Alas, it is September. School has begun (or resumed); everyone is all the rage for the long-awaited PSLs and decorative gourds; and… and… did you know! It’s also Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
For the entire summer, I’ve been fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Now, just six weeks out from race day, I’m putting out another call to humbly ask for you, my readers’, support on my final fundraising push on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for the Nike Women’s San Francisco half marathon that I’ll be racing in about a month’s time. Race day is October 19th, and to date, I’ve met 75% of my fundraising goal.
I know you probably receive many fundraising solicitations, and I hear you. It’s exhausting. There are so many reputable organizations doing incredible work, and I count LLS among them. For more than 60 years, LLS has invested more than $1 billion to advance cancer therapies and save lives; in fact, in ’13 alone, the organization invested nearly $74 million in research.
While it might not be as common for us to know someone who has been affected by a blood-specific cancer, LLS’s work and research is pivotal because nearly 40% of new cancer therapies approved by the FDA between 2000-13 were first approved for blood cancer patients. In other words, LLS research grants have funded many of today’s most promising advances, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies, and some of the therapies first approved for blood cancer patients are now helping patients with other types of cancers and other serious diseases. In other words, the work that LLS has done, and is continuing to do, matters; it’s not exclusively for blood cancer.
When I last wrote, I said that I will be racing the NWSF half marathon—a tough race, especially with the hills of San Francisco—to memorialize Traci’s mother, Carol, and to honor my mother, Sandy. I’m expecting this half marathon to be one of my most challenging road half marathons to date, but this race isn’t about me or my performance. I’m racing on behalf of the LLS and fundraising for this organization because I want to continue to honor Carol and my mother and the countless other women and men who continue to fight their cancer diagnoses like hell.
Don’t get me wrong: truly racing a half marathon is no walk in the park—even before adding some SF-style hills into the equation. My proverbial “fighting” through a tough half marathon race, though, is absolutely inconsequential compared to what Traci’s mother and my mother endured in their cancer treatments. These two women could fight like they did because organizations like LLS are helping to find cures and ensure access to the best available treatments… and quite frankly, the LLS can’t function without the support of generous donors like you.
Asking for money, even for good causes and reputable charities like the LLS, admittedly is kinda awkward. What’s worse though—what makes me more uneasy—is when I hear of another friend, or another family member, or an acquaintance, or hell, even a stranger, getting a cancer diagnosis. Let’s put an end to this nonsense; it’s 2014. We should be, we need to be, beyond this.
It is absolutely an honor to be fundraising for the LLS again, and I humbly ask for your support in my fundraising endeavors. I’ve met 75% of my $1,800 goal—so very close, but not quite there yet—and I’d love to have your support before October. Every donation is 100% tax-deductible, and of course, every donation matters. Additionally, you can make your donation stretch even farther by seeing if your employer participates in matching gift opportunities.
Please know that you have my heartfelt thanks for your generosity and your consideration. Every donation helps us get one step closer to a world without cancer, and I appreciate knowing that you will be with me in spirit as I take on what will surely be an incredible and challenging race.
The passage of time has a funny, although probably a bit expected, way of changing our perspectives and perceptions about just about everything. That’s something of a ridiculous topic statement (I should know better) and a verifiably shitty way to begin a race recap of my twenty-fifth marathon, the 2014 Santa Rosa Marathon in Santa Rosa, CA, but as I’ve been thinking about my experience at SRM, that’s kinda what I keep coming back to–this notion of changing perspectives, a change that, for me, has only come with the passage of time, and one that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected to experience in the context of marathoning, at least this early in my marathoning “tenure.”
I’ve belabored this point by now, but as you know, when my family and I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area back in December (12/21, if anyone is counting), it was a big deal for a ton of reasons obvious and not-so-much, and in the two months that C and I were geographically separated, I spent many of my pre-move nights researching and subsequently registering for races and run clubs out in these parts (read: coping mechanism). I didn’t know when the move would eventually transpire, but dammit if I didn’t have a rip-roarin’ race calendar and run community at the ready.
Sometime late last year, probably in the November-December range, Austin, a friend whom I had met from RYBQ over the weekend of the failed ’12 NYCM (thanks, Superstorm Sandy) had told me about the Santa Rosa Marathon and all the things that made the race stand out–wine country, running by vineyard after vineyard, literally running through a barrel room, getting a bottle of wine as a race amenity, (are you sensing a theme here), a super fast and flat course–and once a hasty search revealed that SR would be just a couple hours north of our future home in the south bay, I told Austin I was in for yet another rundezvous, west coast style, with him (our fourth? fifth? I’m beginning to lose count). He pointed out to me how cool the weekend would be because aside from the typical goodness that comes with marathon weekend, SRM would also mark his tenth marathon and my twenty-fifth, nice round numbers that are good for celebratory/achievement milestones. Again: more good stuff, more good reasons to sign up for another marathon, even though this one would be just four weeks after The San Francisco Marathon in late July, and what would amount to being my fourth 26.2 of 2014 since late March. No matter. Take my money, I was in.
2014 has been an excellent and quite full year of training and racing, and I’ve done a decent enough (though not perfect) job of staying healthy and not burning out or getting bored. The shatter-the-fuck-outta-that-3:20 plan has been alive and kickin’, and post-Newport, where I managed to idiotically dehydrate myself and damn near fall over TWICE during the marathon from cramping, my plan had been to treat TSFM, a decidedly tough race (hello, 1k+ feet of climbing) as a strong training run and really try to go for the gold again at SRM in late August.
But then… life happened, and in the universe always makes sense department, yet again, the universe came a-knockin’, and I am damn happy that I was there and sufficiently attentive to answer. Linh, the fella responsible for coordinating the tons and tons of pacer groups for so many races in and throughout the Bay Area where RA [RunningAddicts] assists, put out a call to see if anyone was available/interested/willing/healthy to pace a 3:35 marathon group at SRM. Pacing a 3:35 group, a group that no doubt would be full of tons and tons of 18-34 year-old women who’d specifically be running SRM in the hopes of qualifying for Boston, instantly intrigued me, and regardless of what this would mean for my own racing this summer–suddenly, not that long after Newport in late May, I’d be convincing myself that I was trained and sufficiently strong to race the difficult TSFM in late July, even though the course obviously wasn’t favorable to PRs or fast performances–I told Linh I was in and ready and willing to pace SRM, in what would be my first full marathon pacing gig… and one that came mere months after my “debut” pacing gigs at two different halfs in April and May.
Fortunately, Ko, another RA fella, and a super fast one at that (hello, sub-3), who had coincidentally been one of the 3:20 pacers I had run with for most of the Oakland Marathon, also said that he’d be in for the 3:35 party, and awesome. We were a team.
I’m already over 700 words into this recap and have said nothing of the race, but I’ve gotta take (another) detour here for a second to give you an idea of the enormity and excitement and OMG IS THIS FOR REAL going through my mind in the time between committing to pacing SRM and actually pacing SRM. Everything that I said earlier, about the passage of time and how it changes our perspectives and perceptions about stuff? This is where that comes into play.
Running performances can be and often are this sorta individual thing, and clearly, everything is relative–my fast can be your slow, that sort of thing–but I think it’s helpful to compare performances and training against ourselves, against where we were X number of days, weeks, months, years ago to where we are now to figure out what has changed and hopefully, how we’ve gotten stronger, faster, healthier, and that sort of thing over time. I’m not going to self-aggrandize here–because clearly, there are many, many runners hella faster and stronger than me–but hear me out for a second. If you would have told me in 2012, just two years ago, that I’d be pacing 3:35–pacing, implying that 3:35 would be nice and comfortable and a race time I could clock without issue–I would have called your bluff. From 2008 until 2012, my PR squarely sat at 3:37 from Austin ’08 (another hilly course), until I chipped it down to 3:34 (April ’12, nearly one year exactly postpartum), then down to :31 (Houston ’13), and a high and then low :20 (Eugene, Chicago ’13), with several other subsequent races in the low :20s on tough courses since Chicago. So–yea. Big changes in a relatively short amount of time in my abbreviated running career, with the most substantial changes in the past 18 months or so.
As you can imagine and hopefully glean from my ever-rambling ruminations about this race already, actually pacing a marathon for fun a) kinda blew my mind because I never imagined being a runner strong enough/healthy enough/crazy enough (eh, debatable) to say “sure! I’ll run 26.2 for fun and to help others!”, and b) and at a time/pace that would have been totally unattainable for me just two years ago … yeah. Suffice it to say that I had several moments in the weeks and days preceding SRM where, no kidding, I’d look at the pacer bio page and yup, my name and picture was still there, so I guess this really was happening. Whoa, nelly.
Time, you are a funny, funny thing.
Saturday: expo, dinner, typical race eve stuff
After fetching Austin at SFO and continuing our trek northward, with a stop at a reasonably good Denny’s and a beautiful Safeway (love me some grocery stores), we got into Santa Rosa and went straight to the DeLoach Winery, the site of the outdoor expo, and site of the barrel room that we’d also be running through around mile 10 of the marathon. The expo was unlike any other that I’ve attended (outdoors! winery! wine tastings!), and we got our things quickly and easily (shout-out here to Beth, the pacer coordinator who had already fetched all the pacers’ stuff. She made the pacers’ lives fantastic over race weekend).
It was super sunny and pretty warm at mid-day, but Austin and I wanted to do a little shake-out after sitting on our bums for so long in the car, so that’s what we did… by running back and forth, back and forth, down a side street off the main country-ish road where DeLoach was situated, for a good 2 .5-ish miles before heading back to the expo to volunteer, all stinky and sweaty, at the pacer tent with Ko and company for a few hours. Austin, who was going after big goals at SRM, was a champ and hung out with the pacer gang for a few hours and also found several other runners who shared similar goals for the day. Really, it was actually a rather enjoyable way to pass a few hours until dinner time, and it made me even more stoked to be pacing the next day. Race weekend just brings with it this damn near palpable energy, and I’d say the same is true, if not more so, when you’re sitting at a pacer booth and folks just want to talk all running, all the time. swoon
Eventually, Austin and I met Ko over at the hotel we three would be sharing for the night (Sandman–good value, pool, one-night minimum… recommended) to check-in and then head over to a friend of Ko’s, Heather’s, friend’s parents’ (whew) timeshare for dinner. It was awesome and just lovely: probably close to 10 runners and their significant others, small kids running around, and so.much.food. A few hours later, we returned to the hotel and were off to bed in the hopes of getting at least a little shut-eye before the race’s 6 a.m. start on Sunday.
A 6am race start meant a 3am wakeup, and shortly after I awoke, as I was standing in front of our bathroom sink, trying to not be as loud as a herd of elephants–apparently, my natural tendency, according to my husband–I noticed that even though I was staring squarely at the sink, it seemed like it was moving to the left… then the right… then the left again. This obviously puzzled me, and as I tried to make sense of it, I came to the following conclusions: a) I was really, really dizzy, which would be peculiar but… okay, whatever, it’s 3 a.m.; b) I was unfathomably tired and kinda hallucinating, which would, again, be peculiar, but… whatever; or c) I was drunk as a skunk, even though I hadn’t consumed any alcohol for the preceding weeks/months, and this really couldn’t be an option, but… what the hell??! Why was the sink moving??
Earthquake, silly. You’re not in the midwest anymore.
Suffice it to say that it was really, really weird and kinda unsettling to be in a building and to feel it swaying back and forth, over and over, when you know that buildings generally aren’t supposed to move. At any rate, the 6.0 magnitude earthquake was a helluva way to begin marathon morning and, fortunately, SR didn’t have the extent of damage that Napa had, so the marathon was still on.
My twitter: east coast: long run/triathlon/race pre-start banter. West coast: holyshitEARTHQUAKE!!!!! #timezones
Post-quake, and post-typical song and dance routine of marathon morning (aka how many times can you make yourself go to the bathroom??), Ko, Austin, and I drove over to the marathon’s staging area, and things moved quickly, as they often do on marathon morning. I briefly got to see Anil and Chris, both who’d go on to rock some solid marathon performances, before splitting from Austin and heading over to the corrals, where I got to answer a deluge of questions from VERY EXCITED and VERY NERVOUS runners. Protip: don’t ask someone else what your pacing strategy should be literally minutes, nay seconds (!), before the race begins.
the actual race
This is a good segue to direct you to my review of the race on BibRave, in the event that you’re interested in a more executive-level overview of it. However, unlike my other marathon RRs, I won’t go into the mile-by-mile recap of the race because it wasn’t a super strategic race for me, simply because I was pacing and needed to run as evenly as possible. To hit a 3:35:00, Ko and I needed to average 8:12s, so that’s what we were aiming for. As anyone who has run a road race can attest, oftentimes our GPS devices don’t align perfectly with the official, on-course markers, so we accounted for that and tried to average slightly under 8:12s (and planned for ~26.3/.4 miles, given that hardly anyone can run tangents as perfectly as they’re measured). The aforementioned was essentially the extent of any race strategy we had. Between the two of us, we were wearing at least three different watches, so we were prepared for a technological meltdown if one were to occur.
When I think about the course, I mentally categorize it into four parts:
-downtown (miles 1-3ish)
-the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, which is kinda like a bike trail and reminds me a bit of the GRT here in SJ or like the most eastern side of the LFT in Chicago [like the path between North Ave and Belmont] (miles 4-8.5ish)
-ruralish country roads (miles 9ish-20)
-the Santa Rosa Creek Trail again, the same path as before (miles 20-25.5) + a quick trip back to downtown (miles 25.5-26.2)
The first three miles had what seemed like a thousand turns, so we were initially off pace just a little bit between all the turning and the usual crowding that’s pretty typical at the beginning of a 26.2. The race is capped around 1,000+ runners, and fortunately, folks doing 13.1 or the 5k didn’t start until significantly later than the full runners. All that aside, the first few miles through downtown, while super cute and quaint (local and quirky storefronts, cobblestone streets, white Christmas lights in the downtown area’s trees), things felt a bit tight and a bit messy. From the get-go, we had a small town’s worth of runners in our group–which totally rocked–but it made for some unexpected challenges as we were getting into a rhythm early on and trying to do whatever it took to ensure that nobody was running a step farther than the prescribed 26.2 miles. In the interest of trying to make myself useful, I called out the turns in advance, whenever I could see them from afar, so folks could make their way over to the appropriate side and run the tangent as tightly as possible. We obviously can’t run anyone else’s miles, but the least we can do is try to help others run no more than they need to, ya know?
Once we got onto the trail, it took us a few more miles until things seemed to begin to space out nicely. The trail itself is nice–basically like running on pavement but with the aesthetic benefit of seeing some beautiful trees, some nice houses, and some vineyards or farmland periodically–but spatially, it was a tad narrow (again, think of the width of the GRT or the LFT). Fortunately, at least initially, there were very few other runners or cyclists running against the horde of marathoner traffic. We soon got in our groove, our runners seemed happy and relaxed, and again, we had a small town’s worth of runners behind or near us. It was awesome.
Our group quickly discovered that we’d all have to be rather strategic when it came time to navigate the fluid stations simply because there weren’t a ton of volunteers working at them and because the actual stations were pretty short (maybe 1 or 2 tables). Several times throughout the race, I grabbed whatever I could (literally) get my hands on, water or gatorade, and after I drank, I offered the rest to anyone in my group who wanted more or who didn’t get any in the first place, and other runners in our group started to do the same… germs be damned. It was really kinda cool, almost like a little unofficial team thing we had going, like we were all looking out for each other. The fluid stations’ difficulty would be a recurring thing for the rest of the race, and so I again tried to make myself useful to my group by warning them ahead of time when a station was approaching so folks could figure out what they were going to do–stay at their current pace, drop back, pick it up for a few strides to get ahead of the group, whatever.
There were just a handful of little hiccup undulations–ups and downs, mostly just going under bridges–on the trail, and we had comfortably locked down our pace early on with anywhere from 35-50 seconds to spare. It was relieving to get off the path and onto the country roads, where we were no longer canopied by any trees or restricted to a skinny stretch of pavement, and luckily, the weather was cooperating and stayed comfortable, if barely a bit humid. Northern California in August can be scorching, but it seemed like the weather gods were throwing us one that morning. Our group was still thick, but things were going well, and the miles just clicked along. Running through the barrel room at DeLoach around mile 10 or 10.5, the same place as the expo the day before, was fun, and aside from some more little hiccup hills between miles 11-13 (and a snake on the road–first time I’ve had that in a marathon), things were moving right along fairly uneventfully.
I finally got a chance to talk with Miriam, one of my Ragnar SoCal teammates from earlier this year (and also a fellow TSFM ’14 and ZOOMA Napa ’14 ambassador pal) who was running with us for an attempt to BQ and PR, and she, just like many others in our group, looked really fresh at the halfway mark. At that point, I was still feeling fine, and luckily, the random ITB tightness that had manifested just 9 days earlier wasn’t resurfacing.
However, around miles 12/13, I was beginning to feel a tad tired–no doubt related to taking off a few days more than I usually would, in an attempt to go into SRM as fresh as possible and with minimal ITB tightness–so I figured I’d have to be hypervigilant about nailing my nutrition for the second half of the race. Until that point in the course, my nutrition for the most part had been fine, but the cluster that was the fluid stations had made it more challenging than usual to ensure that I was taking in adequate amounts of electrolytes and water. After a few miles of thinking about things some more, I decided that having a mid-marathon shit stop would probably make me feel better and help me shake some fatigue–couldn’t tell ya the logic on that one, sorry–and strangely enough, it seemed to help. There ya go; when in doubt, poop. I guess.
The rest of the race was pretty quiet. Some fluid stops had oranges and bananas, so I took those whenever I could, and eventually, we got back onto the bike trail around mile 20. Our group had thinned out some and had predictably become pretty quiet, so we encouraged them and urged them to focus on the mile they’re in, to relax, that type of thing, stuff that I often tell myself when I am beginning to encounter fatigue/boredom late in a race. The narrow path became even more narrow the closer we got to the finish simply because we began to pick off large groups of half marathoners (in the 2:30+ range, I think), something I wasn’t anticipating. Fortunately, folks yielded to the faster-moving marathoners, and I didn’t get the impression that anyone in our group felt like they had gotten trapped behind a slower-moving half marathoner.
With less than 10k to go, our group was still on pace and about 30-50 seconds faster than we needed to be, and things were moving along quite nicely. We encountered the same little hiccup hills on the trail that we did going out–though of course, they seemed much more dramatic–and I quickly realized when I went to take my last gel somewhere around miles 22/24 that, fuck, I had dropped it somewhere much earlier in the course. I was beginning to feel tired and dropped a few paces back from Ko but still kept him well within eyesight (and therefore, maintaining the 3:35:00 pace). I cursed myself for not noticing earlier in the course that I had dropped it and hoped that it wouldn’t promise an imminent smacking into the wall.
Getting off the bikepath and circling back to downtown and the start/finish line was glorious. It was becoming more clear to me that I had botched my nutrition a bit on the course, between the kinda chaotic fluid stations and missing my last gel, because suddenly, my head was beginning to feel super heavy, like I was carrying the weight of the world in my ponytail, much like the feeling I had in the final stretch of Houston ’13. I yelled to Ko so he’d hear how close I was to him, and sure enough, before I knew it, we finished together, side by side, and under pace: 3:34:38.
Immediately after we finished, I wanted to drink every ounce of water I could find and pretty much stood in front of a finish line fluid station for a good five minutes, asking for refill after refill, because I was so.effin.thirsty. Water has never tasted so delicious. Shortly after getting out of the finish chute, I found Austin and Anil, who both rocked some certifiably badass PRs, as well as Chris, who also rocked a really solid race. We bonded over our on-course experiences, and just like at TSFM, when I was so stinkin’ happy for so many of my lady friends, apparently SRM was all about the boys because my heart was just sing-songy for my bevy of boys and their fantastic race day performances.
As if my heart wasn’t so full already for my friends’ performances, several runners approached me after the race, as I was clumsily trying to put on flip-flops and begin to make myself look (and smell) human again, to thank me for helping them achieve their race day goals. I can remember at least four or five individuals, men and women, young and Masters, tell me that they paced off Ko and me for all or much of the race and attributed their PR, BQ, or strong race performance to us and our pacing. One woman in particular was on the verge of tears when she told me that she had both PRed and BQed with us–which naturally, put me on the verge of tears–and seriously? heart explosion. Serious, serious, serious case of run love.
Eventually, Austin, Ko, and I headed back to the hotel before going home to the south bay, where Austin would stay with my family and me for the night before returning to Portland, and just like that, another marathon was over, another rundezvous with Austin had concluded, and somehow, together with Ko, I had paced a group of runners to a 3:35 marathon finish, a time that took me years and years to be able to realize and one that was about as fast as I ever thought I’d be able to run.
Like I said in my shitty intro, it’s kinda funny how time has a way of changing our perspective about things. I never thought I’d be a sufficiently strong runner to be able to run, let alone pace, a 3:35 marathon, and really, the thought never occurred to me much before moving here. I so very much enjoyed the experience of pacing SRM, a course that is something like the 5th or the 6th in the nation in terms of the number of BQs it produces, and seriously, it was an honor. That sounds kinda cheap, but I mean it sincerely. It’s a huge fuckin’ honor to help other runners achieve whatever unicorn they’re pursuing, be it a BQ, a PR, finishing vertically not horizontally… whatever. We all have our own unicorns; what bonds us is our relentless pursuit of them.
I think I’m coming to learn through my recent pacing experiences that not every race has to be about me and that sometimes, the best ones, the ones that are the most gratifying, satisfying, or the ones that are simply good for the soul and that remind me why I got into marathoning (or running) in the first place are the races where it’s not about my finish time but about someone else’s and about the steps we take, collectively, metaphorically, and literally, together with those other runners that are the most meaningful. So many people have helped me get to where I am currently, and where I am going, in my running, so to be able to pay it back, and to the backdrop of my 25th marathon… yeah. That penultimate Sunday in August was a good morning.
Thanks for all your support, and many congratulations to this year’s Santa Rosa Marathon finishers!
Comfy chair, a long commute, or a few drinks and some snacks for this one, amigos…
Typically, in the weeks leading into the Big Event that is Marathon weekend for me—especially if it’s a target race—I get super jazzed, with maybe just a little bit of healthy pre-race stress thrown in for good measure—because I want to see what my body will give me for a few uninterrupted hours of running. I’ll often have an idea of what’s attainable that day, barring catastrophe, and especially if the marathon is a race that I’ve been targeting in my training, I’ll enter into race weekend with many weeks’ and months’ worth of visualizations and hippy-dippy runner-shit that makes me even more ridiculous to be around than usual.
And yet, despite my rational “______ is probably the attainable, reasonable performance for the weekend” metric, I’m an avid, super-enthusiastic proponent of burning our boats and setting goals, especially those of the crazy-ass variety, because fuck it, why not. You never know what’s goin to happen once you toe the line, and hell, as anyone who has ever run any sort of footrace can attest, a lot–a lot–can and does happen over the course of every single mile. It’s part of the thrill and the heartbreak of this sport.
For whatever reason, in the weeks before TSFM, my usual mix of pre-race nerves was completely absent and instead, the eustress-to-distress concoction was at a hearty bajillion:0 ratio. Truly. TSFM weekend was about a race, obviously, but much like many of my other marathons lately—Oakland and Newport this year, and Houston, Eugene, Chicago, and NYC last year—the race was really a backdrop, a function to the fashion of some quality time with some friends new and old in my (new) home state.
As I wrote about in my race week entry, coincidentally becoming a social media ambassador for TSFM mere months before my family and I relocated out here was an enormous fuckin’ deal for me because it has been through that avenue, through the social media interwebby world of TSFM and all its corollaries, that I’ve met people and made friends out here in the past seven months. Not quickly meeting and befriending people after moving out here was one of my biggest fears, and being able to, being able to actually meet and befriend people and sometimes, even getting to run with them! (heeeeeyoooo), no doubt has made the transition from Chicago-to-CA-life profoundly easier and much less (hyperbolically speaking) catastrophic, much less the head-on collision that I was convinced would happen before I ever set foot in SJ, CA, on 12/21/13 and actually gave life here a chance.
This notion of “preparing to fail,” about bracing for impact—an impact that never happened—is somewhat thematic for the past seven months of life here and for TSFM footrace and one that I’ll momentarily revisit because, well, it matters.
Friday: Meredith, ThirstyBear
After a family dinner in SJ and a baby bullet train up to SF, the weekend fun began with seeing my lovely Bootlegger/Chicago gal, Meredith, who just happened to be in SF over the weekend for a family function. It’s so nice to see her when she’s here—which is pretty regularly—for all the obvious reasons but also because there’s just something comforting to see and experience a piece of “home” in your new “home,” if that makes any sense. Together, we met a gaggle of TSFM ambassadors, many of whom were on the SoCal Ragnar team from earlier this year, at ThirstyBear Brewing for a little get-together that Ethan Wes coordinated. Little did I know that everyone’s favorite Bart, Bart Yasso, would be joining us, which was super. It was a blast to catch up with Meredith, chat with everyone, meet some of the non-local ambassadors for the first time in real life, and just basically enjoy everyone’s company, as stupidly after-school special as that sounds, for a couple hours on Friday night.
Shortly thereafter, Meredith dropped me at Stone’s, with whom I would be spending my weekend and at where I’d be shacking up until Sunday, and after an hour or so of Stone and me catching up—somehow, we hadn’t seen each other since we ran B2B in May—it was snooze time.
Saturday: More Meredith, shake-out, Erin B, expo, dinner
TSFM sponsored a community 1-3 mile shake-out run with Bart Yasso that began at Fort Mason, site of the expo (and around mile 3 of the marathon course), so Meredith and I planned to meet-up over there for an easy pre-race yog together with TSFM ambassador community (Stone opted to sleep in and run close to home—smart gal). There was a huge turn-out for the run, maybe around 100, 150 runners, and naturally, getting to meet and see even more of TSFM ambassador community was a blast.
Following the morning yog on an unseasonably warm and humid day for SF, and after lots of sweaty hugs and kisses goodbye to Meredith, I quickly went through the expo to get my own stuff before meeting Erin B, a Chicago friend from Boston ’09 training who had flown into town to run 26.2, for tea. Erin loves SF and has always wanted to run TSFM, so I was obvs super stoked that she decided to do it this year because it’d mean I’d get to see her. We had last seen each other a few weeks before I moved, so you can imagine how quickly our tea time together (hello, alliteration) flew.
Between arriving on Friday night and mid-morning on Saturday, before the race even began, my heart was already full and sing-songy with love from getting to see and spend time with some really special people… cue the awwwwws for sure, but seriously, so. fuckin’. happy.
Post-tea, Erin and I went over to the expo, and before I began my shift, I also got to see Foxy and meet her sister Taryn, who had also flown in to run 26.2, her thirty-fifth marathon before her thirty-fifth birthday. Think about that for a second.
Thirty-five… before thirty-five.
Yeah, BAMF if I’ve ever heard one.
Like with Stone, I hadn’t seen Foxy since B2B in May, so it was nice to chat with her, her sister, and Erin B for a hot minute. Fortunately, my expo shift fleeeeeeew by and, just like when I worked at B2B on behalf of ZOOMA, it was actually pretty invigorating. I worked some at the Info Table, where Trish totally rocked it all day and answered questions like “do I have to wear clothes?” (valid question, it is SF), but I spent most of my time at the “beer garden bracelet” table, checking people’s IDs and adorning strangers’ wrists with “you-are-legally-able-to-drink-post-race” bracelets. Related: next time you think your DMV or passport picture is horrendous, I guarantee—guarantee—someone else’s is worse. (Oy). While I played the “I have to see your ID, even though you’re clearly over 50 years old” game for a few hours, another SF friend whom I also hadn’t seen since B2B, Robin, stopped by, as well as the newly-minted Ironman Saurabh, whom I also hadn’t seen since before he rocked IMCDA about a month ago. Seriously… all the love... before the race began. Ridiculously, stupidly, through-the-roof happy.
I didn’t get outta dodge until nearly 5pm because I had been waiting to see Chris, who’d barely make it to the expo before things shut down, but the wait was worth it, since we, too, hadn’t seen each other in a while. While it was a bit of a long day for a day before a marathon, I was feelin pretty jazzed about everything and super invigorated, thanks in no small part to being able to see so many friends.
By about 5:30, I had finally gotten over to Foxy’s for dinner with her, Taryn, and Stone. The low-key and intimate environment of dinner with friends before race-day morning, wherein you’ll be surrounded by literally thousands of people and tons of nervous energy, was a perfect yin to the forthcoming race morning craziness yang, and somewhere in the meal, we four began talking about goals. Naturally, as type-A personalitieswomen runners are wont to do, and because, well… why not?, we all delineated our A, B, and C goals for race day.
Before this conversation, this super informal chat fewer than 12 hours to go! time, I hadn’t really thought in a lot of detail about what I wanted to accomplish, no doubt because, well, I really had no idea what was in the tank. Following the Newport Marathon in late May, wherein I made some stupid mistakes, I poorly raced the ZOOMA Napa HM (in late June) then raced much more strongly, for the most part, at the Jungle Run HM (two weeks prior to TSFM). However, with my long-term focus now on CIM in December, technically speaking, I’d only been back in marathon training mode (on a 70/24, twice as long as what I usually do) for about five weeks prior to TSFM. Most of my miles had been at comfortable/easy GA paces, and my mileage volume had been on the low, foundational side (~50 mpw). I didn’t think my endurance capacity had diminished all that much, but I had no idea where my marathon fitness and speed was sitting.
Thus, when it was my turn to share my A, B, and C goals, I really didn’t know what to say. My generic plan was to give 100% of whatever was in the tank in the morning, so I safely went with A) a 3:19:59 (to break 3:20 and notch a ~7 second PR… hey, burning boats, right?); B) a BQ; and C) sub-4/something better than my 2010 pregnant-and-on-subpar-training time. I optimistically hoped that I could post at least a 3:25 at TSFM, but with the big ups and the ever-undulating course, even though that time would be my slowest since January ’13, I figured it’d be pretty challenging.
Post-perfect dinner, with my heart even more sing-songy and full, Stone and I went back to her place and did the usual song-and-dance routine that is Marathon Eve, and before too long, it was lights out for me around 9pm (after finishing a book–can’t say I’ve ever done that before a race) for a 2:55 wake-up, pretty similar to what I do for my weekday predawns. The sense of familiarity and comfort that comes with being around friends, as well as a pretty normal bedtime and wake-up time… no complaints.
Sunday, Race Day
Before heading over to the Embarcadero with Stone to meet-up with Foxy, Taryn, and the flurry of ambassadors and RunningAddicts pacers and our friends who’d join us at the pacer/TSFM ambassador tent, I did my typical pre-dawn jig of tea, food, and twitter, and I read a blog short from Seth Godin that really resonated with me. You can almost always tell what time I’m awake during the week, when I’m predawning, because I tend to be binge-reading on twitter, and Seth’s stuff is standard RT fare for me. Though he typically writes in a way that’s made to appeal more to entrepreneurs–read: not necessarily for stay-at-home moms or runners–his work on Sunday morning was spot-on. Really, you should read it in its entirety here, but the gist:
“I would imagine that there are certain situations, perhaps involving the martial arts, where bracing for impact is a good idea. The rest of the time, not so much. [...]
Worse than this, far worse, is that we brace for impact way more often than impact actually occurs. [...]
All the clenching and imagining and playacting and anxiety—our culture has fooled us into thinking that this is a good thing, that it’s a form of preparation.
It’s not. It’s merely experiencing failure in advance, failure that rarely happens.
When you walk around braced for impact, you’re dramatically decreasing your chances. Your chances to avoid the outcome you fear, your chances to make a difference, and your chances to breathe and connect.”
I talk and write often about how important it is to set crazy-ass goals and work your ass off to realize them. No doubt it’s scary, and it’s scary in no small part because setting these goals, publicly proclaiming them (which is a big part of the puzzle), and working your ass off day in and day out to get after ‘em necessitates that you get comfortable with the idea that you *might* fail… and in front of an audience, no less. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there, and I know that it absolutely blows to work and work and work and come up short, but all I can say, all I can promise, is that it’s worth it.
When the ladies and I were chatting at dinner just a handful of hours earlier, rationally, I knew that the likelihood of me realizing that coveted sub-3:20 that I’ve been working toward was quite low at TSFM, not because I was “bracing for impact” but simply because my training isn’t there yet; this race wasn’t my destination as much as it was a turnpike stop on the journey (tenuous metaphor, but go with me). I knew it’d be far more comfortable to just run TSFM as a legit training run and throw all those aforementioned A, B, and C goals out the window–and no doubt, there’d definitely be huge amounts of safety in doing that as well, because if we aim really low, then we can’t be too disappointed with our outcomes, right?–but… but… but… I really wanted to see what I could do on the course, with the course.
Kinda similar to my approach at Boston #2 or NYC, I wanted to make that course work for me, and I knew that, just like at both of those tough races and hard courses, if I ran strategically, I could run and perform well (read: strongly, intelligently). And hey, honestly, if I left the gate going for that 3:19:59 and blew up in flames somewhere along the way, well dammit, that’s some valuable feedback. If I left the gate and holycrap actually realized it, or came within striking distance, again… valuable feedback. No way would I or could I get any of this valuable feedback if I decided from the get-go to be comfortable and safe and not even try. Godin’s onto something. Why should I, why do we, brace for impact when said impact might not even materialize? It’s a colossal waste of time and energy.
I’m hoping that my incoherent rambling here at least gives you a small preview of the back-and-forth, emotional-rational-emotionally rational mental diatribe on those predawn hours before the run … and yet, despite this fast-and-furious mental back-and-forth that was my headspace in the hours at Stone’s before we left, I knew that ultimately, I wanted to race well, of course, but what was most important, what I wanted most out of the entire weekend, was to be able to revel in the experience and the time with my friends. When TSFM weekend was all said and done, I didn’t want to look back on everything pissed off that I didn’t post a specific time; instead, I wanted the weekend’s memories to be happy, and filled with rainbows and unicorns and magical sprinkles from all the good times and good experiences with my friends. I think it’s kinda funny because, as Stone and I were talking about on Friday night, I feel like when I say that I want my marathon weekend to be more about my time with my friends than about my actual race performance, I’m implicitly giving myself an out, a safety net, some permission to already think to myself well gee Erin, you’ve already lowered your stakes for yourself, what’s the point in trying if you’re really just after “a good time with friends” this weekend. Revisiting this now, though, I think I set myself up for a false dichotomy–implying that for some inexplicable reason, I think that it’s not possible to have a fun and amazing experience with my friends while also having a really solid race–but I’d eventually learn just how absurd that little pretend dichotomy was and how mutually nonexclusive (inclusive?) those parties in fact were.
Anyway… when Stone and I left her home, on the back 10k of the course, I was pumped–no nerves, just pumped, and ready to see what was going to unfold over the next handful of hours. Once we got to the Embarcadero and eventually got ourselves to the ambassador/pacer tent area, things moved quickly before the race’s 5:30 start time. We all noticed that things felt a bit humid–I’d later learn that during the race, it was something like 85% humidity (!), totally atypical for July in SF–but seeing so many more friends pre-race kept my nerves at their strange non-existent levels and again, that sing-songy heart thing I keep revisiting? Through the effin roof by this point.
And like that, suddenly, I was standing in the corrals, with the lit-up Bay Bridge in the background, with the seemingly delayed realization that huh… guess we’re running a marathon in 3… 2… 1…
If you don’t want a nitty-gritty low-down about my race, no sweat; read my bibrave review here. And, in case you’re interested in running any of TSFM events in the future, watch this good course video:
Miles 1-5 – Ferry Building to the Presidio: 7:40, 42, 39, 20, 43
TSFM is unique from the other marathons I’ve previously run only because folks can choose to run the full 26.2, the first 13.1, the back 13.1, 52.4 (the marathon, twice, beginning at midnight) or a 5k. Therefore, when the marathon started at 5:30, so did the first 13.1 runners; the back 13.1 runners wouldn’t start until much later, around 8 or 8:30. Starting 26.2 with folks running 13.1 can be challenging in terms of people traffic but also, obviously, in terms of staying honest with your pace and not allowing yourself to start your 26.2 trek at your 13.1 pace. When I put together my mile-by-mile race strategy, that huge white bracelet you’ll see in my pics, I based it off of this website, which factors the relative ascents/descents of each mile (much like what I did for my Boston and NYC strategies). I’m a huge believer in negative splits, and that’s how I run 99% of the time in training, so I was shooting for a 1:42 front half and a sizable-but-doable negative split for that 3:19:59.
Anyway, I began the race super comfortably, just cruising along, concentrating on not weaving, and just enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells (mmm, sourdough bread) of the Embarcadero and Crissy Field pre-dawn. For a few minutes, I ran in the vicinity of Ko, pacing the 3:30 group, and it made me super excited to be pacing the 3:35 group with him at the Santa Rosa Marathon here in just a few weeks’ time. He reminded me to “save my legs”–sage advice for any marathon–so I just kept on, enjoying the views and the comfort of pre-dawn (read: dark) running. Our first climb around mile 4 was pretty anticlimactic, and I felt totally absorbed in each mile that I was in… feeling good, feeling comfortable, feeling fresh.
Around mile 4 or 5, as we were in Crissy Field, I noticed two guys off to my left with Universal Sole shirts on–heyoooo, Chicago!–so naturally, a cat-call was in order. They reciprocated–always a nice pick-me-up–and before long, we began the first of our big climbs, a hill in the Presidio on our way up to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Miles 6-9 – Presidio up to (and over) the Golden Gate Bridge and back: 8:30 (big climb), 7:39, 7:19, 7:34
I remembered a few things about this course when I last ran TSFM in ’10, and the hill leading up to the GGB was one of those things. It’s long, it’s fairly steep, but it’s also over fairly quickly, relatively speaking. This mile, 6, should have been my slowest of the day (I aimed for a 9+ pace), and I focused on getting as many people to pass me as possible, while running suuuuuuuuper comfortably and just yoggin’ on up that thing. Once on the bridge, of course, the GGB was lovely as always, and while it was still pretty foggy and misty out, we could still make out the city in the background as we ran up and over the false flat that is the bridge–the flat that’s actually uphill both ways (just like that hill your dad had to climb, each way, in 12′ of snow on his way to school when he was a kid). Around this time, I lost Johnny, another RA pacer friend who was pacing the 3:25 group, but I felt totally comfortable in my decision to take the GGB miles at effort and literally to enjoy the view for the next few miles while we were there.
Probably because I didn’t know anyone here when I last ran this race, it didn’t occur to me that the GGB’s out-and-back nature would mean that I’d get to see all my runner buddies ahead of and behind me. That was awesome. Seeing Albert and Chris together, looking strong, and then Stone, Foxy, and Meg, and tons and tons of other RA pacer friends and TSFM buddies, collectively made my heart so stinkin’ sing-songy that I had to make a conscious effort to focus, grasshopper, because there was still a helluva long ways to go.
Miles 10-12 – Presidio to Golden Gate Park: 7:47, 7:12 (big down), 7:47
Lots of folks bemoan how many runners stop to take selfies on the GGB, but fortunately, I didn’t run into any of that… or hell, if I did, I didn’t notice because I was too busy looking to my left (on the back portion of the bridge) to see how many runners I could cat-call. Immediately after the bridge, there’s a down, then another up, and then a sizable descent through the Presidio, one that my pace told me I should have clocked a 6:4x, but by that point in the race, I was already about 60-90 seconds ahead of where I wanted to be–too big a buffer, as experience has taught me–so I held back a bit and just let gravity do its thing (while focusing on not braking… downhill running is tricky).
Somewhere around the mile 12 mark, going up yet another hill in some neighborhood, I was comfortably running along when the two Uni Sole guys ran up to me (seemingly out of nowhere) and began chatting Chicago–who we ran with, what we’re doing out here, and the like. It was awesome to chat with those fellas (whose names I didn’t catch), and they looked like they were having a blast running the first 13.1.
We then entered Golden Gate Park around mile 12.5, and though I’ve had the pleasure of running a handful of races there, I seriously have no idea of its size nor any amount of spatial perception therein and surely would get lost there if left to my own devices (for perspective: it’s 20% larger than NYC’s Central Park). We’d be running in the park for miles 12.5 to 19ish and get to see the first halfers finish and the second halfers’ starting line, and the park, much like CP in NYC, is full of ups and downs. By the time I got to GGP, I wasn’t feeling as fresh as I had hoped I would–again, like my NYC strategy, I wanted to get to mile 16 feeling as though I hadn’t already run 16 miles–but I recalled that there’d be some topographical changes in the park that I could work to my advantage… basically, just continue to take the hills at effort and run the descents intelligently.
Miles 13-19 – Golden Gate Park – 7:33, 7:06, 7:39, 7:38, 7:47, 7:17, 7:28
Somewhere around mile 13 or 14, I caught up to Johnny and the 3:25 group, and much like with the Uni Sole guys, it was nice just to briefly chat with someone. Though I ran the entire course with folks in my near-immediate vicinity, very few people really talked. When I crossed 13.1, I was right around a 1:41 or high 1:40, faster than the 1:42 I was aiming for, so I knew I had even more incentive to be smart on the park’s ascents and descents because there was still a lot of course left to run. Though I was a little tired, I was hitting my nutrition like clockwork and constantly assessed how I was feeling and how I was hydrating, even wiping my temples at times to see if I was salting out at all (lesson from Newport in accidentally dehydrating myself, kids… shitty lesson to have learned the hard way but oh, so very valuable).
Shortly after seeing Johnny, I found myself running with a pack of guys, and though we were literally within striking distance of each other, no one was talking or even much acknowledging each other. In my stupid mid-marathon-induced craze, I thought I’d make some buddies and decide to break the ice, asking “where are all my ladies?!” –where are all the other women marathoners??– because there was maaaaaaybe just one or two ponytails far, far off in the distance but that was it; I was surrounded by dudes. My new BFFs and I had a good laugh about that for a minute, and it helped lighten the mood and minutea that is kinda the no-man’s land of miles 14-19 of a marathon. My BFFs and I hung for only a few minutes before I left them–again, making the course work for and with me–and shortly after the first half marathon’s finish, where I saw Albert again (another nice pick-me-up), we began to wind around and around Stow Lake.
By the time we had reached the lake, I was ready to be out of GGP, and I felt like we were literally running in circles (which, truth be told, we kinda were). For the life of me, I couldn’t remember how much longer we had in the park, but luckily, the beauty of distraction came around again in the form of being able to see other runners ahead of or behind me at the mile 16.5/17.5-ish marker. Seeing Paulette‘s husband Kevin and then Stone and Meg running together (still!) was an unexpected treat, and I was SO HAPPY that those ladies were still together. I wondered what type of race they were having, based on the timing of when we saw each other, but hell if I can do mental math on the run… or ever. They (and Kevin) all looked good though, which, by the runner-based transitive property, in turn made me feel good.
Once we neared the 18 mile mark, just before the conservatory, I quickly thought about Chicago ’13 and Newport and my dumb moves at each race to start to kick with 15k to go. At mile 18, I knew that I’d still have a massive descent down Haight, once we got outta the park, as well as still some remaining ascents elsewhere, so I anticipated that any semblance of a kick that I could muster wasn’t going to happen until mile 20 at the very earliest. I was still feeling strong, still doing my nutrition like clockwork (and not salting out, as my periodic temple-rubbing indicated… that would have made for a funny picture), and right as we were getting ready to leave GGP, the sun peeked out for the first time, making me do everything in my mortal power to will that shit away.
And, much to my surprise, by the time we left GGP at mile 19, I was still under a 3:19:59 pace and feeling present, connected, in each mile, and just, generally speaking, enjoying the ride. I had been totally bracing for impact somewhere in the park, anticipating that sooner or later, something catastrophic would have happened to show me that my fitness isn’t where I think it is quite yet, but… it didn’t. At all.
Miles 20-26.2 – Haight St to Mission/Bryant, AT&T Park, Embarcadero/Finish: 7:41, 7:17, 7:18, 7:52, 8:03, 7:53, 8:04, 4:08 (8:16 pace) for .49
One of my favorite memories from TSFM ’10 was running down Haight St. I love the history behind the street/the ‘hood and its weirdo, electic factor, yet let me be the first to tell you that Haight St, between 7:30-8 on a Saturday morning, is pretty quiet. It was absolutely glorious to get outta the park, though, and after another false flat at the top of the street, we had a HUGE downhill–another vivid memory from ’10, because I thought the descent was so steep that I was gonna end up ass-over-teakettle down it–and much like the big descent after the GGB, here, too, I tried to take it at effort without braking too much. My pace calculations showed this should have been a 6:4x effort, but because I was still sizably ahead, I didn’t want to chance anything–still a lot of running left. Running straight down Haight (literally and geographically) for nearly 1.5 miles allowed me to see how many runners, all 26.2 folks, were ahead of me–not a ton, and virtually no women–and unlike ’10, by now in the race, things had really begun to spread out considerably. The only runners I could see were literally blocks ahead of me. An unexpected–and super fun–bonus to Haight this year was seeing a bubble machine that someone had set-up in a BOB stroller and placed on the street. Seriously, bubbles, bubbles, everywhere.
Once we got off Haight, from about miles 21-24, through Mission and Potrero Hill, things got really quiet because, well, it’s that point of a marathon. The environment was mostly industrial (or seemingly industrial, anyway); the spectators were few; and aside from another hill around 22 and then a small little blip at 24, things were getting pretty flat again. My margin was beginning to dwindle some, but I still felt strong and fairly confident (though incredibly surprised) that the race had been going as well for as long as it had. Anytime I saw other runners begin to stop or death-march, I threw whatever words of encouragement I could muster their way, and when it came time to ascend those final couple hills, much like earlier in the race, I just took them at effort and didn’t really look on my watch at all.
It wasn’t until I had hit mile 24, as we were beginning to run alongside the water at the beginning of the homestretch, that I began to feel tired and finally began to feel the hills from earlier, and some cursory (and likely highly incorrect) mental math indicated that unless I got an amazing second wind, the sub-3:20 wasn’t in the cards. Maybe my central governor was trying to talk me out of a balls-out effort for 2.2+ miles, or maybe I got mentally weak, or maybe I decided to save the good stuff for CIM later this year, but I just went with it and listened to my body, willing my feet to just keep pickin’ themselves up. There was no sense of disappointment though–truly–because by then, with just 2.2ish to go, I knew it was simply a matter of finishing with 100% of whatever the stems would give me. I felt really relaxed and chill for the final couple miles and honestly, kinda felt like I was falling asleep some–not falling asleep, aka bonking fast and furious, a la Boston ’09–but I just kinda… I don’t know… kinda felt entranced by the cathartic nature of one step in front of the other, repeatedly, as fast as you can, over and over again. Maybe that’s a runner’s high, maybe it’s fatigue, or maybe I just got lazy; I’m not really sure.
I quickly played hypothetical games with myself, wondering how feasible it would have been for me to notch that 3:19 had I done things just a little differently earlier, but the thoughts were fleeting. Honestly, I was floored that I had had such a better, stronger, and more strategically-run race than I anticipated I’d have. For the entirety of the race, I had felt totally in control, totally connected to and with my run, totally “in” the single mile that I was running, and it was just… nice. It was really, really nice.
That whole thing that Godin was talking about, about how if we brace for impact and expect to fail, that we miss the opportunities to see, breathe, and connect with everything and everyone? Right on the money for me with this race. For nearly the entirety of the race, I tried hard to not approach every single mile with trepidation, with thoughts of yup, this will surely be the mile that’ll do me in, this will be the mile that’ll break me, but instead, I just tried to be present and focused, to experience the race and everything that comes with running 26.2. Admittedly, I kinda figured I’d tank much earlier, somewhere in GGP, but when I didn’t, I was ecstatic (and incredulous). I’m not always the most mentally-focused runner out there, so being present, staying focused, and really truly absolutely feeling and experiencing the race and everything that happens over 26.2 miles is a pretty big deal for me.
Finally, after approaching and then passing AT&T Ballpark at mile 25, and then a right-hand turn from the sidewalk to the street (wherein my calf started to momentarily cramp [fuck!] but quickly went away [hallelujah!]), we made our way alongside and under the Bay Bridge and voila. Just as quickly as we had started, we were done. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and no doubt you can tell that I finished feeling totally fuckin’ floored and just had a blast out there.
Immediately after I finished, I began crowd-searching for my friends who were going after some big goals, and while I was waiting for them to finish, it was awesome to catch-up with other ambassadors and pacers who had finished their races earlier. The sun finally decided to make its presence known around mile 24, 25ish for me, so things were only going to get warmer (and seemingly, more humid) as the day wore on, making me a bit nervous for my friends who’d be coming in later.
Very shortly after I had finished, Stone and Meg finished and made their way over to the tent, excitedly proclaiming that Meg had notched an enormous PR and her first BQ (!!!); that Stone had also notched a BQ, her second-fastest marathon ever, and a redemption run from Boston ’14; and finally, and probably most importantly, that they ran the entire race together.
I fuckin lost it.
Any runner will agree that you celebrate your friends’ performances as you do your own, and I was over the moon stoked for these ladies and their many accomplishments on marathon morning. And then, shortly after Stone and Meg, Foxy came through and said she had also notched a PR for the day, and not much later, her sister, who could finally say that she had run 35 marathons before her 35th birthday.
It was fucking fantastic, and my sing-songy heart was beside itself.
Shortly after these ladies finished, Erin B came through and said how much she had enjoyed the course (and how she’s planning to come back for a redux, now that she knows how the hills are here…)
On an unseasonably warm and humid day on the last Sunday in July in the city by the bay, I ran a little footrace better–faster, more strategically, and more strongly–than any somewhat arbitrarily-based hope or expectation led me to believe.
Buuuuuuuuuuut… but… what’s more, and what matters most to me, though, is that when I think about TSFM ’14, and all of the events that have gotten me to that race–beginning in Chicago, when I haphazardly applied to be a social media ambassador; to NYC, a day before NYCM ’13, when I learned that I had been selected to do this social media ambassador thing; and by way of a cross-country move and basically restarting my adult life; and all the emotional ups and downs that commenced from September until race day, which included me re-making adult friends for the first time in forever–the actual footrace, itself, is such a teeny, tiny part of the puzzle that it’s really pretty inconsequential, kinda an aid station on the turnpike, some sort of transitory marker between Chicago and California.
That I raced well–well, of course, that makes me happy–but that I got to experience and run a top-notch and hard 26.2 with so many friends, who also all had incredible races and with whom I was able to share some great memories over the course of the very fast-paced weekend–that’s the good stuff, the sweet spot, the stuff that continues to make me Cheshire days and weeks post-race. Why I thought that having a good time with friends and racingmy effin heart out were mutually exclusive is beyond me, but now, well… now I know better.
TSFM ’14 was a fantastic experience, a 26.2 that is absolutely worth every single ascent and descent, and one that I simply cannot recommend enough. Please. Do it.
3:22:41; marathon #24; BQ #12; 20th/2309 females; 299th/6618 overall finishers; 4th/452 age group (F 30-34); fastest 26.2 in ’14; about a 20 second positive split; 31:01 minutes faster than my 2010 TSFM; badass good time.
Next time I run SF, it’ll be for the Nike Women’s 13.1, for which I am fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Please consider supporting my efforts here.
Thank you for all your love and support. xo
(and obviously, I was a social media ambassador for TSFM, but the aforementioned views herein are mine because it’d be stupid to lie. Duh).
Another social media ambassador and pal, Trish, recently wrote about what TSFM signifies to her, and it got my wheels turning. I can’t really supply you with a simple “if this, then that” explanation of what TSFM means to me, but instead, a narrative seems more appropriate. Much like, well, everything, a lot has happened between the time I learned I’d be running this race, to now, race week.
The last time I ran TSFM, in 2010, I didn’t really train for it, per se. I was relying hot and heavy on residual fitness, the fitness that I had developed in training for and running and requalifying for Boston, at Boston, in April that year, so between late April and late July, my “training” was fairly minimal, and at best, maintenance or foundational-based. Aside from a few hilly long runs out at Waterfall Glen in the Chicago burbs, I didn’t really do anything special to prepare for TSFM. I just wanted to have fun; ideally, do a sub-4; and quickly see as much of SF as possible before flying down to Orange County to meet C and his parents for a California vacation. My expectations for my race day performance were minimal or non-existent. Of course, I’d later learn that I had run TSFM freshly pregnant–as in, just-conceived-a-couple-nights-prior-to-the-race pregnant–but aside from that little bit of trivia about my history with this race, when I left SF just a couple hours after the race, I left with a wonderful impression of the city, with a glowing recommendation of the race, and I figured sooner or later, I’d make my way back out to California for a TSFM redux, on better (read: actual) training to see what I was really capable of producing on this course.
Anyway, several years passed, and though I opted to remain on TSFM’s email newsletter and receive race-related announcements, there wasn’t any foreseeable date in the future that I planned to run the race again; basically, it had become just a bucket-list thing, a race that I knew I should eventually “do-over” but when said “do-over” was to occur was anyone’s guess. Even when C began working remotely for a Bay Area-based company in 2011, the timing never worked out for me to get back out here to run TSFM. Life, pregnancy, baby, school, whatever just kinda precluded it.
For whatever reason, though, in the summer of 2013, just a few weeks before I ran the Chicago Marathon, a TSFM newsletter email included a call for TSFM social media ambassadors. Among the other incentives the ambassadors would receive was a free race entry to the July 2014 race, and while I thought it’d be a cold day in hell before I’d get selected because of my intentional dearth of a social media presence, I applied. I banged out an application during A’s naptime, talking about how profoundly my running has changed–for the better–since becoming a mother and how I ran the race unknowingly pregnant, and on sub-par training, and how I wanted a chance to see what I could really do on the course and, in the process, hopefully be able to show other new-moms out there in the social media world that pregnancy, childbirth, and the wholly life-changing process and experience of motherhood doesn’t mean that their best running days were behind them… or something along those lines, and even more rambling and less coherent.
After my haphazard application on that summer day in Chicago in the late summer, life happened–and how. Before I knew it, on a whim, C accepted an interview request for a Bay Area company, flew out for it, and by mid-September, had accepted the offer and we began to figure out our relocation details from Chicago. I taught my classes, I continued to train and run and squeaked out a PR in Chicago and an *almost* PR in NYC, and I didn’t give a ton of thought to TSFM because a) I had no idea when or if the move was actually going to happen… denial is a powerful thing, kids, and b) I hadn’t heard back about the ambassador gig and kinda figured the obvious.
It wasn’t until the day or two before the NYC Marathon, when I was sitting in a friend of a friend’s kitchen in the Upper East Side in Manhattan, that I found out that for reasons unbeknowest to me, TSFM had selected me to be part of their 2014 social media ambassador group. And, in the universe always makes sense department, mere hours after I had learned of my acceptance, C, who was already living in CA, and I, while I was still in NYC, figured out our living arrangements for the foreseeable future in CA, at least until we sold our place in Chicago. While a lot of things were still up in the air about our family’s cross-country relocation, some stuff was beginning to fall somewhat neatly into place.
If you’ve read my stuff here since October, you’ll know that the move was a mixed bag for me. Couple (triple?) the enormity of a cross-country move with the minor facts that we were doing it with a child in tow; that my husband was already on the other side of the country, eagerly awaiting our arrival; that we knew very few people here and really, no one who lived in our immediate vicinity of the Bay, and it doesn’t–or shouldn’t–take long to realize that leaving Chicago and the past 11 years of my life there (and more, for C) was rough. I figured shit would work itself out in CA, and whatever outstanding issues I couldn’t resolve in Chicago would be fine once we got to CA because, again, the universe always makes sense. Part of my biggest apprehension about moving to CA and leaving my Chicago past behind me was simply that I had no clue how I’d meet people, or, to be more candid, how the hell I’d meet and make friends once I got here. Getting a clean slate, a chance to really start anew in life, can be awesome, but it can also be a little intimidating, too, because you don’t want to fuck stuff up. These chances don’t come around very often.
This is where TSFM ’14 has come into play–and in a way that I never really thought a mere footrace really could. Through this race, and all of the stuff leading up to it from November until now, I’ve met many other runners from not only all over the country but also from CA and the Bay Area, proper. This has been hugely significant to me because aside from the couple people I knew out here before the move (hi, Stone and Middhie!), I had no one (cue the dramatic music and the small violins). I kinda feel ridiculous admitting this, but it’s because of TSFM and the ever-expanding network that social media can yield that I’ve even connected at all with anyone out here… and that’s awesome. As I’ve written before, I think there’s definitely something to be said for getting outside our comfort zones–as I’ve been trying to do here, in my little corner of the internet, since moving–and as has been my experience, doing so, putting myself out there in “social media land” has been a bit terrifying, no doubt, but it has also positioned me to meet a veritable flurry of amazing and inspiring runners people, including but not limited to the following and all of whom I’ll see over the course of the weekend:
Going into race week, then, it’s probably safer to say that right now, I’m thinking more about HOW EXCITED I AM TO SEE SO MANY AWESOME PEOPLE and less so about my race strategy, though the latter most definitely is in the works. Minimally, TSFM will be a long-ass training run for CIM; optimally, it will be a strong and strategically-run race. Sunday morning will be 100% effort, regardless.
Suffice it to say that I’m accidentally, or coincidentally, continuing on this theme that I’ve rocked so far in 2014 about my races being more than the actual footrace, then, and more about the accompanying experience. It might be odd to admit, but I really feel that TSFM, and the accompanying social media ambassador gig, has helped open doors for me since moving here, and for that, I am quite grateful.
It’s really because of TSFM and its network that I’ve met and have been continuing to meet so many awesome and inspiring runners people, and I’m really looking forward to our time together in just a handful of days, with a 26.2 mile-long fast-moving partay in between.
Bib 20558 for Sunday! and come see me at the expo on Saturday from 12-4!
It’s a bit strange to think that we’re already at the halfway point, or past the halfway point, anyway, of 2014. In the absence of doing weekly training recaps as I had done from January-March for Oakland, I figured I could post a quick update with how training has been going here in SJ. (Related: we’ve already lived here as a family for six months. Whoa).
More often than not, training seems like it’s an experiment of one. What works for you may produce horrific results for me, what works for me could possibly make you want to keel–or whatever–but the funny thing is that regardless of what does or doesn’t work for us, we don’t know anything until and unless we try. And my experiment, thus far in 2014? Four marathons, five months… and with the intention of racing three of them. I wouldn’t necessarily advise that anyone do this, but hey, if you want to, the roads are yours and yours alone.
That training screenshot isn’t the clearest, but basically:
I’m elated to say that the past six months of training and racing have gone really well and have been pretty consistent. Sure, I made some stupid mistakes that cost me the performances I wanted at Oakland or Newport, but when I step back and look at my training and racing from a bigger perspective–much as I try to do when I look at my weekly and monthly training logs–I’m actually pretty satisfied. The consistency is there, and in that regard, I’ve used and have more or less continued to use Pfitz’s 70/12, and combining that with remaining healthy, and thanks to Coach Jay Johnson’s GSM and Matt Fitzgerald’s brain training techniques (which I keep typing as “braining”), getting physically and mentally stronger, I think I’m setting myself up for a favorable year. Time will tell.
It’s wild to think that marathon #3 of the year, the San Francisco Marathon, is in less than two weeks now, but I’m super excited for it. As was the case with Bay to Breakers, more than anything, I’m really looking forward to another weekend of QT with friends in San Francisco. I haven’t figured out exactly what I want to do there, in terms of my racing, but that’ll surely come within the next 10 days or so. It’ll be my first time running that race since 2010, when I ran it freshly and unknowingly pregnant (and on not-great training), so I’m really looking forward to the experience this time around.
And! Even more exciting! Not only will I soon get to see Austin in August for the Santa Rosa Marathon, I’ll also be serving as a 3:35 co-pacer with my RunningAddicts buddy Ko (who was one of my 3:20 pacers in Oakland), at a marathon that is one of the fastest in the nation, in terms of how many BQs it produces. This will be my first time officially pacing a 26.2, so while I am a tad nervous, I am seriously thrilled (and honored) to be doing this.
Finally, I’m in the beginning stages of a very long training cycle–twice as long as what I usually run–for CIM in December. In the build-up to CIM, I’ll be racing the Nike Women’s San Francisco 13.1 to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society–and for which I am fundraising (and have already met nearly 40% of my goal, thanks to your amazing generosity). In keeping with the “I am so excited about everything” right now attitude, I am super jazzed to be fundraising for an organization that’s so near and dear to my heart and one to which I owe my marathoning and running history for the past seven years. (And in case you missed it, here’s why I’m returnin’ to my TNT roots this fall).
2014 has already been an incredible year, full of tons of surprises and many opportunities, and I’m stoked to see how the rest of the year will unfold, one mile at a time. Thank you for all that you’ve given me so far, and stay tuned for more adventures!
Just a week or so after A and I moved from Chicago to join my husband in California, a tweet from a friend of a friend, another Chicago running blogger, alerted me that ZOOMA, a predominately women-focused national running series, was having an inaugural 13.1/6.2 in late June in Napa, about two hours-ish from our new place in SJ, and that they were seeking social media race ambassadors. I was pretty sure ZOOMA had the same 13.1/6.2 on the Chicago lakefront last summer, and though I didn’t run it, I was familiar with the organization and thought, what the hell, let’s apply and see what happens. In the rare chance I’m selected, it’ll be a way to see and run Napa and connect with other local-ish runners (as in, they probably also live in the state of California). I soon learned that the fine folks at ZOOMA graciously had accepted me–and for that, I was and remain extremely thankful–and voila, 13.1 in Napa in late June was on my calendar.
Being a race ambassador for ZNV came with a ton of perks, including lots of sponsor swag–Altra shoes; Feetures! socks; Honest Tea tea/ades; Muscle Milk and Cytomax drinks, gels, and waterbottles; Ultimate Direction hydration systems; and Ultima Replenisher vegan (yes!) electrolyte powders, among other goodies–and surprising to me, I actually enjoyed promoting the race over social media from January-ish until June. With the lead-up into the race, I was probably equally excited to meet the other ZNV ambassadors as I was to actually “race” — note the quotes– 13.1. Everything about the race communication and logistics leading up to the event weekend seemed to be going smoothly–somewhat uncommon for inaugural races, at least from my experiences–so I was optimistic that the race would go over well for all the 13.1/6.2 participants and that there’d be good times and fun all around.
Come race weekend, A and I took a little road-trip, in the form of approximately 4 hours of driving/around 200ish miles total, on Friday to attend the pre-race expo and packet pick-up at the Marriott, the race’s host hotel in Napa. Finally meeting Tricia, the ZOOMA community manager who so graciously and effortlessly got all the ZNV ambassador women’s ducks in a row over the past few months, was so sweet, and hell, even A enjoyed the expo, thanks to the “Kids’ Corner” table, replete with coloring sheets and good (this is important!) crayons. [Ed. note: other races, take notice. There is no way I am the only one who brings her child along to race expos. Something like this, especially if the expo is in a smaller venue, is fantastic. You're welcome]. Nearly as soon as A and I had arrived, we left to begin the haul back down to the south bay so we could get home at a reasonable hour (read: pre- her bedtime) and so I could get at least a little sleep before my vampire-o’clock wake-up to drive back to Napa to race.
Fortunately, only a few people were driving during the Saturday morning vampire hours, so I got back up to Napa relatively quickly, and once I got to the host hotel around 6/6:15, it was smooth sailing. Before being shuttled over to the race’s starting area from the Marriott, I again ran into Tricia and just hung with her for a while, bantering about the race and the hot air balloons that were decorating the skies over Napa already that morning; apparently, hot air balloons over Napa is a regular Saturday morning thing. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had seen a hot air balloon, so this completely captivated me.
Soon enough, along with a yellow school bus’s worth of new friends, my new-found galpals and I were riding over to the race’s start and finish line in the parking lot of a Mormon church. I initially wondered how crammed the race’s staging area would be, especially with the race’s selling out at 1,000 participants, but fortunately, things were pretty open, and I was able to locate my RunningAddicts buddies, who were there to pace the race along with the SJMS crew, and then, the other ZNV social media ambassadors, for tons of pre-race pictures. Though I knew my RA buddies from races and training runs in the south bay, this was the first time I had actually met all of the other ZNV social media ambassador ladies, so it was good times all around.
As far as my actual race performance, well, I think I need to use the most euphemistic word in the English language here.
It was… interesting.
Strong in parts, ugly as fuck in others, but overall, really fun, and I finished without any complaints or regrets… just with a good bit of insight and “lessons learned” to hang on to in my back pocket for future races. (And for a quick-and-dirty run-down about the race, exclusive of my actual performance, check out my review over at BibRave).
As race week inched closer, and I began to think about my goals and what I’d ultimately like to accomplish, I settled on a couple: a 1:34 (aggressive) or a 1:35 (aggressive but slightly more doable). My HM PR is a 1:33, I haven’t seen a 1:35 HM since… 2012? when I last raced a HM, I think? so retrospectively, my ZNV goals were actually pretty damn aggressive, if not also slightly unrealistic, moreso than I acknowledged when I set them.
Here’s the thing, though, and something that I’m coming to terms with in my own training and races. As much as I can’t believe that I’m saying this, I’m getting to the point where I’d rather be (perhaps stupidly ballsy) and audaciously take a chance with my running/race day goals, fully knowing that I will probably fail, than just sitting pretty at some place comfortable. Even though it’d be far more likely that I could hit a high 1:3x, it wouldn’t be as gratifying as working harder to notch a lower time, and possibly (read: likely) failing.
I find it endlessly amusing, if not also a bit weird, that I’m admitting to myself and to anyone reading this that I’d rather work my ass off and fail than I would to just be comfortable and succeed, but that’s how I’m thinking these days. I think there’s something to be said for struggling and working a bit, if not also suffering–more on that in a minute–in a race, as bizarre as that may sound. Despite my perhaps disillusioned or quixotic assessment of my HM capabilities, going into race day, I was FIRED UP and ready to go and ready to hurl myself toward my goals.
Truth be told, I came into the ZNV 13.1 really just with residual Newport Marathon fitness, and since there were only about 4 weeks between the marathon and ZNV, I hadn’t done any HM-specific work (and, really, at the risk of sounding douchey, I never have actually trained for a HM; I’ve only ever run them in the throes of mary training. If you ask me for a HM-specific workout, I wouldn’t know what to tell you). Even with my probable lack of HM fitness, I still wanted to “race” ZNV–however that would look–if for no other reason than the mere fact that I hadn’t legitimately raced a HM since 2012; I just wanted to see what was there.
Back to the race… pre-race, I chatted up RA buddy Linh, who was leading the 1:40 group; Siming, with 1:30; Amy, with 2:20; and Beth, the woman who is coordinating the Santa Rosa Marathon pacers (of which I am part! 3:35, baby!!), and whom I had the pleasure of finally meeting IRL at ZNV, with 1:50. Based on the very strategic plan that I had laid-out for the race, I intended to start the race with or near Linh and gradually pick things up from there. I promised myself to not chase after any runners who bolted out in the lead from the get-go, vowing instead to pursue them later in the race, and just lie low for a while.
Ultimately, I was somewhat successful, but the operative word here is “somewhat.” It took me until mile 7 for my running time to finally match up with my goal time–until then, I was ahead of where I wanted to be, even with some intentional efforts on my part to slow down–and ultimately, it was also around mile 7 that I learned that my going out too quickly at the start, despite my best intentions, was going to come kick me in the ass for a couple miles… but only after I would come *this close* to getting clipped by a pick-up truck on the course.
On that note, a word about the course: beautiful. For basically the entirety of the out-and-back race, we had vineyards on either side of us, as we ran along some seemed-to-me-like country roads, mostly in direct sunlight, which, you can guess, got a little steamy when you’re racing on the last Saturday morning in June in California. I’m not entirely sure why, but for both directions of the race, we ran with traffic, on open roads, and as I inched my way closer to the turn-around near mile 6.8x or 6.9, I could tell/feel/see that a park district pick-up truck was driving alongside me, parallel to me, for quite some time. There was nothing malicious going on–no obnoxious or harassing cat-calling or anything like that–but I thought for sure that the motorist would pick-up speed for a hot second so he could drive past/through the small orange cone barricade that indicated to runners that they had reached the turn-around. Instead, for reasons unknown, he drove alongside me for several minutes, and as we approached the runner turn-around, he matched the speed at which I was running — or, in other words, he was driving as slowly as I was running — and aside from completely startling me, as I made the hairpin turn-around over the orange cone, the truck damn near ran into me/I damn near ran into him because it was then that he finally decided to accelerate, to get out of the HM course. Fortunately, the volunteers were fabulous and yelled at him to move off the course, and luckily, I didn’t actually get hit, but mentally, it just freaked me out. Combine the mental freak out of “holy shit I almost got hit by a truck” with a realization that I really, really, really should have started the race more slowly, and yea… things got ugly for a couple miles.
During this ugly stretch of miles, when I thought for sure that I was running 20-minute miles (note to self: they were 8s, relax, self), I began to think a lot about two things that I have read recently/am in the process of reading: first, this article, and second, this book. I’m still in the early stages of the book, and I plan to write a review about it here once I’m done, but for those few miles in the ZNV half, wherein I thought for sure whatever miniscule amount of athletic abilities I had had that morning had tanked, among the many other things that I thought about, my mind immediately went to the notion of suffering and, as a corollary, why we (runners, me personally) do this to ourselves (push, work hard, haul ass when we’re sure there’s nothing left to haul)? In the throes of the ugly stretch, I had the joy of seeing many of the other ambassadors headed toward the turn-around, so the little pick-me-ups of seeing familiar faces, and yelling at them (and them reciprocating) punctuated my ugly segment with joyful moments. It was also in this stretch, as I was considering the meaning of life and the notion of intentional suffering, that I suddenly got slapped with a hefty dose of perspective.
I’ll spare you the inner workings of my mind here, but in the throes of the ugly, I decided to look at my watch’s splits, and when I saw that my splits were 8s, not 20s, suddenly things just began to click. I surely was still thinking about the fact that I had slowed down, that I had fucked up my race strategy, and all these other things that I had done wrong that morning, yet despite all of that, I also began to think big picture about my running and how and when and why I got to ZNV in the first place. A couple months ago, in advance of the race, I wrote about how I was looking forward to the “bullshit free running experience” that I was anticipating this race would bring and that I was looking forward to supporting the other runners on the course, many of whom would be doing ZNV as one of their first endurance events. When I saw the splits on my watch, it was like I suddenly remembered that there was a time, and one not that long ago, where holding 8s in a race, or really, for any prolonged stretch of time, would have been me hauling ass… or, as was more likely the case, me getting my ass handed to myself. I think it’s ridiculous that it took a case of me essentially fucking up in a race (again!) to get this hearty case of perspective shoved in my face, yet at the same time, once this revelation occurred during the ZNV race, suddenly, things didn’t suck anymore; suddenly, my race became more about finishing as quickly as I could so I could haul ass back to the course to cheer in as many of the other participants as possible.
At the end of the day, I squeaked in with a barely-1:40, my slowest half in years, but I finished smiling and with some perspective that I think I had lost sight of over the past few months. Admittedly, it is initially pretty shitty to finish a race (ZNV was my lifetime 100th!) where I achieved nothing that I was pursuing, but I think the win for me that day wasn’t on the watchface–a theme I seem to be rockin’ this year with my racing thus far–but instead, with the lessons learned and what I can apply to my next go. Oh, and some stranger came up to me afterward and told me she really liked my running form; that’ll always make this ginger feel good.
Shortly after I finished and downed several more glasses of water and Cytomax–things got hot out there–I went back to the final stretch of the course to cheer in Miriam, Haley, and a flurry of other 10k walkers and HM runners. I enjoy spectating and hollerin’ nearly as much as I enjoy racing, so this was a real treat for me. Soon enough, I went back to the Marriott for more QT and photo opps with the other ZNV ambassadors, the awards ceremony, and some nice downtime before returning south to SJ.
I had a blast being a ZNV social media ambassador over the last few months and running the inaugural 13.1 footrace. Among other things, it was a great way for me to connect with other CA-based runners and a wonderful way to see/run/experience a different part of CA, beyond the Bay Area. Though my race day performance was lackluster, at best, as always, I’m stoked I could walk away from the race with pages of mental notes to study for my next go. Next up is another half in the south Bay on 7/13 before TSFM on 7/27 and the 3:35 pacing gig at SRM on 8/24!
Thank you so much to ZOOMA and the multiple sponsors for the opportunities to run, showcase, trial, and represent over the past few months. As always, the views here are mine and mine alone.
Inevitably, this question pops up in conversations — and with about as much frequency when I chat with runners and with non-runners. I can easily wax and wane philosophic about why I do this stuff for fun, why I’ve considered myself “a runner” for most of my entire life, or why, oh why, something that can break my heart can instantly, if not also simultaneously, invigorate and exhilarate and leave me shakin’ in my boots…and why I insist on coming back for more.
I could also try to be sassy and say that I run to eat, or drink, or because it’s cheaper than therapy, or because it sufficiently empowers me to wear clothing so skin tight, it might as well be painted on… and all of these aforementioned are at least partially true…
If I’m being honest, though, and consequently, feel comfortable with likely crying in front of the person who has asked this innocuous question, I’ll say that I run, and got into marathoning specifically, because I wanted to chase after something bigger than myself, to feel like my running was contributing to some sort of social good. While I knew/know that it’s hiiiiiiiiighly unlikely that yours truly will ever single-handedly find a cure for cancer, or single-handedly eradicate poverty, or single-handedly convince the world that educating girls and women is a damn good idea, worthy of their serious consideration, what I can do is make my miles and training matter.
In 2007, when I decided that it was time to train for and run my first marathon, I signed up with the north Chicago suburbs’ chapter of Team in Training, the fundraising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Out of all the charitable organizations out there doing great things–and there are many–I chose TNT because I wanted to honor my dear college friend, Traci’s, mother, who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma while Traci and I were in undergrad together.
In addition to honoring Traci’s kick-ass mom, I also wanted to honor my own kick-ass mom who had been diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a first-year student in undergrad, in 2003, and who went on to beat it, after an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy. Just a few years later, in 2006, during my final year of undergrad, my mother, after having a clean bill of health for years, had a stroke, resulting in paralysis of her right side (which was her dominant side) and expressive aphasia, among other things.
In 2007, when I first learned about Team in Training and the LLS, and what LLS stands for, and the work that they do, it was a no-brainer that my very first marathon (and, at the time, my one and only!) would be through TNT and that my fundraising efforts would go toward LLS.
Fortunately, because my friends are awesome and just about as crazy as me, Traci also decided that running and training for a marathon was a grand idea and jumped on the effort (and has since gone on to complete five marathons with TNT before enrolling in medical school–after earning two Masters degrees. I told you, my friends are fuckin’ amazing). Shitty hot weather aside, my memories from my first marathon, in Chicago, couldn’t be better and more meaningful.
Since I began marathoning in 2007, I’ve been fortunate to participate on behalf of TNT at Chicago (2007, 08) and Nashville’s Country Music Marathon (2008) and, until somewhat recently when I finally figured out that the TNT singlets I have chafe my arms so hard that I bleed, I always raced in a TNT singlet.
Continuing to support TNT and LLS remains close to my heart because I can’t think of TNT/LLS without thinking of Traci, or her mom, or my mom, and it’s quite likely that I wouldn’t be running like I am now were it not for this fine organization that got me on the right path seven years ago.
My running, and specifically, my marathoning “career” is rooted in that organization, and I attribute my love of the sport, and the wonderful foundation I have had for my 23 marathons, to the excellent and inspiring coaches I had in Chicago from TNT. Hell, until we moved, one of my regular running partners, Jack, was one of my former TNT coaches. The organization is like family.
TNT/LLS, as an organization, is what brought me to the sport.
Its mission is what has kept me going.
The incredible and knowledgeable and, just generally speaking, kick-ass coaches are what (or who) brought me back to marathons year after year (if not also month after month), healthy and happy to ready to race and realize my full potential as a newly-minted marathoner.
It has been a few years since I’ve raced on behalf of Team in Training, and in “the universe always makes sense” department, nearly one year to the day of Traci’s mother’s passing–a passing ultimately due to the long-term complications that, unfortunately, come with the territory of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma–seemingly out of nowhere, I was asked if I’d be interested in running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco, a race that exists exclusively to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Once my hands stopped shaking as I was holding my phone, and once the tears in my eyes swelled down enough that I could see, I immediately shot roughly 230803 texts to Traci, committed to the race in October, and promptly went for a run… wherein I saw, would you know, a runner outfitted in TNT gear.
I’m telling you, the universe always makes sense.
Were it not for the NWHM’s explicit connection to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, admittedly, I would have no interest in running it. And, were it not for a race recruiter reaching out to me, the race wouldn’t have been on my radar at all. Sometimes, though, opportunities just fall into our laps, and sometimes, it’s worthwhile to just go with it and figure out the details later…once our hands stop shaking and our eyes stop watering.
I am beyond excited to fundraise for the first time in many years for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society because the need remains.
I am totally humbled that a damn-expensive and kinda exclusive half marathon–nearly $200, and accessible only by lottery–reached out to me to see if I’d be interested to help get people stoked about Team in Training in the hopes that these runners would participate. Last year, at the 25th anniversary of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, TNT trained more than 600,000 participants and raised more than 1.4 billion — with a B — dollars. I am floored and quite honored to be part of this for the 2014 race.
And, maybe more than anything, I am really happy to continue this unicorn pursuit–of somehow making some sort of societal difference through my running–here in CA and really, for the first time, explicitly, in several years. It’s refreshing — and incredibly empowering and motivating.
My “endurance running” pursuits began as a way to honor some incredibly special women; it seems only fitting, then, that I recommit my running to these women as I begin a new life chapter in California.
Please consider supporting my fundraising efforts this autumn for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society by donating to my campaign HERE.
And! If you’re super jazzed about this wonderful and mission-driven organization and want to do even MORE, please consider fundraising for LLS by running the Nike Women’s Half. Click HERE for more information.
With the Newport Marathon just about two weeks behind me now, I think I can safely say that recovery has been going well. It’s been a lot of “listen to your body” miles, mostly at recovery or general aerobic paces, and it wasn’t until yesterday, almost two full weeks post-marathon, that I tried anything that resembled a speed workout for me. The ZOOMA Napa half marathon (which sold out! in its inaugural year! weeks ahead of race day!) is in a week, so I figured it was probably as good a time as any to see if my legs remembered what HMRP felt like… in no small part because I haven’t **truly** raced a half in well over a year.
Though Napa isn’t the culminating race or event for me in 2014, I am going into it with somewhat specific goals, ones that I’m still hashing out and will probably continue to hash out until the morning of the race. In my head, at least the “rough ideas” of the goals I have seem manageable, but we’ll see come race day. Things might go down in flames, but hey… part of the process. (and in the weird “the universe is on to me” department, this quote landed in my inbox from Runner’s World this week. I guess there is something to be said for just fuckin’ going with it…).
It’s exciting to do an inaugural race because by its very nature, there really isn’t anything you can go off of–like previous finishing times, for example–to give you an idea of what the race will be like. I’ve done very few races in their inaugural editions, so it’s pretty special to be able to do this one and because it’s one for which the other ZOOMA Napa ambassadors and I have been heavily promoting in social media land since January-ish.
Napa will be awesome.
Racing will be awesome.
Meeting and hanging with the other ZOOMA ladies will be awesome.
Hurling myself into the possible flames that my goals might get enveloped in–or not!–will be awesome.
And, with that, this lovely NFG song, which has become somewhat anthematic for me during the last part of my Newport training, and the song that, I kid you not, I had in my head for most of my race, and was actually singing it under my breath as I was racing–also about fire, metaphorically speaking–seems apropos.
Have you ever done an inaugural race? Do you give yourself “anthems” during training or racing? Tell me you love New Found Glory, too!
[Disclaimer: I'm doing things a little differently this time around with my RR. I usually and obnoxiously separate my recaps into before-race/actual race/post-race categories, but it simply didn't make sense to do it for Newport for the basic fact that my weekend in OR largely, kinda sorta, kinda didn't focus so much on the actual 26.2 footrace but instead, on a lot of other stuff. In other words, lots of culminating aspects to my time in OR helped make my race, and my experience, what it was, and divorcing these aspects from each other will unduly and unnecessarily undermine the whole "experience," if you will, and the race is just one bit of the "experience." That said, this will surely be lengthy, so employ your best "search and discover" scanning skills if you're not in it for the long haul--no offense taken. If you want a nitty-gritty low-down about the Newport (OR) Marathon, devoid of a lot of the personal stuff that, for me, made the race what it was, check out my review at BibRave. Since the race was more than a race for me--as my marathons usually are these days--I've gotta ensure that my recap adequately conveys all that "other stuff" that made the race, nay, the experience, what it was. That said...]
The truncated, post-Oakland training cycle for the Newport Marathon at the Oregon coast in late May was interesting, as I’d written in the weeks preceding the race, in a way that made it seem entirely different than the previous 22 marathons I had run and trained for. I felt like there was a lot more “funning” than there was “work,” though the training was much the same as Oakland, just ten weeks prior, and even in the days, and hours, and mere minutes before the gun on race day morning, Saturday, May 31, any sort of the usual pre-race anxiety I typically experience was virtually non-existent. I knew I had put in the work, I knew I was fit and ready to go, but I was strangely… zen, I guess, about the race. Obviously, I had no way of knowing how my zen-like feeling going into the race would affect or interfere with my performance, but I knew that the weekend would be amazing because of the company I’d be keeping in OR. Nothing is ever–ever–guaranteed in a marathon, regardless of any amount (or lack thereof) of eustress or distress preceding the footrace, so I simply chose not to dwell on this too much and just enjoy the weekend as it unfolded. That which I could control, I would, and that which I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. Yin and yang, folks. Yin and yang.
Race weekend was yet another rundezvous adventure with Austin, number three in the past year for us, in fact, and fortunately, much like Eugene ’13, Kelly, my gal from undergrad, and one of the first friends I made in college, partook in the festivities again over the course of the weekend (and to whom I am enormously grateful for all that she did as the world’s best spectator and runner schlepper and hostess–more on that later). Equally awesome, and an added bonus to our OR springtime rundezvous this year, was that Traci, another dear gal from undergrad, and to whom I attribute much of my seemingly-never-ending marathoning pursuits, also partook in the festivities when we were in Portland both before and after the marathon. And finally, in true “everyone who is a runner belongs to one great big runner family, regardless if you’ve never met the person before” fashion, Austin’s cadre of Portland Frontrunners friends who also came down to Newport to run the full or half–Daniel, Flaco, Erick, Jose, Steve, Steve, and Steve--or to support those who were, added incredible energy (and a veritable shit ton of laughs) to the weekend and quickly became fast friends.
The wonderful company, of both amigos old and new, virtually promised me from the moments after I landed in PDX on early Friday morning that the weekend would be fuckin’ fantaaaaaaastico. If I raced well in addition, well, that’d just be vegan gravy; if I didn’t, well shoot, that’d suck, but it’d be ok…and fortunately, there is no shortage of races. I said as much to Traci, Kel, and Austin. Understand this, though; I wasn’t giving myself an out, since I very much wanted to race well and do whatever it took to finally um, gently and lovingly fuckin’ throoooooooooow that 3:20 monkey off my back. That said, I knew early on, like, weeks before race day, that long-term, my heart and mind would remember and value my straight-up Newport race less so than it would the rare, uninterrupted, and unadulterated quality time with some close friends; the race was a part of it, no doubt, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all of my time in OR. It’s a difference in value and judgement, and this time around, I far, far, faaaaaaaar more valued the Newport experience than I did the Newport race, the process more so than the product.
The quick and early morning flight from SJC-PDX landed me in the great, beautiful, and lusciously green state of OR squarely in the middle of Friday morning rush hour, which only meant that Traci and I had even more time to catch-up IRL for the first time since May ’13 and of course, more time for me to just reiterate repeatedly how enormously impressed and proud I am of her and all that madness that is her life as a soon-to-be fourth-year medical school student and on the heels of what has been a really taxing past 12 months. Soon enough, we met Kel at a breakfast place in Traci’s hood for some delish and simple-and-white-carb-heavy veganish breakfast before delivering a Voodoo Donuts personalized and decorated cocknballs donut to Kel’s husband at work for his birthday. If there’s one thing that stayed with me about OR, and about Portland, since I was there a year ago, it’s that it’s weird as hell–vegan options everywhere (swoon), a donut place where asking for the cocknballs donut, uh, creation (?), is NBD because it’s straight off the menu–and damn, being a bitunflichingly proudly bizarre just rocks.
Shortly post cocknballs drop-off, Kel, Traci, and I fetched Austin from work and did a grocery run for some race weekend provisions in advance of making the ~2.5 drive down to the Newport coast. Grocery stores (among my fav establishments of all time, right up there with bookstores and libraries), time with friends whom I haven’t seen in a while… folks, my weekend was already made. My face had been sore from smiling since breakfast with my gals; it was a feeling that’d only intensify over the weekend.
Begrudgingly, we left Traci behind, whose whole “I have to work trauma at the hospital for 6 12-hour days, including on Saturday and Sunday” commitment precluded her from participating in the Newport festivities. Austin coordinated our weekend accommodations through VRBO, and we were delighted when we entered our quarters: a beachfront, nautical and OR coast-themed condo with a beautiful view of the ocean and some hilarious OR coast propaganda. Daniel, a PDX Frontrunner pal of Austin’s, one of our three other house-mates, had beaten us to the property, and soon after we arrived, the four of us made our way to the host hotel, about 1.5 miles away (and very near the course finish line), for packet pick-up.
Packet pick-up was just that, a place where, in thirty seconds, you could enter the room, get your race bib with an affixed timing chip and a handful of safety pins, and peace out. Newport is a small marathon, capped at 1,000 runners, and for the first time this year, they also featured a half, capped at 250 runners, so the “expo” was more or less what I was expecting: a room in the basement of a hotel. I typically try to enter and exit expos as quickly as possible, so the simplicity of packet pick-up, and the complete lack of pre-race OMG YOU’RE RUNNING 26.2 MILES TOMORROW?! OMG OMG OMG fanfare that usually laces major marathons’ (or hell, even some shorter races’) expos was… refreshing. I dig the big races, but it is nice to have a low-key experience, too.
Maybe three minutes after we arrived, Daniel, Austin, Kelly, and I were finished at packet pick-up, so we headed over to the adjacent hotel, where we’d be meeting the rest of the PDX Frontrunners gaggle for dinner. Some of the guys had gotten caught in shitty Friday afternoon/evening traffic coming out of Portland, but once everyone had arrived, it was non-stop banter, ridiculously hilarious story-telling, and just a little bit of race logistics chatter thrown in for good measure. Before we knew it, the beauty of a bunch of runners, communing over a simple dinner of (more) simple carbs, in advance of a 13.1, 26.2, or cover-as-much-ground-as-you-can-while-spectating footrace concluded, and Austin, Kel, Daniel, Flaco, Erick, and I retired to the Beachcomber, our digs, for bed. The homecooked dinner with friends perfectly aligned with the uncomplicated vibe that was already my Newport Marathon experience, what I had already felt from the town atmosphere on race eve, in general, and at packet pick-up, just a few hours earlier, and again, it was just… refreshing. No larger-than-life fanfare, no logistical nightmares to negotiate, just a bunch of runners coming to race in the Pacific Northwest on the last Saturday in May.
Saturday, race day
One of the nice things about routinely predawning is that, come race day, a 3:45 a.m. wake-up isn’t all that bad (though I’d advise biting your lip some and not excitedly professing that you get to sleep in 45 minutes, so as to avoid being unintentionally douchebaggy). Being in a condo full of other runners, and our supporters, brought a fun, communal energy that has usually been absent in the vampire hours on marathon morning, and fortunately for me, my usual schedule of the pre-race eating, drinking, and shitting traditions, went over without any hitches.
With a 7 a.m. start, around 6:15/6:30, Erick drove Austin, Daniel, Flaco, and me over to the starting area, about 1.5 miles away, while Kel began her long run and would later find us on the course. We soon realized that our property abutted the course, since we saw many walkers who had gotten an early start to the race, and seemingly seconds after we left the Beachcomber, we were parking in someone’s front yard area and walking to the starting line, atop a small hill and wedged between some green forestry and the Pacific Ocean.
With about 12 minutes before the gun, I had finally decided that I’d try one final time for any last-minute PRP business. I wasn’t at all interested or patient enough to stand in line at a bathroom, with roughly a million (eh, probably 20ish) women in front of me, since I hadn’t found the usual cluster of porta-potties at the race’s starting line, but remember that forestry I just mentioned? Yea. I cannot recall ever peeing in the woods, in the general vicinity of other men and women doing the same, immediately before a mary, but alas. I value efficiency and tried to avoid direct eye contact.
Just a few minutes later, Austin and I exchanged our final fistbumps in the corral, where we had haphazardly self-seeded in the absence of structured corrals–again, folks, super small race, and the only pacers were for 3:05, 3:35, and 4:xx+, well outside of what both of us wanted to do–and suddenly, somewhat abruptly, in the absence of a national anthem, we were off and quickly beginning our Newport jaunt.
Miles 1-5: 7:46, 48, 49, 53, 8:05
You can probably glean this a bit from the Google Maps shots above, but most of the course is one big out-and-back along the Yaquina Bay. The first ~4ish miles, however, and especially the first mile or two, seemed to have roughly 1209745 turns to negotiate. With the halfers and full marathoners running together, and me running in the thick of the first 10, 20% of the group, things were a bit crowded until around mile 2/3ish. I was delighted to run by our digs around mile 2 (and thus, have a beautiful ocean view), to see Kelly twice within the first couple miles (I can recall thinking, ‘she said 10k! This isn’t even 5k yet!’), and to see Erick, all before we ascended the same little mini-hill we descended at the start.
Kel’s colleague, Mark, whom I had met mid-run (literally– she saw him, said ‘hey! that’s my friend! right next to you!’ and introduced us to each other), threw his 13 years of Newport Marathon running my way for a few minutes, so I had a pretty good idea of when the little rollers would arrive–helpful for all the obvious reasons, including the small detail that the race didn’t post any elevation map (that I saw) on the website or at packet pick-up. He warned me that the biggest hill on the course would be between miles 4-5 (and later, between miles 25-26), and that miles 26-26.2 would be straight and steeply down.
My race plan from the get-go was to get that 3:20 monkey off my back and go for a small PR, a 3:19:59, which I felt confident I could realize if I paced intelligently. More specifically, I wanted a ~1:41/2ish at 13.1–and nothing faster than that–and promised myself to not even begin to think about picking up any speed until our turn-around around mile 15.8. I learned from Oakland that, uh, not surprisingly, it helps to look at your watch periodically, so I checked in on things with each beep and repeatedly saw 7:4x, right around where I wanted to be.
At the risk of sounding douchey, but also in the interests of transparency and, because, hey, it’s my blog, I wanted the first 13.1, and really, until the turn-around at 15.2, to feel pedestrian, even slightly uncomfortably slow. I usually structure my runs to be progressions, and particularly my long runs, so I felt confident that I could slowly hammer down on the final 10-15k; I just could not, could not, could not make a move before then. I attributed falling apart late in the game in Oakland to being just a wee bit aggressive on the front half (and through the hills, no less), so I was determined to be super patient this time around. In Chicago ’13, I kicked too early; in New York ’13, I kicked too late; at Newport, I just needed (and wanted) to find the sweet spot, the coveted Goldilocks locale of the 26.2 Newport jaunt that marked the “juuuuuuuuuust right” beginning of some fast marathon running. Until then, nothing. Absolutely, positively, nothing.
Miles 6-10: 7:49, 45, 44, 47, 37
And here we began the long out and back. Somewhere in the mix, I think between miles 4-7, we ran along a boardwalk area that featured lots of local shops, barking sea lions hangin’ on some rocks in the water, some sort of fish place on the water that smelled remarkably pungent, like gallons-of-the-smell-of-fish-being-shoved-down-your-throat pungent, but once we were over the hill that we wouldn’t see again until miles 26-26.2, as we were flying down it, we simply ran along Bay Blvd (which later became Yaquina Bay Rd), adjacent to the bay and nestled at the foot of some otherworldly green trees and backcountry. (Remember, CA is in a nasty drought right now, so I’m used to seeing hills so dry that they look like giant piles of sand. The green that was Newport, OR, during this race was like the green of the freshest bunch of cooked broccoli you could imagine. Crayola should take notice. You heard it here first).
For nearly the entirety of the course from here on out, I was running sola. I saw groups of runners ahead of me, and I’d focus on blonde ponytail in the red singlet–do not lose sight of blond ponytail in the red singlet (who I told myself looked a whole lot like BRC gal Lee Ann)–but I was in self-induced speed timeout and told myself, promised myself, that I’d pass every single person, with particular emphasis on the women, who passed me early on. This was incredibly challenging to do for several reasons, including a) running with a pack is (usually) significantly easier than running by yourself, so therefore, it’d seem in my best interests to try to catch-up early; b) letting others fly away, ahead of you, and trusting in your training and BELIEVING IN YOURSELF (obnoxiously all-caps here, I know, but seriously, this is fuckin’ huge) and your plan to run down all these other runners later requires not only an ample amount of confidence but also, to a degree, cockiness, which can be a weird juxtaposition to negotiate; and c) it’s just hard to wait. Being patient can suck sometimes.
The marathoners and halfers stuck together until around mile 8, 8.5, so for a while, I just concentrated on watching all the people in front of me and ensured that they stayed squarely in front of me for as long as possible. We seemed to be running in and out of a headwind, which, while annoying, I thought boded well because if it’s a headwind going out, then surely that’d guarantee a tailwind on the return. (Why I thought this was guaranteed is beyond me, especially after living in Chicago for over a decade, where it seemed that you always ran into a headwind, regardless of your direction of travel). At any rate, things were moving right along, and I was just enjoying the ride… while eagerly awaiting my turn to GO.
Miles 11-15: 7:34, 31, 36, 33, 38
Marathon training gives me a lot of time to think, particularly on the long runs, and my mind is usually all over the place. It’s an odd feeling because I’m “in” my run–if you’ve ever run with me, you know–yet I also simultaneously wonder about other things, often about other people in my life. Perhaps because I was running by myself for a lot of this run, and I was focusing on maintaining a conservative pace for much of the first 70% of the race, I felt like my mind was equally stuck on slow. slow. slow. and thinking about a flurry of my friends and family across the country. My memory gets stupidly (and strangely) encyclopedic with marathons, so I won’t tell you who or what I thought of along each mile, but chances are, if you’re reading this, I thought of you (and if you ask me, I could tell you where! or what I thought! again, stupidly encyclopedic).
Because of the way the course was set-up, it wasn’t super spectator-friendly, but the few who had camped out along the course were incredibly gracious and supportive. Seriously, how many times have you ever run by a handful of spectators and you get a sincere standing ovation, cheers, and remarks of gratitude for coming to run in their hometown? That’s what I’m talking about. I recall running past a guy and his dad who both stood up to clap for me as I ran by and excitedly said that they’d look for me on the other side, on my way back into town, once I got past the turn-around… and on my way back in, these guys were on their feet again for me. Seriously.
The spectators and aid station volunteers, many of the latter being Newport and Toledo HS students, made it clear for the entirety of the race that they were as, if not more, grateful to have the runners there runnin’ their roads as the runners were there to chase down their unicorns. This marathon was a fundraiser for the schools and their student clubs and athletics, so I have no doubt that many of the students who would eventually benefit from this race were lining the course, making those “good job, thank you for coming to run here!” remarks damn near chilling and even more meaningful. A hasty count on my part indicated that something like over 20 Newport and Toledo HS groups benefitted from this marathon fundraiser, so knowing that–and seeing these students on the course–made me feel like my silly footrace and unicorn pursuit actually did, for once, make some sort of societal difference. Again: refreshing.
As my race unfolded, I was right around where I wanted to be, I was feeling fresh, and I was just waiting… patiently… to go. I didn’t see any runners ahead of me take the oyster shots at mile 11 (!), and the same runners whose backs I had been staring at for miles at this point were still there. I didn’t fight the headwind when it showed up, and I felt like I was running at a pace that, if given the option, I could run all day long, something I would never imagine being able to say for a sub-8. I was running happy, happily running along, and before long, we’d hit our turn-around and it was time to start thinking about that which I had abstained from contemplating all marathon long: speed.
Miles 16-20: 7:29, 25, 26, 28, 30
As we got closer to the turn-around near 15.2, the lead runners began running against us (in a somewhat convoluted logistical fashion, worthy of the race’s reconsideration for next year’s run), and I began to scan for Austin and to count how many women were ahead of me. Austin flew by, cat-calling to me before I could barely acknowledge him. I counted at least 7 or 8 women ahead of me, running against me, before I stopped counting and thought that it’d probably be unlikely that I could run down any of them to realize my lofty goals for this race, a high AG and OA women’s placing. The turn-around was really abrupt and throw-down-the-brakes-worthy–in fact, the volunteer holding things down actually stood there, arms extended, crucifix-style, so runners wouldn’t blow through the turn. Much to my surprise, though, the closer I got to the volunteer and the more I slowed down so I wouldn’t trip over myself (because, like Zoolander, I can’t turn worth shit mid-run), the more I began to hear shouts of ERIN!!! ERIN!!!!! ERIN!!!!! and sure enough, Kel had somehow managed to get to that wildly inaccessible point of the course to cheer for us. Marathon spectating, and doing so on a course that’s not exactly spectator-friendly (or spectator-easy): that’s love, folks.
Finally, I had reached mile 16, about 90 seconds off pace from a 3:19:59, but right where I wanted to be, and all that remained was less than a 15k, a distance my training wouldn’t even consider a MLR. I could finally begin to think about speed and how to close this out, but I knew I needed to be mindful of kicking too fast, too early, lest I repeat Chicago ’13. Aside from the slight logistical clusterfuck of having inbound and outbound runners sharing one lane of a country road, in the absence of cones demarcating where the outbound and inbound runners should be (see above bootay pic), it was cool to see all the runners who had been behind me and to cheer for them all. Somewhat unbeknownst to me, or rather, perhaps at a magnitude that I didn’t quite realize at the time, I began to pick things up a bit much in this section, and I passed many of the people whose backsides I had been staring down for the previous miles. Of course, it was fuckin exhiiiiiiiilarating to pass people so late in the game, and I felt fairly confident that I could slowly and surely continue to kick it in for the final 15k. Oh, hubris…
As the miles clicked by, I continued the top-to-bottom assessment I had been doing all marathon long and decided that I still felt great, that all systems were go, and that getting back down to a 3:19:59 would definitely be work at this point but that it’d be doable because this is how I’ve trained… and in the self pep-talk department, I told myself that if I could throw down a double-digit negative split in Eugene a year ago, and a 6? or 4? minute negative split on the challenging NYC course, that I could handily make up at least 90 seconds. (Again, oh, hubris…). The headwind that I ran through earlier, the one I thought would assuredly be a tailwind, alas, was still a headwind, and between that and some unexpected (and beautiful) sunshine beginning to peek out, I knew I’d have to work my ass off for that 90 seconds, but that it was still in the cards. I just had a 15k to cover, “mere” single digit mileage.
Retrospectively, I think I missed a big cue from my body somewhere in this section. Even though the faster paces felt great–and remember, I had been waiting for the entire race to finally get some faster miles under me–I felt like things were tougher than they should have been. I attributed it at the time to the headwind and the warming weather, which surely makes sense, but I think I didn’t realize that I was slowly beginning to dehydrate right around here. I had been executing my fueling strategy like clockwork, as well as taking the on-course electrolyte and water at regular intervals, but I think that I had underestimated exactly how much (or how little, I guess) I had been drinking. Between the small cups and just the logistics of mid-run drinking, while I probably thought I was ingesting 4-6 oz, I’m guessing it was closer to 2-3. In the throes of the race, between miles 16-20, and particularly during the latter part of this section, I began to fantasize–strong word, I know, but yes, fantasize–about really big glasses of water. Hell, when we passed by the oyster shots table again, I momentarily considered taking some ice cubes that the oysters had been resting on (!!!!), and I wondered what the water in the bay would taste like. In the throes of marathons, though, I think crazy shit, so I didn’t think twice about what the not-so-subtle ramifications of daydreaming about fluids signified.
Miles 20-26.2: 7:51, 46, 8:04, 8:00, 12, 32
I excitedly approached the final 10k of the marathon still feeling pretty strong, although a bit weird, and when the wind intermittently made itself known, I didn’t fight it. I’d check-in with each beep of my watch to see how likely the 3:19:59 would still be, and I was determined to fight for it as long as I could. I was still passing tons of people, including some women who were significantly ahead of me at the turn-around, and having been there before in previous marathons, with dreams for the day dashed, my heart just fuckin’ ached for the runners I saw on the side of the road, with their hands on their heads, collecting themselves and willing themselves to just keep making forward progress.
This is both the beauty and the heartbreak of the marathon distance; you can witness firsthand, if not also experience, the swath of the human condition, from profound joy to incredible sadness (or suffering), and a host of other emotions and realities in between. Witnessing it and experiencing it can be nearly equally damning. It totally, absolutely, 100% blows to see other runners on the sidelines having to will themselves to go on, when the race that they want, the race they worked for over the past X number of months, suddenly is no longer feasible, and the best we can do, the only thing I could think to do in Newport, as I was running by them, was to throw some encouraging words at them. We’ve all been there; I sure as hell have, anyway.
Eventually, I found myself in pretty close quarters with a couple men, presumably triathletes and IM from their get-up, as well as one master’s woman, and I vowed just to hang with them for as long as possible–my first real opportunity at running with a pack in this race. Again, with the benefit of retrospection and hindsight, I’m thinking that it wasn’t until nearly miles 23+ that my long and slow accidental dehydration caught up to me, as well as the realization that beginning to hammer with 15k to go was probably too ambitious. Once I hit mile 24, I knew with certainty that unless something drastic happened, the 3:19:59 wasn’t mine for the taking that day. As long as I didn’t fuck things up too much, though, I could still score a low-3:2x and a massive BQ, so I shifted my thoughts from fuckin’ a, how did I screw this up again, to let no one be able to see that you’re disappointed…and at least try to make this a faster time than Oakland because Oakland’s a considerably harder course.
In fact, here is where my own words began to haunt me, stuff that I had written in an earlier post in the weeks leading up to Newport, about in-the-throes-of-the-race-attitude and how I gauge much of my “success” on race day according to those terms. The fight was on, with both my words resonating in my own head as well as several conversations I’ve had with friends this year who have trained like hell for their goal races, only to come up short on race day. Again, if you’re reading this, and you didn’t have the marathon you wanted earlier this year, at Boston, here in CA, on the other side of the world, or anywhere in between, I can almost guarantee that everything you and I talked about, I talked about with myself over the final 20 minutes of my Newport race. At any rate, I seriously considered the merits of taking walk breaks, simply for the hell of it, but I instead focused on trying to beat the master’s woman just a handful of paces in front of me. We were neck-and-neck for a while, but ultimately, she had a fifth gear that eluded me and beat me by about 10-15 seconds. More power to her; I want to kick as much ass as she does when I’m 40+.
Strangely, for as many marathons as I’ve done, this one had a couple firsts: as I wrote earlier, that pre-race piss in the woods, and around mile 25.1, a very late-in-the-race calf cramp so fuckin’ intense that, no exaggeration, my leg buckled, and I nearly tripped over… myself. Right as we were beginning to ascend the slow and long hill from mile 25-26, I felt a sensation in my left calf unlike anything I’ve ever felt before and so sufficiently drastic that I feared that I could have fallen over or seriously injured myself because it took me by such an enormous surprise, to the degree that I think it took my breath away. I finally began to connect the dots by now–thinking about the earlier fantasies about huge glasses of water, random teeny tiny side stitches, and now, a cramp, pretty sure my first muscular cramp ever–and I realized that I had surely dehydrated myself and just hoped that I could keep shit together for a little bit longer. Fortunately, the cramp was short-lived, but I remained hugely fuckin’ hypersensitive for the final mile of the race, out of fear more than anything else.
Just as Mark had said, atop the hill, right at the beginning of the mile 26 marker, a steep descent began into the finisher’s chute, and much to my surprise, I again heard calls of ERIN!! ERIN!! ERIN!! Kel, again, had managed to get from the turn-around to the finish in time to see me, and right as I began to pick it up again, as I was descending the hill and trying to finish in a low 3:2x, my right calf threw a similar SOS, though fortunately less magnified, and I just said fuck it. My biggest fear was that the cramp would intensify, make me buckle like the one in my left calf just a few minutes earlier, and that I’d fall on the course, with less than .1 to go, and somehow disqualify myself. I knew my impressively pedestrian finish would cost me around 10-15 seconds, but by this point, I felt like I was flirting with a potentially dangerous situation, and besides, the PR was gone. The BQ -a lot was in the bag, and it would still be my 4th fastest marathon to date. I just had to cross the line and hope that my calf–or calves, I guess–would play nicely for mere seconds longer.
Soon enough, I crossed the finish line, immediately felt like I wanted to spew–yet another first for me, post-marathon–and after meeting up with Austin, learned of his amazing PR (!!!!!!), further cementing his BQ (!!!!!!!!!) and chance at Boston ’15 (!!!!!!). A quick receipt print-out informed me that while I didn’t attain my A goal, all the lofty stuff that I wanted–a good AG and OA women’s placing–I did, again, much like how I fared at hilly Oakland (whose time I bettered in Newport by not very many seconds). Funny how the universe works sometimes.
Post-race, after pounding a ton of water and wiping the cakes of salt off my face (another first), I felt remarkably better, and solidified my assumption that my slow tanking over the final couple miles of the race, as well as the seemingly random calf cramps, were rooted in dehydration. While I was initially irked that I made such novice mistakes yet again during a mary, feelings of genuine joy for both Austin and Daniel’s races–pretty PRs for both–supplanted any negative feelings about my own performance. I was really happy with what I did, what I tried to do, and took a ton of mental notes to carry with me to my training for later marathons this year on my quest to rid myself of that damn 3:20 monkey. Seriously, you think this RR is long? I’ve got 8 handwritten pages of notes.
The thing about marathons, or really, about any race, is that if you’re racing 100% of the time to PR, you’ll be disappointed 99% of the time. I’ve raced enough to know this, and while I definitely give myself permission to immediately “feel,” for lack of a better word, after a marathon–to feel disappointment, anger, frustration, or whatever spectrum of feelings–I’m smart enough, or I guess “experienced” enough of a runner, to know that dwelling on whatever short-lived disappointment I have about not hitting an arbitrary time goal is just… foolish. And really, truth be told, I think it’s kinda douchey.
A year ago, if you would have told me that from January ’13-April ’13, I’d knock off 11 minutes from my marathon PR, knock off another ~40 seconds from April-October ’13, and then run consistently strong races on pretty tough courses from November ’13-May ’14, all in the in the 3:20-3:23 range, and some with hearty negative splits, I would have called your BS. Never, ever, ever in a million years would I have thought that I could churn out these times, and the fact that I did, the fact that on Newport race day, when I made some stupid mistakes, I still posted a 3:23, a BQ -12, just fuckin’ blows me away. This isn’t at all to profess that I’m blessed with speed or that Kara or Shalane should feel threatened; I’m merely imploring you, myself, all of us to think about shit like this when we finish endurance events.
In fact, come close for this one, dear friend. Let me let you in on a little secret, just between you and me. Tip your screen a little to ensure that this will stay between the two of us.
Are you ready?
The time on the clock matters, kinda, but in the long-term, it doesn’t: at all.
The experience–the steps you’ve taken to get there, the work you put in during the weeks and months of training preceding the race, the love and support you’ve enlisted and that which you’ve doled out from/to your friends and family, the folks who equally enable and empower you to go after crazy shit like marathons, and chasing down unicorns and rainbows, for no other reason than because you can, and because you want to–that shit matters. A time on a clock, not so much.
I say this not to undermine your or my or anyone else’s race times or PRs or BQs or PWs; they’re great and totally worthy of your, our, my pride. I guess you could say that this diatribe I’m on now is only my way of forcing myself, of forcing all of us, to remember to simply maintain perspective when it comes to this stuff. Perspective can be hard, but it can also be… refreshing.
In a way, I think not posting that PR time that I wanted is what helped to make the actual race part of my Newport Marathon experience refreshing. I didn’t perform how I wanted to, no doubt, but this race reminded me of why I keep coming back for more, and more, and more, at this distance. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to know that, even after 7 years of marathoning, and having run 22, now 23, of these guys, I still want ‘em as much as they want me. There is always something to learn from them, be it about yourself, your training, your dreams, your character, whatever, stuff that a time on a clock doesn’t really reflect.
Again: process, not product.
Anyway, after a few hours and some much-needed showers, and following an AMAZING cross-country video-chat with Kel and my gaggle of DePaul women plus their kids and spouses in Chicago–Madison, Julie, Jackson, Paul, Stephanie, Amelia, Teri, and Molly (if you think my face hurt before, HOLY WOW did it after that)–Daniel, Austin, Kel, Flaco, Erick, and I returned to the finish line festival for the awards ceremony so Austin and I could collect our 2nd place AG awards. Following that, Kel and I headed back to Portland for some more galpal QT with Traci over delish vegan food, Cab Sauv and desserts at Kel’s. Our original plans of a parade and a vegan strip club (hey, when in Portland) were short-lived. (Thank you, marathon).
With just a handful of hours in Portland on Sunday before my flight, Kel, David, and I didn’t have a ton of time to meander around the city, but those two were excellent tour guides and helped close out my time in the Pacific NW doing stuff they apparently knew I’d dig: more vegan food; checking out the greenery and the view of Portland from high atop the hill where the Pittock Mansion lies; Powell’s Books, where I could easily lose myself and my life savings (as well as thousands upon thousands of dollars that I do not have); a dog park with their four-legged BFF, and yes, another grocery store.
The ol’ bod felt pretty great for the day after a marathon, even with 2.5 hours in the car immediately after the race, and similar to the immediate hours following the race, any sense of disappointment or discouragement I felt for not hitting my arbitrary goal time was completely and utterly usurped by feelings of genuine, heartfelt joy for the opportunity, yet again, to experience that which I so profoundly enjoy: rare QT with friends, more amazing vegan food, grocery stores, and bookstores.
As I found myself at the PDX airport, devouring more vegan food (I’m telling you, I’m enamored), while waiting to return to my family and to share the details with them about my race weekend, I wondered where I’d begin or what I’d say. Surely I’d tell them that I didn’t hit my goal time, but really, did it matter? They’d want to know more about what our mutual friends were up to, how Traci was doing, how Kelly was liking her job, when they’d get to meet Austin (in August at Santa Rosa! Come run with us in wine country!), than about my mile-by-mile breakdown of a race, or where or how things fell apart, in a place that they’d probably never see for themselves.
Sometimes it takes having a moment outside of myself, a moment where I put myself in the other person’s shoes, that helps me gain a better and bigger, more profound, appreciation and perspective on my marathoning endeavors.
Earlier in my life, earlier in my marathoning pursuits, the time on the clock mattered the most, and without a certain magical arrangement of numbers in a way that conveyed the mystical time that somehow reflected my worth as a runner that day, I had nothing to say for myself, nothing to show for myself. That magical and mystical arrangement of numbers was what held the marathoning puzzle together, the glue that took a bunch of kinda disparate pieces and made them all flow together, fitting as one big unit, and in the absence of that magical and mystical number arrangement on the clock, that particular marathon race and marathoning experience and training of mine were worthless.
Now, however, that shit’s ancient history.
The glue that holds together the disparate pieces of the marathon training and racing puzzle isn’t the actual 26.2 jaunt itself, in whatever city or state I probably arbitrarily selected to run, but instead, the glue is those punctuations in time, the process I’ve taken over the past 7 years of marathoning, my fuckin’ amazing and inspiring family, the friends I have made from running and the friends who have been with me for forever, since before I began marathoning, yet who continue to support and empower and enable me to do this crazyshit–this is the glue.
That magical and mystical arrangement of numbers on a clockface make up just one piece of the puzzle, and one of those kinda inconsequential pieces at that–or, in the case of the Newport Marathon, one of those small, freshly-steamed-broccoli, refreshingly beautiful, Crayola green pieces, a miniscule image of just a teeny, tiny vein on a single leaf in the forest of a thousand luscious Oregon trees.
Thank you for all of your support throughout my training, over race weekend, and on race day.
Some of my favorite memories from undergrad were during finals week. On a ten-week quarter system, things move very quickly during the term, and if you fall behind early, you’re kinda fucked. In the throes of the term, provided you do everything, or most everything, that your professors demand of you, it’s not all that bad; you just have to keep plugging along, holding your breath at times as warranted, and come finals time, generally speaking, you’ll be in a good place. (Ed. note: granted, I realize YMMV with the college you attend or your major, but bear with me on this one).
I liked finals week mostly because, with the stuff that I was studying, by the end of the term, my work was already mostly done. Rarely did I have a class that administered a final exam–benefits of being a double language and humanities major, folks–and most of the time, my final, culminating project, usually an extensive essay about some topic we studied, just revisiting it and re-examining it in a different way. More often than not, these final essays relied pretty heavily on students’ introspections into how we made sense of ourselves within the work while also still exploring the topic at hand, and it was standard fare to be asked how my understanding of the work challenged my own understanding of myself. It sounds somewhat ridiculous now, but if done well, if I really took the time to truly think about and answer the questions at hand, I’d surprise myself with my answers. Even if I hated the course topic or the readings, more often than not, I could usually walk away from each class, and each work that we examined, with some sort of nugget of information that challenged me to think about “stuff” (life, myself, whatever) differently.
In other words, finals week was never about cramming new information or memorizing stuff for me; instead, more than anything, it was an opportunity to step back from the content I had studied over the previous ten weeks and reflect on it, engaging myself with it in a way that I hadn’t yet done, and in a way that would leave me with long-lasting effects from, if not also an appreciation for, the work that I had studied and a greater, deeper understanding of it.
Now that I’m just a handful of days from my next goal race, the Newport Marathon, I guess you could say that I’m thinking about my race and my prep for it in much the same way as I thought about, and approached, my undergrad courses. As we’ve talked about before, if you allow it to be, running can become so much more than this futile, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other affair simply because so much happens between each footstrike each time you run. Marathon training gives me plenty of time to think–about running, about big scary goals, about the world, about myself, whatever–and by the time I reach race week, when I’m tapering away and really thinking about things hugely more macro than micro, I find myself almost approaching race day with a breath of fresh air, like yea, this is it. Finally. Let’s put it all out there.
Anything can happen on race day, and I know that, yet I’m still finding myself coolly calm and collected about it. I have many goals for the race, probably enough to fill the better part of the alphabet if I took the time to qualify them all, but I’m confident that I’ve positioned myself favorably heading into my 23rd (wut) marathon.
Approaching Newport with a near-complete lack of anxiety has been interesting for this entire truncated training cycle, and it may also be helpful to compare the major similarities and differences between the Oakland and Newport cycles, even if only for my own edification. They include:
shorter cycle. Oakland was a solid 12 week affair, whereas Newport was only 10, and the first 2-3 weeks were mostly, almost exclusively, recovery-ish miles from Oakland.
less (self-induced) pressure. Maybe I put all my ducks in a row going into Oakland because I can recall feeling more anxious than I do now, in the final days leading into another marathon. Even throughout the training cycles for both races, my training mindset was different. Oakland was “work”; Newport was “funning” … even though the workouts were nearly identical and even though I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, doing this stuff.
more racing and pacing. In my Oakland cycle, I only raced twice–the Kaiser half marathon, a day after a fast-finish 17 miler and on non-tapered and tired legs, and the 408k 8k race, a day after a 20 miler and again, on non-tapered and quite tired legs. The purpose for both Kaiser and the 408k was to just see what I could do on fatigued legs and not really use the races as a hard-and-fast gauge for fitness. This time around, I raced or paced significantly more: the SoCal Ragnar relay with my TSFM pals (about 16ish miles); the Santa Cruz half marathon’s 1:45 pace group; Sweatin’ for Sammy non-10k 10k; Brazen’s Western Pacific 1:45 pace group; and of course, the Bay to Breakers 12k. I think having a flurry of races, even ones that I didn’t actually race, such as the two halfs, helped keep things exciting and fresh for me just because I really do enjoy racing. It’s fun.
I’m eager for a strong race performance and more than that, a wonderful reunion in the Pacific NW with Austin, who’s also ready to roll at Newport (sub-3!); Kelly, who awesomely partook in the fun last year at Eugene and who will be again be the rockin’-spectator-who-could courseside in Newport, as she’s training for the Honolulu Marathon later this year; and Traci, my dear friend in the throes of her fourth year of medical school and to whom I attribute much of my marathoning lust in the first place.
I haven’t seen Austin since February; Kelly since Eugene ’13, over a year ago; and Traci since… sometime in Chicago, maybe in Dec ’12 (!!), so to say that this will be a special trip north is a bit misleading.
It will be fuckin’ amazinggggggggggggggggggg!!
Anyway, at the end of the day, I guess you could say that I’m happy where I am right now and how things have gone with this training cycle, which, depending on your point of view, has been either 10 weeks or 22 weeks. I look forward to so many things about racing marathons, and a major part of it is to encounter and engage in the richness of the human experience. If that makes no sense at all, I implore you to read Jeff’s piece here. It’s well worth your time.
Much as the final exam day during my undergrad years, all that’s left now is to show up for the final exam for a few hours and write–or run, as it were–until there’s nothing left to say–or no more miles to cover.