Thursday, June 20, 2013

Race Recap: The San Francisco Marathon, take 3

This year I had a different approach to training for the San Francisco Marathon (aka the very best road race of all time. You all should run it.). 

Previous preparations for this race have included multiple 20+ mile training runs, not as many weekday miles, lots of solo running, and too much pounding the pavement on the actual course. As a result, I've left this typically-cold summer race feeling burned out and trying to garner excitement for a fall race.

But this year was different. Coming off of a love I've developed for trails -- and a balance I've found from running with friends almost every morning -- I wasn't ready to give that up for serious road training.

My training approach
I decided to take a page from the Hanson's Marathon Method. While I didn't follow the plan to a T -- in fact, some might argue I followed it at all (more on that later, if anyone out there actually reads this & is curious) -- I got good at skipping the uber-long runs on the weekends. Fresh off my 50k and back-to-back weekend long runs, I was excited to have my weekends back. So, I upped my weekday mileage by running double days, plenty of double-digits runs, and also sprinkling in speedwork, tempo, & progression runs. But I was still hitting 75% of my miles slowly, on the trails, with some of my favorite ladiez. On the weekends I didn't do a whole bunch except live life. It's just the balance I need right now.

So for this race, I did one slow marathon as a long run (see also: Big Sur Marathon) and two 16 milers. Granted, I did plenty of double days that amounted to 16+ miles in a day, but only three nonstop long runs. I also ran Bay to Breakers again this year, trotted through a few trail races, and sprinted smaller 5 and 10ks that I counted as speedwork.

 Team Skittles + a Tiger at Bay to Breakers.

Few laps of the DSE 6-Hour with Mike.

6-Hour lovers.

I was finally and consistently hitting 50+ mile weeks (which, for me, is A LOT!) despite the lack of weekend runs. As a result, I really had no clue what all of this would translate to in a hilly road marathon. 

And that's when Dennis and Jess stepped in.

Team Awesome
Dennis is a freaky-fast 26x marathoner. He has that "problem" where, when he commits to something, he does it 100%. This is normally not a bad thing, until you think about how he approaches so many marathons: Race every single one all-out despite heat, terrain, altitude, injuries, and other factors that typically & rightfully slow one down. And then he doesn't recover, and he does it all again. 

So when he sent out a message asking if anyone wanted a "pacer" at the San Francisco Marathon because he wanted to have a casual marathon for once, I jumped onboard. Shortly thereafter, Jess (also one of the fastest marathoners I know) said she wanted to join us because she was going for the 52 Club at SFM (1st half one year, 2nd half another year, full marathon the final year) and wanted to take it easy. 

And then, Team Awesome Does SFM was born. 

Official Team Awesome meeting at the SFM Expo.

But there was just one problem: I didn't know what I wanted them to pace me at.

My background with the race/Goals:
The first time I ran SFM (in 2011) I ran it in 3:44. I don't know where that came from, but it was a beautiful day for me and an 11-minute PR at the time. The second time I ran SFM (2012), I did it as part of an unintentional 3-marathons-in-3-months streak. I kept it casual as it was the final in my streak, finishing in 3:49. This year -- with it being nearly a FULL YEAR since I ran a sub-4 marathon -- I decided my sandbag goal would be at least a sub-4 to keep my tradition going. I knew, without an injury and some decent paces I was hitting during speedwork, a sub-4 on this course should have been possible.

As a team, we decided to aim for a course PR. And because SFM typically runs long thanks to hills, turns, & shady satellite signals downtown, we adjusted the goal pace to be 8:30 minute/mile overall. The plan was to go out slow on the hills (a little more than the first half), and then pick it up around mile 16 when the hardest part was behind us.

The race
At 5:32 a.m. Sunday morning, Jess, Dennis, & I took off down the Embarcadero toward the Marina. Feeling fresh, we powered past the piers and up the Fort Mason hill with ease. I had warned them that an 8:30 pace is not really a conversational pace for me anymore, especially for 4 hours, so I might not do a lot of talking. They were cool with this, and I just listened to them tell stories while interjecting where I could.

Team Awesome at the start.

 Mile 1 = 8:51, Mile 2 = 8:25, Mile 3 = 8:32, Mile 4 = 8:20, Mile 5 = 8:20

No neck joe.

For the first time in a marathon, I covered my watch and let Jess and Dennis have all control. I was really freaked out at the idea of trusting them this much, but it was nice to hand over the stress. At one point I heard Dennis mention we were going too fast, but Jess quickly smacked him & told me we were perfect. We had the hills up to the Bridge/through the Sea Cliff neighborhood next, and we'd slow it there.

Mile 6 = 8:49,  Mile 7 = 8:09, Mile 8 = 8:14, Mile 9 = 8:31, Mile 10 = 8:24


How amazing is this photo of Dennis? See Jess' foot up ahead (typical) and me behind Dennis.

One of the many stink faces I inadvertently gave Dennis. ;)

I hit my first low point right around the 11-mile mark, which I was not expecting. We were running in the neighborhood where I live and I not-so-jokingly-but-completely-jokingly said I wanted to go home. I just put my head down and tried to keep up with them but I saw them get farther and farther ahead (never were they more than 100 feet ahead of me, but it felt like city blocks!). I had many thoughts of dropping down to the half marathon once we got to the park. Jess kept telling me we could slow down if I wanted, but I did my best to soldier on. I am not sure why I was feeling so crappy so early on because I was taking in GU every 5 miles, a cup of water at each water stop, and (thanks to a recent virus) I had a long taper & my legs were fresh.

Mile 11 = 8:24, Mile 12 = 8:47, Mile 13 = 8:32 (half marathon in 1:52:44), Mile 14 = 8:22, Mile 15 =  8:40

Entering the park behind the ever-photogenic Jess

We made our way through Golden Gate Park, which is awesome for training but not awesome for racing. Going from the noise and the honking cars and the cheering on the Bridge, the Park felt so quiet and very isolating. There were barely any runners around as many turned off toward the half marathon split. At this point, I realized my stomach was not liking the GU I had been taking (this is something I'll discuss when talking about the Hanson's method later -- without a lot of long runs, I had NOT adequately practiced fueling), and I knew I'd have to make a pit stop. I also knew my stomach would not be tolerating any more GU during the race. I told Jess and Dennis to continue on because I knew I'd hit the pain cave without taking any more fuel options. They told me to stop being ridiculous: "Team Awesome stays together."

Mile 16 = 8:36, Mile 17 = 11:02 (bathroom break), Mile 18 = 8:02, Mile 19 = 8:25, Mile 20 = 8:17

Leaving the park

(aka Ninja Gate that jumped out at Dennis)

After the port-o-potty stop, I felt GOD DAMN AWESOME. We bolted through the remaining portion of the park, and into the lonelier miles of the race. For me, I actually had a lot to look forward to on the "boring" part of the course. A friendly face would be at mile 21 to hand me my sunglasses and take my arm sleeves, Mile 23 has one of the greatest and loudest cheer stations (thanks, Lululemon!), and my morning run buddy Charlotte would be at mile 25 cheering with Strava. Team Awesome kept reminding me of the small things to look forward ahead of me, and we pressed on.

Mile 21 = 8:14, Mile 22 = 8:03, Mile 23 = 8:22, Mile 24 = 8:11, Mile 25 = 8:17

I felt like I was SLOGGING on all my final miles, and Jess & Dennis kept yelling "Come on, A!" as they pushed on. I still never looked at my watch as it was turned upside down once I took off my arm sleeves, but I felt tired. Dennis shared his Chomps with me, and Jess grabbed me orange and watermelon slices on the course -- stomaching those items was so much better than the GU. I never felt any muscle-cramping-I-wanna-die sort of tired; I just felt like I had nothing left in me. Jess & Dennis were trying to make up for lost time that I took from the pit stop which was appreciated, but I had no idea how far off we were. I just tried to hang on to them.

Mile 26 = 8:19, Mile 26.57 = 4:20 (8:00 pace)

Following the leaders.

 We crossed the finish line in 3:45:51, an overall average pace of 8:29.  

 Way to go, Dennis & Jess. :) You perfect pacers, you.

Post-race thoughts
Given the hills on the course, I'm pleasantly surprised with the consistent pace we held. This is especially true for the very end of the race. The last 10k are some of the least scenic/sunniest/no shade/smelly water part of the race where I generally fall apart. I'm realizing that it does take me a long time to warm up these days, and in this case, it actually worked to my advantage. My last 10k was my fastest stretch of the race. I didn't feel like I was moving quickly, but clearly my body was able to press on through the pain.

This was also my most favorite favorite favorite running of a marathon EVER. After 13 of them, this will be hard to top! I already love the San Francisco Marathon SO MUCH -- it's a great weekend full of energy, organization, and really friendly people/sites. Getting to run this race with two friends who pushed me only made it that much better. I really appreciated everything they said and did to make my experience a completely unique one.

While I may have missed my "goal" by a minute, it seriously does not even matter one iota to me. I feel more confident in my running, my energy is boosted, and I have a newly discovered hope that maybe someday soon I'll be able to run a fast road race on the right course. I don't feel burned out going into the fall race season -- I feel rejuvenated. If I can do this one without a whole hell of a lot of fast or long running, I wonder what I could do when I add a little more of that back in.

BUT, I'm still not ready to give up my slow weekday trail miles with friends. Not yet anyway. :)

Thank you, SFM & Team Awesome, for an amazing weekend!

2013 SFM Ambassador group

Monday, May 6, 2013

Big Sur Race Report

Two weekends ago I ran the Big Sur Marathon & I suppose I should say something about it. This was marathon #12 after all, and, as with my previous Big Sur experience, this was basically another non-marathon-turned-marathon. It seems like maybe I was keeping this race a secret, but I promise I was not -- I really had no plan to run it.

For the second time in my long life, I was signed up for the Big Sur 21-mile race. My plan was to walk the 21-mile course until Courtney, who was running the full, caught up to me, and then finish her race with her. And for the second time, I somehow magically got upgraded to the sold-out full (in 2011, I upgraded 12 days before the race, and last weekend I upgraded the day before the race). Both times I ran the marathon not really prepared to, but with a solid base of fitness under my belt, and both times having a really magical time.

This marathon fell in a peak week of my San Francisco Marathon training plan, and in my mind, the more miles I got, the merrier I'd feel. (Well, that's what I thought until I hit the extra 5.2.) After a massive week of big miles (for me) and a shake-out run before the race, Courtney and I headed down to Monterey, CA, for really crappy pizza, a solid 3 hours of sleep, and arguably the prettiest marathon in the world.

We sat on a fart-laden bus for about an hour, then sat in the cold for another 2 hours. Then we ran a marathon.

Since this race wasn't a "race" for either of us, we took our time, took pictures, took videos, stopped, stretched, and sat in awe of where we were in that exact moment. I wish all the pictures we took did the background of this race some justice -- so I will say instead, just once in your life, go run this race & see what everyone raves about for yourself. 

I know last year it was shrouded in a cold, miserable fog, but this year we had decent temps, prettttttttty minimal headwind (we were definitely smacked by wind from all 4 directions most of the time, but I can only think of a few seconds where I hated life), and really beautiful views the whole way. 

It's soooo pretty!

You'd think these views only come from vacations. NO. They come from marathons, too. Soooo pretty.

When I ran Big Sur in 2011, there was a weird Hwy 1-falling-into-the-ocean accident and the course was rerouted to an out-and-back for safety's sake. As a result, I never got to run the famous Hurricane Point -- a 2-mile uphill portion with super strong headwinds -- or across the gorgeous Bixby Bridge. I was so excited this year that I actually got to do it! Courtney & I powered up the hill, toward our sweet Bixby Bridge reward at the end of the climb. 

It was hands down my favorite part of the course. Slowest, definitely. But the best best best.

Photo courtesy of Kristen

At the end of Bixby Bridge is Michael Martinez, Big Sur grand pianist extraordinaire. I saw this kid at the expo and like a weird fan, I screamed, "Can't wait to see you tomorrow!" giddily. I ran away in embarrassment before he could respond to me.

And like an awkward teenage girl, I was too afraid to approach him at the race. I would have loved a pic with him, but he was too busy HOLDING CONVERSATIONS AND KEEPING RHYTHM AT THE SAME TIME.

He was playing "Hallelujah" as we ran by, and if I weren't so dehydrated, I would have actually shed some tears while I cried. Instead, I had a few weird dry-sob moments, where I exclaimed "This sh!t is so f#ck!ng beautiful, I can't stand it." I got a couple looks. :|

The course is SOOOO FRIGGIN' PRETTY. Pics aren't conveying this here. :(

Courtney & I ran together for the first 20 miles. She was having some major IT band issues and needed to stop and stretch quite a bit. She was gracious enough to send me off, as the stopping & starting on the hills was killlling my quads. Instead of getting injured myself, I pulled the ultimate dick move & left my friend. Thank you, Courtney, for not holding this against me. ;)

(I am a terrible person for leaving the friend who's stuck by me through so much, and will probably never be invited to run a marathon with her ever again.)

These tiny specs on the left are cows. THE LUCKIEST GOD DAMN COWS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. The course is so pretty and those cows just LIVE THERE! On the edge of the country! By the ocean and off the cliffs!


Coming into Monterey, CA, toward the finish, just as it was getting pretty toasty out. The course is so, so pretty.

I finished my marathon-lengthed training run, immediately hopped into the massage tent, ate some cookies and beer like a good little runner-bee, and tracked down Courtney before heading back to SF. It was a wonderful, simply divine weekend. (Especially when I went to sleep at like 8p.m. that night.) 

Seeing that we were around the 4:30 pace group when I ditched out on my marathon buddy at mile 20, I'm pleasantly shocked at how much time I made up on a dead legged/peak week, hard course, not marathon-ready, casual run.

Big Sur is a very Boston-runner-friendly race, thanks to the Boston-2-Big Sur Challenge. We saw lots of Boston runners, supporters, and colors. <3

Marathon #12 proooooobably couldn't have been any better, and I friggin' loved it. LOVED it. It's soooo pretty. 

The end.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Boston

I don't really have anything to add other than agreeing to what's already been said, but I'm just going to say something anyway because it feels better to do it than to not.

I have never run the Boston Marathon, I've never really had a real drive to want to run the Boston Marathon, and I've never been nor have I made plans to go to Boston. But I am a runner, I know what runners put into our sport, and I know what runners especially put in to run Boston, whether it's qualifying or raising enough money for a coveted charity slot. And because I can relate to everyone at that finish line yesterday -- runner, spectator, family member, volunteer -- I feel like I, and the sport I participate in & the way I choose to live my life, was attacked yesterday.

I don't follow sports at all, but from what I can tell, this is one of the few sports that don't "boo" the "other team." It's a sport that has a constant stream of clapping and cheering and cowbells and high-5s and hugs and celebratory beers. It's an individual sport in that all runners I know are really just trying to better themselves. And it's a team sport in that we all cheer one another on through good days & bad. We don't kick each other when we are down, but instead try to boost one another back up to see the better days ahead. We pick up stragglers along the way and help them to finish. Runners are a driven, determined, and extremely passionate crew who are always moving forward. And races are our hours to show off our hard work, perseverance, and triumph. Races are a celebration of our lifestyle.

Because of all the good I see in running, I cannot wrap my mind around why someone would want to bomb a marathon. I cannot wrap my mind around why someone would want to destroy people who are there to better themselves or celebrate people who want better themselves.

Perhaps I'm seeming a bit dispassionate because I haven't addressed other bombings or murders or tragic events, which I know are just as senseless. I generally try to stray away from offering my opinion there because stories always change, facts are always released, and one too many times I've opened my mouth before I should have. But I think it's safe to say I'm really angry & upset about the attack at Boston. My heart aches for the spectators that were hurt & killed, because I so appreciate spectators who come out to cheer me on. I feel protective about my friends who were running & cheering at Boston yesterday, & I'm so, sooo mad that someone wanted to harm them. 

These are my people. 

This is my life.

I don't really have any other words to express that will change anything, past or future, and nothing I can say will ever be enough anyway. But runners & the whole race community is the most supportive family ever, and I am doing my best to find the positive stories & acts of heroism coming out of this.

And in the present, I can keep going out there, doing what I love & giving right back to this community that gives so much to me.

We run a little harder today.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Wrapping up March/Speedwork

After running long, slow, & on trails for the majority of my 2013 running, I've finally started moving my way back to the pavement & into some more speedwork during the month of March. I had a really great time exploring so many new trails and giving my body a break in preparation for the Way Too Cool 50k, but I'm feeling ready to go back to my roots... road races. And mayyyyybe shooting for a goal marathon later this fall. We'll see, though, as I'm kind of just dabbling with higher mileage and more speedwork again. I'll come up with some solid goals once I figure out where I want to be with my running. (Which I am kind of not in a rush to do at the moment.)

As strange as it sounds, I really learned to love running slow -- I figured this out during ultra training. Sure, "slow" is a relative term, but one of my favorite things about Way Too Cool training was the complete lack of speed work. I loved all of the casual paces -- both on trails and off -- and I'm kind of not sure how much speedwork I want to add back in quite yet. 

I know ultra training and all the elevation gains I covered probably did pretty well for my endurance. But my speed? -- Yeah, that's another story. What used to be a casual pace for me now feels like a hard sprint. On days when I'm actually trying to push the pace, this is discouraging. But on days where I'm not trying to run hard, I kind of couldn't care less about how fast I'm slogging along.

Sooo, figuring out my goals for the rest of the year will be interesting with my now-blase attitude regarding pace.

But for now! That speedwork I am trying to add back in. I am already finding that on my speedwork days, I'm not very good at pushing myself. So to hold myself accountable, I've added in the most-dreaded race distances: 5ks and 10ks.

Last weekend Cate and I ran the Walt Stack 10k in the Marina district of San Francisco. It's relatively flat except for the mother of all hills, Fort Mason, where I actually felt like I was having a heart attack at the top of the hill.

But the payoff? 6 solid miles of sub-7:45 pace & a fun day with a friend.

This morning I ran the Easter Roller Coaster 5k for the second time. The first time I ran it was back in 2011, and this was the fateful day where I met Alisyn and Tony the Endorphin Dude. 

As the name implies, the course goes up and down 2 large hills, turns around, and heads back on the same hills: Essentially 4 hills, 500 feet of of elevation, all in 3 miles. It doesn't look like it in graph form, but it's a bitch when you're trying to go fast. 

Last time I ran this race I stopped to walk the hill after the turnaround. With an 18.4% grade, even walking is a challenge. I managed a 4th place finish with 25:59. 

This year I went back -- the day after a long run, no less -- to push my tired legs with some more speed. I finished in 24:55, a personal course PR by more than a minute -- and a 5th place finish. I imagine the hill training I did in preparation for the ultra is serving me well, but clearly I've more work to do in the "going fast" department. 

I'll get there. Just not sure when...

And a promise is a promise: I met a nice runner from the UK who kindly introduced himself to me after the race. He shook my hand & said "he recognized me from the internet" -- kind of funny and not at all awkward. ;) Paul finished in a blazing fast 18 minutes, good for second male, I think.

Save travels back home, Paul, and thanks for introducing yourself at the race! I hope San Francisco treated you well.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Race Report: Way Too Cool 50k

First things first: The price increase for The San Francisco Marathon is tomorrow, Friday, 3/15/13. Use discount code DSC10AMBAY2013 (exp. 3/17) to save $10 on registration & see you there!

Second things second: This past weekend I finished a 50k ultramarathon.

I had a fun weekend with friends who also became ultramarathoners and/or who PR'd the crap out of their existing 50k times and/or gave up their entire day to cheer like crazy people at a kinda-far-away race. I ran smart (whatever that means), I ran strong (once my legs finally woke up at mile 17), and I finished quite a bit faster than I anticipated (6:12 instead of my estimated 6.5-7 hours).

I crossed the finish line with a huge feeling of accomplishment & with tears in my eyes when I was enveloped by so many friends -- friends who came up just for me! Amazing. 

But I also crossed that finish line with the feeling that this isn't something I need to do again -- at least not in the immediate future. I felt instant gratification from finishing, but I'm not feeling that urge to "better it" like I have with other distances.

The rest of my race report, I'll maybe save for another time. For now, some pictures can tell the story better than I have the desire to.
I wish all race photos happened within the first 30 feet. (From Cate)

So many paparazzi friends at Mile 8, I didn't know where to look!

(From Alisyn)

(From Jana)

(From Inside Trail)

Where's Waldo?
I am an ultramarathoner! (From Jana)

Hugs from Jana, Michaela, Jess, & Cate

Me with Jess & Aron (PR queens) and Kristen & Layla (new ultramarathoners)

Overall, the race was well organized and supported, and it's one I would recommend entering the lottery for if you want to run a trail ultra. I had a good race out there, and being supported by my friends was the best way to top off a great day.

Official time: 6:12:52
Average pace: 11:59 min/mile
Overall place: 504/853
Gender place: 164/342
AG place: 66/114

Monday, February 25, 2013

Another Back-to-Back & Taper?

This past weekend I did my forth back-to-back weekend in this training cycle: a 19/11, a 17/18, a 20/10 last weekend, and now this:

Saturday: Inside Trail Racing's Chabot Trail Run 30k

When so many of my Bay Area friends signed up for this race, it took no time at all for me to be convinced to join. I had never run Lake Chabot, I could stand to use more miles on the trails, and any reason to see friends is a good enough one for me.

I ran the first two miles or so on my own, until I caught up with Kim, a friend of Aron's. What started with a few basic life questions turned into 16 more miles of truly great company. As Aron always says, "To really get to know someone, do a long run with them." Kim & I really connected on this scenic trail run, and we had a great day chatting, hiking, and having a good time. She is training for a 50 miler & I got to pick her brain a bit about ultras. It was a lot of fun!

Kim & me approaching an aid station.

At the top peak, we could see the Bay (way in the distance) and hills forever.

Funny. I am missing a picture of Lake Chabot. I swear it was there.

Friends in the sun! 

18.22 miles/3:22:50/2,245' climbing

Sunday: San Bruno Mountain Ultramarathons' Half Marathon

A few months ago, Alisyn won an entry into an inaugural race just south of San Francisco. She had tried to convince a few people to join her, but after looking at the website and seeing how disorganized it was & how many details were missing, I wasn't sold. I planned on doing my second long run on my own & save my hard-earned dough instead, until about 6pm Saturday night... I decided I would give it a shot & join Alisyn for my second long run of the weekend. I signed up for this inaugural race despite not even knowing where the starting line was (yes, those kinds of details were missing), and let me say, I am SO glad I did it!

Lake Chabot was fun and a great challenge, but the San Bruno Mountain half marathon was another story. It had the same amount of climbing in 13 miles as we did in 18 miles the day before. That phrase "what goes up must come down" definitely did not apply to this race. I don't know how this race director did it, but we had us running various routes around the San Bruno Mountain State Park, and somehow made the course nearly entirely uphill. What downhills we did have were so steep they were nearly unrunnable and completely unrelenting.

But, despite my slow pace, I charged up almost every hill on the course & had a really great confidence-boosting race, especially coming off a challenging run the day before.

Teeny tiny San Francisco to the distant right. 

This was the biggest downhill we had. It's hard to tell from this angle, but people were trying not to tumble down toward the water. I slid a few feet a couple times and miraculously kept my balance -- it was so steep that it would have been easier to crab-crawl than walk.

Then we turned around at the bottom & went back up for endless climbing toward the finish.

The hills were hard, but the views did not suck.

More up.

 More, more up.

 Alisyn, her friend Shannon & I all crossed the finish together!

13 miles/2:55:04/2,195' climbing

This race was wayyy harder than my longer race the day before, but I felt great the entire time. I'm so glad I went to do this race and when they hold it again next year, I'll be back. :)

Taper time!  
With this past weekend of races, I now start tapering... although I'd be lying if I said I thought I deserved a taper. My back-to-backs didn't hit the miles I wanted to hit and I didn't do as many of them as I initially dreamed of doing. My overall weekly mileage numbers were low compared to what I usually run. I only did one 20-miler whereas I usually do a few more than that for a marathon. But, excuses aside, I did what I could given my gimpy hip, life/work/apartment changes, & everything else that seems to happen when you're alive & trying to live that life.

And even though I have no goals for Way Too Cool other than to finish, I am happy to rest up a little bit & take on my first 50k in 12 days!