Sunday, December 30, 2012

WARNING!!! Reflective End-Of-Year Wrap-Up Post!!!

So if end-of-the-year wrap-up posts rustle your jimmies (which seems to be the case for a lot of you out there...), you might just want to skip this one. I am wrapping up my year, goddammit. No apologies. Love it or leave it.

(I WILL, however, do my best not to get too mushy & sentimental. Deal?)

At the beginning of the year, I set some goals.

Goal 1: Miles, Miles, Miles. In 2012, I set the goal of running at least 2,000 miles, or ~38.5 / week. Well, according to RunningAhead, I made it to 1,291, which is actually LESS than 2011. Woh-woh-woh. As of early December, 1,300+ was still easily in range, but then tendinitis happened, and four weeks of not being allowed to run happened, & there you are.

While it is not hard to run 38 miles a week, it has been VERY hard for me to do it consistently this year, for a variety of reasons. Some of it I can't do anything about (injuries, work stuff), & some of it I refuse to do anything about (relationship, other hobbies, semblance of a social life). But there are some cases of run-skipping where I can and want to do better.

Goal 2: Strength Training. My goal for this was kind of abstract, mostly just "keep doing it, sometimes, some way." So I guess I kind of met this one. I did keep doing it, sometimes more consistently & sometimes less. But I definitely could've done a little better at this. If nothing else, I could have been more intentional & structured about it. (Pro Tip: Avoid writing goals that include statements like "I haven't decided on any specifics yet, but...")

Goal 3: 1:39:xx Half Marathon. DONE, bitches. And a 1:38:xx one to boot! No qualifiers there.

Windsor Green Half Marathon - May 20, 2012

Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon - Oct 14, 2012

Goal 4: 21:xx 5K. I did run a 21:xx 5K this year, but before that, I ran a highly unexpected 20:44. Done and done.

Goal 5 (maybe): Marathon #2? Can you really call something a goal if you put a question mark by it? What the hell is up with that, January '12 self? Anyway, yes, against all odds, a 2nd marathon finish was accomplished.

(Also, apparently that race report made dear sweet Nelly's "Best Race Report of 2012," which was cool to see. :) )

Goal 6: Eat Better! I don't even want to talk about this. Except maybe to say that, once again, goals should not include phrases like "I'm still thinking through the specifics of what I want to commit to." Freaking commit to something concrete or it's not really a goal. #lifelessons

As long as we're recapping the year, I feel like it's worth mentioning that I also unexpectedly PR'd in the 10K by 22 seconds, which kind of got buried in the craziness of the summer as I was starting a new job & preparing to go on vacation the next day.

Kind of a mixed bag goal-setting wise, but on the other hand, I PR'd five times this year, and in three of the four distances I actually care about, and it's really hard not to be pleased as punch about that (particularly given that I actually ran fewer miles than last year). Yes, I really wanted that marathon PR so I could have the complete set, and I really thought I was going to get it. I guess it just goes to show you that you can never take anything for granted with a marathon.

And that's it! Now that wasn't so bad, was it?

I'm guessing this will officially close the book on 2012. Wishing you a WILD & ROCKIN' / chill & laid back (whichever you prefer) New Year's Eve, & all the best to you & yours in 2013!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

News of the Restless

This is one of those kinda-sort-of-a-post-jk-not-really posts. I don't have much to post about lately that seems terribly interesting to people besides me, but here are some more-and-less random thoughts that you might find entertaining and/or amusing. Or not. It's kind of like "interesting roulette" up in here.

1) Apparently I'd forgotten that one of the reasons I run regularly is because I like to be able to mentally and emotionally function. There hasn't been much running lately. And thus there hasn't been much of what you can really call mental & emotional functioning, either. I like to not think about this & the way to not have to think about it is by running. Being hurt blows.

2) Getting up super early & driving somewhere to do an activity you find unappealing is great & all in theory, but when I stop and think about it it turns out that those are all the things in life I suck at rolled into one. Trying to deal with them in the midst of OMG-crazy-town-holiday-work-travel-prep was pretty much the last nail in that particular coffin. What I'm trying to say here is that the number of times I've been pool running this month = 0.

3) In spite of this, I am apparently so awesome that I can win races without even running the whole distance, or even running the entire distance I did travel. But seriously, considering the recent lack of running, it was a very, very healthy thing for me to a) do some expressly forbidden running b) with awesome people c) on a pretty route that I'm not so sick of looking at that it makes me want to stab my eyes out. Thanks, XLMIC & RoseRunner (& good to briefly see you too, Jen!). :)

While being fast enough to pose a legitimate threat to RoseRunner is a fond pipe dream of mine, it must be noted that she ran *at least* twice as far and nearly twice as fast.

Apparently the camera was not where I thought it was. Don't ask me how this is possible.

4) I have finally joined the 21st century & purchased a smart phone. My device of choice is the HTC One X+. My boyfriend refers to it as "the new sexy," but I would not know since it is the only smart phone I have ever had. The only draw back to it as far as I can tell is that it is the size of a small elephant, but based on all the different phones I looked at it seems like that's just how smart phones these days are made. In a nutshell, I chose it because 1) I get a discount on AT&T, 2) I'm all about open platform, 3) 4G LTE, & 4) 64 MB internal memory. Plus all the reviews I read were spectacular. So far, no complaints. Also I'm totally turning into one of those people who reads Facebook on the BART because I can't bear to be bored for seven minutes.

5) Praise the Lord, Brooks has taken the Launch off the chopping block!! I'd heard rumors to that effect, but they had them on sale at the CIM expo so I asked the reps what the deal was & if I should be stocking up. Their response? Stock up. The Launch is history. LIARS.

I would also like to note that in response to my profession of love for this shoe, one of the guys said, "I keep hearing people say that but I don't see anyone actually doing anything about it. No fan mail, no Twitter campaigns..." In retrospect I have decided that he probably did not actually work at Brooks & stole the shirt off the real guy for cheap thrills.

I'd pretty much decided reviewing the Launch was pointless, but now I clearly need to do one.

6) New Year's Plans? HELL YES.

Pasadena, I will see you & your sexy self in about ten days.

7) It sounds like I may have a black belt test coming up in the not-too-dim-and-misty future. And the answer is yes, I am kind of freaking out about that.

In case you've never been to a black belt testing, it's pretty much like this. Just kidding, this is obviously from a recent holiday party. Seriously. It's from a recent holiday party.

8) We went to Symphony Hall last Sunday to see the Count Basie Orchestra. I bring this up so I can post a picture of myself looking relatively normal for once.

Don said I looked like a vampire. I said that was his own fault for dating someone who looks like a vampire.

Hope your December's going well!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wrap-up / Fall-out

So here we are five days post CIM, which has been long enough for me to get some time & distance from the race & trust my ability to think about it rationally, but recent enough that I still feel like a total baddass just for finishing. High five to the rest of y'all, too. In case you'd forgotten, you're still a freaking beast.

First, a foot update. On Wednesday I went to The Orthopedic Institute at UCSF Sports Medicine (conveniently located just a couple of miles from me) & saw a foot / ankle specialist. They did some x-rays, took my history, did some general poking & prodding of the area, & declared me stress fracture free, which was a great relief. (Actually, what they said was that it's technically possible I have one somewhere since MRI & not x-ray is the definitive tool for spotting them, but nothing on the x-rays suggested one & when they poked & prodded my bones none of them were painful or tender.)

The doctor diagnosed me with severe distal peroneal tendonitis, which is caused by chronic overloading of the peroneal tendons (ie, doing stuff like this and this). For the next four weeks I am to avoid weight bearing as much as possible and wear lateral heel lifts in my shoes whenever I can, which is supposed to prevent the supination & take some of the load off the tendons. I'm also back in this guy for every-day walking around:

(Which you may remember from last fall's epic Battle Shin Splints.)

In the mean time, the doctor suggested pool running or elliptical-ing through the end of the year to keep up my cardio until I can run again. There is a deep water running class at UCSF on Tuesday & Thursday mornings, so I'm hoping I can arrange my work schedule to make that. Which will also mean buying a swimsuit at some point I guess. In any case, I am walking fine now in the brace, though I've learned that I can only walk about a quarter mile at a time before it gets achey.

Second, a race inquiry update. I saw on Monday that the unofficial results listed my chip time as being the same as my gun time (3:55:40), & since I knew it took me at least a minute to cross the mat, I filed an inquiry about it. Today, CIM sent me this note:

    "On Sunday Dec 2, at the 2012 CIM start line, one quadrant/mat failed at one hour 35 minutes of successful operation due to the electronic reader box being compromised by wind-driven water - blowing the circuits and shutting it down completely.

    We appreciate your understanding our race philosophy on scoring and apologize if this unfortunate omission of chip start data has caused you any personal disappointment. Again, congratulations on completing the CIM under arguably the most difficult conditions ever experienced in Sacramento running. We look forward to hosting you in future CIM’s."

That was pretty much what I guessed -- some electronic malfunction due to the weather. Eh, no biggie. Though in retrospect, boy, am I glad my gun / Garmin times straddle the 3:54-55 line and not the BQ line. Because that really would have sucked.

Third, some other post-marathon thoughts.

2A) Last year, I couldn't even walk like a normal person until the Thursday after the race. I slept ten hours a day for a solid week, & generally felt sluggish for about two. A month passed before I could even think about running again. This year (with the exception of the busted foot) I felt almost normal by Tuesday evening -- just a little residual soreness in my quads & hamstrings. If not for my foot, I think I could've probably handled a little 20 minute jog on Thursday. So that was kind of cool & bodes well for future marathons.

2B) At CIM '11, my only real investment in the whole thing was getting one race under my belt for the experience and seeing how I felt about it. I had a great time, but it took enough of a mental toll on me that when it was over I couldn't even think about running another. Not that I had decided I didn't want to--I just couldn't think about it one way or the other. I thought that maybe by the time registration for CIM '12 opened, I would be ready to consider it, but I wasn't. Not until July could I even imagine the possibility without my brain shutting off, and it wasn't until August that I was ready to sign up.

This year was totally different. It's unlikely that I'll be able to train for CIM next year due to traveling, so since September I'd been stalking a marathon in Southern California next May called Mountains 2 Beach (formerly the Ojai to Ocean Marathon). It's a pretty small race (1,000 runners) that tends to sell out fairly early, but I held off on signing up because I remembered how burned out I felt last fall towards the end of CIM training & how it took me so long to mentally feel ready to think about marathons again. Towards the end of November I was still feeling really good mentally about running & training, though, & since the first price increase was December 1, I pulled the trigger.

Now, I wouldn't blame anyone who went through what I did on Sunday if they vowed never to run a marathon again. But as it turns out, I am already SUPER stoked for a do-over. (And you know what happens in Southern California in May? NOT FREAKING MONSOONS.)

Fellow CIM peeps, I hope you are recovering well & haven't suffered any long-term damage, physically or psychologically. Happy weekend!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Race Report: California International Marathon 2012

One word: Finished.

Two words: No PR.

Three words: Could've been worse.

CIM 2011 was my first marathon, and with the exception of, y'know, having an asthma attack & not being able to breathe for 24 miles, I really couldn't have asked for a more perfect experience.

This year, not so much. I mentioned in a previous post that the only way I figured I wouldn't beat last year's time was if something catastrophic happened. And boy, was there plenty of catastrophe to go around.

First up:

For details on the weather, I suggest you google things like "atmospheric river" and "Pineapple Express" and "ARkStorm". 'Nuff said.

When it became impossible to any longer deny the fact that yes, we were going to be running in a torrential downpour and yes, there would be gale-force winds to contend with, I knew that I had to let go any notion of a time / pace goal. Many of us (rightly) toyed with the idea of not running, and (smartly) worked out DNF logistics ahead of time. I had no idea how much the winds would slow me down; I did know I had a limit as to how long I was willing to suffer out in the elements before it just wasn't worth it anymore, but I wasn't totally sure what that limit would be. I also knew the only goal worth pursuing anymore was finishing, and that I couldn't worry too much about anything more than that. If conditions magically improved and I was able to run a decent pace, then bonus, but realistically, getting to the chute however I could was now the name of the game.

Courtney, Kristin, me, & Alyssa, ~6 am. Photo by Courtney's dad. Go running hats!!

Because it wasn't actually supposed to be all that cold, I ended up wearing the same outfit I'd planned on all along, with a thrift store hoodie and a disposable poncho over it for pre-race. I think we had several moments of shock over the course of the morning, the first being when we opened the front door to pouring rain & crazy wind. The second was probably when we saw the size of the tree that had blown down in Courtney's neighborhood, completely blocking off the quickest route to the start--I think the trunk must have been 3-4 feet in diameter. The third was probably getting out of the car at the runner drop-off area. We huddled behind a building for as long as we dared in an attempt to stay warm & dry, which was sort of a losing proposition from the beginning.

(Also, a word of advice -- if you ever find yourself racing in a torrential downpour, just step ankle-deep in the first puddle you see & get it over with. It's going to happen anyway, and that way you won't have to worry about it anymore.)

It was so crazy & chaotic that we never managed to meet up with our other friends, but we did make it to the start on time and I managed to fight my way up into the mid-three's just in time for the gun. (I really wanted to try to run with Cate, but just couldn't find her in time.)

Just to give you a sense of what the starting area was like, here are some shots from the Sacramento Bee:

I couldn't talk myself into stripping out of my hoodie & poncho before the gun, so for the first half mile or so (which was a minefield of slick discarded garbage bags and ponchos) I ran with them on & hoped no one would get too mad at me for my bib not showing. After that, though, I started to warm up, & since I knew I'd end up soaked one way or another, I burrowed my way out of the extra layers and tossed them on the side of the road within a mile & was completely comfortable temperature-wise the whole race.

Body-wise, though, I just never really felt good. Even in the first 7-8 miles when I was hitting sub-8:10 miles consistently with what felt like a pretty moderate effort, my legs and brain just felt tired. Not the type that comes from running too fast too soon; this was more of an all-over weariness, just an out-of-phase, out-of-gas feeling that I couldn't shake, as if I'd run 40 or 50 miles already this week rather than 10. Still, I was holding the pace I wanted and even forcing myself to slow down at times, especially on the up hills, so Hey, I thought, maybe this will end up being a good race for me after all!

But it was not to be. Around mile 7 or 8 or so we turned south, and I was stunned by the force of the headwind. As luck would have it, that was also where the first real hills started. I knew I couldn't afford to fight for my pace this early uphill and into the wind, so I just tried not to watch as it gradually climbed from 8:10 to 8:40 to 9:15 to 9:45. Eventually I was able to pick it up a little, but I never got back down to my goal pace in any sustained way again.

Soon after came the next catastrophe. After my fantastic 21 mile run a few weeks ago, I had some pain in the outside of my left foot that had me limping for a day or so, but then went away. Nothing like that had ever happened before and hadn't happened since, but getting into mile 9-10ish, that same spot on my left foot start to feel worse and worse. At first it was just achey; then it got annoying. By the half, it was sending sharp shooting pains along my foot every time I took a step. If this had been a training run, I definitely would've called it quits.

Also around the half I started to feel some tightness in my right hip flexor / quad / IT band area that gradually turned into significant pain and worked its way down into my knee. I don't generally have problems in that area & at the time I was completely baffled by it, but in retrospect I think I must have been compensating for the pain in my left foot with the muscles in my upper right leg. As I've been limping around and favoring my left foot these past few days, I notice that it's straining those same muscles.

I'd say this shot from Giraffy at 365 Days of Awesome does a nice job of summing it up. There were also apparently falling trees & downed power lines. At a couple of points the police declared parts of the course unsafe & taped them off, & CIM officials had to re-route everyone on the spot.

By 14, I felt really, REALLY bad. I was in so much pain and barely able to keep my legs moving forward through it, let alone keep up a decent pace, and I just couldn't see how I could possibly run 12 more miles like this. That was probably the lowest point for me in the race emotionally. Occasionally I would look at my watch and see paces in the 8:00-8:20 range, but at others it would be 10:00+.

From then on, things just sort of spiraled. When my form is no good I tend to overuse my calf muscles, which is exactly what started to happen. I knew then that I had to stop and stretch. Had to. Yes, the current situation sucked, but I knew that if I ended up with calf cramps there would be no running through it & it would be game over right there.

My hardcore, super-competitive perfectionist side did not take this well at all, and at that point, the part of me that was still rational had to have a little talk with the part that was falling apart emotionally.

Listen. It's okay that you feel bad. It's okay that you want to stop. It's okay that you can't run 8:0X miles anymore. It really, really is. None of this makes you a weak person or a bad person or a bad runner. Don't worry about finishing or about all the miles that are left. Put it out of your mind. All you have to do is get to the next mile marker. Let's get that far, and go from there. Can you do that?

I wasn't sure that the answer was yes, but I wasn't sure that it was no, either, so I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a shot.

I've heard people say sometimes that running a marathon is just running one mile 26 times (plus a little more); after mile 14, that is exactly what that race became for me. Grit my teeth & do whatever I have to to get to the next mark. Stop. Stretch. Fight cramps. Psyche myself up to start running again. Grit teeth. Fight to the next marker. Stop. Stretch. Fight cramps. Get psyched. Run. Grit teeth. Fight. Stop. Stretch. Fight. Pysche. Grit. Run. Fight. Stop. Stretch. Fight.

Around mile 17 or so I heard Kristen's voice & was so glad to see her coming up beside me, looking strong & doing great. I did everything I could to stick with her at an 8:30ish pace, but it wasn't too long before I needed another stretch break & had to wave goodbye to her.

For the most part, I really hate the signs people hold up at marathons, but soon after that I spotted this one.

    "Pain fades.

    Rain dries.

    Scars heal.

    Not quitting is forever."

I am not a super emotional person in general and in particular don't often have a lot of emotional energy to spare for running, good or bad, but when I read this sign I actually thought for a minute that I might lose it right there in the middle of the street and the pouring rain, because it got right at the heart of what I was trying so hard to be clinical and objective and analytical about.

It's no secret that the physical demands often keep people who are otherwise interested from attempting a marathon. But I wonder if sometimes people also hesitate to try because it's one of those experiences that has the potential to show you things about who you really are, to tell you the truth about yourself in certain ways, and I wonder if sometimes people are a little afraid of what that truth will turn out to be. At that point in the race, the only thing that mattered to me--and mattered deeply and desperately--was not quitting. Not because of a medal, or having to tell my friends, or feeling like a DNF would soil my record somehow. It mattered because I knew that whether or not I finished this race (barring dangerous situations or acute injury or risk thereof) would reveal to me something about my character. Am I the type of person who keeps going for as long as possible, even when things are hard and I'm exhausted and miserable and hurting, or am I the type of person who gives up? I knew what I wanted the answer to be, what I was pretty sure it would be, but there are a lot of situations in life where you can't predict what you'll actually do until you're in it. This was one I'd never been in before.

I don't always get sappy about running, but when I do, I quote Vince Lombardi:

    "The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it."

    "It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner, when you're number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you're not a winner."

    "The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It's your mind you have to convince."

    "No one is ever hurt. Hurt is in your mind."

And some Patton:

    "Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up." ~General George S. Patton

And maybe a little Short for good measure:

    "What counts in battle is what you do when the pain sets in." ~John Short

Mile 19ish. As miserable as I was, I still managed to smile & wave at my hardcore spectating friends & shout something to them about how this was the hardest run of my life. Thanks XLMIC for the pic!
I knew I could choose to be miserable about the situation, or I could choose to be positive. And since being miserable for an hour is a hell of a lot more work than being positive, I decided to go with that, no matter what I had to tell myself. Miraculously, the rational part of my brain still had it together enough to keep the emotional part soldiering on. "Yes, there are still 7 miles left, but 19 is bigger than 18, and the numbers are only getting bigger. Sooner or later, they have no choice but to reach 26. Then it's just a lap on the track."

I couldn't comprehend dealing with the pain all the way to 26.2 miles, but I could comprehend it for one more. And one more. And one more. In that way, I felt reasonably sure that mentally I could make it. What I was not sure about were my injuries. I felt certain that sooner or later I would no longer be able to put weight on my left foot, and that my right IT band / quad / whatever or one of my calves would cramp up and become unusable; I just wasn't sure whether that point would come before or after mile 26.

The good news, on the other hand, was that in those last few miles the wind and rain finally started to die down. In spite of stopping for around a minute every mile I was able to manage around an 8:30 pace otherwise which, under the circumstances, I felt was not too shabby. So it's nice to think that if not for my self-destructing body I most likely still could have had a PR (and I mean that in a positive way, not a shaking-my-fist-at-the-sky kind of way).

It was not until I saw the sign pointing for women to turn left, when I could actually see the finish line, that I knew for absolute certain that I would finish. I think I really did almost cry, I was so happy to have made it, to have kept going & not given up.

I've written before about my ambivalence toward finisher medals--I think they can be meaningful and special when they truly represent a significant accomplishment, like completing a new distance for the first time or taking on a new type of challenge that's made you ask more of yourself than usual (ie, your first triathlon / trail race / etc.). I get a little irked, though, when people talk about "earning" a medal for doing something that isn't a real challenge for them any more--ie, if I enter a half marathon & jog it as an easy training run that I would've done anyway, I don't think I can really say I've earned anything. Paid for, yes. Earned, not so sure.

Usually I just can't get too worked up about finisher medals either way, but this one feels a little different. Even though it was for a slower time, I think it's more meaningful to me than the one I got last year for finishing my 1st 26.2 because I worked SO. MUCH. Harder for it. Even running with asthma last year, I never really doubted that I would finish. This year, I was never sure. Not at 23 or 24 or 25 or 25.5. Not until I could actually see the chute.

Recently a friend of mine (who is a veteran of more marathons than I am sure I will ever run in my lifetime) ran a marathon at altitude that ended up being her toughest ever. She felt terrible and had to stop and seriously considered dropping out, but ultimately still got it done. Her post made me think about how pushing through tough circumstances for an inglorious finish can sometimes mean more than having an easy time and a fantastic finish, because you have to fight so much harder for it. This was definitely, by far, the hardest I have ever ever had to fight for an athletic accomplishment, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And because of that, this medal has special meaning for me.

    Tom Landry: "I've learned that something constructive comes from every defeat."

In a certain sense, I suppose we never really want to have to learn what our limits are, but sometimes it's pretty cool to find out what they're not.

I got to catch up with a few folks afterward, and was so glad to hear that overwhelmingly most of them were able to power through and finish, and some even set PRs, including Kristen! XLMIC also managed to capture my post-hardest-run-of-my-life delirium (right), which I think was kind of priceless.

Currently, I don't know what my official chip time or place were. The unofficial results list my gun & chip times as being the same (3:55:40), even though it took me around a minute to cross the starting line. I clocked 26.28 miles & 3:54:32 on my Garmin, which puts me at ~8:55/mile pace -- considerably better than I was expecting considering my twelve stretch breaks. For the first time ever I filed an inquiry about the discrepancy, though to be honest I don't really care that much & only did it because I felt like I should.

I am happy to report that in these first days post I've felt much, MUCH better physically than I did this time last year in a general sense. I have a little soreness in places, but nothing like the full-body misery that I suffered in 2012. For the most part my anti-chafing measures worked (Body Glide + Ride Glide + water proof bandages in strategic spots) and if it hadn't been for the rain I might have finished 100% chafe-free. Miraculously, I also got away without a single blister (?!?!).

By far, the worst of it is my left foot. It's gotten progressively worse since the race, and at this point I can't put any weight on it at all without serious pain. Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment at UCSF for Wednesday afternoon, so they're planning to do some x-rays & determine whether it's just soft tissue damage that needs time & rest or something more serious.

For logistical / event information about CIM, I refer you to this post from last year -- I think it's all pretty much still the same. Under the circumstances, you couldn't really ask for much more from CIM as an organization. Logistically, the race was still a huge success, and they really went out of their way to try to make things as easy as possible for us in a sucky situation.

Something I did learn this year is that if you're a chick, you can request a dude-colored shirt, and vice versa. (Don't ask me why they differentiate the shirt colors by gender.) The women's version was bright green this year, and I have this thing about bright green tech shirts, so I asked to switch my women's long sleeve medium for a men's small. They only had short sleeve ones left, but that was fine by me.

Also, since it was the race's 30th anniversary, we got a pair of cotton logo gloves and a neck gaiter:

(Thanks to Courtney for explaining to me what a neck gaiter is, though this one looks to me more like a tube of thin fabric than anything else.)

What next, you ask?

Freaking revenge, bitches. Already in the works.