Race Recap: Big Basin 50K

Race day: Sunday, July 26th, 2015. All signs indicated that things would go smoothly. The week before the race was extremely calm, at work and at home. I ate healthily and slept well. On the morning of the race, the Gypsy Runner dropped me, Kate, and Jess off just before the official race shuttles, enabling us to beat the rush to bib pickup and the porta potties. I was slightly disappointed that the forecast for morning fog was wrong, but at least it was still cool in the shade. And after a year of internet friendship, I finally met Jen K. in person and discovered (once again) how amazingly seamless it can be to go from internet strangers to real-life friends in mere seconds. As the 4 of us (me, Jess, Kate, and Jen K.) waited for the start, my excitement kept growing. This is the day, I told myself, the day I’ve been working towards and I feel great.

Group selfie right before the start of the race. That's my

Group selfie right before the start of the race. That’s my “super nervous yet excited” face.

From Kate’s prior experience (she ran the Big Basin Marathon last year), we lined up in the middle of the pack so that we wouldn’t get stuck behind walkers during the first runnable stretch of single track. After the pre-race announcements, race director Wendell started a countdown and the race officially started, right on time at 9:00 a.m.

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click to enlarge

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Saratoga Gap to Waterman Gap (6.5 miles @ 11:10/mile)
Maybe because I knew from pre-race intel that the first 4-4.5 miles were downhill and very runnable, I didn’t worry too much about going out a little faster than I normally would at a trail race. As Jen K. told me later, she saw that I “went out of the gates like Seabiscuit.” My body locked into a moderately hard pace and it was hard to step off the gas. Not to mention that the trail was just a tad wider than single track, so I was pretty much in a conga line.  All this to say that it was difficult to run my own pace. I felt good though; my stride was smooth and I was breathing just fine. Every mile, I drank some water, and at the 30-minute mark, I ate my Clif Bloks as planned. The trail was absolutely gorgeous – pine covered paths cutting through tall California redwoods.

#runninghappy early on in race

#runninghappy early on in race

Somewhere around 4.5-5 miles, though, something changed. I started feeling increasingly desperate to see the first aid station at Waterman Gap, since my mental strategy was to run from aid station to aid station. I worried about how tired I was feeling so early on in the race, but reasoned that I was well-trained and surely I would be fine. I focused on following the woman in front of me with the blond braid. I forced myself to finish a Gu before arriving at the aid station, but it left me feeling nauseated. As I approached Waterman Gap, I noticed that I was already covered in sweat. When did that happen? It didn’t seem very hot, but I guess it was actually pretty humid. That should’ve been a hint for me to drink up and hit some electrolytes, but I didn’t want to spend too long at the aid station. So after grabbing some watermelon and potato chips, I went on my way. As I left, I saw Jess and Jen K. coming into the aid station. “See you at the next one!” Jess yelled.

Waterman Gap to China Grade (4.7 miles @ 16:43/mile)
I lost the trail for about 30 seconds coming out of the aid station, as did another runner behind me. Luckily, there were some people (not connected to the race) hanging out by the trail head to direct us. I knew there was quite a lot of climbing in this segment – over 1,000′ over 4.6 miles – so it would be tough. Unfortunately, I started feeling horribly even before the real ascent began. I had to take some walk/run breaks up the gentle climb and before I knew it, Jess and Jen K. had caught up to me. My breath was ragged and my heart rate was through the roof. I didn’t know what was going on, but it wasn’t good. This had happened to me before, but usually at mile 20 of a marathon, not at mile 7 of a trail race. I used some loose rocks and sand in my shoe as an excuse to pull over to the side of the trail and take a breather. I let Jess, Jen, and the caravan of people behind them pass me.

The view from somewhere in this section of the race. (Photo credit: Jess)

The view from somewhere in this section of the race. (Photo credit: Jess)

As I worked my way up a small section of switchbacks, I caught a glimpse of Kate coming up behind me. “Kate!” I screamed out, though she didn’t hear me until she got much closer. I was happy to see her. She had an unfortunate run-in with a couple of wasps and had gotten stung early on in the race, and the stings were still quite painful. I told her I wasn’t feeling great, so she took it upon herself to try to get me to pick up my pace and run the easier grades. Every time I tried, I felt like my lungs were going to explode and my heart was going to jump out of my chest. When I confessed to her that I felt dizzy, she let me stop to rest and gave me an electrolyte tab. While we were stopped, an older lady ran by and asked if we needed anything. I told her no, thanks, and as she jogged away, she said, “Well, the great thing about ultras is that you have plenty of time to diagnose and fix your problems. Good luck!”

I tried to stay positive, but it was really difficult. I’m sure it was tough on Kate as well; she couldn’t tell if she was helping or annoying me, so after a while, she let me be and took off. I confessed to her later that I definitely felt a love/hate relationship with her at the moment. She was worried that I wouldn’t make the 1:00 p.m. cut-off at Gazos Creek. 50K runners who didn’t make it by then would be redirected to the marathon course. It was a legitimate concern, but my state of mind was so messed up that I didn’t share her sense of urgency. Plus, I still had over 1.5 hours to go 5-6 miles – no problem, right? Well, yes, under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be a problem…but not when you’re barely walking/jogging at 17:00/mile. It was dismal. My mind was stuck on an endless loop, that went something like this:

Ugh. I can’t believe I feel so tired/crappy/dizzy/sick and I still have so far to go!
Why did I go out so fast? What was I thinking?!
Why did I even sign up for this? What was I thinking?!
I’m never running an endurance event ever again.
I can’t believe I thought I could finish in X:XX. I’ll be lucky if I make the cut-off.
Holy crap, what if I don’t make the cut-off and I don’t get to run the 50K?
I really just want to quit.
I can’t quit. Think of all of the training and the money I raised for RBO.
I can’t believe I’m not even a third of the way done. This is going to be painful.

I’ll tell you another thing that sucks is trying to eat a Honey Stinger Waffle while you’re hyperventilating. It takes, like, an hour. I also tried to drink more water, as I had a suspicion that dehydration and overheating might be the issue at hand. My feet and calves also started cramping, which was highly unusual this early on in a race. Eventually, I made it to the next aid station, where I drank a Coke to settle my stomach, ate a few pieces of boiled potato, and took another salt tab. Again, I didn’t linger as I was eager to see the Gypsy Runner at Gazos Creek.

China Grade to Gazos Creek (4.7 miles @ 13:30)
This section was almost all downhill, but a good chunk of it was exposed rock and quite technical. I was still feeling nauseous; one mouthful of Salted Caramel Gu, which is usually my favorite, made me gag and almost throw up. This was really weird, as I’ve never had such a bad reaction to eating on the run. I continued to do walk/run intervals and play the negative thought loop in my head. Eventually, I realized that I was cutting it close to the 1:00 p.m. cut-off. It was difficult to calculate how close, as I kept losing GPS signal and therefore, the distance displayed on my Garmin was incorrect. I tried to do a bit more running, but would stop frequently to catch my breath. Upon reflection, and after talking it over with the GR, I have to wonder if I was actually that tired physically or just mentally and psychologically overwhelmed. Sometimes, it’s hard to separate those two.

The trail eventually re-entered the woods (thankfully) and I was encouraged by the orange ribbons along with the pink ones, signifying that the Gazos Creek aid station was approaching. I was doing my walk-run when I looked up and saw the GR appear on the trail, walking towards me. It was awesome to see him! He told me I only had about half a mile to the aid station, to my relief. I arrived with about 20 minutes to spare before the 1:00 p.m. cut-off. Unlike the other aid stations, I decided to take a long break at Gazos Creek. I sat down on a log as the GR tended to my requests for watermelon, ice for my bandana, Coke, potatoes, and salt tabs. Putting the ice-filled bandana around the back of my neck felt so good. I grabbed a rubber band (to signify the 50K loop) and the GR and I went on our way.

Gazos Creek Loop (4.5 miles @ 19:40/mile)
This was going to be another very difficult section — 770′ gain/loss over only 4.5 miles. It started off with a nice, gentle grade on a fire trail. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. I even recall joking and chatting with the GR as we slowly walked up the trail. With the bandana around my neck, I asked the GR if I looked jaunty. He replied with a terse no. After I gave him a look, he asked, “Wait, did you ask if you looked jaundiced??” Ha!

The good times didn’t last long, as there was an abrupt right turn up a steep hill that led to an even steeper grade. Every time I thought that we had reached the top, there was another hill waiting for us. Spasms and cramps traveled all around my legs, from my feet to my calves to my quads to my hamstrings and finally to my left glute, where I’ve never ever experienced cramping previously. On a particularly steep section, I quietly whined to the GR, “I want to go home.” He responded, “Before you know it, it will be tomorrow, and you’ll be waking up in bed, and this will seem far away.” I couldn’t argue with that. Then he helped me to reset my negative brain loop by asking me what I was thinking about. He encouraged me to focus on the task at hand and to stop thinking those counterproductive thoughts. So wise, that Gypsy Runner.

What goes up, must come down, and eventually we did start jogging some downhill and flat stretches, though I was still stopping frequently for walk breaks. By the end of our 4.5 miles together, I was feeling a lot better. True, I was still moving at a glacial pace, but my body was a least cooperating more and my mindset was much improved. I hit Gazos Creek aid station again and the GR refilled my hydration bladder with ice and water, and I replenished the ice in my bandana. I had 2 hours and 45 minutes to cover the next 10.6 miles. Again, this wouldn’t even phase me normally, but at that particular point in time (not to mention 20 miles into a trail race!), I was worried. Still, I wanted to be brave and try as hard as I could to finish within the official cut-off time of 8 hours. I hugged the GR good-bye and thanked him. As I re-entered the woods, I told myself, “You’ve got this, Jen.”

Gazos Creek to Twin Redwoods (8.6 miles @ 16:14/mile)
I left the GR and Gazos Creek with a renewed sense of optimism. I knew I had to pick up the pace for this last section in order to make the cut-off, which meant more running and less walking. I got into a cycle of jogging for about 20 breaths and then walking for 10. It helped tremendously that there was another runner nearby, with whom I kept leap-frogging over the next 6 miles. After a too-brief section of runnable trail, I hit the next ascent, which slowed me to a crawl. Something had changed though; I was starting to feel a bit more power in my legs as I climbed.

At the top of the hill, I lost the trail for the second time. Yet again, a stranger (trail angel) was there to direct me and the other runner in the right direction. We made a sharp right down toward  Berry Creek Falls. He told us it was all downhill to the Falls, which was mostly true, but it didn’t mean easy running. This was a long stretch of technical downhill, filled with roots, steps, fallen logs, and creek crossings. As we continue to leap frog, my fellow runner shared bits of information with me, such as more accurate mileage readings (turns out her phone app was much better than my Garmin). She mentioned that she had done the marathon course during training, and that if we kept up our current pace (around 15:00/mile), we could make it. This was around mile 25. Then we hit another climb, and I became skeptical about making the 8-hour cut-off. However, I was happy that the end was getting ever closer.

On of the creek crossings. I recalled the second bridge was a bit unbalanced.

One of the creek crossings. I recalled the second bridge was a bit unbalanced. (Photo credit: Jess)

I guess it was around mile 27 when the terrain suddenly leveled out, transitioning from technical single track to a wide fire trail. I fell into an easy jog on the gentle downhill and manged to tick off a few miles at 13:00/mile pace. I know that’s still pretty slow, but it had been hours since I had been able to run continuously without stopping for walk breaks, so I was actually super excited. The GR’s prediction that I would get a second wind was coming true. My breathing and heart rate calmed substantially, I wasn’t nauseous anymore, and I was back to taking Gu and Clif Bloks like a champ. I think the ice – both in the bandana on my neck and in my hydration bladder – helped tremendously. I even managed to pass 2 runners in this section.

As I jogged along, I became overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude. I thought about all of the wonderful people that had supported me along my ultra journey, from my friends who were out there on race day to those who had donated money to the RBO fundraiser, and all of the well-wishers who had texted or messaged me. Despite my many attempts throughout the day to stay positive, the only thing that really worked for me was, “Well it could always be worse…” As in: at least I don’t have to go to the bathroom; or, at least I don’t have any blisters or chafing; or, at least I haven’t tripped and fallen, as many others had; or, at least I made it to the 50K cut-off so I can actually complete this thing and not switch to the marathon… But at mile 28 or 29, I actually felt positive. There was no “at least” about it; I was happy to be out there, almost done with my first (and possibly only) ultramarathon.

I knew from my pre-race recon that this section would seem interminable, given that the aid stations were 8.6 miles apart. Even so, I started getting antsy, hoping that the next aid station, Twin Redwoods, would appear any minute. Getting to Twin Redwoods also meant that there was less than 2 miles remaining, which I very much looked forward to. I caught sight of the aid station right around 4:35 p.m.

Twin Redwoods to the Finish (1.8 miles @ 11:40/mile)
After a quick, “I’m so glad to see you guys!” to the aid station volunteers, I grabbed an orange slice and went on my way. I had 25 minutes to go 1.8 miles, but there was one last climb waiting for me. It was going to be a close one! I tried to run as much as I could before I got to the hill, and attempted to do the math in my head without much success. Then, my Garmin died. Even though the pace hadn’t been accurate all day (because the GPS kept losing the satellite), it was at least an approximation.

Unfortunately, the hill was steeper than what I had hoped for and as I hiked, I periodically checked the time on my phone. 18 minutes left…16….14. I kept praying that I was closing in on the “summit” as the minutes ticked by, but it looked like I still had a ways to go. I heard someone in the distance yell, “Jen!” It was a male voice, but I didn’t think it sounded like the GR. Then, about 2 minutes later, he appeared on the trail ahead, jogging towards me. He encouraged me by saying that I was almost at the top and then it was all downhill to the finish, but that we had to hurry because there wasn’t much time. With the GR behind me, I continued to hike/jog up the hill but it was tough. The top of the hill couldn’t come soon enough. Finally, we crested the hill and began the descent to the finish. It was impossible to see where the finish area was, because at this point, we were still on a trail on the side of the mountain. I picked up speed and felt fast for the first time since that morning. The GR yelled, “Looking good!” and “You’re doing great!” as we sped down the hill. We passed by a spectator or volunteer who yelled, “You’re gonna make it! Just watch your footing!”

This was the view of the Pacific that I missed as I was desperately focusing on the trail and finishing before the cutoff.

This was the view of the Pacific that I missed as I was desperately focusing on the trail and finishing before the cutoff. (Photo credit: Jess)

Finally out of the woods! That's my

Finally out of the woods! (Photo credit: Jess)

The trail shot us out into a small clearing, where Jess, Kate, Jen K., and Cat and her boys were all cheering for me. I had no idea what time it was, but I had the feeling that I was going to make the cut-off. I ran to the end of the trail but failed to see the finish arch, so I sort of stopped for a few seconds while people pointed to the finish line. When I saw 7:57 on the clock, I was so happy! I officially finished in 7:57:46, good for 103rd out of 106 finishers. I jogged across the finish line and into the arms of the GR, where we hugged for what seemed like 5 whole minutes. I was officially an ultramarathoner!

YES!!!! (Photo credit: Kate)

YES!!!! (Photo credit: Kate)

I must have said, “Oh my god” a million times after I was finished. I was in complete shock that I had been out there for almost 8 hours and was finally done, and that I had made the cut-off after so many ups and downs. After someone handed me a medal, the 50K finisher coaster, and a race shirt, I sat down to soak it all in. Cat brought me a whole plate of food, which was really sweet of her, but I didn’t have the appetite for any of it.

I was in a daze for quite a while, not sure what I wanted to do or eat. I saw the older lady from the morning, the one who told me there was plenty of time to turn things around, and she exclaimed, “You made it!” I replied quietly, with a smile, “I did.”

With my #1 pacer, support crew, and coach.

With my #1 pacer and support crew.



We eventually made our way to the car via the Coastal shuttle, which was parked almost 2 miles away on Highway 1. On our way home, we stopped at Taqueria la Mordida in Half Moon Bay for a quick dinner. It had been a really long, dramatic, and tiring day. I was overwhelmed with emotions ranging from joy (finishing the race) to sadness (saying goodbye to Jess and Kate). Needless to say, it was definitely memorable!

As this post is already too long, so I’ll save the race logistics/info, post-race analysis, and training thoughts for another post. Thanks for reading!

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Posted in Big Basin 50K, Race Recap, Trail running

Big Basin 50K: Race Week!!!

After months of training – snot, sweat, and yes, even a few tears – my first ultramarathon is just days away. Eek! (That was an excited “Eek”, not a nervous one.) Training hasn’t been perfect, but I feel great heading into Sunday. After 2+ weeks of taper, my legs are finally feeling something besides tired and achey. It’s like, “Woah! My legs aren’t sore. Is that normal??”

So yeah, I’m feeling calm and positive for the time being. I’ve made most of the major logistical decisions: what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, what time to leave the house, what to eat during the race, etc. I’ve even already prepared my post-race snack: a big bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Why Cool Ranch Doritos? Well, for one thing, they are one of my guilty pleasures, and they’ll taste great with beer and/or soda at the finish. Two, I’ve been seriously craving salty, fatty starch (chips, french fries) after my long runs. I think it’s because I pretty much only eat sweet things while running, like Gu or Bloks, and then I feel the need to get that perma-sweet taste out of my mouth. So, really it was down to Cool Ranch Doritos or Cheetos, but since I had some Cheetos as recently as this past Saturday, I went with the Doritos. Oh, plus, the Gypsy Runner doesn’t like Cool Ranch Doritos, so I knew they would be safe from his snacking ways. Muah-ha-ha-ha.

One thing I’m super excited about is being able to share this experience with some of my favorite people. Kate and Jess are running the 50K as well, though we haven’t decided whether we’re all running together or not (I think it will just depend on how the day goes, how we feel, etc.) My Twitter friend Jen is also running the 50K. We were supposed to run at Big Basin last year (she signed up for the 50K, and I registered for the marathon), but we both DNS’d due to hip injuries. Whomp whomp! It will be great to finally meet her in person and avenge our DNS’es! Cathryn and her boys will be at various points of the course to cheer us on, which will be so nice to break up the monotony. Last and definitely not least, I got permission from the race director for the Gypsy Runner to run a 4.5 mile loop with me from ~miles 15.5-20! I’m very excited about this because I’ll have the GR’s company during one of the most challenging parts of the course (770′ gain/loss in just 4.5 miles!). It’s also great that I’ll get to see him for more than 5 seconds while I run through an aid station, which is what I do normally. Let’s face it – spectating any race can be quite boring, but probably even more so at a trail race. Anyway, I’m super excited to share the experience of my first ultra with him — hopefully, I won’t be too cranky. ;)

There are only a few things left to finalize: driving directions, post-race food, and most importantly, race strategy. I’ll follow conventional wisdom and make my main goal simply to finish the race within the cut-off of 8 hours. (They don’t call it conventional wisdom for nothing.) I also want to run happy, choose joy, take it all in, and all of that hippy-dippy stuff. Of course, there’s also a part of me that can’t help but consider a time goal. For one thing, I have to think about pace so that I can tell the GR when to expect me. Additionally, it’s fun to add a dash of challenge to the task. I’m approaching it with the mentality of, “Well, if I’m feeling GOOD, then let’s aim for X time.” I’ll keep those numbers to myself for now…

To help with pacing and race visualization, I printed out the elevation chart and noted all of the aid stations, with the distances in miles between them (they’re in km on the graph and on the race website – so confusing!), as well as elevation gain and loss. I saw this on someone else’s race report and thought it was a great idea. The chart, along with the 10 or so race reports I’ve read, have helped me visualize the trails and hopefully be better prepared for the challenges ahead.



Big Basin 50K, I’m coming for you!

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Race Recap: Brazen Dirty Dozen 10K

Jess and Kate, two of my best running friends, are moving away at the end of the month to Oklahoma and Southern California, respectively. {Insert sad crying emoji here.} In true crazy runner fashion, they decided to bid farewell to the Bay Area running community by participating in Brazen’s Dirty Dozen 6-Hour Endurance Event. It’s part of an all day running party, along with a 12-hour event and 4 shorter races: a morning 5K and 10K, followed by an afternoon 5K and 10K. Essentially, all runners run some version of the 3.37-mile loop. Having volunteered at this race 3 years ago, I knew it was a really unique and intense event.

bt and I signed up for the 10K to support Jess and Kate. We carpooled together and arrived in plenty of time for the 10:30 a.m. start. It was interesting to show up to a race where there were already runners on the course – and had been since 7:00 a.m.

My race strategy, if there was one, kept changing throughout the week leading up to the race. At first, I just wanted to run for fun, maybe pick up the pace if I was feeling good. Then, after a few hopeful, (relatively) speedier runs midweek, I considered putting in a tempo-plus effort – not all out, but strong. I was further inspired to run fast by my pre-race reconnaissance, during which I found that my friend Jane had won our age group last year in an impressive 55 minutes for the 6.74 mile course (it’s an “ultra” 10K). Since becoming a mother to twin girls earlier this year and coming down with an Achilles injury, Jane has been sidelined for a few months, so I thought I’d try to defend her AG win. When I awoke with tired legs Saturday morning, however, I was doubtful that I could even muster a tempo run. Even though each 3.37 mile loop only had ~150 feet of elevation gain, I knew from previous experience that there was a lot of gravel and wood chips that would slow me down. Nonetheless, I decided to try my best – whatever pace it meant for that day – and finish strong.

Because the 6- and 12-hour events are the main event, there was a smaller crowd than usual for the 5K and 10K. Altogether there were about 200 of us (~70 in the 10K and ~120 in the 5K). As we entered the corral, I surveyed the field and concluded most people were out for a fun run. bt and I positioned ourselves near the front, because even though I didn’t intended to race-race, the last thing I wanted to do was get stuck in a crowd or behind people.

My Garmin lost its GPS while we were waiting for the start, of course. As a result, I lost about 30 seconds of data (whomp whomp). The horn sounded and the crowd surged forward. I tried my best not to be carried along by the adrenaline. I trailed bt by a few feet for the first minute or so, but as we made a right turn downhill, I charged ahead and tried to make my way out of the crowd. The course was a clockwise loop with mostly gentle rolling hills on a mix of potholed grass, dirt, gravel, and woodchips. There was one very short but steep uphill that slowed me to a jog both times. The first part of the loop runs along the water, with nice views of the San Francisco Bay and Marin County in the distance. The second half weaves through the trees, finishing with a glorious downhill right into the finishing chute.

I spent the first loop chasing people down. It was easy to differentiate the 5K/10K runners from the 6- and 12-hour participants based on pace. However, I had no idea if I was chasing down a 5K or 10K runner; it was random chance, and I hoped that I wasn’t going out too fast. My rabbit for the first loop was an Asian lady with short blond hair, whom I managed to pass at the very end of the lap on the downhill portion. Despite feeling a bit tired during portions of the first loop, I got a burst of energy running through the start/finish area, where runners and spectators alike had set up camp and were cheering people on as they came through. One lap down, one more lap to go.

Not sure when this was taken, but glad I remembered to smile.

Not sure when this was taken, but I’m glad I remembered to smile.

The second lap was lonelier, as the 10K runners became pretty spread out. Chasing down 6- and 12-hour runners wasn’t nearly as exciting, so I focused on keeping up my effort, not pace. (For once, I rarely looked at my Garmin for pace.) I took Sally McCrae’s “Choose Joy” mantra from Western States and changed it to “Choose Boldness” and “Choose Courage.” One of my biggest racing weaknesses is giving in to the urge to slow down at the end, so finishing strong has been something I’ve been trying to work on. As cheesy as my mantras were, they really worked for me in the moment.

Only 2 runners passed me during the second lap – the guy who would eventually win the 6-hour individual race with an impressive 44 miles, and one member of the 6-hour winning team Ko-dependent. I had no idea where I stood in terms of placing. From the first lap, I knew there weren’t that many runners ahead of me, but again, I couldn’t tell how many of them were 5K versus 10K runners.

Just as I was emerging from the woods, with about half a mile to go, I heard some hard breathing behind me and a woman’s voice yelling, “Passing on your left!” Uh-oh. Time to pick up the pace. As I tried my best to maneuver around the 6- and 12-hour walkers and joggers, I could hear my competition gaining on me. I tore down the hill at 7:30/mile (keep in mind my average for the whole race was 9:10/mile), with my Garmin clocking 6:58/mile as the peak pace for this section. If the race ended at the bottom of the hill, then I would’ve bettered my opponent. Unfortunately, there was still about 100 yards of uneven grass to go before the finish line.

With about 50 yards left, my fellow runner – the blond Asian lady and my rabbit from lap one – caught up to me. I was sort of relieved to see that she didn’t look to be in my age group (later, I confirmed that she is 52). As I yelled, “Let’s do this!” she responded with, “Pothole!” Indeed, the ground was a minefield of holes covered by a thin layer of dying grass. Unfortunately, old habits kicked in and I decided to let her go. I let off the gas as we approached the Brazen finish arch, finishing one second behind the very fit 52-year old.

If you look closely, you can see the expression of complacency on my face.

Getting beat at the finish line. :/

I was surprised to see bt waiting at the finish – she had decided to make a pit stop after one loop and was waiting for Jess and Kate to run her second loop with them. Then, she informed me that I was the 3rd female. Wait, what?? I figured that I probably placed in my AG, but I didn’t think I would actually make it on the podium!

My joyous feelings of unexpected victory lasted all of 15 minutes, when I checked the official results and realized that I came in 4th female, just one second behind the feisty 52-year old. Dang it! That’s what I get for giving up so close to the finish line. Next time I want to slow down at the end of  a race, I’ll think back on this missed opportunity at the Dirty Dozen 10K!

The good news was that I did manage to defend Jane’s title by coming in first in our age group. My time wasn’t spectacular by any means, and it helped that the field was quite small; however, in my defense, it was warm and the gravel, wood chips, and potholes certainly slowed me down – not to mention that I didn’t taper for the race, being that it was supposed to be a fun run. So, all in all, I’m pleased with my effort minus the last 5-10 seconds.

After cooling down and grubbing down a plate of snacks and fruit, I approached and congratulated the blond Asian lady. She told me that she had followed me the whole second loop, and I admitted that I had used her as a rabbit for the first loop! Then, I joined Jess and bt to walk a small loop (0.67 miles) that Brazen opened up in the last hour of the 6-hour event. Jess had just qualified for Marathon Maniacs and this was her victory lap/cool down. After suffering a slight setback mid-race with a foot sprain, Kate bounced back to finish strong with 28.76 miles.  We grabbed some barbeque, courtesy of Slow Hand of Pleasanton, which I enjoyed with a “fat Coke” (as Cathryn calls it).

Yay for running friends!

Yay for running friends!

It was a fun event and I was happy to support the 6- and 12-hour runners out there, especially Kate and Jess. Luckily for me, I still have one more race to run with them before they leave the Bay Area – the Big Basin 50K in 9 days!

This one's for you, Jane!

This one’s for you, Jane!

Official results:
time: 1:01:45 (9:10/mile for 6.74 miles)
1/12 AG, 4/44 F, 14/73 overall

About the race:
Organizers: Brazen Racing
Distances: Morning and afternoon 5K and 10K, 6 Hour, and 12 Hour
Cost: Tiered pricing, depending on distance and registration date.
Course: 3.37-mile loops with ~150 feet of gain/loss. Mixed surfaces of gravel, dirt, and wood chips, with a couple of short, paved portions. Mix of exposed and shady areas. One short section of true single track where it was hard to pass; otherwise, wide trails.
Parking: $3 to park in the lot.
Aid stations: Two aid stations about 1.7 miles apart, offering water, Ultima sports drink, fruit, and a large variety of salty and sweet snacks.
Bathrooms:  Outhouses and porta potties at the start/finish area, and one set of outhouses right before the midway aid station.
Swag: Finisher’s medals and t-shirts. Free photos available from Brazen’s Picasa site.
Post race food and drinks: Free BBQ with your bib; otherwise it cost $10. A wide selection of savory snacks (chips, pretzels, bagels with cream cheese) and sweets (cookies, cake, donuts, etc.).
Overall feelings: This is a great, well-supported, and well-organized event. I’d highly recommend it for anyone wanting to try a longer distance, as the course is easy (for a trail race) but the loops are long enough to keep it relatively interesting. In addition to the well-stocked aid stations, you can also set up your own site with a cooler and anything else you might need. I was happy to participate in the 10K, but the shorter races feel like an after-thought in some ways. If it were not for my friends who were running the 6-hour races, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to sign up for this race. That said, if you want an easy AG award, this might be your best chance!

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Big Basin 50K Week 13: Bringing It Home

Guess what? I’ve survived the bulk of 50K training and am officially in the taper zone. Even though I didn’t hit last week’s prescribed mileage of 50 miles, I did manage to run just shy of 46, including a hot and hilly 20-miler on Saturday. Well, I should say that it was “hot” by Northern California standards, i.e., 80 degrees with full sun and 60-70% humidity. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve become a huge weather wimp; the Taiwan-born, East Coast version of myself shakes her head in disgust. ;)

Taper officially kicked off yesterday and I’m very much looking forward to the declining mileage on the schedule. No more 8-10 mile runs on Wednesdays and no more runs over 12 miles on the weekends. Delightful. There’s a fly in the taper ointment, however, and that’s the possibility of running the Santa Rosa Marathon on August 23rd, 4 weeks after Big Basin. Why would I want to do a thing like that when I’m feeling *so ready* to be done with distance running? Well, I already have 50K-worth of endurance base under my belt and it seems a shame to let it go to waste. I’d rather hold out for 4 more weeks of training/taper than have to recover and rebuild for a fall/winter marathon. I’m also pretty confident I can crush my marathon PR of 4:32 from CIM, which was my first and still fastest 26.2-mile outing. Not to mention that Santa Rosa is the kind of marathon that suits my temperament — small-ish field, logistically easy (i.e., local), mostly flat course, and organized by runners, for runners. Plus, Angela is running it, so I’d have a race buddy. The one major downside is cost — it’s $145 before August 1st, and $155 after. (I’m hoping to use Angela’s discount code, which would save me $10.) I was originally going to wait until after Big Basin to sign up for SRM to see how I felt post-race, and also so I could focus on Big Basin as my “A race”. My plan was to test the waters with a 12-16 mile run 2 weeks before SRM, with the last few miles at marathon pace or faster, but it looks like I might not have that luxury as the race is starting fill up. I’ll keep my eye on registration numbers and hope that it won’t sell out before Big Basin.

One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how lucky I’ve been to not come down with any injuries during this training cycle (*knock on wood*). I guess it helps that I didn’t run all of the miles that I planned to originally, but I also think that there were a bunch of little things I did throughout the training cycle that helped me survive. Here they are in no particular order:

Leg swings before and after every run. I’ve been doing leg swings (front and back, side to side) as part of a dynamic warm-up for a while now, but it’s only been in the last few months that I started doing them during my cool-down as well. I don’t know if I can credit them for keeping my hip problems at bay, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. Plus, they take all of 20 seconds to do. No brainer.

Keeping on top of fueling. Maybe for a road marathon I would consider laying off the pre-, during, and post-run carbs so that I could tap into my fat stores, but for my first ultra (i.e., in unfamiliar territory), I really wanted to keep my glycogen levels steady. Nothing sounds worse than bonking in the woods due to low blood sugar, with no cell phone reception and being miles away from civilization. For my three 20+ mile runs, I diligently practiced race-day fueling strategies and tried different foods. For midweek and weekend long runs, I made sure to have a post-run snack handy so I could replenish my glycogen stores immediately. The couple of times when I didn’t do this, my next run really suffered.

On that same note — I tried my best to stay hydrated. I noticed a few months ago that I didn’t drink nearly as much water as I thought. I used to be one of those people who scoffed at the 64 fluid ounces of water a day recommendation… until I realized that on some days, I was drinking more like 8-16 ounces of water? Yikes. I probably still don’t drink enough water, but I try to get at least one glass per meal and 16-32 ounces the rest of the day. I can’t tell what kind of effect it’s had on my running (if at all), but I’m less prone to headaches and it’s improved my digestion. Yay, water!

Working at a standing desk. I have a Varidesk, which allows me to work at the computer from a standing or seated position. When I’m very tired or sick, I allow myself to sit, but otherwise, I stand for most of the day. I think this has strengthened my core and legs, and improved my balance (I try not to favor one leg by putting all of my weight on it). It also makes me more productive at work. I think this is because standing is more active than sitting, and forces me to focus rather than get distracted or daydream.

Cutting myself some slack, work/life balance, blah blah blah. I’ve written about this several times already during this training cycle, but I think it bears repeating. I’m typically pretty OCD when it comes to training plans. I usually love going to my training spreadsheet immediately after each run, typing in the numbers, and seeing the miles add up. This was the first training cycle where I would go days without doing that. Sometimes it was because I felt bad about not meeting my goal, but most of the time, it was because I had other crap to do. I have a feeling if I had been more obsessed with running EVERY. SINGLE. MILE., I would probably be burned out, injured, or both.

Now, for the things I didn’t do right or could’ve improved upon:

Sleep. I feel like I’ve been playing catch up for the last 3 months, ever since my trip to NY in April. Occasionally, I would purposely sleep in on the weekend and start my run later so that I could incorporate heat training while catching some extra zzz’s, but that did not make up for the rest of the time when I either didn’t sleep enough or slept poorly.

Diet. Despite my best attempts to incorporate more fruits and veggies into my daily life, this was a constant struggle. Some weeks went better than others. I’m still eating out way too much and my soda/sugary drink consumption has increased by a lot – like, I’m constantly craving soda, but I try to limit myself to 2-3 per week. I’ve definitely used “But I’m training for an ultra!” as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. In the last few weeks, I’ve been reminding myself that food is fuel. Not to mention that lots of runners gain weight during taper. An ultramarathon is tough enough without lugging around extra weight!

Any kind of regular strength training, core strengthening, or cross training. Unfortunately, these are the types of things I focus on only when I’m injured and/or have a lot of time on my hands. Not being able to go to the gym regularly also limits my desire to strength training – even though we have enough equipment and space at home to complete most exercises. But mostly, I’m just lazy.

So those are my thoughts on how 50K training has gone. I probably won’t write any training recaps during taper, because…#boring #snoozealert. Instead, I have a couple of gear and shoe reviews that need posting, as well as my Big Basin race plan and maybe a quick recap of the Brazen Dirty Dozen 10K I’m running on Saturday. Hope y’all had a good holiday weekend!

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Big Basin 50K Week 12: Excuses, Excuses

Confession: I didn’t hit my mileage target last week, even though I’m no longer sick. I can’t say I’m back to being 100% healthy — my lung capacity still feels compromised — but I’m finally breathing out of both nostrils and my snot rocket blowing days are behind me. So why didn’t I run all 44 miles according to plan? Well, let’s see… on Tuesday, I only managed 1.3 miles around the block because of stomach problems/sleeping in/running late for work. On Wednesday, I skipped my run entirely so that I could prepare for a presentation on Thursday morning. Thursday came around and I finally got 5 miles in with a fun run with Kate and Jess on Wildcat Creek Trail.

I added a “bonus run” of 3.2 miles on Friday morning (usually my rest day) so that, even if I didn’t hit my planned weekly mileage, at least I’d be hitting the same number of runs for the week (5).  #runnerOCD

On Saturday, I went on a great but tough run up Mt. Tamalpais with Kate and Cathryn, which was definitely the highlight of the week. On Sunday, I slept in and went to dim sum instead of waking up early for a trail run, but I paid for it by running in the midday heat. Between Saturday and Sunday’s trail runs, I managed to log ~22+ miles with ~3500′ of elevation gain/loss. I’d say that’s quality over quantity right there.

Panorama taken about halfway up to Mt. Tam

Panorama taken about halfway up to Mt. Tam

We made it to the top! (Photo courtesy of Cathryn)

We made it to the top! (Photo courtesy of Cathryn)

We finally found the namesake plant for Fern Creek Trail. We later came upon the creek too. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

We finally found the namesake plant for Fern Creek Trail. We later came upon the creek too. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

As you might be able to tell, my energy and motivation levels are pretty low right now. I feel a big part of it is lingering laziness/fatigue from being sick, because I’m also feeling less motivated at work and at home. Another possible factor is that, by completing a trail marathon last week while I was sick (i.e., accomplishing a big task while feeling like absolute crap), I feel ready for Big Basin…to the extent that I no longer feel like training. While it’s technically true that I wouldn’t have to train very hard to *complete* Big Basin, I also don’t want to suffer very much, so I know I should try to adhere to my training schedule as much as possible.

Luckily, it’s less than 4 weeks until race day(!!), and only one week of “real” training before taper, so all of this hand-wringing is pretty much moot. 50k training will be over before I know it — and y’all are probably looking forward to that day as much as I am. Going forward with the remainder of training, I’ll continue to aim to run 5 times a week, but I won’t be a slave to mileage – with the exception of this weekend’s last 20-miler. ;) I might even throw in a few fartleks and fast finishes just to keep things interesting.
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Big Basin 50K Week 11: Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon Race Recap

I signed up for the Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon with these thoughts in mind:

  • I have to run long anyway, I might as well do a supported run.
  • 26.2 miles is just 5 miles shy of the full 50K, so it’s pretty much the equivalent of doing a 20-miler for a marathon.
  • Coastal Trail Races organizes both Canyon Meadows and Big Basin, so I can test out the various food offerings at the aid stations.
  • I was supposed to run my first trail marathon last year, but DNS’d due to a hip/glute injury. It felt right to reach this milestone before tackling my first 50K.
  • Being in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, I was very familiar with the course. It’s also close to home and therefore logistically easy.

What I didn’t know at the time of registration is that I would come down with a terrible head cold. About 3 days before the race, I seriously considered downgrading to the 30K or half marathon. I didn’t want to stress my body too much while it was still getting over this cold. Fortunately, in the 2 days leading up to the race, I got dramatically better — my rate of Kleenex use dropped from about 10 per hour to 1 per hour. :) So, even though I hadn’t run more than 26 miles total in the 2 weeks leading up to the race, I decided to go for the full marathon. I had a good ~22 mile training run under my belt from 2 weeks ago, and it helped that the cut-off times were extremely generous: 8 hours 45 minutes for marathon runners and 9 hours for the 50K. I could briskly walk a good portion of the race and still finish in time. Adding to my confidence was that Jess agreed to join me from mile 3.5 to 16.5. Having her company would prove invaluable.

Other than the fact that parking at was a bit crazy in the morning, everything went relatively smoothly pre-race. The marathon course consisted of two 13.1 mile loops, each with about 1500′ elevation gain/loss. A majority of that elevation gain is in the first mile and continues to build until about mile 5.5. As the crowd of half marathoners, 30K runners, marathoners, and 50K runners worked its way up the first big incline, from Canyon Meadow up to East Ridge, I couldn’t help but notice that it was already very warm despite the relatively early hour of 8:00 a.m. I kept an eye on my heart rate (HR) to make sure I wasn’t overexerting myself; it was going to be a long day as it was, and if I went out too fast, it would be an even longer one. Looking around, I saw several runners wearing long sleeve shirts and full length capris and shook my head in judgement, wondering what the heck they were thinking as we hiked up the exposed trail.Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.08.46 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.09.21 PMThe first few miles were relatively uneventful. I looked forward to meeting Jess at Skyline Gate (mile 3.5). My HR had been climbing steadily and after 3-4 miles, it was nearly impossible to bring it back down, even with extended walk breaks. Despite taking a decongestant, my nose was running faster than I was (ha!), which made breathing pretty difficult. I kept asking for short walk breaks (which I started to refer to as red light/green light), to which Jess patiently obliged and insisted that I stop apologizing when asking to walk. Even though I knew I was out on the course with a cold, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be doing better — more like my healthy, normal self. I couldn’t believe that I was already walking so much and I was upset that my breathing and HR were seemingly out of control. In retrospect, I realized that my ego was wounded by my “lackluster” performance thus far, and instead of just coming to terms with it, I continued to fight these feelings for the next 10 miles or so.

Luckily, instead of taking a downward spiral into a self-defeating, self-destructive mode, I had Jess with me. We talked as we ran/walked, which kept me from my dark thoughts. I kept on top of my nutrition, eating 100 calories every 30 minutes. I drank regularly from my hydration vest, though I probably should’ve been drinking even more given how hot it was getting. We rounded West Ridge and took a detour on a couple of new-to-me trails, Graham and Dunn, that were gorgeous. Being shaded and downhill, this part of the course was definitely way nicer than the first few miles.

Beautiful views from Graham/Dunn trails.

Beautiful views from Graham/Dunn trails.

There was another extended downhill section of single track on Toyon, after which we climbed up Golden Spike and ran into A, a friend of Jess’s, who was feeling dehydrated. She hadn’t realized that there would be such a long stretch (6.2 miles) between the first and second aid stations… which brings me to this point: when running a trail race, ALWAYS check the elevation profile, weather, and aid station spacing. It’s not a bad idea to carry your own water either. Luckily for A, we were less than a mile from the next aid station and I believe that she finished her half marathon just fine.

The second toughest part of this course (the toughest being the first 2-3 miles) is the out and back on Bridle and Stream. First, it’s mentally defeating as you run away from the start/finish area. Second, Bridle is full of steep rollers and seems to go on forever, even though it’s just a mile. To add to the psychological pain, Bridle runs parallel to Stream, a flat, paved trail just below and within sight. As we made our way along Bridle, I confessed to Jess that I was feeling as fatigued as I usually do at mile 20, even though we were only at mile 11. She asked me if I wanted to stop after one loop. I seriously considered it, but reasoned that I could take it super easy and still finish the marathon.

Me and JT finishing up the first loop. (Photo courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs)

Jess and I finishing up the first loop. (Photo courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs)

At about the 3 hour mark, we ran past the start/finish, completing the first loop. I grabbed some watermelon and boiled potatoes from the aid station and Jess and I began the second loop. The next 3.5 miles were agonizing. I had a very difficult time getting up the hill, asking to stop on several occasions to catch my breath. I started to feel dizzy and everything seemed too bright, even with my sunglasses on. I had been on top of fueling, but perhaps I hadn’t drank enough water? I haven’t looked at my Garmin stats (which are messed up anyway, for various reasons), but I’m pretty sure that it took us ~25 minutes to cover that first mile. During this time, I reconsidered my decision to keep going. Am I pushing myself too hard? Should I stop? What am I doing? And as I mentioned above, my ego got involved in this conversation and had me wondering if I was really OK with walking the rest of the way. I decided that I would at least go with Jess back to Skyline Gate and then decide what to do from there.

Once we got up the first big hill, we continued to do a lot of walking interspersed with some very slow jogging. We eventually made it back to Skyline, where I crossed a mental hurdle to keep going. I “only” had 9.5 miles left, I couldn’t stop now. But part of me still felt ashamed for going so slowly…it was totally irrational. As I said goodbye to Jess, I started to tear up – making it the first time I’ve ever cried during a race or a run. I knew I was nearing my mental and physical limit, and it was scary. Seeing me in my off-kilter state, Jess decided to help me refill my hydration pack and walk with me for another half mile or so, probably just to make sure I was OK. As we walked along, I felt much better and thanked Jess as she turned around to head back to her car. I was gonna make it! Even if it took me another 3 hours…

There weren’t a lot of marathon and 50K runners on the course, so it was pretty lonely after Jess left. Despite that, I never needed to plug in a podcast or distract myself; I was able to focus on the mile at hand. My first goal was to make it to the next aid station, where I ate a couple more salted, boiled potatoes, drank a small cup of Coke, and took an electrolyte tab, just for good measure. The next 6 miles actually went by fairly smoothly. Yes, I was still moving along at a glacial pace (15:00-18:00/mile), but at least I wasn’t dizzy anymore. I also figured out how to blow snot rockets, which helped tremendously (and made me feel like a bad-ass). I was able to enter the happy head space, where I started feeling grateful instead of miserable and negative. In this section, I passed 4 other runners, which made me realize that despite the rough day I was having, there’s probably someone else having an even rougher day.

Views like this helped to keep my mind right.

Scenery like this helped to keep my mind right.

I made it to the 2nd to last aid station and was pumped to be only 2+ miles from the finish, which meant that I would finish in under 7 hours. (Yes, my pride was still rearing its annoying head even at this late stage of the race.) I didn’t start celebrating yet: I still had to battle with Bridle Trail for about a mile. I cursed my way up every hill that I encountered, which had the effect of making me laugh at myself. I ran/walked the final stretch on Stream and finally crossed the finish line at 6:48:20 (15:35/mile). It may have been a 48 minute positive split for the 2nd lap, but I was just so relieved to be done, splits be damned.

But wait, there’s more! As I was sipping on a post-race, ice cold can of Coke, I saw that I had been selected in the random drawing. Coastal always does a random drawing to reward a select number of runners for just showing up. This was the first Coastal race (out of many that I’ve done) that I’ve actually been chosen! Out of the numerous prizes, which included socks, hats, and t-shirts, I chose a Salomon bandana/headband because I can always use an extra headband. Thanks, Coastal! Then, this morning, I checked the official results and saw that I came in 2nd in my age group! Granted there were only 2 of us, but I’ll take it. :)

The Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon will definitely go down as one of the hardest, longest, and most productive training runs in my running history. Knowing that I pushed my limits and managed to complete the course gives me the mental fortitude to tackle my first 50K in just 5 weeks time. I can only hope that running a 50K healthy and with clear sinuses will be on par (or easier) than what I experienced at Canyon Meadows!

I did it! Post-race, delirious selfie.

I did it! Post-race, delirious selfie.

About the race:

  • Organizers: Coastal Trail Runs
  • Location: Redwood Regional Park, Oakland
  • Cost: $60 for the marathon up until 2 weeks before the race, $65 up to race day. There were 4 other distances: 5 mile, half marathon, 30K, and 50K.
  • Course: 3068′ elevation gain/loss on a mix of single track and fire roads, with exposed and shaded areas. Marathoners run the half marathon loop twice. Extremely well marked!
  • Parking: Parking is available inside the park for $5. Arriving at 7:30 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. start meant that I was one of the last people to actually park inside the gate. There is free parking out on the main road, which is about a half mile walk.
  • Aid stations: 3 for the 13.1 mile loop, spaced irregularly at mile 4.7, 10.9, and 13.1 (start/finish). Each was fully stocked with the usual trail racing goodies, everything from peanut M&Ms to PB&J sandwiches to potato chips. They also had water, sports drink, Coke, and Sprite.
  • Bathrooms: 3 flushing toilets at the start, and a few others within a short walking distance. There are outhouses at Skyline Gate (mile 3.5), at Redwood Bowl (mile 6-ish?), and along Stream Trail (mile 12).
  • Swag: Technical tee, which I skipped to save $5 on registration. All finishers received the same medal, while the 50K finishers received a special coaster.
  • Post-race food and drinks: In addition to the aid station fare, there were sodas and beer in the cooler, along with some hot dogs and hamburgers.
  • Advice for anyone considering this race: this course is tougher than it looks (i.e., as far as the elevation profile goes). Having to climb up from Canyon Meadows twice was a killer, and 50K runners have to ascend 3 times! I would definitely bring your own water as there’s a long stretch without aid.
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Big Basin 50K Week 10: Congestion Central

As you can probably tell by the title of this post, my cold did not go away quietly last week. I woke up last Monday feeling OK – not great, but not that bad either – so I went to work as usual. However, it became apparent (more to my boss than to me) that I was sicker than I realized. My boss sent me home after our midday meeting, assuring me that she’d cover my various tasks if I ended up staying home on Tuesday. Sure enough, my cold got worse, so I stayed home Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday. I had already planned on taking Friday off so we could head up to Santa Rosa early for a wedding. So it was a week of almost no work and very little running. My sinus congestion was so bad midweek that I thought my head was going to explode. When I woke up on Sunday without a sinus headache for the first time in days, I was so grateful. Today I was finally able to start breathing through both nostrils (yay for the little things!), even if that meant blowing my nose so often that the skin is raw. It really hurts! I’m contemplating using Body Glide on my nose – does anyone have experience with this?

So, obviously, I didn’t run the 46 miles I had on the schedule last week. I took it very easy and heeded some of your advice (from last week’s post) to rest. On the 3 occasions I did run, I made sure to take it super slow. I wore my HRM and kept it way below my MAF max. On Friday and Sunday, I did jog-walk intervals (4 min 30 sec jog + 30 sec walk) to make sure I didn’t over do it. Altogether, I ran 16 miles last week. I’m not that bummed because my main goal is be as healthy as possible for this Saturday’s trail marathon. The good news is that I actually feel a lot better while I’m running. I don’t know why, but I do. Also, I haven’t been terribly exhausted afterwards, which I take as a good sign.

My plan for this week is to continue to be very conservative. I plan on running Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as scheduled; however, I’ll probably run for time rather than distance, keeping an eye on my HR to make sure I’m running easy. Hopefully, this cold is on its way out and I’ll be snot-free soon!

Random photo of my cats, because CATS. #allthefurrr

Random photo of my cats, because CATS. #allthefurrr

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