The Upside to Being Mediocre

Hey y’all. It’s me again. Second post this week! I’ll wait for you to pick your jaw off the ground. I had another mini-post brewing in my mind so I thought I’d write it while it was still fresh.

Before I start, I feel like I need to define some things. When I say I’m a midpack, mediocre runner, I’m saying that in the most objective way possible. I’m not trying to get you to say, “What? You’re not slow!”, or, “But you’ve won age group awards and stuff!” What I *am* saying is: in large races, I usually come in somewhere between the 30th to 50th percentiles. Now that’s slightly above average, but I’m not cracking the top 10%. And the top 10% are the “fast” people I’ll be talking about below.

So, a few days ago, I was having a Twitter conversation with a runner friend, as you do. He’s been battling injury and said he wants to make sure not to do too much too soon as he attempts to make a return to running. The next thing I know, he’s tweeting about a speed workout. I pointed out to him the contradiction between his intent vs. his actions. His response was along the lines of, “Running has always been about pushing myself. If I’m not running fast, I get bored and it’s not fun for me.”

I should point out that he’s someone I’d put in the category of “Fast Runners” — people who usually have a natural ability and easily Boston Qualify without thinking about it. Some people in this group win races outright – and I find their performances inspirational because I know that they’re normal people who have jobs and lives outside of running. Fast Runners – they’re just like us!

Anyway, my friend’s response got me thinking. Yes, I agree it’s (Type II) fun to run fast and push yourself. But for me, it’s also enjoyable to run for the sake of it — as an escape from work or to feel some dirt and rocks under your feet. There have been times when I’ve been relegated to running very, very slowly. I never got an endorphin rush, but I can tell you that not running would’ve made me feel worse.

On top of that, I feel that being a middle of the pack runner means I have SO MANY opportunities to get better. I can see how, from the perspective of the Fast Runner, there’s not that much farther you can go when you’re already so much closer to the top. I can talk about all of my process-oriented goals and they mean something to me, because running does not come naturally to me and I have to work hard at all aspects of it. The Fast Runner may also run into some of these problems, but making their body go fast isn’t one of them.

So, it’s a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, but I just wanted to express how thankful I am for being a mediocre runner because it allows me to enjoy running in all its forms and give me plenty of room for growth.

Disclaimer: I know I’m oversimplifying things by categorizing people into 2 classes – fast and not. I’m only speaking for myself and my own experience… I don’t mean to generalize things. But I’m interested to hear your take and what you think. Sound off in the comments!

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Thoughts

Hi! I really liked the microblogging from last week, so here I am again. There are two topics I wanted to address:

  1. Why do running shoe companies change their shoes in adverse ways? I know “adverse” is subjective, but I was annoyed recently when I ordered and received 2 pairs of Altras – the One v. 3.0 and Superior v. 3.0. I’ve been a big fan of Altras for years. They were the perfect balance for me in terms of zero drop, light cushion, and lightweight. I also liked the roomy toebox. I’ve never ever had to break in a pair of Altras… until now. The new versions of my beloved shoes are so stiff/rigid. The older models had great “ground feel”. I like making contact with and feeling the ground – it makes me feel more connected, and I also feel like I don’t hit the ground as hard. The new “the One” model is especially odd feeling compared to the previous models. In the older versions, I felt like I was wearing a comfortable foam padded sock. The new shoe has a more rigid heel, and it’s also roomier, meaning that my heel tends to slip out of it. The newer version of the Superior has a lot or grip/tread, which is good because it’s a trail shoe, but it’s at the expense of the minimal nature of the original shoe. I saw that Altra is coming out with some new models next year, so hopefully one or more of them will resemble the older versions that I miss!
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    The One 2.5 (left) vs. The One 3.0 (right). I like the updated look but the feel is not great.

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    The Superior 2 (left) vs. 3 (right). The newer version is a lot more shoe, as you can see.

  2. CIM was this past Sunday. It brought back a lot of feelings. Some of you will remember that I didn’t have such a great race last year at CIM. I’m not super bitter about it, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. In addition to mistakes I made on race day, I’m also realizing that I just didn’t want it bad enough. What were my real reasons for running CIM? At that point in my “Year of PRs” I was super burned out and the only thing keeping me going was the hope of a big marathon PR. Despite my proclamations of process-oriented goals (which did keep me going after the wheels came off), I wasn’t running with passion or excitement. So, the biggest lesson is that the next time I train for and race a marathon, I will need to be invested. I want to be excited about the course and/or run my best. The root motivation can’t come solely from chasing a time goal, because just about every time I’ve done that, it hasn’t been pretty.

    There were some pretty amazing, inspiring stories that came out of CIM too. My friend DD ran a 20-minute PR, with impressively steady pacing from start to finish. Elle sneakily ran CIM without telling anyone except her coach and husband, and Boston Qualified! Kris, who had been chasing an Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier for years, finally ran the B standard, finishing 2:42. And many, many more. Knowing how hard everyone worked to get those results is pretty damn inspiring.

OK, that’s all. I ended up writing for 30 minutes, but it is what it is. 🙂

 

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New Routines

I’m stealing an idea from Angela to start microblogging. She wrote her last blog post in 15 minutes, but I’m a bit slower than her (both writing and running), so I’m going for 20 minutes. I think this is a good idea, because I tend to be too compulsive when it comes to writing and posting — dotting i’s and crossing t’s, etc. Sometimes it’s good just to get words out and not sweat the small stuff.

I just started my 5th week at my new job! (How long can I call it that? 3 months? 6?) As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m now working from home, which has it’s pluses and minuses.

On the good side: No more commute! I knew it was causing me a lot of stress, but I didn’t realize how much. I’m also saving a lot of money from not commuting, not eating lunch out (expensive and unhealthy), and not treating myself to fancy coffee drinks ~2x/week on average. I’m off the clock right at 5pm, which is sooooooo lovely. I have plenty of time and energy to cook dinner, which has been great for our wallets and our health.

On the not-as-good side: I wonder how long it will take for me to get really sick of sandwiches for lunch. I’ve been trying to mix it up with the occasional soup or quick hot meal, but I think I’ll have to think of more alternatives. I get a bit stir-crazy some days if I don’t get out (see below). On most days, the only person I see is my husband. Some times, he’s the only person I talk to all day — but this will change as I progress in my training at work. But in general, I’m not as lonely or starving for interaction as I thought I might be.

As far as the work itself, it’s going OK. I’ve been doing a ton of self-study and software training, and while my inner nerd loves it, I’m also looking forward to actually applying the knowledge to help people (I’ll be doing product/tech support). I’ve been going to South San Francisco to get hands on practice on a real microscope once a week — the traffic SUCKS but since I don’t have to do it every day, and because I can go when I want, I avoid the worst of rush hour.

One thing I was really worried about working from home was becoming a totally sedentary person. At my old job, there was about 2 miles of walking built into everyday — from my car to BART, from BART to work, and then to the various buildings on campus. Even the walk to the bathroom was probably a good tenth of a mile round trip. Since I started working from home, I’ve been trying to follow a very regular schedule of waking up at 6am and either getting in a long walk (Mondays and Fridays) or going on a 3 mile run. If I have time at lunch, I try to get out for a 10-20 minute walk. This way, I get at least 3 miles in every day. Otherwise, I get less than a mile. 😦

OK, I’m running out of time so I’m going to cut it short. Let me end with a picture though, so you’re not totally bored by my ramblings. 🙂

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Before we stuffed ourselves silly on Thanksgiving

 

 

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A Quick & Dirty Guide to Training for Your First Half Marathon

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I a certified coach. The advice below is purely anecdotal and should be taken with a grain of salt. 🙂

My sister-in-law, LJ, recently signed up for her first half marathon in the spring. Woohoo! She asked me to write a post on half marathon training, but also wanted it to be concise (ha). So, here’s my attempt. I hope it will be useful to LJ and to others out there looking to run their first half marathon!

A little bit of background on LJ: her goal race is on March 4th, which gives her 4+ months to train. She’s been running 1-2x a week for a while now, and she’s built up her runs to 4.5 miles. In addition, she’s got a bunch of 5K races under her belt.

When I was thinking of what kind of advice to give to her, I tried to remember how I “trained” for my first half marathon, in July of 2008. At that point, I had run two 10Ks and one 12K. Due to poor planning on my part, I went to Taiwan about a month before the race, where it was way too hot to run. When I got back, I crammed a bunch of runs in — which I really don’t recommend in retrospect. I think I did a 6 mile run, then 8, then topped out at 10 miles. I hadn’t practiced fueling, which led me to bonk pretty bad at the race. But all in all, I did pretty well on race day. My “goal” was to run about 10:00/mile pace, and I ended up averaging 9:54/mile. (I think I was well ahead of that before I started bonking at mile 11.)

So, here’s my advice to first time half marathoners, sort of organized into categories:

Running/Training:

  • The best rule of thumb here is the wise adage: “It’s better to show up to a race under-trained than injured.” Always listen to your body and back off and rest if need be.
  • Long runs: dedicate one run a week to increasing your mileage. A good rule of thumb is to build up over 3 weeks, then cut back one week. (For example, in a 4 week cycle, you’d run 5, 6, 7 miles for the first 3 weeks, then go back to 5 miles for the 4th week.)
  • The key to a good long run is to start SLOW. The goal is to spend time on your feet and get your body used to the pounding. That means even if you need to take walk breaks, do so. There’s no shame in taking walk breaks!
  • The long run is also your opportunity to try out all of your race day gear and nutrition.
  • Weekly mileage: if you can fit it into your schedule, try to run 2x during the week, for whatever duration you can. Physically, this will help improve your fitness while decreasing your chance of injury. Mentally, it does two things: one, it gets you used to running as a routine, and two, it takes less pressure off the weekend long run.
  • If you’re going to do two runs over the weekend, make sure you do the 2nd run (the one that’s not the long run) at recovery pace. For most people, this means about 1-2 minutes slower than your easiest pace. It should feel glacial.

Non-running training:

  • Warm-up and cool-down after every run. Before you run, do a quick dynamic warm-up, like in this video, for example. I always start my runs with leg swings because of my tight hamstrings and hips. Never do static stretches on cold muscles (i.e., the “classic” stretches where you get into a position and hold it for 10-15 seconds) – you could injure yourself. After your run is when you can do some static stretching.
  • If you’re prone to specific injury, like ITB syndrome, or even if you’re not, get a foam roller and massage out your legs. There are tons of videos online for instruction.
  • Light weight training, core exercises, and light to moderate yoga can be complimentary to running, though you’ll want to be careful not to overdo it. If you already do these activities, keep doing them, but I wouldn’t introduce anything new during the training period.
  • Aerobic crosstraining like cycling and swimming can help build general fitness, but running should still be your number one focus during half marathon training.

Fueling:

  • Fueling during your runs isn’t one size fits all. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you, whether it’s gels, chews, sports drinks, etc. It’s ideal to practice during your long runs before the race. Always drink water with gels to avoid GI distress.
  • You’ll also want to practice pre-long run fueling to simulate your race day breakfast. And don’t forget to check how long pre-run you need to stop drinking water to avoid a pit stop.

Mental Strategy:

  • This is your first half marathon! It’s natural to have goals in the back of your mind, but your primary goal is to finish. 13.1 miles is a huge accomplishment! Savor the moment.
  • With the goal of “just finish”, take your time during training, pace-wise. Your aims are to continue building up time on your feet and to stay healthy/avoid injury.

Race Day:

  • Research race logistics ahead of time. When/where is bib pickup? When/where is the start/finish? What’s the parking situation? Is there a bag drop/sweat check? Where are the aid stations and how many of them are there? Finding out all of this information before race weekend will help dampen anxiety/nervousness.
  • Avoid new gear/clothes on race day. The last thing you want to deal with is a chafe-inducing sports bra, shoes that blister, or shorts that are riding up for 13.1 miles.
  • Start slow and don’t get caught up in the race day frenzy. If there are pace groups, commit to choosing a slower-than-anticipated pace and running with the group for a mile as a warmup.
  • If things start going poorly — assess the situation. If you’re injured, seek medical attention at the next aid station. It’s not worth hurting yourself further just to finish. If you’re struggling mentally/physically (but not in acute pain), then see what you can do to get out of that mindset, whether it’s popping in your earbuds and listening to music, having a burst of sugar, or knowing you’ll see your support crew up ahead.

Miscellaneous:

  • Signing up for a 10K and/or a 10-mile race at least 3 weeks before your half marathon can be a great chance for a dress rehearsal. It can also help with race day nerves and ironing out any kinks in your race day routine.
  • How long should your longest run be? I think this depends on your pace. Like I mentioned above, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry, which means for a new half marathon runner, less is more. IMO, 10 miles or 2 hours of running is a good place to be. If you can get to 12-13 safely, than that’s great. I don’t think it’s necessary for a first time half marathoner to run more than 13 miles before the race.
  • How to determine race pace? Even though you shouldn’t necessarily be focused on a goal time, you’ll still want to know approximately how fast you should start the race and the pace for your long runs. There are some good pace calculators online (here, for example). You can plug in your most recent race time and calculate an approximate goal half marathon pace. Remember that this is an estimate based on hundreds of thousands of people, on average. Also, a 5K time is going to be less accurate at predicting a half marathon time than a 10-miler, for example. The McMillan calculator can also help you determine an estimated long run pace.

OK, so that wasn’t very concise, but you all know that’s not my strong suit. 😉 Is there anything I forgot? I’ll take additional questions in the comments section. Hope this helps!

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Alameda Holiday Kick Off 5K

It seems that my racing motto this year is, “Under promise (and under train) and over deliver”. In the past, my racing and training philosophy very much overlapped with my personal and professional m.o.’s: set a goal and go after it hard, Type A style. However, 2017 has become the year of constant life disruptions. That, and a significant dip in my training mojo, has resulted in very modest running goals.

I had signed up for the Alameda Holiday Kick Off 5K as a fun run — a few of my Berkeley colleagues would be running, so I thought it would be a good time. Plus, it was logistically easy — an easy 20-minute drive from home, free parking, and race day bib pickup.

The thing about signing up for a fun run 5K is that it flew way under my radar, especially since I was starting a new job and had to fly out to Chicago the week before the race. I did some half-assed short interval workouts leading up to the race, but I honestly didn’t care.

The night before, I had some friends over for ladies’ night. We drank wine, ate junk food, and watched Netflix while wearing adult onesies, as you do. I basically threw “race prep” out the window. I reasoned that it was a 5K fun run, it would be over before I knew it.

As expected, race morning was a breeze. I got there too early for a small race, picked up my bib, did a 1.5 mile warm-up, and used the restroom, which was nicely situated indoors at the Harbor Bay Club.

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If you squint, you can see San Franciso

I met up with my friends and we gamely followed along with the official pre-race dynamic warmup. Two of my friends, CS and KK, told me to run my own race — they’d be running a very leisurely pace, so they’d see me at the finish. KK’s boyfriend A, whom I had just met, was also running, but we didn’t make any plans to run together.

At some point in the morning, my competitive juices started flowing. I knew that, based on recent 10K and half marathon times, I could aim for sub-9 minute pace. I’ve generally been able to run under 26 minutes for the last few years, so that was my goal. I was also curious about my competition. I looked around and there were definitely some speedy-looking women, but for the most part, it was definitely more of a community fun run atmosphere.

The race started at 9:00 a.m. on the dot. The course was an out-and-back along the waterfront – super flat but narrow in parts. There were also some bumpy bits (broken asphalt, roots coming up, etc.) – I saw one boy trip and fall, so you definitely had to be careful. My plan was to start fast (for me), but hopefully not too fast, hang on for the 2nd mile, and see if I could finish fast. I wasn’t overly concerned with pace, but I did periodically glance at my Garmin.

So, the short story is that everything pretty much went according to plan. I started fast-ish, being careful not to expend too much energy passing people. The second mile, I hung on to the older lady in front of me (she was amazing — I hope I can run like her when I’m 63!). I ended up passing her at the turn around, but not long after, she caught up to me, we ran side by side for a few minutes, and then she took off, eventually beating me by 7 seconds. I was suffering, but not completely miserable (yet). It sounds sadistic, but I always ask myself at a 5K, “Do I feel like throwing up?” If not, I know I can still push harder.

I crossed the finish mat at 25:35 – woohoo! It’s my 4th fastest 5K finish, though my Garmin indicated that the course may have been short (it read 3.05 miles). Regardless, I ended up winning my age group (40-49) by 2 seconds! And I was in the largest age group by far. So that made me feel very triumphant.

The cherry on top? I negative split each mile by precisely 8 seconds: 8:34, 8:26, 8:18, then sprinted it in (6:56/mile) in the last 0.05.

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Happy finishers! KK and CS

I watched my friends finish and they patiently waited for me to collect my age group award – a nice looking plaque that I’m proudly displaying on my desk. Then we went to get brunch – YUM. Post-race brunch is always my favorite. It was a great morning!

Official results:
25:35 (8:15/mile)
1/26 AG; 14/87 F; 33/152 overall

Garmin: 25:36 (8:24/mile for 3.05 miles)

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Age group winner! Gotta love small races 🙂

**

About the race:

  • Organizers: Out Front Endurance
  • Race info: This is one of a series of the Island 5K Challenge on Alameda Island. Participants who finish 3 of the 5 races get a special medal and they’re also entered into a separate competition.
  • Cost: I missed a deadline and paid $30 (+$3 Active.com fee), but I think if you register early, you can pay as little as $20.
  • Course: A very flat, paved, out-and-back course along the Bay.
  • Parking: Lots of free parking near the start/finish.
  • Aid stations: A water and electrolyte station at the turn around.
  • Bathrooms: Indoor flush toilets at the start/finish. Public park bathrooms en route.
  • Swag: Cotton unisex t-shirt, no medal. fullsizeoutput_6749
  • Post race food and drinks: Bottle of water, beer, and hot coffee. There were cookies and fruit as well.
  • Other notes: This is a nicely organized community race. If the weather cooperates, then it’s got great PR potential (except that it might be a short course). All of the races in this series benefit charities; the proceeds of this race went to the Multiple Myeloma Society.
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Run & Ride 5K/10K/1-mile at Great America

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I was approached by the organizers of the Run & Ride Race at Great America in Santa Clara to help promote their race. On December 9th, there will be a 5K, 10K, and 1-mile fun run in the amusement park. You can sign up for one event or sign up for a combination of events – it’s totally up to you. The cool part (and why I agreed to help with promotion) is that race entries come with a pass to the park (that you can use any time during WinterFest), discount tickets for friends and family, as well as free parking on the day of the race. That’s on top of the regular swag, like a finisher’s medal, chip timing, and a t-shirt. It just sounds like a fun event and a little different from your run-of-the-mill race.

I also appreciate that the races don’t start until noon, so if you can’t make bib pickup on Friday, you can do it the morning of the race. 🙂

Anyway, if this sounds cool to you, sign up with code GARUNTANG15 to save 15% off registration. The next price increase is coming up on October 28th, just FYI.

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All of the swag will be Peanuts themed! (photo from @runandriderace)

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Lately

Wow, has it been 3+ weeks since I last posted? I’ve been busy, but not with running. Here’s a quick run through of what’s been going on:

  1. I paced the 2:30 group at the Tiburon Half Marathon. This was the first race I paced, so I was happy to pace this again and celebrate my first anniversary with the Trivalley Running Club. I forgot just how hilly the course is — I’m really glad I switched to the 2:30 group because it was tough! I made some new friends and ran into some old ones, too. Yet again, it was a very rewarding experience, being able to help people accomplish their goals. I won’t write a separate recap because it was much of the same as last year — it’s a scenic course with solid organization and logistics, and great swag. I love that they have kombucha and acai bowls for post-race refreshments, and lots of vendors giving out free samples. Two thumbs up!
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    Pace team ready! (photo courtesy of Peter Chan)

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    At the finish line (PC: Peter Chan)

  2. I went to the East Coast for 6 days. The first part of the trip was a job interview (more on that later), the second part was a girls’ trip to Naples, FL with my hometown crew in celebration of our 40-ish birthdays. We treated ourselves to a luxe stay at the Ritz Carlton. I’ve never stayed in such a fancy hotel before! The spa was so nice and all of the staff were very friendly. We even lucked out with the weather. Hurricane Nate headed toward New Orleans, while another unnamed storm stayed far enough east to not cause any problems. Seeing that our hotel had just opened the week before (it took a while to restore power after Hurricane Irma), we were very fortunate.

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    Celebrating 26 years of friendship ❤

  3. I got a new job! So, one of the main reasons I’ve been holding off on signing up for a spring marathon was that I was in the process of interviewing. I figured that starting a new job would require a lot of mental energy as well as adjustments to my schedule — something that doesn’t mesh well with marathon training. The good news is that I’ll be working from home, so I’ll hopefully be getting invaluable time and energy back that I usually lose during my BART commute (2 hours every day). However, the first month or so will require some travel. I’m flying out to Chicago at the end of the month for new employee training. At some point after that, I’ll probably have to go to Philadelphia for more training — the rest of my team is in a suburb 40 minutes northwest of Philly.

    While I’m really excited about my new job, I’m also a little sad about leaving my current one. Sure, there were parts of my job that I didn’t enjoy (no job is perfect), but I will really miss the people. Also, I’m realizing just how much knowledge I’ve gained in the past 3 years — I’m damn good at what I do, if I do say so myself. It will be a difficult blow to my ego to basically start all over again (not from scratch, thank goodness), but I’ll definitely be the least knowledgeable person on the team for a while. Finally, there’s the scary bit about going from the familiar to the unknown. Will I get along with my manager? Will I enjoy the work? How am I going to feel about working from home? For now, I’m trying not to overthink it, and enjoying my last week (!) of my current job. It’s a nice feeling to wrap things up and have people tell me they’ll miss me.

  4. I haven’t been running much. The week after Tiburon, I was traveling and had to rely on hotel treadmills. At my hotel in Pennsylvania, I was in a place with zero sidewalks. Oh, surburbia! I didn’t have a car either, so it was impossible. Then, when I went down to Florida, it was freaking humid. 84 degrees with a real feel of 100. Lovely. So, yes, I opted for the treadmill, which I must say — if you have to run on a treadmill, do it at the Ritz. Each treadmill came with a bottle of water and a towel already on the machine. Halfway through my run, the attendant came by with a chilled washcloth that had been soaked in peppermint water. It was amazing.

    When I got back from Florida, the North Bay was beset by wildfires. It was very sudden and I felt so terrible for everyone who lost their homes and businesses. There was so much smoke from the fires that the air quality index got into dangerous on a few days. I played it safe and ran on the treadmill for 2 out of 3 runs last week.

    Which brings us to this week, where I’ve run twice for 3 miles a piece. I feel like I’ve been struggling all year to get a decent base (20-25 mpw for me), but life keeps getting in the way. I’m not stressed out about it, but I know that once I start working from home, I’ll need the physical activity to keep me sane and to keep my waistline within reason. (Related: I just got a pair of Athleta joggers — i.e., fashion sweatpants with a drawstring waist — and I love them. I’ve decided that they will be my official work from home pants.)

  5. I turned another year older, so I bought myself a fancy pants Nespresso machine. I make coconut lattes with it and the Gypsy Runner and I joke about how bougie we are.
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    Not only does this make great espresso, but it also looks beautiful and is really well designed.  It makes our kitchen look bad in comparison.

    So, that’s my last few weeks in a nutshell. What’s been going on with y’all? Any tips on working from home?

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On the docket…

12/9/17 – Great America Run & Ride (save 15% with code GARUNTANG15)

2/5/18 – Kaiser SF Half Marathon
3/25/18 – Oakland Half Marathon

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