“Don’t Call it a Comeback”

LL Cool J.

Good evening, blog. Why bother with this re-entrance? Well it’s not really even that I left so much as there’s just been this kink in the chain from brain to Google Doc to WordPress… Ah, all of the blog posts that I wrote in my head interrupted by this and that. Because I did in fact do some interesting running things after March of last year. Problem was that the actual getting-out-and-doing-the-running part was enough for me to manage nevermind the droll musings about it.

So here’s something interesting that I did last year:

I ran the NYC Marathon and oh my goodness.

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GOOD pre-race advice: hydrate!

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BAD pre-race advice: fuel up with a dozen oysters and a dry martini! (this was on the Thursday before the race but still…) 🙂

I’m tempted to race report the life out of this thing, but I’d rather allow the day to carry on as a magical, beautiful dream. I do not want to sentence the memory to death by prose. Long story short, it lives up to the hype. It just does. All of the logistical headaches, expensive everythings (race fees, hotels, meals, EVERYTHING), and Central Park pain train… WORTH IT!

 

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That’s me in the middle there with orange cap.

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That said, I was soooo not into doing any of the actual training. But run the race I did because, how do you say no to New York? I would have denied it at the time, but my overall attitude was pretty cocky. “It’s my fourth marathon… it might not be pretty, but I’ll finish.” No surprise, that kind of mentality caught up to me big time at about mile 21. Look, it could have been a lot worse. I could have ended up with a proper stress fracture. The fact that I got out of there without my ITBS flaring up is an honest miracle. And I finished in 4:14, which, while not close to the sub-4 I put down earlier that year, is still my second fastest marathon. But, in short, afterwards my body was just not right and I felt it for a good three months (at least). 

Yes it’s the same old song – do not fuck around with marathon training! Respect the distance! And so on…

My mantra, however, is even more acute. Because CIM is starting to whisper my name, I must keep on repeating – I WILL NOT RUN A MARATHON in 2017. (for now at least)

No seriously. DON’T RUN A MARATHON THIS YEAR, IDIOT!

Here’s something that, interestingly, I did not do last year:

Run a half marathon.

I find this to be amazing. I ran 6 races in 2016 and the distances were so random: a 10 miler, a marathon, a 10k, a 12k, a 5k, another marathon. That’s a pretty oogly set right there.

So here we are, April 2017, and I’m focused on finishing a solid half marathon. At the beginning of this year my idea was to try for a sub-1:50 at Oakland Running Festival in March (one of my faves), but LOL that went up in smoke fast. That “training” began in late January but I was just a hobbling, inconsistent, panting mess. So I haven’t raced at all this year and while I feel a bit of FOMO in the long run I know it will be good to have this downtime.

But after some slow, wonky months, my body seems to be righting itself. I’m watching the pace of my easy runs creep back down. I crave speedier segments. I’m excited for my long runs, and I feel fresh while I’m doing them.  Overall, running is a cathartic, energizing experience again. Not something that makes me want to dart into traffic while I’m doing it.

So welcome back, runner me, steadily back to the world of the living.

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

Pema Chödrön.

OMG and WTF: It’s marathon week already. Oh how terrible I was at blogging my training, but for the last few months I’ve been trying to just lay low, keep my head down, and grind it out (with a smile, of course). I missed a few runs especially during a couple of stepback weeks in December, but overall I put in a lot of quality work. Several fast-finish long runs and race pace workouts. Logged my highest mileage weeks ever with no injuries. Perfectly executed a 10 mile race in week 15, finishing comfortably with a gun time of 1:24:10 (8:25 m/m). Up until a few days ago everything seemed pretty much on track for a sub-3:55 attempt, about an 8:55 average pace.

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Flashback to almost 3 weeks ago… the final 20 miler. I was a bit tired but held pretty strong until the end!

The city of Los Angeles, however, begs to differ.

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source: LA Times

As a lady from the land of year-round 55-65 degree weather, running in the heat is not something that I’m used to and the idea of a marathon in these conditions makes me pretty nervous. On top of this, recently I’ve discovered that this course is actually kind of hilly. Uh, how did I miss this?

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Looks a wee lumpy, non? In my mind this race was all downhill. They certainly market it this way. “Net downhill” can be deceiving.  

Oy. Anyway, with my last training run completed this morning, my goals now are twofold:

1 – Focus on what I can control. This week, I’ve been drinking water, electrolytes, and $10 beet juice like a woman possessed. I’ve been researching and planning the best ways to survive the heat, and optimize performance as much as possible: First, I’m considering my clothing and, heavens to betsy, I may choose to go sans-singlet if I can muster the courage to feel oh so naked in only a sports bra. Usually I rely on course aid stations for hydration, but for this race I’ll be carrying a handheld and stocking Nuun tablets in the zippered pocket. For fuel I’ll bring along the extra salty Margarita Shot Bloks. Finally, I’m discovering strategies to keep my body as cool as possible: Run through as many open fire hydrants and misting stations as possible. Dump water on my head at aid stations. Bring frozen hand towels to the start, and grab ice and cold towels along the way. Apparently, the organizers have promised such things, hopefully they’ll deliver. This being the third straight year of high temps, this isn’t their first rodeo.

2 – Be Realistic, Stay Positive. Sub -4 was my original goal, and in this heat it would be an amazing achievement for me. That said, sub-4:10 would be an achievement. A PR (under 4:19) would be an achievement. But the reality is that with these intense conditions I might not realize any of these goals, on which my heart was so initially set. At this moment I’m trying to see the bigger picture. Training for this marathon has resulted in real step forward in my running fitness and I believe a fruitful year of racing lies ahead. I’ve learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and have new ideas about how to maximize my potential in the future. On Sunday I will run my first marathon in almost two years, and I’m excited to experience this fun and scenic urban course in a city that I really like and have history with. These last 5 months represent a huge step towards getting faster, setting new goals, and having more fun on my running journey. End pollyanna rose colored glasses rant.

In 2015, Ryan Hall suggested the following mantra to those running in the record-high temps at LAM:

“It’s a beautiful day and I’m doing what I love.”

Ok then, here we go.

 

 

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” (Detroit Half Marathon Race Recap)

William S. Burroughs

Let me start at the end, because this is the part I’m excited about:

Surprise PR in Detroit!

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It was only at about Mile 12 or so that I realized it might be possible. So in those last precious minutes I moved my little feetsies as fast as they could carry me, and was rewarded with some heinous ugly-face finish photos and more than a minute shaved from my previous personal best. But I wouldn’t be sure for another few hours. Upon crossing the finish line I grabbed my phone and with hands petrified by a burning cold wind texted my brother, who was waiting with my family beyond the chute.  

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I still had to wait an eternity for the results to appear online. Oh the torture! Modern technology… you’re the god-damndest woman I ever saw…

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Them’s some good negative splits, huh? Suck It, San Francisco 2nd Half!!!**

**Speaking of SFM, I feel like kind of an asshole for not recapping my shitty race, but it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want. Anyway, I’m not really sure about how things went down that day because I decided to be all minimalist and cool and didn’t wear a watch. I know some people find this liberating but I will NEVER go naked again. But in fact, the race results indicate that I was running a 9:23 pace at mile 4 so in order to achieve a 2:00 finish I must have sped up at some point after that – only to crumble into a walking, cursing and give up machine between miles 10-13.**

Ok back to Detroit.

Going into this, I really tried to keep my expectations mild in terms of performance. I hoped that I could do and feel better than I did in San Francisco last July, and time-wise I decided I’d be very satisfied to come in under 1:55. I’d completed all my training runs and encountered no stinkers. I didn’t feel the general fatigue that I had over the summer. Still, I was trying to be realistic since it was only 5 stupid weeks of consistent training. I wasn’t sure of my baseline fitness. I hadn’t done any speedwork. My weekly mileage was fairly low.

So here’s the recap. Bottom line: If you have the opportunity to run Detroit I highly recommend it. In truth, the race was my sad-sack back-up plan after not making it into Chicago via the lottery. But it turned out to be absolutely the special sauce I needed (i.e. – a half marathon in brisk weather). The course was diverse and flat and fun. The international thing adds some interest. Good crowd support. An overlooked city that is interesting to tour on foot.

Mile 1–2: Downtown 8:57 / 8:36

Dressing for this run was a real head scratcher up to race morning. What does one wear for a 32 degree start? I’ve become accustomed to our new post-apocolypse San Francisco weather: 70 and sunny with 80% humidity. So I knew I’d be cold at the start but I couldn’t predict how I’d feel when I warmed up a couple miles later.

I arrived dark and early and was pleased to discover that the lobbies of the surrounding office buildings were open and runners were naturally congregating inside. AND using the public restrooms. Major bonus! I started the race feeling more human than popsicle.

The plan called on Pacer Mike to lead me through with the 3:55 full / 1:57 Half group (The race offers pacers for every BQ standard. Pretty cool). Mike was a super nice guy and seemed to really know the race. However, I fell back almost immediately upon starting and had trouble catching up. The sun hadn’t risen and the field was pretty crowded. Were they going out fast? Am I too slow? Is this cold getting to me? Eventually I pushed these worries aside and ran a steady pace and kept an eye on Mike’s bobbing signage.

Mile 3: The Bridge 9:11

Crossing the Ambassador bridge into Canada was indeed lovely, but as dawn approached it was still pretty dark out there, so I didn’t much luxuriate in the view as I was still concentrating hard to prevent face planting. Then, once we hit the crest of the bridge, there was some confusion as a wheelchair careened down the hill. Move to the left. No, on the right. Sharp whistles from the bike marshals and shouting from runners behind. Some of this back and forth occurred later in the race too. I wonder if organizers hadn’t given the handicapped division enough of a head start?

Mile 4–6: Canada 8:38 / 8:36 / 8:21

Now in Canada, we were treated to a view of the city skyline along the Detroit river. It was a very pleasant stretch. But inside my head, my “go-with-the-flow” attitude splintered just a bit. Pacer Mike still ahead, I wondered if I’d lag forever, crashing and burning as I had in SF. There was still a lot of time to go…

Mile 7: The Tunnel 8:25

Race recaps describe the underwater tunnel back into the US as something of a hot, sweaty, overrated claustrophobia-inducing hell. Well, maybe not so dramatic, but it seemed that plenty of racers find it uncomfortable at best. This tunnel, however, was my personal super power-up happy time place. The novelty distracted me from my negativity, and the one mile was just enough as not to be tedious. Being down there with a bunch of runners felt kind of intimate and special. I started feeling speedier and more confident, finally catching up to the pacer. Hallelujah.

Mile 8–Finish: Back in the USA 8:25 / 8:52 / 8:23 / 8:11 / 8:27 / 8:09 / 6:48 (last .22 miles)

Out of the tunnel, I passed the Mike’s pace team. Thanks Mike! At mile 9 I saw my family and got a little boost. Mile 10 I started picking it up and felt the ol’ IT band protest. So I consciously eased back a little during mile 12, falling in with the 3:55 (1:55 half) pacer. The IT Band remained grumpy but didn’t worsen and I was able to push through. Realizing I might be in PR range, I picked it back up for the 13th mile and went out hard for finish!

Official Finish Time: 1:52:35

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Yay!

So I led this post with a little fib. PRs are rad but here’s the thing that really makes me happy: after a year of the blahs I’m starting to feel ready to go again. Even though I did only 5 real weeks of preparation for this race, the plan was smart and helped build my confidence and overall mojo. I think that taking the easy runs easy and practicing strong finishes really helped.

I’ve got one more race on tap in December and hoping to be in shape for a big year in 2016… To be Continued…

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”

Mahatma Gandhi.

Well here is the post in which I introduce my prospective strategy for training for the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers International Half Marathon in 5 stinkin’ weeks!

Between determining details of the mileage and rest and cross training in the weeks ahead, through my research I’ve come across some global notes which may prove to be just as important for making it to and through the BIG DAY:

**Let go of expectations**

At least with respect to time. 2015 was supposed to be the year of the big PRs — but this ship has long since sailed. No matter. New goals include:

In Training

  • barring injury or illness, complete the planned training runs (i mean for god’s sake it’s just 5 weeks…).
  • that said, don’t take things so seriously.
  • that also said, every run has a purpose.

During the Race

  • enjoy the tour of the city and crossing the Canadian border.
  • overall: just have fun.

After the Race

  • after the race: eat pizza and beer (preferably a local one)
  • be grateful to spend time with my mom and dad, brother and sister-in-law, and others.

**Long runs are the foundation**

A repeated mantra in many half-marathon and marathon plans regardless of the length: laser focus on diligently hammering out that Saturday LSD. Of course, every run should mean something, but they’re the gravy.

**Practice finishing EVERY SINGLE RUN strong**

Failure to do this was, in my assessment, the single biggest contributor to my mini-meltdown at the San Francisco half marathon in July. It’s not that a positive mental attitude would have led to a better performance necessarily, but perhaps the last 3 miles would have been less grueling and mentally exhausting. Too often I allowed myself to wallow in tiredness and waning enthusiasm — during workouts but especially in last miles. But — I thought, at least I’m completing the prescribed mileage. At least I’m getting it DONE. It’s no mystery why on race day my brain just hit a moment where it was like — STOP. NOW. The ensuing internal bargaining and self-pity made the experience mildly excruciating and I am not interested in a repeat. Which brings me to…

**Stay positive — or at least, recognize negative patterns in thinking**

One thing that they stress in mindfulness meditation is that when thoughts arise, to make a soft mental note like: thinking. Or even more specific like: judging. These labels are simply a recognition of the occurrence, without trying to change or analyze anything. I think that my recent indifference to running and training has centered on, quite simply, a negative attitude towards it. Trying to think positive thoughts is one way to do this, but in other ways trying to force it can almost feed the negativity in a perverse way.  So if I can’t be positive, I can at least recognize negative thinking, laziness, excuses… without judging them … and then go out and complete the exercise anyway.

Onto the goods, now. Completed on scratch paper in highlighter and ballpoint pen over lunch at the office — here is my custom, handy-dandy, 5-weeks-out, shit-kickin’ half marathon training plan:

5 week half marathon training planWell for now that’s the best I got. Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain. Or snow. Or Tornado.
Question time! Have you ever run a race with minimal preparation? What was your experience? Any advice?

“The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” (Bad Bass Loch Chabot 10k Race Recap)

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Plagued by car trouble and a faulty alarm, my friend Ari and I were nearly no-shows at Brazen Racing’s Bad Bass Lake Chabot in Castro Valley last weekend. Luckily, the event was small enough that even arriving … Continue reading

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” (See Jane Run 5k Race Recap)

Henry Ellis.

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I’d planned a beautiful mantra.

Mile one for the body. Mile two for the mind. Mile three for the heart.

Spiritual as it sounds, it seemed the most logical way to achieve the goal: stay firmly situated in all here-and-now moments of Alameda’s See Jane Run 5k and PR by at least 25 seconds. To this end, I’d run the first mile to the best of my physical ability: trusting my base and my speedwork, visualizing form, and tuning into effort.  Mile two, I’d concentrate, focus, and moderate my inner dialogue. At last, I’d go balls out and stay strong, triumphant, driven. Upon crossing the finish line feel the pulse slow and the body cool and the mind quiet to a calm understanding of the beautiful world that lies peacefully between testing your limits and being a great genius about it and doing your very, very best.

Of course, the best intentions are often interrupted by the need for simplicity in times of distress. In these situations, an elaborate mantra then becomes:

Hold on.

Gone out to fast? Hold on. When in doubt? Hold on. What’s the purpose of running a fast 5k anyway? Hold on. Will the wheels come off? Hold on. God, these women in front of me are freaking fast, and they don’t even look like they’re trying. Hold on. Oh hell yes — clearly I’m crushing my sub 25 goal — which means I could slow down and still PR?

Hold. On.

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Official Finish: 23:07

First in the 30-34 AG! Technically I came in second, but the girl ahead of me won first overall, so I snuck in and snagged the first place prize: Compression Socks/Sleeves, which I unfortunately don’t use. I know people love them…but they don’t work for me.

With a big PR and a checkmark beside one of my goals for this year (sub-25 minute 5k), obviously it was a great day. Even so, event organizers left little to complain about. The sun caused many talented Half Marathoners to wilt somewhat, but the weather was manageable for the 5k. The start and finish areas were fairly mellow, family-friendly, and pleasant overall. The only thing missing was water! Goody bags included chocolate almond milk (yum), Clearly Kombucha provided product samples and deals (excellent), and of course, as the hallmark of the race would suggest (“I run for chocolate and champagne”), wines of all kinds flowed (I’d prefer beer, but okay). All nice perks, but with a lovely view of the Bay, it was a “water, water everywhere” kind of situation. Surprisingly tough for thirsty finishers to locate a bottle.

Too excited to look cool.

Too excited to look cool.

Naturally, I wonder if this PR might change the game for my upcoming races. Runners World and McMillan calculators reveal finishing times beyond my expectations. I understand a single 5k may not be the best barometer for longer distances, so we’ll try not to get ahead of ourselves, yes? For now, the rough plan is to keep my head down and forge ahead with the speedwork and mileage building in preparation for the Santa Rosa Half at the end of August. After a slow, undisciplined week, tomorrow it’s back to the reality of training!

Hope your summer training and races are going well! I feel for those bearing the heat and storms out East.

Training Diary 6.15.14 — Speed Phase Week Three (AKA – I hate Tempo Runs)

Maybe more accurately: I suck at tempo runs. Unfortunately the only solution is also the least attractive: practice, practice, practice. Hal Higdon calls them “the thinking runner’s workout,” but I never expect so many of those thoughts to be “Oh my God, what fresh hell is this pace? Ugh, Kathryn. You are a terrible runner. ” Sometimes you need matter over mind. So I try to visualize beautiful robot-movement in my form, and relax my facial muscles to catatonic slack— totally unfeeling, absolutely numb. Imagine my legs as machines, incessantly — endlessly — moving. Don’t look at the watch. Never look at the watch. Seriously, stop checking the fucking watch. GPS is the devil. Running is torture. How on earth do people do this? What ecstasy it would be to walk — or better, to stop completely, hinging at the hip, pressing palms firmly against thighs. Ugh. Kathryn. You are a terrible runner.

I’m realizing that of course I’m doing it all wrong, or at least mostly wrong. Here’s Friday’s workout:

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So for example, if I’m looking to run a 24:30 5k, then according to Runner’s World training paces calculator, my tempo pace should be more like 8:20/mile. Currently I’m completing a ¾ mile warm-up (or so), and then increasing my pace too suddenly, subsequently crashing and burning by the end? On the other hand, I know these runs should feel hard, so maybe it’s more an issue of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. Or probably some combination.

Either way, I dread that the secret actually lies in a painful learning curve.

Monday — Easy Run / 5.75 miles / 9’27” pace  A make-up for last week’s delayed Sunday long run. Not very impressive for an LSD, but still meaningful enough for 5k training. Besides, a run-commute home along the Embarcadero and through Potrero Hill? Best de-compression ever. Half a mile from our apartment, I stopped at the market for fresh herbs and cruised home for dinner. Summer. Ah.

Tuesday — Easy bike ride and strength training.

Wednesday — 6×400 / 4 miles / 9’33” pace  A beautiful morning in the Haight. 6’44 / 6’25 / 6’49 / 7’00 / 6’51 / 6’55 An improvement from last week — almost all intervals in the sixes. I’m doing a lot of walking between sets, and reading conflicting information regarding the better approach: Avoid a cooldown, or rest enough so that every interval can be performed at full quality?

Thursday — Dynamic Flow Yoga Class / 90 minutes  A class full of arm balances, which I love.

Friday — Tempo Run (from hell) / 3.6 miles / 9’08” pace  See above.

Saturday — Rest.

Sunday — Long Run / 6.6 miles / 9’49” pace  A meandering exploration around Noe Valley, Duboce triangle, and the Mission. My long runs have become a bit prescriptive, always with the go-to 8 mile route or 10 mile or 14 mile route that I know well. Kept this one interesting with some new and some familiar hills, neighborhoods, twists and turns.

Training Diary 6.1.14 — Speedwork Week One

New to the blog this week are training diaries. I enjoy reading others’ and figure a weekly report would be a nice compliment to my own training efforts. No fun quote titles, we’ll save those for the regular posts. 🙂

The superstitious say that on day 1 of any month, an immediate utterance of “rabbit, rabbit” should keep you lucky. Unfortunately the first thing I said yesterday was “Oh, shit.” I swore I’d commit to CIM before the next price increase thus woke up with a start, certain that the last magic day had been May 31, a lazy Saturday of blustery NorCal beach walks and dog baths and 4 hours of True Detective (McConaughey. Gaah!), and not signing up for marathons.

Turns out — June 1 was the $125 cutoff! Still lucky! If, that is, lucky means officially registered for a third 26.2 mile adventure. Boom!

Last week marked the first of a series of training blocks as described in this post.

Monday — Long Run / 6.5 or 7 miles / 10:20-10:30 pace. Sunday’s LSD didn’t happen, so thankfully the long weekend saved me. Sadly, it wasn’t a great experience. I was feeling sad and kept getting mild asthma attacks. I would have given this run a big “F – U” sooner had I not promised to meet up with my friend Ari, who just about killed me with a steep climb up to Buena Vista Park at mile 4. Thanks buddy. I forgot to re-start my watch at one point (after one of the aforementioned asthma spells), so I’m not sure how far we actually went.

6 mile Buena Vista Run

Tuesday — SuperSlow Strength Training. I do a very specific type of weekly exercise with large Nautilus-type machines and a friendly but sadistic trainer (sorry David). Right now I’m focusing on adductor, leg press, behind-the-neck press, chest press, pulldown, and lower back machines.

Wednesday — My First Track Intervals! 4×400 / 3.4 miles / 8’24” pace. I woke my ass up at 5:45am to schlep over to Kezar and run my very first formalized track workout. My schedule called for 5 repeats but I’d decided earlier in the week to do 4 and see how I felt the following day. This being my first time out there and all. But damn it if I didn’t feel like such a badass!

Thursday — Tempo run / 3.1 miles / 9’17” pace. Maybe a little slow and a little short, but the idea this week was to push but also to feel out these new, unfamiliar workouts. All in all a nice quick morning run around the neighborhood.

Friday — Rest. I thought about run commuting home after work, but I didn’t even bring my gear to the office. Work and the early morning runs left me pretty worn out. My brand-new UP24 activity tracker revealed a sleep average of about 6 and half hours a night. Now I know a lot of very talented people who can function on less, but this is bad news for me — a ticket straight to injury land with a detour through grumpy town . Indeed by 4pm that day I couldn’t see straight, I was that tired.

Saturday — Rest. Usually yoga day, or I was going to make up the missed Friday run, but I did some hardcore relaxing instead. In retrospect it was nice to have a whole day free from commitments, but I could have used the yoga.

Sunday — Long Run / 8 miles / 10:00 pace. A glorious long run along the Embarcadero that more than made up for the suck-fest on Monday.

Woefully, not a single stinking second of yoga. Whaddya know? My body feels no bueno, stiffer than usual — it was at times iffy during yesterday’s 8 miler. It’s amazing how much healthier I feel when I practice regularly, so I’m on my way to class tonight! Yoga Mayu’s 6 week boot camp begins late June, although I still haven’t pulled the trigger. Otherwise, this coming week’s schedule looks a lot like what’s above. Minus a rest day, and in new Oiselle flyte shorts. Ooh la la!

“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!