“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

Tony Robbins.

Oakland Running Festival Start Line 2014

I’d heard promising things, and indeed the Oakland Running Festival proved to be a super fun and well-organized event. Didn’t hurt that it was a gorgeous, sunny day in the East Bay and that my personal 13.1 experience went by in a happy, pain-free blur.

My strategy was as such:

2 Days before:

  • Run 5 miles too fast. Ice shins.

Day before:

  • Plan to avoid alcohol but drink a couple of glasses of wine anyway.
  • Launder a variety of racing clothes.
  • Forget to ice shins.
  • BAGEL. BREAD. PASTA.

 Morning of:

  • Choose racing clothes from the dryer on a whim. Get frustrated when I can’t find my preferred flipbelt. Wear the purple one instead.
  • Pack one hell of a post-race survival kit complete with a huge bottle of water, hooded sweatshirt, moccasins, face wipes, and most importantly, a hairbrush (it’s always a complete rat’s nest after long runs).

messy race hair.

  • Chow down on a big bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee.
  • Remember fuel at the last minute! Cut up a random amount of dates and stuff them into a ziplock.
  • Plan on taking BART to the start line but get a ride across the bridge from my very generous boyfriend instead. (Thanks John!)
  • Catch up with my friend Cori before the race! Definitely puts me at ease and get me in the mood to run. (Thanks Cori!)

Racetime:

Ok, down to business. I decide to start off with the 2:00 pacer and if feeling great after mile 10, pull ahead slightly for my sub-2. I told myself I wouldn’t be shy about falling back if it felt like too much. I was determined to PR this event but not at the expense of blowing it at Big Sur in April (ie, overdoing it and getting injured. Shins, remember?).

Mile 1

Traffic jam. Felt easy, and it was my slowest mile at 9:25.

Miles 2-5

Tune into my breathing and I know that I have things under control. Around mile 4 I check the average pace on my Nike + Watch to reveal 8:54/mile. Oh boy, oh boy. I get a little excited but remind myself to keep focus. Plenty of time for things to fall apart. I almost forget to eat my dates but when I literally bump into a woman chomping on an energy bar, I remember to nosh. I chat with this same person a bit about the race and it’s a nice break. Thanks for the 3 minute friendship, lady. Then I space out and miss a water stop. Zoinks.

Mile 6-9

I find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with the pacer, Ben. I’m starting to get the zoomies, but concerned that it’s too soon to forge ahead on my own. I attempt to move aside and slow down, but I can’t find a graceful way to do this. That awkwardness settles it. I let go of the group and just get comfortable, and somewhere in these miles I lose them completely. Oddly, the second set of dates taste sort of gross and I don’t enjoying eating them. I usually look forward to little snacks on the run, even if it’s just GU.

I was unsure of how I’d feel running with the pacers, but I was really glad that I did. I found it helpful and entertaining in those opening miles, and would happily consider employing this strategy again.

Mile 10-13.1

The plan was to hit the surge button at mile 11 (go to 11 at 11, get it?), but once again the zoomies take over early. I’m pushing it and these miles feel tough (but part of me is already celebrating). About half a mile to the finish line, as I’m really feeling the pain of a hard effort, I pull up next to a guy who asks me if this is my first half. “No, but it’s my first time under 2!” He gives me a congrats and encourages me to finish strong, and the whole interaction gives me a little boost. Thanks guy.

Post Race

Official time — 01:55:28

The finish area at Snow Park is totally awesome. I find John and Darwin easily and we hang out on the space blanket under the shade of a big tree. I drink my 21st Amendment Sneak Attack. I watch Cori cross the finish line smiling with a new PR. I enjoy the sunshine and the breeze across Lake Merritt, and the happy feeling of having exceeded my goals. 🙂

I loved the vibe of this race – low key attitude with the amenities of a bigger event. I hope I am able to participate again next year!

Post race pizza

Medals are nice but pizza is the greatest reward.

Hope you racers out there had a great weekend!

 

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“The first and great commandment is: Don’t let them scare you.”

Elmer Davis.

So I’m convinced. I’ve read every Big Sur Intl Marathon race recap on the internet. Every. Single. One. The ultrarunners bouncing up Hurricane Point. The Boston 2 Big Sur badasses taking it easy with an 8 min/mile pace. The first timers who, saved by magical mile 23 strawberries, triumph in the face of injury, headwinds, and the wall. Runners who inexplicably PR. Runners who run their slowest race ever. Runners breathless from the breathtaking Northern California coast.

As a result I am highly educated, mad with denial, and/or completely freaked out. Donno. I feel at once cautiously confident and lost in the wilderness, relaxed and petrified. But maybe this is just the nature of marathoning.

Here’s the freak out part: Because I went into training a bit late I don’t have a “plan” so to speak, but rather a somewhat haphazard schedule of weekend long runs that take me through to marathon day. The LSD increase really only began in early February and as such I’m just squeezing in a 20 miler before the taper.

This is what it is, and I’m just moving forward. Beyond the numbers, my strategy is more about listening to my body. My shins have threatened splits but although some tenderness lingers, I believe my respectful weekly mileage (some would say “shockingly low”) has kept this at bay. I’m pushing myself when it feels right, and it has, but at the first sign of injury or overtraining…Bam. I back away. Given the potential for a classic “too much too soon” kind of meltdown, my suspicion is that this approach is probably my only option.

As for the rest of the week, I’m really just making it up as I go along. And kind of to my delight, for better or worse. Again, while I’m staying conservative on mileage and run days per week, I do my cross training (yoga and strength and a little casual bike riding), and try to make every run count. I usually just rely on instinct in assessing what exactly that means.

“I feel like running a little faster today. I’ll average a half-marathon pace, or a couple of miles at 10k pace.”

“Hmm. Last time I ran a bit faster than I intended. Better take it easy, practice breathing evenly and finishing strong.”

“I want to run home from work today. But ugh I should probably do some hills. I’ll take a different turn at mile 3 and suffer over Potrero Hill.”

Fairly casual. The hope is that as long as I can complete the long runs with a disturbing smile on my face, my base fitness will pull me through. At the same time, I’m trying to let go of any time goal for Big Sur and just focus on having a smooth, relatively comfortable race that I can freaking finish without disaster. Call me Lady Denial, but I think that if I can arrive at the starting line injury-free — I’ll make it the 26.2 miles to Carmel. Seems like my best chance.

All training plans include a level of intensity of course, and this makeshift, slapdash one is no different. But what I’m learning is that intensity comes not just from mileage building and quality workouts but the effort that it takes to honestly respect how the body and mind respond. If I fail and don’t finish or don’t even start — then at least I’ve gained some valuable new insights (at least I hope I can muster that kind of mature attitude, if it comes down to it). It’s certainly an experiment, given that for Portland I stuck to a Hal Higdon plan pretty religiously (Novice 2). But this wasn’t a perfect training experience either. Weeks before the race my quads we’re shot and my calves were bricks. By the end of my taper I felt almost good as new, and at no point during the race did things fall apart. But the regimen did leave me feeling a bit fried. So I’m curious to see how this new approach works out. Even if it does bite me in the end.

Again, maybe this is just the nature of marathoning? And doing my first marathons so close together. Given that registration sold out in 59 minutes (!), I obviously feel lucky to have a spot at Big Sur and the opportunity to run what’s become an iconic course.

Finally, extra credit if you noticed that on my little schedule above I have a half marathon coming up on March 23. Truth? I really want to hit it in under 2:00. I came so damn close last August, and right now I feel really strong and my pace is on target. At this point, I really don’t think it’s an overly ambitious goal. But I hope that this confidence isn’t unfounded, and that the pace won’t leave me too ragged to complete my final long runs before BSIM. Again, the strategy is self-respect and trust, to listen to my body and if anything feels wrong — back. off. I’ve got other halfs to kill later this year…

“This is dedicated to the one I love.”

The Mama and Papas

After six months of regular practice, I’m experiencing the real joy of yoga.

Okay. Wow. It’s hard for me to write a sentence like that like without irony, but it’s not excruciating as it once would have been. As the person whose eyes would roll with every “om,” who after more than 10 years of attending classes still can’t finish with a “namaste” (I just…no) — let’s consider this a small breakthrough.

I’ve been taking a long time to think about this post because in some ways it actually gets to the meat of the blog’s purpose. As an exercise in being positive and pure and not so damn judgemental all the time. Stop being afraid that gentleness will loosen my grip on reality. I want to catch myself starting to give in to impulses that limit my ability to experience or feel something new and say, “I defy you impulses!” And then write something like: “I’m experiencing the real joy of yoga.” Okay then.

Although cynicisms persists, and my tolerance for yoga teachers as spiritual gurus and pop-psychologists remains fairly low, as some of the physical components have demystified I find myself becoming more curious and thoughtful of certain esoteric aspects of yoga. I feel powerful and light in crow pose. I achieve quiet moments in a long-held Virabhadrasana III. Continue to understand and move beyond my fear of upsidedownness. At the moment, what eludes me is dedication.

“Sometimes at the beginning of class, the teacher invites us to dedicate our practice. It’s a powerful invitation because it can essentially means that every asana, every breath, is in reverence to this person or thing for which we feel a deep sense of gratitude.”

Tania Ketenjian / Bernal Yoga Blog

Unclear how else to handle it, I’ve traditionally dedicated my practice to myself (like: be gentle to myself! I’m worth it!), or more often to the opportunity to cultivate a particular quality like forgiveness or determination or patience. But I think of the latter more as an “intention”(setting one at the beginning of class is also something that teachers routinely encourage). Intentions are very helpful for me as a destination to return to when the body and mind start to slide apart. It’s the idea of dedicating my own experience of yoga to another living thing that gives me the “hmmm”s.

I have attempted it in the past, without any clear motivation or understanding of how or why. In the year and a half that my dog Goose was sick with congestive heart failure, I’d occasionally dedicate a practice to him. More recently, I’ve thought of a friend who’s trapped in a toxic situation at work. But again, I wasn’t quite sure of the purpose or maybe more importantly, whether I could buy into the idea at all. It struck me as some self-important yoga bullshit at worst, and at best, hopelessly new-agey. But then why the impulse “dedicate” a practice to a sick poodle who I loved so much? Or an upset friend? Or an associate who has been giving me difficulty? What gives this meaning? Softening to the idea of dedication, the question repeats and repeats through my mind.

Finding an “answer” seems wrong — but I find myself inspired in the search of opinions and understanding through random streams of consciousness. Lately I’ve been thinking about this idea that maybe dedicating a practice is similar to dedicating a piece of art. I’ll ask myself — what’s the difference between dedicating a song or a painting or a story and dedicating a 30 or 60 or 90 minutes of yoga? Well, there’s a physical component to art that makes the idea more tangible to me: an artist makes a physical contribution to the world. What exactly are we dedicating in yoga? What is that contribution? Does it come back around to some intention? Or is this all a bunch of garbage after all?

I’m learning how challenging yoga really can be for both body and mind. Now again with the joy. When I say joy I don’t mean that it’s some kind of pure happiness, although pure and happy is part of it, but I mean that feeling of feeling all the feelings. This stirs something in me. I feel different, but it’s also familiar. Some kind of innocence and freedom that I used to know.

Nama….Eh. Still no.