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2017 Marin Memorial Day 10k (Kentfield, CA) – race report

2017 Marin Memorial Day 10k (Kentfield, CA) – race report

For a long time, I’d be able to look at you straight in the face and tell you that running was a fairly straightforward activity. One foot in front of the other, propel yourself in a forward direction (more often than not, ideally), and bam! you’re good. While there’s obviously some inherent degree of truth here, the aforedescribed undermine a lot of the more nuanced aspects of our sport. Sure, it’s just running, but figuring out how hard or when to push, when to pull back, what that borderline feeling is that puts you riiiiiiight up against oh hell oh hell oh hell territory without falling headfirst into the abyss — this is the stuff, the more complicated and messy stuff, that belies running’s simplicity.

… but it’s also the stuff that makes it so effing fun in a (probably) masochistic way.

Such grandiose statements to begin talking about the Marin Memorial Day (MMD) 10k USATF PA road race up at the College of Marin on Memorial Day, no doubt, but all told, I think these descriptions fit a 10k race pretty accurately. The distance is manageable, a good 6.2 miles, a bread and butter daily run distance, but from every distance I’ve ever raced, I think the 10k is among, if not the, most calculated. It’s like the friend you think you have but who can be really manipulative and downright treacherous if you don’t watch your back. If you give too much, your friend will take it all and run like hell away from you, leaving you on the sidelines, whimpering to yourself, questioning your life’s choices. Conversely, if you give too little, she’ll demand more and wonder why you’re not holding up your end of the deal, pondering what is wrong with you that you didn’t contribute more earlier or sooner. Cold, calculated, conniving.

A 10k is nowhere on the scale of distance of a half or marathon — obviously — but it’s also twice as long as a 5k (two graduate degrees here, thanks!), so finding the effort that you can sustain for longer than what feels comfortable can be just  … elusive. I’m sold that 10ks are among the most challenging distances to race because of the high-but-not-too-high effort that the relatively shorter, but not too short, 10k distance necessitates. It’s like a tedious, complicated dance on an impossibly taut tightrope; one poor decision, and you’re falling off the edge, a goner. You have more time to work with, more time to make decisions, but in the grand scheme of things, you don’t really. There’s no luxury in “easing into things” like in longer distances, but dare you get off the line like you do in a 5k, you will absolutely pay for it later. This is probably why I woke up on race morning with feelings foreboding trepidation; I knew what was coming.

The MMD is another road race on the PA circuit and one that, as our team master captain leader extraordinaire, Lisa, said, tended to produce fast times, PRs, and club records. In fact, I think I had read somewhere online that the course was one of the fastest in California. Going into the race, to be honest, my singular goal was to pace this 10k more intelligently than I had at Heart and Soles 10k in March. On paper, I thought that I could possibly eke out a PR at MMD — owing it to the faster field, probably a faster course, and more weeks of marathon training under my belt — but a PR was a very faint and distant secondary goal, barely a blip on my radar. I really just wanted to run a 10k without pacing it like an idiot tool.

Come MMD, I was about 8 weeks out from San Francisco and thus, really needing to emphasize the long stuff over the short, so I rearranged my long run schedule in the days pre-MMD and ran 18 with 12 @ GMP on Saturday (which went really well, yay!), recovery ran with my runnergang on Sunday early, and hoped for the best that I’d be recovered by race morning on Monday. By race day, I had about 140+ miles of volume in my legs from the previous 14 days, having taken some time off in the beginning of May for a colitis flare. Fortunately, since May 15 anyway, I had been feeling great and complaint-free. My legs weren’t necessarily “fresh” to race, but they were fresh enough, given that I’m focusing more on July 27 than anything else right now.

After a minivan ride up beautiful 280 to the College, my six teammates and I piled out of the van and quickly noticed the overcast, cloudy skies and the slight “chill” in the air from the 5x degree temps; hello, perfect racing weather. Claire and Sam, my teammates whom I am often chasing in our PA races, and I talked goals for the day, and while they both vied for a sub-40, I knew that today wouldn’t be my day to try to go for something that laudable; keeping them in my sight — but pacing intelligently — would be more than sufficient. Based on a text exchange with Impala galpal Robin in the days preceding the race, I figured she and I would also likely be working together, too, in this race, so I felt I was virtually guaranteed a good ride for 40ish minutes, being surrounded by Claire, Sam, and Robin in my immediate vicinity. Racing is a lot of fun, no doubt, but as any child will tell you, chasing others is also a pretty good time.   

Our team did about a 2.5 mile warmup along what was mile 4-end (or thereabouts) of the course, a nice little preview. I was feeling pretty good — knowing the tempest was brewing but hadn’t yet arrived — and before too long, we all headed over to the starting area and cramped in. I’m still learning all the USATF intricacies, but I’ve gathered that even though it’s chip timed, for scoring purposes (and money purposes, I think?), it’s based on gun time; hence, the squashed-in-like-sardines at the start, even though we’ve all got chips on our bibs and our chip times still count as the “official” times… or something. There were a lot of small children right on the line, right with the 5xx/mile runners — making me very nervous that they’d get trampled — but mid-I hope those kids move over real soon, real fast thought, we just started running — no gun, again (why?) — and suddenly, it was another Lion King run or be run over moment at the start of the race. I legit got elbowed in the ribs by an older woman within the first 10 meters of the race, as though we were in the bell lap of an 800m (seriously? lady, you still had 9,990 meters to go!) and stayed fairly boxed in for the first mile or so. Even if I wanted to move around the masses, I couldn’t. Claire and Sam, in addition to my other teammates Jenn and Lisa, were all right within my line of vision, and before the first 400m of the race, a tap on the shoulder and wave on my right showed that Robin was there, too. Yay! Time to work together.

For the first three miles, the course gently and rolling-ly wound its way through the downtown and some residential areas of Kentfield before turning around, making a lollipop design in the process, and heading back toward the direction of the college and the bike path/streets where we had run our warm-up. Fortunately, by about mile 2 and change, the sea of runner humanity began to open up, my claustrophobia and fear that I was going to trip on someone and eat shit finally abating. My teammates were still visible, though I had lost Robin again somehow, and I even had the good grace of getting some mid-run coaching by two different gentlemen. Probably before the first 1.5 mi of the race, when I was stride-for-stride with another woman, a guy behind us — maybe someone this other woman knew — was dishing out lots of yeah ladies, really smooth, really strong, that’s right, you’re really good and strong, you’re looking really great to us both. I don’t particularly need to hear that when I still have more than half the race to go, but … thanks? Not much later, around mile 3, soon after I had the unexpected delight of seeing and hearing Michael Stricklan on the sidelines yelling at me (last time I saw him, I was massively pregnant before SF ‘15), another gentleman and I began running elbow to elbow, and he, too, began dishing out gratuitous mid-run coaching: we’re looking really strong, we’re going to finish side by side, really smooth, really smooth. Alright! Maybe he needed to say it out loud to himself, and I just happened to be there at the right time. Whatever floats your boat, dude.

As I came through the 5k, a quick glance at my watch showed me to be not that far off my 5k PR — a thought both momentarily terrifying (shit is redlining imminent?! Did I go out too fast?) and strangely encouraging (the next 19 +/- minutes are going to feel long and never-ending, but I’m preeeeeeeeeetty sure I can do this). Sam was still in my sight, even looking at the storefronts on her left to see if she could catch my reflection; my mid-run coaches had basically disappeared into thin air; I hadn’t seen or heard Robin since early on and had no idea where she was … but at least we were all heading into familiar territory by now.

I’m thankful Lisa had us run the last 2 and change in our warmup because it was (understandably) nice to know what to expect. The sun had begun to peek out for the first time in the morning, but the temps were still really nice and comfortable, and I (poorly) began trying to do the I can run for X or so minutes more math as we got onto the bike trail. I still hadn’t found Robin since I saw her in the first mile, and Sam was still about 5 steps in front of me, but my other teammates were significantly farther ahead. I couldn’t recall anyone passing me in a while, so I tried to hold on to that and just keep pulling myself to Sam. Throughout the race, I had periodically looked at my watch to see my pace, and I had been running about where I thought I should have been. I wasn’t able to catch my splits each time, but from what I could recall, they were all close to each other: a far cry from Heart and Soles. Out of seeming nowhere, we had a hefty-enough wind coming at us for the final 1.2, and somehow, the slight downhill that we felt over the final 1.2 in our warmup seemed to have disappeared altogether. (Mind games… mind games…).  

Screenshot 2017-06-04 at 10.07.59 PM
Chasing Sam around mile 4.5/4.75  (the blue at 9 o’clock, far left of the picture, is Robin). Thanks to Tamalpa Runners for the pics.
Screenshot 2017-06-04 at 10.08.19 PM
Still chasing…


Screenshot 2017-06-04 at 10.08.40 PM
The shades only moderately hide my confusion. The camera was mounted on a tripod, and I can recall trying to discern whether it was a) a camera, b) a camcorder (to catch cheaters?), or c) a bib alert monitor that’d register when runners pass through the checkpoint. Answer: it was a camera. Taking pictures. As cameras are wont to do.

While I was running in the valley of Mt. Tam over that last mile and change especially, as I was beginning to feel tired and increasingly eager to finish the thing, the mental moments started to come out hot and heavy. Trust the process. Own the work and training that you’ve put in. You should be right here, right now, running this pace. Start at yes. Why not you? Why not today? Why not now? Do not dissociate. Stop looking at your surroundings. Just run. Lean in. LEAN IN. Mere minutes more. We hopped off the mile 5 street, turned into the parking lot adjacent to the track that we’d finish on, where a volunteer yelled that I was “looking really smooth,” — the apparent phrase of the morning — and then it was a matter of 300 meters on the track (clockwise) before it was over. Sam was still right in front of me, and with about 150m to go, I saw my watch click over from 39:59 to 40 — telling me that provided I didn’t erupt into flames in the next 150, I’d finish this much faster (and much closer to 40) than I had anticipated. My male teammates were on the sidelines, right in front of the finishing arch, yelling something about using my arms to launch me forward — oh yea! Arms! I have arms! Use my arms! — and whatever I had left I laid bare on that beautiful all-weather gem of a track.

Screenshot 2017-06-04 at 10.13.25 PM
shoutout to my teammates for reminding me I have upper body appendages, whose use can be advantageous when running hard. PC: @temms


40:53 — a 16 second PR. More importantly, and what I was really getting after for the morning: night-and-day-better pacing.


Screenshot 2017-06-04 at 10.43.11 PM
far from perfect, but a huge improvement. hard to run tangents with the cluster early on, too, unfortunately

Just seconds after I had shared congratulatory high-5s and sweaty hugs with Sam, I turned around and saw Robin, commenting about the beauty of my ass (ha), which, unbeknownst to me, she had apparently been chasing. Better yet, we reveled in her killer nearly 3 minute 10k PR. Three minutes!! In a 10k! How amazing is that!!!? It was hard to not just beam because I was so much happier with how I raced (and so massively inspired, as always, by my teammates and my friends). Racing is really unparalleled. I love training, but man … I love racing. It is so hard yet so gratifying.

Connecting with my teammates post-race is one of the highlights for me, just because it’s always so interesting to hear about everyone’s different experiences. We have the shared experience of running the same course, but how it plays out varies tremendously. It’s another aspect of running and racing that I find so attractive; it’s kinda like this great egalitarian force, a shared, lived experience among people of varying capabilities. It doesn’t matter if you ran a 31 or a 101 minute 10k because chances are high that you can identify with the same sentiments that your teammates feel when they’re also throwing down mid-race: the fear, the despair, the encouragement, the leaning in, the dissociating, the questioning of life’s choices, the wanting to do this all over again to see what would happen if you do X instead of Y next time … They (we) get it. They (we) know. It’s just such an interesting conversation to have immediately post-race when emotions are still high, muscles are shredded, and the endocannibinoids are still likely unduly influencing our perception of just about everything. Those first few moments post-race are as raw as it can be, it seems, and it’s just …  wonderful.  

Screenshot 2017-06-04 at 10.09.22 PM
the harriers at MDD. PC: Wolfpack Running Club

The cool-down miles with my team put me at 11 and change for the day, a nice start to the last week in May and a most excellent way to start a Monday. I came home with the quiet satisfaction that comes from accomplishing what I wanted for the morning — making the 60+ mile each way drive worth it — and really fired up about how SF training is faring and how my mental game is coming along. As I’ve said before, this short stuff is basically on the other side of the river from My Comfort Zone, but I’m finding that the more that I wade over into Unfamiliar Territory, the less on edge — not necessarily comfortable — I’m getting being over there visiting. I don’t necessarily feel like I belong, but I think periodically putting myself into The Great Unknown does a great service for me when I return to where I am most comfortable.

There are two more PA races on the calendar in the next couple months — a 1 miler and a 5k in June and July, respectively — but I’ll be out of town for both of them, so I’ll resume PA stuff in the fall. While I’m visiting family in the midwest, I have a half marathon and a 5 miler (I think) that I’ll be doing something with — racing, workout-ing, something — but otherwise, it’s mostly just going to be a lot of putting my nose to the ground for the final 8 weeks of SF training. Good luck to everyone racing in Los Gatos and Morgan Hill. There in spirit!


March training recap

March training recap

I lived the first 30 years of my life in the midwest (Akron area and Chicago, for those of you playing along at home), places with clearly defined seasons, and I distinctly remember growing up with the saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb (or vice versa). The premise here of course is that March may begin with terrible weather, but by the end, it’ll be all lovely and stereotypical spring-like (or again, vice versa). Naturally, what follows is April showers bring May flowers. I’m not entirely sure if either weather assumption necessarily applies to the Bay Area, but it seems like the March metaphor at least works (perhaps a bit tenuously) for my running this month, since it started off harsh but ended quite kindly. And as for rain in April, well, I guess we’ll see.

All told, March included 207 miles, a DNS in an 8k and 10 miler, a PR in a 5k, a stroller PR and division win in a (probably short) 10k stroller race, and a PR in a road 10k and a woman’s division win. While the beginning of the month was pretty rough, thanks to a nasty flu + colitis flare + seemingly a bazillion other ailments all running concurrently through my body — and taking another week-plus to get to feeling 100% again — fortunately the month turned around, and I began to (eventually) feel normal. Electing to miss those first two races was disappointing, but I knew then (like I knew now) that it was in my best interest to just shut it down for a few days — even if it was race week — so that I could get on the fast path to health sooner rather than later. If given the option of being sick for 5 days or 25, it’s a no brainer.

at the Reach for a Star 5k, holding on to Sam’s awesomeness (PC: CT)
girl party at SIB with Meg, K, and G
hollering for my teammate, Julie, as she begins her “back” part of her 5k (PC: Dave/fitfam6)
with Paula and A, and Meg and K, and G, post-race. Lots of good vibes in this group (PC: Dave/fitfam6)
sea of orange at SIB in Santa Cruz (PC: Lisa/Wolfpack)
post- Hearts and Sole 10k with my teammate, Greg

As was the case in January and February, I posted most of my workweek miles with one or both of my kids (and a lot of my miles come from commutes). On average, I’d say that more than 50% of my total volume each week comes from running with the kids, either just with the baby in the stroller or with the baby in the stroller plus A on her bike. I was sometimes lucky enough to be able to swing a midweek run with new Bay Area transplant Char, whom I met in Chicago through a mutual friend, Corey, when Corey and I were still living there. Small world: soon after Corey moved to Chicago, we met up for a run (after chatting on twitter and realizing we had both run Eugene that spring). Her friend Char was in town, too, visiting family, so we three ran together one time, back in … hmm, probably September 2013, at Waterfall Glen (I think). If memory serves, I think the one and only time I ran with these three women was the day that I told them that C would be boarding an airplane later that night for an interview out here and that it was likely that we’d be moving. Crazy. My point: the running world seems enormous, but I guess just like anything else, it’s fairly small. You may not know everyone, but chances are high that you probably share a mutual friend. (Thank you, Strava and social media!)

very sunny and very windy on the last day of March (I think). not pictured: G, strolling under my arm. I love that you can see a sneaky smile from A 🙂

Toward the end of the month, I also had the opportunity to run Mission Peak starting from Ohlone College. When I’ve run MP in the past, it has always been by way of Monument Peak (and Mt. Allison and Mt. “EMS”), coming up from Milpitas or SJ, so it was a neat experience to run it from a different direction and start in Fremont. Fortunately, the trail wasn’t soul-suckingly muddy, and everything was just majestically and lusciously green. This was actually the first time I’ve been on trails since late October/early November because a) ARP has been closed for a while, presumably thanks to landslides and such and b) when I’ve run MP post-heavy rain before, it was pretty impassable … like take two steps forward and slide ten steps backward (while also potentially getting your shoes sucked off your feet) because it’s so damn muddy and the footing is for shit impassable … and I didn’t want to deal with it. The rain has let up a ton here, so I was optimistic that Mission Peak would be in pretty good shape. A huge group turned out — some to hike, some to run — and it was a blast. I would have never thought that I’d enjoy trail running as much as I do, so I look forward to spending many long runs on the trails near home over the coming months. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that part of the reason I finally broke 3:20/1:33 last fall was because I spent nearly all my non-workout LRs on trails. I absolutely love running roads, but it’s hard to not have a good time when you’re literally frolicking like children through nature.  

perfecting my mid-run photography skills. still obviously needing work.
before we ascended Mission Peak, we swung over to Mt. Allison, home of these gems.
total creeper selfie pic. this was just part of the group who went to MP; add another 10 people who hiked that morning. it was awesome. this is from the top of Mission, with my back facing east (I think). L-R Dhananjay, Saurabh (the only person who apparently saw me do this, ha), Satish, Ajit, Chantanu, Amy, and JJ, with her back to us. Look in the background (around 1 o’clock), and you can see the stuff from Mt. Allison.

Racing nearly every weekend in March meant that my long runs usually topped off around 13-15 miles and were often broken up into several runs (warm-up, race, cool-down). I’m not planning to unofficially-officially begin SF training until about 16 or so weeks out, so it has admittedly been nice to not have monster miles on tap each weekend lately. Plus, racing is a ton of fun! It’s grueling and all — that’s the point; that’s what makes it beautiful — but it’s also just so cool, in a somewhat terrifying sort of way, to put yourself out there for a minute (or many minutes, whatev) and let yourself be vulnerable for a change.

Running is really awesome for a ton of obvious reasons, but I think like a lot of activities, once you get into a rhythm of some sort, it can be tough to shake things up and try something new. Call this comfort, call it getting complacent, but I figure that if one of the reasons we run is to show us that we’re stronger than we give ourselves credit for, or that we enjoy the trials and tribulations that come with training and racing, or whatever, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get that sort of ongoing feedback if we stay comfortably perched in a way of training/racing that precludes us from getting uncomfortable (or gritty). Somewhat related to this point, as a social media ambassador for the SF Marathon (TSFM2017Erin or TSFM2017Erin5k for savings, you’re welcome!), I recently wrote a guest post for the SF Marathon’s blog urging people to get outside their comfort zones this year at TSFM, and it’s something that I’ve been telling myself, too. For so long, especially postpartum, I have been (somewhat understandably) reluctant to register for races because I tell myself I’m not in “race shape” or whatever, that if I haven’t specifically trained for an (insert race distance here) that I really shouldn’t even show up and try to do the best that I can on that given day. The thinking usually goes oh I’m in “marathon shape” but there’s no way I could run a decent-for-me (insert short race distance here). I don’t want to embarrass myself, my team, (and so on). 

Allow me to call bullshit … on myself.

I’m glad I’m finally getting out of that mindset. Here’s the thing: realistically, if your ability to pay your mortgage isn’t on the line, you don’t need to take yourself so seriously. You’ll fare better than fine. It’s just a race; you’ve got nothing to lose. (And hell, set those expectations super low, and you might just come out of it surprising yourself!).  The bottom line here is that if we’re all about using running as an avenue for self-improvement (in any respect of the word), it’s hard impossible to allow ourselves to improve if we stay put right where we are. Why not set big-but-reasonable goals and work your ass off to realize them? If you fail, you’ll at least have the luxury of failing with pride and satisfaction, if not also a bit of gratitude, knowing that you at least gave yourself the opportunity to try. I think the moment we become less afraid of failing or faltering, liberating feelings begin to manifest, and suddenly, those ingrained ideas of I can only do (this distance) because ______ or I can only run at (this pace) because ____ reveal themselves for what they really are: just BS nonsense we use to sabotage ourselves. The sky’s the limit, kids. Provided you show up every day, do your very best, and on race day, as long as you do the same, you’ve got nothing to worry about. These are the things I tell myself, in a loving and supportive way, natch.  

Otherwise, I have been running, and it is well and good, and I continue to be so grateful to be able to do this wonderful stuff. The gratitude permeates everything.

Reading: Just finished The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (eh) and A Path Appears (awesome). I’m in the throes of Amy Schumer’s book (eh) but still have a pile of nonfiction stuff on my kitchen table. My heart is in nonfiction, and there’s so much good and recent stuff out there that I want to try to figure out how I can read it all in the 25th or 26th hour of each day. Tips welcome.

Listening to/watching: Moana. No shame in my game. My eldest and I watched it every night for about a week, and the kids and I almost always listen to it on our runs/rides. (Otherwise, I don’t watch much. If we’re lucky, C and I can get in a date with John Oliver or Bill Maher).

Doing: A huge purge in our house. I will literally go stand in our garage sometimes now because it looks so much better than it did just a couple weeks ago. (Again, no shame). It wouldn’t pass Marie Kondo’s muster, but it passes mine! 

Anticipating: Family and friend visits over the coming weeks, birthdays, the summer!

Eating: Everything in sight that’s veg-friendly and isn’t nailed down (training, I see you).

Appreciating: The longer days (like everyone else) and (as weird as this sounds) this little bird who must be perching in a tree right outside our home. The thing begins squawking really early each morning, and admittedly, it’s kinda annoying as hell, but it’s also really sweet. Being able to sleep with windows open in winter (spring?) and starting my morning every day by way of a bird tweeting at me (the literal, old-school tweeting, that is) is just kinda… cute. Add a few cups of tea and my local newspaper to the mix each morning, beginning around 5:30, and Tweety rounds out a nice little team here. (Again: no shame. Pretty sure I’m 33 going on 93).