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.

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. 


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 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.