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2017 Lam Research Heart & Soles 10k race report

2017 Lam Research Heart & Soles 10k race report

Admittedly, I’m one of “those” runners who always sign up for the longer event option. If there’s a race and it’s offering participants the opportunity to run 26.2, 13.1, 10k, or a 5k, I can all but guarantee that I’ll be running 26.2. Given this, maybe it’s unsurprising that most of my races over the years have been full marathons and half marathons — almost 30 of the former, and a little over 30 of the latter, I think — which is great and all, but it leaves me fairly clueless about how to a) train for short stuff and b) how to actually race short stuff. Like I’ve said before, my usual 5k strategy is go out hard and die a little with each mile and death-march it in, and it’s fairly safe to say that that same strategy extends to other shorter distances as well.

Tangential backstory aside, when I was registering for spring/March short races, I decided to register for an outright 10k — read: a 10k that didn’t involve me pushing the baby in a stroller — for probably the first time in… four years? Five years? The last 10k I can remember running was in Chicago, over Super Bowl weekend, with my friend David and my former student Mustafa, and it was staged out of Soldier Field, where the Bears play. February in Chicago is frigid, and aside from the cold factor, I just remember the aforedescribed “death marching” that I posted in the back part of the race. I distinctly remember going out in the high 6s/low 7s (bwahaha, had no business being there, unless I was literally on fire) and then finishing probably closer to 8s. It was effing bruuuutal. It’s probably not surprising then that I haven’t raced an outright 10k since.

Lam Research sponsored the Heart and Soles 6k and 10k this year, and I’ve been aware of this race for as long as I have lived in SJ, though I’ve never run it. This year’s race changed distances (5k to 6k and 10k) and location (GRT (I think) to Santa Clara, San Jose, and Avaya Stadium) and maybe even race weekend, too. For all intents and purposes, it was like a brand new race to me, so I had nothing to go off in terms of setting some pre-race goals or expectations. The map made me think that it’d be pretty flat, if not also a bit confusing, but I figured the jaunt through Santa Clara University, Avaya, and San Jose should be pretty fun in only the totally sadistic way that short races can be.

After a couple mile warmup and some milling around, I toed the line and eventually found my teammate, Greg, who’d also be running the 10k. We were surrounded by very small children at the starting line, as well as surely a bunch of 6k runners (hard to tell because our bibs all looked the same), and after some remarks from the race staff and my representative, Ro Khanna, who had returned for a Town Hall later that day, we were off. There is something so magical about the start line of a road race, and it’s hard not to be just genuinely happy when you’re nervously awaiting the gun to go off. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Ro Khanna chatting it up with runners moments before the start. (PC: the race)

Right out of the gate, my hunch that the race could get tricky later on was verified, particularly when I noticed volunteers on the streets holding signs that said something like “10k first loop” or “10k second loop.” Two loops?! We’re running two loops of something?! Effffffffffffffffffffffff. I put the uneasiness aside and tried to just focus on running comfortably very hard — a fairly unscientific view of what a 10k pace should feel like — and stay amongst the lead group. Right away I noticed a woman who was within reach of me, maybe within a few steps, but for some reason, my gut told me she was doing the 6k, so I purposely didn’t pursue her. Aside from going over a couple highway overpasses, the course was pancake flat as it cut through SC and SJ, just as I had suspected it would be.

Weirdly, running in Avaya Stadium was literally that: running in the stadium. I guess I had envisioned running on the field (I know, I should have known better), but instead, as we entered the stadium around mile 1.5 or so, we literally ran around the inside of the stadium, the part that you’d be walking through if you were attending a game and needed to go pee or go buy a pretzel or something. Hell, there were still bags of trash on the floor from Friday night’s game for the custodial staff! It was still pretty cool to see the field from closely afar, if that makes any sense, but I was also fairly cautious to take things easy because the pavement felt pretty slick in spots. After getting spit out of the stadium around the 2-mile marker, we were back on the city roads in SJ and headed back toward SC.

Things got a little dicey at this part, and I could have fared significantly worse. I really don’t know how to adequately describe it, and based on the course map (and my GPS), I know I went the right way, but basically seemingly out of nowhere, a car appeared on the course, right after or around mile 3. Essentially, we runners were running in one lane (let’s say going east), but then right away we had to make a hairpin turn, run up a ramp (away from our original direction of travel), and hop over a few lanes of traffic to get into a west-bound lane. As I was doing that, I instinctively looked behind me to check my blind spot — even though I couldn’t hear any cars behind me (and I never run with headphones) — and lo and behold, there was a sedan there, just hanging out, NBD, casually stopped mere paces away from me on its own volition, not because a volunteer/cone was there that directed it accordingly. Fortunately, the driver graciously didn’t run my sorry ass over, so I crossed through his/her lane, and then I was safely in the westbound side of (seemingly closed off) traffic. I have no idea what happened here. I didn’t memorize the course map or anything, and I totally get that the onus is on runners to know where they’re supposed to go. How that car got there was beyond me, but since I was literally in the middle of a race, there wasn’t anything I could do about it, save for hoping that no other runners or walkers behind me would encounter a similar issue.

I say this lovingly, as someone who is a huge supporter of local races and as someone who has run hundreds of races by now — what the hell!? I mean, really — what the hell!?  How was I almost clipped by a sedan in the middle of a 10k road race!?!?!? That was enough to rattle me for a while, and I couldn’t help but play out all the holy shit, what if I hadn’t looked behind me before crossing over??? hypothetical scenarios in my head. I have no idea what happened here; shoot, maybe traffic was blocked off, but there was some renegade car playing by its own rules that morning. Maybe a cone got moved or something. No idea. It could have been really horrible, like catastrophically horrible, though.

Not long after that, we were back into the thick of the Santa Clara University campus, making our way to the finish line area, and that’s when I saw for sure that the singular woman in front of me was, in fact, running the 6k. I had begun to think around the 6k mark, as we 10k runners began to do a sweep of the other side of the SCU campus, that I might have taken things out too hard earlier; I wasn’t in pain or even real discomfort, necessarily. Retrospectively, I think it was more of a healthy amount of good ol’ fashioned doubt than anything else. I knew with certainty that by the 6k mark I was the first female, and regardless of what my time was, I wanted to try to hold on to that lead, and really fight for it for as long as I possibly could. I didn’t think there were a ton of guys in front of me either, but more than anything, I just wanted to finish the thing as strongly as possible. I had grandiose aspirations of trying to get to as close to 40 as possible — I’d love to go sub-40 in a 10k, but my (marathon) training’s not there for it now — so I tried to proverbially “lean into” the last bit of the 10k, the part that gets really gritty, really fast.

Sometimes I think that trying to transcend or dissociate from racing pain and discomfort is the way to go, but more and more, I’m beginning to think that there’s beauty, strength, and power — of the rawest and unadulterated forms — in acknowledging and working through the mid-race discomfort, doubt, or pain. If given the opportunity to negate any presence of pain/discomfort/doubt or telling it all to go to hell, that I got this, thank you very much, I find it much more empowering to pursue the latter than the former. 

Shortly after the 4 mile marker (by my watch — I only saw two mile markers, one at mile 2, and another at mile 5), we were routed through a cul-de-sac type of area that left me literally yelling and motioning mid-race to an officer for direction because it wasn’t obvious where to go. After mile 4, I caught up to a young guy who was doing some weird pogo-like motions while he was running (hey bro, you do you), and he stayed stride-for-stride with me for about a minute, asking me how much more was left of the race. By mile 5, by myself, I began counting down (up) to 6.2, which typically means shamelessly singing children’s songs in my head: the usual favs are ABCs, Old McDonald, or really anything that I can add verse upon verse to (riveting, I know). We looped around what was more or less the backside of the race starting area, and remember those signs that I saw in the beginning, the ones that indicated 10k lap 1/10k lap 2? By the end of the race, as the 10k runners were merging into the 6k runners (or into the 10k runners still on their first loop), those signs signaled that 10k runners — but only those who had already done that loop around the farthest side of campus — had to stay over to the far left side to make the final left turn into the finisher’s chute. If this sounds confusing as hell, it absolutely was, and this race, too, much like SIB, had the same challenge that any multi-distance race has with the merging runners at the tail end of the event. Minor chaos.

I’m proud of myself for fighting until the very finish and posting a 41:09.  It amounts to about a 2 ½ minute 10k PR, and I won the females’ side and finished 11th or so overall. My pacing got a bit sloppy, but if nothing else, it’s excellent feedback for my next attempt at this distance. Unfortunately, my teammate, Greg, who was poised to run sub-36, succumbed to the confusing course marking, so he ended up finishing after me and ran an extra mile-plus in the process. :/  Greg and I ran another 5k or so as a cool-down, rehashing the race along the way, and I stuck around for the awards ceremony and for pictures. I was hoping my representative would still be there, but alas, he had bigger fish to fry that morning (and anyway, I got to see him again that day when I attended the Town Hall). Racing in the morning, politics in the evening: good times.

team! thank you, nice stranger, for this picture.

With some logistical changes, this race could be fantastic; minimally, I think better course markings would go a long way. I understand that politically, this was a huge event to coordinate, given it spanned two cities and a professional soccer league stadium, but it’s hard for me to enthusiastically support a race that’s run on city streets that aren’t (or seemingly aren’t) closed off. Again, there’s the possibility that the car I encountered was an anomaly, but it still makes me really nervous. I don’t need a race to charge me an exorbitant fee to participate just so I can get a shirt and a medal; frankly, if it’s up to me, I’d gladly take a race without those offerings, provided that I have the assurance of running on a closed-to-traffic course. (FWIW, this 10k was pretty inexpensive, maybe about $35). Regardless, I had a lot of fun on race morning, and I got the opportunity to race a distance that I haven’t done in many years now, so I’ve little to complain about. If I’m all about getting gritty in the spring, man alive is a 10k an excellent place to do it.

I likely won’t race another 10k until the Marin 10k, a PA race, over Memorial Day weekend. It’s probably good, too, because holy moly, this distance is tricky — or rather, let’s call it “calculated.” It’s got to be harder than HM effort, but not as redlining as 5k effort. You have to have the endurance to cover the distance, but the distance also necessitates a speed and effort that is just taxing as hell. It’s like you can’t allow yourself to get tired because, unlike 5ks, 10ks aren’t over “just in a few minutes” (seemingly). The speed and endurance combination is a fascinating duo to balance, but to me, as someone who is comfortable with the longer stuff, a 10k seems more “manageably difficult” than a 5k. Who knows, though; being nearly a week removed from the race, I might be needlessly romanticizing it and applying a hefty dose of revisionist history to it. Bottom line: 10ks are hard, and very fun, in a sick and twisted sort of way. By the time Marin rolls around, I’ll have already started SF training, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing what I can do in late May, on an also flat course, but with a faster field.

I’ve dedicated my winter training and my spring racing to getting acclimated, comfortable, or at least not fearful of the shorter stuff. While I maintain that this short stuff has me waving to my Comfort Zone or to my Happy Place from the other side of town, I can absolutely get a glimpse of what makes people of all paces gravitate towards these distances. I’m not ready to hang up my marathon shoes yet, but I think I will be a bit more inviting of these shorter/harder efforts sprinkled through my marathon training from now on.

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