Race Recap: LMJS 4th Sunday 5K (October 2014)

I decided to run this past Sunday’s Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders 4th Sunday race only 3 days beforehand.  KP and I were texting back and forth, trying to decide when our next running date would be.  We were having some trouble coming up with a day when she suggested running at Lake Merritt, to which I replied, “Well, I was actually thinking about doing the 4th Sunday race…”  Then JT hopped on the last-minute 5K train, and the 3 of us decided to do the race and then eat brunch afterward.  Perfect!

I had originally considered doing the LMJS 5K as an indicator of how MAF training was going, in addition the usual gamut of MAF Tests.  It would be a good trial of the “run slow to run faster” paradox that’s often referenced by MAF devotees.  Since I ran a 5K at the end of August, only a couple of weeks into MAF training, I had a nice baseline/reference.  In that race, I finished in 27:23 (8:51/mile) — though my Garmin read 8:39/mile for 3.17 miles.  (Despite the title of this blog, I’m apparently horrible at running tangents.)

My goals were to run hard and see if I could PR (26:16).  In the days leading up to the race, I tried as hard as I could to prepare myself mentally to hurt, as 5Ks often do.  In retrospect, I wish I had had more time to visualize and work on mental strength, because I think that was my biggest issue. (*Foreshadowing*)

I won’t write too much about the logistics of the race, since I’ve recapped several of them previously (e.g., here).  I will say that I love these low-key races for their community vibe and low entry fees.  I do not love the fact that it’s an open course around a popular, multi-use path that is often narrow and crowded.

Sunday morning was cool and a tiny bit windy.  I met up with KP and JT, did a short warm-up, and listened to the pre-race instructions.  Just minutes before the race, we discussed race strategies.  I declared that I was going to try to PR.  KP and JT both said they were going to take it easy, having (separately) run hilly trail miles the day before.

Before I knew it, the race director started counting down from 10 and then we were off!  I ignored my logical side and went out fast, carried forward by the momentum of the college cross country team that dominated the front of the pack.  After a minute or so, I looked down at my Garmin to see 7:3x.  Woah, nelly!  Time to slow it down.  I found a few people around me who looked like they were going about the “right” pace and tried to stay with them.  For about a mile, I followed 2 young girls, about 10 years old, until they fell back due to cramping.  I also kept leap-frogging with a woman in a tank top and pink shorts – in a friendly, not annoying way.

Eventually, I got “strollered” (the equivalent of getting “chicked”?) by a young dad who, to be honest, did not look particularly fit.  He passed me about 1.5 miles into the race and even though I was struggling, I was determined to stick with him.  Just then, he had a stroller malfunction where the stroller wrist strap came loose and caused him to trip up, which also shook me out of my rhythm.  Almost simultaneously, KP and JT came up and passed me.  I was shocked – I thought they were going to take it easy?!?!  But there they were, effortlessly gliding along and pulling farther and farther ahead.

I’m sad to say that this unexpected turn of events broke me mentally.  I was already struggling, and to see my friends, whom I had thought would be tired and taking it easy, run past me was a big blow.  For about a minute, I thought about giving up, and I began to feel even more deflated to see my pace slow down to almost 9:00/mile (I ran my first 2 miles in 8:12 and 8:20).  Then, I began berating myself for even thinking about quitting and also for allowing myself to be so rattled by KP and JS passing me.  What a crazy, counterproductive cycle to be caught in!

Fortunately, I eventually fought my way out of this downward spiral.  With about half a mile to go, I came back to the race and focused on finishing strong.  There were 2 teenage girls ahead of me and I told myself just to hang on to them and to try to pass them if I could.  I managed to stay with them and even had a little bit of kick at the end to finish in 26:30 (8:32/mile).  (For what it’s worth, my Garmin read 8:22 for 3.16 miles.  Stinkin’ tangents!)  It wasn’t a PR, but it was still 53 seconds faster than August!  Honestly, I think I could’ve done better if it wasn’t for that mental lapse in the last mile.

As for the HR stuff, here’s the data from the 2 races:

HR and pace data from the 5K By the Bay in August.

HR and pace data from the 5K By the Bay in August.

HR and pace data from the LMJS 5K this past Sunday.

HR and pace data from the LMJS 5K this past Sunday.  Note the difference in HR toward the end of both races.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 8.56.01 PM

Data from both races. The bottom number in the “Max HR” column is not the average — it’s the actual maximum.

Looking at the data, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that I was able to keep my HR more constant throughout the race on Sunday even at an overall faster pace, especially in the 3rd mile. This indicates an improvement in my fitness. The bad news is that the August data shows that I’m clearly capable of pushing myself physically to a very high HR late in a race, but I definitely didn’t do that this past Sunday (highlighted boxes)… which reconfirms my instinct that I could’ve finished faster.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with myself after the race, but I got over it pretty quickly.  That’s the nice thing about last-minute 5Ks – there’s not that much riding on it and there’s always another one just around the corner.  As for KP and JT, they both had big PRs — mostly because neither of them have raced a 5K in many years.  The 3 of us finished top 3 in our age group (out of 5 – haha).  Go us!

Post-race selfies!

Post-race selfies!

Official stats:
26:30 (8:32/mile)
47/90 overall, 3/5 AG

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Posted in Race Recap

Inadvertent Recovery Week

Good news and bad news.  The good news is that I survived my first full week of work.  Yay!  The “bad” news is that I only ran ~8 miles this week, despite my best intentions.  Here’s a breakdown of my internal dialogue this week:

Monday: “Should I run today? Nah, I never run on Mondays.  Let’s ease into early morning runs starting tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll run 4 times this week, 3-4 miles each time, for a total of 12-16 miles.  Yeah, that would be awesome!”

Tuesday, 6:00 a.m.: “Rise and shine! Let’s do this!! Hm, running in the dark is sorta weird, but kinda cool too.  These sidewalks are actually in better shape and more well-lit than I expected.  Do I even need this headlamp?  Or this reflective vest?  I feel like such a dork, but safety first, right??”
Total: 4.3 miles

Wednesday: “It’s probably better for me to run today than tomorrow, BUT my legs feel a bit tired (or is it just my whole body in general?).  Yeah, I think it’s a good idea for me to sleep in a little today and run tomorrow instead.”
Wed, 10:45 p.m.: “Ugh, I can’t believe I *just* got home from LT’s apartment in San Francisco!  I’m so tired!  If I run tomorrow, I’ll have to get up in 7 hours, and I’m so cranky when I don’t get my 8 hours of shut eye.  Sorry, running, you’ll having to wait.”

Thursday: “Sleeping in was the best idea EVER.”

Friday: “This morning running thing isn’t so bad, but I really need to make this run shorter than Tuesday’s run if I want to get to work on time.”
Total: 3.6 miles

Saturday, camping at Big Basin: “Well, I could run the 10-mile route that everyone else is hiking, but I’d have to do it solo.  Maybe I can sneak in a run tomorrow before we leave.”

Sunday: “My head doesn’t feel so great.  Maybe I should’ve drank more water last night.  Oh look, there goes RL going for a short run.  Should I go with her?  Nah… I’ve just made my breakfast and the Gypsy Runner is pouring the hot water for the coffee.  I’ll be better this coming week.  Tomorrow’s a new day!”

Total for the week: 7.9 miles of running, 10 miles of hiking.

I’m not too disappointed, mainly because I know that there will be a period of adjustment and also because this last week was an anomaly — it was my first full week of work, I don’t usually have weeknight social obligations in SF, and I’m not usually heading out of town on the weekends.  Thankfully, work itself isn’t that stressful, so it’s not like I’m super exhausted when I get home.  However, it’s a big adjustment to go from working part-time to being out of the house for 10-11 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

And that’s just running.  Don’t even get me started on meal planning… I didn’t cook ONCE this whole week.  So it should probably also go without saying that I’m way behind on blog reading and commenting. My apologies in advance!

I’ll leave you with some photos from yesterday’s hike.  It was so pretty that it made me consider running the Big Basin 50K next May!

Into the redwoods!

Hiking amongst the beautiful redwoods

The Golden Cascade (top) to the Silver Falls (bottom).  It was just a trickle, but at least there was some water.  I was afraid they'd be dry due to the drought.

The Golden Cascade. It was just a trickle, but at least there was some water. I was afraid it would be completely dry due to the drought.

Berry Creek Falls.

Berry Creek Falls. There was a tiny rainbow where that bright spot is toward the bottom of the falls.

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Posted in Training

Short Term Memory

After my 3rd MAF test last week, I was really hoping to start seeing some improvements during my weekday runs.  I was also looking forward to maximizing my last week of funemployment.  As a result, I ran 3 days in a row – something I don’t usually do – and came up with less than stellar results.  For example:

Tuesday: 5.3 miles at 11:19/mile (vs. previous week, when I ran 5.4 miles at 11:07/mile)
Wednesday: 5.18 miles at 11:35/mile
Thursday (Lake Chabot): 4.94 miles at 12:09/mile (vs. previous week, 5.07 miles at 11:50)

This is not the trend I was hoping for.  I’m not sure if I’m truly plateauing or if I’m fatigued or what, but it definitely doesn’t look like I’m progressing.  After seeing significant improvement, especially in the first month of MAF training, I became pretty “addicted” to consistently seeing faster times each week.  I know it’s normal for the rate of progress to slow down, but I guess I felt like (and still feel like) I have quite a bit of ways to go before I plateau.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how, just a few months ago, I was run-walking and *hoping* to finish the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon before the cut-off.  I’ve come a long way since then, but I’m already taking my fitness for granted.  I got caught up in my ego and lost sight of the important things — that I’m back to running 1-2 hours at a time with no pain.  I wrapped up September with 93 miles of running, my highest total monthly mileage for the last 5 months.  I always say that I’m in this sport for the long run (pun intended), but instead I find myself focusing on the immediate payoffs.  When will I get faster? When can I PR? When will I get back to 10:00/mile easy runs again?

My point is that I was getting so caught up in my lack of progress that it was actually sucking the joy and fun out of my runs.  I had gotten very dependent on seeing weekly improvements that I forgot the important stuff.  And for what? Running is my hobby, not a career.  Yes, I’m dedicated to becoming a better runner, but at what cost?  And I don’t even have a race coming up! What’s the rush?  The answer goes back to my ego, my pride.  It’s time to focus on the long-term goals – running healthy for as long as I possibly can, at whatever pace that may be.


One bright spot in my running week happened on Saturday, when I met up with friends at the Chabot Staging Area to check out Ramage Peak Trail, part of the EBMUD propertyCathryn, Jess, Angela, and I planned to run, while Layla and Kristen (with baby E in carrier) hiked.  I had never been on this trail before and there isn’t much information about it.  I found a very informative post from Sarah Lavender Smith’s blog — and I have to agree with her, in that I hesitate to write about this trail because I’d like to keep it secret.  It’s so beautiful and isolated, yet easy to get to.  We didn’t see any other people out there, but we did see a snake and one very large cow!  Without further ado, here are the photos:

The hills of the East Bay

Cat checking out the hills of the East Bay

Blogger taking photos of bloggers taking photos (so meta!)

Taking photos of bloggers taking photos (so meta!)

The views weren't too shabby.

The views weren’t too shabby.

Never had a trail run stopped by a cow before...we were about to turn around anyway.

Never had a trail run stopped by a cow before! We were about to turn around anyway.

Did I mention that the trails were gorgeous?

Did I mention that the trails were gorgeous?

Action shot! (photo credit: Angela)

Action shot! (photo credit: Angela)

Running shots, continued. (photo credit: Angela)

Running shots, continued. (photo credit: Angela)

Another good one from Angela.  There were some steep hills, as you can see!

Another good one from Angela. There were some steep hills, as you can see!

Cathryn made me cupcakes for my birthday.  Here I am blowing out the imaginary candles. :)  (Photo credit: Angela)

Cathryn made me cupcakes for my birthday. Here I am blowing out the imaginary candles. :) (Photo credit: Angela)

Brunch at Doug's.  We worked up quite an appetite!

Brunch at Doug’s. We worked up quite an appetite!

We did an out-and-back on the Ramage Peak Trail for a total of about 6 miles at a very leisurely ~13-14 minute/mile pace — mostly due to the ~1300′ elevation gain on the way out, where we did a lot of hiking.  We also stopped a lot to take photos and chit chat.  Altogether, a very relaxing and fun morning!

Update: Cathryn also posted a recap of the run with more photos and info!

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Posted in random, Trail running

MAF Test #3

Here we are, 8 weeks into my MAF experiment, which means that I just did another MAF test this past Saturday.  I knew that going into the test, my MAF training has been very inconsistent, mostly due to Ragnar messing up my schedule for 2 out of the 4 weeks.  I did manage to get a few more data points, so here’s a pretty graph showing my run data from the last 8 weeks:

MAF runs

Ragnar Napa happened in week 6, coinciding with a plateau.  I’m not sure if this was due to the racing aspect (i.e., completely going over my MAF heart rate for 17+ miles) or if it just tired out my body.  Most likely, it was a combination of factors.   Just FYI – the runs on the graph were done on roughly the same courses, with the exception of a couple of runs done on the treadmill.  I used speed instead of pace on the Y-axis to show an upward trend, denoting improvement. #nerdalert  (Hey, at least I didn’t do any statistics!)  If you’re interested in pace instead of speed, here are the numbers:

  • 1 hour runs — Week 1: 12:11/mile; Week 8: 11:07/mile –> 1:07 faster per mile
  • 2 hour long runs — Week 1: 12:22/mile; Week 8: 11:29/mile –> 0:53 faster per mile
  • 1 hour Lake Chabot runs — Week 1: 12:22/mile; Week 8: 11:50/mile –> 0:32 faster per mile

So while I’ve definitely gotten faster at the same HR, the plateauing in the past 3 weeks is bit frustrating.  I’ve noticed that I’ve seen the most improvement after 2 hour long runs, and since I haven’t been doing those over the last couple of weeks, maybe that’s what’s holding me back?  It also took me over a week to recover from Ragnar.

Anyway, on to the nitty-gritty — results from the 3rd MAF test.  Briefly, here’s how to execute a MAF test:

  • warm-up for 2 miles, targeting 10 beats per minute (bpm) below aerobic max HR (for me, this is 128 bpm)
  • run 1-5 miles at aerobic max HR (4 miles at 138 bpm for me)
  • cool-down, during which I target 133 bpm

We’ve been having a bit of a heat wave, so I compromised between getting enough rest and waking up early enough to beat the heat.  Here’s the data from all 3 tests:

MAF Test table Oct 2014 copy


MAF Test resultsMAF mile splits

The good news is that I saw an overall improvement by almost 20 seconds per mile compared to Test #2 — which, while not as impressive as the drop between the first 2 tests, is still a step in the right direction.  The other thing I was happy about was running closer to my pre-injury easy pace for the first 2 miles, which makes me optimistic that MAF training will get me to where I was before I was injured — and hopefully even more fit than before.

The one piece of not-so-good news was seeing a huge drop between the 3rd and 4th miles, which really screwed up my average pace!  It could’ve been the heat or general fatigue, but something happened by the last mile to cause my HR to spike.  Even though the temperature was not that different compared to the first 2 tests, the lack of cloud cover made it feel enormously different.

Going forward, I’m hoping to be more consistent with my MAF training, though it will be difficult to get the hour long runs done before work — I start my new job on Friday!  I think the Lake Chabot runs will be nearly impossible, as it takes me about 25-30 minutes just to drive there and back.  I know I could get up at 5 or 5:30am to fit them in, but I love sleeping too much!  Most likely, I’ll scale down to 30-45 minute neighborhood runs 3x/week with maybe one short, hilly run during my lunch break.  We shall see!


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Looking ahead

If you scroll down this page a little bit, you’ll see a box that reads “On the docket”.  It’s where I usually list my upcoming races.  For the first time in years, it’s completely empty — I don’t have a single race planned. (UPDATE 10/2: Just registered for Summit Rock yesterday!) This is partially due to being extremely cautious as I come back from a weirdly ambiguous hip/back injury, but also because I’ve been trying to decide what my goals are for next 6-12 months.   If you had asked me 2 months ago, I would’ve said I’d really like to focus on running a fast road marathon ASAP.   I really do feel like I’m capable of a big marathon PR, I just need the right course.  Throughout July and August, as I slowly started to run again, I kept wondering if I should sign up for CIM before it sold out and if I had enough time to train.  Then I snapped out of my fantasy world and decided that I needed to be 100% healthy before I start any kind of marathon training.

My next irrational impulse was to sign up for a fall/winter trail marathon.  That was one of my major goals for 2014 as a stepping stone toward the 50K distance.  Thankfully, my logical side took over once again and and reasoned that if I can’t even run a flat road marathon, then what am I doing signing up for a trail marathon?  Ridiculous!

Then, I accepted a new job, which will require me to switch from a part-time to full-time work schedule.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I hadn’t given into any of my impulses to sign up for a big fall race.  It’ll be hard enough to juggle a new job with much longer hours, let alone worry about marathon training.  Rest assured, I’ll keep running, but I’m relieved not to have to adhere to any specific weekly mileage or workouts.  One less thing to stress about.

That said, I do like to have races on the calendar to keep the motivation train going.  This post is more or less a rambling diatribe of the races I’m considering and the goals floating around in my head for 2015.

I had a lot of fun racing a 5K in August, so I think I’d like to run another one in the fall, perhaps the LMJS 4th Sunday race on Oct. 26th.

For 2015, my goal is to run a 50K.  There, I said it (finally).  I’ve been really intrigued by ultramarathons for a long time and I think it’s time to take the plunge.  Currently, I’m eyeing the Way Too Cool 50K (Auburn, CA; March), Skyline 50K (Castro Valley, CA; August), and North Face Endurance Challenge 50K (Golden Gate Recreational Area, CA; December).  I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to train for WTC, but since there’s a lottery and it’s difficult to get in, my bet is that Skyline or NFEC will be my first 50K.

Although the motivation is there, the truth of the matter is that I haven’t been running a whole lot of trail miles in the last 4 months.  My last long trail run was in May and marked the beginning of the ambiguous traveling injury.  Until last week, I stuck to running fairly flat trails or trails with small rollers.  I’ve done a few hilly hikes in the past 3 months, but I always kept it strictly at walking pace so as to not re-injure myself.  Finally, last Friday, I decided to take a lap around good ol’ Lake Chabot.  I still walked a decent amount of the ascents to keep my heart rate low, but it was definitely faster than hiking speed.  Best of all, my hips and back still felt good at the end of the 8.8 miles.  #WINNING

A gorgeous day at Lake Chabot. #trailrunlove

A gorgeous day at Lake Chabot. #trailrunlove

Then, on Saturday morning, I went on a fairly strenuous, 3-mile hike/run in the Marin Headlands as part of our friends’ wedding festivities (how cool is that, by the way??).  Two days later, I’m happy to report zero niggles after the back-to-back trail outings, with only my quads complaining just a little due to soreness/fatigue.  With that little test in the bag, I’m ready to sign up for the Summit Rock Half Marathon in December, which several friends are running as well, so it should be a lot of fun!

Group run on KS and RL's wedding day. (photo from RL's Facebook page)

Group run on KS and RL’s wedding day. (photo from RL’s Facebook page)

In addition to all of the trail running, I’d like to pick a couple of road half marathons for 2015.  The Kaiser Half seems like a good opportunity to try to PR again, especially if I’m not running WTC.  Plus, I’d like to see how/if this MAF training pays off.  Speaking of which, I’ve got a MAF test coming up this Saturday.  These last 2 weeks were really inconsistent training-wise, mainly due to Ragnar Napa, so I’m curious to see whether I’ve improved at all since test #2.

I think that, in light of my recent injury and the upcoming new job and schedule, I need to be more focused than ever before on what my running goals are.   For now, that seems to be one “A” race in 2015, the 50K, and maybe 2 half marathons.

Random photo of noodles from my last week of work, just because it's been too long since I last posted any noodle pictures. ;)

Random photo of noodles from my last week of work, just because it’s been too long since I last posted any noodle pictures. ;)  These are hand-pulled noodles, BTW, and totally delicious.

Questions for you:

Do you only sign up for goal races, or are you a “race for fun” kind of person?

Have you run the WTC, Skyline, and/or NFEC 50K races? What did you think?

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Posted in Goals

Race Recap: Ragnar Napa Valley

How does one recap a 33.5 hour relay?  In the interest of my time and yours, I’m going to try to keep this as brief as possible.  “Try” is the operative word — y’all know that brevity is not my strong suit!

Let’s begin back in the late spring, when Cathryn started organizing a group of runners for Ragnar Napa Valley.  I officially registered in May.  Over the course of 4 months, we decided on a team name (“You’re the Wine That I Want!”), had 1 team get-together, exchanged hundreds of emails, and lost then gained runners more times than I can count.  In the end, we had 11 runners (well, technically 10 2/3 runners – I’ll explain later) and 1 intrepid driver.  Due to our ever-changing circumstances, I changed runner spots 3 times and finally settled in at the runner 9 spot on Thursday morning.  With that settled, I finally began packing.   To my surprise, I actually did a decent job packing everything I needed in a medium-sized timbuk2 messenger bag.  I didn’t forget anything and used everything I brought.  (If anyone cares about such things, here’s a link to my Ragnar packing list.)

Cast of characters:
Van 1:

  • Amanda – blogger, scientist, duathlete.
  • Matt – Amanda’s husband, probably the fastest runner on our team.
  • Sabrina – blogger, visiting all the way from Texas!  Her recap can be found here.
  • Cathryn – our fearless team leader and endless fountain of positivity.  Her recap can be found here.
  • Rich – a.k.a. Cathryn’s IronHusband.
  • The one and only MILF Runner – driver extraordinaire.  I was quite jealous that she wasn’t in our van…we should’ve made a plan to kidnap her.  I blame my lack of follow-through on the sleep deprivation.  Her recap can be found here.

Van 2: (aka Van J)

  • BT – *VIP status*: she took on the most hardcore legs in our van, if not for the entire race.  26+ miles on sketchy roads, relentless hills, and scorching sun.  She totally rocked it, by the way.  Her recap is here.
  • Jen H. – friend of BT, who flew in from a last-minute work trip out East in time for her 2nd and 3rd legs (she was our 2/3 runner).  *VIP status*: she started off with the least amount of sleep out of anyone.
  • Jim – Jen H.’s significant other and self-described “elderly statesman” of our team.  Despite being a relatively new runner, he jumped in head-first (feet first?).  *VIP status*: he crushed his predicted total run time by over 30 minutes.
  • Janet – a very courageous stranger from the internetz who stepped in last minute to help us out.  *VIP status*: she ran 5 miles at 3am in thick fog with only a handheld flashlight!
  • Jess – *VIP status*: Van J leader, sleepless driver, speedy runner, and all-around badass.
  • Jen L. – Me!

The Race:
course overview copyVan 1 started in Golden Gate Park at 9:30 a.m.  Van 2 had a leisurely morning, then headed to College of Marin-Kentfield, where the first van exchange would take place.  It was about 2pm and a hot, sunny 80 degrees when Sabrina took off for Leg 7 (Jen H.’s first leg).

Almost 2/3 of Team YTWTIW at Exchange 6, waiting for Cat to finish her first leg.  I was terrible about taking photos! #badblogger  (photo courtesy of Jess)

Almost 2/3 of Team YTWTIW at Exchange 6, waiting for Cat to finish her first leg. I was terrible about taking photos! #badblogger (photo courtesy of Jess)

After a morning of waiting and sitting the van, it was finally my turn to run.  I recapped my runs fairly succinctly on Daily Mile, so I’m just going to copy them here. #lazyblogger

Leg 9: Leg 9 copy

Janet handing off to me as I begin Leg 9.

Janet handing off to me as I begin Leg 9. (photo credit: Jess)

Hilliest leg of 3 runs – good thing my legs were fresh! The descents were fun but caused blisters to start forming on the balls of my left foot. A new pair of my trusted Merrell Pace Gloves in a 1/2 size bigger also contributed to the blister problem – too much friction.

It was a scenic run on Nicasio Valley Road but a little sketchy, as there was little to no paved shoulder in spots (about 2 feet on average) and some fast moving vehicles. It was also Friday afternoon at 3:30, so it was pretty darn hot! I was glad it was a relatively short leg.

Average pace: 9:45/mile.  Average HR: 159, max HR: 171.   Obviously, I took a break from MAF training during Ragnar.

Ticking off our completed legs on the van, and drawing in an airplane for Jen H.'s first leg.

First leg done!  Ticking off our completed legs on the van, and drawing in an airplane for Jen H.’s first leg. (photo credit: Jess)

Intense action shot at Exchange 10 between BT and Jess.  One of my favorite photos from the relay!

Intense action shot at Exchange 10 between BT and Jess. One of my favorite photos from the relay!


Leg 21: Leg 21 copy

A 4 a.m. jaunt around downtown Santa Rosa.  I was a little apprehensive about this leg (running around in the middle of the night in strange place, etc.), but it ended up being fine.  I found another runner who was keeping the same pace, so we kept each other company for most of the leg. The “scariest” thing was running on the uneven sidewalks — I had visions of falling flat on my face.  (Just before my leg, I found out my friend KP had done just that – she had taken a bad fall after tripping on a curb.)  I probably could’ve run at least 10 seconds faster per mile if I wasn’t staring down at the ground the whole time. ;)  I was very grateful when there was finally a bike lane so we could run in the road.

Average pace; 9:15/mile.   Average HR: 154, Max HR: 169.


Leg 33: Leg 33 copy

As Cathryn would say, “OH MY WORD.”  This was the toughest run I’ve done in a long time.  9.4 miles along the beautiful but totally exposed Silverado Trail.  The heat was the biggest factor – I believe it was in the mid-80’s with full-on sun.  I wish I had done some heat training.  The 2nd biggest factor was fatigue — not just in my legs, but I had hardly slept and I was exhausted. To make matters worse, I started off way too fast and by the end of 6 miles at ~10:15/mile pace, I knew I was in trouble.  I then made the mistake of taking a too-early walk break, which set the tone for longer walk breaks until I was consistently run-walking for the last 3 miles.  Even though my HR felt like it was through the roof, the HR data shows that I was in the 165-170 range, which for me is approaching 80% max — high but not crazy.  However, considering that my pace was in the 11:00-12:00/mile range, which I usually run at 120-130 bpm, it was very elevated.  At the moment, I didn’t care to push myself that hard.  I was doing Ragnar for fun, after all, and I didn’t think it would be worth it to get heat exhaustion.  Despite the run/walking and 2 water stops, I still came in 5+ minutes ahead of schedule.  FYI: Ragnar padded the 3rd leg estimate by adding 10% to your estimated pace, in addition to whatever elevation you might be running during the leg.  My one regret is that I probably should’ve stopped to take photos — there were some amazing wine country views that were a nice distraction.  I saw a professional photographer on the course around the end of the 9th mile.  Exactly what I wanted after 100 minutes of hot running.  #sarcasm

Trying my best to exude confidence and enthusiasm, only to look a little constipated.

Trying my best to exude confidence and enthusiasm, only to look more than a little constipated.

For these hot, no Van support legs, I wish that Ragnar had supplied the water stations with ice.  I saw so many runners out there struggling and many were not carrying their own water.  Luckily for me, another Ragnar team decided to break the rules and handed out paper towels that had been soaked in icy water.  It was perfection!

Average pace: 11:07/mile.  Average HR: 166, max HR: 174.

Post-run double-fisting crotch chop.

Post-run double-fisting crotch chop. (photo credit: Jess)


The one photo I took of the vineyards and mountains (Exchange 35).

The one photo I took of the vineyards and mountains (Exchange 35).

At about 6:18pm, our runner 12 Jim set off on his final leg.  We rushed to the finish line — thanks to Google Maps, we managed to avoid the traffic and get there with plenty of time to meet up with Van 1.  As Jim approached, we formed a tunnel for him to run through.  Then, chaos ensued as Jim continued to sprint toward the finish arch, with the rest of us trying to keep up in our flip flops.

Blurry finish line team photo.  I think we were all too tired to care.

Blurry finish line team photo. I think we were all too tired to care. (photo credit: Cat)

There was a problem with the medals — they hadn’t gotten there on-time, so we were given a consolation prize: a finisher’s belt buckle for Ragnar’s trail relay series.  HUH?  Completely random and sort of useless!  They also gave us extra beer coupons, which I appreciated but didn’t use.  While we’re on the topic of beer, I thought it was great that they served Sierra Nevada beer instead of the low-carb stuff you find at other races.  The last thing runners need to worry about after a 205 mile relay is carbs, am I right??  However, I found out later that wine was $6 for a tiny plastic cup, which considering the locale, you’d think would be FREE.  Ragnar Napa obviously needs to work on securing a wine sponsor/partner.

The original plan was to go out for a team dinner, but considering that we all had long drives ahead of us with very little sleep, we decided to part ways and hopefully celebrate at a later date.   It would’ve been nice to stay near the finish line (Calistoga), but the accommodations were sparse and expensive.

General thoughts – my running legs:

I went into the relay with a 10:00/mile estimate, knowing that 17.2 miles over 25 hours might be challenging coming back from my recent injuries.  According to the special Ragnar spreadsheet, my estimated total run time was 187 minutes (based on the difficulty of my legs).  My actual run time was ~177 minutes.  I didn’t get as many “kills” (or “roadkills”), i.e., when you pass another runner, as I would’ve liked.  I had maybe 15 kills total, almost all of them from the last leg where there were lots of people walking.  As for how my body held up, I was pleasantly surprised to not have any significant problems with my hips or back, despite the abuse I was putting it through between the constant running, sitting, and lying down on the van bench.  The only “injuries” I came away with were minor blisters on the bottom of my left foot, which have since reabsorbed/gone away.  Overall, I feel like I did well given the circumstances, though in the future I’d like to be in Van 1 just to get more normal run times.

General thoughts – my team & the relay experience:

I have nothing but good things to say about Team YTWTIW.  Despite being more or less a group of strangers, and in spite of the the lack of sleep and constant runger, there was zero drama.  I think the closest I came to being snippy was when Cat, Amanda, and MILF Runner individually texted me at 7am Saturday, about 5 minutes apart from each other, regarding the status of our runner, just as I was trying to get some rest.  I got progressively grouchier with each text, then felt badly and sent an apologetic note.  I didn’t see anyone else on the team behaving nearly as “bad” as that.  Considering the bitchiness from other teams that I overheard while waiting in a porta potty line, I think our team was #blessed.

I enjoyed the relay experience, but I can think of a few things that would’ve made it even more enjoyable:
– I hate to sound like a whiner, but I think Van 2 got the short end of the stick regarding the timing of the legs.  Most of us had 2 legs in the heat of the day and also had to run from 2-8am.  Compared to Van 1, who seemed to have more fun and inside jokes, etc. (and I’m a little jealous, to be frank), I felt like Van 2 was often too tired to focus on anything else besides staying awake and taking care of the next task at hand.
– I wish it was more evident who our “competition” was — i.e., teams who had similar estimated finish times.  We ended up randomly choosing a team to target as our “frenemies”, so that made it a little more fun, but it would’ve been nice to have several teams at each exchange to trash talk.  Otherwise, it just felt like a lot of random people in vans driving around instead of a relay RACE.
– On a related note, it would’ve been nice for Ragnar to encourage sportsmanship and inter-team comraderie. (Though, to be fair, I don’t know how they would do this… it seems more up to the participants themselves.)  I had about 10 people pass me on the first leg and as they passed me, I told them, “Good job.”  Only one person responded in kind.  That made me feel kinda crappy.  Luckily, the situation improved dramatically in my 2nd and 3rd legs.  As a team relay event, it seems like it’d be nice to have a happy running community vibe instead of individual runners in their own little cocoons.

Would I run this race again?

Probably not, mostly because I didn’t like the course.  I can’t speak for Van 1, but several of the legs for Van 2 were on very sketchy sections of road.  Also, the fact that there was not enough aid/support for Legs 33 and 34, the hottest and longest legs, was a dangerous oversight.

Would I run Ragnar again?

Mostly likely no.  I’ve never run a Rock ‘n Roll race, but in my mind Ragnar has that same corporate, for-profit feel to it.  If I do another relay, I’d prefer to run a smaller, locally organized race instead.  I know many people love Ragnar, but it just isn’t my cup of tea.

Sunset over Ragnar. (photo credit: Jess)

Sunset over Ragnar. (photo credit: Jess)

In summary: A+ for Team YTWTIW and C for Ragnar.


About the race:

  • Organizers: Ragnar Relay Races
  • Cost: It was ~ $179/runner  ($149 registration + $30 volunteer fee), plus van rental, gas, t-shirt, and food — totaling around $300/runner.
  • Aid stations: On the no van support legs, there were stations with water only.  On some legs, there were no volunteers and almost no cups.  At the 2nd water station for my 9.4 mile leg, they were running out of water and only let me fill my bottle halfway.  There’s no excuse for a road race to run out of water!
  • Bathrooms:  “Honey Bucket” porta potties at every exchange that were kept impressively clean the whole race.  My only minor complaint is that it was difficult to locate the porta potties at a couple of the exchanges, where they were located quite a distance away from the exchange.  Some signs would’ve been nice at those exchanges.
  • Swag: Medal(s) (official one to be mailed this coming week), short sleeve technical T-shirt, and 1 bag per van filled with snacks, shower wipes, and Ragnar tattoos.  There was one stemless wine glass per team that was the captain’s gift.
  • Post-race food/drink: Originally, we all had one beer ticket on our bibs, but due to the medal debacle, they gave us extra tickets that we didn’t end up using.  We also got 1 small pizza per van.  I thought it was a missed opportunity not to have food for sale at the major exchanges and at the finish.
  • Misc.: Despite all of my complaints, I will say that this is was a very organized event.  No one got lost – the course was extremely well-marked and our van didn’t have trouble getting to exchanges (though parking is another issue).


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Change and Adaptation

My entire existence as a “real” runner — i.e., someone who trains consistently from week to week — has been a relatively new phenomenon, dating back to the beginning of 2012.  It coincided with 2 other big changes in my life: moving to downtown Oakland and transitioning to a part-time job.   The move to Oakland gave me access to Lake Merritt and its perfect-for-beginners flat, 3-mile loop.  The part-time job provided enough flexibility to let me figure out when I like to run (mornings, to my surprise) and gave me the freedom to embark on marathon training without overwhelming my schedule.

While I really like many aspects of my job – nice location/setting, friendly coworkers, low stress, and flexibility, there are also downsides, the biggest of which is I don’t enjoy what I do.  There are a lot of reasons for that, but we won’t get into it here.  As the weeks went on, I came to dislike my job more and more, to the point where I was expending a lot of negative energy thinking about how much I hated it.  I kept thinking in the back of my mind, “It’s time to move on.”  So here’s my confession: I hung on as long as I could partially because this job doesn’t interfere with my running.  (I was also lazy, confused, and a little scared about finding a new job.)

What spun me out of my negative energy cycle was a friend’s suggestion that I apply for an opening at his company.  Visualizing that scenario empowered me to decide to actively go on the job hunt.  After a couple of months of networking and applications, I got 2 interviews and one offer — which I’ve accepted, pending contract negotiations.  I think the new job is an excellent fit for me and my future supervisor seems great.  The one thing I’m anxious about is the full-time schedule, plus the 1.5 hours of commuting I’ll be doing each day (at least it’ll be by public transit, thankfully).  This will have a huge impact on my running and, more importantly, on my weekly household routine with the Gypsy Runner.  It’s time to get serious about meal planning!

So, while I’m excited about the new job, I’m also a little anxious about how this is all going to work.  I’m confident that I will figure it out (I’ll have to!), but I know that the first couple of weeks will probably be pretty rocky and exhausting.  However, I also think I’ll be spending so much less energy hating my job that the transition will be worth it.  Here’s hoping!

Question for you: Any tips on balancing training with a full-time job and other obligations?


This week in training:

Mon – rest
Tues – 1 hour MAF run: 5.4 mi at 11:06 pace
Wed – 1200 yd swim
Thurs – 1 hour MAF run (trails): 5.03 mi at 11:55 pace
Fri – rest.  Bought a new pair of running shoes, which is always exciting.
Sat – hard but fun hike at Huckleberry and Sibley (great write-up and photos on Cathryn’s blog): 4.7 mi, ~1400′ elevation gain
Sun – 2 hour MAF run: 10.17 mi at 11:47 pace.  This run didn’t feel great due to a bad night’s sleep.  My legs were also probably pretty beat from Saturday’s hike, now that I think about it!  On the bright side, my average pace dropped by almost 45 seconds compared to my long run from 2 weeks ago, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. ;)

From Sunday's run

From Sunday’s run

This coming week, I’ll be resting my legs for RAGNAR(!) Napa Friday and Saturday.  We’re down 2 runners, so if you’d like to run with Team “You’re the Wine that I Want”, please email me at willblog4food [at] gmail [dot] com.

Have a great week everyone!

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On the docket…

12/13/14 - Summit Rock Trail Half Marathon
2/1/15 - Kaiser Permanente SF Half Marathon


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