

“Oh really? I just don’t want to get too close to the white line. I don’t want to get hit. Here, I’ll switch with you. I don’t mind running on the dirt. I like the softer surface.”

We switched. But soon enough, I noticed he was still weaving. And this time I was edging the white line. I piped up, “Can you try to stay straight?”

“Oh sorry. I just don’t want to step in the puddles,” he said, pointing to the muddy puddles in our path, remnants of last week’s snow.

“Can’t you go ahead of me then?” I sighed. We were like a pair of ballroom dancers who had gone too long without practice, literally getting in each other’s way. It occurred to me that much artful synchronization goes into being someone’s running buddy. What are the characteristics of a perfect running pal? I came up with this:

1. Cheerfully takes turns driving the carpool to races and runs.
2. Takes turns mapping out a route.
3. Tells great stories.
4. Shares your level of runnerdiness, or lack thereof.
5. Offers you water or gel when you’re stuck without it.
6. Knows when to run alongside, pull ahead or fall behind, but never runs you off the road or trail, or into harm’s way.
7. Motivates you without being competitive with you.
8. Will run the run you need to be doing even though it’s not the one he or she needs to be doing, knowing you’re the one who needs the support that day.
9. Celebrates your victories as if they were his or her own.
10. Knows exactly what to say in your moments of defeat.

Sizing up my husband, I would say he possesses many of those characteristics but could stand to improve in a few areas. In fairness, he rates quite highly for someone who doesn’t run regularly. So he doesn’t speak runnerdese, doesn’t carry gel, and doesn’t pore over all the possible running routes. But he cared enough keep me company on my birthday eve run. At one point during our easy 5, he said this would be the longest he will have run in months. Still he came. And he kept up. And that counts for a lot.

To my other running pals – you know who you are – a huge thank you for your big hearts, strong running legs, and endless supply of gel and belief in me. We go together like strawberries and shortcake, and I adore that.

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