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2017 Stow Lake Stampede (SF, CA) race report

2017 Stow Lake Stampede (SF, CA) race report

A couple weekends ago in late April, I revisited the 5k distance for the first time since the Brisbane Reach for a Star 5k. Just like RFAS, the Stow Lake Stampede was a 5k on the springtime PA circuit — basically meaning that it was a team-scored race, so it was rich with Wolfpack camaraderie — and as an added bonus, the race was in SF, in Golden Gate Park. I rarely venture up to SF to visit, let alone to race, and fortunately, after the morning’s race and warm-up/cool-down miles, I’d get to spend some long overdue QT with Erin and Foxy, neither of whom I had seen since Erin’s wedding two+ years ago. A little bit of running with some friend time all but promised that it’d be a good morning.

I decided to forgo a formal LR that week in the interest of trying to be “fresh” for race day, which seemed to be the right move. A hilly but relaxed 8 miler around my ‘hood/through ARP on Saturday was enough to satisfy the pre-race itch without leaving me feeling taxed, and come Sunday, I felt ready to roll. Plus, Saturday was Earth Day; you can’t not run around and appreciate our world on Earth Day.

Pre-race, a handful of teammates and I ran the course as a warm-up and tried to notice what we could about the course: any slight “hills,” where the turns and tangents were, any tricky footing, basically anything that could seem insurmountable when you’re trying to run hard and fast. The SLS course was (IMO) arguably a million times better than RFAS in that a) there were no parking lots; b) SL and GGP in general are both really pretty places to run; and c) there weren’t any crazy turns or out-and-backs. It didn’t seem as pancake-pancake flat as RFAS, but it also seemed flat enough. Combine the course advantages with some beautiful and great-for-racing weather, and the whole team camaraderie environment, and any nerves I had were quickly replaced by loads of buzzing excitement.

chosen family. (PC: Wolfpack Running Club)

I can’t say a whole lot about the actual race and scenery, not anything like I could for something longer, anyway, but the Impalas, the USATF PA team who organized the race, did a top-notch job with all the race details. Running the course as a warm-up was a smart move for all the obvious reasons, and I think it also helped make the race seem to go by faster because I knew exactly what to expect and where to expect it: where the cones were, where I should be cutting tangents, where the road might have been a little narrow, all those little details that you don’t want to be surprised by when you’re going hot and heavy. The course was simple: we ran up to the lake, we ran around it, and we ran back to the start/finish line. It couldn’t have been more straightforward; I’m pretty sure the mile markers couldn’t have been huger (seriously, they were on big-ass construction signs that you could probably see from space); and like RFAS, it was a fairly no-thrills environment but one that was incredibly conducive to fast times. It was awesome.

Immediately after the start, I noticed Impala friend Robin (fresh off an impressive Boston in unforgiving conditions) spectating, as well as a few of my teammates, all eagerly hooting and hollering. Just like at RFAS, my teammates Claire, Sam, and I ran together for a lot of the race more or less in a pack, and dear lord — I can’t say enough about how driving compelling motivating awesome it is to race in such close proximity with teammates. We came through the first mile within paces of each other — Claire, me, Sam — and basically stayed this way for the duration of the race. Being with my teammates, combined with that whole notion of starting at yes thing that I talked about before, led me to feel like I was running footloose and fancy free, not at all anxious about the all-but-promised redline that I’d surely soon be riding. Being with my team, matching their paces, instead made me feel, or reminded me, that I had every reason to be running how I was, where I was, and that the best thing I could do in that race, in those moments, was to get outside my own head and just fucking run.

Let me tell you: it was liberating.

pack running. (PC: Wolfpack Running Club)

One of the last things Wolfpack leader, coach extraordinaire, and amazing human being Lisa told us before we began was to relax in the first mile and have fun; in the second mile to hold steady before we made a move; and in the third mile, to PUSH and pass evvvvvvveryone. While I can’t say that I followed her plan as prescribed, I will say that I never felt stronger or more comfortable in a 5k in my life. Claire, Sam, and I were close to each other through the first mile; we got a little spaced out in the second; and by the time we were in the third mile, I saw another (male) teammate ahead of me whose presence helped me close as hard as I could and finish with whatever I had left.

around mile 2 circling Stow Lake. Everyone was cheering for the Impala runner E-R in front of me, so I’d spell out I-N under my breath and convince myself they were cheering for me, too, because I am the coolest! (PC: Impalas)


finishing the thing and holy crap, pony for dayz! (PC: Wolfpack Running Club)

While I wasn’t clock-watching during the race, I’d try to catch my splits when my watch beeped, but I didn’t really have much of an idea about what my total time would be. Imagine my surprise, then, when at the finish line, I learned I posted 19:40 — a 15 second 5k PR from RFAS about a month earlier. (!!!!!!!) I finished the race floored — like beyond belief, did my body actually just do that? floored — but like any endurance athlete, my first thought of “wow that was kinda tough” was quickly replaced by “but I know I can do better.” Gauntlet thrown, self. Apparently, we’ve got some work to do. 

Post-race, my teammates Melissa, Gregg, and I ran around GGP for a bit, and then I met up with Erin and Foxy for brunch where I basically left feeling hoarse from running my mouth for an hour+ straight and with a sore face from smiling so much and so hard. Again: it was a good morning.

If you’re local, and especially if you’re on a PA team, I’d definitely encourage you to register for Stow Lake. It’s inexpensive; the course is fast and certified; the post-race finish area had a ton of food (including ice cream, which I somehow missed — blasphemy, I know); and I think I have yet to find someone who doesn’t love running in SF or in GGP. I’m looking forward to this one again next year.

Stow Lake Stampede was my only race in April, a bit of a break after racing nearly every weekend in March, and it was a great way to ease into SF Marathon training. The next time I’ll be circling Stow Lake will be during the back half of the marathon course, so in the next few months, I’ll have to hone my Jedi mind tricks to pull from my strength I felt during the 5k. Can’t wait! 

Start at yes

Start at yes

In my first job out of undergrad, I was working as a full-time staff member at a small liberal arts college. To put it simply, I basically spent my days (and many, many nights) working with college students and helped them navigate college life. It was a fantastic first job — really hard at times, but also really rewarding — and I got super lucky because I worked with some fantastic human beings, college students and professionals alike.


Just some of my great colleagues. #tbt – this was 10+ years ago!
More good souls. (We usually didn’t wear matching clothes — with puffy paint on it, no less. Mine says “I love my marathoner body” or something like that. My colleagues made it for me at a feminist student group’s body image/body awareness meeting).

Arguably one of those very influential and fantastic human beings with whom I had the pleasure of working was my dean of students. In the small college world, or at least at this particular small college, the dean of students was the “big boss” to everyone in student affairs, so while I didn’t report directly to her, my bosses did, and she relied on us minions to find out what was going on in the trenches. The college students clearly respected her not only because she was all business but also because she made it clear, through her actions and her words, that whatever decision she made was for the good of the college and thus, the students. Students routinely attended her open office hours each week, and they always did, evidenced by the queue that always flowed out of her office. Students knew that they could talk to her and, maybe more importantly, that she would listen.   

Even though I’ve been many years removed from working at this particular college, I’ve been thinking about my former dean pretty frequently lately. I remember a very long staff meeting — in student affairs, we liked to “process” everything, so big staff meetings often took veritable eons — and when one of my colleagues talked about some ridiculous request or inquiry a student had thrown out, my dean quickly reminded us that it behooves us — when engaging with our students, when we are listening to their grandiose and likely improbable ideas, when we are in the throes of a disciplinary meeting with them for some drug or alcohol infraction, or shoot, even when we’re trying to navigate an unreal roommate conflict that has escalated to us (and/or has gotten parents involved — yup, that happens in college) — to start at yes.

Starting at yes, my dean explained, in effect allowed us to convey to our students that we were actually listening to them, that their thoughts and opinions were worthwhile, and that we weren’t just another naysayer in the students’ lives, shooting them down and telling them that whatever they had to offer wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t so much a matter of coddling the students or being yet another helicopter authority figure in the students’ lives. Instead, I interpreted “starting at yes” as being equal parts “be a good human” (i.e. it’s kinda a dick move to not even give another human the time of day for a few minutes, when that person has obviously mustered up the wherewithal to tell you something that he/she feels is of value) and “grant this person the permission to try” (i.e. if every other person has naysayed this student, you being the one who will actually listen can make a difference in the student’s life).

I’ve been thinking about my dean and her idea of “starting at yes” of late because the more I think about it, the more seemingly ensconced the idea is in running. There is no shortage of running-related “inspiration” and “motivation” percolating in the interwebs, but while the “rah rah you can do it believe and achieve!!” stuff may be helpful, at times, I think many of us are more likely to struggle with the idea that we should — that we ought to — grant ourselves permission to try, and possibly fail.

The hell am I talking about?

In running, many of us, myself included, often associate some degree of success in a race or in a training plan to a number we may or may not hit; this, of course, can include stats like how many miles per week/month/cycle/year we run, the times we post in a targeted race (and whether those are PRs and/or how well or maligned they compare to existing PRs), or even the paces that we target (and how well or how poorly we hit them) in our toughest workouts. Naturally, we can always say that we can measure our running “success” by other, perhaps less-easily-quantifiable measures, but for a lot of runners, at least in some point in their running career, the time on the clock supersedes just about everything else.

However, many of us will often see a tough workout staring us down in the morning — or think about a target race, where we’re going to try to hold a seemingly impossible pace for a seemingly impossibly long period of time — and we fall into this miasma of despair and self doubt. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that we’ve been training well, that we’ve been feeling stronger than ever, or that we know we’re fit. Instead, we convince ourselves that oh shit there’s no way that I can hold X pace for Y amount of time, and we mentally shut our shit down before we even take our first step.

Disclaimer: I’m no coach or psychologist, but I can’t possibly imagine that going into a key something or other — workout, race, pick your poison here — feeling already mentally defeated will, in any way, do anything positive for our running performance.

I’ve been there before and fairly recently, in fact. A vivid memory that stands out was from my Oakland ‘14 training. I completely bailed on a tempo run (for those playing along at home, it was the classic Pfitz 12 with 7 at 15kRP or HMRP tempo) before I even began it because I had all but lost my mind over holding tempo pace — then, 7:1x, maybe 7:2x — for 7 miles out of a 12 mile run. I didn’t even begin the workout, never even took a step, literally (and I do mean literally) never got past my front door before I had already beaten myself, mentally, to a pulp. I ended up not running that day and was pissed about it — my window of opportunity that day gone because I had squandered it on self-doubt. Granted, I’m not saying that had I had a more sunny disposition about this workout that it would have gone over swimmingly. What sucks is that I willingly undermined myself and convinced myself that there was no way that I could hit those paces or anything remotely close to them, so trying would just be entirely futile. I didn’t give myself the permission to try or to fail. Start at yes? Eff that – I started at absolutely not a chance in hell.

I think my dean’s idea of starting at yes is resonating more with me now, than ever before, because I’m beginning to feel like my running is turning a corner. The nebulous “things” have been feeling very comfortable and smooth, and I’ve been producing in training and in races control, confidence, and speed that would have been ridiculously implausible to me not that long ago. Don’t get me wrong, Hoka or the Olympics aren’t beating down my door, but what I’ve been producing for me is fairly surprising (and also really exciting, I won’t lie!). It’s weird, really, because I feel like I’ve gotten less obsequious with my watch — as most of us would probably stand to benefit from doing — and this new-found emancipation is serving me quite well. When I’m staring down a hard workout or a race, where I want to perform at my very best, I’m no longer going into it thinking efffffffffffff this is gonna be impossible, questioning my life choices, and instead, I have grown more receptive to simply showing up, granting myself permission to try my hardest that I can in that moment (and possibly even failing, and unabashedly so), and just rolling with it. I’m seeing that just starting at yes — not hemming and hawing about it, thinking BS along the lines of oh, well, maybe, we’ll see, this will probably be really tough and I’ll probably keel and this is probably the worst idea ever — is probably one of the better things I’ve done for my running in a very long time.   

Simply stated: in running — as in basically every other area of life — you don’t know what you can or can’t do unless you (give yourself the permission to) try.