Happy 2nd Blog-a-versary! (and Big Sur Week 3)

Today, Running Tangents turns 2!  It’s been a great experience so far.  One thing that I’ve found extremely rewarding about Running Tangents is all of the great people I’ve met and gotten to know — either through the blog itself or through social media outlets such as Twitter or Dailymile.  Having been the author of 2 other blogs previously, the online running community stands out as extremely interactive and encouraging.  I just want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU for reading, commenting, and following along on my running journey!  I’m especially thankful for the great running buddies that I’ve met through this blog – some of whom are pictured below. :)

Yay for great running companions!

bt and I

Me, Angela, and Cathryn ready to race.

Me and Roserunner.  Our smiles belie how cold we are...

20140413-163529.jpg

OK, technically I haven’t run with this guy, but at least we finally met in person last week after 2 years of being blog friends!

And last but not least, many thanks to the Gypsy Runner, not just for his relentless support, but also for diligently proofreading just about every one of the almost 200 posts that have appeared on this blog.  Thank you for your fine editing skillz!!

Good looking, great at marathon spectating, fast runner, and mad editing skills: the GR has got it all!

Good looking, great at marathon spectating, a hella fast runner, AND has mad editing skills.  I’m a lucky girl!

**

With only 5 weeks between Oakland and Big Sur, this past week (week 3 post-Oakland) was the one week that I intended to get any kind of “real” marathon training done.  Here’s how that went:

Tuesday: Hills!  I revisited my old foe at Lake Chabot – Live Oak/Towhee Trails.  The last time I climbed crawled up Live Oak and Towhee was during my first trail half marathon, and it was not pretty.  However, with Big Sur being a hilly course, I decided not to shy away from a hill with 11% grade (600+’ over ~1 mile).  I managed to run/hike/walk it, but I want to work towards running the whole way up.
6 miles @ 11:39/mile, ~650′ elevation gain

The view from the almost-top of Towhee.

The view from the almost-top of Towhee.

Thursday: Mile repeats!
5.7 miles @ 9:30/mile

Saturday: Easy-moderate effort on the Bay Trail.  It was nice to see the average pace drop by ~a minute over the last 2 weeks.
6 miles @ 9:49/mile

Spring flowers by the Bay.

Spring flowers by the Bay.

Sunday: Long run!  I originally thought about doing my one real long run before Big Sur on trails, but then I thought maybe it would be better to get on some hilly roads instead.  Unfortunately, most of the long run routes I know of in the East Bay are either too short or very flat.  I decided to make it an adventure and head over to the city for 20 miles.  Luckily, bt had 14 miles on her training schedule and was able to meet me for the latter part of my run.  The route was virtually planned through Map My Run, with some helpful tips from Kimra and Angela.

I started out in the Panhandle and headed west through Golden Gate Park, then south along the Great Highway.  After 6.6 miles (Map My Run had it at 6 miles), I met up with bt near the SF Zoo.  We decided to skip the Lake Merced section, as it seemed kinda trafficky, and I hate waiting at stop lights.  We went north on the Great Highway, where we had to dodge some participants in the DSE 4 mile race.

The climb up to the Land’s End trailhead from Ocean Beach is no joke, but we slowly but surely chipped away at it until we were at the top, at which point I gave bt a well-deserved high five.  From there, we ran along the main trail and took in the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin.  After encountering one particularly long set of stairs, only to see another set going down the other side, we decided to turn around.  We’d add more miles in the park or on the panhandle, we reasoned.

Up the stairs, down the stairs.  At Land's End.

Up the stairs, down the stairs. At Land’s End.

Just bt, me, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  NBD.

Just bt, me, and the Golden Gate Bridge. NBD.

After the glorious but too brief descent down to Ocean Beach, I felt the first inkling of fatigue at around mile 12-12.5.  The steady climb back into Golden Gate Park only intensified my desire to stop and walk, which I gave into a couple of miles later.  Heading into Stow Lake to make up some extra mileage around mile 15, I knew that 20 miles would be a stretch, so we turned back around instead of doing a loop around the lake.  With about a mile to go, I did walk/run intervals while bt ran ahead and did a few high intensity intervals to make up for the shortened run.  I felt slightly deflated about cutting the run short, but I also knew that pushing myself to run 2.5 more miles today wouldn’t have been that beneficial in the long run (pun intended).  I was really thankful to have bt’s company especially in the last hour — I probably would’ve thrown in the towel sooner rather than later if I had run by myself.

We refueled afterwards at a neighborhood cafe with sandwiches and about 3 different drinks each (!) — including coffee, root beer, Pacifico, San Pelligrino, and 2 waters.  I wanted to take a photo, but left my phone in the car.  Whomp whomp.
17.5 miles @ 11:29/mile, 1290′ elevation gain

Total for the week: 35.2 miles.  I think this was a pretty solid week overall.  Maybe I was overly optimistic about getting 38 miles for the week after hitting 15 and 28.5 miles per week in the past 2 weeks.  I’m definitely ready for taper and will be taking it a bit more seriously than I did before Oakland.

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Posted in Training

Perspective

A short post brought to you by this morning’s workout and also by procrastination, i.e., Day 5 of “I’ll do my taxes… tomorrow!”

I’ve been running plenty of hills in preparation for the Big Sur International Marathon, so I thought it would be fun to change it up today with a speed workout.  It’s been ages since I last did mile repeats — Christmas Eve 2013, in fact! — so I headed to my neighborhood track for 3 x 1 mile with 1/4 mile rest intervals.  I had no idea what pace to run, though the McMillan calculator suggested something in the 8:13-8:31 range.  Regardless of pace, my goal was to try to find a happy medium between working hard while also running a consistent pace over 3 repeats.

The first mile repeat felt relatively effortless for the first 3 (out of 4) laps, clocking in at 8:26.  I couldn’t believe how relaxed and steady I felt at what is approximately my 5K PR pace (8:27/mile)!  I got distracted during the 2nd repeat and had to work hard to make up for a slow first lap, finishing that mile at 8:23.  The 3rd and last repeat was tough, but I had found a rhythm/strategy, which was to relax during the curves and hammer it home during the straightaways.  I completed the 3rd mile in 8:24, averaging 8:24.33 for all 3 repeats.

Jogging home, I felt satisfied with the consistency and pace of my repeats.  However, it wasn’t until I entered the splits into my training spreadsheet that I realized how much faster I’ve gotten over the years.  Here’s the comparison:

  • April 2012: 9:22, 9:28, 9:12; Average: 9:20
  • February 2013: 8:47, 8:51, 8:47; Average: 8:48
  • April 2014 (Today): 8:26, 8:23, 8:24; Average 8:24

I’m not writing about this to brag (OK, maybe I am, just a little bit – haha).  Lately, I’ve been of the (negative) mindset that I’m not improving or getting faster.  This data clearly states otherwise, at least when it comes to mile repeats.  Anyway, it made me realize that one of the values of keeping a training log/spreadsheet is that it reminds you of where you’ve been, how far you’ve come, and also lets you dream about where you might be 1-2 years in the future.  It’s also a good reminder that hard work and consistent training can yield steady improvements.  Sometimes, a little perspective goes a long way.

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Posted in random, Training

Oakland Marathon – Post-Race Analysis & Recovery

I have a feeling this post will be extremely rambling, so apologies in advance!  It’s been 2 weeks since the Oakland Marathon and being the reflective (i.e., overly analytical) person that I am, I have many thoughts about the experience.

Let’s start with the GOOD:

  • As I discussed in my recap, I was able to maintain a positive attitude throughout the race.  This was huge.
  • I got to see the Gypsy Runner and several other friends along the course.
  • I had no fueling or GI problems.
  • No chafing!  On a really hot day!!  All the exclamations!!!!
  • My Garmin said that I ran only 0.2 miles longer than 26.2.  That’s a victory for this curvy course, in my book.
  • No race day logistical issues with transportation, drop bags, etc.  Everything went very smoothly.

Next, the BAD:

  • My pace progressed (or rather, regressed) for each quarter of the marathon from 10:08 to 10:33 to 10:51 to 12:13/mile (yikes!).  Perhaps I pushed too hard on the hills, or I was undertrained, or it was too hot — or all of the above.  To be honest, part of me just didn’t care.
  • Calf cramps.  ‘Nuff said.
  • No desire to push or be competitive in the last 6 miles.  I felt this way at the end of MCM as well.

Finally, the UGLY:

  • The downhill totally killed my 2nd toenail on my right foot.  It’s currently black… not sure if it’s going to fall off yet.  If it does, it’ll be my first one!  Which simultaneously freaks me out and excites me at the same time.  It’s like I’ll be a REAL runner now.

Now, for the important part — what lessons did I learn that I can apply to Big Sur, which is now only 3 weeks away?  Well, one practical thing I did was to buy new running shoes with more toe room, as well as a tad more cushion for the long distance.  After trying on the Altra Intuition, Saucony Virrata, New Balance Minimus, and Merrell Bare Access 3′s, I came away with the Merrells, which offered the combination that I was looking for (light weight, zero drop, light cushioning, and good price point).  I have to say that I thought the New Balance Minimus was the most comfortable shoe, but it didn’t look that durable… and for $110, it better last me a while!

My new kicks!  I'm still breaking them in, but so far so good!

My new kicks! I’m still breaking them in, but so far so good!

Training-wise, I think the lack of high weekly volume and/or long runs became very obvious during the last 6-10 miles of the Oakland Marathon.  There’s not much I can do about that now, but at least I have one very long, 26.4 mile training run under my belt for Big Sur. ;)  Another thing I can work on is my mental toughness, which continues to be a work-in-progress.  While I was glad that I stayed positive when things got rough during Oakland, I’ve decided that I want to try harder at Big Sur.  Yes, I want to enjoy the experience and take in the views, but I also want to finish the race leaving everything on the course.  I couldn’t really do that at Oakland, with Big Sur on the horizon.

In a big picture sort of way, my experience at the Oakland Marathon had me wondering if I truly ENJOY the marathon distance.  I can safely say that I like the challenge of the marathon, the sense of accomplishment upon crossing the finish line, and going to that crazy mental and physical space that I’ve only ever experienced during a marathon.  However, I’m not sure if I enjoy the act of running 26.2 miles all that much.  The first 6 miles are the most enjoyable, followed by the next 6, and then the 6 after that.  It’s a weird dynamic where I’ve really disliked running the last 8 miles, but those last miles are also the ones that take the marathon to the next level and make it worthwhile in my mind.

Did the Oakland Marathon chase away the ghost of MCM?  Yes and no.  Although I was successful in avoiding the pit of despair at Oakland, I still wasn’t able to overcome the mental blocks in the last part of the race.  For example, my resilience completely breaks down.  I give in to the voice that says, “It’s OK to walk” even though I had just told myself that I wouldn’t take another walk break until the next mile marker or aid station.  The mantras that have worked well for me for shorter distances just don’t seem to hold up during the marathon.  I feel like I need to have a mental breakthrough if I want to “succeed at” or “conquer” the marathon.  We’ll see if that happens at Big Sur.

**

Post-marathon recovery has been going splendidly!  I eased back into running the first week back, running 2 miles on Tuesday, 3 miles on Wednesday, 4 miles on Thursday, and 6 miles on Sunday, for a total of 15 miles.  I got an awesome sports massage on Friday that made me feel like a new woman.

This past week, I ran a timed mile on Monday, where I clocked a surprising 7:44 — not bad for 8 days post-marathon!  I ran 6 miles on Wednesday, 3 hilly fartlek miles on Thursday, 10.5 VERY hilly miles at San Bruno Mountain with Jess and Cathryn, and 6 easy miles today.  Total: 28.5 miles.

Here are some pics from my runs over the past 2 weeks:

Bay Trail marsh - near San Leandro Marina.

Marsh near the Bay Trail near San Leandro Marina.  Love the dramatic post-storm clouds.

Lake Chabot

Lake Chabot, looking lovely as always.

Green hills of Lake Chabot

The green hills of Lake Chabot

Running on the ridge of San Bruno Mountain. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

Running on the ridge of San Bruno Mountain with Jess. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

With the exception of the run at San Bruno Mountain yesterday, which was intense (2200′ elevation gain), I feel like I’m almost completely recovered from Oakland.  (For more photos and details on our San Bruno Mountain adventure, hop on over to Cathryn’s blog for a terrific write-up!)  This next week, I’m planning on doing a mid-week hilly run, a speedwork/tempo session, and a 20-miler, totaling about 38 miles.  Wish me luck!

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Posted in random, Trail running, Training

Race Recap: 2014 Oakland Marathon

Why I wanted to run this race & Goals:
Discussed in detail here and here, but the basic gist is that I decided to run the Oakland Marathon about 2 months ago because I thought it would be fun and good training for the Big Sur International Marathon on April 27th.  My goal was to enjoy the race and if the stars aligned, set a new marathon personal record (PR) by finishing under 4:32.

Pre-race:
I woke up Saturday feeling excited and nervous, which I took as a good sign.  Later that morning, I took the BART to Downtown Oakland to pick up my bib and race premium at the expo, which took all of 5 minutes.  Easy breezy!  Then I met up with Danielle, Amanda, and Jess.  I’ve known Danielle since moving to Berkeley about 9 years ago, but we hadn’t seen each other for over a year or two, so I was looking forward to catching up with her.  As for Amanda and Jess, I met them both through social media (blogosphere, Twitter, and dailymile), so I was a bit nervous about how that would go… especially meeting both of them at once while also trying to catch up with Danielle.  Luckily, these ladies were all really easy to talk to and the conversation flowed seamlessly, as is often the case when runners get together.   We chatted for a long time, then let Amanda get back to her Zooma ambassador duties of woman-ing the booth.  Danielle and Jess were both running the half marathon on Sunday, so we wished each other luck and parted ways.

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing, as I spent most of the afternoon hanging out with friends.  As for pre-race fueling, I decided to do a couple of things differently this time around – which worked really well for me, so I thought I’d make note of it.  I purposefully had a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner, both comprised of leftover pesto chicken and green salad.  I had a banana and small slice of cake with lunch, washed down with Nuun.  Dinner included sourdough toast with an egg over easy.  As is my pre-marathon tradition, I re-watched Spirit of the Marathon on Netflix while getting my race gear ready and doing last-minute stretching and foam rolling.  It was then that I decided that no matter what happened during the marathon, I would run with gratitude.  It might sound cheesy, but I wanted to cross the finish line thankful to my body for making it through another 26.2 miles, instead of criticizing it for not performing the way I wanted it to.  Another aspect of “running with gratitude” was to thank all of the spectators and volunteers out on the course.  It was a win-win in my mind — not only would that contribute to the positive vibe of the Oakland Running Festival, but thanking others would help me maintain perspective even if I was suffering.

With a 5:00 a.m. alarm, I miraculously got myself in bed and asleep by 9:00 p.m.  I slept soundly for 4 hours, then tossed and turned for another 4, which is about par for the course for pre-race sleep.  At 5:00 a.m., I woke up, ate breakfast (2 PB&J’s on English muffins with a mug of hot water), and got dressed.  The latest weather forecast called for cloudy skies through 1:00 p.m., with temps in the high 50′s/low 60′s, so I was stoked.  Thinking it wasn’t going to be as hot and sunny as I previously thought, I went ahead and donned arm warmers (a.k.a. Target knee high socks with the toe seam cut) and black compression socks to go with my tank top and shorts.

The pre-race logistics were easier than either of the marathons and most of the half marathons I’ve run.  I got to Oakland around 6:30 a.m. and easily found street parking about 5 blocks away from the start line.  By 6:45 a.m., I was at Snow Park, having already done a short warm-up and a stop at the porta potty.  I wandered around for a little while to kill time and dropped off my sweat bag a little early, since it wasn’t that cold.  After doing some dynamic stretching, and I entered the relatively empty start corral at 7:10 a.m.

The least crowded marathon start I've ever seen.

The least crowded marathon start I’ve ever seen.  It did eventually fill up.

Excited to run Oakland!

Excited to run Oakland!

An Oakland native sang the national anthem at 7:15, and then we waited… and waited some more.  Those 15 minutes seemed to stretch out for hours.  I was eager to start this race, and when they started playing George Clinton and the P. Funk’s “We Want the Funk” right before the race started, I relaxed a bit as I bounced to the music, along with the ~1000 marathoners and relay runners around me.  It was definitely a good though unusual musical choice!  The announcer started the countdown from 10, and at 1, there was smoke and horns blaring — the marathon was on!

The Race: (Broken down into 4 parts – equivalent to each leg of the marathon relay.)
Downtown, Temescal, & Rockridge (miles 0-6.2)
When the race started, I tried not to get swept up in the excitement.  I covered up my Garmin with electrical tape and concentrated on keeping my breathing in check and my effort easy/moderate.  As the course weaved around Downtown Oakland, I jostled back and forth with the 4:30 pace group, finally passing them at the end of the 2nd mile.  Shortly after mile 2, I took my first Clif Blok — so of course the first race course photographer was there to capture the moment of me chomping on it.  Classy.

Flashing a thumbs-up with a Clif Blok in my cheek.

Flashing a thumbs-up with a Clif Blok in my cheek.

I really enjoyed this section of the course.  Not only was I feeling good and fresh, but it was really fun to run through Temescal and Rockridge, two neighborhoods full of memories of delicious dinners and nights out with friends.  I also loved seeing all of the people who came out so early in the morning to cheer us on — ranging from the typical marathon spectators to Oakland natives, out in their robes and cups of coffee in hand.  It was also great to see a couple of familiar faces in the crowd, including RH and Laura, who were out on the course cheering for their respective partners.

At the out-and-back in Rockridge right before mile 6, I saw that I had gained on the 4:30 pace group – maybe 45 seconds or so?  With the big climb ahead, I figured that they’d catch up to me at some point if they were to maintain a 10:17 pace, so I made my peace with that.  As we turned onto Keith and passed the first relay exchange, I took a deep breath and got ready for the miles of hills ahead.
1st relay split: 1:02:25 (10:08/mile for 6.16 miles)

Montclair & Oakmore (miles 6.2-12.75)
Even though there was ~200′ of elevation gain in the first 6 miles, it was hardly noticeable – with the exception of the hill up 51st St.  It was a different story as the course wound up Keith, then Broadway, where according to my Garmin, I climbed over 300′ in about a mile and a half.  Still, I was determined to not walk, even if it meant slowing down to a crawl.  So crawl I did.

To make the climb more arduous, the sun started peeking through the clouds.  I raised my proverbial fist at Accuweather for the wrong forecast.  The crowds started to thin out significantly during this section.  Once I got up to Lake Temescal, there was a bit of relief from the climb.  There was even a peaceful, leafy bike path, which was quite nice.  This was followed by a section of small rollers with a net elevation gain as we traveled through the well-heeled and beautiful neighborhood of Montclair.  It was really pretty, and *almost* made up for the effort.  Around mile 8.5, the 4:30 pace group passed me, just as I had predicted.  I kept them in my sights for another mile, but lost them as we went through downtown Montclair.  I knew I could keep up with them if I pushed the pace, but I also realized that it was too early in the race to up the ante by that much.  So I focused on my own effort levels and let them go.

I hit another steep section, followed by a relief-inducing downhill stretch, then another uphill portion.  Just when I thought I couldn’t climb one more hill and was *thisclose* to walking, I saw the pinnacles of the Mormon Temple, which meant one very important thing: I was almost at the top!  I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy to see a street sign as when I saw the one for Lincoln Ave., where I knew that a sweet downhill stretch awaited.  But first, I had to climb just one more steep hill.  A small group of spectators was cheering from the Mormon Temple parking lot, and I heard one man cheering me on with, “Still on your toes – NICE!”  I gave him a smile and a wave, then let out the quietest “woohoo!” ever, since I was so out of breath, as I crested the hill.  It was such a great moment – to triumph over all of that elevation gain without walking – and to get a beautiful view of Oakland and San Francisco from so high up.  I took a few seconds to enjoy the moment and take a good look around before getting back to business.

I did not stop to take a photo, but this is pretty representative of the view from the top.  (source)

I did not stop to take a photo, but this is representative of the view from the top of the Oakland Hills. (source)

The downhill was crazy steep.  I tried to let gravity take over, but soon my left hip was aching from the pounding.  My good mood from just minutes earlier was dissipating fast, but I tried to hold on to it as long as I could.  Cheers of, “You got this!” and “Way to go, #916!” were just a few of the encouraging words I heard as I made my way to Fruitvale.  It was getting pretty lonely out there, though, and by the time I got to the 2nd relay exchange, it looked like an oasis in the middle of a ghost town.
2nd relay split: 1:09:08 (10:33/mile for 6.55 miles)

Lower Dimond, Fruitvale, International Blvd., Chinatown, & Jack London Square (miles 12.75-19.73)
I grabbed a Gu at the 2nd relay exchange, noticing that I was more worn out at this point of the race than I would’ve liked.  It wasn’t even at the halfway point yet, but I was feeling depleted, both physically and mentally.  Somewhere in this section, a Chinese guy in his late-20′s, with whom I had been leap-frogging, decided to make conversation.  While I’m keen to do that sometimes as a distraction, this was not one of those occasions, especially since he was speaking to me in Mandarin.  It’s hard enough to hold a conversation with a stranger at mile 13 of a marathon without having to do translations in your head!  So, after a few exchanges, I told my new Chinese friend that I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to chat.  He said no worries and trotted ahead.  We kept seeing each other through about mile 23, where I passed him for good.

As it seemed “just down the hill,” I set my sights on Fruitvale BART station as the next goal destination.  However, I grew impatient as the course meandered around the neighborhood streets for a while before I finally saw International Blvd.  The sun was out in full force at this point and beating down on me fiercely.  When I made another turn and finally came upon Fruitvale BART station, I was greeted by a small crowd of spectators and performers.  Unfortunately, that would be biggest crowd I’d see for another 2 miles.

The next 30 blocks of International Blvd. were barren.  This might sound overly dramatic, but I felt as if I was spiraling down hard and fast into a pit of despair.  I decided that this would be an opportune time for me to turn on my playlist.  As “American Girl” by Tom Petty blasted through my earbuds, my mood began to lift.  I also came upon an aid station where one of the volunteers saw my empty water bottle and offered to refill it for me.  I’m thankful that she was looking out for me because I wasn’t thinking very straight at that time and probably would’ve just skipped it, feeling that I was wasting precious time.  It was somewhere on International Blvd. that I felt the first of many calf and foot cramps that would plague me for the rest of the race.  The cramps never got out of control as long as I stayed on top of them by taking short walk breaks, so at least there was that. #glasshalffull

As I saw the streets tick down down to the teens, I became more upbeat again, especially with the thought of seeing the Gypsy Runner at mile ~17.3.  I passed by our old neighborhood, where a rowdy group of street people cheered me on from the bus shelter at 8th Ave.   Gotta love the local flavor.  The marathon course merged with the half marathoners at mile 17, where the half marathoners were all walking (at about 15:00/mile pace), so that was a little odd.  Shortly after the merge, I came upon 10th and Oak Streets, where the GR was waiting.  I gave him a hug and a kiss, and we walked together for one block, then jogged for another.  I told him how tired I felt, but that I was still in decent spirits.  He left me at the end of the 2nd block, saying that he would see me at mile 23.  Oy, that seemed like an eternity away!

I ran (with a few walk breaks) through Chinatown and Jack London Square without much enthusiasm, just ticking off the miles until I got to the 3rd relay exchange.   The one thing I did enjoy was running through The Crucible‘s Arch of Fire, one of my favorite parts of the course, for the 3rd year in a row.

SO MUCH going on in this photo.  Is that man taking a selfie? The lady behind me is going crazy!

SO MUCH going on in this photo. Is that man taking a selfie? The lady behind me is going crazy!

3rd relay split: 1:16:10 (10:51/mile for 7 miles)

West Oakland & Lake Merritt (miles 19.73 to 26.2)
There was a decent size crowd at the 3rd relay exchange, where I grabbed another Gu.  I saw Laura again, and was pleasantly surprised to see a crew of friends cheering for me at mile 20!  They purposely hadn’t told me that they were coming out, and their presence lifted my spirits for a little while.

I was very happy to see these friendly faces at Mile 20! (photo courtesy of VH)

I was very happy to see these friendly faces at Mile 20! (photo courtesy of VH)

I also enjoyed seeing the fire-spewing horse (another favorite from The Crucible) as I ran down Mandela Parkway.  Then, I came upon the awesome “aid station”/buffet at Brown Sugar Kitchen.  I can only imagine the crazed look in my eyes as I approached the lady holding the tray full of oranges and haphazardly grabbed a slice.  I also took a chunk of banana for good measure.  Those fresh snacks rendered my half-eaten Gu impalatable.  Despite all of these nice distractions, the cramps and walk breaks were getting more and more frequent.  I had been downing at least one cup of Gatorade per aid station since the halfway point, but they did not seem to help much with the cramping.  To add to my physical ailments, the top of my foot was beginning to hurt (I forgot which foot, so it must not have been that bad – ha!) and I could feel one of my toenails bruising.  Fun!

The 2 mile stretch linking Mandela Parkway to Lake Merritt has always been my least favorite part of the half marathon course, so I knew I’d have to dig deep to keep my motivation flowing.  I kept up with my run/walk pseudo-intervals, and made sure to high-five every member of Raider Nation cheering racers on beneath the 980 Freeway overpass.  Slowly but surely, I made it to Lake Merritt where I saw the GR camped out under a shady tree.  We walked up a short little hill together.  I handed him my bottle and uneaten packet of Gu, and told him I’d see him at the finish.  Only 3 miles left!

It’s amazing how, despite having run the Lake hundreds of times (literally), one lap can feel like an eternity.  Even though I was determined to run the rest of the way, cramps shot through my calf whenever I got into a decent rhythm.  With less than 2 miles to go, the 4:45 pace group passed me.  I was slightly demoralized for about 10 seconds, but then decided that I didn’t care.  I would just try my best for the rest of the race, no matter what the clock said.

Still managing to smile at ~mile 24.

Still managing to smile at ~mile 24.

The jog-cramp-walk cycle continued, and as I passed the last aid station, where there was a festive, beach party theme, I saw a familiar and friendly face to my left.  It was Danielle, who had finished her half marathon and was back to run with me for the last mile!  I was so glad to have her company.

Just to prove that I'm not the most vain person ever - a not-so-great photo in the last mile.

Just to prove that I’m not the most vain person ever – a not-so-great photo during the last mile.

From frowns to smiles - Danielle kept me going at the end!

From frowns to smiles – Danielle kept my spirits and my pace up at the end!

To keep my mind distracted, I forced Danielle to keep telling me stories.  We managed a slow jog for a significant chunk of the last mile until I got to the steep portion of 19th St, less than 0.2 miles from the finish.  I knew that my calf would cramp up on the incline, and it did.  The GR jogged over to us, and the 3 of us walked up the steep section together.  Then, they left me so that I could run the very last section by myself.

Almost there...

Eyes on the prize…

YES!!!

YES!!!

As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed by feelings of happiness, pain, gratitude, relief, and fatigue.  More importantly, it was the complete opposite of how I felt at the end of MCM, where I barely registered the finish line because I was so preoccupied with my feelings of failure and negativity.  I didn’t beat my MCM time, but I beat my MCM attitude, which is way more important in my book.  Cheesy, but true!
4th relay split: 1:19:07 (12:13/mile for 6.47 miles)

I did it! Marathon #3 in the books!

I did it! Marathon #3 in the books!  (That dude behind me, however, doesn’t look too happy.)

Post-race:
With a smile of sweet relief on my face, I high-fived several members of the ORF staff after crossing the finish mat.  I limped through the finisher’s corral and collected a heat sheet, medal, bottle of water, and some salty snacks.  The nice thing about a smaller marathon like Oakland is that finisher’s area is only about 20 yards long — i.e., they don’t torture you with a half-mile post-race death march.  Within minutes of finishing, I had hugged the GR, posed for photos with Danielle, and reunited with my Mile 20 support crew.  I also managed to spot and briefly chat with AL, who set a new half marathon PR, and KP, who had a good race despite a nagging injury.  Although I would’ve liked to sit on the sunny grass to enjoy my 2 free 21st Amendment beers, it was getting late and my Mile 20 support crew was restless for some lunch.  I grabbed my drop bag (without any delay or trouble) and we trekked about 10 blocks to a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown.  Even though I was in a lot of pain, I knew that the post-race walk would be good for recovery.  As with MCM, I wasn’t all that hungry immediately after the race, but the salty broth of the wonton noodle soup and the sugary carbonation of 7-Up really hit the spot.

With my #1 spectator and support crew, the Gypsy Runner.

With my #1 spectator and support crew, the Gypsy Runner.

Chowing down! (photo courtesy of VH)

Chowing down! (photo courtesy of VH)

I said after the race that the Oakland Marathon was my “personal worst but best overall” marathon experience.  The GR called the “best overall” into question, and after some contemplation, I’d have to agree with him.  I think that CIM is my best overall marathon so far — it was memorable (HELLO MONSOON), I enjoyed most of it, and it is still my PR.  Not to mention that it was my first marathon and, therefore, will always hold a special place in my heart.  However, I would say that Oakland was a close 2nd in the enjoyment category — the community support is just amazing and there is something special about running a marathon in your hometown (even if you don’t technically live there anymore).  I’ve got more to say about my training and marathons in general, but I’ll leave that for a post-race analysis blog post.  I’ll just sign off with…

Official results & Garmin stats:
time: 4:46:50 (10:56/mile)
558/820 overall, 176/303 F, 27/43 AGsplits

About the race:

  • Organizers: Corrigan Sports
  • Cost: $95 for early registration (up to Nov. 1), $105 (up to Jan. 1), $115 (up to March 15), and $140 at the expo.  They shared discount codes via their twitter account @oaklandmarathon, including 20% off in the week leading up to the race.  I don’t know about the other distances, but I don’t think the marathon sold out.
  • Course: First half is VERY hilly and the 2nd half is very flat.

    Total elevation gain according to my Garmin: 1000'

    Total elevation gain according to my Garmin: 1000′

  • Parking: Paid and free garages available.  I found (free) street parking 5 blocks away near the Oakland Library (14th & Madison).
  • Aid stations: Plenty of aid stations, spaced about 2 miles apart.  All of the aid stations had both water and Gatorade except for the first one, which only had water.  There was supposed to be Gu near each relay switch, but I didn’t see any at mile 6, so  I was glad that I brought my own.  There were also impromptu stations set up by neighborhood families and a really nice one in front of Brown Sugar Kitchen, handing out everything from fruit to desserts.
  • Bathrooms:  At least 3 different groups of porta potties at the start/finish area.  There were no lines at the ones on Alice St., but they didn’t have any toilet paper either.  The ones I’d recommend would be the small group of 10 porta potties behind the charity tents that no one was using.  On the course, there were ~3 porta potties at every aid station.
  • Swag:  An attractive half-zip premium, nice medal, reusable clear bag, and an iGift bag with coupons, most of which I won’t use.  All racers over 21 were given 2 drink tickets, good for either 21st Amendment beer or Barefoot sparking wine.

    Nice medal and race premium.

    Pretty medal and nice race premium.  The sleeves have thumb holes – my fave!

  • Post-race food and drinks: Plenty of water, Gatorade, fresh fruit, Dole fruit snacks, and small bags of salty snacks (pretzels, Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos).
  • Post-race party:  Various musical groups performed, including Oakland native Sheena E.  The post-race weather (high 60′s and sunny) was fantastic for sitting around the park.
  • Other notes/summary:  Due to the small field, location, and organization, this was the easiest race logistically out of all 3 marathons I’ve done.  The course does a great job showcasing all of Oakland – geographically and demographically.  My only critique is that miles 13-17 of the marathon course are quite lonely; perhaps more could be done to get spectators or musical groups on that stretch between Dimond District and Lake Merritt BART station.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the spectators are wonderful.  You can feel the Oakland pride, and the community support is definitely my favorite aspect of this race.  This is not an easy course, but definitely very interesting and enjoyable!
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Posted in Race Recap

Oakland Marathon Week 7! (race week)

Hi there! I’m happy to report that I’ve survived yet another marathon.  The post-race marathon waddle has set in, with a lot of soreness and achiness in my hips.  My calves were the only muscles that really despised being foam-rolled yesterday, and my upper hamstrings are still quite tight.  Otherwise, I feel pretty good.  My runger hasn’t reached epic proportions, which is sort of unusual, but it might be because I ran at a much slower pace than I have in previous marathons.  Anyway, I thought I’d write up a quick weekly training recap before I forget what happened last week.

Tuesday: KP came to check out the new place, then we went for a run at Lake Chabot.  We kept it at a conversational pace and took 2 walk breaks, so I was pleasantly surprised when we ran 5 miles averaging 10:18/mile.

Thursday: Out-and-back at Lake Chabot.  I took it very easy on the way out and added hill sprints on the way back.  3 miles @ 10:30/mile.

Friday: Shake-out run in Alameda.  Easy run with ~5 sets of strides towards the end.  My legs felt a little tired and the speed wasn’t quite there, so I wondered if I should’ve tapered more.  Oh well, too late!
2.7 miles @ 10:22/mile.

Sunday: Race day!  I started off strong, but the hills in the first half drained my legs.  I kept a positive attitude, however, and finished with a smile and a feeling of gratitude (and fatigue!).  Full recap coming soon!
26.4 miles @ 10:51/mile, race time: 4:46:50
Unofficial results: 558/820 overall, 176/303 F, 27/43 AG

With DL after the race, who ran the last mile with me.  It's hard not to be grateful for such supportive friends!

With DL after the race, who ran the last mile with me. It’s hard not to be grateful with such supportive friends!

Total for the week: 37.1 miles. Third highest weekly mileage for the cycle.  No wonder I was so tired!

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Posted in Training

Race Preview: Oakland Marathon

5th-Ann-Logo_OAKRace: Oakland Marathon
Date & Time: Sunday, March 23, 2014 @ 7:30 a.m.
Where: Oakland, CA

Course reconnaissance:

Elevation profile for the Oakland Marathon.

Elevation profile (source).

The most glaring thing is that huge hill (small mountain?) from miles 3 to 11.  I’m used to seeing elevation profiles like this for trail races, but it’s safe to say this will be the biggest climb I’ve ever faced during a road race.  It will definitely be good practice for Big Sur!  I think the elevation profile is why, despite Oakland Marathon’s recent accolades (here and Runner’s World), and despite the marathon boom, the race still isn’t sold out.  In fact, the marathon field is typically dwarfed by the much flatter and later starting half marathon.  For example, in 2013, there were 855 marathon finishers and 3278 half marathon finishers.

The first 2/3 of the course goes through neighborhoods where I’ve never run before, such as Temescal, Rockridge, Montclair, and Fruitvale, so I’m quite excited about that.  It will be really cool to crest the hill near the Mormon Temple and have an awesome view of the Bay and SF.  Hopefully, I won’t be too tired and cranky from the climb to enjoy it!  The last 1/3 of the marathon course hooks up with the half marathon runners through Jack London Square, West Oakland, and then back to my old stomping grounds – Lake Merritt.  The last 6 miles will be a real test, since this is the section where I’ve always struggled during both Oakland Half Marathons I’ve run.  And this time, I’ll have run 20 miles before getting to West Oakland BART, instead of just 7!  One thing that will be interesting and different about this race is the merge with half marathoners, who will start at 9:15.  Assuming consistent pacing, this means that the marathoners should be faster than the half marathoners at the merge.  Luckily, there’s not a lot of congestion for this race, so what I’m hoping for is a psychological boost from being able to pass people in the last 9 miles.

I’m also hoping for home-field advantage when it comes to spectating.  The Gypsy Runner saw me at various spots during the 2012 half marathon, and after having lived in Oakland for 16 months, he’s much more familiar with the area.  We’re both hoping for a better experience compared to the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), where we only saw each other once, despite about 4 attempts, and only in passing.

Weather forecast:
Sunny and hot! Most likely 50 and cloudy at the start, 65-70 and sunny at the finish.  I’ll definitely need to keep tabs on hydration and electrolytes.  If someone could meet me at mile 20 with a Slurpee, that would be AWESOME.

Time goal:
Because I signed up for this race on relatively short notice, and because the elevation profile is so intense, I don’t have a set time goal.  However, I would be *ecstatic* if I could PR on Sunday, even it’s only by a minute.  (My current PR is 4:32:39, set at CIM in 2012.)

Other goals/objectives:
My main objective on Sunday is to not repeat the mistakes of the past.  Specifically, I want to avoid bonking and the mental and psychological breakdown that happened during the last 6 miles of MCM.  Even though it was only 5 months ago, I feel like I’ve become a much stronger racer since then.  To achieve my goal, I’ll run with my Garmin covered and silenced, so I can concentrate on running by feel.  Second, I’ll focus on staying positive and be ready with solutions should things start unraveling.   Also, I’m racing with earbuds for the first time ever, so that I can play some music just in case things get really dire.

And I know I always say this, but I really, really want to ENJOY myself on Sunday.  I love Oakland, I love running, and I love the community support for this race.  I think it’s gonna be hella awesome!

Random thoughts:
So, this has been a really unconventional and strange marathon training cycle, mostly because I hadn’t planned on running the Oakland Marathon until about 2 months ago, and also because my “A race” was Kaiser.  So, while I feel like I’m in pretty decent shape, I’m curious whether my DIY, on-the-fly training “plan” will result in a successful marathon.  Even though I’ve had one decent trail 30K and a not-so-great 20-miler this training cycle, I definitely haven’t done as many long runs as I have in the past.  I have a feeling that I’ll definitely be tapping into deep mental reserves to get me through the last part of the race to make up for any shortcomings in the endurance department.

Last week, I was listening to a running podcast and one of the hosts was talking about how a bad race could haunt you.  It struck me that I’ve been haunted by the ghost of MCM for a while now.  I know I shouldn’t let one race define me as a runner, but I was really disappointed at my mental and physical unraveling during MCM.  Even as I’ve set new PR’s, I still can’t help but feel the shadow of MCM hanging over me like a cloud.  (I know, so dramatic!)  Part of me is afraid that history will repeat itself on Sunday, but I’ve decided that there’s no use in worrying about it.  Whatever happens, happens.  If something bad arises, then I’ll deal with it.  It also comforted me to read my “lessons learned from MCM” post, and to see a comment from Amy about how it takes 5-7 marathons to truly get a good grasp of the marathon.  It made me realize that I’m still a novice and newbies make tons of mistakes – and it’s ok!  That’s how we learn, right?

Anyway, enough rambling.  I’ve been told that live splits will be posted on the Oakland Marathon website, so if you want to track me, my bib number is 916.  Woot!

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Posted in Goals, Race Preview

Settling in

Hello there!  I’ve survived #movepocalypse2014 and am happy to report that I’m much better rested and less stressed compared to last week.  Today was momentous: the last box was unpacked, I finished acquiring all of the little things we needed, and we hung up a few pictures.  We’re still lacking a bit of furniture, as to be expected when moving from an apartment to a single family house, but it’s beginning to feel like home.  AT&T set up our internet on Wednesday (finally!), we’re getting a washer and dryer delivered this week, and today, we had dinner at a Korean restaurant just down the street that serves the world’s best kimchi (according to the Gypsy Runner).  I’m glad to say that the transition to suburbia is going just swell.

Nothing says, "Welcome to the neighborhood" quite like delicious food - and lots of it!

Nothing says, “Welcome to the neighborhood” quite like delicious food – and lots of it!

As part of the move, I’ve traded my usual running routes at Lake Merritt for Lake Chabot.  On Monday, I ran 3.2 hilly miles on Ten Hills Trail (11:05/mile; 440′ elevation gain).  What a workout!  I was proud of myself for running the whole way, which is the first time I’ve ever done that.  On Wednesday, I returned to Lake Chabot and challenged myself with 6 x 1 mile tempo intervals on the flatter trails.  The afternoon heat meant a really tough run.  My splits were 9:32, 9:51, 9:37, 10:11, 9:56, 10:17, and I averaged 10:30/mile for a total of 8 miles.  I usually jog during rest intervals, but my heart rate was through the roof and I had a lot of difficulty controlling my breathing.  It was definitely a tough and humbling run.

My last Lake Chabot adventure for the week was on Friday, when the Gypsy Runner and I ran around the Lake together.  Well, mostly together — the GR ended up having some knee pain at mile 6.8 and decided to walk the rest of the way, so I ran ahead.  My goal was to keep an even effort through 9-10 miles, which I did achieve more or less, albeit slowly.  In total, I ran 9 miles at 11:33/mile pace with ~600′ elevation gain.   Even though I’ve only been running regularly at Lake Chabot for a week, I already know that running there will benefit me tremendously.  My ego is a little bruised to see significantly slower paces compared to flat roads, but I also know that, “The hills pay the bills!”  I’ve stuck to known trails this past week, but I’m really looking forward to exploring new routes.  And I promise that I’ll be better about taking photos of those new trails too!

For my last long run of the Oakland Marathon training cycle, I decided to run 10 miles on familiar territory — the Bay Trail between Berkeley and Emeryville.  I purposely chose this route because it’s mostly flat with a short hill up to Golden Gate Fields.  Maybe it was all of the trail running I did this week, but that hill seemed way smaller than before!  I felt really great during the run; it was a complete 180 from 2 weeks ago.  The miles went by quickly and I could feel that my pace was strong given relatively easy effort.  I averaged 10:08/mile for 10 miles.  My only complaint was that it was pretty hot — it was probably in the low 70′s by the end of my run at 9:40 a.m.  The forecast for race day is looking equally warm, so I’ll need to mentally and physically prepare myself for that.

Total for the week: 32 miles.

I can’t believe the Oakland Marathon is only one week away!  With the unstructured and unconventional training cycle this spring and moving last week, I haven’t really been in “taper” mode at all… which I think is good and bad.  Good in that I’m not putting too much pressure on myself or overthinking things (well, relatively anyway).  Bad because I’m not as amped up or excited about it as I was for previous marathons.  However, I have one more week to get my mind right, so y’all can look forward to a race preview this week when I’ll talk about ALL THE FEELINGS that I have about the Oakland Marathon.

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Posted in Trail running, Training
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On the docket…

4/27/14 - Big Sur International Marathon
7/27/14 - San Francisco Half Marathon (1st Half)

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