Two weeks

Just checking in with a quick training update, before I head into another work-induced black hole (this time, it’s a conference that I helped to organize).

As part of 5K training, I’ve been doing speedwork regularly. The nice thing about going from zero workouts to twice a week is that there’s usually quick progress. Case in point:

Example 1: over 2 weeks ago, I did mile repeats with splits of 8:43, 8:27, 8:28 (average 8:33/mile). I was disappointed, but I also abided by my motto, “You gotta start somewhere!” This past Saturday, I did the same workout with splits of 8:05, 8:00, 8:15 (average 8:07/mile). To be fair, the first workout was done in the pre-dawn hours in my neighborhood (on sidewalks), whereas the second was at high noon on a track. And I’m sure that running a 5K recently with a 8:13/mile average helped a lot mentally – i.e., to know in the back of my head that I was capable of running that pace or faster for mile repeats (though I didn’t pace myself based on my Garmin).

Example 2: exactly 2 weeks ago, I did a fartlek workout (10 x [1 minute on/1 minute off]) with an average pace of 7:52/mile. In very similar conditions this morning, I did the same workout with an average pace of 7:39/mile. Of course, I’m happy with the faster average pace, but I’m even happier with the fact that this morning’s splits were more consistent than they were 2 weeks ago.

Something I just realized recently is that I’ve never trained for a 5K. So I’m hoping all of this hard work pays off on March 20th! Regardless of the outcome, there are some lessons I’ve learned with a few weeks of speedwork under my belt:

  • Speedwork is hard, but I get a lot of satisfaction after each session.
  • No matter how hard I *think* I’m running, I can almost always go faster.
  • My perspective keeps shifting as my splits get faster. I remember a few years ago when I thought a single 8-minute mile was my top speed, and now I can run 3 miles averaging 8:07/mile! I know that’s not very fast by a lot of people’s standards, but for someone who often came in dead last in the timed mile at school, it means A LOT.

Hope everyone is having a good week! Happy Chinese New Year!

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Spring has sprung! #seenonmyrun

 

 

 

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Posted in Training

Race Recap: Crissy Field parkrun 1/30/16

Background: I’ve been a long-time listener to the Marathon Talk podcast, and one of the hosts, Tom Williams, is an organizer of parkrun — a free, weekly 5K that started in the U.K., and has since spread all over the world. Last year, they started one in San Francisco at Crissy Field, but I was deterred by the long drive (45-50 minutes, without traffic) just to run a 5K. However, with the Oakland 5k coming up as goal race, Cathryn and I decided we could use a dress rehearsal 5K. Plus it’s free. Happily, bt and the rest of Team Ramsden (Cat’s boys) also decided to join us. (For their recaps, see Cathryn’s here and bt’s here.)

Goals: I didn’t have any time goals. I just wanted to go out, see where my fitness stood, and get into the 5k frame of mind — i.e., enter the “pain cave”. A secondary goal was to work on mental toughness and focus on pushing hard throughout the race.

Pre-race: I arrived at Crissy Field at 8:30 a.m., and found plenty of free parking near the Beach Hut. I met Dale, the enthusiastic and awesome Crissy Field parkrun organizer, as he was putting up the official parkrun signage. bt appeared shortly and we made a pit stop before embarking on a short, easy warm up. As we headed back to the start area, we spotted Team Ramsden. We listened to announcements from Dale, walked over to the start area, and took some group photos.

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Pre-race photo (credit: Dale/Crissy Field parkrun)

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Group photo (credit: Dale/Crissy Field parkrun)

The race: This is a free event, so there aren’t a lot of frills – no chip timing or start/finish mats. The 40 or so runners formed a haphazard clump behind an imaginary start line, with Dale about 20 feet ahead counting down, “3-2-1, go!” At that command, the parkrunners took off. I noted which runners were part of our group, as it wasn’t a closed course and there were a lot of people out on the path. Since it was my first time, I wasn’t sure how well-marked the course was and I didn’t want to get lost. (Spoiler: I didn’t get lost.)

The lead runners surged west on the packed sand of the ocean front path and I followed. I wasn’t sure about the pace but I also didn’t want to go by my Garmin. So I stayed about 5-10 feet behind Cathryn for a while, knowing she was attempting a sub-25 pace. We got to the wooden bridge, which Dale had informed us was a quarter-mile from the finish line. I took a peek at my Garmin and saw 7:55/mile pace. That number (I was aiming for more like 8:10-8:20), plus the fact that I felt like I was working too hard for so early in the race, made me back off my pace. Still, I managed to pass a few people in the first mile. There were quite a few obstacles on the path, including water hazards (giant puddles) from the recent rain, not to mention dogs, strollers, cyclists, and pedestrians. I tried my best to not weave too much while avoiding most of the solid obstacles, and eventually ran through all of the puddles.

Early in the second mile, we took a sharp left on Fort Mason Road onto a paved, multi-use path. Transitioning from sand/gravel to pavement was wonderful. I picked up some speed, but I had no one to chase because everyone seemed to have settled in to their pace and there weren’t any runners in my immediate vicinity. After about a half mile, I made a left turn on the field and another left turn to make my way back to the start (in a triangular fashion). Just as I closed the triangle, I saw bt and waved, but she didn’t see me. I was breathing too hard to yell. After a couple of minutes, I passed Team Ramsden (father and son) as they were heading to the triangle, and we exchanged a quick hello.

I made a right turn to head east on the oceanfront path. Home stretch! I decided to focus on catching the two guys ahead of me. I closed the gap over the next half mile and passed the first guy, accidentally splashing him as I did so. Oops! Sorry, dude. I caught the second man shortly thereafter. Left without an immediate target to catch, I longed for the wooden bridge to come into view, as it would signal that there was only a quarter mile to go. It seemed like an eternity, but I eventually got to the wooden bridge. The next thing I looked forward to was hearing my Garmin beep that I had run 3 miles; then it would only be a tenth of a mile to go. I was hurting, but I continued to push. (Surprisingly, my photos don’t reflect the amount of effort I felt like I was expending at the time.)

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How is it that even at full sprint, both of my feet are on the ground?? I’m running, I swear!

I eventually saw the little finish corral, flanked by tiny orange cones. To the right of the cones was Dale, who (quite extraordinarily) managed to call finish times AND take photos simultaneously. Cathryn welcomed my return and exclaimed, “Second woman!”  Wait, what? I hadn’t noticed at all during the race, but I quickly realized the only woman ahead of me was Cathryn. Oh, and not only did Cathryn finish first female, but she also PR’d! WOOT! (Also, for the record, I totally called the PR.)

Cathryn and I cheered in bt and Team Ramsden, then took photos before walking over to Dynamo donuts for post-race refueling. All in all, It was a fantastic morning. Not only was the race free, but the weather was perfect and the crowd friendly and supportive. Oh, and free photos too!If you live in or near SF, I highly recommend Crissy Field parkrun. (Note: while it’s a free race, you should register and obtain a bar code if you want an official finish time.)

My official time was 25:32, 7 seconds off my PR and my second fastest 5k to date. I’m extremely pleased with how I raced – I managed to negative split a 5k, for possibly the first time ever?? My mile splits were: 8:22, 8:16, 8:07, 7:18 (for last 0.11). That last split indicates to me that I may have been too conservative in the early part of the race. Having just finished How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald, some of the coping strategies (when facing high perceived effort/pain) were fresh in my mind. I don’t know if I was already able to implement the book’s advice, but it certainly didn’t hurt. With 8 weeks until Oakland, Crissy Field parkrun was a great boost to my confidence and 5k training!

 

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Resurfacing

First running post of 2016! And it’s only… oh, 3+ weeks into the new year? It’s taken me this long to finally come up for air, as the first 2 weeks of January revolved around a huge undertaking at work. I helped to co-organize an intensive, 6-day course, which required 14-hour workdays, not including the 1.5 hours of daily drive time. So, running was out of the picture from January 10-15. I also slept poorly (I tend to have a lot of anxiety dreams during such times in my life) and ate horribly… so, all in all, I really dug myself into a pretty big hole over just 6 days! I also gained a real appreciation for people who manage to work long shifts on a regular basis and/or have kids and have to add running, cooking, and errands into the mix somehow. I felt like I could barely keep my head above water!

Anyway, so I spent last weekend (MLK Jr. holiday) sleeping, relaxing, and doing some running. This week has been pretty productive, actually, with 4 runs totaling 26.4 miles, including 2 workouts (400 m and 1 mile intervals) and one long run on the trails. I was curious about when I last ran this much in one week, so I took a peek at my Dailymile training log. It turns out that this is the first week I’ve run more than 25 miles since Santa Rosa Marathon — in August!

The funny thing is, all of a sudden, I feel like I have my running mojo back. It’s probably due to a number of things, including but not limited to:

  • Increased/regular speed work — it’s painful, but always gives me such an endorphin rush.
  • Training with purpose — related to above, it’s nice to know there’s a reason to do certain workouts. I’m also getting more intentional about my runs, like waking up earlier this past Thursday to have coffee before doing mile repeats. Otherwise, I tend to run like a half-asleep zombie in the mornings.

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    Scenes from my trail run today: first time I’ve seen water in this creek in 2+ years, thanks to El Niño, and trying on some new gaiters gifted to me from Jess.

  • Impending racesCathryn and I (and hopefully some others) are planning to do a free 5K this coming Saturday. I want to run it as a baseline for my goal 5K on March 20th. I’m not expecting much, but I don’t want to totally suck either.
  • Feeling like absolute crap after my work event — like I mentioned, I ate and slept really poorly and did zero running. I swear that I gained about 2 inches to my waist by the end of the week. I came out wanting to make serious improvements in various aspects of my life, including diet and exercise. To this end, I’ve ordered two new cookbooks – Thug Kitchen and Salad Samurai. I’m especially excited about the latter — I’ve been seriously craving hearty salads with beans and all sorts of veggies. I think my body is trying to tell me something!
  • Watching Desert Runners on Netflix — I love running films, and this one was done quite well. It actually made me want to run on the treadmill for a full hour, that’s how good it was. This documentary focuses on 4 runners trying to complete the 4 Deserts Series (Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, and Antartica) in one calendar year. It’s not something that I’d ever want to do, but it was still inspiring to watch.
  • Reading How Bad Do You Want It? by Matt Fitzgerald — I’ve been a big fan of Matt Fitzgerald for a long time, and even though I’m only one chapter into this book, I feel like it may be the most relevant to me (out of all of his books). It deals with the idea that endurance athletes are limited by their perception of effort, and if we can recalibrate our ability to cope with (and accept) that perception, then we can tap into improved physical performance. This is precisely something that I feel is lacking in my running. Even when I’ve been physically fit, I’ve been guilty of throwing in the towel (or rather, stepping off the gas) when the going gets tough. And I usually regret it after I’ve crossed the finish line. I’m curious to learn about what kind of strategies might be useful to help me improve my coping mechanisms.

Let’s hope this motivation sticks around for a little while. Hope you’re all having a great 2016 so far!

p.s. None of the above links are affiliated. I’m linking for your information. :)

Posted in random, Training

2015: Year in Books

OK, I know this is a running blog, but I’ve been inspired by Angela and bt to write about the books I’ve read. I’m always looking for suggestions too, so please feel free to list your favorites in the comments!

In 2014, I finally started using my Goodreads account in earnest (you can find my page here). I’ve found that it’s a great way to keep track of books I’ve read and intend to read, as well as see what my friends are reading and get a sense of how their literary tastes might match with mine. Goodreads also has an annual challenge where you can set a goal to read a certain number of books by the end of the year. Having read* 21 books in 2014, I aimed to read 30 books in 2015.
(*Note: “reading” for me includes both audiobooks and actual printed books.)

How did I do? Well, I fell way short of my goal and only finished 23 books. However, in my defense, I also did a decent job keeping up with the weekly The New Yorker, gifted to me by my generous sister. As anyone who has subscribed to The New Yorker knows, it’s easy to let them pile up, and one of my goals in 2015 was to stay current and read each issue as they came in. The good news is that I did a decent job reading almost all of them; the bad news is that it left a lot less time to read actual books. Is that a good enough excuse? ;) Now that my subscription has run out, I’m hopeful that 30 books in 2016 will be a more reasonable and achievable goal.

Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2015:Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 10.13.21 AM.png

Top of the bunch (4-5 stars):

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This was by far the best, but most painful to read book I’ve encountered in ages. While I was reading it, I kept turning to the Gypsy Runner and saying, “I’m so depressed by this book…but I can’t stop reading it.”
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. A friend had recommended this to me last year, and with the movie coming out, I finally jumped on it. I finished it in 4 days and I loved every nerdy moment. It’s awesome to read a thriller where the hero is a scientist and solves issues with his brains and not with brawn.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I had been planning to read this for a long time, but I knew it was going to be depressing, so I put it off. As expected, reading about slums and abject poverty in India is quite depressing, but I also found it well-researched and well-written.
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I didn’t know that much about Hemingway or life in Paris in the 1920’s, so I thought this book was quite enjoyable and enlightening, even if the language got a bit repetitive.
  • Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Think Gone Girl, but British and with a female protagonist that’s very flawed yet likable (sometimes). Not a literary masterpiece, but well-done and a quick, fun read.
  • Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning by Hal Koerner. #runnerdalert. I thought this was very good for a “how-to”/training manual. It did feel like a field guide, and a resource that can be used by novices and experts alike. Koerner comes across very likable as well.

Middle of the pack (3-stars):

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I resisted this book for a long time, but it was on a shared Kindle account, so I figured I’d give it a try. The plot was entertaining, if a bit preposterous.
  • Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was NOT a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but I was intrigued by this analysis of the history of Western marriage. Gilbert presents some very surprising (to me) facts, while weaving in her own personal feelings about matrimony, to which I could definitely relate. In the end, though, I was disappointed and unconvinced by her reason to get remarried (that marriage is the ultimate act of rebellion and sedition against the government).
  • The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein. A short novel with interesting characters, setting, and plot, but I came away without a lasting impression or emotional connection.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I can see why this is a classic. And given when it was written, I can also see how this was a trailblazer in its day…but it feels dated, precisely because so many have copied Vonnegut’s style. A victim of its own success?
  • Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I LOL’ed so many times while reading this memoir. If you love random, “what the hell just happened?”-type of humor, I highly recommend this book.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I started this book thinking it would be another Bossypants, but I quickly realized that Amy Poehler is not Tina Fey 2.0, in a good way. Even though it wasn’t as LOL-funny as other comedian memoirs, I felt like Ms. Poehler actually shared intimate details with her readers about how she REALLY feels about things. Example: the chapter she wrote about her sons is really heartfelt and touching. I may or may not have cried.
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I was annoyed at the name-dropping and the scattered “story telling” (if you can call it that), but I do think it raises a lot important questions for men and women alike about gender equity in the workplace and beyond.
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. A novel that could have simply been a standard tear-jerker somehow stays above the fray. There’s enough “stock characters” that it was easy to envision the Hollywood version as I was reading it, but the main character’s voice rings true. Warning: I couldn’t read the last chapters on BART for fear of sobbing during my morning commute.
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers. An interesting premise that doesn’t quite deliver: a Facebook/Google/Amazon-like super conglomerate takes over the hearts and minds of Americans in the very near-future. I found myself annoyed with the protagonist, but invested in the plot.
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (audiobook). I actually liked the book better than the TV series, but I know a lot of people would disagree. I think it’s because the real-life Piper is more likable than her TV doppelgänger.
  • M-Train by Patti Smith (audiobook). Let’s be honest: if Patti Smith had a podcast where all she did was read her grocery list aloud, I’d probably subscribe to it. To say that she has a mesmerizing voice is an understatement. M-Train isn’t nearly as good as her earlier memoir, Just Kids, but it still has its moments.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. At first I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, then I got annoyed, and by the end, I was *really* annoyed. Plus, it was super long. (Why did I rate this 3-stars again??)

Bottom of the pile (2-stars):

  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tart. I hated the first part, liked the middle portion, and felt “meh” about the ending. It was too long – that’s what pushed this from 3- down to 2- stars for me.
  • Stone Mattress: Nine Stories by Margaret Atwood. Atwood is one of my favorite authors, but I think I like her novels better, when she’s has the space to develop characters and plot.
  • Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. Hugely disappointing and forgettable.
  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll. I rolled my eyes a lot at this book and all of its clichés. (See what I did there?) The author may have accomplished a lot, but he sure is a know-it-all.
  • The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly. This is more like a long short story, or an extremely short novel, so I’m not sure it counts as a book? This was another story filled with tropes (recovering addict, finds redemption in running long distance, blah blah blah) — which might have been fine with me except it was 90%, “Hey, I was a cool guy that struggled a lot with drugs, alcohol, and women” and only 10%, “Running is cool.” But at least it was only 60 pages.
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2015: Year in Running

Time for the year-end post! These are sometimes cheesy, but I enjoy looking back at the last 12 months and doing a little summary before moving on to the new year. Also, since I’m a numbers nerd, I like to look back at previous years (see 2012, 2013, & 2014) to compare stats like mileage and races. So, without further ado…

Best race experience: Santa Rosa Marathon. Maybe I’ll eventually run a faster marathon, but I doubt I will ever have such a magical, perfect race experience like I did at SRM. Everything came together so well, from logistics, to race conditions, to executing my race strategy. I negative split by 11 minutes to PR by the same margin. I’ll never forget getting to the mile 20 marker with a smile and actually being EXCITED to run the last 6. The only thing missing was not having a support crew at the finish line to celebrate with. That would’ve been the icing on the cake!

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Best run: I loved the group run at Pleasanton Ridge. We had a great turn out that day with 9 ladies, and I felt really strong on the hills. Then, we had brunch, which is always awesome.

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Best new piece of gear: Altra The One2 shoes. They’re heinous to look at (think clown bowling shoes) and the name is quite silly, but I love these shoes. They’re what I’ve been looking for for so long — a road shoe with zero drop, just a bit of cushion, wide toe box, and lightweight.

Best piece of running advice received: “Stop thinking and just run as best as you can.” — The Gypsy Runner, before the Santa Rosa Marathon.

Most inspirational runner: The one runner whose story I was really moved by this year was Gunhild Swanson, the  70-year-old who made the cut-off at Western States 100-mile race with just 6 seconds to spare. In her post-race interview with iRunFar, she comes across as extremely likable, down-to-earth, and humble. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be happy to be half as fit as Gunhild when I’m 70 years old!

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? Enjoy the running. PRs are nice, and sometimes you want to work hard at getting faster, but in the end, running is a hobby for me. If I’m not enjoying it, then what’s the point?

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And now for the numbers:

Miles (through 12/29; I may run a few tomorrow): 1,224

Races: 14

  • (1) 5Ks
  • (2) 10Ks
  • (1) 12K
  • (1) 15K
  • (1) 10 miler
  • (4) half marathons – 2 road, 2 trail
  • (2) marathons – 1 road, 1 trail
  • (1) marathon relay
  • (1) 50K

Miles raced: ~184

Racing milestones:

PRs: (not counting new distances with automatic PRs)
– 4:21:52 (9:59/mile) at Santa Rosa Marathon. Bettered previous PR by 10 min 47 sec.

Age Group Awards: 2 — 1st (out of 12) at Brazen Dirty Dozen 10K, and 2nd (out of 2) at the Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon.

Reflections:
When I look back on 2015, I see a return to fitness (after coming back from injury in 2014) and a year of new, fun experiences. I tried some different distances and prioritized running with friends. I raised money for charity while training for my first ultramarathon. I qualified for the Marathon Maniacs.

I’ve gotten a bit complacent since Santa Rosa, but I prefer to think of myself as more relaxed. ;) Heading into 2016, I hope to get faster at the 5K. My goal is to PR at the Oakland 5K on March 20th.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!

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Race Recap: Walnut Creek Half Marathon

My alarm went off at the rude hour of 5:00 a.m. It was dark and just above freezing outside – with temps in the upper 30’s/low 40’s. I begrudgingly got out of my warm bed to get ready for the Walnut Creek Half Marathon – my 9th half marathon on roads and 16th half marathon overall. I got dressed in front of the space heater and chugged hot coffee. Despite the cool temps, I had decided the previous evening (perhaps with too much bravado) to dress in a RaceRaves singlet and shorts, with knee-high-socks-turned-arm-warmers as my only protection against the chill. I reasoned that as early as the 2nd mile, I’d be happy with my outfit and tried not to think about the 15-30 minutes between bag drop and the start that I’d be without my hoodie.

I made my way to downtown Walnut Creek without any problems. Concerned with the parking situation, I decided to play it safe and park on the garage on Broadway, only 2 blocks from the start. I made a pit stop at a real flushing toilet in Civic Park, looking smugly at the folks in the porta potty line while I waited, then made my way to meet up with a small group of friends at 6:40 a.m. – Cathryn, Roserunner, DD, and others. After a quick hello, we went our separate ways to the bag drop, bathrooms, and start line area. It was very cold, but nothing too uncomfortable. Back at the start area, I managed to find DD and her friend M, who was only 12 weeks postpartum. They said they were planning on taking it easy, approaching it like a social long run. That sounded good to me, so I figured I’d start out with them and gradually pull ahead at mile 2-3.

After the Star Spangled Banner was sung, there was a countdown and the race started. The field was less crowded than I had anticipated, so it only took me about 40 seconds to cross the start mat. I started off alongside DD and M, but they quickly pulled ahead, lost in their conversation, and I let them go. For the first mile, I was confused and concerned about being behind the 2:20 pacer- especially since I wasn’t wearing a watch – but then felt relieved when the 2:05 pacer passed me and those around me talked of paces in the 9-10 minute/mile range. I decided to follow my game plan of starting off slow, then gradually increasing my effort throughout the race. I would be patient up the big hill between mile 4.5-7, and then try to reel-in runners for the rest of the race.

My other loose plan was centered around Gu consumption. I decided to have a Gu right before the race, then around mile 4 and again at mile 9. I was glad that I brought my own Gu, as they only had Gatorade and water on the course, with the occasional appearance of sliced oranges. I don’t know if it was my pacing or fuel strategy (probably both), but my energy levels felt good for most of the race.

As I’ve already mentioned, the downside of not wearing a watch is not knowing how fast you’re running. The upside is that the miles seem to go by so much quicker. Mile markers seemed to appear in quick succession, and before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the big hill (mile 4) and looking forward to seeing Danielle, who had generously agreed to come out in the cold to cheer for us. When I saw her, I heartily waved to get her attention. She jogged with me for a short stretch and then we parted ways, agreeing to meet at the finish.

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Happy to see Danielle along the way! (photo credit: Danielle)

Thanks to Kimra’s race report from 2012, I knew that the hill wasn’t a steady climb as portrayed by the elevation chart on the race website. It’s more like a steep-ish hill which plateaus out for a while, allowing for some recovery, before you encounter another steep ascent followed by a more gradual grade all the way up to the top of Ygnacio Valley Road. Mentally prepared for this, I took my time up the hill, passing quite a few people who were already walking pretty early on. This helped boost my confidence tremendously. While it was a big hill for a road race (maybe 400-500 feet in total elevation gain?), it was nothing compared to  what I’ve seen on trails.

Near the apex, I tried to focus on the positive (one of my goals for this race), and I said aloud, to no one in particular, “Wow. Look at the view!” Truth be told, the view wasn’t that great, but it was still proof positive that we had come up a LONG ways from where we started. Once we crested the peak, I channeled my inner competitive spirit and went full throttle down the hill. Knowing it had the potential to be punishing after a while, I made sure to concentrate on my form and not brake too much with my quads.

I started passing a lot of people in the next 3-4 miles. Not thinking too much about my pace, I would focus on someone ahead of me who looked fluid and graceful, then set my mind upon catching and passing them. This was a useful strategy for many miles, but eventually, I started feeling the fatigue setting in. Various aspects of the course design didn’t help; for the first 11 miles, the course was on a very straightforward, rectangular loop trajectory. However, as we made our way back toward the start, they decided to send us off on these weird out-and-back loops in various parks. Not only did this lead to bottlenecks on the narrower park trails, but it can be really discouraging to loop around like that, especially so late in the race. It almost feels like you haven’t made any progress, when in fact you’ve run almost a whole mile.

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Flashing a smile for the photographer during a less-than-fun moment in the race.

The volunteers were great though, and very encouraging. However, I did not believe them for one second when they kept yelling, “Only a mile to go!” Even though I was running sans GPS, I had the distinct impression that we were at ~mile 11.5. Plus, I think anyone with a few races under his/her belt knows not to listen to spectators or volunteers when they say, “Almost there!”

It was around this time that we came upon my least favorite part of the course — this road race had somehow morphed into a Tough Mudder event. Now, in my weather diatribe above, I had failed to mention that we were actually exceptionally lucky: there was significant rain the day before and the day after the race. The unlucky part is that the race organizers decided that, instead of shoving us onto a very narrow paved path, we should trample through a field of mud instead. In retrospect, I should’ve disregarded the official course and jumped onto the paved path like a sane person, but at that point in the race, I did not have my faculties about me. I obediently followed the lady in front of me and tried my best not to slip and fall.

We finally cleared the field and rejoined the Iron Horse Trail, a multi-use paved trail that used to be the railroad track linking the cities of the east East Bay. I was happy to see the Mile 12 sign, and cheered a bit when one of the runners around me shouted, “Mile 12! Let’s do this!” That energy spurt was short-lived, as my legs and lungs were finally starting to complain, and the typical “are we there yet?” whines started coming from the recesses of my brain. I tried to stay positive for a while, concentrating on gratitude, but with half a mile to go, I was in dire straits. The tiny steep hill up to a pedestrian bridge didn’t help matters. I saw a woman ahead wearing a purple sparkly skirt who seemed to be struggling and I made her my next target. Serendipitously, she started walking up the hill as I passed her, huffing and puffing all the while. I cursed the “stupid bridge” as I ran across it. A course marshal on the other end of the bridge directed us to go to the right, yelling out, “Last turn!”

Sure enough, I turned right and simultaneously saw the finish line in the distance and the mile 13 marker. “OK, time to finish strong!” I thought. I saw a lady ahead of me and made it my mission to pass her. Just as I was doing so, the sparkly skirt woman overtook me on the left. Dangit!

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Finish line Stevie Wonder makes a reappearance. (See Oakland Relay)

My official finish time was 2:03:08. I was slightly disappointed, as I had hoped for a time closer to 2 hours (versus 2:05). However, considering the giant hill in the middle, and the fact that I finished almost 2 minutes faster than the 2:05 pacer (despite not passing her until ~mile 9.5), I felt pretty good about my performance. I was also grateful to finish without any foot pain, which had plagued me the week before. Moreover, I knew I had given it my all – upon crossing the finish line, I was completely spent. Not giving up in the last 1-2 miles is something that I continue to work on, but I think I’m getting better with every race. I could also feel muscle soreness almost instantly, though what I thought was hamstring soreness at the time might actually be a strain, as it’s still tender a week later.

After the race, I reunited with our group and we caught up on our race experiences. There weren’t a lot of PRs, but plenty of strong performances. In particular, M, who was 12-weeks postpartum and hadn’t done any long runs leading up to the race, finished in 1:58! Amazing stuff.

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A happy group post-race.

We rounded out the morning with brunch at Denica’s. Hot coffee, delicious food, and good friends. Pretty good morning, if I do say so!

Official stats:
2:03:08 (9:23/mile)
30/108 AG, 155/617 F, 418/1092 overall

About the race:

  • Race website
  • Location: Starts and ends in Civic Park, Downtown Walnut Creek.
  • Bib pickup: I was lucky and got a friend to pick up my bib for me, which was held the day before the race at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Pleasant Hill. I know that there was pickup on race day, but they were discouraging that option.
  • Course: Loop course along major roads for the first 10 miles, then meanders through parks on/near the Iron Horse Trail for the last 3. Not the most exciting or scenic.
  • Cost: Rolling registration, starting at $65 (March/April) and topping out at $100.
  • Parking: Free and paid garages, and street parking (meters in effect at 10 a.m.)
  • Aid stations: About every 2 miles. Only water and Gatorade at the first 2, then the later ones had orange slices.
  • Bathrooms: Porta potties at the start, and some real bathrooms around the park.
  • Swag: Medal (meh), very nice long sleeve tech t-shirt, food, and a bottle of water. TWO reusable bags (one Dick’s drawstring bag and one large Lululemon shopping bag.) There was an expo at the finish.
  • Pros: very well-organized, medium sized field (which I prefer), nice race t-shirt, decent weather, easy logistics.
  • Cons: very expensive for a not-very-scenic, not easily PR-able course. I probably wouldn’t choose to run this again, but it’s a fine race.

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    Medal + shirt

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Posted in Race Recap

Walnut Creek Half – Race Week!

How is it race week already?! Time is zooming by! Last time I checked in, I was about to leave for an 11-day trip to Taiwan. I’m happy to report that I managed to hit my running goals: I ran 4 times, for a total of ~29 miles. I also ran around the small island where my parents live – a 19.5 km circuit – something I’ve wanted to do for years. Best of all, I was able to explore the route with my dad – me on foot, him on his bike. Despite biking the path for many years, he had never done the whole loop and was excited to explore with me. While it was fun, we both agreed that the previously unexplored section was quite unimpressive: the path was right next to heavy traffic and broken up by 2 major intersections. With our curiosity satiated, we decided never to do the loop ever again. :) My favorite part was the elevated section with views of the Tamshui River and Yanmingshan (tallest mountain in Taipei).

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Selfie with my dad – who was wearing a facemask due to air quality concerns.

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Panoramic from the riverside path.

When I got back, I wrestled a bit with jet lag and running motivation. (I swear that jet lag is getting exponentially worse with every trip. Getting older sucks sometimes!) Plus, the weather and short days didn’t help! I came back to a cold spell in the Bay Area, with lows in the 40’s. Quite a shock coming from Taipei, where it was still t-shirt weather. I managed to get one weekday run in on Tuesday morning, before work and rain interfered with my running plans on Thursday.

Saturday, I joined some friends (old and new) at Redwood Regional. It’s always fun to see familiar trails through fresh eyes, and it was definitely nice to get out and run on some dirt for the first time in weeks. After the run, we refueled with brunch (of course). It was a great morning. (As usual, Cathryn has a better write-up with more photos here.)

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The trail crew from Saturday. We’re aglow with endorphins!

Unfortunately, I woke up Sunday with a sore left foot. I dismissed it as just normal aches and pains, but by the afternoon it had gotten painful enough that I was walking around Target with a limp. I went home and iced it, but that didn’t seem to help. I’m still confused about what caused it. My best guess is that I haven’t done any hills at all in many weeks, and I overdid things on Saturday? I don’t think it was mileage, because we ran 8.5 miles, which I felt comfortable with.

I hoped to wake up Monday without foot pain, but unfortunately the same story repeated itself: some soreness in the morning, followed by limp-inducing pain by the end of the day. I told myself if it didn’t get better, then I’d go to the doctor. Thinking that it might have been related to my other left leg issues, I decided to roll and stretch both legs. There were definitely some tight spots – whether they were related to the foot issue, I’m not sure, but I’m glad I spent some time working out those knots.

I skipped my usual Tuesday morning run in favor of another rest day. My foot wasn’t 100%, but it felt much better than the day before. I’d say today (Wednesday) is even better still, though I’m still apprehensive about running just yet.

So, this doesn’t bode well for the Walnut Creek Half Marathon on Saturday. Returning from Taiwan, I felt that my endurance was coming back, but since I hadn’t worked much on speed, I didn’t think a PR was in the cards. And now, with this foot set-back, I’m just hoping to be able to start and finish the race Saturday injury-free. I’m not planning on wearing a watch at all and just run by feel. We’ll see how it goes!

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Posted in Training
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