Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: ...Lookin' Back

Happy 2011As promised, the misty-eyed, run-spirational, disgustingly sentimental end-of-calendar-year reflection.

Just kidding. That kind of stuff makes me ill. Also, can we declare a moratorium on the word "run-spiration"? Cuz damn.

Still, given where I was a year ago, this has been a pretty awesome year running-wise. I spent most of 2010 dealing with hip pain that got worse and worse and worse until any amount of running at all became almost unbearable. My goal had been to break 1:40 at SJ RNR '10, but by mid-September I knew there was no way it was going to happen. It nearly became my first DNS, but in the end I ran & finished it (PW, btw) in near excruciating pain. After that, I stopped running entirely. Long story short, I saw a sports medicine guy in December '10 who grimaced a bit at my symptoms & sent me to physical therapy. For some reason I decided that signing up for a 5K PR attempt in February seemed like a FABULOUS idea. (Yeah, I know. Facepalm.) Average weekly mileage for the last three months of 2010 = approximately nothing.

January '11:.
  • PT 3x weekly for "hip dysfunction, not otherwise specified," meaning "otherwise specified as everything," where "everything" included a tilted pelvis, weak glute meds, strength imbalance in the hip abductors, leg bones that don't line up properly, one leg shorter than the other, hypermobile hips & ankles, muscle adhesions in the piriformis, etc etc etc.
  • The prognosis: "You have a lot of problems, which have led to other problems, some of which may be fixable."
  • The hard sell: "It took you a long time to get this hurt, so it's going to take a long time to get unhurt. Be patient."
  • The goal: Be able to run pain-free for short distances at some point later this year.
  • The program: ART, ultrasound, & a near-obscene amount of strength work for hips, core, & posterior kinetic chain. To quote one of my PTs, "I'd say 75% of all running injuries we see are the result of a lack of consistent strength training for the core & pelvic stability muscles [hips, glutes, & transverse abs]." Also, no running for at least a few weeks.

You can imagine how disheartening this was. You can also imagine how I continued to run anyway because of the stupid 5K I'd signed up for, and how my PTs continued to give me the stink eye for it. (This is probably why I was in PT for 4 months instead of, say, 2.5) Still, I was in enough pain that I couldn't run much anyway, so average weekly mileage = < 10.

  • Still in physical therapy, 2x weekly.KP 5K 2011
  • Kaiser Permanente 5K. 22:19, 5th in A/G, & only 19 seconds over my PR -- not bad for having not trained & not having functional hip muscles. :)
  • Hip pain continues unabated (shocking)
  • Average weekly mileage: ~15

I still hadn't been cleared to run regularly. This seemed like a small matter, though, compared to getting that 1:40 monkey off my back, which I was determined to do this year after the sufferfest that had been SJ RNR '10. The advice from a better runner than I? "If you want to get faster at the half, work on your 10K."

I was pretty unexcited about this advice. I liked the 5K because, although you run ridiculously hard, it's over before you know it. I liked the half because, even though you run for 90+ minutes, all but the last few miles are reasonably comfortable. To me, the 10K seemed to be the worst of both worlds: twice as long as the 5K and only a slightly slower pace. But I believed her, so I started plotting my 2011 10K Summer Tour, starting with Santa Cruz 10K in April. You can guess how excited my PTs were to hear about that.

  • Still in physical therapy, down to weekly. More ART, more ultrasound, more strength work.
  • PTs still giving the stink eye for running more than a few miles a week
  • Still having hip pain, but slightly less bad
  • Shin splints beginning to flare up
  • Average weekly mileage: ~18

  • PT every 2 weeks; still doing tons of strength work on my own.
  • Hip pain gradually getting better
  • Santa Cruz 10K. 44:24, 5th in A/G (though I later learned the course was short by .2, so realistically my 7:24 pace should've resulted in a time more like ~45:50)
  • Fear of the 10K: vanquished
  • Average weekly mileage: ~18ish pre-SC 10K & < 10 after (I took it easy for a couple of weeks to give my hip a chance to really heal

  • Discharged from PT!!!! (& instructed to continue strength exercises. Another PT quote: "You, especially, cannot afford to ignore strength work. Ever.")
  • Hip pain still present, but gradually going away
  • Shin splints getting worse
  • Continue plotting 2011 10K Summer Tour: PrideRun 10K, Bad Bass 10K, & Summer Breeze 10K.
  • Discover run-blogging is a thing
  • Start reading running blogs
  • Start run-blogging
  • Fret about which fall half marathon to run.
  • Toy with idea of registering for CIM.
  • Average weekly mileage: ~16
PrideRun 10K 2011
  • Hip pain still present, but still getting better
  • Shin splints still sucking
  • Register for Clarksburg Half Marathon
  • Toy with idea of registering for CIM.
  • PrideRun 10K. 45:22, 3rd A/G. Not an official PR, but still faster than Santa Cruz in terms of average pace (7:19)
  • Average weekly mileage: ~23

October: Clarksburg 2011 Bloggers
  • Fret about marathon.
  • Cal International Marathon. 3:47:04 (completely respectable, even with a mid-race asthma attack)
  • Marathon uncertainty: vanquished.
CIM 2011

So no, I didn't get my 1:39:xx, but still not a bad year. Not a bad year at all.

  • I got the hip pain dealt with & maintained a reasonably good strength routine (hips, glutes, hamstrings, core) for most of the year.
  • I averaged 50 miles a week for two months with virtually no hip pain.
  • I conquered my fear of the 10K & PR'd twice.
  • I ran my first trail race.
  • I ran my first marathon & had a fantastic experience.
  • I haven't been tracking cumulative mileage for the year, but out of curiosity, I decided to add up all my weekly totals for 2011. Considering how little I was able to run during the first half of the year, I was kind of stunned to see that I still broke 1,000 miles! Not a mind-blowing number by any stretch, but under the circumstances it still surprised me. (I finished out the year right around 1,320.)
  • I've found a fantastic & supportive community of runners in the Bay Area & in San Francisco that approach running a lot like I do -- they enjoy training hard, getting faster, and gunning for PRs, but they're passionate about other things as well and don't pin their self-worth to their recent race results.

Honestly, if I'd accomplished nothing other than being able to run again at all even remotely pain-free, I would've been happy, so realistically this year was kind of a home run. (I'd call it Grand Slam, but where would that leave me next year?)

A few things I'm still working on:
  • I didn't reach my goal of running a sub-1:40 half marathon, so that's still on the table.
  • Although I think I was in shape to do it around August / September, I didn't PR in the 5K. Then again my only 5K this year was with two gimpy hips & followed four months of little or no running.

So plenty of goal-fodder for next year. Still, it's hard to complain about that first list.

Happy holidays & see you in 2012!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Long Race Etiquette: A Spectator's Guide

First, a retraction. Contrary to what I posted in my CIM race report, I have been informed by knowledgeable sources that San Francisco runners do, in fact, experience hills on the course. Fair enough; I guess I just didn't notice most of them because a) in my mind, I had built them up into these massive heart-breakers, so they seemed extremely tiny & short by comparison, and b) the course was flatter than anything I run in San Francisco, except the track. So, sorry if you thought it was really hilly; I wasn't actually trying to be a dick. I was just really happy that it felt so much easier than I'd been afraid it would hill-wise.

On to business. Today's topic is race spectating etiquette.

Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed all the cheering & crowd support at CIM. Some stretches had fewer folks spectating, but especially in the second part of the race, I felt like there were always at least a few small groups hanging out to watch & cheer.

I know that standing around outside for hours and/or driving to various cheering points to support the runners involves a lot of time & energy, especially when you factor in travel time & sign-making & what have you, and I am so grateful for the people who do it and the people who were out at CIM cheering us on and/or congratulating us at the finish (again, big shout outs to Jana, Karin, Layla, & Don -- you were all shining examples of doin' it right).

That said, there were a few folks out there just plain DOIN' IT WRONG. Now, I am choosing to take the charitable view & assume their intentions were good, their poor behavior due to a lack of instruction on the finer points of spectating. In response, I offer the following Spectator's Guide to Long Race Etiquette. Feel free to pass along as needed.

I. Signs

doin it rightDO:
  • make witty and/or inspiring signs to encourage & inspire friends, loved ones, & strangers
  • personalize your signs if you are so inclined to help your runners more easily identify them and/or feel extra-loved

  • write a dissertation on your sign. Some of us are slow but very few of us are slow enough to read an entire novella as we pass by you. If it's later in the race you're lucky if we have enough blood sugar left to remember how to read at all. Eight words max. Short words, preferably.
  • brandish your sign at passing runners like a weapon. We see you. Please don't hurt us.

    II. Cheering

  • clap & generally make happy/encouraging noise ("WOOOOO!" etc.)
  • ring cowbells
  • shout compliments & encouraging remarks ("Good job!" "Looking strong!" "Go [so-n-so]!" "You can do it!" etc.)

  • make weird/jarring noises not traditionally associated with cheering (blaring bull horns, moose calls, etc.) I shit you not. This happened. The weird moose call thing was particularly disconcerting, especially with the lack of any other type of cheering from the completely straight-faced moose-caller.
  • shout commands ("Pick it up!" "Run faster!" "Come on, RUN!" [to people walking] "Focus!" etc. Seriously - there was this woman at the last real hill at ~21.5 with a bull horn yelling in cadence, "FO-CUS!" [HONK, HONK] "FO-CUS!" [HONK, HONK]. You know how you are at that point in the race. I was utterly horrified & actually ran a little faster for a while just to get away from her.
  • shout "You're a quarter/third/halfway/etc. there!" Yeah; we know. There are mile markers. They're big. And we can do math.
  • shout "You're almost there!!" at any point before the finish is actually in sight. As Jon Stewart would say, you're not helping. 15 miles is not almost there. 18 miles is not almost there. Neither is 20, 22, or 24. (The same applies to miles 9, 10, & 11 in a half.) 25, maybe. (In a half, maybe 12.) It's really best if you just don't do it at all, though, particularly if you're spectating a distance you've never run & don't actually know what that point in the race feels like. Again, there are mile markers; we know how much farther it is. (There is one notable exception to this - see below.)

    III. Making Physical Contact With Runners

  • stand on the side of the course and hold out your hand to high five passing runners
  • arrange to meet your runner at a specific point on the course for a pick-me-up hug / smooch / whatever (but do make sure that your runner knows what side of the course you will be on so that s/he doesn't end up having to dart across the course to get to you)

  • brandish your high-fiving hand at passing runners as if you're attacking them. Again, once our blood sugar reaches a certain point, we lose the ability to understand & interpret unexpected events and become easily frightened. I shouldn't have to change my trajectory in order to avoid running into your hand. (Also remember that some runners just aren't into high-fiving strangers. It's nothing personal.)

    How dramatic it felt:

    grabby hands

    How dramatic it actually was:

    Not that dramatic. But still.

  • dart out onto the course to hug / smooch / whatever your runner. This happened. A 10-12 runner pile-up was narrowly avoided.

    III. Costumes

  • wear silly/goofy/amusing/etc. costumes, if you feel so inclined.
  • wear witty costumes with appropriate signage (at appropriate points in the race -- this is key. There was a dude in a monk costume at ~25 with a sign that read "THE END IS NEAR". This is the one exception to the "Never tell the runners they're almost there" rule. I give it a pass because it was incredibly witty & the end was in fact relatively near).

    CIM monk

  • wear a grim reaper costume at mile 20. In what universe is this not a total dick move? I think this person was actually associated with the race, but still. Someone having a pretty good race might find it mildly amusing; to someone who is really not, I can imagine it being utterly demoralizing.

    grim reaper not cool

    IV. Navigating the Course

  • try to plan your day so that you don't need to cross the course.
  • if you must, try to plan your crossing at a time & place when it won't be packed with runners.
  • wait for a reasonable gap between runners before crossing.

  • dart into the middle of a pack of runners (again, this happened, more than once, and huge runner pile-ups very nearly resulted)
  • attempt to skateboard across the course (!). Yep; this happened too.

    So go! Spectate! Cheer your heart out! And when you see people doin' it wrong, be good-spectating ambassador & free them from their ignorance.
  • Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    'Tis The Season....

    holidaysPhew. Friends, I cannot tell you what a relief it has been to be done running for the year.

    Don't get me wrong; running is one of my absolute favorite things in the world, but it has been a long, packed year for me out on the roads (don't worry, I'm saving the misty-eyed reflection for a different post) and by the time I started tapering for Clarksburg & CIM my tanks were already running pretty low on enthusiasm for training & racing. CIM, in particular, felt a lot like 1st semester finals back in college - "Ugh, I still have to do work??? What month is it anyway???" Suddenly nothing in the whole, wide world--nothing, I tell you--seemed as appealing as sitting on the couch in sweats with a book, sipping mulled wine & stuffing my face with pumpkin bread.

    But back in college I continued to drag myself bitterly to the library, and before CIM I continued to drag myself bitterly out the door at least a few times a week (because, try as I might, I couldn't find any person, book, or website willing to endorse a zero-mileage tapering plan. Though I came pretty close to doing it anyway). But oh my GOD I could not wait for a week without mileage attached to it.

    Now, none of this is to say that I didn't have an absolute BLAST at CIM, because it really was spectacularly awesome. Just that, once it was over, I was D-O-N-E with running for a while. 'Tis the season for sleeping late, lounging on the couch, losing myself in a good book or two or three, & eating & drinking whatever I feel like (alright, that part's not really any different, but still. The rest).

    To wit:

    new york trilogyI just finished Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, which consists of City of Glass, Ghosts, & The Locked Room. It is exactly the kind of book I like in that it is kind of weird & po-mo & bizarrely complex (not in terms of plot, but in terms of subtext & symbolism). The language is beautiful & dream-like, the characters are oddly haunting, & my only complaint about it is that it was too short. I could've read that thing for weeks. Next up: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I've been putting this one off for a while because it's kind of enormous, but I feel like 'tis also the season for tackling large, scary books.

    Last Saturday we celebrated my marathon victory with an Alliterative Supper Club dinner (okay, it was not really about my marathon). In August, we celebrated my recent 10K win with a 'T' dinner, which was quite fitting. (Okay fine, that wasn't actually about me either.) Sadly, last Saturday was not an 'M' dinner but a 'P' dinner. Happily, there are still many delicious & seasonally-appropriate thing that begin with P:

    Pears & persimmons for starters, with prosecco & peach-prosecco sorbet:

    proseccopears & persimmons

    Pear & walnut salad & Patianna Sauvignon Blanc:

    saladpatianna sauv blanc

    Our host apparently got a case (or some similarly large amount?) of the Patianna for a whopping $7 a bottle. Sauv blanc is generally pretty inexpensive, but still a *steal* for how tasty it was.

    Peri peri prawns & Pacific Rim Riesling:

    prawnspacific rim riesling

    I highly recommend Pacific Rim if you're looking for reasonably good, inexpensive riesling ($10-12ish)! They make a sweet & a dry.

    Peppers-stuffed-with-peppers-stuffed-with-peppers (among other things, the multiple pepper stuffings included parsley, pancetta, & parmesan), & pinot noir:

    pepperscoppola pinot

    Continuing the theme of tasty, inexpensive wine, this was my first time having Coppola pinot. I have generally steered clear of it as several of their varietals I've tried in the past have tasted cheap & young, but in a world where "pinot," "good" and "not balls expensive" is kind of a pick-any-two situation, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how completely drinkable the Coppola was! (Again, $10-12ish; pinot often doesn't really get drinkable until you get into the $25-30 range, so this is rather remarkable.)

    Prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin with pears & prosciutto, drizzled with pear eau-de-vie reduction & garnished with pomegranate seeds; Porter Creek Zin.

    porkporter creek zin

    If you go wine tasting in Sonoma, you must stop at Porter Creek & see Mike & his dogs. He is probably best known for his pinot & viognier, but his zin is very different from the high-alcohol fruit-bombs you might think of when you think of Californai zin. It's very food-friendly & has a kind of an earthy syrah-like-thing going on. Really, everything he makes is good, though, & his tasting fee is like $3.

    Parsnips, purple potatoes, & portabello mushrooms; more pinot:


    Pear tart & pear eau-de-vie:

    pear tartpear eau-de-vie

    We also finished off a keg of homemade pale ale:

    pale alekeg

    It was a good night. What's creepier is that, five days later, I am still cooking with 'p' foods completely unintentionally (penne pasta & winter pesto with parmesan, bell peppers, & pumpkin bread for dessert).

    So yeah. I'll get back to run-blogging in not too terribly long, but in the mean time, this is how I'm restoring my soul & rewarding myself for making through a long, hard slog of a running year & finishing at least semi-strong. :)

    Happy holidays!!

    ( know...whatever...)


    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Race Report: 2011 California International Marathon, Part 2 (Just the Facts)

    CIMSo this is the part of the race report that’s more like an event review. For details about my first marathon experience & how my race went, see CIM 2011, Part 1.

    Location: Folsom, CA to Sacramento, CA

    Date: Early December (December 4, 2011 this year)

    The Deal: CIM was created in 1983 to be sort of a West Coast answer to Boston – a fast, net-downhill race where the focus is on running a fast race. Serious runners come from all over the country every year to run PRs, BQs, and OTQs.

    Price: $85 early registration (through June 1); $105 regular price

    Deadline: October 1st or 7,500 runners. From Oct 1 – Oct 15, runners who met the CIM guaranteed entry standard in the last 2 years (~10 minutes faster than the BQ times) could enter even if the 7,500 runner limit had been reached (I don’t think it was this year). From Oct 15 – Nov 1, registration re-opened for everyone.

    Field Size: A big race (7,500 runners), but not stupid-obscene (less than 400 runners in my age/gender group).

    Sellout Factor: It will sell out, but I think this year it actually didn’t sell out until sometime in November. (It sounded like it sold out in October in 2010.)

    The Course

    Touted as “the fastest course in the West,” CIM is net-downhill and many runners do come to Sacramento for a PR or BQ. That said, it’s gentle rolling hills the whole way and can definitely take its toll on your body if you’re not used to running hills, especially downhills. (Note to San Francisco runners – Don’t believe what anyone tells you. There are no hills in this race. Period.). I also appreciate the relatively few turns in this race. There are maybe 5-6 all told, which is INCREDIBLE for a full marathon.


    You have a few options for getting to the start. Option #1 is to stay near the finish in Sacramento & take a bus to the start. The pros are that (presumably) the bus drivers know where they’re going, and when you finish the race you’ll be near your lodging. The con is that you’ll have to get up earlier as the last buses leave ~5:30 am (although apparently you can sit on the bus up until 15 minutes before the start at 7:00.)

    Option #2 is to stay near the start in Folsom & get someone to drop you off at the start (or, if you are hardcore & can arrange to stay close enough, jog there). Courtney’s parents live near the start so we all stayed at their place, and Layla (who was volunteering) took us to the runner drop off point. The pro is that you can get up a little later. The con is that, if you leave your stuff in Folsom, you have to get back there somehow after the race.

    There is a sweat check, for which you use the free sample bag you got at the expo, upon which the volunteers emblazon your bib number. I did not check anything but I think everyone else I ran with checked at least something. As with most races, they warn you not to check anything of value (keys, phones, etc.), but people invariably do. A lot of people have had no problem with the sweat check but I have also heard stories of people who ended up with missing items or missing bags altogether, so I would try to avoid checking anything you really care about.

    There are about a BILLION port-o-potties at the start (seriously – port-o-potties as far as the eye can see), so fear not in that regard. However, do also be aware that, as my podiatrist warned me, the start is guaranteed to be either freezing cold or freezing cold & wet, so throwaway layers (and potentially trash bags) are a good bet. On the other hand, unless you generally run cold, resist the urge to wear too much. Although I was cold at the start (~38°), I was perfectly comfortable in a tank, shorts, arm warmers, & gloves after just a few minutes of running. I took off my gloves after about 10 miles, and it was ~55° when I finished around 10:45 am. I considered wearing tights and was SO GLAD I didn’t. Even the arm warmers were almost too much. (Then again, I do run slightly warm.)


    Keeping warm at the start


    Such a beautiful sight!

    Aid stations were plentiful & easily accessible, especially toward the end of the course. Obviously I would’ve preferred something other than grape Ultima but I suppose you have to go with what you’ve got the budget for. (Also, I think the volunteers sort of got that they were offering a sub-par sports drink and that is why they were yelling “ELECTROLYTES!” rather than “ULTIMA!”) My one piece of feedback about the aid stations is that there were not enough trash cans as you left the aid stations, and/or the trash cans came too quickly, so that I had already passed all of them by the time I finished my water / electrolytes / whatever. I try really hard to be a good citizen & not throw my cups & gu packets on the ground, but several times during the race I ended up doing it because I was so sick of holding the damned thing.

    At the finish, there is both a medical tent and a self-serve ice tent. This sounds great in theory but in reality when I ducked into the ice tent I was greeted by at least 2-3 dozen runners all waiting for ice & was told that it would be a long wait to get any. I inquired after ice at the medical tent instead & was re-directed to the ice tent. So no ice for me. This seems like kind of a logistical fail.

    I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were also changing tents near the finish. By changing tent, I really do mean a literal tent containing only chairs & sweaty people changing clothes, but it was still really nice to be able to get out of my sweat-soaked gear without having to walk all the way back to the hotel first.


    For your trouble, a long-sleeve tech shirt and a heavy duty finisher medal (with a really nice ribbon, several of us observed!). (Note -- I’m kind of miffed that the men’s & women’s finisher shirts were different colors. The women’s shirt was powder blue & the men’s shirt was navy blue. If I had known this I would’ve totally registered as a dude because the navy blue shirt was MUCH more attractive.)


    For the record, I wasn’t much of a fan of the shirt & medal art. The bear kind of falls into this uncanny valley between a realistic bear and a cartoon bear and frankly the whole thing is kind of weird looking. I would’ve preferred something more like the art from previous years.

    The Upshot

    I would *absolutely* run this race again! Well-organized, sweet course, great weather, fantastic volunteers, extremely reasonably priced, a *million* port-o-potties....What's not to love? (Well; alright. I'd pack my own ice packs in my finish bag. But in general, I have very, very few complaints.) Hope to see you next year, CIM!

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Race Report: 2011 California International Marathon, Part 1 (My Race)

    CIM Course Map

    GarminThe Bottom Line:

    Garmin - 3:47:07, 26.27 miles, ~8:38 pace
    Official - 3:47:04, 26.2 miles, ~8:39 pace

    Overall: 1834/5754
    Women: 482/2484
    Age/Gender: 99/393

    Heh. So, apparently, the longer the race, the longer the race report. When this one started getting kind of insane, I decided to split it into two. Part 1 (this) is about my race & experience and is more of a recap. Part 2 is more like a review of the race itself ("just the facts, ma'am").

    Without further ado!

    The 30-Second Story: Other than running with asthma for miles 2 through 26.27 (déjà vu, anyone??), I could not have asked for a better race or a better experience. Although I almost certainly would have run a faster race if not for the asthma, given that it was my first marathon & I only trained for it for about two months (plus a few weeks of not running thanks to a super fun upper respirator infection), I really have no room whatsoever to complain. I swore that if I finished I would be proud of the accomplishment no matter what my time and avoid getting bogged down in coulda-shoulda-woulda's, and that is exactly what I intend to do. :)

    The Longer Story:

    Asthma aside, I am still elated about so many things that happened as well as so many things that did not.

    Things That Happened:
    • Awesome pre-race dinner & sleep-over with Courtney, Alyssa, Michelle, Sesa, Layla, and Karin. These ladies were so awesome & supportive and I am so grateful that I got to have my first marathon experience with them.
    • Fantastic logistical coordination thanks to Courtney, Layla, & Don. Sleeping at Courtney's parents' place meant we were only ~20 minutes from the start. Layla volunteering at the finish meant she could drive us to the start, then take my bags with her to the finish. Don coming with me & staying in Sac walking distance from the finish meant he could meet me with my recovery bag, that I could be showered & changed within an hour of finishing, & also that I wouldn't have to drive myself home with marathon legs/brain. All of this couldn't have worked out more perfectly.
    • Charmed packing. Although I tried to be super methodical, I was so afraid I'd realize Saturday night that I'd forgotten some key piece of clothing or equipment, but I had everything I needed.
    • Perfect weather. Yes, we couldn't feel our toes at the starting line (a news report I read said it was 28°; I really think it was more like 40ish), but within a few minutes of the gun I was completely comfortable in a tank, shorts, arm warmers, & gloves. Even at the finish, I think it was still only ~55ish (though sunny).
    • All my clothes & gear worked out about as well as you can possibly expect. I have a little chafing in places and a few small blisters on my toes, but nothing debilitating. (I did have one blister burst at mile 23, which, if you'll indulge me, SUUUUUCKED for about 90 seconds.)
    • Sweet cheering section courtesy of Jana, Beth, & Karin, who made awesome signs & screamed their heads off for us at multiple points on the course. You guys rock!!
    • Sweet tangents. Even if it was a perfect 26.2 course, I'll take .07 over any day.
    • My pace did slow over the course of the race, but it never went completely off the rails & for the most part I stayed between 8:30 & 9:00 / mile the whole way.
    • Yes, the last 10K was hard, but I enjoyed it & actually felt pretty good the whole way, & it never got so tough that I seriously worried about not finishing.
    • I heard Don yelling at me at mile 24 & I was so happy that he'd actually spotted me before the finish. He even got a couple of pics. :)

    Things That Did Not Happen:
    • Rain
    • Wind (we were worried about this because it had been insanely windy the day before, but as far as I could tell the air was perfectly still)
    • Overly warm temps
    • Garmin malfunctions
    • Shin splint pain (woo!)
    • Tendon pain (double woo!)
    • Calf pain (though I did have one small, minor cramp during my last mad 200 yard sprint to the finish)
    • Any new & exciting injuries
    • Digestive issues / pit stops
    • Cramps (excepting the aforementioned)
    • "The Wall"
    • Bonking/low blood sugar
    • Dehydration

    Just really almost a perfect day.

    The Play-By-Play

    The weekend got off to a nervous start -- Don & I ended up leaving SF a little on the late side & then running into some bad traffic on 24, and I was a little worried about getting to the expo by 5 pm to pick up my bib. We just made it, though, & after stopping by the Econo Lodge to check into the room that Don would be staying in, we headed up to Courtney's parents' place in Granite Bay. They are wonderful, wonderful people and I appreciate so much that they let us all crash there!

    marathon eve

    Layla, Alyssa, Courtney, Michelle, Don, me, Sesa

    Before we arrived, the other gals had made some tasty pizzas & salad (not to mention the delicious pastries by Courtney's grandmother) & we all proceeded to stuff ourselves. After that it was time to lay out race gear & get to bed. After the incident in Clarksburg, I'd decided to carry my inhaler at CIM, but I hadn't actually been worried about asthma until last weekend when I spent Thanksgiving in Texas. For whatever reason, I had some HORRIFIC allergy problems, which inevitably leads to near-constant asthma. I hoped that as soon as we were back in SF this would all go away, but it never did completely, in spite of pumping myself full of all kinds of allergy medicine. I'd even been waking up at night with breathing problems & the night before the race was no exception, so I had pretty much prepared myself mentally for having to deal with some amount of asthma issues during the race.

    But, since there was nothing I could do about it at that point besides carry my inhaler, I suited up, mixed my sports drink, double checked my Garmin & gels, & hopped into Layla's car with Alyssa, Courtney, & Michelle.

    pre race

    As promised, the start was a) quite cold and b) port-a-potties as far as the eye could see.


    port o potties


    I wept at the beauty of this as we all waited in (extremely short) lines & froze off our fingers & toes. We arrived a little after 6:30, so after visiting the toilets and dropping off sweat bags, we didn't have long to wait.

    Around 6:50 we all made our ways to our respective pace areas. I went with Alyssa to the 3:45 section, not because I had any particular attachment to that time, but because Alyssa's plan for the first few miles (basically warming up with a few 8:20-8:30 miles) sounded like a good one to me. She was planning on 8:10's after that; I figured that if by some miracle my asthma stayed under control and I was having a good day, I might be able to hang with her, but if not, I would have at least established a manageable but solid pace. As much as the competitive part of me wanted to shoot for an ambitious time, I knew my chances of having a good first marathon were much higher if I stuck to my plan to run conservatively & go by how I felt rather than trying to stick to a more challenging pre-determined pace.

    I started having trouble breathing almost right away, and by mile 2 I knew sticking with Alyssa the whole way was off the table and managing the asthma & making sure I finished was now the name of the game.

    There was also the issue of how often to use my inhaler. I quickly established that one puff bought me about 8-10 minutes of semi-normal breathing. Taking it every mile, though, was out of the question. (Albuterol is a stimulant; a "safe" dosage is 2 puffs every 4 hours, & heart attack and stroke are among the more serious consequences of an overdose. I know from experience that I can safely take a lot more than the "safe" dose, but I wasn't keen to try 12x that amount.) My plan was to take gels at miles 6, 11, 15, 19, & 23, so at first I tried to only use it when I took a gel, but soon realized that wouldn't work. Ultimately, I ended up using it probably around every 2 or 3 miles & just putting up with feeling as if an elephant were sitting on my chest a lot of the time.

    But enough about asthma!

    spectatorsThat aside, I felt really, really good for the first 20 miles. My legs felt solid & pain free, & although my pace felt a little sluggish I had no problem maintaining my form. Definitely credit all the strength work I've done in the past few months for this! (I can't tell you how many crunches, planks, bridges, clam shells, & squats I've done in the last six months. Cannot. Even. Tell you.)

    Around mile 7 I spotted Jana's awesome "Jana {heart}'s You!" sign, which was a nice boost. Thanks to the cool weather, my disposable bottle of diluted Gatorade lasted for nearly 15 miles, which is WAY beyond what I'd hoped for. Happily, that was about when the aid stations started getting really close together. I made it a point to take a cup of water & a cup of grape Ultima (GAAAAAAG) at every stop & continued gelling every 4-5 miles.

    I also mastered the art of the fake-smile-&-surge every time I spotted the race photographers. One of my mini-goals for 2011 has been to improve the quality of my race pics. The bar was pretty low, though, so this has not been a difficult goal to achieve.

    race pic 2race pic 3

    *Nailed it.* If only these pics didn't run ~$17,289.67 per image...

    I kept up a pretty steady sub-8:30 pace until right around the half. At that point the lack of oxygen was starting to get to me and I just couldn't keep it up any more. The same level of effort was putting me more in the 8:45 / mile range, but all things considered, I figured that was probably a pretty safe place to stay.

    Not until the last 10K did I let myself think about how many miles were left. Instead, I just tried to focus on each. individual. moment. of running while I was in it, to just run and run well and continue running well until I finished without worrying about how much farther there was to go.

    Passing mile 20 gave me kind of a spooky feeling because before then 20 miles was the farthest I had ever run. I knew this was where things were likely to become significantly harder both physically & mentally & really started digging into my tool kit of positivity. Sure enough, my quads started to burn (thanks, downhills), and I had a few moments where my left knee sort of failed to function as knees really should. But I kept ticking off in my head everything that was going well, telling myself how great I was doing, especially with the asthma, and thinking about how great it would feel when I crossed the finish mat and that theoretical "I-know-I-could-run-a-marathon-if-I-wanted-to" I'd carried around in my head for so long would become a real, tangible "I-know-I-can-run-a-marathon-because-I've-done-it."

    For all that I was ready to be done, I think I mostly got through those last 6.2 miles by mentally talking to myself & laughing at the absurdity of how long I'd been running, and how much I still had left to do.

    Mile 20:

      Me: "OK, only 10K left....ugh, that's like almost another HOUR of running."
      Other me: "LOL -- I know, right? CRAZY! But what can you do except keep running? :D"
      Me: "Heh, fair enough. Guess I'll just keep running!"

    Mile 21.5:
      Me: "OMG, how are we STILL on mile 21?? Are you freaking KIDDING ME??"
      Other me, smiling & nodding: "Haha, for real! But seriously, just keep running! :D"
      Me: "Well okay then."

    Mile 23.1:
      Me, laughing: "OMG. I cannot believe I have to run a 5K at this point. That is just absurd."
      Other me: "Haha. For realz. But hey, it's not going to run itself, is it?"
      Me, with a shrug: "Guess not. Well, here we go, then...."

    It was a weird combination of exhaustion & positivity & absurdity all rolled into one.

    I remembered Aron mentioning the last real hill going up to the bridge somewhere around mile 21-22, and I'm so glad I knew it was there. It is not a big hill, but at that point I think knowing it was coming made a HUGE difference for me mentally. I kept waiting for "The Wall," for bonking, for that death-march Pit-of-Despair feeling, but it never happened.

    mile 24ishAround mile 24 (I think), I thought I heard someone yelling my name & spotted Don at the sidelines with his camera. I did manage to smile & wave, & he got a couple of pictures before I was gone. It was so nice to see him before the finish! (Unfortunately, one of those pics reveals some pretty deteriorated running form...3.5 hours was apparently long enough to revive the infamous dropping left hip, not to mention some horrific posture.)

    If you've never run a marathon, you might think that 25 miles and 26.2 miles are really almost the same, and what is 1.2 more miles after you've already run 25 of them. It was around mile 24.5, however, that I had a grand epiphany, which was that 25 miles and 26.2 miles are about as vastly different as it is possible for two things to be. Seriously. I could not for the life of me at that moment understand why 25 miles had not been good enough for somebody and they'd felt it necessary to tack on an additional 1.2. I mean really. Who is too good for only 25 miles?

    finish picAs soon as I passed mile marker 26, it was ON. I gave it everything I had left and sprinted towards the finish, which brought on my only cramp of the race in my right calf. "Oh, hell no," I told it, sticking my toe up in the air and half-heel striking it all the way across the mat. I hadn't been watching my pace or time really at all for the last few miles, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had not only managed to come in under 4 hours but hadn't been all that far off from the 3:45 pace group I'd lined up near at the start. Completely unintentional, but kind of cool.

    I took one last puff of albuterol as someone thrust a space blanket into my hands (I'm with RoseRunner on that one -- I have no idea what to do with a space blanket). I looked for Layla who was volunteering at the finish, but missed her. This resulted in my wandering around the finish area like a dazed and/or stunned person for a good 2-3 minutes; I'm actually surprised that no one started trying to guide me towards a medical tent, or at least shoo me out of the finish area. At some point I realized that I'd never gotten a medal & went back to get one from one of the dudes who was not Layla.

    post cim 2After wandering aimlessly around the finish area for maybe another minute or so, I heard someone yelling my name again & spotted Don on the other side of the fence. This was the only time I almost got a little emotional. I told him about my asthma problems and he showed me how he brought my recovery bag. I fought my way out of the finish area (which was really hard, as everyone and their mother seemed to be trying to go the other way). I tried to stretch a little, then kind of gave up & sat down on the ground on my space blanket (I guess it was good for that) & started pulling off bits of gear & stuffing them into a plastic bag. Don directed me to the women's changing tent, where I got straight up naked without a care for anyone else in there. Re-dressing myself in dry clothes was quite the ordeal and almost resulted in more things cramping. It was only then that I remembered Layla's advice to eat something solid & inhaled the Luna Bar in my bag with such urgency that I think I might have actually frightened Don. I also had a coconut water in there, but I really wasn't thirsty at all after the race & only drank it much later.

    We walked back to the hotel where I showered & changed, checked out, grabbed a couple of muffin sandwiches from Starbucks, then met back up with Layla & Michelle at Layla's car to grab my stuff. This was the first account I had of anyone else's race, and I was thrilled to learn that Michelle, Alyssa, and Courtney had all set HUGE PRs!

    After, we all met up at Tower Cafe for brunch, where I learned that Sesa had also put up a fantastic time (her first as well, so automatic PR!), and although Katie didn't have the race she wanted, she still finished with a SMOKIN' time. Sunday night and Monday morning also brought exciting news of other runner friends & bloggers -- my friend Teresa (who kind of inspired me to sign up for this race to begin with) set a 21 minute PR, RoseRunner KILLED IT in spite of serious leg pain, and both Healthy Diva & Shelby from eat, drink, & run saw all their hard work this year pay off with awesome PRs and BQs. Way to go, ladies!!! You all inspire me to no freakin' end.

    post cim brunch

    For the last couple of days, I've been hobbling around kind of like this (thanks, Teresa, for the perfect link). But other than that, I feel pretty good. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make my entire first marathon weekend so fantastic -- I had a blast!

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    The Long Run, Part 3: Logistics

    race gearUm, wow. It's probably been so long since Parts 1 & 2 went up that you didn't even remember there WAS a part 1 & part 2 (if you ever knew to begin with). In case you don't or didn't, ever since signing up for CIM, I’ve been thinking a lot about long runs and all the different ways they help us prepare to race. Parts 1 & 2 covered the physical benefits and mental benefits; today, I offer a few thoughts on how long runs help us prepare logistically.

    I started working on this section after my 18 mile run back in October. Up until that point, I had some general idea of the logistical issues that needed to be worked out before a marathon, but my three > 15 milers definitely brought to my attention several things that I'm not sure I would've thought about otherwise.

    Logistically, long runs have helped me figure out…

    What to wear. It turns out that not every piece of gear that performs admirably on a six- or eight-mile run will stay super comfy for multiple hours; witness the Nike Pro Combat compression shorts that I love for shorter runs & races that chaffe like a mofo once they’re solidly soaked through & the BodyGlide’s worn off. My three pairs of longer compression shorts (2 Aspires, 1 UnderArmour), on the other hand, work pretty well. My beloved Moving Comfort Alexis bras all pass the test (as long as I remember to lube up in the marathon tattoo area). Various tech T-shirts, not so much, as sweat-soaked sleeves have left me with some nasty chaffing on the inside parts of my upper arms.

    Trying to figure out what would work best for the weather at CIM was a little trickier since September-October-November is basically summer in SF, but later in November we started having some cooler nights, so I got a chance to experiment with things like gloves and arm warmers and headbands. What I've learned is that, at least recently, I run HOT. Like tank top & shorts in 50° F, hot. On cool nights, I found that that combined with arm warmers was just about perfect. On a couple of particularly chilly days, I also wore gloves; however, I also found that above maybe 50° the gloves were too warm, and they were downright unpleasant in the rain.

    Fueling. Although ~50 grams of carbs per hour is a good baseline, we all have different bodies and metabolisms, and what is barely enough for one person may cause GI distress for someone else. The same goes for what types of food / food-like-substances our systems can tolerate. Outside of a few jelly beans during my first two half marathons, I'd never eaten anything on runs before I started marathon training. Thankfully, it seems that my body tolerates pretty much any type of gel just fine and even does okay with little pieces of bars (Nutri-grain, Clif, Luna, etc.) as long as I don’t eat them too fast. (Too fast = a bit of unpleasant acid reflux.) On my long runs, I've been having one gel or a small piece of a bar (so ~30 grams of carbs) every 4-5 miles, which seems to keep my energy & blood sugar levels fairly steady.

    On my 16 & 20 milers I also brought diluted Gatorade (~2:1 Gatorade/water), which I know works for me. On the 18 miler, I didn’t have a chance to get any, but I did have a packet of Cytomax powder hanging around, so I took that. Glad I tried it, because I found the stuff so sickeningly sweet that I could only get down a few sips.

    Hydration. It can be tricky to balance staying hydrated with avoiding a sloshy tummy & an unfortunately full bladder. When I first started running with a hand-held bottle, I definitely drank too often, but it’s been fairly easy to discipline myself to drink when I’m thirsty and not just because I can. How much I need to drink depends a lot on the temperature, but so far just going by thirst seems to be working.

    I don't normally carry fluids in half marathons, but in Clarksburg I decided to try one of Aron's marathon tricks & filled a 20 oz disposable bottle with diluted Gatorade, duct taped it to my had, drank til it was empty (~mile 10), then tossed it. (I don't know if she does the duct tape but given the lack of hand strap I just know there is no way I could've held on to it for that long otherwise.) This worked great! Carrying my own early in the race will let me bypass earlier, more crowded aid stations & also remind me to make sure I drink enough in the early miles.

    I would really like to carry Gatorade with me the whole way, but I'm just not sure how the logistics of switching it out would work. I think I'd feel more comfortable with something like that if I was familiar with the course. But really, as long as I hydrate well early on, I should be fine with aid stations for the second part of the race (though I GAG at the thought of drinking Ultima, which in my personal opinion is the nastiest sports beverage known to man. I've kept it down before though so I suppose I can manage it again if I must).

    running beltStorage. For half marathons, I’m used to carrying nothing. They’re not long enough to require serious fueling (sports drink works fine), aid stations are usually only a mile or two apart, and for me the freedom of carrying nothing extra far outweighs the slight inconvenience of not having complete control of what & when I drink. The full has been a different story, obviously. Deciding on the disposable Gatorade bottle narrowed things down tremendously; as for the rest, I'm 95% sure I'll go with the super-minimalistic Nathan running belt (read: tech fanny pack -- super hawt), which will hold my inhaler & 2-3 gels & stick 2-3 gels in the zipper pocket on my top. (Hot tip - Don't put gels in your cleavage. I had some really painful and bizarre-looking blisters to show for that little experiment. Sharp & pointy things do not belong in your bra.)

    Pre-Race Eating / Drinking. This isn't something I've done a great job practicing, mainly because I HATE early-morning running & so don't really do it much. In the past, with my shorter races, this hasn't been a big deal. My usual pre-race breakfast usually consists of a bagel with cream cheese, a little sports drink, & maybe half a banana about two hours before the gun. I'll probably stick with that since it's worked well in the past, or maybe add a pre-race gel half an hour or so before the start, just to top off the tanks.

    Recovery. The long runs have helped me figure out some of this. (BTW, I felt worse after those "easy" 18- & 20-milers than I EVER felt after racing a half marathon. I re-iterate - the 10K & the half marathon are THE SAME FREAKING RACE. 18+ is a TOTALLY different story.)

    zicoThe tool kit I've got so far...

  • Walking (vs. collapsing & not moving for an hour)
  • Ice baths
  • Cold beer
  • Coconut water
  • Ice packs & ace bandages for shins / calfs / what have you
  • Dry clothes, ASAP
  • Solid food, ASAP

    The last two can be tough. I've had so many runs where all I want to do is collapse somewhere comfy and not move; alas, that usually just leads to feeling even shittier when ten minutes later I find myself shaking from a combination of ice-cold sweat and low blood sugar. I've already started planning a post-race "recovery bag" to give Don to bring with him to the finish, which will contain happy-making items such as a towel, sweats, flip flops, coconut water, some kind of tasty, carb-heavy energy bar, and possibly a couple of ice packs.

    Wow. Is it seriously almost time to start packing?