Sunday was the seventh annual she.is.beautiful 5k and 10k down in Santa Cruz, and it was my third consecutive year running one of the “baby mama” stroller divisions. In 2015, I ran the 5k pregnant while pushing A; in 2016, I ran the 10k while pushing G, and last weekend, I returned to the 10k again with G, 12 months older (and 12 months heavier). When I ran the 10k in ‘16, I was a week removed from my spring almost-PR marathon and obviously had an entire marathon training season’s worth of volume, speed, and endurance in my legs. This year, as I’ve belabored in earlier posts, I’ve opted to spend my spring doing shorter stuff before getting into marathon mode for SF. Going into the SIB 10k on Sunday, then, I was most interested in seeing how much (if any) time I could take off from my ‘16 race, given my change in focus from last spring compared to this spring. Call it an “experiment,” if you will.
I’ve written before about my general distaste for women’s races, but I think it’s worth mentioning again, even if just momentarily. What sets SIB apart from other races in its “class” is just that: the classiness with which SIB treats its runners. My experiences and observations with/of many other women’s races is that the races treat women (the very people to whom they are marketing their race!) as some sort of diminutive, non-sweating, pedestal-sitting object whose physical strength is secondary — a far and distant second — to basically anyone or everything else, including a “hunky” male who will literally reward women for their race day efforts. “Hunky,” shirtless firefighter putting race day “bling” around a woman’s neck, anyone? C’mmoooooon. I guess some women find that … rewarding? perhaps? but I tend to swing toward the “this is ridiculous and condescending” route. I think this line of thinking, that women somehow can’t work or race hard, get gritty, or get “race day ugly,” for lack of a better phrase, simply because they are women is so problematic it’s sickening. I have absolutely no patience for races, running brands, or bullshit marketing companies out there who continue to propagate the anachronistic idea that women are incapable of working really, really hard. I mean, FFS. It’s 2017. And, for the record, this isn’t about the tutus or the pink that usually accompany women’s races; obviously, you can race damn well while wearing a tutu or pink. Wear what makes you happy and comfortable (and chafe-free, obvs). Hell, go for a princess dress! That’d be amazing! The assumptions about female runners that typically underpin and accompany women’s races are what really get under my skin.
SIB, in contrast, is all about the empowering, self-love, talk-to-yourself-how-you’d-talk-to-your-best-friend vibe and doesn’t at all propagate any of the aforementioned vom-inducing nonsense. It caps at 6k runners between the 5k and 10k races (and accompanying stroller races). I have no idea for sure, but I imagine that SIB is many participants’ first race ever (how cool is that?!), with many folks running or walking the race as a family affair with their kids. It’s a race, no doubt, so there is definitely the endorphins and adrenaline aspect, but there’s also this inexplicable but damn near tangible vibe that I get every time I run this race. The race is pretty solid; the company, the atmosphere it produces, is top-notch. It’s a race weekend that I look forward to each year because I’m giving myself the opportunity to run as hard as I possibly can (while pushing a daughter of mine) but also because it leaves me buzzing with feelings of gratitude, appreciation, joy, and love for days afterward. It’s just good for the soul, I guess. Trite but true.
On race day, a gaggle of my Wolfpack teammates and I met up at a teammate’s (Jen) house in Santa Cruz and ran 2 miles and change over to the new starting area (the third new starting area in as many years). Meg and I (and the babes) got to catch up, and we quickly found Paula and her littlest in the starting area as well. Lots of pics, smiles, fist-bumps, and reassurances to the starter that yes I know we have strollers but no, really, we should be lining up here up front later, and it was go time.
I don’t do 10ks very often (read: ever), but I thought I’d take a leap of faith by starting out fast (and getting out of the throng quickly) and just holding on for as long as possible, hoping that a fast start would mitigate the challenge of the last mile or so, at least a little. I knew it’d be tough to hold the tempo pace that I’d usually try for (solo) while pushing my baby, but I thought I’d at least give it a go. Other than the new starting area, the course was about the same as I remembered: a lovely jaunt through a neighborhood, some nice ocean running along West Cliff, and for the 10k runners, a bit through Natural Bridges state park before heading homeward. The 5k and 10k runners shared the course until after the mile 2 marker, and I loved giving some shoutouts to the lead runners (my teammates!) as they were beginning their “back” portions of their run. Seeing Dave and Paula’s family at mile 2 was also a nice perk.
Unlike last year, G was awake for the entirety of the run, death-gripping my Hoka waterbottle I got for being on Team Hoka for the race (and getting the bottle back from her wasn’t a battle I was interested in pursuing), and eagerly yelling BALLOO! BALLOO! whenever we passed by balloon arches at each mile marker. Hey, now I can say that I’ve used a sippy cup for my in-race hydration needs! We jammed to Mother Goose Club, strange race day tunes to be sure (and only mildly embarassing as I passed other runners and walkers; sorry for the soundtrack, friends!), and at the 10k turnaround before Natural Bridges, teammate Lisa said that G had a huge WEEE LIFE IS SO FUN! grin plastered across her face. #score
Mentally, I told myself that this should feel like a very hard and hilly tempo run since, in general, stroller running (to me) often feels like I’m running uphill, due to the resistance of the stroller plus the weight. During the race, I tried to focus on turnover as much as I could and perhaps even got a bit too overzealous with this, as my foot kept clipping my back left tire, and I’m lucky I didn’t trip or otherwise wipe out. I cheered for all my buddies when I saw them on my “back” portion of the course, entering into NB, and I braced myself for the final mile or so.
Things get really hairy about 1-1.5 miles out from the finish, right where the 5k and 10k runners merge back together. Every year that I’ve run this race, particularly the 10k, things get dicey with faster runners trying to navigate around slower-moving 5k runners and walkers. Add to the mix 5k stroller runners and walkers, or any other 10k stroller runner, on a street that’s already not that wide to begin with (and whose other side is filled with 5k and 10k runners/walkers still on their “out” portions), and it’s messy, if not also a bit unsafe. Even with volunteers or cones demarcating on which part of the road slower runners/walkers should be for their “back” portions — as the race did this year — it’s still somewhat of a free-for-all. I tried every yell I could think of, like “on your left!,” “on your right!,” “stroller back!,” “10k runner coming through!,” and only had limited success. Another (non-stroller) 10k Arete team runner and I worked together over the last mile and change, taking turns yelling and alerting the other runners so no one clipped ankles, tripped, or wiped out, and as far as I’m concerned, I should have called this Arete runner Moses because she was veritably parting a sea of people whom I’d otherwise not have been able to do by myself (or as effortlessly, anyway). Wow, was that teamwork ever appreciated. Thanks, girl.
Hoka sponsored a contest within the race over the last half mile on the course, urging participants to finish their races as fast as they possibly could, but there wasn’t a chance in hell that I could even try on that section simply because the road was too thick with participants. Ultimately, I slowed down a little, down to my slowest mile of the day, but I didn’t take out any runners with my front wheel, so I am calling this late-in-the-race-frustration a success. It’s a tough thing to navigate, though; I really don’t know how the race can accommodate so many runners, on not a wide space, in the final stretch of the race, and manage to get slower runners and walkers over from the faster finishers. I regularly cheer for other racers even when I’m racing, and I genuinely believe that a participant’s race experience is meaningful and valuable, whether she’s the first across the line, the last, or somewhere in between. I don’t want to come off as some Queen B who’s yelling at people to move; really, I just want everyone to have a safe and fun experience. It’s hard to do that when you’re coming in hot at the end of the race and have to zig-zag through a narrow space and push a bigass stroller in front of you and dodge what seems like a sea of humanity.
Ultimately, I beat my 2016 time by almost exactly 2 whole minutes (Garmin). Last year, my watch measured the course right at 6 miles (6.01, to be exact), and on this year’s course, I had 6.13 — not a huge deal, since it’s not USATF certified — but it just means my 41:54 pace average is anywhere between a 6:44-6:51. No big. Just good for reference. I was thrilled to see so many of my Wolfpack teammates and friends right at the finish line (and as they all crossed it), and we spent the rest of the morning goofing around at the awards ceremony, catching up, and brunching. My time put me 1st in the baby mama 10k division, making me three-peat a first place finish in a stroller division since 2015, and for my efforts, I won a pretty sweet bumbleride baby stroller. Stroller running is really tough, but it’s also a fantastic way for me to spend time with my kids, and though they will likely not remember a lot of this as they age, I will always have these experiences (and photographs of the event) to share with them. I can totally get behind that. If they decide to run when they get older, that’d be great, but ultimately I just want them to grow up knowing and seeing firsthand that taking care of your body and mind by leading an active lifestyle is important, worthwhile, and really, a lot of fun.
If you’re local, put SIB on your calendar; if you’re in southern CA, look up their race in Santa Barbara in the autumn. (And get on their email list so you can register for SC cheap in December!). I think it’d be a blast to either get my daughters to train for this run in the future or maybe get my Daisies to come down and run it or volunteer at it next year. So many options! Ultimately, while the SIB swag was great, the reward for winning so generous, and the gratification that comes with putting forth a strong effort on race day exhilarating, without a doubt, I keep coming back to this race because I get so much from the experience and the vibe. It’s just all so very, very good.