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.
Prior to the big move from Chicago to the Bay Area in December, as I was in the thick of some near-nightly anxiety- and tear-filled near-breakdowns, when I should have been working on things that really mattered–the little details, like actually preparing for the move, or grading my students’ essays–I often found myself researching, and then subsequently registering, for Bay Area races. I had no idea when A and I would actually make the move, but dammit if I didn’t already have a racing calendar lined up just in case. Coping mechanism at its finest, folks.
Naturally, then, Bay to Breakers, the world’s oldest, most consecutively-run (103 years in 2014!) road race, in San Francisco, came up on my radar. I was pretty sure Stone had run it in previous years, but all I knew was that it was supposed to be a big party, replete with tons of costumed runners (and some streakers). That was about it…and good enough for me to register.
After I registered in the autumn, I all but forgot about B2B until May, when I realized that it was going to coincide perfectly with Pfitz’s prescription of an 8k-10k tune-up (eh, 12k, same difference) two weeks out from my goal marathon. With B2B being my first 12k, and having this on my calendar specifically as part of my marathon training, I went into the race virtually pressure-free. I had a soft-but-mostly arbitrary time goal, in no small part because I wasn’t entirely sure how long a 12k was (and thus, my mental math on what my time could be was crude, at best), as well as a more practical goal of not pacing the race like an idiot. More than anything, in the immediate days preceding the race, I was looking forward to a quick overnight/weekend in SF with Stone and company.
B2B hosts a two-day expo in the Concourse Exhibition Center, the same place where TSFM held theirs back in 2010, and I volunteered to help promote the ZOOMA Napa half/10k on Saturday afternoon for a handful of hours. I normally wouldn’t willingly want to be on my feet for four hours pre-race, but again, no pressure going into this, and really, I found the whole thing to actually be somewhat… energizing. (We got lots of runners signed up, including some sisters and some BFFs who were all going to run together! So sweet. Truly, I almost teared up because I was so touched. And hey, you should come run, too!). It was also nice to meet/see folks from social media world at the expo.
Post-expo, on Saturday night, I made my way over to Erin and Ryan’s, my ever-gracious hosts for the weekend, and shortly thereafter, Foxy and her boyfriend Eric, plus Julie and Arnaud, all came over as well for some winin’ and dinin’ and good timin’ (had to) pre-race. Most of us were running B2B, so it was awesome to just hang out with friends old and new (aw); the race was more of an afterthought which, again, was pretty perfect in that whole “no pressure thing.” It wasn’t even until folks were getting ready to leave that we even began to look at the course maps and began to figure out the race morning logistics.
Race morning, Sunday
We all again met-up at Erin’s to Uber/cab it over to the race start at the Bay (hence, the Bay in the “bay to breakers” race name) and got some pre-race obligatory pics before we left. In the spirit of the race, and in part because hey, let’s keep it real, let me practice the value of having a positive body image that I try to showcase to my impressionable 3 year-old daughter, and because realistically, I knew there’d be streakers out there who surely had to be a bit more flabby than me, I decided to just rock the Girl Scout vest sans singlet–and with the City of Chicago flag shorts–and hope that the vest and all its myriad patches on the front and back wouldn’t chafe me and reduce me to tears. And yup, this was my vest from when I was a Junior in Girl Scouts, circa… 6th grade? 7th grade?
Colorful costumed runners and spectators, of wildly varying degrees of clothing coverage, were already out in force in the Haight hours before the race (and miles away from the starting area), and once we got to the race start, we split up since we had all been assigned to different corrals and since there was a decent amount of security detail actually checking bibs to ensure that only runners assigned to the specific corrals were gaining entry. Coincidentally, the race started mere blocks from where C’s previous employer’s office was, so I kiiiiiiinda knew where I was, which was nice.
I don’t really remember, but I think a marathon time I had used when I registered for the race last autumn allowed me entry into the “elite, seeded, and sub-seeded” corral (which was also where my friends should have been, too, but hey… next time), and luckily, adjacent to my starting area–which was totally sectioned off from the rest of humanity–there were probably about 10-15 porta-potties and a good .2 mi stretch of street the other runners in my corral were also using for their back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth warmups. I was able to get in ~1.75 mi and an additional 3 PRP attempts before entering the corral and awaiting our 8am start.
Ryan had mentioned that there would be lots of flying tortillas being flung around as runners waited in the starting corral, and he wasn’t kidding. Apparently, it’s some sort of race tradition for folks to chuck the flour frisbees; I guess beach balls are too hipster, even for SF.
Our 8am start slowly got pushed to 8:03… 05… 10… and finally, to 8:23, thanks to some issues with spectators that race officials feared would interfere with the elites’ races, as well as some equipment issues on the Hayes St hill that needed to be rectified. I’ve run in (much, much smaller) races that have had delayed starts, and while it is a pain in the ass, there’s really nothing you can do about it. A shitty attitude isn’t going to speed things up any, so the most you can do is wait… and as was the case for B2B, watch for more flying tortillas above you and hope you don’t get knocked in the head. Besides, as is the norm, I was chattin’ it up with folks in my vicinity and got the skinny on the race from a female masters runner who had similar race goals as me (and, btw, was a total rock star. I want to be her when I’m a masters runner. She was so gracious and just so cool).
Once we finally began the race, I was immediately taken aback by the sheer number of spectators already lining the course at 8am (or 8:23, anyway). In the first half-mile of the course, the deluge of spectators lining the course was thicker than probably any marathon I’ve run–with the possible exception of NYC–and while I knew that runners often partook in the costume or streaking revelry of the race, I had no idea that the spectators did so as well–and quite frankly, to a larger extent than most runners.
I can’t recall every get-up I saw from spectators or runners during B2B, and honestly, you’re better off doing a Google image search anyway (and/or reading Scott’s recap of running it with his daughter), but what I do remember:
a clan of a dozen-strong Tibetan monks, outfitted in orange robes and swimming-style head caps
lots of superheroes
lots of men wearing old-school, Greco-Roman wrestling-style leotards, showcasing their clumpy and uh, kinda dirty-looking chest hair (ew)
men, typically seniors, with impressively small penises and gray pubes, just letting it all hang out there… but don’t worry, they donned a veeeeeeeeeery thin string around their waist because where else would they have worn their race bib?
women, mostly younger, donning little star-shaped nipple stickers, equally letting it all hang out
a trio of white guys, with crisp white button-down shirts, skinny black ties, ironed black dress pants, carrying small books–yup, a trio of Mormons
a slew of folks dressed as contestants from The Price is Right or Legends of the Hidden Temple (remember that show?!)
centipedes–groups of runners (10+, I think) who raced, roped together by bungee cords or some other mechanism–dressed as ladybugs (women) or in crispy, button-down business shirts (men). Note: the ladybugs were fast.
random shit, like tacos
Again, Google image search Bay to Breakers costumes. The creativity was actually pretty impressive.
Back to the race… soon after I started, I was immediately awestruck with how many people were lining the course. Only parts of the course were barricaded–so weird to me because all the pre-race communications made a huge deal of how the race was really crackin’ down on safety and having “zero tolerance” on stuff this year–and I saw a fair number of folks already in the street, which I didn’t think much about because I figured they were just trying to see their friends more easily, get side-5s, video, photo, whatever. While that might have been the case for some of these drunk as a skunkhigh as a kite let’s call them rather spirited spectators, there were also many who were legit standing in the middle of the street–I’m not being hyperbolic here, folks, the fuckin’ middle of the street–slowly but surely beginning to collapse in the throes of the race into a pile of their own shitfaced selves.
Remember kids, it was barely 8:30 a.m.
While it was initially pretty entertaining to see some spectators three sheets to the wind so early in the race, I think my ‘mom mode’ kicked in and I kinda began to fear for their safety. What I saw paled in comparison to what my friends saw, since they started a few minutes after me, but I can recall seeing at least one guy all but throw himself into the race, and were it not for the grace and sliiiiiiiiiiiiightly less-delayed reflexes of his buddy who intercepted him, Mr. Trashy McTrashed would have been in bad shape. And, besides the rather spirited spectators who wanted to have a front-row seat to the race action by thrusting themselves into the thick of the race, I also saw random shit that I’ve not really seen before in races, like people on the sidelines, mostly costumed spectators, seemingly decide on a whim to enter and thus run the race, beginning from wherever they’re standing.
All this spectator commentary over the first couple miles of the race isn’t to say that the race is bad or poorly managed or anything like that–it really isn’t–but I think it’s just something that runners should be aware of. Truth be told, from my vantage point, it really was more entertaining than irritating… but then again, the stakes were quite low for me for this event. I don’t think I’ve raced anywhere that necessitated that I have my guard up so as to avoid being sidelined or body-checked mid-run by a shitfaced spectator, and fortunately, that wasn’t the case for me because of how soon I began the race after the gun went off. No doubt, though, had I started even a few minutes later, I would have had to dodge significantly more family members of the Trashy McTrashed brothers and sisters of humanity.
Anyway… once we got out of the downtown area, we made our way over north of Market and eventually, around mile 2 and change, to the storied Hayes Street Hill. HSH is a good .70mi-ish long climb, with a small dip about midway, just enough for you to catch your breath before you begin wheezing again, that totally makes me think of the old-school Rice-a-Roni commercials that featured the hills of SF as its backdrop–and, appropriately enough, I saw a spectator at the tippy top of the hill dressed as a box of Rice-a-Roni. B2B set up a challenge, as did Strava, to see who could be the quickest person to ascend the hill, and while it was a totally fair hill… damn, that was no joke! Here’s an image from the 2011 B2B for perspective.
Soon after HSH, most of the course, which wound through the Panhandle before dumping us into Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway–the GH at the ocean being the “breakers” in B2B–became quite flat and/or a series of descents. I didn’t pay a ton of attention to my splits, and I took the HSH at effort, not looking at my watch at all. After my first mile, a quick glimpse revealed that I had posted a 6:5x, so I consciously tried to reign things in a bit early on because I didn’t want to blow up and slog later. For the remainder of the race, I felt strong, and all the downhills through GGP definitely let me pick things up, but with my history of shittily pacing shorter distances during races, I was really trying to be mindful of how things were going and how I was faring. I wanted to enjoy the race and actually race it–which I did, on both accounts–but I also spent a lot of time in my head, simply gauging my effort and assessing, top-to-bottom, how I was feeling.
Once we had passed the panhandle and gotten into GGP, the race became less of a crazy shitshow and more of an actual race, which, compared to what we had just a few miles earlier, was almost somber. (And all the fog/mist that we ran through, near the bison, only added to the drastic mood change ). Somewhere in the park, I had noticed a guy wearing a singlet I recognized, and sure enough, it was a displaced Chicagoan, Ryan, who had run with TTAU (and with whom we shared some mutual friends… thanks for letting me name-drop you, Dan!). My Chicago flag shorts elicited some additional catcalls from other displaced Chicagoans mid-race (and afterward), which was a nice pick-me-up and a fun way to connect with people in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Before I knew it, we were passing the windmill–which always makes me smile because I’m a huge Quijote fan–and approaching the ocean, covering much of the same route as the Kaiser half in February (though we were running in a different direction). I was genuinely surprised at my splits at each mile marker–thank you, near-constant descents and flats–and it wasn’t until the last ~1 mile that I felt like my stomach was potentially beginning to revolt from the effort of running hard. I hadn’t seen any women around me for a long time, and despite my best effort to not let any women pass me, a couple got me in the final 20 steps (ugh!) before the finish.
First 12k, first Bay to Breakers, done and done — and arbitrary and more practical goal both realized.
Soon after I finished, Ryan, Stone, Foxy, and I all connected and got some more fun pics before heading back to the Haight for some celebratory lunch, less so for our individual races but instead, for Arnaud’s and Julie’s, both of whom had just completed their first ever road race. No time like your first, right?!… and especially when B2B is your first. Talk about memory-makin’.
And ultimately, how I fared:
arbitrary time goal: 53 (or sub); practical goal: not pace like a moron
actual: 51:36 and better-than-I-expected (read: I’m happy) pacing
Garmin stats: 52:24 for 7.54 miles (not sure why the discrepancy for my time is so huge, but hey… operator error?) 6:54, 702 , 752 — HSH mile, 725, 654, 629, 628, 607 for .54
So, is it worth doing?
Yea, probably, even if it’s a one-and-done. In a lot of ways, B2B reminds me of Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle, the world’s largest 8k (or so I’ve heard). Both the SS and B2B have a ton of racers, and probably only a very, very small number of those racers are truly chasing after a time; instead, most are there for the fun time with friends or the after-partieS. That’s not to say that you CAN’T run fast at B2B or the SS; it’s just that you will probably be in the minority…which, again, is fine; it’s just a different experience.
In the case of B2B, and for me, personally, if it weren’t for my lovely hostess putting me up overnight, I’m not sure I’d make the effort to get myself into SF to run “just a 12k,” (that sounds douchey, and it kinda is, but I generally don’t like to commute for anything besides marathons). I’m not really sure if I’ll run B2B again but not because it’s a bad race or because of the shitfaceapalooza sideshow the spectators put on; it’s more a logistical thing than anything with the inevitable commute from SJ and the time spent away from my family. In this case, it’s not you, B2B; it’s me.
But — just like many of my races these days — what will stay with me for much longer about my first B2B is less so my actual race day performance and more so the memory of the QT with friends.
And, with that, we are THIS MUCH closer to the Newport Marathon…!!!
What about you? Have you ever done a race that started more than 20 minutes late? Or how about a race with thousands of shitfaced spectators?
A 10-week turnaround between Oakland and Newport made me think that writing weekly training recaps would be a bit cumbersome, if not also repetitive, so most of my bantering lately has been less about “I did this workout and this workout and I felt great” blah blah blah–though no doubt, you can glean that from my dailymile any ol’ time you want–and more about some bigger picture stuff.
With the marathon just two weeks and change out from today, I still wanted to write through some of my training so I could examine everything from a bird’s eye view. As I’ve written earlier, writing through these things makes me think macro instead of incessantly micro, so this will probably not be the most titillating post I’ve written (sorry, friends). Come back later for some entertainment.
In terms of the weekly mileage breakdown, it’s looked like this, beginning with one week post-Oakland (which was on 3/23):
Of course, dailymile rounds the mileage, so it’s a bit misleading, but that’s the general gist of how the mileage has broken down.
Any seasoned runner will tell you that the mileage is meaningless unless you’re a) having fun and, equally important, b) healthy, and I’m happy to report that all is well in both territories.
The last time I wrote about my training, I talked about the funning I had done, which included running more trails in Alum Rock as part of my recovery, Ragnar SoCal with the other fine folks from TSFM ambassador group, and my first 1:45 pacing stint down at the Santa Cruz half marathon. That post basically captured my first four weeks post-Oakland.
Here’s how the subsequent weeks have shaken out:
week of 4/21: 74.54 miles, including some awesome spectating adventures at Big Sur International Marathon down in Carmel and Monterey. Also, I think this might be a weekly mileage PR.
week of 4/28: 71.09 miles, including another 1:45 RunningAddicts pacing gig at Brazen Racing’s Western Pacific half marathon (1:44:30, still too fast, though this was my first time pacing sola) and getting to see Chris start and finish the WP marathon
week of 5/5: 71.92 miles, including my longest LR (23) to date… and on a Wednesday because, #life.
That’s about it. Training has been punctuated with the standard fare mix of recoveries, MLRs, LRs, and speed and tempo stuff, and things have been good, fortunately. It is pretty cool (and gratifying) to me to look at all these pics throughout my training cycle thus far and relive some of the crazy-ass stuff I’ve seen or done while on the run because, if nothing else, it’s assuring me (or reminding me, anyway) that, for as much as I want to perform on 5/31, I’ve already had a fuckin’ blast with this truncated training cycle. That, in and of itself, is a victory.
Your turn. Interesting encounters on your runs or rides of late? Any spectating or volunteering fun to report?
With Newport Marathon race day approaching–16 days (?!)–and now that I’m slooooooooooooowly getting in taper mode, I’m finding that a lot of my running-related thinking is transitioning from focusing on the training I’ve done to get this far to the actual race day, what I want to accomplish (my A, B, C, and subsequent goals), and race day execution. Soon enough, I will begin binge-reading Newport race reports, studying the course map, and excitedly begin to count-down how many “sleeps” are left between now and when I take off for Portland…and surely, probably have an overwhelming, if not also somewhat fleeting, sense of holy shit! another marathon! here we go! am I prepared? why am I doing this again? is it too late to bail?? pre-race minor and mini-meltdown coursing through my body.
Anticipatory potential and minor meltdowns aside, I can say that what I’m noticing right now, being relatively close to race day, is that all things considered, I’m feeling pretty calm…still. As I wrote about earlier, I really don’t feel any sort of self-inflicted pressure about this race, unlike how I felt going into Chicago or Oakland, and whether this lack of pressure or being “strategically unfocused” will be to my benefit remains to be seen.
I’m definitely attributing my relative calmness going into mary #23 in part to the “funning”-but-still-working training I’ve done in the weeks since Oakland, but I think perhaps a larger attribute responsible for this sentiment is that I feel as though I’ve slowly but surely embraced the F, or, as it were, a series of Fs, going into Newport, in an intentional way that I’ve not done before a marathon–and especially not before a goal race. The Fs, because I like to make arbitrary alliterative lists (see what I did there?):
fuck (it, ‘em, whatever. I’m not picky)
This might make little sense to anyone but me, yet I still insist on trying to elucidate. Hear me out.
Embracing the F(s) can be liberating and thus far, has been for me. Personally, this isn’t saying that I’m letting myself off the hook–I still very much want to have a strong race performance at Newport–but I think I’m acknowledging now, relatively early, that that which I can control going into the race, I will… and conversely, that which I cannot, I won’t. Yin and yang. These things have a way of working themselves out.
In the grand scheme of things, in order to have an excellent or picture-perfect race, seemingly the cosmos has to be on our side that morning, and if it’s not, well, that sucks, but try again next time. Good thing there is no shortage of races.
Anyway, acknowledging and embracing whatever fear(s) I have going into this race has been important to me because by acknowledging their existence, I feel as though I’m allowing myself to admit that yeah, I actually do have some trepidations going into this race but none that could derail things unless, of course, I let them. I guess this is like getting over some semblance of denial and acknowledging that… yep. I’m still not invincible.
Naturally, the biggest fear that’s worth my time to acknowledge and embrace is the fear offailure, and of course, how we, how I, define what constitutes failure varies.
Sometimes I think that a time on a clock is what epitomizes failure to me–and especially (especially!!) if the time is significantly off from what I wanted.
Other times, I think failure is more of an effort-based thing. Thoughts along the lines of Did I race intelligently? Did I follow my plan? Did I throw in the towel early and slog my way through the race? Did I remain mentally tough? make me define failure in ways deeper and arguably, more meaningful than a time on my watch.
In other instances, I define failure as something even more personality-based, as I assess my attitude and character (yes, character) throughout a race. If another runner or spectator saw me mid-race, during a rough moment, how would this person describe what s/he saw? When the going gets tough–and of course, there will at least be one moment during 26.2 when I question why I continue to do this stuff–I think it’s critical to remember that by virtue of voluntarily participating and competing, I’m representing the running community. That said, it’s not cool to act douchey or entitled or pissy, even during the tough parts. I think it’s super critical that I exemplify an attitude of gratitude to not only the people on course–the people who allow us to run their neighborhoods and towns, the folks who stand outside for hours on end so they can help hydrate or feed a bunch of strangers running through their hometowns–but also to myself and my family, because it’s really easy to take my ability to do this stuff for granted, much as it is my family’s support of it.
Thus, acknowledging that I might fail at some point during the race, in terms of realizing my goal, having a shitty attitude, or not sufficiently embodying some sort of gracious attitude, makes me hyperaware of it and thus, more likely (I hope) to succeed. Just because I’m acknowledging that I might fuck up doesn’t guarantee that I will. I’m just… aware, I guess. Moreover, when I acknowledge and/or embrace my fear of failure–whatever failure that may be–I feel like I become much more receptive to feedback, I become even more driven to pursue the physical and mental challenge inherent to realizing my goals, and if nothing else, my insatiable desire to succeed makes me run and race without regrets.
Taking the plunge and chasing after big unicorns is scary, no doubt, but to me, the shitty feeling that accompanies the regret of wondering could I have done better? what if I had done X differently? and the like is far, far shittier.
Another aspect worth embracing and acknowledging, for me, is the somewhat futility of marathoning and marathon training. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely love doing this stuff and have no intention of voluntarily backing off anytime soon–but at the end of the day, it’s just running, right? My running and training isn’t going to feed my family, so what does it matter I do this stuff day in and day out? The futility of every day, putting one foot in front of the other, propelling ourselves in a generally-forward motion, with as little vertical oscillation as possible, to cover a measured distance as efficiently and intelligently and strongly as possible, can be unnerving and frustrating and LOUD when our mental demons, common sense, or naysayers insist that we could better spend our time elsewhere.
Here’s the thing. Running and marathon training is an exercise in futility, no doubt, but that’s why it’s beautiful. Here comes some hippy dippy runner banter, but again, hear me out.
Putting one foot in front of the other gets old, and sometimes it sucks, yet sometimes, a lot of times, it doesn’t.
Sometimes, it’s invigorating; more often than not, it’s challenging; and acknowledging, embracing, and navigating the sea of futility that seemingly marks our unicorn pursuits from the outside-in, from ourselves on our loudest days of doubt, or from naysayers who just don’t get it, is part of the process. If this stuff were easy, everyone would do it.
I think it’s worth acknowledging that running and training can be futile efforts, yet they need not be.
For many, myself included, running and training allows us to become better versions of ourselves, in no small part because the actual act of running–of covering a distance as efficiently and strongly and intelligently as possible–teaches us that running actually isn’t all that futile.
A lot happens between each footstrike when we run. The futility of it might lie in the motion, but the value and worth of our unicorn pursuit of choice comes out in the process of running.
Finally, after we’ve embraced and acknowledged our fears, the chance that we’ll fail, and the futility of running, I think it’s important that we finally embrace and acknowledge my favorite F of the quad (quartet? tetrad? foursome?), one of my favorite four-letter words, fuck. (teehee)
Friends might laugh at me for including this one here because they allege that I have a potty-mouth–not necessarily true, but hey, tangential–but after acknowledging and embracing our fears, the very real possibility of failing, and the somewhat futile nature of running, I think it’s critical that we ultimately take a deep breath and say
I wholeheartedly believe that we’re mentally and physically stronger than we think, than we know, and that sometimes, the biggest contributing factor to a sub-par performance is that all our precious mental real estate has been taken over by a bunch of head trash that somehow convinces us that we’re not capable of realizing that which we’re after, that the cards are stacked against us, and that ultimately, at the end of the day, what we’re doing, what we’re going after, essentially doesn’t matter — so basically, everything I just wrote above.
To all of this mental trash that can (and does) sabotage our game, I say fuck it.
As after-school special as this sounds, believe in yourself.
Trust your training, your coach, the people whom you’ve kept in your back pocket who insist that you’re well-positioned to perform when it matters most.
Having some doubt going into a race is important, I think, and surely fuels some people’s performance–think eustress, not distress–yet I also think it’s important to learn how to acknowledge the mental demons, to acknowledge their existence in a way that is more validating than anxiety-producing for us, as runners, and ultimately, to say fuck ‘em and change that distress into eustress.
If you’ve trained well, if you’re toeing the line prepared and healthy and ready to go, then the “coolly calm and confident” demeanor radiating from you should speak for itself. No demon, no doubt, can derail that.
I’m not a sports psychologist or mental health expert or really, anything pertaining to a field remotely in line with anything I’ve written here, so I guess I’d encourage you to consider my rambles here cautiously. I can’t guarantee that embracing and acknowledging basically every mentally-negative aspect can lead to a race day breakthrough, but for me, at least right now, this seems to make an awful lot of sense, and I think it’s contributing to my strangely calm feelings about this next little mary adventure at the OR coast. Time will tell.
What’s your mental game like before your goal race? What is your next goal race?!