Monday, May 17, 2010

Avenue of the Vines Lodi Half Marathon - 5/16/10

As I drove to pick up my racing packet from Fleet Feet Sports, I remembered how much of shit hole Stockton is. Then when I drove to where I was staying in Lodi, I suddenly wished I was back in Stockton. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, the people were friendly enough, but neither Stockton nor Lodi would ever be somewhere I would consider a "nice place".

When I went to check in at the Quality Inn, the lady at the desk asked if I was here for Sinfest. I told her no, that I was here for a race the next morning. She looked at me quizzically and obviously had no idea what I was talking about. I asked her what Sinfest was. She said it was some event that was happening at Lodi Lake and then she preceded to tell me that they were short staffed and my room hadn't been cleaned yet so I was going to have to spend the next hour and half trying to find something to do in Lodi. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what went on at Sinfest, but curiousity got the best of me and when I got back in the car I looked it up. I searched for Sinfest in Lodi. Google asked me if I meant Zinfest. Zinfest! That sounded so much less raunchy than Sinfest. I considered going, but it turned out tickets were $55. No thanks.

I drove around for awhile, scoped out where the start of the race was, and then quickly realized there was nothing to do in Lodi. I drove by a trashy car dealership and had to laugh as I saw a life size, fake, white stallion that was obviously pulled out on a dolly everyday to the entrance. Ya, the giant fake horse is really going to bring in the sales. Ironically it was the second one I'd seen that day. The other was out by the race starting line, which I guess was more appropriately located in the middle of an actual horse ranch. I had to wonder what the real horses thought of the big, good looking one that never moved.

Another hour to kill. I figured I'd need to eat eventually so my mission was to track down food. This was not as easy as you might think. Unless I wanted to eat at a fast food place (they had them all including wienerschnitzel), or one of the many crappy diners, or from a scary looking taqueria, I was afraid I'd end up eating from the Chevron food mart. My dreams of finding a Whole Foods were long gone. At this point I couldn't even find a grocery store. Finally as I was about to give up, I passed one and was able to get water and a sandwich for later. Before heading back to the hotel, I found a Starbucks where I was able to kill whatever time I had left.

My room did have HBO which was great, so I watched The Hangover for the first time. It was then that I realized why my neck was so tight. I had whiplash courtesy of my soccer game earlier. Some girl took me out and I'm still not sure how it happened. I landed on my back and my neck snapped back whipping my head into the ground. My teammates told me they heard a very loud audible crack. Ouch, but at least it wouldn't stop me from running.

I was up at 6:30 for the second morning in a row and went through my usual pre-race process and then checked out. I decided not to eat this time though, it was too early and I just didn't feel like trying to stomach anything. The starting line was less then 5 minutes away at Woodbridge Winery by Robert Mondavi. I parked my car, walked to the start and got there just in time to hear the national anthem. Apparently no one in Lodi knows how to sing, because we listened to a recorded version of it. As soon as it was finished, 650 of us set off. Everyone seemed excited. It was their 4th annual half marathon, a Kaiser event, and the proceeds benefited the American Heart Association and the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. Last year $48,000 was raised for the American Heart Association.

I was running in brand new shoes. As much as I tried to deny it, I was beginning to get some pain areas. My hip flexors had been giving me trouble since my 18 mile run 3 weeks prior, and during my 20 mile run just a week prior, my left knee developed what I self diagnosed as runner's knee. I was convinced a big part of this was the fact that I'd been training in the same two pair of shoes for over a year. Not good. I immediately ordered some new ones and gave myself 4 days in a row of no running. While I knew running a half in brand new shoes wasn't ideal, it was better then running in shoes that were horribly worn out. Plus, it was the same style of shoe I'd run in for 2+ years, so I knew they'd work fine.

I spent the first half a mile running on the outside of the road passing the slower runners since I'd started in the back because I was one of the later arrivals. It was a beautiful day, the sun was already out and I was glad we started at 7a because I knew it was going to heat up fast. I was very happy to see the course went through the vineyards of Lodi which was a completely different world then downtown. It was quite pretty and very peaceful considering it was a lot of open land. Mixed in with the vineyards were houses with huge lots. We passed a few dairy farms. Lots of cows, and for awhile the smell of poop was overwhelming. It's now on my list of things I don't want to smell while running, along with hot tar and cigarette smoke.

Along the way we also passed a lot of real horses and every kind of dog you can imagine. After I almost stepped on a little dog, it decided to run next to me for the next 50 yards or so before it wore itself out. I also saw the occasional pig, and my favorites, about 5 llamas. Who owns llamas! The unfortunate part of the race was that my whiplash really prevented me from looking around too much. It was pretty much straight ahead or I'd have to twist my entire body around. You better believe I did for the llamas which were literally right next to us behind a fence as we ran by. I was sort of hoping one of them would spit at someone. Horrible I know, but talk about entertainment!

Like with every one of the half marathons I've run so far this year, with the exception of the Kaiser SF half, I set out with every intention to take it slow. No need to overdue it when these were all supposed to be just training runs. Well, apparently I just don't have the discipline to do that. I started off fast as usual figuring my pace would mellow out a few miles in. It didn't. I could definitely feel my knee, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't run through. By mile 8, I was going at a pace faster then I'd run any half before. I knew though that the last 5 miles is when your pace drops, often times substantially. The Provo half marathon I did 2 weeks earlier, my average pace was one minute slower the second half of the race than it was for the first. I could only imagine my pace would eventually begin to drop.

Mile 10 hit and I was still continuing on at a steady pace with very little fluctuation. I looked at my watch and knew even if I dropped to 10 minute miles, I would set a PR, even if by very little. I came up on a water station where they were handing out soaked sponges to the runners. I've never been in a race where they've done that and it was fantastic! There were 3 girls I could see ahead of me, but other then that I was surrounded by men. My goal was to catch those girls by the end of the race. That gave me some motivation to hold my pace. I was closing in on them at mile 11 when I realized that I could not only set a PR, but I could actually break a 1:50 time. It would be tough, I'd actually have to speed up a bit, not slow down like I really wanted to.

At mile 11.5, I felt someone coming up behind me. This little blond girl passed me up. I remember passing her back at mile 4 and thinking that she'd never be able to hold that pace. She had her long hair up in a big ponytail that was swinging all over the place and she was running with her hands out very prissy like. Boy, did she prove me wrong. She must have been right behind me the entire time. Not only did she pass me up, but she passed the 3 girls I was trying to catch. They all checked her out as she ran passed, you could tell some of them weren't to thrilled about it the way they stared her down.

It was right before mile 12 that I caught and passed the 3 girls. I had a little over one mile left. It was a straightaway to the finish. I could actually see the finish banner way down the road. I could still pull a sub-1:50 time, but I'd have to go even faster. I'd just passed up the last water station knowing that it would slow me down too much if I were to grab some water. I felt like I was literally sprinting the entire last mile. The finish line couldn't come fast enough. I was about a quarter of a mile away when the spectators starting lining the road cheering you on. The runners were trickling in, and people shouted encouragement of "finish strong", and "almost there" at me as I ran by. I then heard a man yelling at a runner that was obviously behind me, saying "Come on! You can catch her! Get her!". Um, he's talking about me. It was then I realized that runners at this pace are not only going for time, but they're also going for place. Like hell I'm letting anyone pass me at this point. I ran faster.

I crossed the finish line as they called out my name, even pronouncing it correctly, and saying that I was from San Francisco. The girl the guy was yelling for finished shortly after me. I couldn't believe it but my chip time was 1:49:52 (only 11 seconds slower then my GPS time). Wow, did I just do that?! That was an 8:23 pace. I later learned that the last two miles were the fastest ones I'd run over the course of race. I stayed pretty steady in the 8:18-8:27 range, but my second to last mile was 8:08, while my last mile was 8:02. When the race results were posted, I'd finished 13th out of 149 runners in my division. That's in the top 9%. I'm not sure if I'm more proud of that or of my time. A goal of mine for the fall was to finish a half in under 1:50, I didn't think it would happen so soon.

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good with the exception of my knee. Even my hip flexors weren't bothering me, but my knee problems were definitely due to something more then just old shoes. Being that the race was held and sponsored by Woodbridge winery, we were all treated to a commemorative race wine glass and wine tasting. I hung around awhile, had two tasters, one of moscato and another of pinot, and a veggie wrap while sitting in the sun stretching. They had Kaiser doctors there, so I went and talked to one about my knee who confirmed it was runner's knee and then offered to give me a free BMI test. Turns out I'm at a fitness level with less risk for medical problems. After all the running I do, I would have been pissed if it was anything else. I stayed and watched part of the award ceremony, and it turns out the overall female winner was a girl my dad coached soccer to when she was growing up.

Before heading home, I bought one of the commemorative "Avenue of the Vines" bottles of wine from Woodbridge that was made just for the race. I'm sure it will sit on top of my fridge with the rest of the wine I don't drink, but whatever, it was only $12. I then drove the 2 hours home with a smile on my face, singing along to every song I knew the words to.

I learned a few things from this trip. The people in Lodi like their fake horses, their yard sales, and all fast food chains. The part of Lodi where the vineyards are is actually somewhat nice; the other part is not. I have no discipline to take things slow on a race, and I now run much faster then I ever thought I could. And most importantly, I am susceptible to overuse injuries and need to give my body recovery time if I want to keep training at the level I am. First step of action and non-action, work on strengthening my inner quads and take 5-6 days off from running. I need to be ready for CDA in two weeks after all.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Provo City Half Marathon - 5/1/10

Being the California girl that I am, when packing for Utah, I decided to bring my running shorts, short sleeve t-shirt, and visor for the race. I recall thinking that it could be cold, so I should bring the heaviest tech shirt I own, which I did. I'm really not sure what I was thinking. Just because it's going to be sunny in California, doesn't mean that's necessarily the case in Utah, no matter what the weather report says.

I decided fairly last minute to take a trip to Utah to visit my sister and brother-in-law. They just bought their first house, and I was the only person out of both families that has never helped them out with a move, so I figured now was my time. The majority of the move was actually done, I was just going to help them get a start on painting their rooms. I knew I had a 14 mile run I needed to do, so I checked to see if they had any races going on while I was there. As luck would have it, there was a half marathon in Provo City. My sister was in the middle of her training for the Coeur d'Alene half marathon over Memorial Day. After not much convincing, she was on board for the Provo City half despite it meant a real push to get her mileage up in just two short weeks.

I woke up Saturday morning to my alarm at 5:50a. Even though I flew in on Thursday night, it seemed much earlier since my body still felt like it was on California time. I lay there day dreaming about the end of the race and when I would get to climb back into bed for a nap. I knew I'd need it despite the fact that we took it easy on Friday night and went to bed early. I got dressed and gathered the stuff I knew I'd need. Luckily I brought some warm-up pants and a fleece to wear to the race. I still knew I was going be cold though, a t-shirt wasn't going to cut it. I checked if my sister had any jackets, but being the mini person she is, nothing fit ideally, so I just went with what I had knowing I'd warm up after a few miles like I always do.

Kim and I were to meet in the kitchen at 6:00a for breakfast. When 6:10a rolled around and I heard no movement, I knew there must have been an alarm issue so I riled her up. I made us some oatmeal and my standard toast with peanut butter. Kim made some coffee for the ride down. I'd never eaten that much before a race and wasn't sure how that was going to sit, so I really only had a few sips of the coffee to warm me up. The last thing I needed was two forces working against me. I figured we had over an hour and half before the race started so I should have plenty of time to digest, which I did.

We jumped into the Subaru and headed 45 miles south to Tabernacle Park in Provo City. On the way we talked about race strategy and what we wanted to accomplish. For me, the week ahead was the peak of my marathon training including a 20 mile run on the weekend. For Kim, she was really pushing herself just running this race and had been on a steady mileage increase for a number of weeks with no step back week. We both knew with the races we were doing over Memorial Day weekend, we should keep it slow and steady in order to not throw off our training schedules like I had done with the Kaiser SF Half Marathon in February. I was so sore after that race I couldn't run for 3 days and had to push my 20 miler back a few days. Not a huge deal, but definitely threw a kink in the plan.

We were very aware the entire drive down that we were heading directly toward some very ominous skies and even had some sprinkles on and off. After a quick pit stop at the gas station for some blue frost gatorade and a quick restroom break, we pulled into Provo with plenty of time to spare. We grabbed our racing bag and headed to the start area where we picked up our bib and race tech shirts. Despite the fact that I was a little disappointed with yet another partly see through white tech shirt, I did have to admit it was one of the nicer designs I'd seen. Bravo Provo. Being that they had no sweat check, we had someone take a pre-race picture of us, and then went back to the car, stripped down to our race gear, and walked back to the start while powering down some GU. It was not warm, I was shivering already. The only thing that kept us warm while we waited for the start was laughing at all the people standing near us and the very ineffective stretches they were doing. We joked how any physical therapist would have been disgusted had they been privy to any of it. This is not to say I'm some sort of stretching expert (we all know I'm not), but standing with your knees together, slightly bent, and doing circles does nothing (confirmed later that night by an actual physical therapist).

The national anthem was sung, and a few minutes later, the gun went off with what I thought was no warning at all and pretty much scared the shit out of me. It wasn't a big race, only about 664 runners total so the field spread out fairly quickly. I felt pretty good heading into this race. It was the first one in awhile I'd done where my feet weren't in horrible shape. In fact, my pre-race feet prep only consisted of two small band-aids around some problem blisters on my pinky toes. I was bummed to be missing soccer, but I knew the forced break would do my feet good.

We were probably only half a mile in when something came over my sister and I that I've never experienced while running before. Uncontrollable laughter. The kind where you're laughing so hard it almost hurts and you can't stop long enough to take a breath. I'm not even sure why it began. We both saw this girl kind of shimmying around some runners to find holes and we looked at each other and without saying anything, just erupted into laughter. It wasn't even that funny, but once you start it's impossible to stop. People kept turning around looking at us like we were crazy, which I guess we kind of were. It's very hard to run when you're laughing like that and can't breath. I don't recommend it, however, I think it did help to expel some of that nervous race anxiety you always get at the beginning.

After mile one, we found ourselves running the circumference of a mall which I thought very odd. There we were running through the parking lot with Sears on our left and JC Penny's on our right. After we left the mall, we headed north towards Lake Utah. I was looking at all the other runners and remembered this was BYU territory. There were a lot of young runners, and a lot of BYU logos. As we were running through a residential area, there was this Acura trying to get out of the driveway of this house. The driver found a gap between runners and quickly reversed. I immediately started laughing because this kid had taken out the cars grill and put in its place what was supposed to be a homemade sharks mouth with very large teeth. It was one of the more ridiculous car modifications I've ever seen. But hey, if they don't drink I guess they have to entertain themselves somehow.

The next few miles were pretty uneventful besides the rain and hail that kept us from warming up. I was thankful that I had the visor as it kept all the water from dripping into my eyes. We were running at a fairly fast pace, but I was feeling good and after asking Kim, she had no objections to keeping the pace. I think there was one point where we made the conscious decision to slow down a bit, but that only lasted about a quarter of a mile before we naturally picked it back up again. At around mile 6, we entered a more rural area. It was quiet and there were a lot of horses around and even the occasional chicken. Definitely not the scenery I was used to running in so it was a welcomed change. It helped take my mind off the fact that my hands were in incredible pain from the cold. I would have done anything for a pair of gloves at that point.

Around mile 7, I remembered that I was running at a much higher elevation then the sea level running I was used to. About a 4000 foot difference. Thankfully, it didn't seem to bother me, I didn't even notice it. As we came to the edge of the Utah Lake State Park which bordered Lake Utah, we turned around and ran the next 4 miles along the Provo River. The river was not big, but it was really pretty and very full being that winter was coming to an end and all the snow was melting off. We saw some people even fishing in it. It didn't really look like a river that I'd want to eat any fish from though. This stretch was the hardest, not so much in the running sense, we'd had a GU around mile 8 that gave us a bit of a boost, but more so because it had started to snow. Not light snow flakes, more heavy slushy watering flakes. I'm not sure if that was better or worse then being pelted by the hail we experienced earlier. Regardless, we were drenched and freezing and couldn't wait until we could warm up.

I had promised Kim that I wouldn't tell her our pace. She knew it would make her nervous that she wouldn't be able to sustain it. At mile 8.5, a girl that we were passing turned to me after seeing my watch and asked what our time was. I told her and instinctively also included what our pace was. Whoops! Kim was none to pleased, so I told her not to worry, that the pace we were going at at that moment was much slower, and that what I had said was just our cumulative pace. I wasn't entirely telling the truth, but it seemed to calm her down.

Mile 10 and I turned to Kim and told her we only had a 5K left, no big deal. She was looking good, but I could tell she was ready for the race to be done. I looked at my watch, did some quick math and realized we were killing this race. I told her that if we kept up this pace, we'd finish with a damn good time. In my head, I was thinking 1:57, we'd both said we wanted to come in at a sub-2:00 time and I knew we'd all but done that at this point. This definitely got her going again. She later told me that at that point she was all about just pushing through it and setting the PR since we were so close. Going into the race her PR was from the Kaiser Half Marathon in 2007 she ran with me (which was also her last HM), it was a 2:02. She would definitely break that.

There weren't a whole lot of spectators on the course, which was completely understandable given the atrocious weather conditions, but there were some people out. Family members and friends cheering on their runners. A lot of people were camped out in the back of their SUVs with the gate open trying to stay dry. As one would imagine given that we were in Mormon territory, there were a number of children on the course with their parents. They were adorable, cheering everyone on, sticking out their hands to get high fives from all the runners as they past. They really lift your spirits. Nothing was better though then when at around mile 11 or 12, we came upon a small tunnel pass that went under the road above. There were about 6 people staying huddled underneath to stay dry and they were cheering at the top of their lungs for us as we ran by. It felt great and gave us that energy we needed to push through to the end.

After a long straight away as we headed back into town, I could see the turn we had up ahead and I knew right around that corner was the finish. We were almost done. As we made the turn we could see the finish line. I looked down at my watch. 1:53:18. What?! If I sprint, I could break my PR of 1:54:08. I turned to Kim, said I got to go, and took off in a full sprint to the finish line. I made it. Not by much, but I'd just set a PR. I stopped running, took a quick breather, and turned around just in time to see Kim crossing the finish line.

We were handed bottled water as we walked out of the chute, but neither of us could grab them because our hands were so cold. I finally managed to tuck both of ours under my arms. We'd already made the plan to head straight to the car, blast the heater, and warm up before doing anything else. When we got to the car, we luckily had some dry clothes. We stripped down completely, took off our soaking wet clothes, and put on some dry ones. Unfortunately Kim didn't have another pair of pants, but the heater helped. Sitting in the car with a blasting heater was probably not the best thing without having stretched, but we had to do it. Our hands still didn't work. Even putting on our shirts was impossible because we couldn't feel for where the sleeves were. We later took off our shoes and socks, and realized our feet were all pruned. Eventually though we warmed up and decided to go back to the race festivities.

We exchanged our race tech shirts for larger sizes, since the ones we got looked like they were kid sizes, and looked for the free breakfast we had coupons for. They were giving out free warm french toast, yum. Unfortunately the line was much to long and we couldn't stand to be out in the cold any longer, so we grabbed some orange slices and headed back to the car. Props to the volunteers who stayed out helping with all the race festivities, I'm not sure how they did it.

We drove back in awe of our times and on a general high. I'd been joking before the race that I didn't know how I was able to set my PR back in February at such a fast time, and if I'd ever be able to break it again. My GPS watch time was 1:54:00, and my chip time was 1:54:06. Either way you look at it, I beat my PR, even if only by a few seconds. I'd come in 13th out of 77 runners in my age group, which was in the top 17%. Kim had done equally as well in her age division. We were proud.

I look back and I'm amazed at how well I felt during and after the run, and actually think I could have run it a bit faster if I wanted. There were long stretches of the run where I just talked and talked for miles, mostly having a one way conversation. To be able to talk like that I must have been feeling really good. I woke up the next morning, and unlike with the Kaiser half marathon where I set my initial PR, I didn't have a sore bone in my body. I realized what a long way I'd come since February with my training. But more then anything, what I was really impressed with was Kim. I was astonished that she was able to keep pace with me the entire time. She'd only ramped up her running one month prior. Going from only a 4 mile base and coming off the winter ski patrol season to running a half marathon at that pace just 4 weeks later is incredible. If anyone had something to celebrate that day it was her. And we did later that night at a fantastic Nascar trash party suitably stocked with twinkies on a stick, meatballs, and PBR.

It been over 3 years since I'd run a race with my sister. I forgot how much fun it was. We joked that the only reason why we ran it so fast was because we were so cold. Now she's hooked on running again and just in time for summer. We've already got two more races lined up :)