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2016: a year.

2016: a year.

When 2015 closed and 2016 began, I wrote, rather snarkily, that my singular goal for the new year was “to go forth and kick ass.” No doubt that life is hard to plan for any of us, especially a year out, and especially when you’ve just had your second kid and are getting used to life with two kids, your oldest starting school, and the whirlwind of change that your body and mind goes through postpartum, so perhaps needless to say, I had no fucking clue how 2016 would pan out. Having done this postpartum dance before with running, I knew that it’d behoove me to simply take things a day at a time — really, that’s all that any of us can ever do, right? — and to not get too far ahead of myself.

The executive summary: my 2016 year of running, somewhere around 2010-2020 miles, was fantastic, though at times, it was shitty. Racing and training was arguably better in 2016 than it’s ever been, depending on how you slice it, and most importantly — and I do mean most importantly — the miles, the training, the racing, all of it was injury-free. I can’t ask for more than that.

Some highlights and lowlights from the year, in no particular order:

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Running trails more frequently. I’m incredibly fortunate to live in an area of the country that has basically perfect running weather year-round and one that’s also home to a rich array of trails. While many parks and preserves require a decent drive from where I live, Monument Peak and Alum Rock are both very nearly in my backyard, and I spent more time running in both and AR and MP this year than in years past. Whether I was running with the baby through parts of AR with Wolfpack teammate Janet or going long with Saurabh and company on their 50k/50mi/100k training runs through Monument Peak (et al), I’ve come to the realization again and again that trail running is just good for the soul. It may sound like hippy-dippy-nonsense shit, but god is it true. I love roads, I love running as fast as I can and racing to exhaustion, but there really is something to be said for chasing elevation for a change and hauling ass up what seems like veritable Everests so you can experience a piece of the world that’s inaccessible otherwise. And — practically speaking — I’m convinced that the trails and hills made me faster on roads, helped keep me healthy, and got me strong as I worked on my strength in this first year postpartum.   

what up, Monument Peak
what up, Monument Peak
Mission-bound
Mission-bound

Tons of stroller miles with one/both of the girls. I spent tons of time on the road with one or both of my girls in 2016, either for regular ol’ training runs or “commuting” (to/from school drop-offs/pick-ups). Stroller running makes the already challenging motion of running much more difficult, no doubt, but it also makes it a lot more fun (usually). These days, when I ask the baby if she wants to go for a run, she basically drops whatever she’s doing and has a big smile on her face and runs in the direction of the stroller. Big Sis will often ask to go on a run with me, big smile across her face, too, so I feel like I’m doing something right here. I don’t push my kids to like this sport just because I do, but it’s nice to know that they’re growing up knowing that regular physical activity is part of a normal/healthy lifestyle.

these two
these two

Volunteering and spectating at RNR SJ and CIM with Big Sis. I love racing, but I think spectating comes in at a very close second. Again this year, Big Sis and I volunteered with Wolfpack as course monitors along the RocknRoll San Jose course. Doing so allowed us to keep the runners safe (natch) while we cheered and cowbelled our little hearts out. There’s no shame in my game, here: I can’t tell you how much I teared up watching Big Sis cheer her heart out for the runners, and the joy on her face when runners veered over to her for side-5s couldn’t have been more perfect. In December, we trekked up to Sac to spectate and cheer at mile 21 at CIM. It was a perfect day for a marathon, and we got to spend part of the morning with Paula while we all cheered and cowbelled so hard that one of us (ahem) began to feel very, very faint. If you ever want to make a five year-old’s day at a race, take two steps outside the tangent to give her/him a side-5.

RNR SJ '16
RNR SJ ’16
mi 21 at CIM '16
mi 21 at CIM ’16

Racing in FL over a girls’ weekend with my mom, sister, and sister-in-law. Over my sister’s birthday weekend, she, our mother, and my sister-in-law and I all flew to Jacksonville, FL, for a girls’ weekend away at the beach. I had won an entry to a half marathon there, and the weekend shook out to be about 95% R&R and 5% running. It’s rare that I get quality time with my family sans children running underfoot, and it was just a wonderful weekend away. Bonus: I ran my second-fastest HM ever, and as a workout, so I got a boost of confidence for my autumn marathon training.

family shot!
family shot!
steps from the finish line in the godforsaken sand
steps from the finish line in the godforsaken sand

Tying my marathon PR at 7 mos postpartum and then breaking my PR at 15 mos. PP. I took a bit of a leap of faith and decided to race my first marathon at 7 mos. PP in Modesto, and the training and race fared much better than I anticipated, resulting in my basically tying my PR. About seven months later, the universe aligned even better, and I finally broke my three-year-old marathon PR at Two Cities Marathon while having a good time downstate with Meredith. At TCM, I raced feeling calmer and stronger than ever before, and I am stoked to see how I can continue to improve.

P-fucking-R Cityyyyyyyy
P-fucking-R Cityyyyyyyy

Pacing a first-time marathoner to a 3:30 (and BQ). I had a rare opportunity to run an inaugural marathon and also help unofficially pace a first-time marathoner, and it was the perfect way for me to approach a marathon that I had otherwise felt a bit mentally burnt-out on. Sometimes when you’ve been doing something for a long time, you forget the little steps along the way that help enliven the process, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to share my 27th marathon nearly side-by-side with my unofficial co-pacer and friend, Chris, and his 9run6 friend and first-time marathoner, Alexia, who’d go on to finish in 3:30 — a BQ ain’t too shabby for your first marathon, gal!

Very unexpectedly PRing my half. Just a couple weeks after my marathon PR at TCM, I showed up to the Berkeley half marathon without any expectation or goal, and I was absolutely floored to destroy a three-year-old half marathon PR. I had long ago put that HM PR up on the shelf, thinking that it’d be forever untouchable, so I can’t even begin to describe the rush and joy that I get when I think of how that race went, how much fun it was, and how strong I felt from start to finish.  

another fun running adventure with Meredith and Meg :) so good to have some fun miles with these two this year
another fun running adventure with Meredith and Meg 🙂 so good to have some fun miles with these two this year
finish line pic!
finish line pic!

Getting a colitis diagnosis. This is a double-edged sword. After basically 7 years of “stomach problems,” with a couple pregnancies, international travel, surgeries, life, and everything else thrown into the mix, my GI here diagnosed me with a type of colitis that’d likely explain the incessant “stomach problems” I’ve been experiencing. With his diagnosis came medicine; with medicine came relief and an abatement of symptoms. It’s like science works or something. Crazy, isn’t it. +1000 to my improved quality of life.

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Getting a colitis diagnosis. The double-edged sword aspect is that I got a colitis diagnosis, one which I’ll have for the rest of my life, adding to my other autoimmune disorder gem. I spent more time in my GI’s office, peppering him with questions, than I did with any other practitioner this year (and probably many of them combined). After a lot of conversation with him and a battery of tests, he came to this diagnosis, and together we decided that the drug’s benefits outweighed its risks. Within weeks, I had relief. I hope that this colitis becomes just something minor to manage, and while I obviously am not keen on having another lifelong autoimmune disorder that necessitates daily medication, I am grateful to have a good relationship with my GI and have no trouble being my own biggest advocate. One of the biggest takeaways I have from 2016, maybe a subject for a future post, is that the relationship we have with our bodies is one of the most important relationships we’ll ever have, and it behooves us to advocate for ourselves accordingly.   

A DNS at the SF Marathon & at pacing Santa Rosa. That colitis diagnosis I keep talking about? Well, before we got it all sorted out, let’s just say it did a number on my running and on my day-to-day life. I ultimately decided to DNS at SF Marathon and to not pace 3:35 at Santa Rosa — both decisions I wasn’t particularly eager to make — because of how god-awful my stomach felt. I have only DNSed a couple times since I started doing this stuff in ‘07, but I absolutely knew that I was making the right call at the time. As runners, it can be really hard to swallow our pride and not follow through on our goals, but if we want to do this stuff for a long time, we gotta take the long view and think big-picture. Easier said than done, I know.

My 30 year-old cousin’s death. Not at all related to running, but very much affecting my life this year, was the death of my 30 year-old cousin. I haven’t talked about it here at all, and I’m still trying to figure out (six months later) how and where I can go with it for a post — because it matters — but my thirty year-old cousin died from a heroin overdose, leaving behind her 18-month-old daughter and her parents, my aunt and uncle, without their only child. Opioid abuse has reached an epidemic level in this country, and northeast Ohio is in the thick of it. It’s heartbreaking, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to read her obit, thinking that I didn’t actually get the call that I did with the news, or look at her fb page (again thinking that it’s not real), only to see a litany of RIP messages. Quite honestly, it sucks. As a parent, I can’t fathom what my relatives have to be going through. I can’t rationalize it, it’s beyond my comprehension, and every time I read a news story about heroin or opioids in this country, I get equal parts depressed and just pissed as hell. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of her, wondering if I could have said something or done something — I saw her not even 12 hours before her death — and my heart is shattered for my aunt and uncle. It’s awful. Running isn’t therapy, and no number of miles that I run will bring her back or make her not use heroin or hurt her family, but god have I ever hashed and rehashed scenarios like these (and others) in my head over so many runs since she died in mid-July.

The relationship that we develop with our bodies is a powerful one, and arguably, it’s one that many of us tend to take for granted. Once we get into the rhythm of running regularly, or running injury-free, many of us just assume that day in and day out, we’ll be able to wake-up, do our running thing, and get on with our lives. It’s often not until something huge interrupts our flow that we realize shit, a lot has to happen (on a macro and micro level) in order for me to run, and suddenly our presumption that our hobby of choice will always be there transforms into a sheer attitude of gratitude of being able to just do said hobby in the first place.

While (fortunately) 2016 didn’t beset me with any injuries, or really any niggles to speak of, as I worked to gain strength and speed in that first year postpartum — while also dealing with the shitstorm that was my stomach, and later, the anguish over my cousin — I guess you could say that I fortified my attitude toward running, both currently and in the long-term. I’m not a “have to” runner these days, nor do I plan to be one anytime soon. I don’t have to run. I get to run.

Having an attitude of gratitude toward this little hobby of mine no doubt helped fuel the fire toward getting stronger, getting faster, and just having a fucking ball out there in 2016. I didn’t expect to set any PRs this soon out from kiddo dos, and while those I set were of course awesome and special, most of my memories from this year come from all the “chop wood/carry water” miles along the way — the daily grind; the running with my kids; the trail adventures; the miles, roads, and routes that become part and parcel of my daily life.

I think I turned a corner in 2016 with my running. That said, I’m intrigued to see what’s down the road in 2017. More than that, though, I’m honestly just grateful to get to be on the road in the first place (cheese cheese cheese, but true). We’ll see what happens. I’m amenable.

2016 Berkeley Half Marathon race report (!)

2016 Berkeley Half Marathon race report (!)

A week ago now I ran what’s probably my last race of 2016: the Berkeley half marathon. In the two weeks post-Two Cities Marathon (and sidenote, thank you so much for all your sweet and supportive messages!), running felt strangely comfortable, considering I had just run my fastest marathon ever. Historically, at least for the past three years, I typically haven’t felt very sore after marathons, which has led me to believe that I’ve finished most races with more in the tank than I realize — kinda cool, I guess, but also kinda disappointing. So it was with TCM: for as elated as I was with my finish, the negative split, the PR, how I felt, all of that, it has been really tough to not get into the hypothetical scenarios that have been playing out in my head. I finished that race super happy and feeling super strong, but I also finished that race with a cloud of you really should have pushed harder because there’s so much left here hanging over me. I guess if nothing else, it’s fuel for future marathon fires.

Taking all of this into account, going into the Berkeley Half Marathon on Sunday, I didn’t have any expectations. I typically don’t race right after a marathon out of respect to the recovery process. Plus, realistically, BHM is a tough and hilly course. I figured if nothing else, I’d quickly learn on the streets of Berkeley whether I had been pushing too hard and running too much in these subsequent 2 weeks post-TCM or if I had, in fact, recovered and potentially could rumble. I thought that based on how I ran at the ZOOMA half (1:35, as a workout) two weeks before TCM, and how I fared at the marathon, that if things really went well and the stars aligned, that I could potentially threaten my three-year-old half PR (1:33), but it was a very distant thought.

On race morning, I fetched Meg in Alameda before going to Meredith’s in Berkeley, where we’d do about a 2 mile warm-up from her place to the race starting area. The skies were overcast and the temps comfortable, and my body seemed to be feeling good. Meredith was running 18 that day as her last LR before CIM in two weeks’ time, and Meg was running the half as her first big postpartum race (at about 16 weeks). BHM was special to me not only because of the fun stuff from being a social media ambassador at the race for the second year in a row but also because like Meg, BHM for me last year was my first big postpartum race (at about 3 ½ months postpartum for me). BHM ’15 helped me decide the course of the ’16 running plans/calendar, so my only real “goal” for Sunday’s race was to (hopefully, if not a bit presumptuously) see how much better I could do at 15 months postpartum than at 3 ½ months. Similar to the ZOOMA half and TCM, I didn’t affix a hard-and-fast time goal to Berkeley; it was going to be a race more about “feel” than about anything else.

from Berkeley Half '15 somewhat freshly postpartum
from Berkeley Half ’15 somewhat freshly postpartum

In the starting corral, I ran into my Wolfpack teammate Krystal (KB) and our team coach, Lisa, the latter who’d be riding her bike throughout the course. I also saw a lot of my pacing buddies, including Albert, who was pacing the 1:35 gang. KB and I decided that we had similar goals – GMP the first 5 miles through the really big hills and then see what’s left for the final 8 – so we figured we’d be within a few paces of each other for most of the race. Before we knew it, the gun sounded, and we were off.

with Meg and Meredith after our granny warm-up to the start
with Meg and Meredith after our granny warm-up to the start
with Meg and KB in the starting corral (PC: Lisa)
with Meg and KB in the starting corral (PC: Lisa)

A note about the course: Berkeley isn’t flat. As far as road half marathons go, it’s one of the harder ones that I can recall racing. The total elevation gain for Berkeley is about 500′, give or take, which is enough to feel it for a road half. The biggest hills – the steepest and longest ones – are within the first five miles, but it’s also in these first five miles that you run through some of the more iconic streets and ‘hoods in Berkeley. This year’s race eliminated running through the Cal campus, so we instead ran on a street parallel to it but still in the same general area, as far as I know. If you’re racing BHM, it can be difficult to adjust your pace expectations for these first 5 miles because it’s near-constant up-down-up-down: making it a very fun course, absolutely, but also a little shellshock-worthy right outta the gates. One of my favorite parts of Sunday’s course was seeing a little girl standing on the curb with her family, on one of the streets with a pretty long and steep hill, with a sign that said something like “small distraction for this big hill!” It made me smile, so her job was done. The placement just couldn’t have been more perfect.

KB and I were running back and forth with each other for the first 5 miles, with Coach Lisa leapfrogging us along the sidelines, yelling words of encouragement, which was a lot of fun. When we crossed through the first 10k marker, a woman on the sidelines remarked that KB was the 25th woman and me the 26th, which (assuming she was right), was a nice uplift because I think there were about 4k runners in the half. I think it was sometime after the 10k marker that I pulled away, feeling both a bit worried (omg I’m gonna blow up I should take it easy I shouldn’t be running this pace two weeks post-marathon PR) but also incredibly excited (omg I haven’t felt like this while racing a half in so long! Hold this, turn off your head, and just run!! Start chasing people down!!)

early chatty miles with KB in the downtown-y areas of the course
early chatty miles with KB in the downtown-y areas of the course
haha, oh boy. I saw this guy around the 7 mi marker (I think) and thought I knew him. It wasn't until I was finally next to him and basically staring at his profile that I realized I didn't know him, which I'm sure made me look like a total creeper. We ended up running many miles basically side-by-side, without saying a word, and he's in almost all of my race pics. hahhaha sorry dude!!
haha, oh boy. I saw this guy around the 7 mi marker (I think) and thought I knew him. It wasn’t until I was finally next to him and basically staring at his profile that I realized I didn’t know him, which I’m sure made me look like a total creeper. We ended up running many miles basically side-by-side, without saying a word, and he’s in almost all of my race pics. hahhaha sorry dude!!

I started having a conversation with myself that weighed the merits of running responsibly – slowing down, taking things a bit more conservatively and actually running GMP splits (which I hadn’t done at all) – versus running fairly recklessly – just letting my legs turn over and see what happens, inviting potential catastrophe, but also working with gravity. Shortly after those first 5 hilly miles, there’s a massive downhill (look at the Garmin details: it’s huge), and I feebly started doing mental math around the mile 7 mark, thinking what I’d need to do to stay at sub-1:35 or even go sub-1:33, and assuming I steered clear of catastrophe or idiotic mistakes, I thought I actually – very surprisingly – had a shot. I had long ago relegated myself to having that 1:33 be my half PR forevermore, so the possibility that it could fall was entirely surprising — especially given the Berkeley course, coming off a marathon two weeks prior, and everything else. I willed myself to again get outside my head, to *for once* not make running and racing a cerebral event, and just fucking run and move my legs. Easier said than done for me, guys. Oh, and it started raining around the 10k/7 mile marker because why not (and for funsies, this is probably the first race I’ve run in precipitation in nearly three years). There wasn’t any pain or really even discomfort: more than anything, it was a lot of hold this pace or step it up; turn it over; use your arms; it’s ok to get yourself (slightly or totally) uncomfortable.

taking in a gel right before the little bridge that connected us to the frontage road, near mile 8. (PC: Lisa)
taking in a gel right before the little bridge that connected us to the frontage road, near mile 8. (PC: Lisa)

We eventually made our way out of the residential areas and went up and over a highway bridge (mile 7-8ish) that connected us to an out-and-back on the baytrail, on a frontage road. I started counting the other runners on the back portion, figuring that I had moved up to some place in the low 20s/high teens for the women, which was encouraging. I distinctly remembering going over the bridge and thinking to myself this isn’t where hope is going to die — positive self-chat for the win — and when I eventually started having a nasty side cramp or stitch or gremlin thing that had seemingly lodged itself under my right ribcage and was only able to be exorcised by me basically stabbing myself with three fingers, I made an effort to pay attention to all the other runners on their “out” portions and cheer for them accordingly. In doing so, I got to see Meredith, Meg, and another teammate, as well as lots of pacing buddies, all looking great and just absolutely soaking wet from the ongoing rain. Seeing familiar faces was a great boost and a perfectly-timed distraction, and before I knew it, we were going back over the bridge and returning to the more residential/downtown-y areas for the final 5k.

on the "out" portion of the frontage road/baytrail, somewhere between miles 8-9, I think.
on the “out” portion of the frontage road/baytrail, somewhere between miles 8-9, I think, still side-by-side with my buddy.
on the "back" portion of the baytrail frontage road, saying hi to Linh, who was pacing 1:45 (PC: Linh)
on the “back” portion of the baytrail frontage road, saying hi to Linh, who was pacing 1:45 (PC: Linh)

Most of the course’s hills are within the first 5 miles, but I vividly remembered the very long and slow climb back over the final 5k from last year, so I mentally was preparing myself for it as we were making our way there. It’s nothing drastic, and on paper, it looks inconsequential, but man, when you are racing, it feels like you’re stuck driving in first and are just grinding that shit out. It’s just long, and slow, and gradual, but enough of an incline that you can literally see the road rising before you in the distance and your tiring muscles can register the uptick in elevation. I rarely looked at my watch, save for when it beeped at the mile markers, but I managed to catch a few glimpses and see that today very well could be the day to demolish the 1:33 once and for all, as long as I held my mental shit together. I periodically asked myself, a la Matt Fitzgerald, “how badly do I want this today?” and my one-word answer, on repeat: “enough.”

My effort at making this race an actual thing just about running and not some cerebral affair was totally gone at this point — there was so much cheesy self-talk that I’m surprised it wasn’t spewing out of my ears — but sure enough, after feeling like I was sputtering around in first gear for fucking ever, passing some more folks, and continuing to get drenched, we made the final couple turns, and boom — we were done. 1:31:01. Nearly a two-minute PR (1:33:00 from Chicago’s F3 in ’13) and beautiful negative splits, no doubt thanks to those first five miles, and about a nine minute improvement from my ’15 time. 

finish liiiiiine!
finish liiiiiine!
poor attempt at raising my arms at the finish ... or taking flight. reader's choice
poor attempt at raising my arms at the finish … or taking flight. reader’s choice

It wasn’t until after I had finished that I looked at my watch and saw that my GPS had measured the course short — I think 12.97 — which was a little gutting (shit! Does this PR not count?!) but also not. I got to hang in the finisher’s chute and watch Albert’s and Linh’s pacing groups, KB, Meredith, and Meg all finish, which was awesome, and eventually, I did the math and figured that even if the course was in fact short, it’d still be a PR performance. Whatever. I don’t think the course was certified, but that distance difference is so negligible that it’s also very likely we went through a dead patch somewhere (or not. It could very well be short. It’s hard to tell. It’s important to remember though that GPS watches are fallible). Regardless, I had a fun morning run through the streets of Berkeley, got to see some friends (and didn’t see others! Try as I might, I couldn’t find Angela or Jen for the life of me during the race — sorry, gals), and I’ll never complain about the opportunity and fun of running 18 miles (between the warm-up, cool-down, and race) in rain and with very blue lips (thanks, thyroid disease, for messing with my circulation).

shivering in the rain with Coach Lisa, KB, and Meg. I ran back to Meredith's wearing that mylar blanket tied around my waist. (PC: Meredith)
shivering and/or holding in a need to pee while standing in the rain with Coach Lisa, KB, and Meg. I ran back to Meredith’s wearing that mylar blanket tied around my waist. (PC: Meredith)

Racing Berkeley with no expectations or hard-and-fast goals was a really nice way to close out my 2016 racing calendar. I’m tempted to throw in another shorter distance sometime in December, but we’ll see. I can’t lie: it’s really gratifying to look at where I was for Berkeley ‘15 and compare to where I am now, a year later, and see how the work I’ve put in in this first year postpartum has been shaping up. I talk about this so much that I’m sure it makes for shitty blog reading, but honestly, I am so happy to be capable to do this stuff in the first place, and to have the opportunity afforded to me to be able to do it, that the times I post on the clock really matter the least at the end of the day. I’m happy to post PRs when I can because I know how elusive they can be, yet just like I said after Two Cities, the PR matters, but it really doesn’t. What I find more gratifying, or more challenging, is putting in the work day after day, week after week, month after month.

It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a sub-3 marathoner or a 5+ hour marathoner; that you show up, do the work, and arrive on race day with your best foot forward, ready to rumble, is what I find so inspiring. Being able to run at all is both a gift and a privilege, and it’s one that isn’t lost on me. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Berkeley has fallen on the Sunday before Thanksgiving because it’s a timely reminder of how thankful I am.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. xo