Saturday, December 22, 2012

Running in the dark

Ok, so I think we can now conclude that the world did not end yesterday. I wonder if the Mayans knew how much some people would freak out merely because they got bored of making a calendar.

Anyway, cautious as I am, I decided to get one last amazing run in the night prior to the 21st. If for nothing else, to fine-tune my running-away-from-zombies skills. To be honest, with all the fun I had on the bike that morning, I wasn't even planning on running...but an invitation to an evening run on my favorite trail was simply too good to pass up.

I love to run in the dark and yet I don't tend to do it much. Being a girl and all, apparently it's not wise to hit the trails (or Venice beach for that matter) after hours. Makes sense...yet I want to rebel.

Nevertheless, I need to do more night trail running. Not just because it is a good idea to practice safe stepping when you otherwise can't see much and because that's where my 100k race experience became less happy, but because it's simply magical. And then someone asked me why... so here it is.

-> It's you (plus the people you're with), the trail and the light of a headlamp. That's it. Turning off the headlamp elevates it to a whole new experience but if you lack coordination like I do, it may not be wise. But it gives you an incredible sense of peace and lets you pretend and really feel like nothing else exists. Views of the night sky and lights of the city can be incredibly picturesque but they only add to the sense of peace and appreciation of the moment.

-> Hills? What hills? Exactly. Running uphill is so much easier in the dark. Since you can't see that far ahead, your mind can't meddle with your sense of effort. If you don't see the climb, your mind doesn't register it. If your mind is at ease, your body will be too.  Plain and simple and yet really amazing. It's the incline deception.

Cheers to more night trail running...is it dark yet?!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tucson Marathon Recap

I have no excuses for my lack of blogging lately. But now I'm back, 2.0 and all, so let's do this.

12/9/12 -> Tucson Marathon. In a nutshell, this was a relatively small, well-organized race on a very pretty course. I had thought this would be a PR race. And then it became an easy/steady training run for my upcoming 24-race on 12/31. But more on that in a later post...

I'm not running,
 just modeling arm sleeves
> EXPO / HOTEL

The expo was held at a Hilton resort, which was also the host hotel. Staying here made everything super convenient and it was beautiful in general. The expo was efficient and although there were very few exhibitors, there was a good amount of running porn. I mean gear 'n stuff. I realized I had forgotten my arm sleeves and this was a great excuse to buy some new, hot pink ones. 

> START

Brr. Yes, Tucson is in the desert. And yes, I almost froze my little toes off before the start.
Given the 7am race start, buses left the hotel starting 5am. Our bus (naturally) got lost, so we got some extra sightseeing and extra time-in-warmth. I heard the half marathon start had heaters - apparently marathoners are tough and don't need them. Or something. Anyway, there were thankfully a few buses that stuck around so I jumped on one of those to defrost.
The start was at an elevation of about 4800ft, which probably contributed to the (relative) arctic conditions. Ok, maybe I'm just spoiled by SoCal weather... to be fair, it was still in the mid 40's. Overall, the start area was pretty uneventful. And then the sun started coming up over the desert mountains and we had quite the privileged view. 

I also got to declare my love to Pam Reed (race director) herself. She looked a little confused and I was a little starstruck. Yes, ultrarunners are my kind of celebrities. (my review of her book is here for your entertainment)
courtesy of Copper Area News
> COURSE

I didn't feel the need to listen to music until about mile 17...and even then it was more habit than necessity. That's saying a lot about the scenery... which provided ample entertainment and made it feel like a trail run, except with paved roads. 

We started with a screaming downhill - very conducive to going out too fast. The 3:50 pacer was flying down the hill almost beating the 3:40 pacer. There was some comedy as confused runners wondered why a 3:50 pacer is holding a 7:30min/mi average pace. But then things got real and rolling hills shaped the course for 1-2 miles until about mile 4. Amid the complaining around me (this time about the "steep hills") I looked around and wondered what it would be like to run some trails up the surrounding mountains. They just seemed so magical and inviting.
So pretty.

Oh, look, a mountain lion! (Ok, I took this at the desert museum. but it was cool to see them up close)
Until about mile 11, the course was pretty much down/flat. Very uneventful. I hung around groups of people with interesting conversations like a stalker. It was entertaining. There were ultra runners, first timers, those aiming for a PR and those simply hoping to finish. A pretty relaxed vibe in general. I kept thinking about my lovely friend Kim, who was all geared up to BQ (and she got an amazing PR out of the race, yay Kim!).

I, on the other hand, committed myself to not being concerned with my time. I left the Garmin at home. On second thought, it would have been great to have it in the beginning because those first few miles at 10k pace were not a brilliant idea. My quads were a little unhappy for a little while.

Miles 11-13ish brought back the rollers, which I appreciated. Oh, random tip: do not stand in like for the 2 lone port-a-potties at mile 11.5 because there will be a row of empty ones half a mile down the road. Live and learn! 

the medal
The rest of the course was downhill/flat and very pretty. Typical desert highway. The road wasn't fully closed to cars, but we got 2 lanes sectioned off, which was plenty of space. This second half made it easy to zone out and get in a good rhythm, enjoying the run. The last mile and a half I spent talking to a guy about his story - he was about to shave 2 hours off his tim from last year. Very inspiring stuff. HE proceeded to drop and do 10 pushups by the clock at the finish - a tradition he does at every race he told me.

I ended up cruising into the finish with a time of 4:18, all smiles. I found Kim, Erin (who rocked the half) and Lori and then there were even more smiles. I also found my two fellow San Francisco Marathon Ambassadors, Bruce and Keith, and we posed for some pictures. Yes, we're all superstars.
Lori-myself-Kim-Erin (I love you ladies)
Keith-myself-Bruce. SFM Ambassadors rock!
No comment.




Friday, October 26, 2012

It's hard to say no to 26.2

I am often asked why I love running organized marathons...especially when I could just put some shoes one and head out for 26+ miles by myself and not worry about expos, getting up extra early, waiting in a corral and battling crowds through the start. True, I could just run the distance on my own or with just a few friends. And on occasion, I do. But that's not the point. 

Yes, a marathon is about running (or somehow getting) from a start to a finish, which sometimes involves running in a circle from the start back to the finish. A little comical. Maybe. We often pay $100+ to spend hours transporting ourselves between these two makeshift locations. And it's often painful, tiresome and sometimes downright miserable. Makes sense, right?

But there is much more to an organized marathon than meets the eye. It's about the atmosphere. The conversations before, during and after the race. The people watching. Sometimes it's about a challenge to beat PRs. It's an experience. Like Disneyland, which costs about the same from what I hear...and it doesn't even have free water, gels or Gatorade.

So naturally, I get extremely excited about my upcoming marathons. Take this weekend for instance, when I was supposed to be running the Atlanta Marathon. As it happens, I never made it to the east coast and I will be missing out on the race. It was a really, really hard decision to make but sometimes I am forced to look at the big picture and just do the right thing for my own good. 

The injuries I collected during the last 10ish miles of my 100k 3 weeks ago decided to stick around a little longer than I would have liked. I've done no running since that race, but at least I no longer walk like a zombie. The pool and the bike have become my new favorite places, but I've obviously missed my running shoes. Up until 3 days before the marathon, I was hoping for a miracle and still convinced I would run, or at least start. It would just work out, somehow. Or...not. Sometimes, I have to listen to the little voice in my head and not my heart (or legs). If I have taken 3 steps forward in healing from the 100k, I'm pretty sure running this 26.2 would have made me take 5 steps back and I am not prepared to be sidelined for so long. Saying no to a marathon you've been looking forward to is tough - but the prospect of not running for weeks post-race is pretty unimaginable. 

Next up: Tucson Marathon on December 8th!!!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rio del Lago 100k: Recap

I love new race distances. No matter what, it's a PR race. I PR'ed my 100k this weekend. Nevermind that I finished about 2 hours off my target time - but what was I really thinking?! I had no idea what I was getting into.

The 3:20am wake-up hurt a little. I was still incredibly full from eating my weight in pasta and sourdough the day before (even though I knew better) so breakfast wasn't really happening. Butterflies in my belly were, however, definitely happening.
With Peter and Laura. I procrastinated putting my bib # on...
That would mean it was really happening.
As we got to the start line and I watched the 100milers take off, stuff started getting very real. I force-fed myself a bagel and banana for good luck, drank some water, found a new BFF called Dagny (my crew, Peter's, adorable dog) and off I went to line up.

Still smiling @ the start
The first few miles were relatively uneventful. I got to know some fellow runners, we kept an easy pace and I tried not to think about the fact that I will be running from before sunrise until...past sunset. I was happy, my legs and stomach were cooperating and miles really flew by. I was approaching mile 10 when it occurred to me to eat something, so I had a few bites of a CLIF bar.

My strategy was to eat solid food for the first 20ish miles and then switch to liquid calories (Heed and Perpetuem by Hammer) exclusively to stay away from stomach problems. Peter was the most amazing and resourceful crew I could wish for and had my liquids pre-mixed and ready to go (along with a pep talk and ice to keep me cool) at each crew-accessible aid station.

Coming in to Horseshoe, mile 10.8


The people, energy and food at the aid stations were amazing - and they really helped to break the race down to mini-distances, so all I had to think about was running from one aid station to the next. But despite RDL being an out-n-back course, those same stations seemed much farther apart in the second half. "Who moved my aid station?" became the title of that chapter.

Once the sun came up, the most amazing scenery greeted me. I remembered (and was super thankful for) pre-running the course a few weeks ago but it blew me all over again.

And then mile 17 happened...and I rolled my left ankle. Badly. Ouch. A few tears and a few minutes spent hardly moving, waiting for adrenaline to kick in and the pain to subside a little. I took some ibuprofen (my kidneys will thank me later) and chose to suck it up. I would roll the same ankle again around mile 40 and then the right ankle around mile 55 (even worse)...just because, clearly, all good things comes in threes.

Getting to the turnaround point at around mile 31, I was still (generally) all smiles. I talked to some friends, stretched and was on my merry way in a few minutes. The climbs were a little tiresome, but I had enough energy to give them a good powerhike so I was still on pace. In my head, I was going to negative split the race and I was on a mission.

I'm not even sure when, but a little after ankle trouble #2, the proverbial poop hit the fan. My pace slowed, but I was still moving forward. When I got to the aid station with about 10.8 miles to go, I was crying hard (making boys around me a little uncomfortable) for no apparent reason. I refueled and wobbled on...

The sun set soon thereafter and I was alone in the woods. I was hoping someone would catch up to me, but the next person was about half an hour behind. Just me, darkness and all kinds of animals, who, in my mind, were all out there to eat me. Note to self: I really need to practice night-time trail running. 

So, there is a section called meat-grinder. It's about 4-5 miles long and the nickname is very fitting. In daylight it's manageable, but still slows you down. At nighttime...not only do the rocks talk to you and morph into the shape of animals (I swear that happened) but they really get in the way of forward motion. Despite a second wind of energy a few miles leading into that section, I averaged a 21min/mi pace between miles 51-57. So that negative split thing went out the window...fast. At mile 55, my right ankle went out..with a crack and pop. I fell down into a bush and sobbed for a minute. The only thing that got me up and going was a strong desire to get the heck out of this "enchanted forest". With only about 3 miles to go, I pulled something behind my left knee. But by this point, nothing really mattered. I was determined to finish, no matter what.

the finish!
So I did. I finished! I don't know my official time, but it was somewhere over 16 hours. I was the 4th woman to cross the line, which is a fun number. (edit: that's what I was told when I finished. Official results put me 6th. Strange but I truly don't care.) And I got my first pretty buckle!


Needless to say, I would have never finished (and 80% enjoyed) a race like this if it wasn't for my amazingly supportive friends, training partners and my race-day crew. So thank you, all. And no, I am definitely not done.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pre-Race Syndrome

I'm actively working on not freaking out about my first 100k in less than 1.5 days. Between school, work and life in general, these race jitters have been very distracting. But staying in my comfort zone and not signing up for races that challenge me would just be boring. So technically, I choose to be freaking out. Yeah, I'm so smart.

Overall, I guess my nervousness is a good thing because it means I am not taking the race and my success for granted. And how could I...it's 62 miles worth of fun, but I have never ever run this long before.

If you have a race coming up soon, you probably know what I'm talking about. Pre-race syndrome, or PRS for short, presents with a variety of symptoms, including (but by no means limited to): strange dreams that seems to center around missing race start, showing up without shoes, getting lost on the course or forgetting how to run; a desire to eat every carbohydrate source (and other things) in sight; frequent mention of the words "taper" and "sucks" in the same sentence; a heightened affinity toward talking about two or three-letter phrases such as BQ, PR, LSD, DNF, HR, XT, ITB etc as well as an almost uncontrollable desire to say "screw it, I'm going for a run. Now."

I have an acute form of PRS. I have spent countless hours coming up with the perfect race strategy, calculating distances and projected paces between aid stations, as well as the number of calories I should be eating at each point of the course. Naturally, I expect to throw my plan out the proverbial window by about mile 10, maybe even before that.

You can do all the mental preparation in the world, but at the end of the day, the best plan is to start running...and if problems arise, to suck it up and keep running. So, that's plan B. And plan C. And D, E, F...

Dear Rio del Lago 100k, I'm coming to get you.
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend!!!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Sneak Peek: Rio del Lago Course

It's been a busy few weeks. I haven't been blogging about running because, well, I have actually been running. And swimming. And biking. And eating...lots. But I want to talk about the running. (Shocking, I know.)

With the Rio del Lago 100k approaching all too fast, a group of us took a trip to Folsom Lake last weekend for a fortysomething-mile course preview. Since it's an out-and-back course, it was simple to cover the course without actually running the full length of the race distance. A good thing, since some of our group are prepping for the 100mile race. (I'm still very content with my 100k ticket.) 

Right away, I was 'pleased' to discover that the course elevation profile I had scrutinized and analyzed so carefully, was in fact, not for the course I will be running. Bingo.

Nevertheless, I am now even more excited about this race. The course is beautiful and I am happy to report that there is a relatively good chance I will not be eaten by a mountain lion. 

-Photos courtesy of the amazing Donny Hall-

The course passes through all kinds of scenery, terrain and plant life. It is truly difficult to get bored and the single tracks aren't technically challenging - even for someone as uncoordinated as I am.

(note: I did manage to mess up my ankle a little, with less than 0.5mi to go on day 2...but that really takes some unique talent)

Jumping into the lake / river with shoes and clothes is obviously highly recommended if you're looking for a truly spiritual experience. 

Not scaring me. Nope. Definitely not. Ok, maybe a little.
I had a rough start to the first day of running. Settling into a good pace and getting hydration / nutrition right was proving difficult. I was achy, constantly dehydrated and unhappy. Solution? Do what you would never do (especially with hydration challenges): take ibuprofen (Motrin) at mile 13. I knew my kidneys would hate me, but I got very lucky. Soon enough, I felt like I had super powers. 

Until...
Random lesson: do not mix Hammer Perpetuem in warm water and proceed to chug it. I can hardly explain just how bad of an idea this was at mile 20. 

This weekend was also my first time trying Hammer Perpetuem Solids. What they say is true - it sticks in your teeth, it's hard to chew and all the flavors taste the same. It is functional food. It is easier to carry around than the powder (which you need an extra water bottle for) and keeps better in warm weather, but chewing a single tablet takes a way too much effort for 33.3 Calories. 

The second day of running was far better than the first - my legs and whole body felt a lot better. Given I spent most of the prior afternoon eating, my glycogen stores were smiling. I was eating far less during the run than normal and felt really great. 

Tip: back to back long run days can be tricky to manage. Eat and drink more than you normally would both during and after your training on day 1 to prepare for the demands of day 2. Done right, day 2 is more fun than day 1, even if you felt exhausted at the end of that first run.

This is another back-to-back weekend, though with less mileage. 18 miles done today, 20-22 planned for Sunday morning. 

And then, of course, there is labor day...happy running!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cross Training

I used to be one of those runners who measures her training progress in terms of miles or time spent in running shoes. Okay, I'm still one of those runners...but in some remote part of my brain, I know better. I know that doing activities besides running can support and improve my training more than running alone could. 

I love hot yoga. Sometimes it's a borderline obsession. It's playful, it makes me sweat like a crazy person and it is as challenging as I want to make it. Moreover, every day is different. Sometimes I have good days. Other days are disastrous and even standing still makes me want to fall over.  But it's just yoga, not a race. The point is to enter the room with an open mind and willingness to explore what your body has in store. How it improves my running? Well, let me just say that when I am consistent with my practice, my breathing, pace and endurance benefit and I don't get random knee pains, shin splints or hip tightness. Pretty good deal. Plus, who doesn't like relaxing in downward dog?!

I've talked a bit about swimming before. Low/non-impact, great way to strengthen the whole body, much like yoga. Yes, having a strong upper body is actually beneficial for runners, but we tend to forget about that. Swimming can be great for endurance, too. Coming from a swimming background, my love affair for the 100m backstroke resurfaces each time I'm in the pool, but I've recently discovered the amazingness (yes, that's a word) of doing longer distance, continuous workouts, like a timed mile...or two...or more. It forces you to stick to an aerobic zone, much like during long runs and it's unquestionably therapeutic. Not to mention, I am rocking some impressive tan lines at the moment. So sexy.
Santa Monica Swim Center, my other happy place.
Random fact: swimming makes me ridiculously hungry, so I always pack a good snack for afterwards to avoid depleting the supply of vegan cookies at Whole Foods.

Boxing is not traditional runner cross training material, and frankly it's backfired on me a little in the past (strangely developed shin splints from all the footwork) BUT it's actually great upper body, core and lower leg training. It's good for developing coordination too so I should probably pick it back up...yah, I am the girl who trips over the one rock on a trail and manages to run into the bushes on the side for no apparent reason. 

Coordination may not be my forte but I am glad it provides entertainment for people I run with.

Spinning is obviously a popular choice for runners. I stick to stationary things, because I am still waiting on a road racing tricycle or training wheels for my road bike. Did I mention I was not coordinated? Anyhow, cycling/spinning works many of the supporting muscles that are secondary (but nonetheless super important) muscles for running and is low-impact, giving your joins something to smile about. 

And because Christmas apparently came early this year...this baby is currently on its way to me, so I can remedy my relationship with my road bike. Yes, it's a bike trainer and I am beyond excited. 


Sunday, August 12, 2012

73 miles

This was a BIG week. In terms of running, at least. I clocked 73 miles overall, which puts this week at the top for weekly miles...ever! 

Mon: 13, Tue: off, Wed: 8, Thu: swim, Fri: 5, Sat: 27 (trails), Sun: 20 (road). 

The most important things I've learned from recent madness - other than the fact that I'm not sure how I ended up wanting to run so much - can be summed up in a few points:

1. Speed work is awesome, even refreshing. This might be a "duh" moment for you, but I am constantly reminded how much power and strength track work brings. Since it's relatively new to me, I'm still discovering my track pace and what feels right yet challenging at short distances. 

2. Swimming is fantastic cross training. You get the same opportunity to "zone out" like during a long run, work at a low heart rate and all without impacting joints. Plus, if the pool is nice and cold, it feels so amazing for tired joints and muscles. 

3. When all else fails, keep running. Saturday's trail run took everything I had to give, and a little more. I was already nearing dehydration when I ran completely out of water with 2 miles (mostly uphill) until the next H2O fountain at Westridge/Nike Tower. It was hot (over 100F around there) and each slight breeze felt like pure bliss. I noticed I stopped sweating, despite the heat and working hard - a pretty bad sign of dehydration. I was slowly freaking out as my legs and lungs grew more tired and I was getting dizzy. It was around that point that I found my edge and made a conscious decision to push through it. It was a whole new level of mind games. My mantra? Suck it up, you can do this. Tough love make tough cookies. Realistically, I had no other option but to keep moving forward. Step by step. Additional motivation: I have an irrational fear of mountain lions. 
So, always take more water than you think you will need and find yourself some awesome training partners who know how to party once you're done: with a ice-cold Gatorade and water, of course. (Donny Hall, you rock). 

Obviously. -source-
4. Nutrition and active recovery are what it's all about. I guess this is really nothing new. But after that trail adventure, I had a 20 miler awaiting me the next morning. I did what I do best: I ate. With a purpose. Potatoes, pasta, tempeh, some nut butter, lots of fruit and lots of kale and other veggies. Carbs, protein, a little fat and lots and lots of antioxidants. Nutrient dense foods all the way. I also took a vitamin C supplement (500mg), which I usually take on/after challenging workout days. I went on an easy walk in the afternoon and generally tried not to sit for too long at a time. Active recovery is all about getting blood flowing to the muscles to help them recover and rebuild. I'm not saying I had completely fresh legs for Sunday, but they were good enough to last me a fun (and thankfully flat) 20 miles. 

I think I need a nap now. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Recovery


It's been a little over a week since that really long run. 54 miles on roads should take a good beating on any previously sane person's joints, muscles, ligaments and mental capacity.

I fully expected to be needing a wheelchair to get around for at least a month week after that run, but the excitement and "glow" seemed to never subside - all I have been wanting to do is run more. I gather it must have been the special powers I got from my impromptu finish chute dance. Call Me Maybe came on so I had no choice. In retrospect, I have no idea what I was doing.

Psycho-dancing?
Thankfully, no arm muscles pulled but it was close.

I forced some sanity on myself last week and stayed off my feet as much as I could. I fought urges to go for a run in the middle of the night. Recovery week looked like this:

Monday: Sit on yo' butt, lady (Rest)
Tuesday: Swim 45 minutes with c. 20 minutes of pull-only drills
Wednesday: 60 minute aerobic run and track workout (speed felt SO good)
Thursday: Hot Power Yoga (90 minutes of sweaty bliss)
Friday: Let's play find the couch and stay on it (Rest)
Saturday: 90 minutes aerobic on mostly trails, rolling hills (but not mountains)
Sunday: Lots of walking, short spin session, squats etc. Low-key day.

Looking back, it all sounds pretty sane. I'm so proud. To celebrate, I went for 3 runs (13 miles total) and a hike yesterday.
Inventory: 1 tempo run (6 miles), 1 mountain climbed (2 hours), 1 sprint because I was running late for my run club talk/meeting (2 miles), 1 easy sunset run (5 miles). It was super fun.

I am a big fan of running more than once a day, splitting up the mileage. It is supposed to reduce the risk of overuse injury, since you're giving your body a chance to (partially) recover. Given you are working on tired muscles during the later rounds, you're still benefiting from the cumulative mileage and are training muscles to become more efficient at clearing away metabolic by-products still lingering from the previous run. 

There has, however, been a minor issue with an unhappy right ankle. I'm not sure what to make of it because it's not a typical injury. Nevertheless, is serves as an awesome excuse to whip out my favorite leisure time reading: Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy. It's really captivating. 
Problem solving
I concluded this is an extensor digitorum longus tendon issue. There is a proper bump on it and it hurts when it should, but the swelling is hardly noticeable and I can certainly run on it (not painless). And I obviously have. This is probably a very stupid idea, by the way. Today will be a day where I am thankful for BioFreeze and fully on board with the R.I.C.E approach. Hey, it could be a lot worse. 

Less than 2 months to go till...Rio Del Lago 100k on October 6th! Oh boy. 


Monday, July 30, 2012

Worth the Hurt

If you're ever looking for something really fun to do, I highly suggest running 2 marathons, back to back. It's an uplifting experience, especially in San Francisco.

Yesterday, I did just that and ran my first ultramarathon. It was amazing. 

Race: The San Francisco Marathon, twice. Organized by Worth The Hurt
Who & Why: 6 sponsored athletes and their teams - 38 athletes in total, running to support 6 amazing charities. I was running for the Women's Sports Foundation on Meredith Dolhare's team (talk about an amazing woman) and raised $1,575. 
Mileage: 52.4 (in reality we ran 54 miles). In other words, way longer than I have ever run before.
Course: The marathon is a loop course (you start and finish in the same area). 1st loop is clockwise, 2nd is counterclockwise. 

The pre-race jitters reminded me a little of my first marathon, which was also my first of any kind of organized running events. That feeling when you're extremely excited, yet the unexpected is daunting and a little scary (ok, terrifying). You might question yourself and wonder why on earth you're there, but it doesn't occur to you to actually quit. So you remind yourself of all the training you've done (and all the carbs you've eaten) and question yourself a little less. 

Getting ready
It's morning at ~10.30pm.
Time to pose with the thermostat.
Preparing for this race posed it's own challenge. Given the midnight start time, I had planned to sleep a little in the afternoon. From 4-10pm to be precise. I eventually got in bed at 6pm, in line with "plan B".  I napped maybe 30 minutes in the end (plan C, apparently), but any rest is better than none at all. Especially if you plan to run through the night. 

My alarm went off at 10pm, and I treated it like morning. I took a shower, brushed my teeth, had coffee and breakfast. I said good morning to the people at the hotel (who responded with a very confused look). I had fully intended to trick my body and I think it worked! As I walked to the start, I was convinced the sun would come up any minute. Success.

Start & 1st loop
We gathered at 11.15pm at the tent for Worth The Hurt in the start/finish area. There was food, coffee, and a group of amazing people ready to party. True VIP style. I was a little overwhelmed with making sure I had everything, so I was grateful that my friend & 2nd loop "pacer", Roland, was there to sort me out and help me stay sane.

Pokerface
We set off a few minutes past midnight and I quickly realized that with such a small field of runners, I needed to make sure I kept pace with others to avoid getting lost. The people I ran with changed over the course of 26.2 miles, but everyone was in good spirits and super fun to talk to. Given everyone else's crazy impressive level of experience, I was pretty sure I would be dead last, but thankfully that did not happen. 

The first loop (backwards relative to the official race) seemed like a whole new marathon course, partly because I generally had no idea where I was. Especially once we got to Golden Gate Park. The bike marshals and mobile support crews were phenomenal for most of the race, but missed turns in the park = bonus miles for free. In total, I ran closer to 28 miles in that first loop in somewhere around 5:15. 

This first marathon is the place where you get to practice orienteering, avoid obstacles, partygoers, drunk people, and homeless people trying to tell you the wrong way to go. Too much fun. 

Lighting up the night...

Another start & 2nd loop
What's more fun than running a marathon at midnight? Running another right after.

I had a chance to refuel and rehydrate at the tent prior to jumping into the official marathon after it started at 5:30. It was like an extended aid station break and I also had the most delicious blueberry bagel that ever existed. The crowd and the energy of the start area gave me a welcome boost to keep going. Or at least wobble until I warmed up again. Like I needed more adrenaline. I was already practically on crack loopy but as it happens, the more miles I ran, the more ridiculous loopier I got. Just ask my amazing pacer, who ran the official marathon with me. Clearly, the best pacer is one who force-feeds you Gu when you need it but really don't want to eat, while keeping you so distracted you forget that you're running and he did just that. Pure awesome.

If you've ever run the San Francisco Marathon, you remember the park. I have yet to meet a soul who likes that part of the course. It's very strange...the park is so pretty and scenic. Nevertheless, all the miles you run in it makes you just want to get the heck out. There were tears, complaints and mood-swings. Don't expect me to be rational after running 30+ miles, sleep-deprived.

Once we hit mile 16, I was counting down, but on some level getting sad that the race was ending soon. I have been having so much fun (in a rather masochistic way I guess) and I just wanted it to last. But that's what other ultras are for. 

Finishing

With Michael, the master of Team WSF.
Check out #KeepHerInTheGame
3 medals! From left: LA/SF Challenge, 52.4 race and Official SFMarathon 
About 0.1 miles from the finish, that Call Me Maybe song came on. Naturally, I started to run/dance, because, well, why wouldn't you?! Crossing the finish was magical, yet bittersweet. I ran an ultra, and not only that, I ran way way farther than I ever have - or (realistically) thought I could. But at the same time, I was no longer running.

2nd loop finish time: 5:29. My slowest marathon by far, but who really cares?!
Total time: 10 hours and 45 minutes (ish). 

A few minutes after crossing the line, adrenaline started wearing off and I had never felt such shooting pain in my legs. My body was screaming at me and I heard it loud and clear. But that's what painkillers are for. And massages - which we got at the tent. I'm telling you, we were treated like rock stars. 

This was the first year that Worth the Hurt put on the event, and aside from a few issues with course marking, it was pretty amazing. It is my new favorite race. Ever. 

Even if you're not into the whole running 50+miles thing, check out the amazing athletes representing some admirable causes here.

The next day - slightly tight calves, a slightly sore right ankle, general fatigue/lack of sleep and one happy me! Definitely not as sore as I expected to be, not even close! I just have to make sure to move around every 10-15 minutes to let blood circulate & avoid muscle stiffness. CEP compression socks are my BFF du jour. 
And of course, lots of downward dog and sun salutations. No running today, maybe tomorrow. Namaste.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

11 Reasons to LOVE Running

Since I'm cutting back on training this week, the best I can do is talk and think about running. Since I started this blog, I've written about all kinds of things but never really addressed why I run so much. Or at least why I love it so much. So here we go (in no particular order):
  1. I can do it whenever, wherever. No need for other people or gadgets to rely on.
  2. Running is how I define the words "freedom" and "inner peace". It's quality time - with myself (and my running shoes).
  3. My progress is in my hands and my hands alone. And progress isn't just measured in miles or speed. Sometimes, it's all about patience
  4. Running gets me to challenge my edge and discover that I can do more than I thought I was capable of. It makes me appreciate the human body.
  5. It's how I get my vitamin D...and extra calories to eat!  
  6. Running makes me smile, even laugh out loud. Especially when I get to jump in puddles and get dirty.
  7. I can wear crazy colors and silly outfits and not give a tootsie roll. On the flip side, I also get to wear super cute running outfits.
  8. As LMFAO so eloquently put it, "I'm sexy and I know it!"
  9. I have made amazing friends along the way.
  10. Running gives me a way to discover new places I wouldn't otherwise think of visiting. 
  11. Running makes me smarter, healthier, more creative, more patient and simply a better person. And it's all scientifically proven! 
And sometimes, I would rather just keep going.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Carb me maybe

Times Two!
With 5.2 days until my San Francisco Marathon double-loop adventure, I am visualizing carbohydrates.  Bagels, brown rice, bananas, quinoa, sweet potatoes, more bagels...cupcakes? With so many delicious sources of carbohydrates, and a super-long race coming up, getting the right nutrition is going to be so much fun.

Now, because I am just that nutrition-dorky, here's a quick educational snippet, or carbs 101: muscles use glucose as fuel, to generate energy and propel you forward. Glucose, as a matter of fact, is essential for all bodily functions. It is a simple sugar, the most basic breakdown product of carbohydrates. 

Yes, it's the banana bagel. Yummm.
We store glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscles, which acts as a fuel reserve for all the crazy running to be done. Carbohydrate loading is essentially the science art of making sure that you have as much glycogen on board prior to an important long distance race/run as possible. 

Fact: carbohydrate loading can actually increase the amount of glycogen storing capacity in muscles. There is proper research behind that one, ask me for articles if you care. Good stuff.

If you are training for something big or planning to get lost on some trails this weekend, here are 7 tips to keep in mind:
  1. Eat quality sources of carbohydrates. I mean whole grains whenever possible. You will benefit from the extra nutrients on board.
  2. Focus on nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense foods. In other words, skip junk food and eat stuff that actually exists in nature. There is no such thing as a Twinkie tree. Or a doughnut plant.
  3. Try to avoid eating everything in sight. The point is to load up on carbohydrates, not just calories in general. So, watch the fat content of things you are chowing down.
  4. Switch to getting more calories from carbs (70-80% of total calories in the few days prior) and less from fat and protein. Example: substitute creamy pasta sauce for a tomato sauce with veggies. Skip the cheese in your burrito and get more rice instead. 
  5. Try not to get food poisoning. It really sucks. 
  6. Eat consistently (like every 3-4 hours) and especially as you get closer to the big day, avoid overloading your digestive system with large, heavy meals. This will also help minimize the need for bathroom breaks and help keep you from having the runs on the run. 
  7. Drinking your carbs can be a good way to get more on board the day before your race or really long run. Just watch the amount you drink at once so you don't start riding the blood sugar roller coaster. 
Some foods I love for the pre-race week are...whole grain bagels, Ezekiel cinnamon-raisin bread, oatmeal, bananas, lentils, black beans, Injera bread (and most veggie Ethiopian food in general), green peas, squash, sweet potatoes, other veggies and so on. 
More bananas. Breakfast of champions.
Quinoa+Chia seeds+almond milk+little almond butter+cinnamon+dash cocoa powder = happy day
A friend of mine recently introduced me to That's It bars. It's essentially mushed fruit. A great on-the-go carby snack that mirrors the nutritional profile of energy gels but is actually natural. 

Ok, time to share. How do you carbo-load? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Recovery beast mode: ON

My long awaited 52.4 miler is now less than 12 days away. Mmm-kay. For the past few days, I have been figuring out how I am going to rest up for this thing. It's always tricky - you don't want to take it too easy, but showing up overtrained and under-recovered is probably the worst option of all. Given this is much longer than the marathon distance I am used to, I really want some fresh legs at the start. Especially since the midnight start time means there is a good chance I will be running sleep-deprived. 

Times two, in this case. Ha!
So, this past weekend I cut back on mileage and time on feet, running 1.5 hours on Saturday and 2.5 hours on Sunday. I am very glad I did not look up the elevation profile of our Sunday route, by the way. It was a gloriously "quality" run. Yes, quality. I worked my butt off on those hills and wasn't even going fast. Hills are your best friend. (Especially when you're coming back down.) 

I also did some research and proved to myself that a type of "exponential taper", which I am doing this time around, is the most effective. That means you cut back on training volume but leave frequency and intensity unchanged. Or even increase intensity a little. The important thing is to cut back on volume. This makes sense. Not running for a week or two before a race is difficult psychologically because you perceive yourself as losing fitness...when, in fact, your muscles are recovering and becoming stronger. An intense workout will leave you feeling "sharp" and fit, even if it is shorter. It re-instills confidence in your abilities and puts your head back in the right place. 

In any case, I had a really fun run today. I kept it short (4 miles) and swift but not too swift (splits were 8:30, 8:30, 7:50, 8:03 min/mi) and I finished with an impossibly large smile on my face. The kind that usually follows a BabyCakes cupcake with peach frosting. Then I hopped on a spin bike for 10 minutes to shake it out at low resistance and high (95-105) RPM. Boom. Add some weights and core for a balanced workout and it was already dinner time. Now that's what I call taper beast mode. 

Update on the running skirt front - I still LOVE it. For all you disbelievers thinking I will get sick of it soon - well, that has not yet happened! 
So comfy. ♥

Oh, and we finally have the course map for the first loop we will be running in San Francisco. SO excited. (I will hold off on looking at the elevation profile. I think that's wise..)




Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pretending to be fast

Apparently endorphins take some time to wear off. Over 2 hours post today's track workout, I am still running (in my head) with juvenile excitement. The running-in-my-head part is nothing new, but the track workout part definitely is.

You see, I specialize in running far, not running fast. Or at least I say that because I have never really tried to run fast and so I assume that I would probably be slow. By fast I mean 1mile or 5k sprint type stuff. I don't normally warm up and ease into the rhythm of my run until roughly mile 5, so shorter distances have been tricky for me. My 10k PR (when I still ran 10k races) of 49 minutes is, well, 49 minutes. Just under 8:00 miles. Interpret as you wish.

Anyway, back to those endorphins. I have not run on a track in a very long time. I've been meaning to, because I think there is something strangely soothing about running around in 0.25mile circles. It's free but yet you're running in a very controlled environment, if you know what I mean. It lends itself well to making each lap completely different from the last, instilling color in an otherwise bland setting.

Except when I find myself on a track, I tend to do just what I would do on a road or trail - I start running and keep going. I always intend to inject some pace/drill variety, but it rarely happens, or at least I fail to go truly hard or truly easy and get stuck in a medium/hard effort rut.

So, I finally convinced myself to go to the LA Running Club's Wednesday night track workout. Being told when to run fast and when to run easy was a bit of a strange concept at first, but when I decided to listen, I started having a great time. The farther I got into the run, the better I felt. My split times improved with each lap. At some point, I swore the track was downhill.

In any case, it felt wonderful to shake my legs out, vary the intensity and change up my running a bit. I knew it would, but I am phenomenally proud of having put my theory into practice - in my own life. I am generally good at telling others what to do, but for once I managed to do what I would have advised someone else to do. Brilliant.

The workout: 400m laps - run the flats at ~5k pace or faster, jog the "ends". This translates into 200m fast, 200m recovery split up into 100m segments. Then the same concept applied to 300m (200m fast, 100m off) and 600m in a similar fashion. Recovery laps in between. The number of sets we did seems like a blur now, so you know I must have been having fun. Either way, the intervals were quite refreshing and I truly appreciated the change.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Running like a lady(?)

Why would I ever want to run in a skirt? Much less actually spend $$ on buying a skirt made for running? As it turns out, it's an investment that pays dividends in units of fun - like little bundles of joy.

I guess my thinking that running skirts were silly anyway came from my lack of positive experiences. I mean, no company seemed to want to make one that fit me or my list of specifications (gel pockets, no riding up, not too loose but not too tight, not too short but not too long, not too simple or boring...you know, reasonable expectations). I was so far away from finding fun and functional, I almost gave up.

And then I walked into Lululemon. Yes, I do that a lot but this time was different because I found this.
It's not called "Nothing to Hide Mini" for nothing.
And no, that is not my behind.
I saw it, tried it, fell in love and took it out for a 2hr run the very next day. And today, we (skirt and I, along with a few of other friends) hit the trails for 20ish miles. I kid you not, I felt like a small child who just discovered how to make snow angels. Both times.

In fact I was having so much fun that after I drove home from the trail, I parked my car and took off yet again. In my dirty trail shoes and all. Good times. (Okay, that way either the skirt or my desire to get an iced coffee faster. Probably both.)

There is something extremely liberating about running in a skirt - yes there are shorts underneath, but still it's not at all the same as running in shorts. Maybe it's more ladylike. If being a lady means running a lot and getting really dirty, sure. Either way, it is cute, comfy and this one has not one, not two but three pockets. Bingo.

So when will the boys catch on? Oh, wait, they may already have...

Barefoot Jason testin' it out


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Running buddy

It's July. Oh dear. 
It's been a fun and muscle inflammation-filled week. Let's recap. 

Tuesday: RUN - 90min
Wednesday: CYCLE - 75 minutes (crazy spin class)
Thursday: PEAK 10 class (cardio circuits), Bodyshop (weights 'n stuff), RUN - 90min
Friday: Hot Yoga
Saturday: RUN - 4 hours in the mountains
Sunday: RUN - 100min

That makes a 13-hr workout week. 

And of course Spain beat Italy 4-0 in the UEFA Euro 2012 final. The last 2 goals seemed just mean, but then again, Torres was on course and magic simply had to happen. 

The Schleck not racing
(his bro Frank still is)
Oh, and Tour de France kicked off, which marks a super exciting time of year. Even if Andy Schleck is not racing (bummer). Peter Sagan of Slovakia won Sunday's short stage 1, and the guy is the youngest (22) to win a stage since Lance Armstrong in 1993 (he was 21 then). Oh, children. 

Importantly, I also got extremely close to my $1500 fundraising target for the Women's Sports Foundation. My excitement could hardly be expressed and I am so thankful to everyone who has supported me & this cause so far.

Anyway, it's been a busy week, and one might say I was in heaven. I absolutely loved switching it up a bit on Thursday and discovering muscles I had forgotten existed. Yes, I had problems getting out of bed on Friday. The logistics seemed all too complex. I was stiff and sore - hence my trip to hot yoga. Given the physical release heat can provide, this would have been a smart move. But of course I miscalculated the intensity of the class and added a few new muscles to the "I'm tired, leave me alone" group. Brilliant.

Friday's trail action was fantastic, but also humbling. I ran with two awesome guys, Donny and Steve, and I was just focusing on one foot in front of the other for the first 45 minutes of uphill. It took a while to loosen up, but eventually I got there. Since we kept an 'easy' aerobic pace, with time I was able to relax into it and cruise along. I managed to ignore my own rules about consistent hydration and nutrition on the run and, predictably, felt horrible by the last hour. I finally stomached a gel and within 5 minutes, the world was a better place. Live & learn. It was still not pain-free, but I asked for it. Not to mention, the amazing scenery is always worth it. 

Disneyland for trail runners
TGID (Thank God It's Downhill)
I came home dirty, exhausted, but pretty happy to have gone out despite my sore legs. Had it not been for my running buddies, I would have probably (a) cut the run short (b) taken a nap in the bushes (c) not gone out in the first place (d) bored a bunch of non-runners to tears with my pent-up running-related chatter instead. 

Today (Sunday) was a similar story, though the immense amount of kale and veggies I stuffed myself with Saturday afternoon seemed to have made me recover some. 
I would have hardly gone and run for the planned amount of time on my own. Running with a +1 was precisely what I needed. 

I've always been a solo-runner. I trained for all of my marathons by myself and hardly ran with other people, even during long runs...until last year. I was thrown into the mix by running a bit with the Marina del Rey Running Club, pace leading for the LA Roadrunners and finding other runners who I really got along with.

I still enjoy running by myself and completely zoning out, but I know now that I have been missing out. Running buddies will keep you accountable, get you running when you really don't want to, and make the miles fly by much faster. And maybe they can help scare away bears and mountain lions. Or your crazy stalkers. Not to mention, you get to spend more time with awesome people and talk about races, blisters, bowel habits and more. So glamorous.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Biting the proverbial bullet

Today was one of those days. You know, when you feel like dragging yourself up a flight of stairs is a true effort and there should be a cupcake (with peach frosting, specifically from Babycakes) waiting at the top as a reward. Or maybe that's just me.

Mmm, chocolate-peach babycakes cupcake
With the double marathon thing coming up in less than 5 weeks, I had to go running. But that was really the last thing I could conceive of doing. Even after a 20oz iced coffee (that actually made me even more tired...yes I know I should probably lay off the caffeine thing. But it tastes sooo goood).

So when I got home, I promptly hit the couch for a *quick* snooze. It was magical, all 40 minutes of it. I was actually running in my dream. Not from zombies or even for the bus. Just running. Yet when I woke up, physical activity was still less than desirable. Conclusion: couch too comfy.
Nope, not my couch. But isn't it awesome?!
For those who want it...now: Link

Since I knew I had to bite the bullet sooner or later, and I wanted to catch the sunset too, I took a few bites of a Black Cherry Almond Clif bar, downed a glass of water and made suggestive eye contact with my running shoes. Still no spark. Much like when my Garmin tries to get GPS signal on a cloudy day.

It was really the perfect evening, I could hardly complain. But don't get me wrong, there was all kinds of complaining going on in my head as I took off.

I feel like I go through an emotional and physical roller coaster during a run, irrespective of distance. There are moments when I could punch somebody, or everybody for that matter, and then there are moments when I just want to remain forever and ever in a newly acquired state of bliss.
The marathon.

Here is how it went down today:
(note - I did not actually talk to myself out loud. It was tempting though)

Mile 1 - so this is really happening?! @#$%^&*!
Mile 1.5 - when will this be over?
Mile 2 - I feel (and probably look) like an elephant.
Mile 2.5 - that double marathon in 4.5 weeks is a funny concept.
Mile 3 - left, right, left, ri - oh look a bird!
Mile 4 - Okay, maybe I can do this....
Mile 6 - This is pretty awesome. Ooh, that random street looks like so much fun. Detour!
Mile 7 - Lala -lalalala-lala-lala
Mile 8 - Step aside, old pedestrian lady 'cause I'm flying' like a madwoman (but am not very coordinated)
Mile 8.5 - I don't want to go home yet. Detour!
Mile 9 - Weeeee! I'm done. But now my arms feel like they're missing out on the action.

So I headed to the gym for a quick date with some free weights and threw in some fun on the leg press machine for good measure. (I'm not sure why but I absolutely love that thing. It's just so...comfy)
The morale of my rambling is that in most cases, I have the greatest running adventures when I least feel like going, to begin with. That's true for yoga classes, too. When I feel like I could hardly hold a downward dog and I am so not motivated to get to class - I pretty much always have the best time ever.

So, in general, I like to blindly throw myself into workout situations that seem least desirable - because somewhere inside that head of mine something is reassuring me that it's going to be a blast.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tricks of the Treadmill

Treadmill, dread-mill...it's usually not so much fun. And as the weather gets so amazingly pretty, why would I ever be caught running in place versus roaming the outdoors?! You'd think it's a no-brainer, especially since I live so close to the beach.

VS.

Nevertheless, sometimes I actually want to hit the mill. Sometimes, I don't want to pay attention to my surroundings and just want to relax really intensely, if that makes sense. With no bikes, birds, homeless people or tourists (hey, it's Venice) to dodge, the treadmill requires no brain power and is pretty ideal for mindless running. As long as you manage to keep moving fast enough to stay on it, of course. And yes, I have managed to fall off, though not recently. Must be all the kale I've been eating.

I had the same intentions yesterday, so I went down to the gym in my apartment complex and took the last treadmill, sandwiched between a bunch of buffer-puffers walking uphill. Come to think of it, it's all very hamster-like.

Unsurprisingly, after a few miles of much appreciated empty-mindedness, I got really, painfully bored.

So, I brought out some tricks I taught myself while I was living in London - a city I adore and miss dearly, but one that abounds in crappy weather conditions.

I have found the key to treadmill happiness to be changing things up and regular intervals. Sometimes I will change the incline every 0.5 miles by 0.5% or 1.0%.
Example: run 1 mile, then bump up the incline by 0.5% each half a mile until you hit 4 miles at 3%, then scale back the same way until you're back to flat. That's 7 miles made a little more entertaining.

I also like to play a pace-pyramid.
Example: Run 1 mile to warm up. Or if you're not yet bored, run 2. Then, increase your speed by one increment (depends on the treadmill, but say, 0.1mph) every 0.25 miles, which is a lap around the track. Keep doing this until you are running at about 75-80% effort, sustain this for 0.25-0.5 miles, then slow it back down gradually. Repeat as desired. This, I have found, happens to be a really effective form of training that is much easier to do on a treadmill versus out in the wild.

Again - just try to stay on it. It might be funny to others, but it's not so pretty to fall off.