The Gambler

I got home from Lake Tahoe last Sunday early enough to get a decent long run in.  You might remember from my last post that I was determined to get back on the base building horse and knock out a couple of 25+ mile weeks in a row.  I had set myself up very well during the week, running 17 miles between Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I even hiked 4 tough miles at Lake Tahoe on Saturday – something like 2000′ elevation on slick ice/snow/slush, in high altitude, no less.  It was a serious workout!  But the views were worth it.

California drought conditions meant that we got to access Eagle Falls Trail in wintertime.

California drought conditions meant that we got to access Eagle Falls Trail in wintertime.

Before the weekend, I thought that it would be great if I could come home on Sunday and knock out 8-10 easy miles.  As the weekend progressed, I decided that 6-8 miles would be plenty.  Pulling up to our house on Sunday, I thought: any miles at this point would be a victory.  I was exhausted; two nights of restless sleep on a moderately comfortable but small air mattress in the common area of a small cabin with 14 other people will do that to you. (Or at least, it did that to me.)

The one lesson that I keep having to learn over and over again is that I need a lot of sleep.  Some people can get by with 5-6 hours.  For a long time, I thought 7 was plenty.  Then I moved on to 8… and now I prefer to get between 8.5-9 hours a night.  In Tahoe, I was in bed for 7 hours a night, but I was probably only sleeping for ~4 hours.  Plus, there was the time change, which screwed me up even more.

So, back to Sunday afternoon: I decided that before any run could happen, I needed to take a nap.  At that point, I should’ve known that a run was unlikely.  But still, I was optimistic…until I woke up, groggy, 1.5 hours later.  Also, I remembered that I also needed to clean the house because we were supposed to have company over, and I could not – physically or mentally – handle both cleaning AND running.

To clear my conscious, I discussed my quandry with the Gypsy Runner, who gave me a pass.  “One missed run isn’t going to negatively affect your fitness.  I don’t know why you always think that.”  Well, yes, that’s part of it, but what I’m really afraid of is the slippery slope of “Oh, I’ll skip this one run because of [insert an actual, legitimate reason]” to skipping a bunch of runs just because I don’t feel like it.

I knew that I did have a legitimate reason for skipping the run that day, and that was exhaustion.  I doubted the extra miles would improve my fitness; if anything, it would make me more tired — and possibly increase my susceptibility to catching the nasty cold going around at work.  Moreover, any miles would be done with sloppy form, which might then lead to injury.  It was at this point that lyrics of The Gambler popped into my head:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away, know when to run.”
That Kenny Rogers, he speaks the truth.

So I ended the week of March 2nd with 21 measly miles.  The good news is that for the following week, I ran 30.8 miles, my highest weekly mileage this year and possibly since Big Sur last April.  It included my first ever 400 m track session, during which I learned that 400 m intervals are hard and sucky. (Yes, that’s the technical word for them: sucky.) They’re definitely a different beast compared to longer intervals.  I also ran 10 hot and hilly trail miles on Saturday at Redwood Regional (1300′ elevation gain/loss), but I was fortunate enough to have the company of JT and KP to help me pass the time.  I started to question whether I wanted to do the Canyon Meadows trail marathon as part of my 50K training, as it would take place on many of the same tough trails as I ran/hiked on Saturday.  However, I decided that “tough” is the best kind of training – both mentally and physically.  If I can make it through Canyon Meadows, then I can handle Big Basin.

Frolicking in the Redwoods. (Photo credit: JT)

Frolicking in the Redwoods. (Photo credit: JT)

As for the 30-day plank challenge, I’m up to 2 minutes! Well, 2 minutes with a huge asterisk, in that I have to alternate between elbows and straight arms, and also change up my leg position.  I have no idea how I’ll make it to 5 minutes.  We shall see!

To conclude: base building is tough, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it.  I still haven’t gotten my legs to think that 30 miles per week is par for the course, but hopefully that will happen soon.  I have 3 more weeks of base building before official 50K training starts.  This coming week is another challenging one, with the Oakland Marathon Relay on Sunday.  I’m planning on front-loading my week — aiming for 20 miles between Tues pm/Wed pm/Thurs am, then doing a 3 mile shakeout on Saturday, followed by a short warm-up and 6.5 miles of fast running at the relay.  Hopefully it won’t get too warm, and my legs won’t be too tired.

I’ll leave y’all with this very, uh, interesting music video:

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Posted in Training

Base Building, Training Plan, and Fundraising for the Big Basin 50K!

As I mentioned earlier this year, my big goal for 2015 is to run my first ultramarathon: the Big Basin 50K.  Even though the race seems far, far away, I’m starting my official 16-week training plan in early April – in just 4 weeks!  This post is basically me rambling about my recent training and how it fits in with the big picture, and what my training for Big Basin will look like.  It will probably be very boring — don’t say I didn’t warn you!

My plan, which I’ll get to in a second, isn’t super-duper mileage heavy as far as 50K training plans go.  The weekly mileage ranges from 33 to 51 miles, and my longest run will be a trail marathon in June.  So, it’s not that much more intense than the training I did for Marine Corps Marathon…which I’ve been told is pretty much about right (i.e., that 50K training basically the same as marathon training with longer long runs).

However, I’ve been lagging behind on base building.  My original goal was to hit 25 miles per week (mpw) for January, then build to 30 mpw in February, and get to 35 mpw in March — keeping my runs slow and aerobic.  Despite my best intentions, my weekly mileage kept stalling out in the low 20’s for most of January and February.  The one positive development is that, since switching to afternoon runs in Berkeley, where hills are unavoidable, my fitness seems to be improving rapidly.  For instance, after 2 weeks of running in Berkeley, I ran my usual neighborhood loop with an average pace 30 seconds per mile faster at the same heart rate!  So, the hills have been a great, though tiring, stimulus.

One of the trails I've been running on.  Almost 1000 feet of climbing in 3 miles - a great workout!

One of the trails I’ve been running on. Almost 1000 feet of climbing in 3 miles – a great workout!

To increase my weekly mileage, I finally decided to write actual numbers down on a calendar so that I would have a concrete goal in mind.  It worked: last week, I finally got over the 25 mpw hump by hitting 26.6 miles!  It was an especially intense week physically, as I also got a stand up desk at work AND had to put some big pieces of furniture together (computer benches don’t build themselves, you know).  By Saturday morning, the day of my planned long run, I was exhausted despite getting 9 hours of sleep.  As I grumbled about how tired I was, the Gypsy Runner talked some sense into me and questioned why I had to do my long run that day.  Wouldn’t it be better to rest?  I heeded his advice… sort of.  I decided to do a gym workout — 30 minutes bike, 3 miles on the treadmill, and some strengthening exercises — instead of a long trail run, which I would do on Sunday.  It ended up being the wisest decision, since I probably wouldn’t have done the gym workout on Sunday after a tiring run on Saturday.  By the time I hit the trails late Sunday morning, I felt refreshed and happy.

Instead of a long run, I decided to eat a huge breakfast.  Best decision ever.

Instead of a long run, I decided to eat a huge breakfast. Best decision ever.

This week will also be a struggle (same story, different week) because the GR and I are going to Tahoe with my new colleagues. (Can I still say “new” even if I’ve been working here for 5 months now?)  I’m not sure I’ll get a run in on Saturday, but we should be back early enough on Sunday for me to go on a decent trail run (i.e., ~10 miles).  Since I’m not sure about my weekend mileage, I’ve been trying to pile up the weekday miles, adding a run on Wednesday morning to my usual Tuesday/Thursday runs.  I figure I better start getting used to running 5 days a week sooner rather than later, since that’s what my training plan calls for.

My plan for the rest of the base building goes something like this:

  • Week of March 9th: 30 mpw
  • March 16th: 30-35 mpw/5x a week
  • March 23rd: 35 mpw/5x a week
  • March 30th: 35 mpw/5x a week
  • April 6th: 1st week of official training!

I’m also participating in a friend’s 30-day plank challenge.  We’re currently only at 40 seconds, but on day 30, we’re supposed to do a 5-minute plank!! Egads.  Part of the reason I agreed to do it is because I’ve been TERRIBLE about committing to any kind of core workout.  I thought this might get me on the right path at the very least, even if I don’t nail a 5-minute plank at the end.10989957_10205283261472624_4064905757852103972_n

Moving on to the training plan!  How did I come up with this plan?  (How did I get in this nutshell?)  Two main sources: Google and Hal Koerner’s Ultramarathon Guide.  The most useful training plan I found online was EB’s plan for her first 50K.  I think a good training plan should look doable, but also scare you a little bit, and that’s how I felt when I looked at EB’s plan.  Hal Koerner’s plan scared me A LOT, but also emphasized the importance of balancing weekday to weekend mileage.  So I plotted the plans on to spreadsheets (as you do) and then combined them to look at the different variations.  This is what I ended up with:50K plan

The keys to this plan are:

  • Having Monday and Friday off, with the option of doing cross training or strength training/core work on those days.
  • Trying to get as close to (or over) a 1:1 ratio of weekday to weekend miles.
  • Midweek medium long runs to get used to running 10 miles at one go.
  • Saturday long runs followed by Sunday recovery runs on tired legs.
  • Alternating weeks between hill repeats and long midweek runs.

The biggest challenges that I can already see:

  • Being committed to doing any kind of strength or core work on Monday and/or Friday.
  • Fitting a 10-mile run in on Wednesdays.  I still can’t decide if I want to get up super early and get these done before work, or just run after work and get home later than usual.  I was originally going to do doubles, but then KP persuaded me to try to do them in one go, if possible, to get used to running 10 miles like it was nothing.  (Well not nothing, but not hard either.)
  • I’ll be in New York for the first 2.5 weeks of the plan.  Two of those weeks will be spent attending a very intense course for work, basically 12-15 hours of classroom + lab time every single day.  Then, I’ll spend 3 days in Manhattan with friends, which will hopefully allow for some fun runs through Central Park.

If anyone – especially 50K veterans – has any suggestions or advice, please let me know!

And last but certainly not least… if you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’m using the Big Basin 50K as a platform to raise money for Running for a Better Oakland.  The whole story is spelled out on my fundraising page, but the TL;DR version is that it’s a great charity and I’m excited to be fundraising for them.  24 hours after I sent out the initial emails, I’ve already received $361 out of my $1000 goal.  At this rate, I might have to increase my goal!  I’ve been blown away and very touched by people’s generosity.  Hopefully, the fundraising will serve as a well of motivation when things get tough: Do it for the kids of RBO!

Me and my RBO mentee Alejandro in 2013,  showing off our Oakland Half bling!

Me and my RBO mentee Alejandro in 2013, showing off our Oakland Half bling!

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Posted in Training

Race Recap: LMJS Couples Relay 2015

Why I wanted to run this race:
The Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders Couples Relay is a 2-person, 10K race, where each team member takes his/her turn running 1 lap (5K) around Lake Merritt.  The Gypsy Runner and I ran this relay in 2012 and 2013 and had fun both years.  We skipped it last year because I opted to run the Inside Trail Chabot 30K instead.  This year, coming off solid training for the Kaiser Half, I really wanted to run a 5K and attempt to better my PR (26:16) — coincidentally, set at the 2013 Couples Relay.

Goals & Strategy:
As stated above, my main goal was to run a personal best.  I was fairly confident that I could run faster than 26:16 based on two facts: one, I had run the same course in October, and despite a mental meltdown in the 3rd mile, I still finished in 26:30.  Two, I’m much fitter than I was in October.  Therefore, all signs pointed to a PR, but the question was by how much.

My primary strategy was to prepare myself mentally, since I didn’t have time to do a lot of any 5K-specific training in the weeks leading up to the race.  I spent the days before the relay coming to terms with the fact that I would be in pain for 25+ minutes.  The morning of the race, I decided on a mantra/theme song: “Push It” á la Salt-N-Pepa.  I had no pacing strategy, outside of the usual, “Don’t go out too fast and try to save something for the last mile.

The race:
The Gypsy Runner and I were parked by the Lake and had our bibs picked up by 8:35 a.m., with plenty of time for a short warm-up and bathroom stop before the 9:00 a.m. start.  I was running the first leg of the relay, so shortly before 9, I wished the GR a good race and walked to the start area for pre-race announcements.  Because this is one of their larger races, the start was delayed slightly to allow for latecomers and people still in line for the porta potties.

Around 9:05 a.m., a man with a megaphone counted down, “3…2…1.. go!”  And off we went!  I tried not to get caught up in the early stampede and immediately honed in on a few women who appeared to be holding my desired pace.  I purposely tried to avoid looking at my Garmin and hoped to pace by a combination of effort and the runners around me.  I confess that I glanced at my Garmin only once, about 0.3 miles into the race, and confirmed that I was off to a fast start — 7:xx.  I backed off slightly, but not too much, since I was feeling good.

Besides one somewhat annoying runner in front of me who kept slowing down, only to surge whenever I or another runner attempted to pass her, there’s not much to report.  I locked my sights on 2 older ladies ahead of me, both wearing green tops and both running at consistent paces, and decided to make them my rabbits.  I paced off of them for almost the whole race, allowing my mind to focus solely on staying with them.

The last mile was the toughest, as it is in every race, but it seems especially tough during a 5K.  I tried not to think about how much longer I had to run and focused on my mantra, which got shortened to just, “Push.”  I quickly added “dig” to the mantra, as in “dig deep”.  As I huffed and puffed my way towards the home stretch, I mentally chanted with every exhale, “Push. Dig. Push. Dig.”…repeated about 100 times.  I felt slightly ill as I crossed the 3 mile marker.  Feelings of nausea washed over me even as I told myself to keep pushing harder, that there was only a tenth of a mile to go.

Just when I felt like I couldn’t run any more, I rounded the curve and saw the “Handoff” banner.  I looked for the race clock, but it was turned the other way, so I had no idea whether or not I was about to PR.  After I crossed the timing mat, I frantically looked for the GR and gave him a high-five (the very official handoff, no need for batons here), as he handed me our sweatshirts.  As he took off on his leg of the relay, I glanced down and stopped my Garmin, which read 25:28.  Even though that wasn’t the official race time, I knew I had just PR’d, and by a wide margin.  YES!!!
Splits: 7:49, 8:11, 8:16, 7:27 for last 0.15 mile.

Post-race:
After catching my breath, I approached my 2 green-shirted pacers to congratulate them on a solid race, and to thank them for pacing me.  They were both extremely gracious and thanked me in return for spurring them on.  I grabbed some water and then did a quick cool-down by jogging our sweatshirts back to the car.  After 20 minutes had elapsed, I went to the finish area to wait for the GR.  Even though his PR is 19:05, we both knew he wasn’t in PR shape.  His last run was back in September and he had recently bruised his tailbone, which made sprinting more painful than usual.  Still, he’s an athletic guy, a natural runner, and a competitive person, so I expected him to come through in good time.  He crossed the finish line after 23:27.6, which, with my official race time of 25:25.6, totaled 48:53.  Not our fastest combined time, but we both did the best we could.  We then met up with JT and MR for brunch, where I had one of the best waffles I’ve had in a really long time.  It was a good morning!

Goals, Revisited, & Positive Takeaways:
I accomplished my goal to run a personal best, finishing 50 seconds faster than my previous PR.  After a PR-drought of over a year, it felt good to break a personal record again!  Other positive takeaways:

  • My end-of-the-race mental stamina has improved so much in the past year, and I was really proud of myself for not letting up towards the last half mile or so.
  • On the same note, I didn’t fall into any mental crises or have a meltdown like I did in October.  The couple of times where I started dissociating, I caught myself doing so and was able to get back in the game relatively quickly.
  • I only looked at my Garmin once, which means I’m learning how to pace by feel and trust my body more than the GPS.
  • I ran my fastest “during a race” mile split ever at 7:49.
  • I got to run a race with my best friend on a gorgeous day in one of my favorite cities.  I’m a lucky girl.

    Team Orange Shorts Running Crew - woot woot!

    Team Orange Shorts Running Crew – woot woot!

Garmin stats: 25:24 for 3.15 miles (8:03/mile)

Official stats:
Individual time: 25:25 (8:12/mile)
Team time: 48:53; 22/51 AG; 69/163 overall

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Posted in Race Recap

Morning Running vs. Afternoon Running

As some of you might know, I recently converted from being a morning runner to an afternoon runner.  There are many pros and cons to each — this is my take:

Morning running – PROS:

  • Get your run out of the way
  • Start your day feeling productive
  • Might get to see the sunrise, which is cool
  • One shower/day and you’re set (if you’re a morning shower person like me)
  • Likewise, one change of clothes and most likely in your own house/apartment
  • Relatively easy to accommodate more mileage by waking up earlier

    I call this, "flaming sunrise over the BART tracks".

    I call this, “flaming sunrise over the BART tracks”.

Morning running – CONS:

  • Having to wake up really early
  • Takes longer for your body to wake up and warm up
  • It’s dark out, so a safety vest and headlamp are required
  • Routes limited to neighborhood loops, due to time constraints
  • I have to be more cognizant of when and what I eat for dinner.
  • Have to plan for possible bathroom stop, and most public bathrooms are closed early in the morning (sorry, TMI)

Afternoon running – PROS:

  • For whatever reason, I always feel faster and more energized on afternoon runs
  • Since I work in Berkeley, I have a lot of different routes to choose from, varying from flat-ish to extended climbs.
  • No bathroom stops, usually.
  • It’s nice to run during daylight hours.
  • I’m not as stressed about when I eat dinner, or what I eat.

Afternoon running – CONS:

  • I have to be more aware of what I eat for lunch and making sure I’m hydrated for my run.
  • I usually get on BART all sweaty and gross.  Luckily, I’m not a very smelly person (or at least I don’t think I am).
  • I get super rungry after my run.  (I’ve been eating a handful of peanut butter pretzels right after my run to counter this runger.)
  • I have to take 2 showers on run days.
  • It’s sort of embarrassing to be seen in running clothes at work.
  • I have to pack all of my gear the night before and carry an extra bag during my commute.
  • I haven’t done this yet, but I can only imagine how annoying it would be to go directly from my run to a social engagement.  I brought wet wipes and a towel to work, but still…

Even though I was initially anxious about switching over to afternoon running, I’ve come to really enjoy it.  Part of the reason I was worried about the change was because I used to talk myself out of afternoon runs all of the time; that’s why I became a morning runner to begin with — I was too tired first thing in the morning to make excuses.  But now that I’ve been consistently running for 3 years, I guess the habit has stuck.  I’ve also had fun exploring new routes and also revisiting old ones, and the “cons” aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they’d be.  Finally, I should note that I’m grateful for a somewhat flexible work schedule and an understanding boss who was supportive of the change.

You might have noticed that I didn’t even bring up evening running.  The few times that I’ve worked out after dinner, I’ve had a really difficult time falling asleep.  I think I get a boost of energy immediately after a run, and it takes a few hours for my body to come down from that.  So, unfortunately, evening runs are out of the picture for me.

I’m curious – what’s your preference?  Do you like to run at a specific time of day, or just whatever works best?

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Race Recap: Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon 2015

Why I wanted to run this race, goals, and strategy:
Previously discussed here, but in summary:

  • I wanted to race with friends.  More specifically, it was Cathryn‘s “birthday race”. (You can read her recap here, and bt’s here.)
  • Time goal: PR, or finish in under 2 hours.
  • To try my best (foot willing; I had a lingering niggle from Foster City).
  • Finish.  Always a victory in itself.
  • Enjoy myself, even if it’s only during the first couple of miles, and to run with gratitude.
  • Not injure myself, even if it comes at the expense of the above “Finish” goal.

Pre-race:
I love that Kaiser is a no-frills race that’s organized by runners, for runners.  As such, there is no expo and bibs are mailed out about 2 weeks before the race.  Going into race day, I had taken taper extremely seriously, only running 8 miles the week before.  I babied my foot, being careful with my landings and wearing my more cushioned Altra Superior shoes for every run.  The night before, I had my usual pre-race dinner of baked chicken, steamed broccoli, and couscous, which has served me well since last year’s Oakland Marathon.

I awoke bright dark and early on race morning at 5:10 a.m., got dressed, and ate a breakfast of cereal and coffee.  In light of my lingering foot soreness, I opted to go with a pair of extra padded Thorlo socks that I received as a Christmas present and Altra Superiors over my usual combo of Zoot compression socks and minimal Merrell Pace Gloves.  I picked up JT en route to San Francisco, where we arrived at the lot near Fulton and Great Highway around 6:45 a.m., 75 minutes before race time.  I was adamant that there would be no last-minute running to the start line à la 2014.  As we organized our gear at my car, Cathryn and her two boys serendipitously found us, and the 5 of us headed toward the shuttles that would take us 1-1.5 miles to the start line.  By 7:15, we had arrived in the start area, used the porta potties, and had lots of time to kill before the race.  The weather was cool and foggy, unlike last year’s wind and rain.  I was really glad that I kept my heatsheet from the SF Half Marathon, because it served as a perfect pre-race layer, ready to be shed at race time.  While standing around, Brianna approached and introduced herself.  Despite being internet friends for months, this is the first time we got to meet in person.  She went on to crush the competition in the 5K, coming in 4th in her age group!

Eventually, we wandered over to the start “chute” which was more like a huge mass of runners than an organized start.  Since it’s such a large race, I really think it would benefit from having wave starts or better spacing between pace markers.  For example, the “Strollers” sign was not far behind the “9:00/mile” area, which — I’m not saying that there aren’t fast stroller runners, but generally, if it’s going to be crowded, I’d rather them start in the back.  Such is my bias.  Also, I’m not sure why the 5K starts at the same time as the half marathon, but that seemed foolish as well.  Somehow in this mass of people, we found Cate and bt, and chatted briefly before squeezing ourselves into the crowd of runners.

After a rather, um, unimpressive version of the Star Spangled Banner, the horn sounded and the crowd slowly moved forward.  I lost JT as I moved to the left curb to drop my heat sheet into the trash.  I finally crossed the start mat a couple of minutes later, and thus began my Kaiser 2015 adventure!

The Race: Golden Gate Park (GGP) and the Panhandle (Miles 1-7)
Last year, my first mile split was 9:38, so I knew I could start relatively slow and still come in under 2 hours.  However, I feel like I spent more energy this year weaving around people — the crowding seemed to be more of an issue for some reason.  After passing a runner, I’d start getting into a rhythm, only to catch up to yet another person running significantly slower than I wanted to.  For the first 4 miles of the race, this was the frustrating pattern that kept repeating itself.  I saw many people on their phones – talking or looking at the screen – or walking/jogging 2-3 across in the middle of the street.  It was infuriating!  I was really surprised to see so many “rookie” moves, as this is a race that draws a lot of serious Bay Area runners, not just weekend warriors or bucket-list groupies.  Despite all of the weaving, I managed to make it to the mile 4 marker only 0.05 miles over, which was good considering that last year, I had run 4.10 at the same point.   I hoped that focusing on running tangents would counter the slower mile paces that were showing up on my Garmin.
Splits (1-4): 9:41, 9:11, 9:24, 9:05

Not sure when this was taken, but judging by my relaxed pose and the guy behind me ON HIS PHONE, I'm guessing it's early on in the race.

Not sure when this was taken, but judging by my relaxed pose and the guy behind me ON HIS PHONE, I’m guessing it’s early on in the race.

As I passed the Mile 4 marker, I took out a Gu from my FlipBelt and washed it down with some water from my handheld.  The next 3 miles through GGP were my favorite of the course, as we passed the bison and Spreckels Lake.  It’s also mostly downhill, so it feels amazing.  Before I knew it, I was approaching Ocean Beach and the Great Highway.
Splits (5-7): 9:03, 8:35, 8:33

Great Highway to the Finish (Miles 8-13.1)
When I hit this stretch, I knew it was time to turn up the effort, mentally and physically.  I felt super strong for the first mile and was optimistic that I could keep up the sub-9:00 pace for the rest of the race.  I saw Layla with her “Team Cat” sign, which was a huge boost as well.  I waved and she yelled some encouragement in return.  After that initial excitement, however, I started to waiver a little.  I decided to focus on looking for JT and Cathryn on their way back from the turnaround.  I tried my best not to think about how many more miles I had left, or how this stretch of road seemed to go on endlessly.  Whereas mile markers came and went quickly for the first 7 miles, they started feeling like they were getting further and further apart.  Just past the 8 mile marker, I took my 2nd Gu.  I got to the turnaround without seeing JT and Cathryn, which was unfortunately likely due to all 3 of us being rather short and obscured by the tall shrubbery dividing the road.  I had hoped for a boost after the turnaround, but instead I started feeling more tired.
Splits (8-10): 8:43, 8:56, 9:00

The next 3.1 miles were painful.  My mantra for the rest of the race was “roll on home.”  It helped me focus on staying relaxed while accelerating towards the finish.  At the mile 10 marker, I saw that my total elapsed time was 1:30 or 1:31, meaning that going under 2 hours would be extremely close.  To distract myself from the fatigue, I started putting my sights on various people ahead of me.  I tried to either hang on or catch them.  While I wasn’t very successful most of the time, it did take some of the pain away.  My left foot, which had been quiet throughout most of the race, suddenly started whining at mile 12.  Luckily, it was nothing alarming, so I decided to press on.

Fighting hard at the end of the race.  Hey, at least I was beating the shirtless dude and the cat-ears guy.

Fighting hard at the end of the race. Hey, at least I was beating the shirtless dude and the cat-ears guy.

With each mile marker I passed, I noticed the sub 2-hour window getting smaller.  I think I had around 10 minutes left to run the last 1.1 miles, or 9:05/mile pace.  Mentally, I felt strong and pushed myself as hard as I could, even as I wished that the finish line would appear at any moment.  I didn’t dare to look at my Garmin and simply focused on going as fast as possible.  The last little hill up to the finish was miserable, but much shorter than I remembered from last year.  I crossed the finish line and looked down — 2:00:25.  Boo.  To make matters worse, my pace for the last 0.2 miles was 9:34/mile.  I could’ve sworn that it was closer to 8:45.  That’s how it felt anyway.
Splits (11-13.2): 9:15, 9:21, 9:32, 9:34 (for 0.22)

The finish from 2 different perspectives.

The finish from 2 different perspectives. On the left, I’m barely beating out the woman pushing not one, but TWO children in a stroller.  On the right, I’ve somehow sprung another set of arms.

Post-race:
After getting my medal (a Kaiser first), I hobbled about and found JT in the crowd.  We eventually reunited with our whole party and traded stories.  It had not been a stellar day for any of us, with the exception of Cathryn’s 5-year old son who won his age group for the 5K and set a new PR!  The rest of us quickly turned our frowns upside down with brunch at a nearby cafe.  On the way to my car, I stopped to chat with Kimra, another social media friend whom I’ve never met in person.  It was great to finally meet her!  All in all, a fun day of hard racing.  I spent the rest of day vegged out in front of the television, entranced by the Super Bowl ads.

Post-race refueling is my favorite.

Post-race refueling is my favorite, especially with such delightful company. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

As for my goals, let’s review:

  • Race with friends: accomplished.  Always so much fun.
  • Run a PR: nope.
  • Run a sub-2 hour half marathon: missed by 24 seconds.  Whomp-whomp.  After the initial disappointment, I was actually fine with it.
  • Try my best: accomplished.
  • Finish.  Always a victory in itself: accomplished.
  • Enjoy myself, even if it’s only during the first couple of miles, and to run with gratitude: hm, this is a vague one, isn’t it?  I did take note at several points during the race how nice the weather and scenery was, and I gave high-fives to spectators whenever possible.
  • Not injure myself, even if it comes at the expense of the “Finish” goal: accomplished.  My foot held up rather nicely.

I’ve decided also to start listing at least 5 positive things or lessons learned from each race. (Idea credit: JT.)

  1. I may not have PR’d or run a sub-2 half, but I did run my 2nd fastest time ever for a half marathon.
  2. I’m starting to free myself from the Garmin.  Throughout the race, I was able to look at the pace display and react very objectively – something I used to have a very hard time doing.  Towards the end of the race, it did put a fire under me to finish faster, but I’d say that’s a positive effect.
  3. I’ve become much stronger mentally towards the end of races.  In fact, I’d say that at Kaiser, I was stronger mentally than I was physically, which leads me to…
  4. Long runs are important.  Leading up to Kaiser, I only did one 12-miler and one 10-miler (with a 1-mile warm-up).  This really showed in the last 3 miles, as my pace dragged despite increasing my effort.
  5. I got to spend quality time with friends before and after the race.
  6. The weather was just about perfect.
  7. Logistics were much smoother than last year.
  8. I actually look like I’m running in my race photos!  (i.e., one of my legs is kicking back)  I take this as a good sign that my form might be improving?

In summary, I had an overall positive experience at Kaiser.  I’ll probably take a break from the race in 2016, but it’s definitely a race I’ll come back to in the future.

Garmin results:
13.22 miles in 2:00:25 (9:06/mile)
Elevation gain/loss (feet): 164/345 (total net loss 180′)
Heart rate — inconclusive data.  This is the only time the Mio Link has ever failed me to such an extreme, and I’m not sure why.

The strangest HR data that I've ever seen.

The strangest HR data that I’ve ever seen.  Looks like I decided to take several breaks, mixed with 5K effort, throughout the race.

Official results:
2:00:23 (9:12/mile)
122/324 AG, 708/2222 F, 2103/4566 overall

**

About the race: (more or less pasted from last year’s race recap)

  • Organizers: Pamakid Runners
  • Cost: $65 for early registration, $75 closer to race day.  No race day registration.  Bibs and chips are sent by mail – no packet pick-up or expo.  Prices increased by $10 this year because of medals.
  • Course: The first half is very gradually rolling, with a net downhill of ~150′ as you head toward the Pacific Ocean.  The stretch on the Great Highway is flat, but is exposed to wind.  The final 1/2 mile has ~75′ gain, which isn’t that crazy, but definitely seems very steep when you’re at the end of a half marathon!
  • Parking: Because the start and finish are 2.5 miles apart, the organizers suggest parking at the start (for a fee) or at the finish (free), and taking a free shuttle to go between your car and the race.  We parked at the lot by Ocean Beach (Fulton & Great Highway) and took a shuttle to the start, which worked out wonderfully.
  • Aid stations: Plenty of water stations spaced regularly along the course.  The electrolyte stations (Gatorade) did not start until after the halfway point.  No gel or fruit stations.
  • Bathrooms:  Plenty of porta potties near the start.  The course runs past 2-3 brick-and-mortar bathrooms in GGP and the starting line porta potties at mile 4.5.  I saw ~4 porta potties each at mile 7 and again later in the race (10?).
  • Swag:  Long sleeve cotton tee with a decent design, heat sheet, water, and a plastic bag with a few flyers and a mini-Clif bar.  New this year, they also gave out medals that double as magnets.
  • Post race food and drinks: Some fruit and free samples were given out at the health and fitness expo, but there was usually a long line
  • Post-race expo: There were tents giving out samples and others offering massages, foot checks, and other health services.

    2015 Kaiser swag: long sleeve t-shirt and medal that doubles as a magnet.

    2015 Kaiser swag: long sleeve t-shirt and medal that doubles as a magnet.

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Posted in Race Recap

Kaiser Weeks 6 & 6.5 PLUS Kaiser Race Preview!

Oh hi!  I made it through a big work project today, so I’m celebrating by drinking a glass of red wine and…blogging! I’m going to try to sum up very quickly the last 10 days or so of half marathon training, and then write down some thoughts regarding this Sunday’s race – the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon.

Tuesday (1/20): 3.65 mi @ 11:33 pace.  Tired, slow, and still a little sore from Sunday’s race.  Avg HR 127.

Thursday (1/22): 5.2 mi @ 10:55 pace.  Easy run around the neighborhood. Still in recovery mode. Avg HR 129.

Saturday (1/24): 8.3 mi @ 10:21 pace
I changed the plan for this run about 10 times. I was scheduled to do 6 easy, but I didn’t do my mile repeats during the week (in the name of recovery), so I switched the workouts around. That meant that today’s plan was 6 x 1 mile at 8:40 pace with 60 seconds recovery. I woke up this morning thinking that there was no way that was going to happen, because I was still feeling tired and a little achey from Foster City. I didn’t want to push myself too hard just to complete a workout, so I went back and forth on how to change the plan — everything from going completely easy, to reducing the number of repeats, to increasing recovery time.

In the end, I decided to do 8 x 0.5 mile (@8:40/pace or 4:20 per 0.5 miles) with 0.25 mile recovery. It was tough, but I got it done. I think it was a good idea to cut back because I think 6 x 1 mile would have definitely been too much. As it was, I was thinking that maybe I should’ve stopped at 6 half-mile intervals instead of 8, but oh well.

splits: 4:41, 4:21, 4:17, 4:27, 4:16, 4:20, 4:17, 4:20
avg HR 147

Sunday (1/25): 50 minutes on the recumbent bike at the gym to give my (still achy) left foot a break.  Plus, I haven’t been to the gym at all this month so I felt a bit guilty.

Tuesday (1/27): 3 mi @ 11:00 pace. It sucks to get up at 5:40a.m. to get at least 4 miles done before work, only to have your gut be a supreme jerk and screw up your plan.  I am seriously thinking about switching to running in the afternoons, even though it’s more logistically difficult in some ways.  If you have any tips about running towards the end of your workday — especially if you then get on public transit — I’d love to hear them.

Thursday (1/29 – today!): 3.33 mi @ 11:04 pace.  Much better than Tuesday’s run.  Avg HR 128.

How I’m feelingThe Foster City 10-miler took way more out of me than I expected.  I think I might have raced it too hard, because I feel like I’ve spent the last 12 days recovering.  I’m especially worried about my left foot, which still has a lingering, dull ache.  It started in the ball of my foot after the race, like a bruised feeling, but recently had morphed into more of a tightness in the arch.  I finally consulted Dr. Google, M.D. today and based on what I’ve read, I don’t think it’s a stress fracture, because of the location, it’s not tender to the touch, and it’s not swollen.  Moreover, the pain is only 2 or 3 on a scale of 10.  If anyone out there has any experience with a stress fracture in their foot (or other foot pain with similar symptoms to mine), please let me know!  In hindsight, I probably should’ve skipped Saturday’s intervals, as they aggravated the symptoms and most likely didn’t help me gain any fitness (physically anyway).  Oh well.

**

Kaiser Half Race Preview

2015-KPSFHM-T-shirt-226x300Why I wanted to run this race:  Three main reasons: (1) it’s Cathryn‘s birthday and a big group of us are running it with her (well, not really with her, but you know what I mean) and then eating brunch afterwards; (2) I really liked this course when I ran it last year, and I think it’s a well-organized, not-that-expensive race; and (3) it’s a fast course, and it’s nice (though painful) to run as fast as you can.

Race day forecast: According to my Accuweather app, Sunday will be partly sunny with 5 mph winds/7 mph gusts. High of 62/ low of 47.  Let’s hope this holds!  Actually, I’m just glad that it won’t be cold, windy, and rainy like last year (even though I seem to thrive in terrible race conditions, oddly enough).

Goals: Despite signing up for this race with the intent to PR, or at the very least running a sub-2 hour half marathon, I’m finding myself in a state of apathy.  Maybe it’s because I’m worried about my foot, or perhaps it’s due to being generally stressed out and tired from work, but I haven’t gotten myself into that zone of really wanting to go for it.  I do intend to go after my baseline goals for every race, which are: (1) try my best (foot willing), (2) finish, (3) enjoy myself, even if it’s only during the first couple of miles, and (4) not injure myself, even if it means a DNF (countering baseline goal #2).

Strategy: Without a specific time goal, and the possibility of foot problems, I plan on covering the pace display on my Garmin and running by feel.  There’s no point in running completely watchless for this race, since there’s a volunteer at every mile marker yelling out the elapsed time.  Like at Foster City, I intend on starting out slow for the first 2-3 miles, then keeping pace for miles 4-12, then trying to finish as fast as I can — which will be difficult given the big hill at the very end of the race.  Ideally, if everything goes to plan, I will finish in under 2 hours and maybe even PR (1:58:51).  I also hope to run something closer to 13.1 miles instead of the 13.2 that I ran last year, which will also shave off some time.

So, there you have it.  The most ambiguous race plan/strategy there ever was.  Maybe I’ll get some race mojo back by Sunday morning… but it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t.  ;)

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Posted in Race Preview, Training

Kaiser Week 5 & Foster City 10-miler Recap

Here I go with the multi-part posts again… anyone want to bet when this one will get published?  (I’m starting on Monday night, posting on Wednesday.  Not too terrible?)

Kaiser Week 5:

Tuesday5.7 miles @ 9:57 pace
Alternating tempo!
Workout: 4 miles alternating between 9:30 and 9:09/mile pace
Actual: 9:31, 9:09, 9:25, 9:03

The plan called for 5 miles, but figuring that this is race week, I decided to shorten it to 4 and do a longer warm-up and cool-down. Average HR 139. I was happy to see my average HR for the tempo miles in the high 140’s.  Maybe I am getting fitter after all??

Thursday: 3 miles @ 11:09 pace
Easy run around the neighborhood – saving my legs for Sunday’s race.
Average HR 124.

Saturday: 1.7 miles @ 10:35 pace
Very short shake-out run around the neighborhood. No Garmin or HRM, just me and my Timex stopwatch.  I felt pretty sluggish, so I was glad the run was short!

Sunday: 11 miles
1 mile of warm-up + 10 miles racing at the Foster City 10-miler (see below).

Total for the week: 21.4 miles
How I felt about it: A low mileage week, and more than 50% of it at fast-ish pace, so that’s probably not great/smart.  BUT.  The Foster City race was a good confidence boost leading into Kaiser, so that’s something. I still need to work on including some core work and perhaps returning to the gym to do some cross-training.  However, considering how crazy busy the next couple of weeks are going to be at work, I’ll be happy if I can just get the running done.

***

Race Recap: 2015 Foster City 10-miler

Why I wanted to run this race: I ran the inaugural event last year and had a good time, so I approached the Race Director about helping with race promotion again in exchange for a free entry.  He agreed, and that was that.  I also wanted to have a tune-up race leading into the Kaiser Half, which worked out well for me last year.

Goals (in no particular order):
A goal – Beat my previous 10-mile personal record and course record of 1:27:56.
B goal – Average sub-9:00/mile, as a tempo run for the Kaiser Half in 2 weeks.
C goal – Run tangents.
D goal – Finish strong and not give in mentally.  Always a struggle for me.

Pre-race:
JT and I carpooled to the race, arriving in plenty of time to pick up my bib (there was no line), relax in the car for a while, go on a leisurely 1 mile warm-up, use the bathroom, and do some dynamic warm-ups.  At 8:25, 5 minutes before the race was supposed to start, we walked over to the start line and met up with Margot and Angela.  There was a 5K too, which started at the same time, which seemed a bit awkward especially since they asked that the 10-milers line up at the front with the 5K runners behind them.  I checked my electrical tape-covered Garmin one last time and then we were off!

The race:
Since I was running by feel, I had a hard time settling in on a pace.  I knew that I should definitely let Margot and Angela run ahead, since they were targeting 7-8 minute/mile pace, but otherwise I had no idea.  I felt like I was going a bit fast, but I also know that my first mile can feel uncomfortable because I need to get used to race pace.  Anyway, at some point, I just stopped worrying and started going with the flow.  I saw that JT was about 15 yards ahead of me, so I decided to make her my rabbit.

After weaving through downtown Foster City, we finally hit the Bay Trail at the end of the 2nd mile.  I was already feeling a little tired and readied myself to deal with 5 relentlessly boring (but pretty!) miles along the Bay.  At least the weather was behaving — it was quite cloudy, with very little to no wind to speak of.  I continued to pace off of JT, about 15-20 yards back, for the next 2 miles.  I eventually caught up to her at the water stop at 4 miles, when she stopped to get a drink.  We ran together for the remainder of the race, which was a blessing as neither of us were particularly happy to be racing, but we pushed each other along with consistent, slightly negative splits.

I focused on getting to the end of the Bay Trail section of the course, which would mark the completion of 7 miles.  I remembered from last year that once we started winding through the neighborhood streets, it would seem like the distance was going by faster.  And it did, for a maybe a mile.  With 2 miles to go, considerable fatigue started setting in and I felt my heart rate rising.  I warned JT that I’d probably start wheezing soon, and to go ahead without me if she was feeling strong.  She responded that she’d try to pick it up with 1 mile to go, but she honestly didn’t know if she had much left in her tank.

Here, I struggled a little with the D goal — even though I didn’t know my pace, I sensed that I had achieved my B goal of sub-9:00/mile average pace.  I was so tired – couldn’t I just dial it in?  But no, I had told myself that I needed to practice mental toughness.  I also knew that I wanted to be able to look back and say that I tried my best.  So I buckled down and focused on putting one foot in front of the other.  When we passed the 9 mile marker, I decided to stay with JT for as long as I could.  I was doing pretty well, until we got to the hilly short little bridge over the lagoon, when I fell a few steps behind her.  After we cleared the bridge, the finish arch came into view — probably a decent quarter-mile away still.  So close yet so far away!  Once I got to the 3 mile marker for the 5K (0.1 miles to go), I started counting backwards from 60, with the rationale that I’d be done before I got to zero.  I think I got to 50 before I gave up — it’s hard to count backwards when you’re trying to run as hard as you can!  Eventually, I crossed the finish line, only 1-2 seconds behind JT.

After catching my breath, JT and I walked over to where Margot and Angela were standing.  They had both done really well, coming in 3rd and 4th in our age group, respectively.  We took a photo and chatted a bit, but because I had to rush home, we went to get our shirts (given out after the race) and said our good-byes.  It was a good morning!

Me, JT, Angela, and Margot post-race.  I've got half of an orange in my left cheek, doing my best imitation of a chubby chipmunk.  (Photo courtesy of Angela.)

Me, JT, Angela, and Margot post-race. I’ve got half of an orange in my left cheek, doing my best imitation of a chubby chipmunk. (Photo courtesy of Angela.)

Race stats:
Garmin data: 1:28:08 for 10.05 miles (8:46/mile)
Splits: 8:43, 9:13, 8:57, 8:50, 8:42, 8:47, 8:45, 8:46, 8:40, 8:24  (Negative split by 1 min 3 sec. Woot!)
Average HR: 159, max 203 (spiked at the very end, for ~1 minute as I recovered from the small hill/bridge)
Fuel: Pre-race coffee and cereal with almond milk.  During the race, I had water and 1 salted caramel Gu.

Official results: 1:28:09 (8:48/mile)
72/183 finishers overall; 19/78 women; 9/27 age group (30-39)

Post-race introspective analysis:
First, let’s review my goals:
A goal – Beat my previous 10-mile personal record and course record (1:27:56): Not achieved.  But so close!
B goal – Average sub-9:00/mile, as a tempo run for the Kaiser Half in 2 weeks: Achieved! More about this below.
C goal – Run tangents: Garmin read 10.05 miles.  I’m going to count this as a victory.
D goal - Finish strong and not give in mentally: It was a struggle, but I’m happy to say I achieved this goal.  The fact that my last mile was also my fastest drives home that point.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how this race went.  Even though I didn’t PR, I felt like it was an equivalent race performance to how I did last year.  I think this bodes well going into Kaiser.  A few weeks ago, if you had asked me if I could run a PR at Kaiser, I would’ve been like, “HELL NO.” But now… I think there’s a decent shot, especially if the weather is better than last year’s wind and cold rain AND if I manage to run the tangents better.  Last year at Kaiser, I ran 13.2 miles, so if I can be even a bit smarter about the tangents, then that’s like getting free time on the clock (or off the clock?).  Also, I know how important mental strength is for the Kaiser course — the first half is lovely, while the second half can be brutal, with a potentially fierce headwind and a 5.5 mile out-and-back that feels like it goes on FOREVER.  Then, just when you think you’re done, there’s a decent-sized hill up to the finish line.  So yeah, I’m going to be spending the next couple of weeks getting my head into that zone.

Physically, I’d say that I ran Foster City hard, maybe 90% effort.  I could feel it in my legs almost immediately after the race, and it’s taken about 3 days for the soreness in my calf to go away.  Even my upper body was sore!  The one area that I was worried about was the ball of my left foot, which was quite tender after the race but is finally getting better.  I think I might’ve bruised it.  Just as a precaution, I decided to switch my workouts around and delay any speed work until this weekend, to give myself extra time for rest and recovery.

***

About the race: (Note: This is mostly the same information as last year, with changes struck out or in bold.)

  • Organizers: Corrigan Sports
  • Cost: The 10-miler started at $50 for early bird registration and went up to $85 on race day.  The 5K started at $35 and was $50 on race day. (Note: I received a free entry in exchange for race promotion.)
  • Course: Flat (mostly), fast, and somewhat scenic.  Well-marked for the most part — there were a lot of traffic cones laid out, as well as course marshals directing traffic.  There were quite a few turns toward the end, but it was easy to run the tangents due to the sparse crowd.  Also, the turns were a welcome sight after running straight along the coast for so many miles.
  • Parking: Free.  I parked at a nearby parking garage as designated by the race organizers, but you could also park across the street at the public library. There was ample parking at City Hall, which is where I parked this year.
  • Aid stations: 4 water/Gatorade stops, at slightly different locations than specified on the course map.  My recollection is that they were at miles ~1.5, 3.5, 5.5, 8.5 (but I didn’t have my Garmin on, so these are guesstimates based on mile markers and pacing).   They had advertised that they would be handing out Gu at the last 2 aid stations, but I never saw any.  However, since I was carrying my own, I wasn’t necessarily paying attention.
  • Bathrooms:  The senior center in Leo Ryan park was open for bathroom access.  No porta potties on the course, though there seemed to be some park bathrooms along the way (I wasn’t really paying much attention, obviously).   I assume the bathroom situation might change if there are more runners in the future.
  • Swag: Long sleeve, attractive tech tee – in a surprisingly soft fabric.  There’s a medal only if you run all 3 10-milers in the series. Two-tone short-sleeve tech tee (you can see a photo on Angela’s recap). 
  • Post-race food and drinksEach entry came with 2 beer tickets, which I did not take advantage of.  I got a bottle of water as I crossed the finish line.  There was only a smattering of food left by the time I finished — I assume, based on the trash bin contents and empty boxes, that the 5K runners ate most of the bananas and granola bars, leaving the mid-pack and back-of-the-pack 10-milers with 2 small boxes of navel oranges.  Not that I have anything against peeling my own oranges, but it would’ve been nice to have someone there manning the food table and cutting up orange slices.  It was a bit underwhelming for such an expensive race (though to be fair, I didn’t have to pay).  Food situation was pretty much the same this year.  They had run out of Gatorade by the time I finished, and I had to peel my own orange again.  Whomp whomp!
  • Other notes: Very well-organized for an inaugural event!  There weren’t a lot of spectators, but everyone was really nice and I enjoyed myself.  It’s a good race to keep yourself motivated over the holidays, especially if you have a spring half or full marathon on the schedule.  I’ll be excited to see how this race grows in the future!  Even though the course isn’t super exciting, this is a well-organized event on a flat, fast course.  The weather has also been ideal both years.  I like how the crowd thins out by mile 3 such that it’s quite easy to track the people ahead of you and try to catch up to them.  JT and I managed to consistently pass people ahead of us without getting passed in return, which is always a nice feeling.
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