Running in NYC

I realize that I’m way behind on blog posts, but I wanted to write about this before too much time had passed….

One of the coolest things since becoming a runner is exploring new places on foot, and being able to cover a decent distance within a reasonable amount of time. Growing up on the East Coast, I’m no stranger to New York City, but I hadn’t been back to the Big Apple since I started running more regularly.  Therefore, when I was in NYC last month, I was really excited to see the city through the eyes of a runner.

I was very fortunate to stay with a friend who lives on the Upper West Side, only blocks from Riverside Park to the west and Central Park to the east. The other happy coincidence was being in NYC just as all of the flowers were blooming. I kept thinking to myself, “If you don’t love New York in the springtime, you’re crazy.” I’m sure that having done most of my runs on a treadmill during my 2-week class made me even more grateful for the scenery and fresh air.

My first run was an out-and-back on the Riverside Path, 6 miles along the Hudson River.  I don’t know if it was because I finally got a good night’s sleep, or because I was finally running outside, or because I had taken 5 days off from running, but I felt like I was flying.  OK, maybe not flying, but cruising along very effortlessly.  Most of all, I ran with incredible joy and gratitude — cheesy, but true.

Running along the Hudson River.

Running along the Hudson River on a beautiful spring morning.

Got within a mile or so of the George Washington Bridge.

George Washington Bridge in the distance.

So many blooming trees!

So many blooming trees!

I was told that these are called paper magnolias...

I was told that these are called paper magnolias…

My second run took me 8 miles around Central Park – to the North Woods, then to the infamous Reservoir, and finally down and around the south side.  I stopped a million times to take photos.  At the end of my run, I started getting really hungry, prompting me to stop for a bagel with cream cheese on my way home.  YUM. No food photos because I ate everything too quickly!

Harlem Moor, which I mistook for the Reservoir at first.

Harlem Moor, which I mistook for the Reservoir at first.

The Jackie Onassis Kennedy Reservoir.  Unfortunately, the east side was closed, which prevented me from circumventing the whole thing.

The Jackie Onassis Kennedy Reservoir. Unfortunately, the east side was closed, which prevented me from circumventing the whole thing.

The Obelisk, the oldest man-made object in Central Park (according to the park's website)

The Obelisk, the oldest man-made object in Central Park (according to the park’s website)

My two runs in NYC were a wonderful way to see the city – I highly recommend it! It definitely made me want to run the NYC Marathon someday.  That said, I was also really happy to come home to the Bay Area and run on actual trails and in nature, etc.  Being in NYC is exciting and all, but there’s no place like home.

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

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Posted in Travel

Big Basin Week 5: Drive

Drive2011PosterNo, this post isn’t about the love-it-or-hate-it Ryan Gosling movie. Instead, it’s about this question: what motivates you to get out the door and run?

Since becoming a more consistent runner in 2012, my motivation has been drawn from different sources, but my overall amount of drive has been about the same and relatively unwavering.  I went from chasing PRs to running my first marathon to racing for fun to challenging myself with different kind of events (e.g., relays).  On top of those challenges, there was a good amount of non-running-specific motivation.  I liked the way running made me feel and improved my quality of life – I was more confident, made new friends, and lost a good chunk of the “muffintop” created by years of steady alcohol, noodle, and cake consumption.

I’d classify all of the above as positive motivators.  It wasn’t until last week, when I was listening to the Marathon Talk podcast, that I recognized one of the “negative” motivations in my running.  One of the hosts, Tom Williams, was talking about drive, and how his motivation for training ebbs and flows.  He gave the example of many years ago, when he had been chasing the Ironman Kona qualifying time.  His motivation was to meet the challenge, of course, but he also recognized that his job at the time was quite unfulfilling, and so he tried to find other venues to find meaning in his life.  A bell immediately went off in my head; “This all sounds too familiar,” I thought to myself.

When I think about why I started running regularly in 2012, a few reasons pop into my head.  One main reason was that I had signed up for the Oakland Half Marathon and wanted to improve my time, so I decided to train more regularly than I did for my first half marathon.  That set me on a regular running schedule, which became a force of habit after a few months.  The second major factor was moving to Oakland and living right next to Lake Merritt, which is basically a really pretty 5K track.  When I had lived in North Berkeley, the hills were always the biggest obstacle to establishing a running routine.  I’d go out for a 3 miler, feel defeated by the unavoidable hills, and not run for another week.

The third and final main reason for more consistent running was a career change. When I worked in academia, I lived the typical researcher life, where I worked about 10-11 hour days during the week, and 3-6 hours a day on weekends.  Work-life balance for me was leaving lab by 6:30pm and not working on Sundays.  Even though I had a flexible schedule, it was hard for me to fit in running because I already felt stretched, and more importantly, I didn’t have the motivation. In 2011, I left academia and was funemployed for 3 months before landing a gig at a small engineering and legal consulting firm.  It was a part-time job that left me plenty of time to explore hobbies – like running!  The first few months at my new job were fun and exciting.  I love to learn new things (#nerdalert) and this was a completely different world.  After a while though, the sheen began to wear off, and over the course of the next 3 years, I became increasingly disgruntled, to the point of getting angry and annoyed at the mere thought of going into work.  Every Monday, I had a case of “The Mondays”.  It was not fun — for me, for the Gypsy Runner, or for my boss (I’m guessing).

The other thing I should mention is that, despite the long hours I spent in lab for very low pay, I was fairly satisfied by my work. I felt like my colleagues and I were making contributions to scientific knowledge, which I’ve always considered to be a noble cause.  My part-time job, on the other hand, dealt with personal injury lawsuits… not exactly the most virtuous aspect of our society.  There were other reasons I didn’t like my job, but the main point is that I decided to concentrate my efforts on what I did like, which was my new hobby of running.  It didn’t matter if I didn’t like going to work if it also meant that I only had to work 15-20 hours a week, which meant more time to train.  No full-time job was going to be as flexible and as easy as this, schedule-wise.

Over the course of 3 years, there was almost an inverse relationship between how much I disliked my job and how much I was motivated to run.  I was trying to make up this empty, negative part of my life with a positive and healthy habit…which is actually not how things work.  It’s just a diversion, not a solution.  At some point last year, I recognized that this wasn’t a tenable way to live, and I threw myself into finding a new job — even if it meant a reduction in my training.

I’ve been at my “new” job for almost 7 months now.  For the first time since 2012, I’ve been struggling lately with drive as it relates to running. It didn’t help to start the 50K training cycle with a 2-week, super intense work trip, but in the past, I’d bounce back with no problems.  These past few weeks, however, I’ve been depending on external motivation, like the contributions to my charity page, to get me out the door.  I’m SO tired, and there are still so many weeks and miles remaining.  It’s been a struggle, to be honest.  The podcast made me realize that I’m at the point in my life where my work is really fulfilling (yay), but as a result, it has made less room for running, which makes me sort of sad.  I recognize that I have limits, but that I also don’t place as much emphasis on running as I used to.  I don’t look to it as a haven, or for it to add substantial meaning to my life anymore.  It’s a good thing, really.

Despite this lack of drive, I did manage to hit all of my runs last week (week 5), good for 41.2 miles.  I ran the Wildcat Canyon Half Marathon on Saturday, which I hope to recap soon!
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Posted in Big Basin 50K, random, Training

A Rough Start (Big Basin Weeks 1-4)

I can hardly believe it’s been almost 4 weeks since I’ve posted anything on this blog.  I think that’s a new record!  Here’s a not-so-quick synopsis of what’s been going on:

My work sent me to New York to attend a super intense 2-week course. What do I mean by “super intense”? Well, the typical schedule was from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day, with an hour break for lunch and another break for dinner.  During that time, we were either in lecture or lab, with very few opportunities for a lapse in concentration.  We had 6 days of class, then one glorious day off, followed by another 6 days of class.  It was really tiring and my brain was beyond saturated by the end, but I was so glad I went.  The course helped me to synthesize all of the different pieces of information that had been floating around in my brain for years into one coherent blob (more or less).  I’ve only been back to work for a week and the knowledge I gained from the course has already made an immediate impact on my work performance.

Whenever we had a break between classes, and if the weather was nice, my classmates and I would walk down to the Bay and enjoy the view.

Whenever we had a break between classes, and if the weather was nice, my classmates and I would walk down to the Bay and enjoy the view.

It wasn’t all work and no play.  While in NY, I got to see some long-time friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in years.  It was great to catch up with them.  After my class wrapped up, I spent 3 days in NYC eating more than my share of bagels and pizza.  I got to attend my friend Rebecca’s yoga class, after which she noted, “Has anyone ever told you that you have beautiful quad and hamstring musculature??” #bestcomplimentever  She also said some nice things about my yoga practice, which makes me think I should do it more often.  Anyway, she’s a fantastic yoga teacher, so if you live in NYC, I cannot recommend her highly enough (and not just because she’s my friend!).  I mean, how many yoga teachers do you know who also have a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology??

While I was away, this blog celebrated its 3rd blog-a-versary.  I have all of you to thank for keeping me consistent with posts and training.  I’m very grateful that I’ve met so many people whom I now call friends through this little corner of the internet!  It’s the biggest difference between my food blog (which is pretty much neglected at this point) and this running blog.  The running blog community is so much more supportive and interactive. So thanks for reading (and commenting)!  Speaking of, I’m sorry I haven’t been as good about leaving comments on blog posts in these last few weeks — I’ll be better from here on out, I swear!

I made some interesting observations (to me, anyway) about my diet while I was away.  During the 2-week course, we were sequestered away on a small campus/retreat site with dining services.  Luckily, the food was generally pretty good and there was a large variety of things to choose from.  Despite lack of sleep and drinking serious amounts of coffee, which normally sets off an ulcer-like chain of events in my body, I found myself really happy, GI-wise.  Now, I haven’t done a scientific study on this, but my intuition tells me it was the balanced meals I ate.  Maybe if I get my blogging mojo back, I’ll write a short post about some of the insights I’ve had recently about my diet.  Pertinent to Big Basin 50K training, I made the (totally obvious) realization that I need to clean up my diet and fuel for performance.

On our last night, we got lobster!

On our last night, we got lobster!

I’m halfway through shower season (and I wish it had something to do with actual rain).  For 4 weekends in a row, my calendar reads like this: baby shower (co-hosting), bridal shower, baby shower (co-hosting), and birthday party for a 1-year old.  I understand that these are joyous occasions, and I am happy to celebrate with my friends… but to be honest, I pretty much loathe them.  Luckily, I’ve made it through 2 showers so far with minimal present-opening and game playing — the 2 most onerous aspects of showers, IMHO.  These parties have also wreaked havoc on my running schedule, and that makes me grumpy too.  OK, end of rant.

How I feel about baby and bridal showers...

How I feel about baby and bridal showers…

Since this is a running blog, I suppose I should talk a bit about running.  As some of you know, I’m in the midst of training for my first ultramarathon, Big Basin 50K.  Base training went well, thank goodness, because the first 4 weeks of official training have been absolute rubbish, as Cat would say.  As you might imagine, it was pretty tough to get up early to run while I was at my course, and then after the class was over, I felt completely useless for almost a week.  I won’t bore you with the details, but here are the “highlights,” week by week:

Week 1:
Planned mileage: 32.  Actual 27.5.
Running days: 5/5.
All runs except one were done on the treadmill at 1.0% incline. Thank goodness for Netflix.
Of note: one full travel day, followed by many days of jet lag.  However, on the mornings I ran, I found myself much more alert in class.

Week 2:
Planned mileage: 36.  Actual: 26.1 (ouch)
Running days: 4/5
I took advantage of my single day off to go on a trail run with a friend.  Either the terrain was really tough, or I was super tired, or both, but this was one of the slowest trail runs I’ve done in a while.
I decided to take Sunday off, as I was getting to a breaking point between sleep and sanity.

Week 3:
Planned mileage: 40.  Actual: 26.8 (double ouch)
Running days: 3/5
After a late night Monday, I was too tired to run on Tuesday.  However, I had a super fabulous, fantastic time running in NYC on Wednesday and Thursday, which I hope to write about soon.  I traveled Friday, then did my long run on Saturday.  I hadn’t meant to skip Sunday’s recovery run, but after a morning full of baby shower-ness followed by getting stuck in traffic, I decided to take it easy and hang out with the Gypsy Runner, whom I hadn’t seen in almost 3 weeks.

Week 4: (this past week)
Planned mileage: 36.  Actual: 36.  (Yay!)
Running days: 5/5
I vowed to myself that I’d get back on the 50K training horse this week.  Thankfully, it was also a drop-down week, with the longest run at 12 miles, so I felt like it was doable.  It’s been a tiring week, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt at the end of yesterday’s 12-miler and also today’s recovery run, which I assumed would be a slog.

Looking ahead:
This coming week, both the Wednesday run and the Sunday recovery run are bumping up to 8 miles.  I’m also “racing” the Wildcat Canyon half marathon — in truth, I’m using it as a supported, hard training run to get me back in the trail racing mindset.

And finally — thanks to everyone who has donated to my RBO fundraiser!  I’m just $74 away from my $1000 goal. Your support has really motivated me to stay on course with training, despite the rough start.  Thanks!!

Posted in Uncategorized

Big Basin 50K: Base Building Complete! (Almost)

About 4 weeks ago, I got serious about base building for the Big Basin 50K. I even wrote stuff down. Up to that point, I had been half-heartedly attempting to run 25-30 miles per week (mpw) for January and February.  This was my extremely detailed base building plan:

  • Week of March 9th: 30 mpw
  • March 16th: 30-35 mpw/5x a week
  • March 23rd: 35 mpw/5x a week
  • March 30th: 35 mpw/5x a week

With Big Basin training officially kicking off Monday (OMG!!!1!), I thought I’d check in with how training has gone for the past couple of weeks.  First, here’s a graphical representation of my weekly mileage, in case that is your preference (plus it’s prettier):

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 2.42.27 PM

“11” = Week of 3/9, and so on.

Bad news first:

  • I fell 5-10 miles short of my week 2 goal of 30-35 mpw (labeled “12” on the graph above), though I did run 5 times that week, as planned.  That was the same week as the Oakland Marathon Relay, when my legs didn’t feel super awesome and I decided to cut mileage as a mini-taper.
  • I developed shoulder pain from the 30-day plank challenge, so I had to drop out on day 15.  Whomp whomp.

Good news:

  • I met my goals for weeks 1 and 3, and I only have 4 recovery miles to run tomorrow in order to hit my goal for week 4. Yay!
  • At the end of last week, I finally started to get over the “I’m so tired” hump.  Instead, my body was like, “hey, this isn’t so bad.”
  • I’ve had a few aches and pains here and there, but nothing lingering or alarming so far.
  • This week, I had strong runs on Wednesday and Thursday, which makes me feel like not only am I meeting my mileage goals, but I’m getting fitter too.
  • In the last 4 weeks, I’ve done three 10+ mile long trail runs, ranging from 1300′ to 2000′ elevation gain.  With my weekday runs, I’m averaging over 2000′ of elevation gain per week.  The hills pay the bills! (credit: Mike)

    Gorgeousness at Briones Reservoir

    Gorgeousness at Briones Reservoir

  • I ran 123 miles in March, a big jump up from 78 in February.  It was also the most I’ve run since last April, when I ran Big Sur.  It’s been a long, steady buildup since my injuries last year, and I’m happy that my patience is paying off.

So now that base building is almost over – what’s next?  Well, like I mentioned, official training starts on Monday.  The first week is actually less mileage than what I’ve been doing (32 miles), which will be nice.  However, I’m also traveling to the East Coast for work for 2.5 weeks (!!) and I have no idea what my schedule will be like.  I’m hoping to fit in my runs in the morning, as I’ll likely be busy from 9:00am to very late in the evening (until 10:00pm or midnight isn’t out of the question).  It’s not ideal timing.  However, if I have to go away during 50K training, better during the first 2.5 weeks than during peak weeks.  I’ve already prepared my usually Type A personality to go with the flow and to not freak out if I don’t get all of my miles or runs in.  One run or a couple of miles isn’t going to make or break Big Basin 50K.

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Race Recap: 2015 Oakland Marathon Relay

On Sunday, March 22nd, I ran my 4th consecutive Oakland Running Festival event.  In 2012 and 2013, I ran the half marathon.  Last year, I tackled (or got tackled by) the full marathon.  This year, I ran the 4-person marathon relay with KP, JT, and Cathryn.  With 8 cats between us at the time of registration, our team was aptly named “Crazy Cat Ladies”.  (Sadly, JT’s kitty Juno passed away 2 weeks ago due to stomach cancer.  RIP, Juno!)

We were all ORF veterans, but I was the only one who has run the full marathon.  My teammates were excited to see parts of the full marathon course, so they got legs 1 (KP), 2 (JT), and 3 (Cat), while I got the anchor leg, which overlaps with the last 6.5 miles of the half marathon course.  Even though this part of the course was familiar territory, I was looking forward to having fresher legs and hopefully a better attitude — I’m usually in a downward spiral at this point in the race.

In the weeks leading up to the relay, we dealt with pre-relay logistics, including team shirts, projected times, and bib pickup.  For our shirts, we bought singlets on Amazon and had Cathryn’s friend K custom print a design for us.  The front read, “I train with cattitude” and featured a fierce looking cat with an even fiercer sweatband.  The back read, “Crazy Cat Ladies.  Oakland Marathon Relay 2015.”  They were amazing!

About a week before the race, we had to estimate our projected times, so that runners 2, 3, and 4 would know when to expect their leg to start.  I made up a spreadsheet (OF COURSE), and it was a very interesting exercise indeed.  For instance, KP was very conservative in estimating her fastest possible pace, so I bullied her into writing down a “fantasy” pace, i.e., if everything came together and she was to run the fastest pace she thought possible, what would it be?  She revised her time twice, down from 8:30 to 8:10/mile, and, SPOILER ALERT, she actually ran that pace on race day, which might have been a 10K PR for her! It was an interesting back and forth, and made me wonder how many times I’ve underestimated myself. Sometimes that outside perspective can be useful.

For my own estimated pace, I put down a range from 8:15 to 9:00/mile.  Even though my leg was relatively flat, I knew that it would also likely be very warm, not to mention crowded, with a lot of half marathoners on the course.  In the week leading up to the relay, I worried about speed as my legs were pretty tired from the added volume from 50K base building.  I hadn’t planned on tapering at all, but after a rather sluggish and uninspiring run on Tuesday, I decided to cut my mileage during the week from 20 down to 15.  It seemed to help somewhat; by Saturday’s 3-mile shakeout, my legs started feeling a bit peppier and I added a few short fartleks into the mix.

In true Crazy Cat Lady fashion, JT had the great idea of going to the Cat Town Cafe before the race expo.  The Cat Town Cafe was a really cool place combining a cat adoption/visiting center, fantastic coffee, and cute cat-centric merchandise.  I highly recommend it!  All of us had a great time petting and playing with the cats, though none of us came away with any new kitties.

One of the Oakland-specific cat structures they had at the Cat Town Cafe.

One of the Oakland-specific cat structures they had at the Cat Town Cafe.

KP petting the super friendly tabby, who sat in that chair for almost the entire hour we were there, letting everyone pet him.

KP petting the super friendly tabby, who sat in that chair for almost the entire hour we were there, letting everyone pet him.

The expo was pretty typical — we picked up our bibs and shirts, and practiced putting on and taking off the ankle timing tag that would need to get transferred between runners.  There was some sampling of various drinks and window shopping, but none of us bought anything.  Then, we went to carb load at Shan Dong, one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland Chinatown.  We didn’t communicate very effectively before we ordered and ended up with enough food for 10, even though we were only 5 adults and one 5-year old.  We each walked out with several takeout containers. :)

SO. MUCH. FOOD. (and this wasn't even all of it!)

SO. MUCH. FOOD. (and this wasn’t even all of it!)

I can't tell if Cat is excited or frightened by the amount of food on the table.

I can’t tell if Cat is excited, angry, or alarmed by the amount of food on the table.

Race Day
The morning of the relay was sort of surreal. Because I was the last leg, I didn’t even wake up until close to when the race started at 7:30 a.m.  It was simultaneously strange and exciting to get updates via text of the first 2 exchanges, all while I was eating breakfast and en route to the 3rd relay exchange.  I took the BART directly to the West Oakland Station, located just a block from the exchange.  Based on our estimates, the earliest Cathryn would arrive was 10:13 a.m.  I didn’t want to take any chances with BART delays, so I opted to get to West Oakland at 9:40 a.m.

Fortunately, everything with BART went smoothly and I arrived on time.  I walked over to the exchange, used the porta potty, did a very short warm-up, and was at the waiting area by 9:50 a.m.  For the next 20-25 minutes, I cheered on the runners coming through — at first, it was just a trickle, and then more and more runners ran past as the first large group of half marathoners came through.  It became really difficult to spot relay runners in the masses — I think they originally planned to split the runners between relay runners and everyone else, but there was a last minute change of plans.  While I waited for Cathryn, I managed to see Dennis, Kathryn (or rather, she saw me), and Paulette, all of whom I’ve know through the Twitter-verse and blogosphere for a while now, but had never met in real life. One of the things I love about the ORF is that it feels like a big runner party.

Finally, I saw a small brunette speeding towards me – it was Cathryn! She stuck out her foot for me to remove the ankle timing tag, all the while yelling, “Go, Jen, go! Run!!!”  I handed her my long sleeve t-shirt and heatsheet (which I definitely didn’t need), then fumbled around with the velcro of the ankle strap, trying my best to secure it to my ankle. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got it on my leg and took off.  Suddenly, I realized that I hadn’t turned on my Garmin, so I did that as I crossed the 3rd exchange timing mats.  Oops.

The Relay
I don’t normally listen to music during races, but because I knew that my leg would include sections where there were very few spectators, I prepared a playlist and had it ready to go.  Two-plus hours of race anticipation, combined with the silly energy of I’m Sexy and I Know It, sent me off way too quickly (Mistake #1).  I glanced down at my Garmin to see 7:xx/mile pace.  I slowed down ever so slightly, but I’ll admit that it was a lot of fun to pass large groups of runners, even if it meant a lot of weaving and surging (Mistake #2). I ran by the flame-snorting horse at The Crucible and the always awesome unofficial aid station at Brown Sugar Kitchen still in high spirits.  It was getting ever warmer, but I skipped the water stops to save some time, figuring I wouldn’t need water for “only” 6.5 miles (Mistake #3).

Soon, the course sent me weaving through the neighborhoods of West Oakland.  I realized that this section wasn’t nearly as flat as I had thought — there were small rollers that I had been too tired to notice in years past. Despite maintaining a medium-high effort, my pace was getting slower and slower.  I was no longer passing that many people, but I wasn’t getting passed either.  I tried to console myself, thinking that I was saving a little energy for the final 3 miles around Lake Merritt.  One group I had been looking forward to seeing was Raider Nation, the rabid football fans who come out every year to give high-fives to the runners at the Highway 980 underpass.  Their enthusiasm always gives me a boost.  Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found this year; perhaps they packed up early and left.

Once I got to Broadway, we started seeing more spectators and my energy picked up again, even though my pace didn’t.  The Lululemon cheer squad at 27th St. were enthusiastic and had funny signs, as usual.  They were followed by the large crowd gathered at Grand Ave., just before the Lake.  Many spectators watch for their runners here, since it’s only about 0.5 miles from the finish line, while the runners have 3 more miles to go.  What’s always a bit demoralizing is passing through these awesome crowds, only to be squeezed into a narrow path around Lake Merritt, starting with a very short but steep hill.

As some of you know, I have a love/hate relationship with Lake Merritt.  For the past 3 ORFs, these last 3 miles have been a strugglefest. This time, I felt so much better compared to years past, but I was still fighting some inner demons.  A big part of me didn’t want to let my teammates down. Thanks to the spreadsheet, I knew that everyone had finished at the faster end of their predicted times and I didn’t want to be the slow poke. However, it was getting downright hot and I started to seriously regret not taking any water so far. My mouth had gotten so dry that it was making me nauseous and mouth breathing (as you do when you’re trying to run fast) only made the dryness worse, which then increased the nausea. With about 2 miles to go, I played leap frog with 2 hour half marathon pace group.  I passed them, then they passed me, and with only one mile left and seemingly behind schedule, they turned it on and left me in the dust.

I got to the Kaiser Permanente Beach Party, which is the very last aid station on the south shore of Lake Merritt, and finally stopped to get a cup of water.  I was less than a mile from the finish, but I knew if I didn’t stop, I was headed for trouble.  I drank half of the water and then poured the rest down my back to cool off.  The water seemed to help: as I turned on to Lake Merritt Blvd./Lakeside Dr., I was finally able to kick it up a notch. I wanted to take advantage of this relatively flat stretch before tackling the last awful hill up 19th St.  As I huffed and puffed my way toward the finish line, I saw my teammates ahead on my left, cheering me on.  As soon as I got close to them, they ran out into the course and started sprinting off at full speed (or at least, that’s how it felt to me at the time).  I was like “WOAH GUYS, I think I’m gonna puke!” but I couldn’t get that all out, so I grunted and tried to make some sort of gesture that indicated we should slow down.  They reminded me to raise my arms for the photos as we crossed the finish line together.  It was awesome, and even more so after I caught my breath, got some water, and started feeling less nauseous.

One of the most amazing finish line photos ever.  People have suggested that I'm doing the following: being electrocuted, doing a Stevie Wonder impression, dancing, doing the Thriller dance, looking in the sky for aliens...

One of the most amazing finish line photos ever. People have suggested that I’m doing the following: being electrocuted, doing a Stevie Wonder impression, dancing, doing the Thriller dance, looking in the sky for aliens…

My splits: 8:08, 8:37, 8:52, 8:57, 8:52, 9:17 (water stop), 8:47 (for last 0.5 mile)

Like I mentioned above, I love that ORF has a great runner party vibe.  Every year I’ve run it, I’ve always known at least 4-5 other participants.  The post-race party is definitely facilitated in part by the 2 free beverage tickets that comes attached to every bib. This year, the German brewery Erdinger provided post-race beer, while Barefoot Wine served sparkling wine, white wine, and rosé.  There was a band on stage and lots of people spread out across the lawn of Snow Park, enjoying the sun.  A number of food trucks were on hand as well.

At the post-race party, we managed to meet up with bt, who ran the half, and her husband; Cathryn’s husband and kiddo; and those I saw briefly during the race – Kathryn, Dennis, Paulette, and MM.  We eventually made our way to True Burger, one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland, for some much-needed food.  Even though I only ran 6.5 miles, I felt wiped out.  (The alcohol and sun probably didn’t help matters.)  Still, I had a fun time with everyone — another great ORF in the books!

The one and only Crazy Cat Ladies!

The one and only Crazy Cat Ladies!

Post-race analysis
As a team, the Crazy Cat Ladies did really well, finishing in 3:45:51, 7th out of 91 women’s teams.  I think that my personal performance was lackluster though. I had hoped to run around an 8:30/mile pace, but my actual pace was somewhere between 8:47/mile (Garmin) to 8:50/mile (official).  Considering how tired my legs had felt in the week before the relay, one could say that this was not a bad outcome; however, I can’t help but think if I had avoided some mistakes (see above), I would’ve done better.  On a positive note, I really enjoyed the team comradery of the marathon relay experience.  Moreover, the logistics for the Oakland Marathon Relay were super smooth.  I definitely appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to be at the race start (7:30am) to take a shuttle to the relay exchange and wait around for 3 hours.  If you’re looking to do a marathon relay, I wholeheartedly recommend the Oakland Marathon Relay.

Continuing the trend of recent race recaps, let me end with a few positive take home messages:

  • I had a great time with the Crazy Cat Ladies.  Not to get too cheesy here, but I’m so grateful to have these lovely ladies in my life, and I’m in *serious* denial that KP and JT are both moving away this summer. :(
  • I finished within my predicted pace range of 8:15-9:00/mile.
  • The post-race party was a lot of fun.
  • I crossed the finish line without type of duress (puking, chaffing, etc.).
  • Most of my race photos show me actually running, with what I consider to be better form (i.e., actually engaging my hamstrings). Progress! :)
  • Lesson learned: music doesn’t help me beyond the first couple of miles.  I found myself dissociating too much and not focusing on my form or speed.


A very handsome medal that doubles as a bottle opener.  I like this trend of multifunctional medals...

A very handsome medal that doubles as a bottle opener. I like this trend of functional medals…

About the race:

  • Organizers: Corrigan Sports
  • Cost: We registered in November and paid $213 with a discount code, which came out to ~$56/person.  It’s pricey for basically a 10K+, but I think it was worth it.  The relay sold out the week before the race.
  • Course: Depends on your leg, but mine was relatively flat.  My Garmin data said there was 300+ feet of elevation gain, which seems like more than I would’ve predicted.  I’d say it was mostly on roads, with the last portion on sidewalks and the narrow paved path around Lake Merritt.
  • Parking/transportation: I took BART to the 3rd relay exchange at the West Oakland BART station.  Easy peasy!
  • Aid stations: 3-4 aid stations with both water and Gatorade.  There were also impromptu stations set up by neighborhood families and a really nice one in front of Brown Sugar Kitchen, handing out everything from fruit to desserts.
  • Bathrooms: 4 porta potties at the 3rd relay exchange and plenty at the finish.
  • Swag:  Short sleeve t-shirt with a medal that doubles as a bottle opener (yay for multi-functional bling!). We also got a virtual gift bag with coupons.  All racers over 21 were given 2 drink tickets, good for either Erdinger beer or Barefoot wine.
  • Post-race food and drinks: Plenty of water, Gatorade, fresh fruit, and small bags of salty snacks (pretzels, Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos).
  • Post-race party:  There was a musical group performing on stage and food trucks set up on Harrison St.
  • Other notes/summary: As I’ve raved about in the past, the spectators are one of the best aspects of the ORF.  It feels like a big party for runners *and* for Oakland.  As for the relay, I think it’s very convenient to have 2 out of the 3 relay exchanges at BART stations.
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Posted in Race Recap

The Gambler

I got home from Lake Tahoe last Sunday early enough to get a decent long run in.  You might remember from my last post that I was determined to get back on the base building horse and knock out a couple of 25+ mile weeks in a row.  I had set myself up very well during the week, running 17 miles between Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I even hiked 4 tough miles at Lake Tahoe on Saturday – something like 2000′ elevation on slick ice/snow/slush, in high altitude, no less.  It was a serious workout!  But the views were worth it.

California drought conditions meant that we got to access Eagle Falls Trail in wintertime.

California drought conditions meant that we got to access Eagle Falls Trail in wintertime.

Before the weekend, I thought that it would be great if I could come home on Sunday and knock out 8-10 easy miles.  As the weekend progressed, I decided that 6-8 miles would be plenty.  Pulling up to our house on Sunday, I thought: any miles at this point would be a victory.  I was exhausted; two nights of restless sleep on a moderately comfortable but small air mattress in the common area of a small cabin with 14 other people will do that to you. (Or at least, it did that to me.)

The one lesson that I keep having to learn over and over again is that I need a lot of sleep.  Some people can get by with 5-6 hours.  For a long time, I thought 7 was plenty.  Then I moved on to 8… and now I prefer to get between 8.5-9 hours a night.  In Tahoe, I was in bed for 7 hours a night, but I was probably only sleeping for ~4 hours.  Plus, there was the time change, which screwed me up even more.

So, back to Sunday afternoon: I decided that before any run could happen, I needed to take a nap.  At that point, I should’ve known that a run was unlikely.  But still, I was optimistic…until I woke up, groggy, 1.5 hours later.  Also, I remembered that I also needed to clean the house because we were supposed to have company over, and I could not – physically or mentally – handle both cleaning AND running.

To clear my conscious, I discussed my quandry with the Gypsy Runner, who gave me a pass.  “One missed run isn’t going to negatively affect your fitness.  I don’t know why you always think that.”  Well, yes, that’s part of it, but what I’m really afraid of is the slippery slope of “Oh, I’ll skip this one run because of [insert an actual, legitimate reason]” to skipping a bunch of runs just because I don’t feel like it.

I knew that I did have a legitimate reason for skipping the run that day, and that was exhaustion.  I doubted the extra miles would improve my fitness; if anything, it would make me more tired — and possibly increase my susceptibility to catching the nasty cold going around at work.  Moreover, any miles would be done with sloppy form, which might then lead to injury.  It was at this point that lyrics of The Gambler popped into my head:

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away, know when to run.”
That Kenny Rogers, he speaks the truth.

So I ended the week of March 2nd with 21 measly miles.  The good news is that for the following week, I ran 30.8 miles, my highest weekly mileage this year and possibly since Big Sur last April.  It included my first ever 400 m track session, during which I learned that 400 m intervals are hard and sucky. (Yes, that’s the technical word for them: sucky.) They’re definitely a different beast compared to longer intervals.  I also ran 10 hot and hilly trail miles on Saturday at Redwood Regional (1300′ elevation gain/loss), but I was fortunate enough to have the company of JT and KP to help me pass the time.  I started to question whether I wanted to do the Canyon Meadows trail marathon as part of my 50K training, as it would take place on many of the same tough trails as I ran/hiked on Saturday.  However, I decided that “tough” is the best kind of training – both mentally and physically.  If I can make it through Canyon Meadows, then I can handle Big Basin.

Frolicking in the Redwoods. (Photo credit: JT)

Frolicking in the Redwoods. (Photo credit: JT)

As for the 30-day plank challenge, I’m up to 2 minutes! Well, 2 minutes with a huge asterisk, in that I have to alternate between elbows and straight arms, and also change up my leg position.  I have no idea how I’ll make it to 5 minutes.  We shall see!

To conclude: base building is tough, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it.  I still haven’t gotten my legs to think that 30 miles per week is par for the course, but hopefully that will happen soon.  I have 3 more weeks of base building before official 50K training starts.  This coming week is another challenging one, with the Oakland Marathon Relay on Sunday.  I’m planning on front-loading my week — aiming for 20 miles between Tues pm/Wed pm/Thurs am, then doing a 3 mile shakeout on Saturday, followed by a short warm-up and 6.5 miles of fast running at the relay.  Hopefully it won’t get too warm, and my legs won’t be too tired.

I’ll leave y’all with this very, uh, interesting music video:

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Posted in Training

Base Building, Training Plan, and Fundraising for the Big Basin 50K!

As I mentioned earlier this year, my big goal for 2015 is to run my first ultramarathon: the Big Basin 50K.  Even though the race seems far, far away, I’m starting my official 16-week training plan in early April – in just 4 weeks!  This post is basically me rambling about my recent training and how it fits in with the big picture, and what my training for Big Basin will look like.  It will probably be very boring — don’t say I didn’t warn you!

My plan, which I’ll get to in a second, isn’t super-duper mileage heavy as far as 50K training plans go.  The weekly mileage ranges from 33 to 51 miles, and my longest run will be a trail marathon in June.  So, it’s not that much more intense than the training I did for Marine Corps Marathon…which I’ve been told is pretty much about right (i.e., that 50K training basically the same as marathon training with longer long runs).

However, I’ve been lagging behind on base building.  My original goal was to hit 25 miles per week (mpw) for January, then build to 30 mpw in February, and get to 35 mpw in March — keeping my runs slow and aerobic.  Despite my best intentions, my weekly mileage kept stalling out in the low 20’s for most of January and February.  The one positive development is that, since switching to afternoon runs in Berkeley, where hills are unavoidable, my fitness seems to be improving rapidly.  For instance, after 2 weeks of running in Berkeley, I ran my usual neighborhood loop with an average pace 30 seconds per mile faster at the same heart rate!  So, the hills have been a great, though tiring, stimulus.

One of the trails I've been running on.  Almost 1000 feet of climbing in 3 miles - a great workout!

One of the trails I’ve been running on. Almost 1000 feet of climbing in 3 miles – a great workout!

To increase my weekly mileage, I finally decided to write actual numbers down on a calendar so that I would have a concrete goal in mind.  It worked: last week, I finally got over the 25 mpw hump by hitting 26.6 miles!  It was an especially intense week physically, as I also got a stand up desk at work AND had to put some big pieces of furniture together (computer benches don’t build themselves, you know).  By Saturday morning, the day of my planned long run, I was exhausted despite getting 9 hours of sleep.  As I grumbled about how tired I was, the Gypsy Runner talked some sense into me and questioned why I had to do my long run that day.  Wouldn’t it be better to rest?  I heeded his advice… sort of.  I decided to do a gym workout — 30 minutes bike, 3 miles on the treadmill, and some strengthening exercises — instead of a long trail run, which I would do on Sunday.  It ended up being the wisest decision, since I probably wouldn’t have done the gym workout on Sunday after a tiring run on Saturday.  By the time I hit the trails late Sunday morning, I felt refreshed and happy.

Instead of a long run, I decided to eat a huge breakfast.  Best decision ever.

Instead of a long run, I decided to eat a huge breakfast. Best decision ever.

This week will also be a struggle (same story, different week) because the GR and I are going to Tahoe with my new colleagues. (Can I still say “new” even if I’ve been working here for 5 months now?)  I’m not sure I’ll get a run in on Saturday, but we should be back early enough on Sunday for me to go on a decent trail run (i.e., ~10 miles).  Since I’m not sure about my weekend mileage, I’ve been trying to pile up the weekday miles, adding a run on Wednesday morning to my usual Tuesday/Thursday runs.  I figure I better start getting used to running 5 days a week sooner rather than later, since that’s what my training plan calls for.

My plan for the rest of the base building goes something like this:

  • Week of March 9th: 30 mpw
  • March 16th: 30-35 mpw/5x a week
  • March 23rd: 35 mpw/5x a week
  • March 30th: 35 mpw/5x a week
  • April 6th: 1st week of official training!

I’m also participating in a friend’s 30-day plank challenge.  We’re currently only at 40 seconds, but on day 30, we’re supposed to do a 5-minute plank!! Egads.  Part of the reason I agreed to do it is because I’ve been TERRIBLE about committing to any kind of core workout.  I thought this might get me on the right path at the very least, even if I don’t nail a 5-minute plank at the end.10989957_10205283261472624_4064905757852103972_n

Moving on to the training plan!  How did I come up with this plan?  (How did I get in this nutshell?)  Two main sources: Google and Hal Koerner’s Ultramarathon Guide.  The most useful training plan I found online was EB’s plan for her first 50K.  I think a good training plan should look doable, but also scare you a little bit, and that’s how I felt when I looked at EB’s plan.  Hal Koerner’s plan scared me A LOT, but also emphasized the importance of balancing weekday to weekend mileage.  So I plotted the plans on to spreadsheets (as you do) and then combined them to look at the different variations.  This is what I ended up with:50K plan

The keys to this plan are:

  • Having Monday and Friday off, with the option of doing cross training or strength training/core work on those days.
  • Trying to get as close to (or over) a 1:1 ratio of weekday to weekend miles.
  • Midweek medium long runs to get used to running 10 miles at one go.
  • Saturday long runs followed by Sunday recovery runs on tired legs.
  • Alternating weeks between hill repeats and long midweek runs.

The biggest challenges that I can already see:

  • Being committed to doing any kind of strength or core work on Monday and/or Friday.
  • Fitting a 10-mile run in on Wednesdays.  I still can’t decide if I want to get up super early and get these done before work, or just run after work and get home later than usual.  I was originally going to do doubles, but then KP persuaded me to try to do them in one go, if possible, to get used to running 10 miles like it was nothing.  (Well not nothing, but not hard either.)
  • I’ll be in New York for the first 2.5 weeks of the plan.  Two of those weeks will be spent attending a very intense course for work, basically 12-15 hours of classroom + lab time every single day.  Then, I’ll spend 3 days in Manhattan with friends, which will hopefully allow for some fun runs through Central Park.

If anyone – especially 50K veterans – has any suggestions or advice, please let me know!

And last but certainly not least… if you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’m using the Big Basin 50K as a platform to raise money for Running for a Better Oakland.  The whole story is spelled out on my fundraising page, but the TL;DR version is that it’s a great charity and I’m excited to be fundraising for them.  24 hours after I sent out the initial emails, I’ve already received $361 out of my $1000 goal.  At this rate, I might have to increase my goal!  I’ve been blown away and very touched by people’s generosity.  Hopefully, the fundraising will serve as a well of motivation when things get tough: Do it for the kids of RBO!

Me and my RBO mentee Alejandro in 2013,  showing off our Oakland Half bling!

Me and my RBO mentee Alejandro in 2013, showing off our Oakland Half bling!

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Posted in Training
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On the docket…

5/17/15 - Bay to Breakers 12K
6/6/15 - Lake Chabot Trail Challenge (HM)?
6/20/15 - Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon
7/26/15 - Big Basin 50K


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