“I Took the Long Way” (LA Marathon 2016 race recap)

Runnin’ – The Heartless Bastards

Well I’m finally getting to the recount of my experience at the Los Angeles marathon. And imma gonna keep it semi brief-like. These days I’m just covering all kinds of ground with respect to working, resting, experiencing life and having fun, running a very small amount, and keeping my eyes forward towards Spring!

On to the business at hand.

LAM_Before

To me, this is a perfect marathon “Before” picture. What a hot fucking mess I was 4 hours later.

 

The majority of the race went really well for me and I spent most of the time cautiously optimistic that sub-4 was in the bag. Side note – one of the amazing things I’m observing is how much my tolerance for pain has, with practice, improved in this sort of weird, out of body kind of way. My legs were crazy hurty ouchie ouch for well over 2+ hours, but my body and mind have learned to accept this as a rule. “Look, if you want to go fast, this is the way it works,” says brain. “Don’t worry, something else will distract you soon enough.” And body says, “You a little mean, but okay. We know you’ll give us pizza later.”

Dumb internal monologues aside, things got a bit more interesting at Mile 19 so that’s where I’ll start. Here’s the LA Marathon elevation profile:

LosAngelesMarathon_2011_e

So at Mile 19, I slowly started to fade. This was the warmest part of the course, although temps didn’t climb as high as was predicted. And was prepared for the gradual incline here so I told myself to just keep steady until things flattened out.

At about mile 21 the 4 hour pacer, who I’d passed back at 15 or 16, caught up. I stuck with the group for a while, and they got me through one of my toughest miles. But by the next mile marker, I found that I couldn’t hang on. Watched them slip away, feeling a little disappointed but actually pretty zen about what was happening. I resigned myself to the likelihood of a 4:01…4:02 finish. I’d already mentally prepared for this possibility during the previous week while looking over the weather forecasts. I trudged along and made it through miles 23 and 24 at 9’31 and 9’43.

Then two things happened. First, we began a descent to the oceanfront finish line that would result in 200 feet of elevation loss. And second but just as crucial… MARINE LAYER. Hallelujah.

I started to feel a little bit stronger and some confused marathon math told me that I still might be able to squeak in under 4. However, as my brain was trying to convince my body that my dragging pace had reached the dreaded point of no return, I heard a spectator cheer me on. It was one of those “looking good” type comments. But after she said this to me I swear I heard her comment, in a lower voice to her companion,  “Wow, she looks really fresh..” Whether or not I imagined this, whether or not she was actually talking about me at all – this moment brought back my race. I felt a burst of momentum and knew that I would reach my sub-4 goal. I had a great, balls to the walls 25th and 26th mile, 8’42 and 8’21. I ran terrible tangents and got to do 26.5 miles that day, running 8’17 for that last half mile. With the finish line in sight, I found the 4 hour pacer and tapped him on the shoulder. “I caught you!” I said excitedly. He congratulated me and told me to kick it hard and sprint to the finish and I ran and ran and ran.

It was fucking great.

LAM_Finish

Hurts. So. Good?

Official Finish: 3:57:59

Finally, a few takeaways on the overall experience:

LA Marathon Pluses:

  • Pre-race at Dodger Stadium. A completely genius organizational move – an empty baseball stadium means shelter and real bathrooms! A 4:30am shuttle from Santa Monica was super easy.
  • Scenic course
  • Fun spectators and crowd support (yes! the 5 mile chili dog station is real)
  • Downhill finish
  • Lovely, large medal

LA Marathon Minuses:

  • Not necessarily a minus but should be noted that is NOT a flat course. For whatever reason, be it the event marketing, or because I assume anything outside the Bay Area is flat, I wasn’t expecting to encounter these kinds of rollers. The hills are fairly gentle, but I didn’t find this to be a particularly easy course, which brings me to…
  • Miles 20-23 are boring, uphill, and hot. If you’re really hitting a wall this section can be fairly demoralizing.
  • Finish area was not great. I had to walk for ages to get to the family reunion area. Ouch ouch ouch. And bag check retrieval after the race was absolutely awful! It took me a half hour to get my gear and I was painfully cold the entire time. They should have provided heat sheets before the UPS trucks but I guess they weren’t expecting the chilliness.

Up next… Rocking a summer halves and preparing for the fall marathon. Yes. That One.

“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!

lemon_out

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.  

texting billy

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…

Detroit_race_results

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

Detroit_Marathon_Medal_2015

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…

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow…” (Santa Rosa Marathon Race Recap)

“…The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein. My original goal for the half distance at the Santa Rosa Marathon last Sunday was an 8’30” pace. But with just a single 10 mile run and inconsistent weekly mileage over … Continue reading

“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.

“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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“Much suffering, much unhappiness arises when you take each thought that comes into your head for the truth.”

Eckhart Tolle.

Well TGMIJAO! (thank god monday is just about over!)

On Saturday I ran a fun 5k race out in the East Bay. In this recap, I’ll reflect on 2 ways I went wrong followed by 3 things I did right.

Race: Dam Jingle Bell Dash – 5k race
When: Saturday December 14, 2013, 9:15am
Where: Orinda, CA
Number of Finishers: 253
Recorded Time: 25:24
Achievements: PR (:4 seconds); 2nd in my AG; Top 10 female finishers (#8). All good things. Yay!

ImageI made only a few mistakes, but they were “duh” moments that caused momentary undue stress and could have been easily avoided.

1) I arrived penniless.
This was a small local race and I wasn’t pre-registered, which means I should have had cash or check ready to pay for the bib. So I wasted 20 minutes driving my ass back up the hill to Safeway and worrying about whether I’d find another parking space in the rapidly filling lot.

2) I dressed inappropriately.
Steam rolled off the reservoir as I drove down to the San Pablo Reservoir Boat Launch.  The dashboard of the VW read 30º, but iPhone assured me that it would reach the low 40s by 9am. Alas, it was frigid up to the start of the race. I waited for the gun wearing an oversized sweatshirt and sweatpants over my planned race clothes: shorts and a lululemon run swiftly tee. Earlier that morning I’d contemplated adding my comfy long-sleeved finishers shirt from Portland. Why did I so immediately disregard this harmless idea? I ended up racing in my lululemon sweatpants (still over my shorts), t-shirt, and mittens. Not too terrible but this definitely could have been better executed.

Doy!  Luckily though, a few key moves set me up for a good race.

1) Even splits!
Mile 1 = 8’08 / Mile 2 = 8’09” / Mile 3 8’10” — Yes!

2) I left just a little bit in the tank…
I suck at digging deep in the final moments to sprint over the finish line. But I think that the combination of the consistent pacing coupled with a rare burst of energy (I can’t explain this) is how I achieved my new personal best. And by the skin of my teeth, too… a 4 second PR! Hey, I’ll take it. 🙂

3) When the going got tough, the tough kept running
For whatever reason, I wasn’t 100% focused that morning. It started with those dumb logistical snafus. Then, in the first couple minutes of the race, I had this overwhelming disinterest in what I was doing. I remember distinctly thinking, “I do not want to be racing.” Bummer. Who doesn’t love the usual punch of adrenaline that pushes you over the mat?

Early in the second mile, a stream of negative thoughts interrupted my flow. This kind of thing isn’t entirely unusual, and I’m learning to recognize it as a trick of the mind. They reverberate as loud and suddenly as sirens, false alerts rooted in the physical stress that comes from a hard effort.

I’m proud of the way I was able to work through these moments of annoying internal monologue, as they can quickly become anti-mantras if you choose to believe them. Another classic mistake? Forceful attempts to ignore or silence them. Like hungry children begging to be fed with attention, like ravenous zombies pounding on the windows of abandoned buildings — Inevitably, they will break through.

Notice your thoughts objectively. For a moment give them space. Recognize them, disagree with them if necessary, and move on. Continuing to run is non-negotiable, no matter what intrusiveness threatens to hold you back. I appreciate your opinion, Brain, but I’ve got this.

Truth be told, I was hoping to finish this 5k a bit faster. I am working towards a solid 8’00” pace. I’m not worried, it will happen. As for this race, there were some unanticipated challenges, if minor. The course was hillier than anticipated, my mind wasn’t completely centered, and I had to slow down twice for ICE ON THE ROAD (what??!!!). All in all I’m very happy to call this my last race of 2013, and am just about ready to kick off a new season of training!

Here’s to finishing strong in 2013!