Walnut Creek Half Marathon – T minus 4 weeks

Less than 4 weeks to go until the Walnut Creek Half Marathon. GULP. My initial optimism after 2 weeks of training has taken a reality check. Since my last post, where I was riding high on a couple of strong (for me) workouts, I had one more great track day before my legs revolted. In a normal training cycle, I usually steadily increase intensity and/or total mileage for 2-3 weeks, then take a rest week. Well, since this is an abnormally short training cycle, and because I have my annual trek to Taiwan coming up, I thought I’d try to make the most of week 3 instead of resting. The result: some very slow and lackluster runs that force me to rethink my goals for WC.

Before I get too negative, let’s highlight some of the good things that have happened since starting WCHM training:

  • I’m up to 20+ miles per week.
  • I ran 4 times a week for the first 2 weeks, and 3 times a week this past week. (I was going to run today, but decided against it in favor of an extra recovery day.)
  • 10 days ago, I did a 4 x 800 workout where I ran my 800’s at the same (mile) pace as the 400’s I ran the week before. And my recovery laps were 1 minute/mile faster compared to the week before. BOOM.
  • I ran 11.25 miles yesterday, my longest run since the Santa Rosa Marathon (2.5 months ago). So, even though it was very slow, it’s reassuring that I still have a reasonable amount of endurance fitness. But wow, my legs were tired last night! Also, I think it’s crazy how quickly my mindset has changed from thinking a 2 hour road run was a piece of cake to thinking that it would be a challenge.
  • I’ve consistently worked on fast finishes for all of my long runs. Yesterday, I turned off my podcast for the last half hour, just so I can work on mental strength. I still find that it’s all too easy for me to talk myself into giving up just shy of my goal. So, this is definitely still a work in progress.
  • I didn’t let work mess up my training. This past week was challenging at work and I ended up having to switch my run days from Tues/Thurs to Wed/Fri. It helped that Wednesday was a holiday, but I was glad that I didn’t use work stress as an excuse to cancel a weekday run.
  • Even though it wasn’t pretty, I did a 2 x 2 mile race pace work out this week. It wasn’t nearly as fast as I had hoped, but I know that stringing together some speedier miles is essential to doing well on race day.

So, with 4 weeks left until race day, what’s the plan? Well, as I mentioned above, I’m leaving for Taiwan soon. Jet lag and travel days always put a damper on regular training, so I’ll be very happy if I can get in 4 runs while I’m there. One of my goals for this trip is to run the multi-use path around the island where my parents live, which is ~12-13 miles. I’m pretty excited about that, actually. I don’t have plans to do any speedwork, as the humidity kills me every time. By the time I get acclimated, I’m on my way back to the States. I’m sorta wondering if the humidity training will actually help me at WC.

My goals for the race keep shifting, depending on how I feel. When I last wrote, I was optimistic for a 2:00-2:02 finish…maybe a sub-2 if I was having a great day. After this past week’s strugglefest, I’m thinking 2:04-2:05 is more likely. Probably because of the slower projection, I’m changing my focus from a time goal to other kinds of goals. For instance, I want to be better about pacing (i.e., not go out too fast) and I want to finish strong and not let up too early. I will be satisfied with my performance as long as I know that I gave it my all, with whatever level of fitness I have on race day.

The view from my long run a couple of weeks ago.

The view from my long run a couple of weeks ago.

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Posted in Training

Some Progress

As it turns out, signing up for a really expensive half marathon was enough to get me in my running shoes 4 times last week, for a total of 20.5 miles. There was some quality in those miles too: I had my first track workout in over 8 months (probably longer) on Thursday and a fast-finish 9-mile run on Saturday with the last 2 miles at 8:50 and 8:38/mile. Those are probably the fastest 2 successive miles I’ve run since…my last 5K? In February?! PLUS! I did a double (sort-of) on Sunday: easy 3-mile run in the morning, followed by a tough, 6-mile hike in the late morning/early afternoon. It was quite a dramatic turn of events from my recent bout of laziness.

At Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore

At Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore.

These are the things I’ve learned (or re-learned) in the past week:

  • Having an imminent goal puts a fire under me. I may not PR at Walnut Creek, but I’ll definitely give it my best shot.
  • Having set workouts helps a lot. While it’s more relaxing to say, “Oh, I’ll just go out for an easy jog” the truth is that an easy jog gets boring real fast. And doing easy jogs 4 times a week is a snooze-fest. There’s a time and place for easy runs, but I think I needed to shake things up, and to get out of my 50K, “let’s just get some miles done” mode. While the track workout (4 x 400) was really painful at the time, I got a huge rush of endorphins afterwards – something that I’ve found usually accompanies speedwork. The same thing happened after I completed my fast finish run. Speed is painful but fun/rewarding.
  • Leave no time for excuses. Having things ready to go – outfit set out for morning runs, afternoon run officially written down in my schedule – left no wiggle room for me to talk myself out of running. I also framed it as “WHEN I run” versus “IF I run” to make it a no brainer.
  • Running regularly makes me feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. ‘Nuff said!

Speaking of running and motivation…some of you might remember the post I wrote advising new runners, and in particular, my friend AJ. Well, I have exciting news! After a rough few weeks (not related to running), AJ is up to 4.5 miles of run/walking! She also had some observations, which she allowed me to share with you all:

  1. I hate the arm band iPhone holder things, they’re dumb. I think I want/need a waistpack situation? A FANNY PACK!?
  2. Running the river in the fall is really motivating and smells good and looks so so nice.
  3. My shoes are garbage, I really need proper ones. My left foot goes numb in these!
  4. Always wear way less clothing than you think you need.

#4 is ON POINT. I don’t know how I failed to advise her on that. As for #1, I recommended that she get a Flipbelt, which I vastly prefer to my Spibelt — and for which I should write a review! Or at least update my Spibelt review. I’m totes jealous about #2, and I agree she needs to get new shoes (#3). Anyway, keep up the good work, AJ!!

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Posted in random

Still running…barely

It’s strange. I have a lot I want to write about, yet no desire to actually put my thoughts into words. Part of the hurdle for me is that I usually have a pretty good idea of the structure of a post in my head before I start writing, but lately, I’ve just had bits and pieces floating around and no urgency to write. So, I apologize in advance for the randomness of this post, but I thought I’d update you on my recent adventures in running (or lack thereof).

Group Run @ Rancho San Antonio (end of September)
Cathryn, Paulette, Danielle, and I did a nice 9-10 miler at this lovely park in San Jose (with horrendous parking), meeting up with bt and Layla at the end. I was definitely not in great form that day, but the company and new scenery bolstered my mood tremendously. Afterwards, we had brunch, which is always my favorite part of these group runs. (For a more complete recap and photos, see Cathryn and Paulette‘s blogs!)

Running through the Zen garden at Rancho San Antonio (PC: Cathryn)

Birthday hike @ Diablo Foothills (October 10th)
This started off as a birthday trail run, but evolved into a group hike, which was just as well since I wasn’t in super running shape anyway. A group of 9 of us, ranging from an 8-month pregnant lady to a 5-year old, and including special guest Kate from SoCal, did a 5-mile hike around this gorgeous park. We finished with – you guessed it – brunch, featuring scones made by Cathryn and refreshing mimosas. It was a really lovely morning and a great way to celebrate.

Exploring the Diablo Foothills.

Exploring the Diablo Foothills.

Inside Trail Racing’s Oakland Hills 10K (October 17th)
I’m too lazy to write a full recap of this race, and also it seems like too short of a race to recap? I signed up with the intention of running with bt, but she had an unfortunate incident involving her toe and a sharp rock in Alaska and had to pull out. So that was a bummer and made me significantly less excited about this race. Adding to my lack of excitement was that it was held in Redwood Regional, a park I’ve run in dozens of times. However, it was logistically very easy and I found the course to be really well-thought out. I like courses where the big climb is at the beginning followed by a gradual, runnable downhill, and that’s how this 10K course was designed. Also, it helped that the trails selected were among my favorites in the park, including the French Trail. I successfully executed my race plan: don’t go out too fast, keep effort constant up the big climb, race the back end, and don’t let anyone pass in the last few miles. The downhill section through the beautiful, calm redwoods also let me reflect on marking another birthday. I felt an enormous sense of gratitude to be healthier and more fit than I was a decade ago.


#runhappy (PC: Let’s Wander Photography/Inside Trail Racing)

The nice thing about a 10K is that it’s short enough where I still had enough steam to push myself at the very end. For the first time in a while, I sprinted across the finish line at a trail race. My time was not super awesome (1:20), but it was a tough course with over 1100′ of climbing, and I finished right in the middle of the pack. With as little running as I’ve been doing, I was very pleased with my performance.

Serious dip in motivation
Since the Santa Rosa Marathon, I’ve been very unmotivated to run consistently. Initially, I thought it would be a good idea to take 1-2 weeks off, since I had been in training mode for about 6 months and needed the physical and psychological break. However, that 1-2 weeks turned into 3… then 4, etc. Ever since 2012, when I started to run more seriously/regularly, I’ve never struggled with motivation. I’ve consistently logged 15-20 miles/week, regardless of whether I was training for a race. I took off a month in 2014 to recover from a hip injury, but even then I was very motivated to cross-train. So my laziness in the past 2 months is a new thing, and it’s been a little confounding. On one hand – and in a very positive sense – I simply felt at peace after SRM. After years of trying to break my marathon PR, I finally did so at SRM and I was satisfied. That, in combination with completing my first 50K at Big Basin, checked two major running goals off my list.

To add to my lack of mojo, I didn’t have a big race on the calendar until March 2016. It’s the most empty my race calendar has looked in years. I got stuck in a cycle of wanting to take a break from racing, but then not being motivated to run because I didn’t have a race imminent. I also didn’t want to be *that person* who needs a race to motivate them. It’s silly, I know, but I wanted to take pride in being intrinsically, not extrinsically, motivated.

Weekly training mileage, courtesy of Dailymile.

Weekly training mileage, courtesy of Dailymile. Week 30 (red arrow) was Big Basin, Week 34  (green arrow) was Santa Rosa.

This is how bad it got: a couple of weeks ago, I packed a bag of running clothes to run at work on Tuesday. I found some reason to skip it, deciding to postpone the run to Wednesday. Wednesday rolled around, and I found some other excuse to put off the run. Same thing on Thursday. I lugged the bag of clean clothes home on Friday. Sad face. After weeks of struggling to run regularly, I finally sucked it up yesterday and signed up for the Walnut Creek Half Marathon (WCHM). Even though it’s an expensive race and only 7 weeks away, Cathryn is running it and Roserunner is intending to sign up too. We’ve got tentative plans for brunch afterwards — and you already know my feelings about brunch. Moreover, I decided at some point this year that racing is fun, but racing with friends is a million times better. So now, when the chance comes up to race with friends, I’ll more than likely take that opportunity.

Today, I went on my first “long” run of the WCHM cycle. The goal was to run for 75 minutes; 60 minutes of easy running, followed by 15 minutes at faster/tempo pace. Not surprisingly, that last 15 minutes was a bit of a struggle. I clocked 9:00/mile pace and was struggling mightily, so the chances of a PR seem pretty slim at this point. However, I know with some hard work, I can make significant strides. I also feel that my experience at SRM gave me a huge boost mentally; hopefully, some of that confidence and good pacing will make a positive impact at WCHM. We shall see!

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Race Recap: PCTR Night Sweats 15K

Last month, I ran the Pacific Coast Trail Runs “Night Sweats” 15K. It was my first ever night trail run and I was both excited and scared. The idea of running on trails at night has always intrigued me, but I’ve been too scared to go it alone. So, when Mike told me about the race, I thought – “Perfect! A supported night run with a load of other people!” Later, I found out that we’d be starting over 13 hours after PCTR’s main events that day – the Headlands 100, and the 50- and 75-milers. We’d act as a support crew of sorts for the ultrarunners, there to inject some fresh energy onto the trails – or just some warm bodies, at the very least. (There was also a marathon earlier, but those runners were done by the time we started at 8:20 p.m.) In addition to the 15K (~9.6 miles), there was also a marathon. I thought the 15K was a perfect distance: long enough to get into a rhythm and to really experience night trail running, but not so long that I questioned my sanity. Plus, at 3 weeks post-Santa Rosa Marathon, my body was still in recovery mode. I had done hardly any running, let alone trail running, since Big Basin 7 weeks prior.

I spent the day of the race wondering what to eat and how much to eat. It was very confusing. I’ve never done an evening race, unless you count Ragnar Napa — which I think counts as its own special category. I think I ended up eating a couple of light meals and then having a PB&J with tea at 4:30 p.m. I brought a Picky Bar with me to eat on the ride up to Marin, but I wasn’t all that hungry during the drive. Then, suddenly, about an hour before the race, I was starving, and was grateful for the Picky Bar.

I was lucky to have a partner-in-crime to keep me company: KH, who just happened to be back in the Bay Area visiting family. She was very excited about the race and her energy levels lifted me out of my end-of-the-day doldrums.

Ready to race!

Ready to race!

We watched the marathon runners start and cheered them on as a stream of headlamps passed by. Then it was our turn to line up. It was a decent sized turnout of over 150 runners for the 15K. Neither KH nor I planned to “race” it; we wanted to just go for the experience and hopefully not get lost along the way. I had run a lot of this course previously and knew it was no joke. There were several big climbs, which I planned on hiking instead of running.

And the night marathoner are off!

And the night marathoners are off!

Within 5 minutes of starting the race, we embarked on the first of these climbs out of Rodeo Valley. It was really cool to see the headlamps bobbing up the switchbacks toward the peak. It wasn’t long before I started huffing and puffing, while KH, coming from high altitude living in Wyoming, had no trouble whatsoever. Jerk. ;)

Parade of headlamps

Parade of headlamps

The climb was followed by a steep, somewhat treacherous descent, but fortunately, the rest of course was fairly runnable, on non-technical, wide trails. One of my biggest fears was tripping and hurting myself — which I’m happy to report, never happened. It’s hard to remember specifics, since I’m writing this recap almost a month after the race, and also because everything happened in the dark. I only recall certain points in the course because of previous outings in the Headlands, such as the one and only aid station at mile 4 at Tennessee Valley and the long climb up Marincello. I also remember freaking out a couple of times when the crowd had thinned and I thought we had lost the trail. “When was the last time we saw a ribbon or glow stick?” I’d ask in a panic. But then we’d run 10 seconds down the trail and see a glowstick in the distance and breathe a sigh of relief.

The steady downhill on the back side of the loop was fun as we passed a lot of runners. KH said several times, “See that person? Let’s pass him/her!” I could learn a thing or two from KH about competitiveness! The segment on the road was longer than I expected; the thing about the darkness is that it shields you from spatial information, which can be both good and bad. To add to my impatience, I had needed to pee for the last 2 miles of the race. It would’ve been easy enough to pull off into the bushes (it was dark out, after all), but I kept thinking that we were almost there. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally saw the finish area, and after checking for traffic, we crossed the road, then ran the last 30 yards to cross the finish line.

Because this was part of an ultra event, the buffet at the finish area was impressive: soup, burgers fresh off the grill, beer, soda, chips, fruit, etc. We were handed cheapie medals (mine fell apart almost instantly), then we grabbed some snacks and drinks before driving home. It was late but I was wired and also starving, so I stopped by Taco Bell for some chicken soft tacos — something I never usually do, except in desperate situations. All in all, it was a really fun event and I’d be happy to do it again!

Official stats:
2:17:33 (14:20/mile)
14/29 AG; 47/87 F; 101/152 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Pacific Coast Trail Runs
  • Location: Marin Headlands
  • Cost: $55 (minus $5 if you skip the t-shirt). $45 for early bird registration.
  • Course: Mostly runnable trails, with a few technical sections (stairs, ramps, rocks). KH’s Strava logged 9.8 miles and ~1900′ climbing.
  • Parking: We were able to park at the main lot by the finish area. No fee.
  • Aid stations: One at ~mile 4. Lots of food and drink, as to be expected at a trail race supporting ultra runners.
  • Bathrooms: Flush toilets at the start/finish. 2-3 porta potties at the Tennessee Valley aid station.
  • Swag: Technical tee, which I skipped to save $5 on registration. It looked nice from what I could see. All finishers received a medal and a glow-in-the-dark water bottle.
  • Post-race food and drinks: Huge buffet – soup, burgers, chips, fruit, cookies, along with beer, soda, and water.
  • Advice for anyone considering this race: As advised by the organizers, bring 2 light sources. I had a headlamp and a small flashlight. Once we got into the fog, my headlamp was blinding me, so I switched to the flashlight. Plus, I could sweep the light back and forth across the path to ensure I didn’t trip over any obstacles.
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Posted in Race Recap


OaklandRunningFestival-LogoI’m excited to announce that I’ve been selected as a “Branch” (aka race ambassador) for the Oakland Running Festival! The Oakland Half Marathon in 2012 was what started me on my running journey – a major turning point in my life. The 2016 ORF will be my 5th consecutive year participating in the event. I still haven’t decided which distance to register for, however. Currently, I’m trying to decide between the half marathon, the marathon relay, or the Run the Town Challenge (5K followed by the half marathon). Regardless of the distance, I know the after party is going to be the most fun post-race event in the Bay Area!

The one and only Crazy Cat Ladies!

The Crazy Cat Ladies at the 2015 Oakland Marathon Relay.

Anyway, if you already know which distance you want to register for, sign up with code JLEE to save 15% on your entry fee! Prices go $10 at midnight tonight (sorry about the late post).

Hope to see you in Oakland on March 20th!

Posted in Uncategorized

“How to Get Started Running” Tips/Tricks/Advice!

Can you believe it’s almost been a month since I blogged? Well, let’s just say I’ve been very unmotivated to write since the Santa Rosa Marathon. I did run a night trail race a couple of weekends ago that was really fun, which I intend to recap soon. However, the thing that got me back on the blogging wagon was this message from my friend AJ:

“I need ‘how to get started running’ tips/tricks. Help?!”

First, a bit of history. For as long as I’ve known AJ, I’ve never seen her run. She’s one of the most fashionable people I know, and even the activities she’s taken up over the years are in-line with her stylishness: horseback riding, barre classes, strolling on the beach with her handsome M. So, though I was taken aback at first at her request for running tips, I quickly rose to the challenge. “This calls for a blog post!” I thought.

So, dear AJ, here’s a list of tips/tricks to help you get started:

Gear (for detailed reviews, see this page)
Running is simple, but a few items are crucial. As with most of my advice, the tips below are quite subjective. This is meant to get you started, but it’s definitely not comprehensive!

  • Shoes: go to a specialty running shop and get fitted for shoes. They may be expensive, but aren’t your joints worth protecting? Sizing: make sure they are one thumb width bigger than your farthest toe (usually 1/2 size up). Bonus points if you can find a store that will let you jog around the block in the shoes, or bring them back after a few runs. Try on a bunch of different shapes and intended uses. Every person is different, so don’t go by who likes what kind of shoe, go by what your feet tell you about the shoes you put on. Also, this isn’t a fashion show — the shoes that I’ve liked the most have also been the ugliest. (Sidenote: Altra, you need to make prettier shoes. Thanks.)
  • Clothing: whatever you feel comfortable in. Some women like shorts & t-shirts, others prefer tank tops and capris. I personally avoid cotton as it gets heavy with sweat and can also cause chafing, but others think that tech (e.g., quick dry) materials get too stinky. Target and Nordstrom Rack have a good selection of nice looking, well-functioning athletic wear. I’m personally a big fan of pockets.
  • For the ladies: sports bras can make you or break you, am I right? I’m a fan of super compression with as few seams as possible, such as Nike Pro sports bras and the Champion C9 seamless bras (only available at Target stores). I’ve heard that more well-endowed ladies like bras from Moving Comfort.
  • Socks: this will vary widely between people too. I don’t seem to have any issues (blisters, etc.) from cheap cotton socks (again, Champion at Target works great for me), but I’ve also liked more expensive brands like Injinji and Thorlo.
  • Headgear (optional): I’m a big fan of hats. Other ladies like hair bands. Still others go sans headwear.
  • Phone/key holder (optional): I used to use a Spibelt, but then I got the Flipbelt, which I like SO much more. It holds a lot of stuff, including my iPhone, and never bounces around. It doesn’t stick out like a fanny belt, so it’s more attractive than most waist belts, IMO.

How to run:
(Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I a running biomechanics expert. Anything I say is my own opinion and not medical advice.)

My main tips here are: don’t overstride (your foot should land under you, not in front) and land as soft as you can. They say that the “optimal” running cadence is 180 steps per minute. I’m not sure how true this is, but I do think increasing cadence can significantly decrease impact (and possible injury).

When you first start running, it will suck. A LOT. In fact, the first X number of minutes sucks for almost every runner, regardless of how long s/he’s been running. Even now, after running thousands of miles, I still find myself cursing and complaining for the first 5-10 minutes of every run. But the thing is, over time, it will start to suck less and less. This might take a while though. Cathryn adds, “My best tip is that running is NO fun until you can run 30 mins/5k comfortably. THEN it gets fun but until then it’s no fun.”

You might want to consider run-walk intervals when you first start. Run 10 seconds, walk 10 seconds – repeat ad nauseum. Then increase the time intervals to longer periods of running (with proper rest). As you get stronger, run more and walk less. Programs like Couch to 5K are ideal for beginner runners.

Motivational Tips
Even though I’ve been running races for over 15 years, I didn’t become a “runner” until 3 years ago. Along the way, I’ve learned some things about what motivates me, which includes:

  • Having running partners. It’s more fun to run with someone (preferably of the same speed and fitness) and it keeps you accountable.
  • Races on the calendar. Having paid for something makes me work harder to make sure I have a good race. It also gives me a goal to work towards.
  • Related: goal setting (in general). Whether it’s a new distance or faster time, the satisfaction of completing a goal is awesome.
  • Exploring new places. It’s been fun to run all over the Bay Area, and especially when I travel to a new place, it’s been fun to see it by foot.
  • Having baseline fitness to be able to do just about anything. 10 mile hike? No problem. Long bike ride? My butt might hurt, but I’ll get through it.
  • FOOD. And lots of it.

Some people are motivated by an actual reward. A friend of mine in grad school promised herself a pair of nice shoes if she got up to 6 miles on the treadmill. That doesn’t work for me because I have no problem buying a pair of shoes without working for them. :) To each her own! Which means you have to decide what works best for you.

Where and when to run?
The treadmill and the track are two very easy, but boring places to run. If you don’t live by a beautiful trail (urban or wooded), then various websites like MapMyRun will show the most popular running routes in your area. When to run depends on your schedule. For a long time, I refused to get up early to run, so I would only run in the afternoon. However, work (or my bad attitude) would often get in the way of those plans, so then I decided I should run in the mornings so that I would have no excuses.

One major consideration for where and when is safety. Always be mindful of your surroundings! If you run at night, make sure to wear reflective gear so that drivers can see you.

Am I forgetting something? Runners – leave some tips below for AJ! AJ (and other beginners) – let me know if you have any questions!

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Posted in Advice

Race Recap: 2015 Santa Rosa Marathon

Last week, I ran a secret marathon. If you know me, I’m terrible at keeping secrets, especially when they’re as big as, “I’m running a marathon!!” Despite my recently attained ultramarathoner-status, I still think 26.2 is a pretty big deal. However, I didn’t want to make it a big deal, hence the secrecy on the blog.

The truth is, I had thought about running the Santa Rosa Marathon for a while. I knew from Angela and Amy‘s experiences last year that it was the kind of race I tend to enjoy – small field, low-key atmosphere, and pretty scenery. During the peak of Big Basin 50K training, as I started feeling strong during midweek 10-milers, I thought, “Hm, maybe I’ll give SRM a try.” I felt like I could capitalize on 50K training and try for a road marathon PR. However, instead of registering for SRM right away, I forced myself to wait until after Big Basin in order to focus on BB as my goal race.

During BB, I struggled mightily and swore off endurance running for a while. I was glad I hadn’t registered for SRM because there was NO WAY I wanted to run a marathon 4 weeks after BB. Well, you know what they say, the pain of an ultra fades quickly, sometimes as soon as you cross the finish line. For me, it took about a week. As happy as I was that I was able to finish BB, I also felt there was unfinished business. I immediately started thinking about fall races. During my first run after BB, exactly 1 week post-race, I made a realization: what if I ran SRM, but just with the goal to have fun? Forget trying to PR or executing any race plans. At the very least, I’d qualify for Marathon Maniacs upon crossing that finish line. With that new mindset, I decided to register for SRM.

It was hard to know how to “train” for SRM with only 3 weeks before race day. I knew my endurance base was there, but I wasn’t sure if my body would recover in time to run a full marathon. Fortunately, everything clicked into place and I didn’t struggle with any post-ultra injuries. My long runs were time-based – 2:30 hours and 2:00 hours – where I started off slow but would negative split without trying. Because I didn’t have any time goals, I didn’t worry about pacing as much as I usually would. At Big Sur, I managed to get to mile 21 feeling good, and then fatigue and cramps got the better of me. At SRM, my hope was to push that envelope even further — see if I could get to mile 22, 23, or even 24 before I faced any major obstacles.

My plan, as written by Coach Gypsy Runner, was to NOT have a plan. The GR thinks that I overanalyze everything (which I do), to my own detriment. He asked me about my long runs, and why I never seem to bonk during those. I answered because they’re training runs, I don’t put any pressure on myself, and I pace myself accordingly. I did decide to implement one piece of race strategy, and that was to start SLOW. Having learned my lesson the hard way at BB, where I went out too fast, I knew the key to enjoying the race AND not blowing up would be to start slow. Not just slow, but “uncomfortably slow” as marathon vet Mike advised.

Because this wasn’t a goal race, I also decided to forego my Garmin and my handheld water bottle — two things I’ve hesitated to run without in high pressure situations.

There was no race day pickup, so I was very lucky that Angela agreed to pick up my bib and swag for me — this, despite the fact that she pulled out of the race due to a stress reaction. (Thanks, Angela!!) On race day, I woke up in the middle of the night (3:15 a.m.) to make it to Santa Rosa by 5:00 a.m. to pick up my stuff from Angela, then drive to the race for the 6:00 a.m. start. Logistically, everything went smoothly, from parking to bathrooms to getting positioned in the corral. For such as small field (1400+ runners), I was surprised that there were corrals at all. Having put down an estimated finish time of 4:45, I was assigned to the 3rd and last corral. I should note that because this is a fairly flat and fast course, it attracts a lot of people hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This is reflected in the fact that the first 2 corrals were intended for estimated finish times of 4:23 or better (for comparison, the average marathon finish time for the biggest 3 U.S. marathons in 2013 was 4:33). I lined up behind the 4:38 pacer with my old-school Timex watch and waited for the race to begin.

The Race
We got super lucky with the weather. The week before, temperatures had soared into the 90’s, and a week after, it’s been unusually humid and muggy. On race day, thick clouds and fog made for a cool morning. The sun didn’t make an appearance until 11:00 or 11:30, after most of the runners had finished.

Waiting in darkness for SRM to start.

Waiting in darkness for SRM to start.

It took me almost 4 minutes to walk to the start line. I started with a slow jog and kept the 4:38 pacer within sight. I focused on my breathing and taking in my surroundings as we weaved around Downtown Santa Rosa. This part of the course wasn’t particularly interesting, so I’m glad we ran through it in the pre-dawn darkness. My mile splits were in the 10:40 range, which I was fine with, considering all of the turns, as well as planned (aid station) and unplanned stops (guy fell down in front of me and a bunch of us went to help him get back up).

After about 3 miles, I heard a runner near me say, “Yay, the pretty part!” We then entered the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, which ran alongside its namesake creek – completely dry, unfortunately, due to the California drought. It was still a pretty greenway, though, and I felt like I was on a big group run. Over the next 3-4 miles, I steadily caught up to the 4:38 pace group, eventually passing them around mile 7. I made sure that I kept my effort smooth and easy; it was still very early in the race, after all. The mile markers kept appearing at a steady rate and I made sure to take a gel every 45 minutes. I didn’t want to spend any extra time at the aid stations, but I was having a hard time gulping down both water and Gatorade as fast as I could. This is something I definitely need to work on in the future! But otherwise, I was feeling great. To pass the time, I looked around and took in my surroundings, and occasionally listened in on the conversations that people were having around me.

Blurry (action) photo of the greenway.

Blurry (action) photo of the greenway.

Between mile 8.5 and 10, I made friends with a runner from Ojai, though I never caught his name. We made small talk about our marathon histories. Neither of us declared any time goals — he had just gotten over a foot injury, and I told him I was aiming for something between my personal best and my personal worst. Then, I said something cheesy like, “I just want to finish feeling my personal best.” It was true though, and declaring those intentions as I approached the 10 mile mark seemed like a good sign.

We ran though the DeLoach Barrel Room, which is one of the highlights of the course. I tried to take a video, but it’s terrible (and was taken sideways). Now I know why GoPro was invented.

Exiting the DeLoach Barrel Room

Exiting the DeLoach Barrel Room

After running through the Barrel Room, I pulled away from my friend from Ojai and started following a strong and steady-paced older lady. I sensed my pace quickening, but I made sure to stay patient. The goal was to make it to the half marathon mark and then reassess. I got to the 13.1 timing mat in 2:16 feeling quite strong. I did the simple math in my head and knew I could PR (beat 4:32:39 from CIM 2012) by at least a couple of minutes, if not more.

I loved running through the vineyards

I loved running through the vineyards

The flat course gave way to short rollers on country roads cutting through vineyards. While some people struggled on the hills, I kept my head down and took short but steady steps to easily ascend the rollers. All of that trail running I had been doing for months was paying dividends on this section. Despite the hills, my pace continued to get faster with about the same effort. Whenever I started projecting to the finish line, I reminded myself to stay in the current mile.

I got to the mile 16 marker and celebrated the fact that I only had 10 miles to go. Single digits! I smiled at the few spectators that were cheering and thanked them for being out there, as well as every volunteer who handed me a drink. Even though I was feeling good (and running ever faster), I told myself to hold back until mile 20 to really start pushing. When I made the turn back onto the greenway and crossed the mile 20.2 timing mat, I could hardly contain the smile on my face. I had just run 20 miles and I was still feeling incredibly strong and fresh. It was simultaneously bizarre and awesome. I knew for sure I would PR; it would just be a matter of by how much. It was so amazing — magical is the way I keep describing it — to have that kind of once-in-a-lifetime marathon. I wish I could’ve bottled that emotion and that moment so I could relive it whenever I want to.

Somewhere in the last miles...

Somewhere between mile 20-22?

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 3.09.55 PM


With every mile that passed, I simply could not believe how great I felt. Of course, part of me continued to be wary that a bonk was just around the corner, but my intuition was that I could actually RACE this thing to the finish. I was passing so many people and no one was passing me back. Having been passed a lot in the last miles of a marathon, I knew exactly how those struggling runners felt. I felt simultaneously sympathetic and smug.

Getting close to the finish, with sunblock streaking down my neck (so attractive!).

Getting close to the finish, with sunblock streaking down my neck (so attractive!).

I think I had just passed the mile 24 marker when I looked ahead and saw a white sign bobbing up and down in the distance. It was the 4:23 pace group, now dwindled down to the 2 pacers and 2 runners. Seeing them was the boost I needed in the last couple of miles. I made it my goal to pass them and then some…which I did over the course of the next mile.

It wasn’t until ~mile 25.5 that I started to get a little desperate for the finish line. I was still pushing hard, but I felt that I was finally nearing my limit. Plus, all signs indicated that the finish was near, but I had no concept of where it was. All of the spectators kept yelling that I was almost there, that it was just around the corner, but I couldn’t see any signs of it. Finally, the course took a left out of the greenway and onto a main road, where we continued for a short bit before turning left again into the finish chute. I was still gunning it, so I didn’t see that I was running directly behind 2 runners, who effectively blocked me from getting a finish line picture taken. Oh well.

I crossed the finish line at 4:21:52, an almost 11-minute PR and an 11-minute negative split (1st half vs. 2nd half). Woot!

This medal is almost as big as my head!

This medal is almost as big as my head!

Post-race thoughts
I’m incredibly happy and grateful about how SRM went. Of course, running a personal best has a lot to do with it, but just the fact that I was able to run so strong in the last 6 miles and not combust – that was huge. I think the GR was right – I have a tendency to overthink things, to the point where I’m sometimes my own worst enemy. Running relaxed helped a lot, and trusting that I could start slow and get faster was another big lesson. I also decided to never race with a Garmin again, especially on a well-marked course. I kept hearing everyone else’s Garmins beeping way in advance of the mile markers; I know that would’ve driven me crazy eventually. Not knowing the pace until *after* I hit the split button on my Timex kept me focused on my effort, not on my pace.

Did 50K training help me to PR at SRM? Yes, of course! But I think beyond the physical aspects, having gone through a tough race like BB so recently helped me to stay calm and focused during SRM. Except for the last mile, SRM honestly felt like a walk in the park compared to BB.

A week after BB, I was restless and felt like there was still unfinished business. Now, a week after SRM, I feel satisfied and at peace. I have no plans or goals for the foreseeable future except to run happy. :)

Race Stats:
Official finish time: 4:21:52 (9:59/mile)
56/94 AG, 344/607 F, 955/1441 overall

(1-6): 10:42, 10:41, 10:26, 10:45, 10:25,10:30,
(7-12): 10:22, 10:13, 10:25, 10:20, 10:09, 9:57,
(13-18): 10:08, 10:00, 10:00, 9:46, 9:47, 10:50*,
(19-24): 8:39*, 9:27, 9:21, 9:20, 9:25, 9:37,
(25-26.2): 9:24, 9:10, 1:52 (9:20/mile)
* Pressed split button late.

Mile 8.23 split: 10:32/mile
Half marathon: 10:23/mile (10:09/mile for 4.87 miles)
Mile 20.2: 10:11/mile (9:47/mile for 7.1 miles)
Finish: 9:59/mile (9:23/mile for last 6 miles)

Between mile 8.23 and finish, I moved up 286 places overall, 136 places among females, 19 places in my age group.

About the race:SRM logo

  • Website: Santa Rosa Marathon (part of the California Half and Full Marathon Series)
  • Cost & Registration: $155 (plus fees) 3 weeks before the race.  I believe earlybird entries started at a more reasonable $125 (?), and then increased by $10 periodically. There were lots of discount codes floating around that were no longer valid by the time I registered. This was the first year that the marathon sold out, which happened about a week before the race. It’s still a young marathon (this was the 7th running), so I expect that as its reputation grows, SRM will sell out earlier and earlier.
  • Field Size: 1441 marathon finishers. There was also a half marathon (1308 finishers) and 5K (808 finishers).
  • Expo: At DeLoach Vineyard. No comment, since I was lucky that Angela picked up my bib for me. From what I’ve heard, it gets very crowded and traffic can be a nightmare. This year, they were running a shuttle from downtown Santa Rosa hotels to the expo to relieve the congestion.
  • Course: Relatively flat for a majority of the course, with a few rolling hills out in the vineyards (miles 12-20) just to change things up a bit. I would describe it as a lollipop course with the miles 3-9 overlapping with miles 20-26. About 12 miles of the course is run on a greenway, which I liked, but others may find boring. There were very few spectators out on the course, and no bands or other entertainment. At mile 10, you run through the DeLoach barrel room, which was a neat diversion.
  • Parking/Transportation:  $3 for all day parking in a shopping mall garage that’s less than 2 blocks from the start/finish. Super easy.
  • Aid stations: There were aid stations spaced approximately 2 miles apart, with water and Gatorade Endurance. I appreciated that the Gatorade tasted full-strength and not diluted like at other races. Two of the aid stations were giving out Gu gels – I think at miles 14 and 17?
  • Bathrooms:  Decent amount of porta potties at the start/finish area, and 3-4 at every aid station.
  • Swag:  Ginormous spinner medal, a high-quality Leslie Jordan windbreaker with the race logo embroidered, a bottle of DeLoach “Runner’s Red”, and various samples of snacks in a Whole Foods reusable grocery bag. They also had commemorative posters on sale for $5 after the race (and maybe at the expo too). There was a virtual goodie bag, which was full of offers I did not find useful (something I find to be true for 95% of all virtual goodie bags these days).
    To the finisher goes the wine! It was pretty tasty, to my surprise.

    To the finisher goes the wine! It was pretty tasty, to my surprise.

    Modeling the SRM jacket. Tip: they run quite large, so opt for one size smaller.

    Modeling the SRM jacket. Tip: they run quite large, so opt for one size smaller.

  • Post-race food and drinks: At the finish line, they gave out bottles of water, chocolate milk, and cold, sliced watermelon (so refreshing!!). Each bib came with tickets for free pancakes and beer or wine, but the lines were very long. I waited ~40 minutes for 2 pancakes! Luckily, Kind was giving out free samples and I inhaled a granola bar while I was waiting. The line for alcohol was shorter by the time I got my pancakes, but I was by myself and very sleepy already, so I didn’t think a beer would help with my drive home.
  • Other notes/summary: A very well-organized and well-supported race. I can see why people pay extra for SRM – the amount and quality of the swag is pretty impressive. If they offered same day bib pick-up, I wouldn’t hesitate to run this race again. I loved the course and didn’t mind the lack of spectators or entertainment. The only minor criticism I have is of the start area. It was really difficult to see anything in the dark, and there wasn’t obvious signage except for the corrals. I ended up following the crowds to find the porta potties and the start corral, so I was fine, but I heard several people asking out loud where the bag drop area was and no one seemed to know.
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12/12/15 - Walnut Creek Half Marathon
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