Race Recap: 5K on the Bay

10K Logo 2014 a10K on the Bay” 5K run/walk
Aug. 24, 2014
Hayward, CA

I’ve been itching to run a 5K for a few months now, and when RC and LJ expressed some interest in running this particular race, I said, “Sign me up!”  Heading into race day, I was unsure of how things would go, considering that I hadn’t done any speed work in 4+ months, nor had I run faster than 11:00/mile in the past couple of weeks.  Would my legs even remember how to turnover faster, and how would my lungs respond to the effort?  I decided that trying for any particular time goal was an exercise in folly.  Upon seeing last year’s modest results, I thought there was a good chance that I could at least finish in the top 3 of my age group, and maybe even top 3 women if I was lucky (i.e., depending on who else showed up).  Therefore, my strategy was to run a race and not a time trial.  Following this timely article by Lauren Fleshman, I’d run the 1st mile with my brain, the 2nd mile with focus, and the last mile with heart.  In her words:

In the first mile, you can’t let any emotion or excitement in at all. Start with a pace you are confident you can maintain and then relax a little bit more. Until you see that one mile marker, all you are allowed to think about is running smart. From 1-2 miles, focus on maintaining your form and start to look around you, taking a survey of which runners around you probably went out too hard, and which ones you should make your prey in the third mile. You are taking some time to strategize for the big battle, and you aren’t allowed to draw your sword until you pass the 2mile marker! The last mile, start to pick off your victims, and allow your mind to feel gratitude for how powerful and strong your body is. As soon as you can see that finish line, pretend you are Meb running down Boylston St in front of all of America and run with passion, tall and proud!

One of the best parts about a 5K? No muss, no fuss.  I didn’t have to worry about eating breakfast, how much fuel to bring and where I’d stash it, whether I’d chafe, etc.  Even the day before the race, I found myself thinking, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t do/eat/drink X, Y, or Z” and then realize that I was running a 5K, not a marathon or even a half.  I kinda went overboard a little on Saturday, though, hiking 8.5 miles with Jane, eating pizza and drinking my first Pimm’s cup with my Ragnar Napa team, and eating and drinking some more at my friend DR’s birthday party.  The two things that I did right were to hydrate properly and go to sleep early.

I woke up at a relatively normal time of 6:50 a.m. and got to the race without any complications.  After warming up with dynamic drills and about 15-20 minutes of jogging, I met up with RC and LJ and we chatted while waiting for the start.  The weather was warm — I wasn’t the least bit chilly in my tank top and shorts, but I was thankful that it was overcast at least.

This is a small, local race, with the more serious runners entered into the 10K.  Looking around and assessing my fellow runners, I felt okay lined up about 3-4 rows back from the start line, with a few faster-looking women ahead of me.  I didn’t want to be too far behind because the trails were only about 5-6 people wide and I didn’t want to get stuck behind any walkers.  At 8:29, one minute before the race was supposed to start, the Ford Timing guy came out to set up the start mat, which he did in an impressively quick fashion.  At ~8:34, the horn sounded and the runners surged forward, being careful to duck under the “5K start” sign that was set up about 5’6″ off the ground.  Just one of the many charms of a small charity race. :)

I wish I took this while people were actually standing there, so you could see how short this sign was.

I wish I took this while people were actually standing there, so you could see how low this sign was.

The Race:
I charged off with everyone else, and just as Lauren Fleshman warned against, I let my emotions and the excitement take hold of me for about 2 minutes.  I looked down at my Garmin and saw 7:xx mile pace.  Holy crap, definitely too fast!  I focused on the couple of women directly ahead of me running with good form and relaxed into their pace.  It seems that we all started out too quickly, but then we settled into a much more reasonable pace by the end of that 1st mile, which I clocked at 8:35 (avg HR 159, max 171).

For most of the 2nd mile, I slipped behind a woman wearing a pink jacket.  I’ll call her the pink jacket lady or PJL for short.  (Creative, I know.)  I had underestimated PJL due to the amount of clothing she was wearing in such mild conditions — a jacket over a running shirt up top and capris on the bottom — but she ended up being a very solid runner.  Since I was hoping to recover a little from the first mile, I settled behind her and we fell in step.  I confess, I drafted off of her tiny 5′ frame for almost a mile and didn’t return the favor.  I finished the 2nd mile in a more relaxed 9:01 (avg 169, max 172).

I purposely ran a little more conservatively in the 2nd mile so that I could turn it up in the last mile to see how many people I could pass.  PJL was my first target, whom I passed easily.  Next, I overtook a small boy who stopped at the water station.  Rookie.  Then I passed a woman who had been 20-30 feet ahead of me the whole time, followed by 2 men and another little boy (where do these speedy little boys come from??).  At that point, I asked myself whether I was satisfied with my progress — i.e., should I step off the gas or keep going?  Partially out of fear that the people I passed would over take me, I kept my foot on full throttle.  The nice thing about this course is that it’s super duper flat.  The bad thing is that you can see the finish line from more than a mile away AND you have to duck under the 5K Start sign on your way to the finish.  I kept focusing on getting closer and closer to that finish line, when I found myself catching up to 2 more people, a guy and a girl and overtook them as well.  However, the guy wouldn’t give up and I kept leap-frogging with him.  Every time I passed him, I overheard him joking around with the girl behind me (the last woman I had passed).  Even though I was definitely struggling, the threat of them overtaking me was enough to keep me going.  I finished the 3rd mile in 8:27 (avg 194, max 209) and ran the last 0.17 mile in an 8:01 pace (avg 203, max 209).

I deliriously ran/walked through the chute, where gracious volunteers cut the timing chip off my shoe and handed me water, fruit, and a finisher’s certificate.  I made it back to the finish line in time to take photos of RC and LJ finishing, and grabbed some more food including a yummy peach donated by a local farm.  We got our free cotton race t-shirts and I said good-bye to RC and LJ.  I thought about waiting around to see a couple of friends to finish the 10K and for the awards ceremony at 10am, since I was curious about whether I had placed in my age group.  However, that would have been another 30 minutes of hanging around by myself so I decided to jog back to the car and head home.

Way to out-kick that teenager, RC!

Way to out-kick that young whipper-snapper, RC!

Like I said, where do these speedy little boys come from??  LJ has to beat this one off with some last minute hustle.

Like I said, where do these speedy little boys come from?? LJ has to beat this kid with some last-minute hustle.

A couple of hours later, the results were posted online.  I was very happy to see that I had come in 3rd in my age group, and that the last woman I passed in the race was in my age group — meaning I beat her for 3rd.  Sweet!!  It was a very rewarding feeling, because I often ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Does this even matter?” — especially at the end of a race.  Usually, it doesn’t matter, but occasionally it does, even if it’s just a matter of pride and nothing else.  I learned that I may not be as fit as I was 9 months ago, but my racing game is definitely sharper than it used to be.  I also realized how fun a 5K can be — yes, it’s painful, but they’re short, require less preparation and planning, are much cheaper, and involve very little to no recovery.

Official results:
time: 27:23 (8:51/mile)
3/35 AG (30-39), 8/120 females, 28/198 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center
  • Cost: $30 in advance, $35 day of.
  • Course: Very flat, gravel/dirt trails.  Right by the Bay, so wind might be an issue.
  • Parking: No parking at the start/finish.  Free parking was available about 0.5 miles down the road at a business park.  They were running van/shuttles, but most people chose to walk.
  • Aid stations: 1 water stop for the 5K that we passed twice.
  • Bathrooms:  I saw about 6 porta potties but there might have been more.  I didn’t need to use them at all (yay for 5Ks!).
  • Swag:  Cotton t-shirt and finisher’s certificate with a commemorative Hayward Parks pin.
  • Post-race food and drinks: Water in compostable cups, fruit, trail mix, and chocolate milk.
  • Other notes/summary:  Since this race benefits the Hayward Shoreline and the Bay Trail, and because I run there so often, I was happy to take part of this event and make a small donation.
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Random Things Thursday

I have a bunch of random thoughts floating around in my head, so I thought I’d unleash them all in the form of a blog post!  Lucky you!

Random thought #1:  MAF long runs are harder than I expected.  Why? Well, primarily because of cardiac drift — i.e., the longer the run, the harder the heart works to maintain the same effort… which means I have to slow down over the course of the run to prevent my heart rate (HR) from exceeding the max aerobic target.  Over the course of an 1 hour run, this isn’t too difficult, but I’ve found in my longer runs of 1:45-2:00, it’s a bit of a challenge.  So much so that today, I had to slow down to 13:00-14:30/mile paces (!!) for the last 2 miles.

Here are some of the stats comparing the long run I did this past Saturday to the one I did today.  I tried to keep the first 2 miles below 128 and 133, respectively, run most of the miles at a target max HR of 138, and then drop the last mile down to 133.

MAF long runs

Heat is another issue.  See that spike between miles 6 & 7 on 8/16 and the one between miles 5 & 6 today?  That was pretty much when the sun came out and the temperature felt like it spiked 10 degrees in a matter of minutes.  I know that I should be patient, that building an aerobic base takes time, and that I’ve only been doing this for 2 weeks, BUT…I wish I could see at least some improvement.  On the bright side — I’m now able to run 9 miles continuously without significant pain, which is something I haven’t been able to say for a while, so at least there’s that. #glasshalffull

Random thought #2: I was a lot more fit last year, at least according to my HR data.  I went back into my Garmin archives to look for HR data from last year, when I was using the chest strap HRM.  I wore it for the first two 20-milers during MCM training and my HR stayed well below 138 for a majority of both runs while averaging ~10:45/mile.  Instead of feeling bad about my current state of inferior fitness, I’m trying to stay positive and concentrate on the fact that I can and will regain that fitness eventually… and hopefully, I’ll exceed it this time around!

Random thought #3: Larisa Dannis is my (MAF training) hero.  Larisa Dannis is an elite runner who came in 2nd female at this year’s Western States 100 and stayed within the aerobic zone for the whole frickin’ race.  Up until 4 years ago, Larisa was a “just” a hiker.  Since taking to ultramarathoning in 2010, she’s had incredible success at races, including 1st female at the 2013 Vermont 100 miler, 1st non-elite female at the 2014 Boston Marathon, and 1st OVERALL at the 2014 Peak Ultra 33.4 mile race.  Not only is she an amazing athlete, but I challenge you to watch this interview and not conclude that she is also extremely likeable, positive, and humble.  Most of all, her passion for running is infectious.  She credits MAF training, in addition to regular strength training and myofascial massage (i.e., rolling) for her success.  If you can’t tell, I’ve become quite a Larisa Dannis fan girl!  Shout-out to Mike, who was the one who tipped me off about Larisa’s HR training and Western States success.

Random (non-MAF-related) thought #4: Good luck to those racing this weekend, especially Angela and Amy at the Santa Rosa Marathon! Kick some ass-phalt!!


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Book Review: Anatomy for Runners (plus quick training update!)

Howdy friends! I promised a while back to review Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry, so here I am to make good on my promise.
Anatomy for RunnersFull Title: Anatomy for Runners: Unlocking Your Athletic Potential for Health, Speed, and Injury Prevention. 

About the author: Jay Dicharry is a certified physical therapist and expert in sports biomechanics.  Formerly the Director of the SPEED clinic at the University of Virginia, he is now the Director at REP in Oregon and assists with the training of elite athletes such as ultrarunner Max King, NCAA champion Lauren Fleshmen, and triathlete Jesse Thomas.  So, basically, this guy knows what he’s talking about.

About the book: The book is divided into 2 major sections.  The first section discusses the science and theory behind running anatomy, mechanics, and form.  The second part includes a quick test to assess strengths and weakness, followed by recommended exercises for the parts that you “failed”.  It’s a very quick read; I finished it in 2-3 days, but will likely re-read more than once.

Recommended audience: Injured runners, runnerds who love learning about all things running, runners who sense they could be stronger, and runners who are interested in injury prevention. 

Craziest fact I learned while reading this book: To truly elongate tissue/muscle, you need to strech 3-5 minutes a day for 10-12 weeks!!  The good news is that, for running, you don’t necessarily want all of your muscles to be that elongated.  The hamstring and achilles tendon/lower calf are the most crucial for proper range of motion.

Things I liked about this book: Dicharry does a good job of making some very dry subjects, such as anatomy and biomechanics, somewhat interesting.  He writes in a very straightforward and occasionally irreverent tone, which I found enjoyable.  The assessment was useful in identifying weakness — some I knew I had (single leg squats), and others I didn’t realize (bridges).  The recommended exercises build on each other to make sure the fundamentals are there before getting to the more advanced exercises.

Things I did not like about this book:  The section of recommended exercises is very disorganized.  While there is a useful table identifying which exercises are recommended for particular weaknesses, the exercises themselves are not organized in any discernible fashion.  I’ve had to flip through the book many times to find the exercise I was looking for.   Then, when the prescribed exercise is finally located, it may or may not be described very well.  Some of the exercises have great photos, exact descriptions, and recommended reps/sets.  However, there are also quite a few exercises where there is one semi-informative photo, vague instructions, and no details regarding how many reps to do.  Finally, it’s strange to me that a book like this does not have an index.  It makes it extremely difficult to look things up, obviously. 

Bottom line: Despite its faults, I recommend this book.  I found it informative, interesting, and useful in identifying parts of my body that needed work.  It’s also an economical way for injured runners to help themselves.


Quick training update!  MAF training continues.  Last week, I ran 22 miles (very slowly), swam 1400 yds, and did my strengthening routine (clamshells, etc.) 3 times.  My hips feel good (knock on wood), though my low back is still kinda achey for unknown reasons. 

Even though I’m not supposed to race during MAF training, I couldn’t help but sign up for a local 5K.  Looking at last year’s results, I stand a good chance of placing in my age group even if I don’t run anywhere close to my PR.  Actually, my PR would’ve gotten me 3rd overall woman, so that’s an exciting prospect.  Anyway, it should be a fun (though painful!) race, especially since RC and LJ are running it too. 

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The MAF Experiment

After completing the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon (SF1HM), I asked myself, “What’s next?”  Besides Ragnar Napa in mid-September, which I intend to run just for fun, I don’t have any goal races on the calendar…which is just as well considering my gimpy state.  Even though I managed to run most of SF1HM, surprising even myself, I knew that the run-walk strategy was just a band-aid to complete the race and not the way I wanted to continue training.  I wondered what would be the best way to ease back into running and rebuild my running base?

Enter: Maximum Aerobic Fitness (MAF) training, a.k.a. low heart rate training (LHRT).  The concept of MAF training was first introduced by Dr. Phil Maffetone, who, while working with elite endurance athletes — the most famous of which was 6-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen — came up with a method that uses low HR to optimize aerobic fitness.  The basic idea is to only train in the “aerobic” zone for an extended period of time (~12 weeks) in order to build a base, upon which one can then train anaerobically (e.g., speed/track work).  The general argument is that most runners veer into anaerobic territory during easy runs, preventing them from effectively building an aerobic base.  (For more information, this document by Dr. Maffetone describes the basis of MAF training and how to execute it.)

I’ve written before about using heart rate monitors (HRMs), but the chest strap always bothered me (at best) and chafed me (at worst).  Plus I always got weird HR spikes at the start of my run.  I’d describe my previous experience with the Garmin HRM as very frustrating and occasionally painful.  When I recently found out about the Mio Link, a HRM you can wear like a wrist watch, my interest was immediately piqued.  After consulting a few online reviews and getting good feedback from Kimra, I ordered one from REI.  I’ve used it 3 times and so far, so good!  It’s not perfect, but it’s been much less frustrating compared to the chest strap.  And best of all?  No chafing!  I’ll write a more in-depth review after using it for a few more weeks.

Looking super cool with not one, but two huge devices on my wrist.

Looking super cool with not one, but two huge devices on my wrist.

Anyway, so one of the reasons I was originally turned off by HR training was the HRM itself.  Now that I had the Mio Link, the (HR training) world was my oyster!  Why was I drawn to MAF training?  Well, I first heard about it from blogger Miss Zippy, who chronicled her generally positive experience with MAF training last year.  Also, this post from a LHRT forum on RunningAhead gets to the heart of why I wanted to give MAF training a try (some editing by me):

1. What might indicate that I could really use some low heart rate training?
You have poor aerobic fitness, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t a good or a fast runner. You can be running 2:45 marathons and have poor aerobic fitness (which means perhaps you’re capable of 2:15 or faster marathons and hence you can probably run a 5k in about 14 minutes). Maybe you run a 20 minute 5k, but a 4 hour marathon. Here are some possible indicators:
a. There is no pace “relationship” between your shorter distance races and your longer distance ones. What does this mean? There’s a good explanation in Hadd’s article below, but there are some rules of thumb to the effect that, if you assume you are properly trained for the distances you are racing, your pace will decrease by the same amount, each time you double the distance of your race, usually somewhere between 12 and 16 seconds, depending probably on genetics. Therefore, on the lower end, one who runs 5 miles at an 8 min/mi pace would run 10 miles at 8:16/mile, and 20 miles at 8:32/mile. The relationship may degrade some, particularly as the distances get longer in between (say 5k to marathon, or even half to marathon), but you should still see a relationship. If the math is getting too messy for you, you can use a common pace calculator, such as that at McMillan Running and see whether your short distance times project out to long distances. If your marathon is more than 20 minutes slower than what your half predicts, then there’s a good chance you have an aerobic problem, assuming (1) you completed a full training program for the marathon and (2) the marathon was not in abnormally high heat and/or humidity or had other significant environmental factors…
c. You always burn out somewhere between mile 16 and 22 in a marathon, no matter how much carbohydrate you take in.
d. You have difficulty completing your long training runs and your pace slows down in the last several miles, just in order to finish them…
f. You are sore most of the time and possibly plagued by minor injuries frequently, or you get sick quite often…
h. You are very reliant on carbohydrates to get you through training runs.

Re: point a — McMillan predicts that I should be able to run a sub 4:10 marathon, but my PR is 4:32.  All of my shorter race times line up, from 5K up to half marathon, and the marathon is the one outlier.  Yeah, I ran two very hilly marathons this year, but I still think I underperformed at MCM last fall.  Was it due to a poor aerobic base?  Maybe, maybe not.   Another pace-based argument is that my “easy” pace has not gotten faster over the past 2 years of dedicated running, despite my 5K to half marathon PRs falling substantially.  I should point out that MAF training is geared mostly towards longer events, like the marathon.  The thought is that you can get by shorter events with an inefficient aerobic base.  However, since I’d like to eventually return to marathons (or longer), building a solid aerobic base is fundamental.

What are the purported benefits of MAF training? Again, from RunningAhead:

3. What benefits might I reap from low HR training?
a. You’ll train your body to use fat for fuel at a reasonably fast running pace (reasonably fast means different things to different people). With enough of this training, this means that you can preserve your precious carbohydrate stores throughout very long races. You can avoid “the wall” and “bonking” in marathons and longer races.
b. Running at a much lower level of effort, aerobically, will be much less taxing on your body, even if you end up as fast as or faster than your original training pace.
c. You will strengthen your legs and hips tremendously.
d. You will be adding an additional fuel tank that you didn’t realize that you had.
e. You will develop significant aerobic speed, which means you may reach speeds that you were doing before low HR training at very high level of effort, with ease.
f. You will eliminate as strong of a reliance on carbs during most races, and certainly training runs.

I’ve also read that, because you tap into fat-burning more efficiently with MAF training (and consuming less fuel on long runs), most people lose a considerable amount of weight with this method.   There’s also quite a bit of anecdotal evidence on the interwebs of MAF success stories (examples here, here, and here).  Maybe it’s my science background, but I enjoy being a one-woman experiment when it comes to running.  And y’all know that I love my numbers/data.  Thus, since I don’t have any goal races coming up and because I’m coming back from injury anyway, I figured, what do I have to lose by giving this a try?

Before I go tell you how week 1 went, let’s discuss the downsides of MAF training.  The biggest one is that it requires very slow running, usually on the order of 1-3 minutes slower than your current easy pace.  Why so slow?  The point is to guarantee that you’re only working your aerobic system and not crossing into anaerobic territory.  The slow running can get boring, but it also means missing out on social runs with running buddies and less racing.  (Technically, you’re not supposed to race at all, but I’m willing to break a few rules.)  Second, I find the “180 formula” (see below) sort of arbitrary, but I’ll give it a shot and see what happens.  Third, always having to wear a HRM (and Garmin) means that you become dependent on these gadgets and can never go on a “naked” (tech-free) run.  And finally, it forces you to focus on your HR and not on how you feel, which can also be annoying.

After 3 LHR runs this week, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how these cons haven’t bothered me at all.  The slow running has actually been nice, because unlike a typical “slog”, where I usually shuffle along, I’ve been focused on running slowly with good form, which in turn has been better for my “injuries”.  In fact, I’ve felt really great after all 3 LHR runs this week —  no aches or pains to speak of, which is something I haven’t been able to say in months.  I’ve also found concentrating on HR instead of pace to be less stressful and more purposeful.  I think that’s due to me associating pace with performance/fitness, whereas HR is more abstract in my mind.

Anyway! So what are LHR runs like?  My goal max HR is 138 (180 – 37 {my age} – 5 {recent injuries/fitness loss}).  For any run, the goal is to warm-up for 12-15 minutes at max minus 10, so my warm-up target HR is 128.  Then, I run as close to max HR as possible without going over, and finish by cooling down for 12-15 minutes, which means ramping back down to 128.  I haven’t been great about cooling down because I never think that far ahead, but otherwise my runs have gone as planned.  As predicted, my pace at max HR is slow — usually between 11-12 minutes/mile.  The funny and surprising thing is that I feel like I’m working quite hard despite the slower pace.

Today, I did my first MAF test, which is suggested every 4 weeks to monitor aerobic fitness and progress.  It’s recommended that the test be done on a flat course with as few variables as possible, so I went to the Hayward Shoreline, which has almost 0 elevation change.  The test is comprised of a long warm-up at HR of 128 (I did 2 miles), 1-5 miles at max HR (I did 4), and cool-down (1 mile).  The numbers:

Warm-up miles: 12:32 (HR: 123) and 12:23 (129). Cool-down mile: 13:03 (134).

Test miles and HRs:
1 – 11:23 (135)
2 – 11:37 (137)
3 – 11:43 (137)
4 – 12:01 (137)
Avg: 11:41 (137)

The first test serves as a baseline rather than as an indicator or assay.  I won’t know until the next test whether MAF training is working, but I’m really curious to see how it goes (or doesn’t)!

And because this has been a super runnerd geeky post, here’s a photo of our new cat, Puff Daddy:




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Race Recap: San Francisco 1st Half Marathon

Why I wanted to run this race:  I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks or race medals, but for some reason, the “Half It All” challenge really spoke to me.  Basically, the challenge is to run both SF half marathons in consecutive years, and upon completion, you will be rewarded with a huge spinning/double-sided medal.  Sold!  Oh, and I was also given a $20 off discount code as a consolation prize for failing to be selected as a race ambassador.  Y’all know that I love me some discounted race entries!

Race goals/strategies/expectations:  Discussed previously, my goals were to do run/walk intervals, not hurt myself further, and hopefully finish under 2:30.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. on race day, which is crazy early.  However, after the Big Sur Marathon, anything later than a 2:55 a.m. wake-up call seems luxurious.  After getting dressed and putting together a PB&J sandwich, I hit the road at 4:30 to meet up with KP and her buddies in Emeryville to carpool into the city together.  Between the 7 of us, we reserved 2 parking spaces through GottaPark, which I’d really recommend (again) if you decide to drive to the race.  In my car were TG, ML, and M’s friend (whose name I can’t recall).  Even though we just met, we instantly bonded over running stories as we drove over the Bay Bridge into SF.

Something about racing in San Francisco seems to catch me off guard, because I don’t plan to arrive with as much time to spare as I usually do pre-race (see: Kaiser).  The parking garage where I had reserved a spot was 95% full, so I parked in a sort of sketchy parking space and prayed that I wouldn’t get towed. (I didn’t.)  We also didn’t realize how far the garage was from the start — a good 1.3 miles, probably!

As we got closer to the start line, I got my drop bag ready to go, since we were cutting it very close.  We hit the Embarcadero and jogged towards the porta potties.  I was dismayed to see only ~10 porta potties with 50-100 people in line.  After a quick self-evaluation, I came to the realization that nature wasn’t calling (to my surprise!), so I bid my new friends good luck, turned around, and jogged toward the bag drop.  At this point, it was very close to the starting time for Wave 4 (5:52 a.m.), but I had already resigned myself to missing it and starting with Wave 5.  After dropping off my bag, I found out that the start times were a bit delayed, and Wave 4 hadn’t left yet.  Unlike SF2HM, which had very informal wave starts, they were actually checking bibs at each corral before they would let you into the wave.  Knowing that I’d be doing a run/walk, I settled into the way back of the wave and waited about 2 minutes before the official start, which happened at ~6:00 a.m.  The other thing to note was that, despite the early hour, I wasn’t the least bit cold in a tank top and shorts.  I could tell it was going to be hot one, and I hoped that it would stay overcast for as long as possible.

Gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge just before sunrise.

Gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge just before sunrise.

The Race:
Just a refresher on the course and elevation profile:

Miles 1-3: Approximate splits, due to my laps based on run/walk intervals: 10:30, 10:50, 11:10.
I felt really good at the start, so it was difficult for me to rein it in and stick to my plan of 3:1 run/walk intervals.  To my surprise, I kept leapfrogging with several runners, and eventually passed them even though I was run/walking.  It was cool to run through the normally tourist-packed areas of Pier 39 and Ghiradelli square in the quiet of an early Sunday morning.  We hit the first little hill going up to Fort Mason and I stopped to take a pretty photo of the sunrise.

Had to stop at the top of the hill to take a photo of this breathtaking scene.

Had to stop at the top of the hill to take a photo of this breathtaking scene.

Miles 4-9: 9:45, 10:45, 11:40 (photo time!), 10:03, 10:47, 10:19.
I was still feeling strong, so I began clipping my walk breaks shorter by 10 seconds (on either side of my Garmin beeping).  I took a Gu around mile 4.5, knowing that there was a water stop somewhere after mile 5.

One of the major perks of SF1HM: free race pics!

One of the major perks of SF1HM: free race pics!  Can you tell how humid and hot it was by the puddles of sweat on my collarbone?

First views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

First views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Running up the hill to Golden Gate Bridge, I heard a familiar voice and saw KP, who was running the full marathon.  She was running a little too fast for me, so after a few minutes of chitchat, I decided to drop back and do a walk interval.  By this point, my intervals were getting a little mixed up, since I’d delay the walk interval at water stops or start them earlier at a big hill.  Once I was on the GGB, it was so crowded that I found it difficult to take walk breaks.  When I did, I’d scoot over to the right and slow down gradually to a walk.  I’d also turn around and make sure runners weren’t using the right side as a passing lane.  If they were, I’d raise my hand and say, “Walking!”

One of many photos I took while running on the GGB.

One of many photos I took while running on the GGB.

It was really fun to run on the GGB, and I was glad to have a relatively clear view of the Bay and the SF skyline, even if the trade-off was no fog and warmer temps.   I took a million photos while on the Bridge, and when I got to the turn around, I tried to take a panoramic of the scene with my iPhone (it worked, sort of).  I was so wrapped up in taking the picture that I accidentally skipped the free Gu.  Oops.  Good thing I brought my own.

Handstitched panoramic -- because I haven't figured out how to do that on my phone just yet.

Handstitched panoramic — because I haven’t figured out how to do that on my iPhone just yet.

Running back towards SF on the Bridge was less wonderous and more, “Let’s get this thing over with.”  I kept up a decent pace and decided to do more running and less walking.  I took another Gu between the GGB and the Presidio.

Coming off the GGB (I think?)

Coming off the GGB (I think?)

Race photo rules #23: there always has to be at least one photo where I have a packet of Gu in my hand.

Race photo rule #23: there always has to be at least one photo where I have a packet of Gu in my hand.

Miles 10-13.1: 10:56, 10:09, 11:15, 9:51, 2:36 (for 0.26 mi)
I knew that there were some tough hills in this last portion of the race, so I just took it one mile at a time.  I think this was the first time during a half marathon where I’ve gotten to mile 10 and was actually excited and happy about it, instead of a feeling of complete despair. (This is usually the point where I really wish I was running a 10 miler instead of a half marathon!)  Moreover, I felt so relieved to have made it to the 10th mile without hobbling or pain.  I was going to be able to run the rest of this thing!  Well, I ended up walking up a few of the hills, but you know what I mean.

I didn’t get the dreaded “thoughts of doom and despair” until the last mile of the race.  I was approaching Golden Gate Park and my legs were feeling the effects of the rolling hills, and also from not having run more than 10 miles in many months.  I was determined, however, to run the last mile without stopping.  So, fighting all of the demons in my mind and the aching in my legs, I pushed through the last part of the course.  I even summoned enough energy to pass a few people at the end, finishing in 2:20:34.



I picked up my finisher’s medal, heat sheet, and box of water (yes, this is a thing now) and headed to the Race Challenges tent to get my Half It All medal.  Then I went and got some food (banana, lemon poppy seed muffin) and the best Irish coffee I’ve ever had in my life.  I sat and stretched near the Rose Garden and finished my food and drinks before getting in line for the shuttle back to the Embarcadero, which took about an hour altogether (waiting in line + the shuttle ride).  I heard that the lines were shorter earlier, so I probably spent too much time dilly-dallying in the Rose Garden.

As we drove out of the Panhandle, the cloudy skies gave way to full sunshine.  I was really glad that I ran the 1st Half instead of the 2nd Half or the Full.  Those runners had it rough!  I went to cheer on a few of the people I knew running, including RoseRunner (who finished before I could get to the finish line), Angela, Jane, BT, JT, and IP.  I got to catch up with JT briefly after she finished her 4th full marathon, then met up with IP and BT for beers at the Ferry Building.  All in all, a really nice morning!

The fruits of my labor

The fruits of my labor

Post-race analysis:
Since I was aiming for 2:30, I’m very satisfied with my performance at SF1HM, especially given how difficult the course was.  Even more than beating the time goal, though, I was happy to cross the finish line without injuring myself further, knowing that I successfully executed my race strategy; that I was able to be patient and hold back at the beginning and to fight my demons and run strong at the finish.

(Note to self: the pre-race dinner of roast chicken, broccoli, and couscous was a winner. Perhaps eating a smaller breakfast was good too.)

SF1HM vs. SF2HM:
Having run both half marathons, here are the pros and cons of the 1st vs. the 2nd half:
SF1HM Pros: Way more scenic, more interesting course, cooler weather, less crowded finish line with quicker access to amenities.
SF1HM Cons: Earlier start, parking situation at the start, smaller crowd of spectators at the finish and less spectator support in general, long shuttle back to the start.
Bottom line: I’d definitely run the 1st Half again, whereas I’d only run the 2nd Half as part of the full marathon.

The numbers:
Official time: 2:20:34 (10:43/mile)
506/1360 AG, 1443/4052 F, 3264/7250 overall

Garmin results:
2:20:36 for 13.26 miles (10:36/mile)
Elevation gain/loss: 1212’/960′ (net gain: ~260′)
*On the SFM site, they say there’s a total gain of 880′-990′ for the full marathon, with 187′ net gain in the first half of the marathon.  On mapmyrun, I found someone recorded an elevation gain of 1626′ for the full marathon.

Elevation and pace data from my Garmin.

Elevation and pace data from my Garmin.


About the race: (Excellent, detailed race information can be found on Angela’s recap.)

  • Organizers: The San Francisco Marathon
  • Cost: Rolling registration, starting at $85 and topping out at $120. There is almost always a $10 discount to be had — the race ambassadors usually have a code.
  • Parking/Transportation: Paid garages, street parking, and limited public transit to the start.  There was a shuttle that took 1st half finishers from Golden Gate Park to the Embarcadero.
  • Aid stations: About every 2.5 miles. All but one had both water and Nuun (one was water only).  They gave out Gu (gels and chomps) at the GGB turnaround.
  • Bathrooms: I had a hard time finding them at the start, and the ones I found had a huge line for only ~10 porta potties! After the race, I saw that there were small groups of porta potties everywhere, but their locations were not clearly marked.  There were several porta potties at each aid station and some real bathrooms along Crissy Field and through various parks.
  • Swag: Medal, tech t-shirt, 1 beer/Irish coffee ticket, food, and boxed water.  First half and 2nd half/full marathon finishers had slightly different amenities at the finish.  There was a virtual “iGift bag” with coupons.
  • Misc.: Like my experience at SF2HM, I thought SF1HM was very organized and well-executed.  I’ve heard some complaints about aid stations running out of water in the 2nd half, which is inexcusable, and there were also more problems this year with bag drop, where bags went missing or were hard to locate.  However, I didn’t experience any of these problems directly.  One major pro: free photos!!  I managed to have a few good ones, but I know some other friends who weren’t so lucky.


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Posted in Race Recap

Race Preview: San Francisco 1st Half Marathon

Color_Logo_TSFMRace: San Francisco 1st Half Marathon (SF1HM)
Date & Time: Sunday, July 27, 2014

Course reconnaissance:1st-Half-Course-Map_Web_NEW-1024x6621st-Half-Marathon-Elevation-Profile-1024x252

According to the race website:

The 1st Half Marathon covers the first half of The San Francisco Marathon.  The race starts on the Embarcadero near the Ferry Building, traversing San Francisco. The 1st Half Marathon runs through Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, across the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Presidio and finishes in Golden Gate Park. The course is USATF certified.

Compared to the 2nd Half, which I ran last year, SF1HM is much hillier and has a crazy early start time, but it’s also much more scenic.

Weather forecast:
It’s been unusually hot and muggy in the Bay Area, and the weather doesn’t look like it’ll be changing before tomorrow’s race.  Tomorrow morning looks hot and humid, with temps in the high 50s/low 60s at 5am and creeping up to the 80s by noon.  The upshot of this?  No fog (most likely) and clear views from and of Golden Gate Bridge (GGB).  Oh, at least I’m running the 1st half and will be done by 8:30 a.m., before the real heat sets in.

Ha! Considering that, just a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d stay ahead of the sag wagon due to ongoing aches and pains, I’m not sure that “time goals” are even relevant at this point.  That said, I think that 2:30 is very likely and doable, and sub-2:30 if I’m feeling spunky and energetic.

I plan to take plenty of photos during my walk breaks, especially across the GGB, which will be closed to vehicular traffic just for the race.  Having dealt with these nagging issues for the past few months has also given me the perspective of gratitude.  I’ve paid lip service to that in the past, but this time I really mean it.  It’s true of any race — my next race could be my last, so I’m planning on enjoying it!  (Though I really hope it’s not my last race — plus, I’ve promised the Gypsy Runner not to injure myself further!)

Going into race day, I’m feeling strong and rested.  I’m tempted to say “screw you!” to run/walk intervals, but the truth of the matter is that I haven’t run more than 4 minutes at a time for a while now, and I don’t think race day is the time to rock the boat (or is it??).  Seeing as I often start to feel my hip and low back tighten up around miles 6-7, my plan is to start out with my now-standard 3:1 run/walk intervals and if I feel REALLY good after 7 miles, then I’ll consider increasing the run intervals a bit at a time.  If not, I’ll continue run/walking until mile 11, at which point, unless I’m hobbling, I’ll aim to run continuously to the finish line.

I went to the race expo yesterday, which moved from the Concourse in SOMA to Fort Mason.  There are pros and cons to the change, but overall my experience was about equal.  Going on Friday afternoon/evening meant very short lines and a less hectic atmosphere, but it also meant missing out on the various blogger meet-ups and seeing a couple of friends who were working at the expo today (Saturday).

At the expo with IP and her adorable baby N. Ready to conquer our fears!

At the expo with IP and her adorable baby N. Ready to conquer our fears!

So, I think that’s it!  This is probably the most relaxed I’ve been pre-half marathon in a long, long time.  If you want to follow me (and because there are 7 Jen Lee’s racing), my bib number is 42133.  Here’s hoping for a fun, enjoyable, and pain-free race tomorrow!  If you’re also racing tomorrow – good luck!

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Posted in Goals, Race Preview

Clamshells & Gossip Girl

Last week, by the numbers:

  • clamshells: 1400
  • donkey kicks: 700
  • bridge marches: 420
  • knee-to-chest single-leg bridges: 504
  • standing hip extensions: 420
  • “chair of death” squats: 240
  • single leg balances: at least 2-4 per day, per side
  • miles ran/walked: 22.5
  • miles biked (stationary bike): 11
  • yards swam: 0 (decided to take a break and focus on rehab)
  • episodes of Gossip Girl watched: 18

    Just your average high schoolers, right??

    Just your average high schoolers??

I started the week very committed to a new rehab regimen as outlined in Anatomy for Runners, but even I didn’t think I’d actually do the exercises every day.  But guess what?  I did!  One might question whether it’s really necessary to do thousands of clamshells. Well, maybe not, but the theory behind it is that to run with “good form” – i.e., using the right muscles while running – you have to train those muscles to fire on command.  And the way to train your muscles is through thousands of repetitions, thereby increasing your neuromuscular connections.  For most of us, the strength is already there, but the problem is getting the right muscles to activate at the right time.  That’s what neuromuscular training is all about.  (FWIW, this is more relevant to hip extensions, heel lifts, and other form drills than clamshells.)

Is it dull? Yes.  But the good news is that I’ve seen a lot of improvement in just 1 week.  My single leg bridges were abysmal on Monday, by Wednesday they were halfway decent, and one week later, I’ve graduated from 12 to 15 bridges per set.  The other thing that’s been good about these exercises is that some of them come with tips on how to do them correctly.  For instance, for donkey kicks, the book recommends to balance a stick on your lower back (I use a hiking pole) and focus on not moving the stick too much during the exercise.  If the stick jostles around a lot, you might be using the wrong muscles.  I guess I appreciate these tips because it’s so easy to do these exercises the wrong way — i.e., compensate with other muscle groups.

The plan is to continue on for another week and then do the tests again to see if I can move on to Phase II, which includes more advance core work and plyometrics.  The idea is to get the right muscles to fire first before strengthening them.

As for running, I continued to spend quality time with the treadmill — 6 miles on Tuesday (3 min run: 1 min walk) and 6 miles on Thursday (4 min run: 1 min walk).  On Sunday, I ventured outside for my longest run since Big Sur: 10.55 miles in 2 hours at San Leandro Marina.  I managed to convince JT to join me for run-walk intervals.  We had fun catching up and the time flew by.  JT definitely gets a gold star for helping out a injured runner friend!  As for my right hip, it tightened up around 6-7 miles, but it never got worse than that — i.e., escalating to gait-altering pain.  As I’ve mentioned before, my low back has been really tight, so I’ve been trying to be mindful to not arch my back towards the end of the run — my posture definitely suffers when I’m fatigued.  I’ve also been trying to engage my core more to stabilize my pelvis, core, and back.  I don’t know if it’s all in my mind, but the hip pain has yet to return.  Knock on wood!

Today, I’m a bit sore, as one might expect following a post-injury distance record, but I’m feeling okay otherwise.  The goal this week is to back off a little and rest up for the SF 1st Half on Sunday.  Even though the race will be a personal worst for me time-wise, I’m excited to see how far I’ve come in just 2 weeks: from questioning whether I’d make the 3-hour cut-off to looking at a finishing time of 2:30.  Yay for progress!

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Posted in Injuries, Training
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