“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” (Half Marathon Training, week 3)

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Last week in brief: I pulled my mileage back little bit and ran a 5k on Sunday. While the training runs were decent, the race and my performance were really very meh so I’m planning a second attempt on May 14. Recapping these two 5ks in tandem could spark some revelations (?), so I’ll post-mortem my experience at the Marin County Half Marathon, 5k & 10k in a couple of weeks.

 

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Marin County Half, 5k, & 10k. The location sure was a beaut!

Before I break down last week’s schedule I want to mull over a running epiphany that I had 20 minutes into my 6 miler last Thursday. First of all, is a running epiphany a thing? Like runner’s high?

In the last several weeks, I’ve become very interested in improving my pace at shorter distances, a contrast from 2016’s marathon-centered training (a sub-4 goal in LA and what might be called a “finish with dignity” goal for NY). Even earlier this year I was still very tempted to set my sights on a late fall marathon, however my attention has slowly but increasingly moved towards halves and even 10ks and 5ks. So as I was running along Mission Bay last week just about to do my first repeat, a simple but declarative sentence rang loud, out of the blue and clear as a bell: I should see if I can get 10 minutes off my half marathon PR this year.

The clarity and decisiveness of this inner voice has stuck me, even if I’m not sure what to make of the idea. But to be honest, it feels more exciting and motivating than anything I’ve come up with in a while. To be precise, this means a 1:42:35 finish / 7:50 average pace, which at my current fitness and running schedule, is just bonkers. 

But back to the present moment, in which we revisit week 3 of 8 of this current training phase. 

Monday 4/17: 3.7 miles easy (9’34 avg pace)

Tuesday 4/18: superslow strength training I completely crushed this workout, btw, with improvements on every machine.

Wednesday 4/19: 4.5 miles easy (9’52 avg pace)

Thursday 4/20: 6 miles w/ fartlek – 3x 2 min fast w/ full recovery + 4 strides (9’03” avg pace)

Friday 4/21: Rest

Saturday 4/22: 3 miles recovery/shakeout (10’39” avg pace)

Sunday 4/23: 5k race – watch stats: 23:42 finish, 3 miles (7’57” avg pace) Short course. My “official” race results indicate a time of 23:30 at a 7’27” pace, which doesn’t make a lot of sense (3.1 at 23:30 miles is a 7’34” pace and 7’27 at 23:30 would be 3.15 miles, which would make the course ever so slightly long which it was not). This confusion certainly does account for part of the reason why I want to run another 5k ASAP, but it’s not the entire motivation. My experience at the Marin 5k was valuable in that did indicate that I need more practice for when the tough gets going and doing a few more races between now and June 4 should help hone in on more constructive mental attitudes and pain management techniques.

Total Weekly Mileage: 20.2

And capped the week by reaching my monthly goal of 90 miles in April! Happy May errybody.

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“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.

 

 

“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?

“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.”

Dr. Barry Rovner A few weeks ago NPR broadcast a story about elderly people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, a condition that impairs the ability to see fine detail. Reading, driving, watching television, and cooking may become impossible. Worse, those … 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

“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!

“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!