“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

Allen Ginsberg.

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Negative thoughts approach carefully, though the impact sudden. They descend like a cavernous and starless sky. Behind you, a lovely late afternoon creeps towards a warm early-evening glow, sinking into a luminous and melancholy indigo that fades so, so gently. Once you realize it’s come, you’re not sure how long you’ve been there. Encased in a void. Air escaping from the room. You search even to see your own hands in the dark.

How could you stop the sun from falling? No one can defeat darkness. These nights are inevitable and the chatter is forever. But suffering we know’s a choice. The voices needn’t carry.

I have lately put almost all my energy and attention into physical pursuits, naively expecting these efforts to naturally build a strong mind. Now it’s shocking to discover, possibly, my emotions more fragile than ever. Of course we can achieve some kind of clarity by challenging our bodies, and these things can be applied inward. But just like meditating won’t create muscle, running or lifting or an expertly-executed chaturanga won’t make a peaceful and sturdy mind.

Today I began with gratitude. Focusing on what’s good, each today. Now it’s Wednesday. I ran and walked. I made breakfast. There was no shouting. I made a long to-do list that is much shorter now.

Madness persists. Patience takes practice. Work must be done to understand these fears, not just flailing in the dark to fruitlessly chase them away. The moon is always above us, even if we can’t see it. The light is coming.

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“The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” (Bay to Breakers Race Recap)

William Blake.

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I registered for my first Bay to Breakers last year. Traditionally, I kept my distance from the shenanigans. I don’t mean to be a party pooper — it’s just not my scene. I’m more of a quietly-get-drunk-in-a-sad-piano-lounge kind of gal than a topless-jelloshot-guzzler.

This is why at the 2013 race I was rather shocked at the relative mellowness of the event. That May morning was beautiful and bright, one of those shiny San Francisco days. An uncongested B Corral, silent pajamaed spectotors, the familiar eerie quiet of an early-morning Golden Gate Park jog…the shuttle back downtown was a piece of cake and I was home by 10am. Mostly uneventful save for the stark naked middle-aged dudes beside me for the first half mile or so (talk about motivation to pick up the pace). But it was Bay to Breakers, after all.

Suffice to say that things were different this year.

I arrived at the start line with no pacing plan and itchy feet. Earlier in the week I’d been organizing my schedule for the remainder of 2014, so the combination of this obsessiveness coupled with the excitement of the tortilla toss, helicopters, great weather, and the fired up runners beside me had me ready to go. My fellow racers and I seemed a little cozier than last year — and in fact, according to my results, 28,253 runners finished, compared with 22,268 in 2013. After a 25 minute delay, I crossed the starting mat and decided to aim for a 9:00 pace. Not too fast, not too slow — a clip that would reward me with a decent course PR.

The first two miles were absolute mayhem. Costumed drunks, screaming and wandering Howard Street, runners smashing into one another trying to find a clear path. I had to slow to a walk once or twice because the crowds were that thick. But once we left downtown, the celebrations kept (mostly) to the sidelines up the hill. Parties were starting. Jello shots offered, sidewalk barbeques lit. But Hayes Street is no joke, and I kept mentally focused by segmenting the challenge into 5 steep inclines to push through, breathlessly cresting the hill in five and a half minutes.

After the panhandle (whose elevation chart always surprises me — I really feel that incline even though it only nets about 60 ft), it’s a speedy downhill to the ocean finish. On training runs, I make sure to stay conservative, but I love bombing down this hill at Bay to Breakers. A good looking twenty-something wearing a giraffe costume pulled up next to me and said something like, “This downhill is great, isn’t it?” “It sure is,” I replied, “But ice your knees after!” Sure enough, the race gave me some crippling shin splints last year. But it feels like flying and it’s worth it. Giraffe man smiled and passed me by.

After a speedy final mile, I sprinted to the finish just behind the pink gorilla.

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Ape Hashbury and I moving through the chute.

Ape Hashbury and I just moments after finishing. I’m apparently shocked by something in the distance…

Finish Time: 01:05:38

Here are splits from the 2013 race compared to 2014.

Miles 1-3 in 2014 (above) & 2013 (below)

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Miles 4-7 in 2014 (above) & 2013 (below)

I pushed it harder this year effort-wise, still, another race where it’s obvious how much I’ve grown in the past year. Last year’s marathon training really changed how I run. I’m looking forward to my summer of speedwork with the hope of improving even further!

Although the expected insanity of Bay to Breakers is a little beyond me, I do love the course and the energy. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t run it every year that I can! Also – the medal is awesome. Very impressive, especially given the fact that there were none at all last year. Even Darwin was impressed.

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“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupéry.

With uncertainty about even finishing this year’s Big Sur Marathon, the race was just about all that I could focus on in the first half of 2014. Now, coming off that high, I’m starting to make plans.

Let’s begin by taking stock of last year’s ambitions.

2013 Running Goals

1 .  Finish first Marathon — completed on 10.6.13 at Portland Marathon

2.  5k PR (under 26:00) — completed on 5.13.13 at DSE Mother’s Day 5k Marina Green

3.  Break 2hr in Half Marathon — not completed. But I PRed at The Giant Race on 8.4.13 (02:00:25)

4.  Place in my age group — completed on July 4 at LCA Red White and Boom 5k

5.  Run 900 miles in 2013 — not completed, and not even close, really. 744 miles. Still, not bad. That’s roughly the distance from here to SLC.

San Francisco to SLC

As I alluded to above, earlier this year I had just two goals that would take me through to the end of spring: first, break that damn 2hr half and second (and highest priority), finish Big Sur in one piece (and smiling, ideally).

Now that both of those are happily checked off, I’ve put together what I think is a rather ambitious list for 2014.

2014 Running Goals

1.  Participate in a social running event (club run, volunteer for a race, fun run)

2.  Run a 10k (I’ve never raced one…)

3.  Break 25 minutes in 5k

4.  Break 4 hours in the Marathon

Only laziness or inattention (or injury, I guess) can keep me from completing the first two items, so these should be easy wins. But the time goals will take some real focus and training. The plan is to add specified speedwork and higher mileage (responsibly, of course) via modified Hal Higdon plans. I’ve organized my training around three key races.

 

See Jane Run – 5k – June 22

5k speed phase

5k speed phase

 

Santa Rosa Marathon – 13.1 – August 24

Half Marathon Training - building mileage/speed work

Half Marathon – Mileage building/speedwork

 

California International Marathon – 26.2 – December 7

CIM training. Am I crazy? Sub 4 is nuts.

CIM training. Am I crazy? Sub 4 is nuts.

Anyway, even if I don’t hit the ideal finish times (very possible), I’m hopeful that I’ll end the season a stronger and more disciplined runner. Last year, I found my heart wasn’t broken when I didn’t go sub-2 hours on the first attempt. I ran a smart race, learned a lot, and knew that the next time I’d reach my goal. And that’s exactly what happened!

For the record, non-running goals include more writing and reading, hitting the driving range a few times, and completing the 6 week yoga bootcamp at my local studio. The bootcamp is probably insane, but I’m determined to make this the most productive (and fun?) summer ever! Viva la 2014!

Next up: Bay to Breakers this Sunday. Hoping I don’t end up next to the naked brigade again this year…but whatever.

“Don’t Freak Out.”

Tish Hamilton.

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Well, well. It’s come and gone as all things do. I’ve a sense of post-marathon runner’s blues — but although an iconic, strongly run race has passed me, a season of possibilities lingers on the horizon.

Here’s how it went down.

Saturday April 26 — Marathon Eve — 10:53 am

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John and Darwin headed out for a walk around Monterey while I settled in for some runnerdness at the Expo. After retrieving the essentials I proceeded to shell out some dough, beelining to “The Stick” (love it), and hitting the Sports Basement booth for Yurbuds since I’d forgotten to bring headphones (I rarely listen to music in training, and never have during a race, but I’d prepared an “emergency” 90’s grunge mix in case shit hit the fan). I also purchased a tube of Watermelon Nuun, which I had not previously tried and is now by far my favorite flavor.

I was stoked to hit the 11am clinic featuring a panel of Runner’s World editors. Bart Yasso was every bit as charismatic as they describe, but it was the ladies that inspired me most. At Bart’s urging, Tish Hamilton relayed mantras for 3 key portions of the race:

On the early downhill through mile 6: “Pass nobody”

Ascending Hurricane Hill: “Don’t freak out.”

Over the rollers from 13 – 26.2: “Keep it together”

Solid advice if you ask me.

But my favorite moment of the seminar came from Jen Van Allen and her thoughts on facing the mental low points of the Marathon, when negative self-talk rings loudly in the mind and threatens to prevail. When pain, or boredom, or doubts seem like more than we can handle. In those moments Jen suggests regrouping and coming back to your motivation. What’s hers? In a word, gratitude. Here’s a day where you don’t have to go to meetings, or do your taxes, or scrub the toilet, or take your kid to a birthday party, or balance your checkbook, or take the dog to the vet…..it’s a day free of obligations that pervade everyday life. It’s a day when you get to celebrate and do what you love — run. It gives me chills thinking about it even now!

John and I drove the course in the afternoon. I’d studied well, and as we made our way along Highway 1 from Big Sur Station to the intersection of Rio Road, we counted off the miles on the odometer, reviewed the terrain, and pointed out some of the more famous features along the way (Strawberry Hill, Piano Man, Taiko drummers, the infamous mile 25 incline…)

The takeaway wasn’t surprising. Hills, hills, and more hills.

With Mr. Darwin in tow, we headed to our B&B in the Carmel-by-the-Sea, arguably the most dog-friendly town in America. We took a much needed nap, and it was mostly uneventful for the rest of afternoon except for when John dropped his iPhone in the toilet (oops). After an artichoke, pasta, and glass of red wine at the Hog’s Breath Inn, I was ready to rest and rest I did before the early, early wake-up.

Big Sur Early Wake UP

Sunday April 27 — The Big Sur Day — 3:45am

Holy shit. What a disaster. I’d brought along TJ’s steel cut oatmeal and a measuring cup, but discovered upon waking that I was minus a bowl. With oatmeal exploding out of a mug, I proceeded to freak out and make a big mess of the microwave. I needed carbs! Stat!

With my breakfast finally cooked through I booked it to the bus pickup with the inn’s “Bad Hair Day” coffee cup in hand.

4:00 am

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Once I had my butt on the seat of the school bus my anxiety began to subside. Hopefully, this oatmeal snafu would be the worst part of the day. The weather forecast was looking good, my meal was beginning to digest, and I had a hour-long ride to catch up on a little more rest. I practiced some visualization exercises and tried to quiet my mind.

5:36am

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It was funny to be dropped off in the middle of the woods with a bunch of buzzing runners, all eager to race. I didn’t have any coffee, but I was happy it was there. The porto line was super long and slow-moving, of course. It was the first time I’d ever checked a bag, and it was way more straightforward than I imagined. Finally, I know you’re worried so I’ll say right now that the mug made it to the finished line unharmed.

I thought with some effort I might be able to PR this race, but had decided over a long and squirrely taper to stick with the “finish strong and happy” goal. So there I was lined up in Corral B with the 4:30 pacer.

Miles 1-10 — 6:50am

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I felt sort of sleepy in those first several miles, and the pacer was a little speedier than expected. After all of the caution about taking the 5 mile downhill too fast, I wasn’t prepared to bank any time. Turns out the guy’s strategy was to go out slightly faster than goal pace and then pull way back on Hurricane Hill. At times he got quite a bit ahead of me but I told myself that I wouldn’t worry as long he stayed in sight.

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This was an historic race for me because it marks my first in-race bathroom break! It’s a true right of passage, I know. I spotted a row of portos with a short line and got in and out as fast as I could. Somewhere in these miles, a lone brown cow by the side of the road bellowed loudly. The ocean and the breeze moved gently. I sped up in an effort to reach the pacer, who I caught just before Hurricane Hill.

Miles 11-14 — 8:29am

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I don’t mean to brag, but I felt unbelievably good on the climb up Hurricane Hill, and it was perhaps my favorite part of the race. It was certainly tough and took concentration, but oh my god it was a million times more comfortable than the hill I’d run on Potrero a week prior (that gave me my first full-blown asthma attack I’ve had in years, not a big confidence boost going into Big Sur, let me tell you). The fact that I was managing this hill with relative ease got me really excited, and the adrenaline surged. But as they say at Big Sur, what goes up must come down…

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Mile 15-Finish — Time unknown

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After bombing down the other side of the hill, along came the rollers. Suddenly, I felt my legs. Oh. My. God. Owwww. “This is going to be a long 2nd half,” I thought. I felt a rush of panic but tried to channel Jen and Tish… “Keep it together…” “Would you rather be cleaning the bathroom right now? No!”

After the initial panic and fatigue, I got serious about how to deal. First, I fueled. My hip felt on the verge of cramping, so I dug a Margarita Shot Blok out of my FlipBelt and it did the trick. During mile 19 I stopped to stretch at an old beat-up pickup parked alongside of an aid station. I felt a bit better as I headed back on course. I decided then that I’d do my best to stay on-pace, while walking through the remaining aid stations. Still, this was a meditation in pain management to the glorious end. Mercifully, I never bonked and stayed fairly positive on my way to the finish line.

I’d kept my watch to read mileage and clock time, and tried to avoid obsessively checking my average pace. So it was only at some point towards the end that I realized I might come in under 4:20. I stayed strong and just squeaked by.

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Official time: 4:19:53

Just 40 seconds behind my Portland time on a much harder course. I was pleased. My legs were throbbing, but after getting that radical medal, pretzels, a cookie, and finally emerging from the chute to be immediately greeted by John and Darwin, I was in very good spirits. I’d done it!

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Here’s a race that I’d considered dropping out of 4 months ago. I didn’t want to put in the time — I was feeling burnt out from my first marathon. I’m so grateful to have found the will to pull through. I can say honestly that this time around I feel different somehow, and I don’t think I’d be the same person had I not done it. Going through this training has taught me so much, but what’s inspired me most is the age-old runner phenomenon of realizing that you’re stronger than you think. The last four months have me dreaming crazy dreams. The celebration at Big Sur was truly the cherry on top. After months of learning, wondering, worrying, hoping, and running my heart out, it really did feel like the victory lap.

Now, I’m regrouping and deciding summer races, a new plan for speedwork, and some short and long-term goals. It’s time!