Chasing unicorns — guest post on the NoMeatAthlete community blog

Marathon Monday in the Commonwealth today!

I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for the NoMeatAthlete community blog about, what else, chasing unicorns. I struggled more with writing this post than I have with any writing I’ve done in a really long time, and I’m grateful to have enlisted an editor, who’s chasing down her own unicorn this morning (hey girl, heeeeeeeeeeeey) to help me work through some trash.

Check it out on NMA here.

Ragnar SoCal ’14 — team afterNUUN run with TSFM ambassadors

I love to run, obviously, and I generally enjoy people—also somewhat obvious, I guess—so it’s probably not an earth-shattering surprise that I dig long-distance relays like Ragnar. Naturally, there are a veritable shit ton of variables, so many wonderful opportunities for things to go disastrously and horribly wrong, that come with the territory of putting together 12 strangers (or folks who, in general, don’t sleep with each other in passenger vans) in two vans, to cover around a couple hundred miles of running over a 24+-hour period, but from the two, now three, times I’ve participated in a Ragnar relay, the adventure is just that—an adventure.

 

Ragnar SoCal was an almost-200 mile run from Huntington Beach, CA, down to San Diego, and as I wrote about earlier, a flurry of awesome organizations graciously sponsored our team, which was comprised of social media ambassadors for The San Francisco Marathon:

  • The San Francisco Marathon — our vans and gear for the weekend. [PS, get yourself out here come July to run with me :) ($10 off registration costs for any event by using DSC10TSFM2014A26 … hollllaaaaa)]
  • Nuun Hydration — weekend-long hydration wonders (and the fine folks who graciously comped our race entry)
  • FitSok — the ever-important socks
  • Zensah compression — squeezin’ our bits between legs to recover quickly before running again… and again…
  • Gametiime — our ‘between-legs’ attire. Sidenote, they’re recently launched nation-wide, so you should definitely check them out. I have found tons of races through their site
  • and last but not least, Skechers — our official kicks for the races

Though I can’t recall precisely when I committed to doing the relay, I know it was a long time ago, I think maybe even in December or early January, right after we moved here from Chicago. I remember receiving a somewhat random text message from a number I didn’t know, asking me if I wanted to be on a relay team in southern California… “ok, that should work. And uh, who is this?” (And yea, that was Chris). Just as it has been my other experiences with running Ragnar, training for it over the past few months wasn’t a priority. That sounds pretty douchey to admit, but this time around, my mind was pretty squarely focused on Oakland in mid-March, and I figured (read: hoped) that I’d still have some semblance of residual marathon fitness that’d do something for me for a relay.

 

That said, when I initially committed to the relay, I realized that I was playing with fire a bit, since it was only two weeks post-Oakland, which was my A-race, so when I said “yea, absolutely! I can run a relay! 13 miles? 20 miles? Whatever you want! At around a 10k pace and with sleep deprivation? No problem!” I obviously had no way of knowing how I’d feel come relay day. Fortunately, my marathon recovery has been swift, so I felt pretty confident going into the relay weekend that I hadn’t lost any significant amounts of fitness in the two weeks post-marathon (which sounds ridiculous to admit, but hey, I think like this sometimes).

 

With my mother-in-law in town from IL, and thus, my childcare coordinated (THANK YOU!), I flew down to Orange County with the lovely Paulette from SJ mid-morning on Thursday before meeting up with our team captain Chris; Wes, whom I will probably refer to as Ethan throughout this post because for some inexplicable reason, I just really want to call him Ethan; Alisyn, and Matt at the airport.

 

It’s really this pretty funny thing because, for the most part, I didn’t personally know hardly any of my relay teammates. I think this is probably pretty common for relays, but I wasn’t really concerned about it. Many of them I had met after living here only a week, when a gaggle of TSFM ambassadors met-up for some trailz in Marin and an adult beverage afterward in SF, but to me, the thing about runners is that, by and large, they’re cool. I realize that that’s probably a somewhat preposterous and sweeping generalization to proclaim, but I really do feel that way. I’m hoping that, since most of my readers are runners, at least one of you is nodding your head in agreement…

 

Anyway, once we piled into our single mini-van, family-of-six style, and fetched the other grocery-getter that would be our weekend ride, we kicked off the weekend with some lunch in the Anaheim area, checked into the hotel, sorted our sponsor stash, and ultimately decided to run to Downtown Disney for dinner, once our other out-of-town runners, Keith and Bruce, arrived. Staying two miles away from Disney was a lovely surprise, and yeah… al fresco dining in April is a pretty novel idea. (My midwesterners: I did it for you). I think I can still play my “I just moved to California” card here because I had no idea that we were staying, or starting, anywhere near Anaheim, so when someone suggested running to Disney, you can imagine my surprise… and confusion.

 

sponsor swag-sorting in Anaheim

sponsor swag-sorting in Anaheim (source: Chris)

 

and we also had to go to Target for a productive hour of shopping for relay essentials. Wes, Keith, me, and Chris. (source: an employee who probably felt bad for us weirdos)

and we also had to go to Target for a productive hour of shopping for relay essentials. Wes, Keith, me, and Chris. (source: an employee who probably felt bad for us weirdos)

 

running to Disney with Wes and Alisyn (front) and Paulette's jazzy hands

running to Disney with Wes and Alisyn (front) and Paulette’s jazzy hands (source: Keith)

 

some of the team. L-R, Alisyn, Wes, Paulette, me, Chris, Keith, and Matt

some of the team. L-R, Alisyn, Wes, Paulette, me, Chris, Keith, and Matt (source: Alisyn)

 

al fresco in April at Disney. NBD

al fresco in April at Disney. NBD (source: hmm… our server?)

 

post-dinner, strolling through CA Adventures. The group: Matt (petting Aliysn), Keith, Paulette, me, Bruce, Wes, Alisyn, and Chris

post-dinner, strolling through CA Adventures. The group: Matt (petting Aliysn), Keith, Paulette, me, Bruce, Wes, Alisyn, and Chris (source: Bruce’s wife)

 

An enjoyable dinner (vegan pizza FTW) and a shuttle back to the hotel later, wherein the driver decided not to charge us because apparently none of us realized that a shuttle warranted this novel, 21st-century thing called payment (honest mistake), we were back at the hotel and just beginning the waiting game until our late start on Friday at 12:45pm. Of course, gathering a bunch of runners together, who typically run in the morning, who have nothing to do until nearly the afternoon, just meant that Chris, Keith, and I could do another little shake-out run around Anaheim in the morning before getting ready to roll. Post-shakeout, Ethan Wes and I set-up shop in the hotel room with our very fancy breakfast of champions, and shortly thereafter, Keith, Ethan Wes, Chris, and I made our way over to Huntington Beach to get ready for our relay start—and to finally meet our other two vanmates, Kristina (from southern California) and Jordan (whom had driven down from Berkeley). Finally meeting Kristina and Jordan was super—instant runner love all around (I’m telling you, runners are special people, and instant connections are common)–and after a flurry of obligatory pictures for all the sponsors who supported us for the duration of the weekend, we all spread out along the beachfront trail, waiting for Keith to come flying by on his first leg.

 

Thanks to TSFM, Zensah, Skechers, and Nuun for the lovely weekend.

Thanks to TSFM, Zensah, Fitsok, Skechers, and Nuun for the lovely weekend.

 

purrrrrrrty

purrrrrrrty

 

I heart gametiime

I heart gametiime; thanks for the love, guys.

 

In the interim, once we all met and hugged, we had the standard pre-Ragnar start stuff to do—the obligatory safety meeting, the opportunity to pick-up bibs and flags and Ragnar tech shirts—and more waiting around. We sufficiently blinged out our van with hashtags, sponsor names, and Nuun and TSFM magnets (some of which are now surely found scattered over various interstates in southern California).

 

Before we knew it, Keith was off on leg #1. While many things about this Ragnar were the same as Ragnar Madison-Chicago, the biggest difference was the landscape: lots of coastal running. It made for some gorgeous pictures and surely some really nice running eye candy, if you were lucky enough to run alongside it; it made me pine for the Chicago LFT.

 

man, what a shitty view

man, what a shitty view

 

go, Keith, gooooooooo

go, Keith, gooooooooo

 

Keith to Kristina,  done!

Keith to Kristina, done!

 

This relay experience, though my third, was also my first time driving or navigating, for which I can only claim partial success. Once our van was up and at ‘em, things seemed to be moving pretty quickly. Even when we got to our destinations (mostly) on time—more on that in a sec—it never felt like we had a ton of down time. Before we knew it, Keith was in and handed off to Kristina, who handed off to Jordan, who handed off to Wes, who handed off to me, and suddenly, I was standing in the parking lot of the Angels stadium in Orange, CA, becoming BFFs with some incredibly nice volunteers (seriously, probably some of the nicest strangers I’ve talked to) while I waited for Wes.

 

Kristina to jordan, their first legs

Kristina to Jordan, their first legs

Hanging with Jordan, Kristina, Keith, and Chris in the parking lot of the Angels stadium

Hanging with Jordan, Kristina, Keith, and Chris in the parking lot of the Angels stadium

 

Leg 1 – Orange, CA; 6.46miles (740, 822, 736, 45, 936, 827, 712)

A late start time—I think the penultimate one of the day—meant a lot of sola running for most of the initial miles of each leg. According to Ragnar, my first leg was the most mileage and the most challenging, so I thought that perhaps, for once, I’d be able to figure out how to effectively pace myself for this relay and not go out ballz-to-the-wall hard and die a slow, painful death on my subsequent legs, as I have been wont to do in M2C ’12 & ’13.

 

Ethan Wes flew in to the Angels parking lot, and so I began my tour of some residential areas of Orange, CA, including some neighborhoods, some downtown-y area, a cemetery, roughly a cajillion stoplights (and luckily, I had just missed a train by about 20 seconds). The stoplights made the run more of a fartlek than anything—and watching my pace on my watch climb from low/mid-7s to 9-10s+ just rocks, beeteedubs—but eventually, about a couple miles in, I started to find some brothers and sisters in humanity. I’d try to genuinely engage the other runners, and even offered to run with a guy who really looked like he was struggling in the unadulterated sun (he rejected me, sad face), so I was on my own for a while.

 

Wes-me, exchange 1

Wes-me, exchange 1

I eventually caught up to a guy, Stan, from LA, who’s in the throes of training for 70.3 Kona, and it was nice to run with him for a while (and also save him from missing a turn). Selfishly, it was also awesome to have him to chat with over a thousand stoplights and over the final 2, 3ish miles because, true to form for my relay experiences, my guts decided that running in a new-to-me location, where I had absolutely no sense of direction, would be the perfect time to feel the need to shit right here and now… but with the company of my new-found friend, I could think less of my need to “evacuate” and more about my new buddy’s training experiences, his goals, and that sort of thing. Stan, if you’re out there, thank you, from both me and my bowels. He really was pretty cool though. Anyway, before I knew it, it was “one mile to go,” and that meant a bathroom, and, surprise to me, indoor plumbing at a community center. WINNING. A helicopter-arms-style handoff to Chris, and bam—one leg down.

 

Flying in

Flying in

More flying

More flying

Helicopter arms, as promised; see also: crazy face

Helicopter arms, as promised; see also: crazy face

 

Shortly after I finished running and reveling in indoor plumbing, I did a hasty and partial strip-down into possibly clean clothing and drove our van over to the first major exchange zone, where we got to see van 2 for the first time that day and finally meet/see our other two teammates, Meg and Miriam, who had come in later in the day from southern CA and Napa, respectively. I knew that we weren’t as pressed for time to pick-up Chris, since he’d be handing off to Matt/van 2, but I didn’t want to miss seeing him come in, and I wanted to have as much QT as possible with van 2. Relays, at least Ragnars, are super fun in many respects, but probably the shittiest thing about them is the relative non-existent opportunity to spend any time with, or even see, your teammates who aren’t in your van. I really like my van 2 peeps but had very little QT with them. I think that means we all need to hang out for real super soon :)

 

the Ragnar ladies, sans Jordan, who was pottying. Lady pic fail. Kristina, Miriam, Paulette, me, Meg, and Alisyn

the Ragnar ladies, sans Jordan, who was pottying. Lady pic fail. Kristina, Miriam, Paulette, me, Meg, and Alisyn

 

Once Chris flew in, we made our way over to Dana Point, pretty near the second major exchange zone, for more (vegan) pizza and to just chill/hang-out/think about snoozing until it was our turn for parte dos, the nighttime legs, my personal fav. Since moving out here, or more generally speaking, I guess within the past year or so, most of my running is between the hours of 3:45-6am, so I’ve gotten pretty comfortable running in the pre-dawn or somewhat absolute darkness. It still is a little unnerving to do it in an unfamiliar area, but it’s also really exciting (for me) and just reeeeeeeeeeally fuckin’ lovely and perfect.

 

time for some vampire running

time for some vampire running

Before we knew it, we were up again, and Keith got things goin’ by running the longest leg of the entire relay. This middle stretch for our #1, 2, and 3 runners was a little jacked because of Camp Pendleton and a last-minute course change, so once Kristina finished her leg, we had to get a card with a time printed on it, drive 30 minutes, and then drop Jordan off for her to begin her second leg. That was a Ragnar first for me, but all things considered, it seemed to go over pretty smoothly. And, true to form by this point, we were ragin’ to run, and before long, Jordan came in super hot, and off went Ethan Wes, and Chris pacing him, into the night, with yours truly behind the wheel again.

 

Leg Two – Oceanside, CA (6.22 miles, 730, 40, 30, 30, 45 (climb), 37, 6:42 for .22)

My second leg was almost the same distance as my first and allegedly on an easier route. The first one actually wasn’t bad at all, save for the thousands of stoplights and a fair number of turns, and according to the RagMag, this one was going to have fewer turns and an enough-to-keep-things-interesting hill near the end of the leg. Jordan and I, I think the only ones awake by now, were hanging at the exchange, waiting for Ethan Wes and Chris to come in, and of course, everyone looks androgynous in the dark and with reflective gear on. Neither of us could pinpoint an exact time when the guys left, so we had a rough estimate about when to expect them and hoped that’d be sufficient. By this point in the morning, around 2am, the temps were damn near perfect for running—high 40s/low 50s—but just standing around in sweats (if that) made it a bit brisk. I repeatedly thought I saw the guys approaching, would start to strip from my sweats, and then figure out it wasn’t them. Do that a couple more times… Jordan tells me yeah, it’s not them… oh shit it’s them! Take off your sweats! Get into the chute! Go! Go! Go!… and we’re off. Chris had helped pace Wes to run mid-7s, significantly faster than he thought he’d be able to do (YOU GO, Ethan!!), so their hot and unexpected arrival made things a bit more adrenaline-filled than usual for me.

 

My Oceanside leg was pretty uneventful and actually, kinda ugly. The name connotes that we were by the side of the ocean, but I’m pretty sure I just ran through some commercial areas of town—strip mall after strip mall—and even a little industrial area. I eventually started seeing and chasing the little red blinky lights on runners ahead of me and was able to chat with them before passing. I’m so happy to support other runners because really, pace is not what impresses me most, so I don’t really understand the standoffish-ness I get from other runners when I try to be super encouraging and supportive of them. I’m not patronizing you when I’m passing you, I promise; I wouldn’t do that. I genuinely think you effin’ rock because a) you’re running and b) it’s like, 2am.

 

With about 1.5 to 2 miles left, I began the seemingly-forever-long climb that the course map had hinted at, a highway overpass hill-type-of-thing that was about .5 or .75-ish miles long, and with a camber so sharp I felt like my left leg was actually longer than my right as I tried to peg-leg it up the ascent. It was definitely doable; the grade wasn’t that bad, so it made for a slow-and-steady type of ascent, and left me pleasantly surprised to see that I had climbed that at a slow-end MP effort. That’s a +1 for running by feel, folks. Not long after the climb, I was descending and picking up the pace even more (and catching up to more runners), allowing me to finish this leg and effortlessly handoff to Chris not only faster but also feeling stronger than I had in my first leg just a handful of hours earlier. Maybe there was something to figuring out how to pace a relay after all.

 

Chris’ parte dos was going to be quite short—fewer than three miles—so he kinda-joked-but-mostly-seriously-said that he wanted to beat the van, and unless he had a thousand stoplights, I knew that he would. Jordan and I conferred on the maps and got us to where we were supposed to go and just waited… and waited… and waited. Texts from our Van 2 mates said that Chris had beat us to the exchange, as we expected he would, and that Matt was already off on his leg and that van 2 was about to leave the exchange to go meet Matt. By now, our van had been at the exchange for a good 30 minutes or so and had canvassed the entire area but still couldn’t find Chris anywhere. After a while, we thought for sure that he was fucking with us, so we were beginning to think that it was some sort of twisted “let’s play hide and seek at 4 o’clock in the morning” game that only Chris would think was funny… until we saw van 2 pull up into the exchange. A lightbulb quickly went off between Jordan, Ethan Wes, and me—as well as a string of four letter words and instructions from me to DO NOT LOOK AT VAN TWO! DON’T LET ON THAT WE LEFT CHRIS AT THE WRONG EXCHANGE ZONE!–and we made our way back to the exchange where he actually was… and had been waiting for us, in a running-soaked singlet and shorts, at 4am, for about 40 minutes. Moral of the story: read, and re-read, and re-read course maps. And don’t think that your team captain wants to play hide-and-seek in an exchange zone at 4am because, chances are, he doesn’t. Um, Chris? We love you?

 

And just like that, we were already mostly done with our turns of the relay. We took care of business at a local gas station, manned by possibly the world’s nicest attendant who was cool and didn’t charge me anything for the hot water for my tea that I had brought with me from home because I’m bizarre like that, and off we went to the next major exchange zone, which was seemingly in a office park’s parking lot and already JAMMED with tons of relay vans. By this point in the morning, we had really begun to catch up to humanity, to other teams who had begun their relays hours before us, so suddenly, we had to start considering how traffic might affect our ability to get us from point A to point B.

 

We had a few hours here of downtime, probably the most we had had during the relay, but no sleeping was to be had for me. I was actually feeling pretty awake and pretty charged—thank you, tea, at 4am—ready to knock out the rest of the relay, so while I can say that I “rested my eyes,” I can also assure you that I heard every single conversation and bird chirping around me for the 20 or so minutes that I attempted to get some shut-eye. This would mark my one and only relay that I had stayed awake for the entire time—not something I’d brag about, but probably something I can attribute to my toddler for conditioning me to function on sub-ideal sleep. :)

 

Soon enough, our #1, Keith, began his journey, and along the drive, we saw tons and tons of runners that we knew he’d eventually pick up, and each exchange zone we drove to, for the rest of our final legs, was thicker and denser with more teams. The upside, though, was that the portapotties finally began having toilet paper again, so that was a win. Once again, some solid running from Keith, and then Kristina (who also had STAIRS on her legs… which, NBD for people who have lived and run here all their lives, but coming from the midwest, anytime I have to run stairs during a LR through a trail or park system, I seriously begin to question life), and then more speedy goodness from Jordan and Wes, all to the quite lovely backdrop of some coastal running along PCH, on a beautiful morning in San Diego, and here we were, my final leg, the shortest of my three and if all went according to plan, my fastest. I wanted to see if I had finally figured out how to pace a relay properly so that I didn’t feel like death by the end.

 

just another gorge morning somewhere in SD

just another gorge morning somewhere in SD. very cool that this lil’ pic collage of mine also made the Ragnar race weekend blog, woohoo!

 

right after Kristina to Jordan's third handoff. Note the Everest behind Jordan that she just summitted.

right after Kristina to Jordan’s third handoff. Note the Everest behind Jordan that she just summitted.

 

Jordan to Wes' third leg. Love love love Wes' thumbs-up and flying :)

Jordan to Wes’ third leg. Love love love Wes’ thumbs-up and flying :)

 

Leg Three – San Diego (3.94 miles, 721, 634, 708, 656 for .94)

Wes’ final leg was punctuated by some impressive hillz and a thousand stoplights, which only meant that I got to cheer for the other runners in the chute for a long time. Seriously, cheering for other runners during a race is second only to running for me; I probably get as ridiculously endocannibinoid-fueled when I cheer as I do when I run.

 

in my next life, I'm a cheerleader

in my next life, I’m a cheerleader

 

Before long, Wes arrived, and off I went. I noticed that another runner just a handful of strides in front of me, already haulin’ ass, had missed the first turn (which was literally still within the exchange zone), so I started to yell at him to get his attention—by yelling things that made sense like hey! You missed your turn!; Ragnar! Turn around! You missed your turn!; and eventually dude! You’re going the wrong fuckin’ way! Other teams, parked in the parking lot at the exchange zone, saw me running after him and also started to yell at this dude, but it was worthless. He had headphones in, and apparently he was listening to the voice of God or something equally fascinating and life-altering because he had no effin clue what was going on. I don’t race, or even train that much, with music on, nor do I necessarily care when people do; however, this kinda pissed me off.

 

I didn’t care so much that I had veered off course, only by about .4 mile total, to try to be the Good Samaritan to fetch this guy and get him where he was supposed to be; I was just pissed that he was that fuckin’ irresponsible and so totally oblivious to his own personal safety that a girl (me), running literally steps behind him, and downright YELLING AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS (or as much as I could muster while effectively sprinting to catch up to him), resulted in little-to-no response from him. If anything, he only slightly looked over his shoulder at me once, and likely saw that a girl half his age and size was on his heels, and that somehow jeopardized his Manhood card, so he decided to speed up and completely ignore the fact that he was going in the wrong effin’ direction. Whatever man. I tried.

 

Soooooooo…. once I did eventually turn around and begin the official course of my third leg, the other runners, all congregating at the stoplight that Oblivious Dude missed, commended me on my efforts, and the adrenaline was already coursin’ hot and heavy through me, so I decided to just go with it. Without question, this was my prettiest leg of the three I ran; San Diego is just unabashedly gorgeous. It also helped that almost all of my third run was downhill and short—just over a 5k—so I wanted to try to get this at or near 5k effort, depending on the obvious factors of how I felt and how many stoplights would sabotage me. It was a blast to hammer through these final three miles, and I got such a huge pick-up from seeing another non-Relay runner father, pushing his two kids—a toddler and an infant so young that he/she was still in an infant carseat carrier—in a BOB Duallie ascending one of the hills that I was flying down. Solid fistpump and “you rock, man” to another parent runner there, for sure.

 

More neighborhoods, more commercial/highway hills running, and eventually, an arrival into a park area, adjacent to the ocean, where I’d hand off to Chris. I had passed tons of people by now and was feeling really strong, with my watch telling me I was going around mid-6s on the downs and non-stoplight portions of the run; it was on these stretches that I began to wonder what a sub-6 mile feels like and mentally wrote that down on my “running to do” list. On the final throes of the run, I seemed to be entering a park area where lots of runners and cyclists did their Saturday LRs because tons of people were running/riding against me, cat-calling and high-fiving, and it was just a nice little lovefest. I was especially floored to see so many women (non Ragnar runners) give me the time of day as we ran against each other—usually in the form of “yea girl! You look good!” or something similar—because my experience has often been that women don’t go out of their way to support other women mid-race; in fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of women to whom I said some sort of encouraging remark, and who then reciprocated to me, during this relay. I find this very puzzling. Judgment is overrated, ladies. Let’s move on.

 

At any rate, my third and final exchange with Chris ended on a very slight downhill, which was a total fuckin’ blast to finish my fastest leg on, and I had just barely squeaked in a sub-7 effort on the leg with all the stoplights (and the .4 mile bonus at the beginning). I felt tired—the good tired—and felt like I had finally learned how to properly pace and race a relay for me, in a way that I could still put in an honest effort on each leg but also get progressively faster over time. Mission accomplished.

 

flying doesn't get old

flying doesn’t get old (source: Jordan)

 

aaaaaaaaaand I'm done

aaaaaaaaaand I’m done (source: Jordan)

 

with Kristina, post-third leg. Note our matching 'run happy' hats :)

with Kristina, post-third leg. Note our matching ‘run happy’ hats :) (source: um…)

 

With Chris off, and me again behind the wheel, I knew with almost 100% certainty that he’d beat us to the next exchange again, even with all his hill-climbing and the duration of his run. Traffic wasn’t necessarily bad by this point, but each exchange lot was getting progressively busier. Once we finally did get to the exchange—after driving through some to.die.for hills and views—we had been walking outside the van, toward the exchange area, for maaaaaaybe two minutes before Chris magically appeared in front of us and thanked us for not stranding him (again) …and then we were DONE!

 

and he's off...

and he’s off… (source: um…?)

 

'hey, thanks for not abandoning me this time around.' 'oh, ya know, it's cool.'

‘hey, thanks for not abandoning me this time around.’ ‘oh, ya know, it’s cool.’ (source: uh…?)

 

For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out at or near the finish line area, waiting for Van 2 to bring it on home. The finish area was by a big convention center, and on the water, so things got pretty congested pretty quickly, though it was initially quite chill when our van arrived.

 

we also decided some stairs cross-training was in order

we also decided some stairs cross-training was in order

waiting for van 2 near the finish line

waiting for van 2 near the finish line

 

Van 2 blazed through their final legs and before long, some of our Van 2 mates decided to jump out of the van, since they were wasting away in traffic, so they could accompany the rest of us as we ran across the finish line with Alisyn. Much like Madison-Chicago, SD’s finish area was a bit of a clusterfuck between relay traffic, parking instructions, and (I’m guessing) typical Saturday-morning-in-beautiful-SD-by-a-convention-center-and-waterfront traffic. Fortunately, it was merely minutes after Alisyn and those of us present crossed the finish line that the rest of our van 2 mates arrived, and so we swiftly began a flurry of team pics, beer-ing, and sharing tales of some of the ridiculousness or accidental entertainment we had laid witness to, or contributed toward, on our legs over the past 24 hours.

Alisyn bringing us home, flanked by Paulette and Jordan

Alisyn bringing us home, flanked by Paulette and Jordan (source: um…)

 

DONE, son! (+ awesome photobomb)

DONE, son! (+ awesome photobomb) [source: a stranger]

 

beer-ing (or faking) it up

beer-ing (or faking) it up (source: stranger)

 

We later learned that our team had actually fared pretty well in both our division (mixed) and in the open team competition, which was pretty cool and not something that any of us were (seriously) pursuing: an overall time of 26:40:57, enough for 8th in the Regular Open Mixed Division and 24th overall.

 

And then, just like that, just a mere 26 hours later, we finished our RagnarSoCal adventure as a TSFM ambassador team. When I think about my recent races, it downright befuddles me when I think about how quickly time seems to pass by when I run (and particularly during marathons, when I’m out there for over three hours), yet when I think about my relay experience with this group of people who, save for Chris, for all intents and purposes, I really didn’t personally know very well—aside from what I had gleaned from social media over the past couple months—honest to freakin’ god, I have to wonder if there was some sort of hole in the galaxy’s time continuum because that was the fastest 26 hours of my life.

 

I guess, in a way, much like marathons, a lot of things happen over the course of a relay that amount to lots of small punctuations in my mind, little seemingly-inconsequential moments or conversations among teammates that, collectively, make the race much more than a race but a real lived and shared experience. I totally get that that sounds like hippy-dippy runner shit—my god, how Northern California is rubbing off on me—so maybe it’s a post-relay high that I’m still riding, or maybe it’s through rose-tinted glasses that I’m recalling my relay weekend, but so rarely do I have the opportunity for uninterrupted, unadulterated, quality time, wherein I’m not responsible for anyone or anything, that when I do have an opportunity like what Ragnar gave me—an opportunity to really and truly just get to know other people and, in the process, establish some new friendships and cultivate those pre-existing—that I just eat it up. I went into the weekend with few expectations for my performance and, like I said, with no fear that somehow my teammates and I wouldn’t jibe. At the same time, I didn’t expect to come out of the relay weekend necessarily feeling like I had finally or firmly established some friends—and not just “California-based friends,” but legit friends—that when it happened, it was both so humbling and so very richly and deeply gratifying that I’m at a (rare) loss of words about how to convey it.

 

Much like my Oakland experience, then, when I think about my third relay, I promise you that I won’t be able to tell you anything of substance about my runs or my times or anything like that. What will stand out most to me was that one conversation that Keith and I had, or the time that, on a whim, we all ran to Disney and got some rare inter-van QT, or when Jordan and I were the only ones awake and talkin’ big dreams and goals or when Paulette and I were figuring out what makes the most sense for her to run this year, given her dreams or whatever; it’s too much to list here and probably too personal, if not also a tad obnoxious.

 

Two of my three relays I’ve run have resulted in some extremely valuable-to-me friendships, not just “running friends” but again, legit friends, folks whom I talk to almost every single day, folks who collectively make me a better person and folks to whom I turn when I need to be supported or validated or even just ridiculously or stupidly entertained, when I can’t do that for myself. :) In fact, I guess I could argue that prefixing my “friends” label with “old” or “new” or “California” or whatever cheapens the relationship and experience a bit and, consequently, isn’t worth doing. Friends are friends are friends.

 

That that happened for me again on this relay, that a bunch of seemingly inconsequential moments in time, together with some bouts of running, collectively and ultimately resulted in some newly-emerging or newly-deepening friendships, was a complete and welcome surprise, but as someone who still every day feels a longing for the familiarity of “old” friends and “old” home, being presented with “new” friends in “new” home couldn’t have come at a better time.

Next up: Ragnar SoCal with TSFM Ambassadors

I’m in this weird little in-between period now post-Oakland-recovery and pre-full-on Newport training, so what better thing to do than an ~200 mile relay in southern California?! My thoughts exactly.

our team, in runner number order

our team, in runner number order

I’ve had the pleasure of running two Ragnar relays before, from Madison-Chicago (in 2012 and 2013), and they’re always a good time–tiring as all hell (hello, sleep deprivation) but super fun.

A gaggle, er, 11, other San Francisco Marathon ambassadors and I will be covering the distance between Huntington Beach and San Diego, beginning around mid-day on Friday. We’ve been super fortunate to have a flurry of sponsors supporting us on this little trek, including the following fine organizations:

  • The San Francisco Marathon — our vans and gear for the weekend. Naturally, we’ll be promoting the race all weekend long, so don’t be shy! Register and get yourself out here come July to run with me :) ($10 off registration costs for any event by using DSC10TSFM2014A26 … hollllaaaaa)
  • Nuun Hydration — weekend-long hydration wonders (and the fine folks who graciously comped our race entry)
  • FitSok — the ever-important socks
  • Zensah compression — squeezin’ our bits between legs to recover quickly before running again… and again…
  • Gametiime — our ‘between-legs’ attire. Sidenote, I love their site, and if you live in the Pacific NW or NY-area east coast, definitely check them out. I have found tons of races through their site
  • and last but not least, Skechers — our official kicks for the races

Post-relay (a week later), I’m scheduled to pace the 1:45 pace group at the Santa Cruz half marathon, and after that, we’ll be in marathon training mode for Newport.

More to come!

 

Oakland Marathon training: RACE WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!

Aaaaaaaaaaand now, the last entry of the Oakland Running Festival/Oakland Marathon training cycle. It’s a little weird to write this nearly a week post-marathon, but hey… I like closure.

OakMarathonLogoHazy memory, so this will be brief. The theme of the week was RECOVERY and just waiting until the big day.

Monday, March 17

p: rest/XT

a: rest

Always the rest-day Monday.

Tuesday, March 18

p: recovery double: 5 mi a.m.; 4 mi p.m.

a: yup, a recovery double — 5.1 mi a.m.; 4.06 mi p.m.

Felt pretty solid on both of these recovery runs. On the first one, pre-dawn, the temperature allegedly dropped 11 degrees, which I’m not entirely sure I buy… but the gigundo full moon was to.die.for. I bet there’d be more pre-dawn runners out there if they knew how beautiful the moon was (or if they’d get to go back to sleep for a little bit after their run. Minor detail).

Part two felt great, especially after driving for three hours (another aquarium trip). My legs were all AMEN, SISTA for giving them the opportunity to streeeeeeeeeeetch.

still has nothing to do with running, but jellyfish are still cool

still has nothing to do with running, but jellyfish are still cool

Wednesday, March 19

p: GA 7 with 2 @ GMP

a: GA 7.07 with 2 @ GMP (well, not exactly– 7:39, 42)

Missed the mark a bit on this and couldn’t quite lock down the GMP very quickly. The goal was to do this descending, in accordance with my corresponding pace at Oakland, with a range of 7:37 down to :26. It was a bit of a ‘eghhh’ moment because it was hard not to overthink or overanalyze why I couldn’t quickly lock down my pace, but rationally, I knew that at this point in training, it was kinda inconsequential and that it was probably more indicative of some sort of ‘blergh’ that morning and less so of something egregiously wrong with my training. It did, however, spur me to consider reigning in my pacing a bit for race day from a 1:39/36 split to a 1:40/38 split, which was definitely wise, given the course profile.

Thursday, March 20

p: recovery 5

a: yup, recovery 5.09

Decided to get outta my hood and run around the Catholic cemetery for a while. It’s actually kinda cathartic to run in a big, .8-sized circle, that also throws me some little ascents and descents; it’s just a bit weird to do so pre-dawn and see random shit strewn along the sidewalk leading up to it, like children’s toys. What I also find interesting is that many headstones in the cemetery have these little LED votive things, presumably so the graves are always illuminated (I guess as a way to honor the deceased?). It makes the headstones kinda pretty… but also kinda eerie when you’re circlin’ the cemetery pre-dawn and only see little votive lights, in addition to that which your headlamp is illuminating. Kinda rave-y. Kinda weird.

Friday, March 21

p: recovery 5 + speed  w 5x100m strides

a: yup, recovery 5.01 with 5x100m strides

Very relaxing and cathartic laps around the ‘hood. Totally kumbahya, totally wanted to run forever. Thank you, taper; thank you.

Also, on many of my runs this week, I had noticed the absence of my feral felines, my usual company that typically terrifies me graces my presence mid-run. Later in the day, during a walk with A, not only did I see some graffiti–NBD for SJ–but it was feline-themed. I had to preserve the moment.

seriously

seriously

Saturday, March 22

p: recovery 4

a: recovery 4.03 with Lynton (!!) in the west side of PCP

Race weekend! Race weekend! Just a little jiffy with Lynton, who so awesomely flew over to the Bay from Chicago so he could race 13.1 at Oakland and run with Rozanne for her first 5k. Even after a late flight, he still drove a long haul down to SJ for a little shake-out. Beginning of an awesome weekend!

Sunday, March 23

p: 26.2 miles – RACE DAY!

a: 26.2 miles – RACE DAY! 3:23:47, third woman OA, second AG

All sorts of awesomeness.

Weekly Mileage

p: 56.2 mi

a: 56.56 mi

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s a wrap! Thanks for all the love and support during my Oakland ’14 cycle; all ya’ll are the best! :) Lots of love from SJ!

Spring racing is fast upon us, and I’m super excited to see you crush it out there!

Oakland Running Festival/Oakland Marathon 2014 weekend: the non-race

…and now, round two of my Oakland Running Festival/Oakland Marathon 2014 race weekend recap! When I wrote my recaps for Chicago & NYC ’13, ultimately, I ended up writing the recaps as several separate entities because there was so much I wanted to talk about for each race, both stuff that was strictly running related–like my pacing, my goals, my race day execution, that sort of thing–and stuff that totally wasn’t–like the opportunity to spend lots of QT with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and why that’s just awesome.

Think of the previous paragraph then as a soft disclaimer. If you want to know specifics about my performance at the marathon, jump back to my earlier 5,000+ word diatribe post about it. Anything you’d want to know is there. If you’re interested in the warm and fuzzy stuff, the non-running stuff that made me so happy, read on, sister! (or brother!)

Race Weekend

As I’ve probably belabored by now, my family and I moved somewhat surprisingly, and somewhat suddenly, from Chicago, our home of over a decade, to Silicon Valley (San Jose), in December 2013. Prior to moving here, I knew exactly three people in northern California, and two of them lived in San Francisco proper, a good hour, hour and change drive from SJ. Making a cross-country move, and especially with a toddler in tow, can be intimidating for all the obvious reasons, but at the very least, I knew that I had at least a couple people in my back pocket to turn to once I got here… and even better, they are runners. What I didn’t expect about the Oakland race weekend was that it would ultimately be like separate chapters of my life converging.

Midhun

Midhun, one of my first friends I met in undergrad in 2002, has been living out here since our graduation in 2006, and typically, I see him once a year, if that, for a couple hours…again, if that. Prior to race weekend, when he so graciously set me up in his place 15 minutes away from Oakland, I hadn’t seen him since 2012 (I think), even though he had come to Chicago to run in ’13 (not sure how I missed that! bad Erin!!).

pretty sure the last time I saw Midhun (top L) was at this little DePaul rendezvous in my basement, circa Dec '12

pretty sure the last time I saw Midhun (top L) was at this little DePaul rendezvous in my basement in Chicago, circa Dec ’12

I’m not exaggerating when I say that within the first two or three hours of him picking me up from Oakland on Saturday afternoon, my face already hurt from smiling and laughing so damn much. Best type of pain ever.

After fetching me from the expo, he and I chilled at his place for a bit before driving around Berkeley–SO PRETTY, holy moly–as well as the UC-Berkeley campus and surrounding hills (wherein I tried very hard to appreciate the beauty of being so high up… without getting vertigo-y and wanting to spew all over his fiance’s car).

Noble Laureate parking at Berkeley. The institution has produced more Laureates than anywhere else, and you get a parking spot for life at the university once you're named. NBD.

Noble Laureate parking at Berkeley. The institution has produced more Laureates than anywhere else, and you get a parking spot for life at the university once you’re named. NBD.

 

the view from one of the many hills surrounding campus and the town. It's a bit foggy, but you get the idea. swooooooon

the view from one of the many hills surrounding campus and the town. It’s a bit foggy, but you get the idea. On a clear day, you can see San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. swooooooon

After our little tour de Berkeley, we grabbed dinner (al fresco, on March 22, again… NBD) at Jupiter, a local pizza and brewery place, caught up some more about his forthcoming wedding in November, and shortly thereafter, went home to crash early.

As I had mentioned in my RR, Midhun was also kind enough to drive my ass back to Oakland in the morning, before the race, and then reconnected with my other friends and me in Snow Park, once we were all done. Without this sounding like a laundry list of “first we did this, then we did this, and then we did this,” which it already does, I can’t adequately describe how happy I was to finally get some QT with one of the only folks whom I knew living out here before my family and I made the big jump. I am ridiculously excited for Midhun’s wedding this November, just a couple days shy of my own wedding anniversary, and I’m looking forward to seeing him lots more, now that we’re in the same state (and soon, on the same side of the Bay).

Stone, aka Erin, aka Crin

Just as Midhun was one of the only three folks I knew out here, Stone was in this trio as well. Like my friendship with Midhun, my friendship with my co-Erin originates in Chicago, where we met through Fleet Feet’s Boston Bound program in 2010. We became fast friends over 800s in the LP Zoo parking lot, those G-D stairs at the Grant Statue, and lakefront and Barrington long runs, the latter of which I always remember her saying the alphabet backwards in German (French? Swedish? I can’t recall) as she scaled the hills mountains of the suburbs.

Immediately after Boston '10, in the Hotel Clarendon.  Stone (top L) and the gaggle of women I trained with for Boston '10 (bottom, L-R: Stacey, Amy, Margaret; top- Stone, me, Chris). Missing is John, our sole male influence.

Immediately after Boston ’10, in the Hotel Clarendon. Stone (top L) and the gaggle of women I trained with for Boston ’10 (bottom, L-R: Stacey, Amy, Margaret; top- Stone, me, Chris). Missing from the pic is John, our sole male influence that winter.

 

Attacking (er, hugging) Stone post-Boston. Another classic shot of me, smelling like ass after a marathon, insisting on bear-hugging someone.

Attacking (er, hugging) Stone post-Boston. Another classic shot of me, smelling like ass after a marathon, insisting on bear-hugging someone. You’re welcome, and I’m sorry.

Erin left Chicago shortly after she ran Chicago ’10–another marathon for which we got to train together–and has been in SF ever since. Once I knew that my family’s relocation to the Bay was a go, she was one of the first people I told, in no small part because she had just done the move herself relatively recently and had also gone through the same slew of emotions.

Anyway, come Oakland weekend, this gal met-up with me at the expo, hauled ass through that as quickly as possible, and then together we noshed our little hearts out at Souley Vegan, a low-key-and-super-awesome-southern-style vegan place near Jack London Square in Oaktown. Go there; it’s wonderful. Bonus: I ran by it the next day during the marathon.

'act natural! it's for the blog!'

‘act natural! it’s for the blog!’

My experience pre-marathon typically is that the less I’m just nervously milling over the race, thinking about running, wondering how the hell (or perhaps more importantly, WHY) I’m going to cover 26.2 miles, the more relaxed I feel, and, understandably, the better I perform. Having some Erin time, which I hadn’t had since the weekend of the Kaiser half marathon in February, gave me that time, and much like my time with Midhun, I reveled in it, and my face hurt. I look forward to having the world’s deepest smile lines in my face here pretty soon.

strategy

strategy for the awesome spectator support

obligatory selfie post-lunch

obligatory selfie post-lunch

And, as I wrote about in detail in my RR, Erin was my gracious sherpa mid-race who supplied me with my mid-run oranges, photographed my ridiculousness, and cowbelled me in. I was and remain so super grateful to have had her out on the course’s backend because, as anyone will tell you, having a ray of sunshine to look forward to during a marathon–and particularly on the back half–can make a huge difference, regardless of how well or poorly your race is going. This girl is going to rock her Boston redux this year, and I am super stoked to stalk her ass from California on Marathon Monday.

Lynton

This fella’s not a stranger  here; you might recall I attributed lots of love to him in both my Chicago and NYC races last fall and got to spend much of my time in NYC with him. For as short a period of time as I’ve known him–eh, since maybe June, July 2013?–he has been incredibly supportive of me and often is like a voice of reason, especially when I misconstrue a workout and make things exponentially more difficult than they need to be, which happens… enough. He was my last friend I ran with in Chicago on 12/20/13, just hours before the closing of my condo, and the one who so graciously put me up after the movers had boxed and shipped our stuff west. To say that he helped me loads in my final days in Chicago, and that I appreciate him, is a laughable, if not also offensive, understatement.

hanging with Corey (L) and Lynton in the starting village at Staten Island before NYC '13

hanging with Corey (L) and Lynton in the starting village at Staten Island before NYC ’13

 

to this day, I Cheshire ridiculously and tear up when I see this pic. Taken about a mile from the NYC finish chute, in 2013, and moments after I learned that Lynton had totally dominated and PRd at NYC.

to this day, I Cheshire ridiculously and tear up when I see this pic. Taken about a mile from the NYC finish chute, in 2013, and moments after I learned that Lynton had totally dominated and PRd at NYC.

On January 9, about two-and-a-half weeks after I had moved to CA, he forwarded me his Oakland half marathon registration email, saying only “so… this just happened,” and I fuckin’ flipped out, calling him, sending him emails, just going apeshit and being ridiculously excited that he was going to fly out from Chicago to run out here in late March.

Race weekend, after a long and late flight, he still awoke early to drive to my side of the Bay for a measly 4 mile shake-out with me (no pics from the run though, my fail). Come race day morning, it was a blast to hang with him, Midhun, and Rozanne, Lynton’s long-time friend who was running her first race EVER that weekend (!!!), and again, much like hanging with Erin on Saturday, it was just super chill and a way to make me think less about “OHEMGEE I’M GONNA TRY TO PR A 26.2 MILE FOOTRACE IN AN HOUR” and more about “damn, I have awesome friends who just fuckin’ rock, and gah, my face hurts again from smiling. Bring on the lines.”

Like I wrote on my RR, seeing Lynton mid-my race, the beginning of his race, was just cool, and immediately seeing him, Rozanne, and Erin post-marathon–like, minutes after I finished–was perfect. Over the ORF race weekend, having the quality time with Lynton, like Erin, another friend I made through running, and a friendship that formed quickly, was just awesome, and it was as though a small part of Chicago and everything that I loved about the city, about running there, and about my friends there was just dropped in northern California for 48 hours. For as much as I miss Chicago, which is a lot, daily, this was just… wonderful. I’m running out of superlatives here, but I think you get the idea. No doubt he is going to rock his marathonS this year. No. Doubt.

As I try to think of some sort of revelatory conclusion to this seemingly disparate post about some of my wonderful friends, and how my disparate friendship worlds from 2002-2013 collided on a weekend in late March 2014, in a park in Oakland, on the heels of yet another marathon, I’m again struck by how my running has evolved from this solitary venture, something I just did to do, more or less, to something that remains this thing that I do, of course, but also grounds for many new friendships and ways to sustain old ones. For a long time, I’d do marathon after marathon mostly on my own, and having a race be a backdrop to just a good time with friends, who also happened to be running, wasn’t really normal. Now, it is. And it fuckin rules.

I think people often ascribe the “loneliness of the long distance runner” image to our community, this idea that if you run, particularly if your unicorns of choice to chase are the ones in the 13.1 or  26.2+ camp, you’re at it alone, every day, all day. And of course, for some people, I think that’s absolutely true. However, I think it’s very much a choice, that if you want to use your running to be your own island, you can… yet I’d also argue that doing so pretty much negates so many amazing opportunities to meet some pretty fantastic people and some really interesting ways of sustaining friendships. Of course, not all my friends run, nor would I expect (or necessarily want) that to be the case, but I’m finding that the more I run marathons–and especially, the more I fervently race marathons and chase down some goals in the process and let the whole fuckin’ world know, in the process, what I’m after–the more enjoyable this whole business becomes… and the more special and meaningful “yet another marathon” becomes to me.

While the marathon is still about me, and what I want to accomplish, and the training I put in before I toed the line to chase down whatever my goal was for the day, it’s also not. The marathon, and running, in general, is about the community I keep, the people in my pocket who enable and encourage and push me to be better than I was yesterday and who can convince me that my lofty or crazy-ass dreams aren’t nearly as crazy-ass as I think they might be.

Suffice it to say that in a year’s time, or even in a couple months from now, when you ask me about Oakland, what will stand out more to me is the memory of the quality time with my old and new friends and less so the actual race itself.

The race was the rainbow, but I was surrounded by unicorns all weekend long.

just a love fest with Lynton, Erin, Midhun, and Rozanne

just a love fest with Lynton, Erin, Midhun, and Rozanne

 

A total fuckin’ blast: or, why you should run the Oakland Running Festival. Oakland Marathon 2014 race recap

This will be the first in a short series of posts about the Oakland Running Festival, and more specifically,  Oakland’s Marathon, that I had the pleasure of racing over the weekend. Like any Erin RR, this will surely be lengthy, so hang in there.

If you want all the spoilers, a la executive summary, here goes: I didn’t PR. I didn’t hit my soft goal for the race, but I did, however, hit my lofty goal. Weird, eh? I had a total fuckin blast, or, as I guess Oakland says, a hella good time, from start to finish, and once I knew that the PR wasn’t happening–around mile 23ish–I felt no regret, anger, nothing negative. Zilch.

Really.

And, probably what matters most, I would 100% recommend the marathon. It was marathon #22 for me and easily one of the most enjoyable.

When I registered for Oakland on November 14, I was living sola in Chicago with A, since C had already moved out to SJ about a month prior, and I registered knowing that the course was challenging but that it was supposed to be awesome. The ORF is only five years old now, so there’s not a lot of history out there in cyberspace, but basically every review I encountered on marathonguide and on a few blogs(by ultra trail runners) that had 26.2 recaps just went on and on about how great the community support was, how it’s quickly becoming a real first-class event, how, in 2013, Competitor Group just recently named it the best marathon in the Pacific NW,  just everything.

Similarly, pretty much everything I read also talked about the hills and the climbs and the relative challenge of the course, but hey, why not, ya know? Hills are our friends. Hills make us strong, they make all our leg muscles happy, and they keep us honest. And besides, I was moving to the Bay, where hills are plentiful. Again… why not.

for perspective: Oakland vs TSFM course profile. Thanks to http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2010/03/fun-and-hilly-oakland-marathon.html for this

for perspective: Oakland vs TSFM course profile. Thanks to http://www.atrailrunnersblog.com/2010/03/fun-and-hilly-oakland-marathon.html for this

 

the Oakland full course profile

the Oakland full course profile

 

I get the impression that Oakland, the city, also has this reputation for being pretty rough-around-the-edges, kinda “you live in Oakland?” … awkward pause … “oh,” and its crime rates for cities of its size rival Flint and St. Louis. In our neck of the woods of CA, there is seriously probably at least one marathon every weekend, so choosing Oakland was kinda… different, I guess you could say. Anyway, it seemed like the right thing to do, and just recently, a couple months ago, Runner’s World ran this great story about how much the Oakland Running Festival has contributed to the city, in terms of the monies it has raised for various community groups, how the race has helped the city’s image, and that sort of thing. I’m down with that and totally wanted in.

Backing up, by November 14, (I think) we had gotten the offer on our place in Chicago, but things can happen with real estate: deals can fall through, people can change their mind, whatever. When I registered for ORF, then, I was cautiously optimistic that I’d actually even be able to legit train for the race–assuming that A and I would move out to CA pretty quickly–and if not, then my training was going to be 100% in Chicago and while pushing A in the BOB on the lakefront during the winter…and probably just hoping for a sub-4. The universe worked itself out, though, and after we closed on 12/20, A and I one-wayed it over to CA on 12/21 and thus began our CA adventure, and my training officially began about a week after we moved out here.

Training for this cycle went well, not only in the sense of the typical things you ask yourself along the way, like about how healthy you’re feeling, if you’re finishing all your runs, if your motivation is still high, and things like that, but also in the sense that in the short and intense Pfitz 70/12 that is my drug plan of choice, I got to run in some (prob about 10+) really cool places all over the Bay Area, and with some very cool and new and fuckin’ fast and inspiring friends, about whom I could easily write novels already. While I posted a 13.1 and an 8k during the throes of training, neither were PRs, as I wasn’t planning that they’d be, yet I felt strong and healthy going into Oakland, even without a hard-and-fast recent shorter distance PR that I could use as a fitness gauge. Come race day, I was shooting for a 3:18, going for a 1:40/38 split, and I felt like it was doable: tough, no doubt, on the not-necessarily-a-PR-friendly course, but I’d do what I could.

With marathons, or with any race, I suppose, you don’t know what you can or can’t do until and unless you try, and the taste of regret about wondering coulda/woulda/shoulda is far more displeasing than the satisfaction of knowing that you tried… even if you failed, even if seemingly everyone and their mother knows about your goals and they see you fail in the process.  Experience has taught me as much.

Anyway, as many of my friends knew, the lofty goal for ORF, when I started to do some race intel, was to AG–shooting for 1st (again, why not)–and to finish within the top 10, and super lofty, top 5 women OA. I got the impression that many FAST ultra trail runners (of which there are BUCKETS’ worth in the Bay Area, naturally)  run Oakland as a training run–which makes sense, given the distance and the topography–but an OA placement was pretty pie-in-the-sky. I was primarily focused on the PR–who doesn’t?–I really wanted to “finally” break 3:20 (this little project of mine that is less than a year old), and on a challenging course, no less, but more than anything, as race weekend approached, I was so looking forward to the awesome weekend with friends new and old that a good and strong and hopefully PR race,while still important, would be like the vegan icing on a cake that was already filled to the brim with rainbows and sprinkles (but not unicorns… vegan, remember)–very much like my NYC experience, actually.

Race Day

My old college friend, Midhun, graciously set me up for marathon weekend, and it was amazing catching up with him over the course of 24 hours; without exaggeration, we spent more time together over the weekend than we have in our eight years post-grad together. Marathon eve sleep was about what I’d expect, and the 4am wake-up, what I’m accustomed to, was fine. After the typical marathon morning dance of tea, food, and just hanging out and waiting for the PRP fairy (and, in the process, listening to an awesome podcast from NMA radio about Engine 2–listen here), it was time to drive to Oakland and get the show on the road.

Midhun, ever the awesome host, drove me from Richmond, about a 15 minute drive, to Oakland race morning, and shortly thereafter, we met up with Chicago and BRC friend, Lynton and Rozanne, who had also lived in Chicago for a while before moving to the Bay Area about a year ago. Lynton and Rozanne were running the 5k together–Rozanne’s first race (!!)–and then about an hour or so later, Lynton was going to race 13.1 and chase a PR as part of his training for the IL Marathon in late April. We had about an hour and change before the mary began, so we just hung out, took some pictures, porta-pottied a thousand times, and just chilled. The weather was perfect, especially in my typical pre-marathon androgynous, 400 lb. linebacker attire (C’s pajama pants, a few short-sleeve tech shirts, and a dress shirt from about 11th grade), and before long, it was go time.

In the corral, I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Wolfpack runner, Michelle, who was also racing, and I positioned myself a little behind the 3:20 pace group, led by RunningAddicts buddy Ko, whom I had run with at Stanford earlier in training, and a couple other guys. The marathon field was small enough that I knew starting behind those fellas, and actually closer to the 3:30 group, wasn’t going to have any sort of deleterious effects to my race early on. Fortunately, though, I learned my lesson about starting where you’re supposed to start–and on time, no less–from NYC.

Miles 1-5: Uptown, Piedmont, Temescal – guessin on the ‘hood names here… someone local correct me if I’m wrong

7:27, 32, 31, 24, 32

Oakland began (and ended) in Snow Park in the downtown area, which I think is called Uptown (holllaaa!), and aside from a few little rollers, it was pretty flat and fast. I was running with the 3:20 group from about .6 onward and just having fun. One of the pacers had a full-fledged camera and was selfie-ing it up and sprinting out ahead to take pics of the group running as a pack. There was only one other woman up with us, whose name I never caught, so she and I remarked how it was nice to have some estrogen camaraderie in the group. When I ran 16 miles of the course as a supported LR during training, we didn’t start in this area, so it was pretty cool just to soak it all in. I looked at my watch when it beeped and and quickly learned that I was going to be about, or at least, .1 off the official course mile markers, so my mile splits weren’t actually going to be indicative of my actual speed or pace. To be safe, I was wearing a backup lapwatch and an even-split 3:20 bracelet (yup, type A, owned and proud), so I could have a couple different ways of monitoring my progress. In retrospect, mile 1 was also the only time I looked at my mile split; every time I looked from here on, it was solely at my cumulative time, something that might have bit me later.

Also, I spent most of the first mile hikin’ up my shorts and hoping that no other runner behind me would get a free ticket to my ass show, since I was carrying ~8 or 9 gels, and the weight was making my drawers drop. Oh, my shorts… my shorts are typically my disdain of my running apparel, so much so that Mere hand-made a sign for me that she held around mile 24/25 at Chicago that alluded to my “sexy” shorts. Le sigh. My shorts are hands-down the ugliest piece of running attire I own, yet I’ve learned that I have a serious chafing prob with anything that’s not skin-ass tight and longish… hello, thunder thighs… and I need enough pockets to accommodate carrying around 7 gels (since I usually take one around every 4-5 miles, give or take)… and folks, shorts that meet these requirements are damn near impossible to come by. Ugly shorts it is. I tend to shudder when I see my running pics because surely, the first thing I notice are… those damn shorts. Vom.

Anyway, getting tangential already… about a mile in, all I could think of was how much I loved running, how much I loved the purity and liberation of putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly, and how truly free I felt to be running; it’s really strange for me to feel all kum-bah-ya this early in a marathon, but I was already just zen-ning it up and enjoying the ride, regardless of the time that was, or wasn’t, happening. I was running purely on feel and simply running happily. I remember wondering WTF was up with me already because, really? I had been running for like, 10 minutes before this mental nonsense already kicked in. This was surely going to be a ride.

Miles 6-10: Rockridge, Lake Temescal, Montclair–aka, climbing

7:22, 8, 08, 7:39, 36

Around mile 5, things started to get familiar–kinda–but I couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, I realized that we were in the section of Oakland where the supported LR originated, out of the See Jane Run store. I didn’t realize that we’d have a little out-and-back between miles 5 and 6, but it was short and sweet, and I loved seeing the other runners ahead of and behind me. Only the marathoners and marathon relayers were together for the first 17 miles, and I wasn’t paying attention or trying to figure out how many women were in front of me or anything like that. I was just running, I was just having fun and soaking up the energy and the crowds, and oh yeah, I saw and cat-called to the one and only Dean Karnazes, who was probably doing the marathon as a warm-up run for the day, before he went to run a cajillion miles post-brunch. Seeing him, an Oaktown resident, was really cool.

My one and only complaint about the race was that the first relay exchange zone that we ran through, that also served as an aid station, around the 10k mark, felt like chaos because of the narrow-ish street, aid station volunteers, and relayers milling about; it just seemed like people were all over this seemingly narrow piece of road, just la-dee-dah’ing it up, completely oblivious to the sea of humanity trying to run by. Fortunately, we got through it quickly and without harm. The subsequent relay exchange zones were on seemingly wider streets, with better marked lanes for relayers and marathoners, but this first one just felt like a clusterfuck.

Miles 6-11  was the section I was most worried about, due to the significant climbing over about six miles. On the LR course run, our first two miles were straight up into the hills, and they burned my quads, and I remember casually posting 9s, if not 9:30s, on them. Come race day and taper and endorphin and endocannibinoid magic, though, I felt like we simply glided up them and intelligently took them at effort, without much regard to the mile splits. The elevation chart is a bit deceptive because it looks like it’s a straight-up quad and soul crusher for six miles, but it’s not; there are some peaks and valleys, some undulations and some mega ones, but it’s not relentless. It’s fun; my legs (and your legs, too) will thank you for the change and the opportunity to engage some other muscles for a little bit.

At any rate, I felt really strong going up and over and maintained conversation with our pacers and the fellas in the group throughout this entire section. This was a really pretty part of the course, with some really gorgeous homes, lovely tree-lined streets, and just felt kinda “urban quaint,” if that makes any sense. I always write in my DM entries about the bizarre number of feral felines I see on my runs in SJ, and I had a good chuckle to myself in this stretch when I saw a wooden cat silhouette that was mounted on top of someone’s mailbox. I can’t escape them…

Miles 11-15: Mormon Temple and Fruitvale

8:01, 6:59, 7:24, 19, 15

Still in familiar territory at this point in the race, still having fun and being chatty, and almost out of the woods with the big climbs. Just as I remembered, once we ascended Monterey St. and Lincoln Way, the Mormon temple was on our left, and awaiting us was an ENORMOUS and drastic downhill and a BEAUTIFUL view of Oakland, if not also the greater East Bay. Running descents takes a lot of practice, just as running ascents, and I tried hard to take this at effort and not brake a ton, at the risk of destroying my quads. My watch says that I posted a sub-7 here, which is probably closer to a low-7, given the mileage marker/my watch discrepancy, and had I actually looked at this split, I would have probably been a bit more conservative in the subsequent miles.

As we made our way from the quaint part of Oakland to the more working-class areas, I was surprised with how much I remembered about my surroundings from the course run, and I was repeatedly humbled by the utter gracefulness and genuineness of the on-course volunteers and spectators–policewomen and men, EMTs, aid station volunteers (including a gaggle of Brownies and Junior Girl Scouts– so cute!), folks sitting on their patio furniture on their sidewalks and front lawns–cat-calling to all of us and thanking us for running their city. It was so sweet and just a total love fest between our solid 3:20 group and the folks on-course. A couple of our pacers said that a huge difference between trail and road running, and especially in the ultra world, is that in trails/ultras, you don’t hesitate to pour your gratitude out to the folks you see on course–volunteers, spectators, or otherwise. Publicly conveying an attitude of gratitude is so uplifting mid-race, and while I shouldn’t be didactic here and implore you to do it on the next race you run… fuck it. You should. Thank everyone you see on, and lining, your race course.

Anyway, by this point in the race, it was just me and the guys in our group, but I was still feeling totally fresh and relaxed. My goal for 13.1 was 1:40, and I came in just under that, probably by about 40/50 seconds. Things were going well, the weather was perfect, I felt relaxed, and suddenly, all that remained was a MLR 13.

Miles 16-20: more Fruitvale, Chinatown, Jack London Square, West Oakland

7:29, 37, 40, 30, 34

Still in familiar territory and still feeling fresh. Once we got into Fruitvale around mile 14, and onto International Blvd, as the name suggests, things got… international. Much like Chicago and the Brooklyn part of NYC, the feel, sights, and smells of each block quickly changed from Latin, to Vietnamese, to Chinese, and to an amalgamation of a whole bunch of different cultures. It was awesome. Around this section of the course LR was when we saw a bunch of prostitutes and got mouthfuls of ganja mid-run, but that wasn’t the case at all on race day. In fact, International was actually relatively quiet.

Around mile 16, the 3:20 group and I were just behind another full marathoner, a woman, running sola, who looked like a pro: she had the body of a pro, she had the dress of a pro, and she was just running by herself and seemingly pretty comfortably. The pacers knew her right away, a local ultra runner and marathoner who had WON several marathons in recent years, including Nike Women’s, and we’d quickly find ourselves inching our way closer to her before backing down. I later learned her name, Verity, and that she was uh… a professional athlete, like world-class, on several national and international teams in Australia (where she was from) before she had moved to the Bay Area.

Around mile 17, I saw Stone for the first time, and this gal graciously sherpa-ed over some oranges to me mid-race. I found myself beginning to press a little early–no doubt from the rush of seeing Erin–and Verity kept motioning for me to come up and run with her (several strides in front of the 3:20 group), to which I simply told her “not yet.” Ko began strategizing with me mid-run and told me to run in a line behind him and the other pacers, in an effort to conserve energy (think drafting, though it wasn’t windy that I can recall), and to not consider kicking at all until around mile 20.

with Ko and company behind me, trying not to choke while running... and smile at the same time

with the 3:20 fellas behind me. Mid-run duck face; also, what I look like while trying to not choke, run, and smile at mile 17+ of a marathon [Stone's pic, as most of these are]

 

mid-run duck face; also, what I look like while eating oranges at mile 17+ of a marathon

eating on the run

 

By mile 17, or 17 and change, the half-marathoners merged with the full and relayers, which was around mile 4 for the HM, and soon enough, I heard a ‘yea, Wolfpack!’ and quickly saw/met fellow Wolfpacker Tung and just moments later, saw Lynton mid-race. Both were great pick-me-ups and got me super stoked to finish the final 9 strong.

Somewhere in this stretch, I think our group passed Verity, and I was still feeling really strong. I knew that picking up with around 15k to go wasn’t necessarily wise, especially considering what had happened in Chicago with 12k to go, but by this point, I was still on for a high 3:18/mid-3:19 finish, so nothing too out of the target range.

chasing Verity, while my arm karate-chops the air

chasing Verity, while my arm karate-chops the air

My memory is failing me a bit, but I think by around 20, maybe just shy of it, my watch had me just over 60 seconds ahead of pace, but I felt like I could finish the final 10k pretty strong. I was looking forward to running through the Ring of Fire and to seeing TSFM ambassador buddy Trish at the SF Road Runners’ Club water stop around mile 19 or 20, and I totally lucked out by actually GETTING my water from Trish, herself. Super fun :)  Things were good, I felt well, and we were getting pretty close.

there's a local significance for this, but essentially, running through a giant metal sculpture, with fire coming out of it, is pretty cool.

there’s a local significance for this, but essentially, running through a giant metal sculpture, with fire coming out of it, is pretty cool.

 

Miles 21-26.2: West Oakland and Lake Merritt

7:43, 8:08, 13, 25, 36, 42, 03 for .36

Just a couple more miles in the seemingly more industrial sides of Oakland, in miles 21 and 22, and some solid, do-Chicago-proud side-5s later with some of the Oakland Raiders mega-fans (not sure what they’re called…?) under a highway bridge (I think), and we were ready to loop around beautiful Lake Merritt before the finish. The course LR had us go around the Lake for a bit, so it was mostly familiar territory again. Right around 22 was where my buffer zone dropped to only about 15 seconds, and the pacers were getting farther and farther out of my field of vision. The entire time I was with them, because I crossed the starting mats after they did, my buffer zone to a 3:20 flat was larger, so rationally, I knew that I was fine for a while. I just needed to cruise. Once I got to 22, and I figured that my margin was only about 15 seconds, I knew things were going to be tight from here on, and as much as I don’t want to say it, I just got tired.

Surely, as is to be expected, it was frustrating to begin to feel the fatigue set in so late in the game, but somewhat surprisingly to me at the time, the frustration really wasn’t all that bad. Once I realistically figured the sub-3:20:06 PR was off the table, it almost felt like a bit of a relief–though that might be a bit of a cop-out. I was (and am) confident in my fueling strategies, between the AccelGels  around every 4 miles, according to a schedule I had written on my forearm in permanent marker that morning, and all the on-course food (bananas,oranges, and just a wee bit of Gatorade) from the volunteers and Stone, but I think my front half’s pacing should have been even more conservative than a 1:40.

Even though I felt fine and super strong through the hills, suffice it to say that being 60 seconds, +/-, under on the front half probably resulted in my ugly-ass three minute positive split. In the past year, I’ve managed to run 5 marathons with either ENORMOUS negative splits (6 minutes in Eugene, 4 minutes in NYC) or slight positive splits (Houston, Chicago, and now Oakland), and figuring out when to begin to kick on the back end of a marathon has and will probably continue to be a work in progress…as well as pacing on the front end.

Anyway, back to Oakland… In the throes of the race, I honestly don’t recall feeling super disappointed about the PR possibility going to the wayside because, for one, Stone and others on-course had said that I was among the top females–news to me because, remember, I was running in a sea of relayers and HMers, whose bibs were nearly identical to mine–and, because, really, it’s just running.

Hear me out here; PRs are fantastic, and it can be, and often is, the driving force for many people, myself included, to work our asses off day in and day out, but they’re not the end-all, be-all. There’s so much, SO MUCH, more to running than just my time on my watch, and earlier in my marathon career, I’d be saddened and pissed as all hell about not hitting what I thought was a doable goal. Now, it’s ok.

Truly.

I was really happy with how I had run Oakland up to this point in the race, and really, I had just learned very late in the game that I had made a pacing mistake. It happens. And, as shitty as it is (or isn’t), that’s how we learn and that’s how we improve next time.

At any rate, Verity graciously caught up to me–graciously because I’m pretty sure she threw some encouraging remarks my way about how I was doing or how I looked or something–right as we were beginning to follow Lake Merritt, somewhere around 22-and-change or 23. By then, probably a 5k or so to go, it was just a matter of finishing.

wait for meeeeeeeeeee, V!

wait for meeeeeeeeeee, V!

Needing to slow down this late in the race quickly took me back to my first Boston, in 2009, which was a similar but slightly different story. There, I bonked so hard with fewer than 5k to go, most likely because I was severely under-fueled (‘severely’ as in, starting the race having only consumed around 300 calories several hours pre-race, and after fasting all night), and there, I honest-to-God felt like I was going to fall asleep standing up. It was heartbreaking at the time because it was my first Boston and I was on track to re-qualify there (on the 3:40 standard) and to have to lose it so late, and so hard, just… blew.

At Oakland, though, I rationally knew I wasn’t bonking so drastically; I’m pretty confident it was just slightly improper and aggressive pacing early on. Again, totally not the end of the world this time around. It’s just running, ya know? And besides–and again, probably most importantly–I was still having FUN, legit FUN, like smiling and yelling and chatting up the other super-fresh runners who were throwin’ down to finish their races super-strong. I still loved my Oaktown experience, and the training I had done to get here, and my first 22, 23ish miles.

I just screwed up a little; that’s all.

As my watch beeped for every mile, I didn’t even bother looking, mostly because I didn’t want my watch to demoralize me. Remember–still having fun, still loving life, still loving on running and marathoning. It became less about the time and more about the time, the experience, if you get what I’m sayin’.

Several other full marathoners (all guys), HM, and relayers passed me up in the final stretch but were SUPER supportive and barked lots of encouraging remarks my way. I knew I was getting close to seeing Stone near mile 26, and that lovely gal ran and cowbelled my ass in for a good 400m or so–super fun.

final stretch

final stretch. note the smile

 

just a lil jiffy more...

just a lil jiffy more…

 

Shortly after Stone and I parted ways, another guy on the course said we had 800m to go, and that anyone can do anything for 800m–ah, the lies we tell ourselves!–and before I knew it, I was ascending the final .2 hill (steep and short, akin to the Iwo Jima monument at the finish line of the MCM in ’09). I quickly remembered that my GP here, who’s also a sports medicine guy, told me that he wanted me to send him a pic of me crossing the finish line, so I did my best to look bad-ass… fail… then BAM. Done.

hahahahahaha man this is bad. throwing up arms at the finish line? good idea. trying to smile and stop my watch at the same time? impossible. sorry, Dr. Blue; I tried.

hahahahahaha man this is bad. throwing up arms at the finish line? good idea. trying to smile and stop my watch at the same time? impossible. at least I’m flying? sorry, Dr. Blue; I tried.

Along the run, my watch beeped at a couple strange intervals, so I think I might have screwed it up because not only was the distance long (which happens, I know…even for this tangent whore), but my watch time (3:23:39) was slightly faster than the official time (3:23:48). No idea how the time discrepancy was faster, though the distance was longer, but no matter.

Post Race

Immediately after I finished, one of the race officials said I was third female OA (what!!!!!) and draped a press-access-like lanyard around my neck. Verity was still in the finishers’ chute–she had finished in 3:22:13, with the first female, nowhere in sight, in 3:05:23–and V and I chatted, hugged, smooched… just a total runner love fest. She said that she was training for a 50 miler (!!), that she’s a 2:5x PR marathoner (!!!!!), and from what I knew from what my pacers had said, that she has won several marathons and races before (!!!!). I later learned that both Verity and #1 are sub-3 runners typically… NBD, right?  To be beat by two sub-3 women, one of whom is a legit world-class athlete… man, sign me up for that again.

One of the other 3:20 pacers was also still in the finishers’ chute and immediately gave me a big, super-sweaty bear hug and congratulated me on the race and the OA placement, even though I didn’t realize the time or PR I was chasing. He, much like Verity, said some super sweet stuff to me about my abilities as a runner and my race time at Oakland, so I was super charged and just soakin’ in all their encouragement and belief–because that’s what it boils down to–in me and my abilities to fuckin’ shatter 3:20.

we're all besties now (source: SJ Mercury News)

we’re all besties now (source: SJ Mercury News)

 

more love fest in the finish chute with Verity and the pacers (look past the HM in the foreground) - source: San Jose Mercury News

more love fest in the finish chute with Verity and the pacers (look past the HM in the foreground) – source: San Jose Mercury News

 

big love fest in the finish chute

big love fest in the finish chute

Eventually, I grabbed food and made my way over to Lynton, Erin, and Rozanne before moseying over to the massage area because–why not?  Immediately post-race, my body actually felt pretty fine, and the LMT who took care of me–a fellow ginger, originally from NE OH as well (we stick together)–remarked that she was impressed with my ROM post-mary. Awesome. In fact, only my lady bits were sore as fuck–more lube next time, Erin–but in terms of the actual parts of my body I used to cover 26.2 through Oakland, I didn’t feel any worse for the wear.

lanyard!

lanyard!

And, before an hour or so of chillin in Snow Park with Lynton, Erin, Rozanne, and Midhun, we had the awards ceremony, wherein I won an enormous (almost as tall as my calf muscle) beer stein trophy.

officially meeting Tung was nice, too

officially meeting Tung was nice, too

here, I smell like ass, let me hug you. Also, I don't know this lovely man is (help!)

hey, nice man! I smell like ass, let me hug you. Also, I don’t know this lovely man is (help!)

 

besties

besties

with Kriz Klotzbach, #1. She won two roundtrip tickets to Hawaii!

with super sweet Kriz Klotzbach, #1. She won two roundtrip tickets to Hawaii!

 

Playing with the trophy was also fun.

wait, I'm supposed to do what with this?

wait, I’m supposed to do what with this?

Deal. Cab tastes better when drunk out of a trophy and surrounded by friends.

Deal. Cab tastes better when drunk out of a trophy and surrounded by friends.

So, is the Oakland marathon tough? Yup. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Would I recommend it? Without hesitation.

Awesome morning, awesome day, and really, just a perfect way to begin a heavy year of marathons in the pacific NW.

If you expect a PR in every race, you’ll be sorely disappointed 99% of the time. I promise.

There are many other far greater, richer things that you can take away from a 26.2 jaunt and race weekend (or really, from the weeks’ and months’ worth of training leading up to race day)–and far greater things that you can share–with those dear to you than a time on your watch. Not hitting your goal time, lofty or realistic or somewhere in between, isn’t the end of the world because at the end of the day, you’ll take away so much more from your race day and training experience than the time next to your name for that race on your Athlinks profile.

Just sayin’.

Stone. and Boston. and wine lips. (and food in the stein)

Stone. and Boston. and wine lips. (and food in the stein)

Rozanne, Lynton, Midhun, me, and Stone

Rozanne, Lynton (13.1 PR!), Midhun, me, and Stone

Thank you so much for your support throughout our cross-country move to SJ, throughout my training and all my DM and bloggedy-blog nonsense, and for all the race day love. I am so incredibly floored and just ridiculously, stupidly humbled by the love that all y’all have outpoured to me.

Good thing there’s this huge-ass trophy to catch the overflow. ;)

photo 14

Oakland Marathon 2014 training: 1 week out!!!!!!!!!!

Week of March 10, 2014 – week 11 – 1 week out

OakMarathonLogo

Hard to believe that I just wrote “one week out” in my title, that my 22nd marathon is less than a week away, but it’s **almost** that time, guys! Pretty wild and exciting stuff.

Last week ended on a bit of a crappy note with me getting ill and deciding to pass on my 17 miler, my last real LR, though I knew it was the wise choice. This week, I slowly but surely felt like I was regaining strength, even with the reduced volume that comes with the territory of a marathon taper–and finally getting off all the cold medicines that made me feel like I was floating above myself helped, too, no doubt. It’s a bit bizarre because before I got sick, I was feeling pretty invincible about everything–not like this marathon was in the bag (because, newsflash, that never happens…) or anything, just a good, solid feeling of confidence–and once I got sick and was pretty much on my ass for a couple days, suddenly I had this ridiculous crisis of confidence and wondered if I’d even be able to finish a marathon, without any regard whatsoever to time goals.

Part of this so-called crisis is just taper nonsense for me, wherein my emotional and my rational sides duke it out in the confines between my ears, but typically, if I start to freak out about anything, I just think of what I would tell my running family if they told me the same stuff… and I generally tell myself to STFU, though (usually) in nicer terms. :)

I should write a separate post about this stuff, but suffice it to say that a week out from Oakland, I’m feeling well–healthy, strong, confident in my training, and really pretty eager to see what’s there. Oakland is a bit of a mystery to me because the race has only been around for five years now, I don’t personally know anyone who has run it, and I can only glean so much from what I find online, from people’s blogs (and of course, the quality control is all over the place)… so unlike before NYC (and many other races), when I felt like I knew everything I needed to know about how to pace myself, what the course/topography was like, and all the secret little ins and outs of how to run a successful marathon there, Oakland is a bit more of a surprise. It’s fun that way, maybe a bit unnerving, but mostly just fun. I’m beginning to get tangential, so I’ll cut myself off now and take you to this week’s training!

Monday, March 10

p: rest

a: rest

Like a champ.

Tuesday, March 11

p: GA + speed – 8 w 6x100m strides

a: GA + speed, 8 w 6x100m strides (8:24 pace)

This run was much more mentally and physically taxing than it should have been. It was also my first day of running after 48 consecutive hours off (a rarity for me), and my legs felt gelatinous, I felt like I was going to keel from dehydration (it wasn’t hot; it was 5am and probably high 40s!), and though I was feeling a lot better from my cold that sidelined me over the weekend, I just still felt meh. This was also my last day of being on a cold medicine cocktail which, if I can help it, I want to avoid in the future. No doubt the medicine helped, but I hated the way it made me feel.

Wednesday, March 12

p: recovery 5

a:  recovery 5, 8:33 average

A rare afternoon run for me. We’re a sharing family, so by this point in the week, the cold that sidelined me for a couple days, and was an annoyance to my toddler, was full on rockin’ out in my husband (hence the afternoon during-the-kid’s-nap run). Lots of mental nonsense still about the race, though I was feeling a lot better overall and finally off medicine.

Thursday, March 13

p:  VO2 max 8 mi with 3x1600m at 5kRP; recovery jog bt

a: VO2 max – 8.58 with 3x1600m at 5KRP; 3 min RI (avg for 1600s: 6:40, 6:41, 6:34  [goal: 6:40])

Just what I needed, both physically and mentally. This workout usually smokes me because I pace myself poorly and end up just about death-marching it in. I vowed I wouldn’t do that today, and it helped tremendously. I’ve also never done mile repeats on a track (only on the LFT back in Chicago), so that was a bit of a change as well. I managed to squeak in most of these before the school day began near the PCP track I was using, but a PE instructor was out there with his class and ended up shouting my splits to me each 400m, which was kinda fun and made me nostalgic for track season.

Anyway, I was THRILLED with this workout. Just thrilled. It has to be the only time I’ve done this that I actually succeeded in realizing that which I wanted to, and it was nice (read: reassuring) to see that one cold, that took me out of commission for a LR, didn’t totally deplete my fitness or somehow squelch any remote possibility of running 26.2 here in a couple days now (as ridiculous as that all sounds to admit). Awesome. And with this workout, the taper was officially official.

Oh, and I got some pretty pictures from the track and the sunrise. If you see my stuff on IG/fb/twitter, you might have noticed this lil photo-a-day thing I’m doing as part of the ZOOMA Napa promotion. It’s fun. :) The photo prompt that day was ‘favorite,’ so I wrote that my favorite time to run was with the sunrise.

PCP track (on the way there, anyway), then Chicago, Chicago, Chicago :)

PCP track (on the way there, anyway), then Chicago, Chicago, Chicago :)

 

After the mile repeats, my gal and I headed down to the aquarium in Monterey and oogled over jellyfish for the better part of an afternoon. That has nothing to do with my training this week, but dammit, jellyfish are really pretty cool.

we're fans

we’re fans

 

Friday, March 14

p:  recovery 5

a: recovery 5.03 (9:03 average)

I’m totally embracing the easy recoveries and keeping them as easy as possible. My levels of vertical oscillation are probably horrendous, but the pace sure is fun. :) Not a whole lot else to say about this one.

Saturday, March 15

p: GA + speed, 7 mi with 10x100m strides

a: MLR 13.07 (8:21 avg)

Little switcheroo with putting my LR on Saturday instead of Sunday. For a change, I drove over to the section of the GRT where I first began running here, when we were in temporary housing on the north side of the city, so it was hard not to be nostalgic (even though it was just two months ago!) for a while. Started pre-dawn on a path lit only by my headlamp and the light of a really gorgeous full moon… and it was just all kum-bah-ya. This MLR was also one of the only times this cycle where I’ve run by myself without having my phone jammin’ to some music; I didn’t want the musical distractions to interfere with the birds chirping that I wanted to hear more. :)  Anyway, kept the run nice and easy, and once I hit halfway, I allowed myself to do a little mini-progression but not quite approach GMP, going a lil somethin’ like 9:07, 8:47, 41, 45, 47, 40 for .47 – screwed up my watch when I dropped off my headlamp at the car (moron), 8:41, 25, 7:59, 53, 53, 49, 47, 33 for .6 .

Again, rationally, physiologically, I know there’s no benefit or no adaptation that’s going to occur that will give me any sort of competitive edge a mere 8 days out from my race, but emotionally, it can be hard to tell myself to calm TFD sometimes about this stuff. :)

pre-dawn on the GRT with the big full moon over the new stadium

pre-dawn on the GRT with the big full moon over the new stadium

 

the sunrise, as seen from Alviso

the sunrise, as seen from Alviso

 

doesn't do it justice, but the fog rising from the riverbed was really cool...and kinda looked like a bunch of ghosts

doesn’t do it justice, but the fog rising from the riverbed was really cool…and kinda looked like a bunch of ghosts

 

Pretty fun (and early) run though before the family and I trekked into SF to meet-up with my first supervisor post-undergrad (read: one of my first ‘real world’ job supervisors). We had a great relationship when I worked for him, and he has long been a source of awesome encouragement and motivation, both in my personal and professional life, and I always feel like I leave our get-togethers feeling super charged and ready to just take on the fuckin’ world. That’s a pretty good feeling to have before your first marathon of the year, folks…

yay mentors!

yay mentors!

And, how cool is this– he was also a D1 hurdler back in the day, has also run several marathons, and has been a lifelong vegetarian (and vegan, for a while). Maybe it’s not so coincidental after all that we jibe as well as we do.

Sunday, March 16

p: MLR 13

a: GA 7.0 (7:57 avg)

Very awesome day for the running community. I was jazzed all morning and day from my friends’ race reports comin’ in from all over the country, and while I had planned to run pre-dawn, my 4am alarm came and went… as did my 5… and before long, I got to go over to volunteer as a course marshall with some other Wolfpack runners at the Go Green St. Patrick’s Day half marathon/10k/5k in Los Gatos, about 20 minutes from home. It was a beautiful morning for a race, and being a course marshall so early in the race, between miles 2-3, just rocked. I had a ton of fun cat-callin’ to all the racers, and they seemed to appreciate my nonsense.

and the view wasn't too bad, either

and the view wasn’t too bad, either

It wasn’t until I got home, then, and well after brunch, and after I fell asleep in my daughter’s bed waiting for HER to fall asleep… and after I came this close to not running because I awoke to her totally cuddled up in my arms… that I ran. 2pm, 79 degrees, unadulterated sun, and about 15mph winds from the north. It made for an interesting run, that’s for sure; I typically am running in temps that are nearly 30 degrees cooler, so my body was a lil’ WTF about the drastic change.

And that’s a wrap, folks. On to race week! Let’s go, OAAAAAAAAAAKLANNNNNNNDDDD!

This week’s mileage

p: 47

a: 46.79 — damn, so close!

How ya doin’?!

Oakland Marathon 2014 training: 2 weeks out

Two weeks out – week ten – week of March 3, 2014

OakMarathonLogo

Closer and closer to race week! And so begins the taper.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a rare mid-week post about how I was finally all kum-bah-yah about pretty much all the big stuff in my life right now–moving to California, how my training has progressed, and where my fitness is, relative to my goals/where I want it to be, as I prepare to toe the line in a couple weeks–and I think finally putting everything down on paper (screen) really made some type of indescribable-yet-indelible impression on me. It is a bit strange to describe, but I think that the taper cutback is also giving me a chance to metaphorically step back and look at my training this cycle, concurrent with our cross-country move, and see everything from a greater vantage point than before. I’ll write a separate post reflecting exclusively on my training, but suffice it to say for now that I’m happy how things have gone.

Of course, life can and does happen sometimes. I wasn’t planning to fall ill this week–really, who plans to, ever?–but when the week began with the scratchy/burning feeling in my throat, I knew it was just a matter of a few days before I’d get hit with a sinus infection or a cold. I made the executive decision to forego my last LR, 17 miles, on Sunday morning after feeling kinda bleh on Saturday. It’s a hard decision to make when I thought about it like a runner, but once I stepped outside that mould, it was a no-brainer.

At any rate, I guess if there’s ever a good time to get ill during training, it’s during taper, when you’re already at a reduced volume or intensity and slowly awaiting your body to rebuild and repair itself after weeks and weeks of working hard and haulin’ ass. I really do not want to be the fittest spectator on the sidelines at Oakland, so I’ll do whatever I need to do between now and then to ensure that I’m on the other side of the barricades. :)

This week’s training!

Monday, March 3

p: rest/XT

a: rest

Gotta love the Monday rest days.

Tuesday, March 4

p: VO2 max 9 mi w 5x600m @ 5kRP, jog 90 sec between

a: recovery + speed: 6 w 6x100m strides: 6.02 miles

In the interests of observing the purpose of the taper, I wasn’t super keen to start the week with a VO2 max workout that came shortly after an 8k, that came right after a 20 miler. Instead, I thought it’d make more sense to have a nice recovery with some strides thrown in for variation. The recovery felt really good, the strides were comfortable, so I was happy that I seemed to be holding everything together post-final peak week. For little runs like this, I’ve finally figured out that it makes the most sense to just run tedious laps around my ‘hood. I don’t lose any time to stoplights or much vehicular traffic that way.

Wednesday, March 5

p: MLR 11

a: altered VO2 max workout: 9 miles with 8x800m repeats, 3 min RI — 9.64 miles, avg. for 800: 3:16

Pfitz had the 5x600m repeat workout on the books a couple weeks ago, and I didn’t do it then because I wanted to do 800s instead. With that in mind, I thought it’d make the most sense to do the 800s again for comparative purposes, so off I went to the PCP track in the pre-dawn darkness for my repeats. I was convinced that this run would go poorly due to life interruptions, but it did just the opposite; in fact, I’m positive I’ve not run such consistent 800s before, and especially when doing them by myself:

3:16, 3:15, 3:14, 3:15, 3:15, 3:16, 3:17, 3:16

For the first five repeats, my first 400m was on pace for a 3:05/3:08, but I intentionally slowed down on the second loop because I knew that I am not yet quite able to hold that pace for the entirety of this workout… and especially doing it sola. (Note to self: I desperately need to find fast pre-dawn runners here). On the last two sets, however, my splits for each 400 were perfectly even. I was really thrilled about how these 800s felt and, when I finished, felt like I still had some more left in the tank. It was a really encouraging workout for sure.

in case you wanted to know what it looks like to run 800s at the PCP track pre-dawn. It makes me think of those old "Cops" episodes..

in case you wanted to know what it looks like to run 800s at the PCP track pre-dawn. It makes me think of those old “Cops” episodes..

Thursday, March 6

p: recovery + speed: 6 w 6x100m strides

a: recovery 5.02

Another switch this morning. Everything was in working order when I awoke, but given how the week had progressed, a recovery seemed to be reasonable. Super chill, super humid, pretty cathartic run, and immediately after I finished running, I walked straight into a parked pick-up truck. Yup, I was that relaxed, folks.

Friday, March 7

p: recovery 5

a: MLR 11 mi, 8:23 average

Final midweek (kinda) MLR in the books for this cycle, “just” 11 miles.

I mostly just stuck to running laps around the cemetery that’s about a mile away from home. Like running around my ‘hood, it’s tedious, but I don’t lose a ton of time to vehicles, stoplights, and the like as I do running pretty much anywhere else in my immediate vicinity. Plus, the cemetery has a nice descent and ascent. Anyway, the run was really nice and comfortable, and I felt super spring-y. I’m simultaneously chill/kum-ba-ya and HYPER as all hell, and I told myself a couple times to calm down on this run.  842, 29, 18, 19, 23
826, 31, 21, 14, 15, 18

Saturday, March 8

p: 8-10k tune-up race

a: LR 17 GA 6.02 miles, 8:09 average

Well, I knew I wasn’t going to race on Saturday since I just did on Sunday, so originally, I planned for my 17 mile LR. After doing the typical pre-LR dance with my tea and breakfast, I was literally on my front porch warming up when I decided I’d be better off doing the GA run I was going to do on Sunday. I wasn’t feeling 100%–by now, that cold/sinus thing I had been nursing all week was really making itself known–and while I knew I could, was able, to run 17 miles, I didn’t think it’d be wise. Oh, and shortly before I left to run, I had a lovely nosebleed. It’s pretty hard to snotrocket on your runs when you’re worried that your nose is going to flow red again at any second… just sayin’. Also, during the short little GA run, I experienced some of the seasonal vertigo stuff I get–also not fun. I typically don’t feel it when I’m running, but Saturday must have been my lucky day! At any rate, the actual run itself, through the west side of PCP and over my highway hill, was quite nice. I just felt like I had a bunch of sinus/allergy/cold nonsense in my head and promptly went back to bed once I returned home.

the west side of PCP, near Mabury/Jackson

the west side of PCP, near Mabury/Jackson

Sunday, March 9

p: LR 17

a: LR 17 “being smart 0 miles day”

I spent most of Saturday in bed and super-medicated to clear this shit outta my head, and come Saturday night, I actually felt pretty great; I was pretty confident I’d be ready to do my 17 miler in the morning. When I awoke at 4 to start my usual pre-LR dance, basically, I just had a moment with myself (I do this often) and asked myself what was more important: running a 17 mile training run on sub-par health, just to say that I did it, or taking a true rest day so that I’d be ready to run well, strong, and healthy two weeks from today (race day!!!)? The answer was a no-brainer.

As much as I didn’t want to miss my LR, I knew it was the right decision to make, and in the big picture, really, really important. I can’t remember the last time I skipped a LR, so while I felt a bit guilty about it, once I stopped thinking about this like a runner, I knew I was 100% making the right call. I really don’t want to be the fittest spectator in Oakland.

Missing the long run, combined with this being a taper week anyway, made my weekly mileage tank, but big picture, it’s inconsequential. Rationally, I know that a LR today isn’t going to affect my race performance in two weeks, but having a lingering cold that I was too stubborn dumb to mind early on surely will.  It’s funny; a couple years ago, I would have surely (and stubbornly) run through this in an effort to hit all my prescribed mileage for the week. The things that experience can teach you…

Next week will be amazing, and we’ll be ONE WEEK CLOSER to race day!!

Weekly Mileage

p: 59

a: 37.69

Let’s hear it. What do you do when you fall ill during a training cycle?

At peace

I’m beginning to eagerly count down the days until Oakland, and more and more, I’m finding myself at this highly-coveted place, somewhere I didn’t think I’d be right now, yet somewhere that feels so good and so right.

 

Peace.

 

I feel like I’m at peace.

 

The words will surely fail me on this attempt, as they often do (despite the piece of paper I have that tells me I’m a master at writing, rhetoric, and discourse…), but probably the only way I can describe the feeling that has been coursing through my veins this week, my first taper week of this Oakland cycle, is that suddenly, everything just feels… good. Right, even. Running-related or otherwise.

 

This isn’t to say that I’m usually not at a place of peace in my life, but instead, I think I am so surprised that these feelings have seemingly erupted from the depths of my soul (hyperbolic, I know… bear with me) when they have.

 

I’ll back up.

 

I took the move from Chicago pretty hard: pretty hard as in, crying a lot, frequently, nearly every night, and repeatedly, type of hard. I cried not only because I was leaving my beloved city but also, probably more so, because there was just so much up in the air, so much unknown. After living in Chicago for eleven years, since the ripe age of eighteen, I grew up there. I earned my BA, MS, and MA degrees there; I met my future husband and had a baby there; I resurrected my running there (in the north shore, where I worked and lived for two years, anyway)–a lot happened while I lived there.

 

When I ran Chicago in the fall as my twentieth marathon, I wrote that it was like a homecoming for me and likely the last time I would do it for a long time. Shortly after I ran Chicago, C left to begin his new job here, while A and I stayed behind for the foreseeable future (at the time) to sell our condo and, for me, to finish teaching my forty undergrads through November. At the time, I knew that us making the move westwardly was in our best interests, especially while A was still so young, and surely, the move would be for the good of C’s career, but with it came a huge question mark, or, as it were, a series of huge question marks:

When will A and I leave?

What if we don’t sell our place until the spring or later (ed. note: we listed in mid-September)?

What if C hates his new job, and we’ve made the move for nothing?

In the absence of an outside-the-home job, how am I going to make friends?

And, while he’s gone, how am I going to run (and train) with A at home with me every day?

 

This series of questions merely skim the surface of what went through my mind on a daily nightly basis, which, as you can imagine, made going to sleep at night (alone) a blast.

 

Fast forward, and we sold our place to a cash buyer about five weeks after we listed it; A and I left Chicago on December 21, about 16 hours after we closed; and then, after living in temporary housing for about two weeks in SJ, we closed on our new place in late December, and all our personal effects arrived on January 13. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my first run in SJ was a mere hour after A and I landed at the airport, and my Oakland training began the week of December 30, after I had only been living in CA for just over a week.

 

putting on a happy face with our agent at closing (Dec 20)

putting on a happy face with our agent at closing (Dec 20, around 4pm, in Little Italy)

 

beyond dumbstruck that it was 52 degrees at 7:40pm on Dec 21 as I was headed out for a run

beyond dumbstruck that it was 52 degrees at 7:40pm on Dec 21 as I was headed out for a run in SJ

 

To say that a lot has happened in the past two months and change, since we began life anew here on December 21, is an understatement. While I’m not surprised that I didn’t waste any time in training for a spring marathon—and I don’t recall if I registered for Oakland before or after we actually sold our place in Chicago … I registered for a lot of CA races while I was still living in IL (hello, coping mechanism)—I am quite surprised that I feel as “at peace,” if you will, about everything now.

 

Running typically keeps me pretty even-keel, but this time around, I think it has done much more than usual, and much more than I bargained for. I think running, and training, as seriously as I have since I began my “new life” in CA has helped me acclimate to life here, has helped forced me to reach far outside my comfort zone to make new friends, and has lit a fire under me to get my shit together in my new life here, just as it has for me to chase that 3:15 this year.

 

Were it not for running, and training for Oakland, I think I’d still be in the same place I was in my final months in Chicago: emotionally spent, stressed as all hell, and swimming in a sea of question marks about my (and my family’s) uncertain future. I knew everything would work out, but I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know when, and not having the security blanket of having answers to those questions is a bit disconcerting.

 

This training cycle has given me plenty of opportunities to slow the hell down and to re-learn everything: new people, new routes, new races, new clubs, new everything. I still have a thousand questions to be answered, but I’m realizing that I’ll find my answers in time: maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but sometime.

 

Perhaps this is just my taper talking, or the high I’m riding from my workout yesterday morning, but I think I am beginning to feel some semblance of normalcy now as a NorCal resident. I feel like I’m beginning to make my way around now, like I’m beginning to establish “my routes” and “my track” and “my hills.” I’m still entertained by some of the huge differences between SJ and Chicago—and I suppose those will continue to entertain me for a while still—but this week, I feel like I’ve finally begun to exhale and finally think this is it. We’re here. This is our new life.

 

Of course, I miss Chicago, and I miss my running there, and my friends, and my family, and everything that is associated with my Chicago life from the past decade-plus, and I don’t anticipate that ever really going away.

 

And that’s okay.

 

This week was finally the week where, when I was unpacking (and yup, two months later, we still have boxes—this is what happens when you move cross-country and get rid of all your furniture, folks), I wasn’t thinking to myself that it’d be stupid to put things in a certain place because we’d be moving again in 18 months.

 

Instead, I’m thinking about where we’re going to put our Christmas tree next winter, or when we can take daytrips to the many sites within a day’s drive of SJ, or which races I should prioritize doing this spring, summer, and fall, or which schools I should research to see if I could teach there part-time. I am finally beginning to feel not necessarily that I “belong” here—because I don’t know if I ever actually feel that way anywhere—but that being here is good.

 

Leaving Chicago hurt, but Northern California, Silicon Valley, the Bay Area, the South Bay, San Jose, whatever you want to call the area where my family and I now reside, ain’t half bad after all.

 

Just as in running, every day is an adventure, if not also an opportunity, and what I choose to do with each opportunity I now have here is my choice and mine alone. Perhaps it’s silly that an intense 70/12 marathoning cycle had to happen in my new digs for me to get to this place, but that clarity or confidence that I’m finally feeling now, about living here, about racing in Oakland in a few weeks, and about working my bootay off to realize that 3:15 this year, is indescribable.

 

Palpable, even.

 

Just a month before we moved, I wrote, and I can’t believe I’m quoting myself on my own blog, “As in running, sometimes the biggest risk is in stagnation. Remove the comfort, dispose of the familiar, kick out the crutches beneath you, and see what the hell happens.”

 

Little did I know that kicking out the crutches would help bring me to peace.

Ruminating on my love of the run