Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Walnut Creek Turkey Trot 10K - 11/24/11

I was thrilled when after asking my parents if they wanted to run a Thanksgiving turkey trot with me, they responded by saying they were both going to come out of retirement for it. This is not to say they don't run anymore, both still run numerous times a week, but it's been awhile since either have participated in a race. My dad's last one was nearly five years ago at the 2007 Kaiser Half Marathon (which was my first), and my mom's last race was 20 years ago. I think both got the itch to run a race again after watching my sister and I run the Primo's Half Marathon in Danville back in October.

Thanksgiving morning came and the big question was, "What should I wear?". The weather wasn't looking great. It was cold and raining. Not the downpour type of rain, but heavy sprinkling that could've easily turned uglier at any moment. After the Big Sur half marathon where I overdressed, and ended up being way to warm after just one mile, I decided that from now on, as long as it's 45 degrees or over, I'm wearing shorts and a singlet. I really don't like the feeling of being constricted by layers when I run. Talking to my mom, it was obvious she was a lot like me in that sense, so I gave her a lightweight waterproof vest to wear over her t-shirt. My dad on the other hand, not only was wearing a thick, long-sleeve shirt, but also decided that we should wear garbage bags while waiting for the race to start to keep us warm. I thought that was a fantastic idea, especially since it was wet outside. Now that everyone was appropriately dressed, all three of us turkeys were off to trot.

We arrived in Walnut Creek with plenty of time to ensure we got a parking spot close to the start at Civic Park. We all sat in the car awhile to stay warm, and when it was finally time to make our way to the start, my dad and I put on our garbage bags before exiting the car. There were a lot of people taking part in this race, not only because it was a fundraiser for the Walnut Creek school district, but also because it was such a family oriented race given the holiday. Strollers were even allowed, something I've rarely seen with any race. Some families were dressed in Thanksgiving costumes, some with pilgrim capes, turkey hats, and one girl was even dressed as a can of cranberries.

A couple minutes prior to the start I ditched my garbage bag and made a meeting plan with my parents since we were all going to run the 10k at our own pace. To accommodate the 4,000 participants of the 10k, 5k, and kids run, all of which started at the same time (with the exception of the kids run), the start line had pace time groupings so that everyone would line up according to pace. As I stood shivering waiting for the start, it was obvious people weren't paying attention to the pace times, and just lining up wherever. This made for a very ugly start of the race. Trying to navigate through children running every which way, strollers, and walkers definitely made everyone get off to a slow start. I couldn't be all that upset about it though given that this was a family event, and ultimately I was just running it to fully enjoy the heaping mound of mashed potatoes I would be indulging in later.

By the time the race started the sprinkling had all but died off, and sure enough within a mile, I had completely warmed up. Running through Walnut Creek was fun since for the most part I'd driven most of these roads. We ran out passed the Whole Foods where our first turnaround point was. By this point, I'd gotten far enough out where I had some running room, unlike my parents who were still caught in the thick of things when I passed them going the opposite direction. We then turned on Newell and North Main Street to run around Broadway Plaza, a place I've spent countless hours shopping at throughout my life.

After passing through the heart of downtown Walnut Creek, we turned on Lincoln Ave and headed into a residential area before turning onto the Iron Horse Trail. Iron Horse Trail runs through many counties and is a favorite spot of mine to run when visiting my parents in Danville. Although, I'd never run it through Walnut Creek so was excited to get the chance to do so. Just before going on the bridge that went up and over Ygnacio Valley Blvd, the turnoff back into Civic Park was on our left and those doing the 5k diverted to the finish. Those of us doing the 10k continued on the trail where we made a quick loop through the grounds of Walnut Creek Intermediate School before getting back on the trail and heading to the final turnaround spot near mile 5.

On the way back, a good portion of the trail was dirt, and since it'd been raining, was a bit muddy and slippery. I stayed to the right and ran on the leaves to give my old shoes some traction. I was getting pretty pooped since I was running at a pretty fast pace, and at one point, I heard my dad yell out my name as he passed me on the opposite side of the trail heading to the turnaround point. Soon after, I went up and over the bridge before peeling off the trail to head into the finish at Civic Park. The last .2 miles were pretty much an all out sprint to the finish while trying to weave in and out of the walkers who were just finishing the 5k.

I grabbed some water and then ran back and forth to the car to grab my jacket so I wouldn't miss my dad and mom finishing. Only a few minutes after lining up near the finishing chute with the rest of the spectators, I saw my dad coming in. He was easy to spot with his 49ers hat on. When we met up, we then both got to cheer on my mom who came in not much later. Immediately after the race we took some pictures with a the giant, blow up turkey to commemorate the day, and then all decided we needed coffee despite wanting to stay around to see if any of us placed. After trying unsuccessfully to find coffee, we came back for the awards ceremony, but it still wasn't being held, and since we all decided coffee and the football game were top priorities, we all took off and headed back to Danville while excitedly talking about all the details of our race.

Later that day when the results were posted, we all got our official times and were able to see how we stacked up to the rest of the runners. My dad had just missed placing in his age group by coming in fourth, my mom however, came in an impressive first in her age group, beating the second place finisher by nearly 20 minutes. I'd come in second in my age group with a PR time.

I've run a lot of races, but this has got to be up there as one of my most memorable. Not because of the race itself, but because I did it with my parents. Watching them both cross the finish line of a 10k while in their mid-60's is incredible. I'm so thankful that staying fit is an important part of their lives, and I know seeing this throughout my life has greatly shaped who I've become. I can only hope that when I'm their age, I'll still be out running every week like they are. What an amazing thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day, and this was really the perfect start to what was going to be a fantastic weekend all around.

Something tells me this might be the start to more family races down the line.

Race stats:
Overall female: 18 of 755
Age Group: 2 of 131
Chip Time: 44:15 (7:08 pace)
GPS Time: 44:35 (7:10 pace)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Sur Half Marathon - 11/20/11

It's been awhile since I've been really excited for a half marathon, and I definitely was for this race. I wanted to run it last year, but it sold out, so the day registration opened this year, I made sure to secure a spot even though I was still recovering from ankle surgery at the time. As the race weekend approached, my excitement only grew. My speed was slowly starting to come back, my body was feeling injury free, and I was looking forward to spending some time in Monterey with Annelyse who was also registered for the half marathon. Not to mention, the race organizers posting a picture a day from each mile for the thirteen days leading up to the race only confirmed how amazing the course was going to be.

Since Annelyse and I didn't have a whole lot going on on Saturday, we left for Monterey in the early afternoon so we could have a little time to walk around and enjoy the afternoon once we got down there. After checking in and picking up our bibs, walking down around the wharf, and taking some pre-race pictures, we discovered Peter B's BrewPub. We stopped in for something to eat and a drink, and watched a bit of the college football games before turning in early for the night.

My only concern for the race was that the weather forecast called for rain. All through the night I could hear the rain falling, and was thinking the chances of a dry race were slim. When the alarm went off at 5:30a, the rain had stopped. As we walked down to the start, I kept looking toward the sky and was pretty convinced that the weather would hold since the clouds looked pretty sparse. The race had a timed coral start, and I was in the first coral. I knew I wasn't back in PR shape, but I really wanted to give this race a good effort. Getting out in the first coral would not only ensure that I got ahead of the pack, but it would force me to keep pace with faster runners. After a live singing of the National Anthem (which I always love), coral A was off.

The first mile was nice and flat as we ran along El Estrero Lake in Dennis the Menace Park where a band was playing for us. Not only was there music during the first mile, but one of the residents had put out two life sized cardboard cutouts of Justin Bieber. During mile two, we ran through the Custom House Tunnel. As we approached, spectators were lining the bridge looking down at us and cheering us on. As soon as we entered the tunnel, you could hear a bagpiper that was playing on the other side. We hadn't even reached mile three, and I was already entertained; something that would continue throughout the entire course.

One unique thing about this race were the mile markers. They were created by a muralist, and each was sponsored by a business, or individual. Most had humorous drawings and pictures on them. Some of my favorites were at mile marker two, six, and thirteen. The first of which pictured a very overweight man drinking a 40 ounce beer and eating a giant pizza, while wearing a Big Sur Half Marathon "In Training" shirt. The one at mile six was sponsored by a local running store, and had a picture of an octopus getting fitted for running shoes. And the one at mile 13, was of two parents saying very energetically "You're almost there! We're so proud of you sweetie!"

At mile three we ran right down the middle of Cannery Row, passing the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It definitely brought back memories of going on field trips there while I was in grammar school. Next we found our way onto Oceanview Blvd where we had some uphill as we headed toward Pacific Grove. I barely noticed the uphill though since I was busy gawking at the very expensive looking houses to my left, and ocean on my right. There were a lot of Marines out manning the course road closures, and while most were very solemn, there was one female marine who was really getting into it. She was yelling for everyone at the top of her lungs cheering us on, and it was incredibly motivating. I really appreciated her enthusiasm.

We then ran through a portion of downtown Pacific Grove, and passed Lovers Point Park as we got back onto Oceanview Blvd. We headed out along the Pacific Ocean toward the turnaround at Asilomar State Beach. It was at mile six that the lead runners started to pass in the opposite direction. This race draws a number of elite runners, and I'm always amazed when I see them run. The lead women runners weren't far behind and they were all in an outright sprint. There were 20 elite male runners, and 20 elite female runners, and they were all incredible to watch.

We hit the turnaround just before mile eight, and we were now running back toward Monterey Bay. On my way back along the coast, Annelyse and I passed. We both agree how much fun it is to get to see each other on the course, and then compare stories afterward. Just as with on the way out, the next few miles were filled with incredible ocean views. At mile 11 we passed Lovers Point once more, and then immediately turned onto the Recreation Trail. This was a nice downhill section enabling me to save some energy for the end. There was a band playing here with a belly dancer entertaining us as we ran by.

Once again we ran down historic Cannery Row before getting back onto the Recreation Trail to head into the finish at Custom House Plaza. The harbor was on the left, filled with boats and even a few sea lions. The finish was up ahead, and I sprinted down the finishing chute which was lined with spectators. We were all given clay finishers medals which was a nice change from your typical metal ones. We were then given a brown bag filled with a variety of fruit, juice, and a fantastic cookie. I devoured a banana, and soon after the cookie. I later devoured a good portion of Annelyse's cookie as well.

I went and got a coffee, changed my shirt into a dry one, and then went to the meeting point where Annelyse and I decided to meet after the race. Our meeting place was a cutout of a giant runner that we found the night before. The result computers were right there, so I checked out how I did while I waited. While I knew I wasn't going to set a PR, I did want to finish with a time in the low 1:40's, and that I did, so I was happy. Just as I felt a few rain drops starting to fall, Annelyse was crossing the finish. Timing worked out perfectly, and we were able to enjoy the course with some early morning sunshine before the weather took a turn for the worse.

Annelyse and I went to Peet's so she could grab some coffee as well, and we sat down and rehashed the race. There was no doubt that we both thought this was an incredible course. The weather was perfect, the rugged coastline amazing, and the houses magnificent. I did have to admit, one of my favorite parts was getting to run right down Cannery Row. Twice. The on course entertainment was abundant, and featured everything from belly dancers, to keyboardists, to numerous bands. The race shirt was one of the best I've received, and they had free soup and free beer at the finish. And for the first time ever, I chose coffee over beer. And it was definitely the right decision.

The organization of the race was amazing, and everything seemed to go flawlessly. The spectator support was great, and the race organization even put out a race program that talked about the elite runners, the course in detail, the mile markers, and featured inspiring stories from some of the runners. There's no doubt that we'll be back to run this next year. What a beautiful place to run. My only regret is that I didn't get more on course pictures.

Race stats:
Overall female: 66 of 4,006
Age Group: 17 of 707
Chip Time: 1:41:32 (7:45 pace)
GPS time: 1:40:49 (7:41 pace)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

US Half Marathon - 11/6/11

When I found out that one of the sidewalks on the Golden Gate Bridge was closed for maintenance, and that the course would then be able to only utilize one side of the bridge for all runners, my desire to run this race dramatically decreased. It didn't help that the night before it was pouring rain. The only upside to this 7a start time race was that we got to set the clocks back and gained an extra hour of much needed sleep. Annelyse and I both agreed that if it was raining in the morning, we'd take that as a sign not to run it. When morning came, the weather was the exact opposite of the night before. The sun was getting ready to rise and the sky was clear. There would be no rain, which meant it was time to race. And when I say race, I use the term loosely.

We made our way to the base of Fort Mason with little time to spare, and immediately got in the sweat check line which was very long. One person to check in bags for over 3,500 runners isn't ideal. By the time we dumped our bags, the race had already started, and my idea of getting out front to minimize the risk of congestion on the bridge was now impossible. I wasn't that broken up about it though since I knew it would force me to run slower. There was no chance of a PR on this course, and frankly, even if there was, my training isn't what it needs to be right now to achieve one, so there was no incentive to run this race hard.

Annelyse and I said our goodbyes, knowing that soon we'd be sitting in a restaurant having breakfast watching the 49ers play the Redskins - a very important game to us, even though we both knew the 49ers would clearly be the victors. I fought the crowds for the first mile or two before the field spread out, and I finally had a bit of running room. I've run this race three times now, and for the most part the course didn't really change much. We battled the hills through the Presidio to make our way up to the bridge.

Usually I love running the bridge, but I wasn't looking forward to it today. On the way toward Marin, luckily, the congestion wasn't that bad for me. I was definitely running in a tight pack of people, and while passing was somewhat difficult, it was still possible. My pace definitely took a hit because of it, but at least I was still able to maintain a decent speed. The major change occurred after the end of the bridge. In the past, we'd drop around and run under the bridge to come back up on the other side and take opposite sidewalk back across. Since it was closed, the organizers had to add on some additional mileage which ran us up into the Marin Headlands a bit.

I've done a lot of races, and I can say that the climb up Conzelman Rd towards the Marin Headlands was one of the toughest sections of any race I've ever done (not including trail races). The grade of the hill was so steep I had to run a good majority of it on my tip toes. When we finally reached the turnaround point at mile 7, the view was spectacular, and in my opinion, well worth the climb. The great thing about going uphill, is that usually you get to go downhill right after. This is where you make up your time, and let gravity do the work while you recover.

We made our way onto the bridge heading back to San Francisco, and this is where the congestion really happened. The runners headed the other way were at a complete standstill for a good section of the bridge. Annelyse got stuck in this with a lot of other people, and I could read the frustration on their faces as I ran by. Having to stop during a race and lose your momentum is something no runner wants to have to do. Thankfully, I was ahead of the mess, but it definitely still impacted us, since it left us only enough room to run single file back the other way. There was basically no room to pass, and there were even instances when runners going the other direction would try to pass using our lane, which then slowed us down even more. I can't complain too much though, since at least I was able to keep running, even if it was at a reduced pace.

I watch the Biggest Loser. There, I said it. I love the show. It's incredibly inspiring to watch these out of shape, overweight people, completely change their lives and thrive in a healthy, new lifestyle. As I came close to exiting the bridge, I confirmed what I thought I saw at the start. One of this seasons contestants was headed the other way. Being that I've been watching this season, I knew she was recently eliminated. I also knew that that she was likely training for the marathon they were all going to have to run at the end of the season for a shot to to get back into the finals. There's no doubt she was using this as a training run. I was inspired, and wished I could have yelled out some encouragement, but unfortunately, once I realized it was her, we had already passed.

After coming off the bridge, the course was basically all downhill until the last climb at Fort Mason before the finish. I felt good, probably better than I had during a race in quite awhile. I've no doubt this was because I didn't push it, and took it a bit easy. This is somewhat hard for me to believe, but this race confirmed what I've always suspected. I like hills. Yes, they're tough, but it forces you to use different muscles through the course of the race, thereby not fatiguing those used just on the flats. I cruised to the finish at Aquatic Park with only one thing on my mind - getting to the Brick Yard Restaurant & Bar, changing into my 49er gear, and acquiring seats to watch the football game.

Annelyse joined me not long after, and we both agreed that running the race was the right thing to do. Getting a good workout in in the morning definitely makes you enjoy the rest of your day that much more. Seeing the 49ers beat the Redskins sure did help as well, a fact I'll likely keep reminding Annelyse about for the remainder of the week, if not the season.

While I wasn't really going for time, I was still happy with it considering the challenging nature of the course, and major congestion we faced. And even though there was some major hiccups with the route, I'll still run this race again, just hopefully next time the bridge's sidewalks will be back to being open in both directions.

Race stats:
Overall Female: 56 of 1959
Age Group: 20 of 654
Chip time: 1:46:25 (8:08 pace)
GPS time: 1:46:26 (8:01 pace) - race was .17 miles long due

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hallwilerseelauf Half Marathon - 10/15/11

After another year of not getting a spot in the Nike Women's Marathon draw, I did manage to secure an entry again from someone who won a passcode to the half marathon. I was pretty excited to run it once again, but instead it looked like I was being sent to Zurich for work that week. After checking out the race calendar in Zurich and the surrounding areas, I found what looked to be a perfect half marathon in Beinwil am See. Hallwilerseelauf had a number of events, two of which were a half marathon and a 10k. I knew I would run the half marathon, and after researching the 10k, I knew Annelyse, who was coming with me on the trip, would want to run it.

We arrived in Zurich on Friday night, and from what seems to be fairly common in races in Switzerland, the events didn't start until early afternoon on Saturday. This gave us time to get some rest after a long flight cramped in economy. By 10:30a we were on a train, still a bit groggy, that would take us an hour southwest of Zurich. We arrived in plenty of time to pick up our racing bibs, goodie bags, and a racing vest (in lieu of a t-shirt). Beinwil am See is a small town that sits on Lake Hallwil. The 10k would run half the distance around the lake, and then transport the runners by ferry back to the start, which was perfect given Annelyse's love of ferries. The half marathon would run around the lake in its entirety.

The 10k started at 12:30, so I waved Annelyse off, then spent some time wandering around before tracking down the place where I was able to leave my things during the race. After having previously ran a race in Switzerland, I've learned that they always seem to have full locker/changing rooms available to the runners. I'm not sure if this is common throughout all of Europe, but runners often show up in street clothes, then change into their running gear, and after the race is over, shower and change back into their street clothes before heading home. This race was no exception. There were giant tents set up with showers and changing areas for both men and women. Being that it was so cold outside, I hung out in the changing room while I waited for the start of my race.

This was a good sized race. There were over 5,500 people combined between the 6+ events, with the half marathon drawing the largest participation with over 3,500 runners. Of those 3,500, only one third were female. The half marathon started in waves depending on your estimated finishing time, and while I can't remember what I put as mine, I started in block E. The waves left four minutes apart from each other giving me a start time of 1:46. The start of the race was lined with spectators as we ran down a paved road. As we got out of earshot from the cheers of the crowds, I recall how quiet it was. It was overcast, and no one was talking, and all you could hear was the pitter patter of our feet on the pavement as we ran down the road. I loved that sound, and I loved that even though I couldn't speak their language, I had at least one thing in common with all of them.

I had no time expectations for this race. Instead, it was quite the opposite. I knew I would be jet lagged, and I wanted to treat it as a training run so that I could enjoy it and take in the scenery. This would give me the opportunity to take pictures along the way, so I ran with my phone for just that reason. There was more than one occasion when I got funny looks for pulling off to the side of the course and taking pictures. A few runners commented to me in german as they passed by. I have no idea what they said, but their smiles told me they were likely making some kind of joke.

We ran through the beautiful countryside all along the perimeter of the lake mostly on dirt and gravel trails. The trail wasn't wide, and with the exception of a few sections, the staggered wave start made it not too difficult to navigate around slower runners. It probably wasn't conducive to trying to run a fast race, but was perfect for me since I wasn't looking to. We passed the 10k finish, and the area was once again crowded with a lot of spectators hollering out "hopp, hopp, hopp!" over and over. I'd forgotten about that from my last race, and made a mental note to ask my Swiss coworker about that. Apparently, it's like calling out "go, go, go".

Just before the 15k mark, we came upon the Hallwyl Castle. Built in 1265, and added upon and renovated throughout the centuries, it's the only castle in Switzerland surrounded completely by a mote. Today it's open to the public, and while I obviously didn't get to go in and check it out, it still wasn't a bad site to see during a race.

While the race was mostly run alongside the lake, there were a few occasions where we ran through residential areas. Running down the streets you knew you were in a different country. The houses are quaint in that old-fashioned, country style way, and many had swiss flags hanging outside. You could tell this was a big event for the area, and many of the residents were out with their children and dogs to watch. At places near the start, many had set up small stands and were selling various items such as bratwurst, pretzels, fruit, juices, and even beer and champagne.

As the race came to an end, I could see the finish and hear the cheering. The chute was lined with people, including Annelyse, cheering everyone on. We were all directed onto a grassy area where fruit was available to the runners. Still being extremely dehydrated from the flight and not finding water, I chugged the majority of what Annelyse had left of hers. Still somewhat thirsty, I found the Rivella tents. Rivella was something I was familiar with from the last time I visited, but I still didn't really know what it was. I drank the carbonated liquid, and later found out that it's milk serum (similar to whey protein), and while popular just as a regular drink in Switzerland, its also beneficial for muscle recovery.

The race ended near where it started, but we had a quite a big hill to trek up to get to the changing tents where my stuff was. If I had just completed a full marathon, I don't think I would have managed to get up it, but thankfully, it wasn't too terrible. After we collected our gear and layered up, we headed back down to the small train stop and waited in the cold to for our train. Public transportation in Switzerland is fantastic and we made it there and back with no problem at all.

We arrived in Zurich and were tired and cold from the long day. The jet lag was catching up to us, and we needed showers. But first things were first, so we grabbed some coffee near the Stadelhofen train stop which just happened to be next to a Spr√ľngli. I'd been dying for a mini macaroon from there since I left Switzerland a year ago, and what better time for a treat than at that moment. Who said you can't have dessert before dinner?

All and all, a great day. Getting to explore a new area in a different country while doing what you love is pretty amazing.

Race stats: (walkers or those with times over 3:00 weren't included in this category)
Overall female: 164 of 1031
Age Group: 67 of 278
Chip time: 1:44:45
GPS time: 1:43:51

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Primo's Run for Education Half Marathon - 10/9/11

My sister planned a trip to Danville with her family to coincide with the Primo's Run for Education. I'd run it last year, and we thought it would be fun since it's a Danville race and the whole family could be out cheering us on. Annelyse was going to run it as well, but she got sick so it was just my sister and I. My dad dropped us off at the start in downtown Danville by Primo's, an Italian restaurant our family has eaten at countless times. My dad had read there were 8,000 people in the event, however, the majority of those were school kids and their families doing the 5k. Turns out there were 506 people running the half marathon.

Soon after we got there, the race started and we ran through part of downtown Danville before heading into the residential area. Right as my watch beeped my split for mile one, the battery died. So for the second time running this course, I'd be without the use of my watch (the last time I forgot it). This probably wasn't a bad thing since I was just coming off the marathon two weeks prior and probably needed to take it a bit easy. The only problem with this was I had no idea what my pace was, so probably ended up overcompensating and ran faster than I thought.

We ran through the Old Orchard area and then crossed over Sycamore onto Greenbrook before we took a turn on Paraiso Dr. This was the first of four points along the course that my dad had mapped out to come watch us run. As I made the climb up the small hill, my mom, dad, brother-in-law, Sully, and nephew, Colton, were all there waiting for me along with a few other spectators. We continued on towards Baldwin School and then through Osage Park and came out on El Capitan. Just as we made the turn from El Capitan back onto Greenbrook, which was right around mile six, I saw my personal cheering section once again with cameras out taking pictures as I ran by.

Over the next few miles we wound our way through the neighborhood and onto Iron Horse Trail. Just before we reached the trail, I was talking to a man who was riding one of those old school bikes with the giant front wheel, and miniature back wheel like they had in the 1800's. He said it weighed about 45 lbs, and offered to let me ride it at the end of the race if I wanted. I thanked him, but told him it probably wasn't a good idea, as I'd surely fall off and not only hurt myself, but probably the bike too. Shortly after, I came upon my cheering section once again. My nephew, Colton, looked as content as could be in his stroller and gave me the warm fuzzies as I ran by.

After I ran one section of the trail, I saw my family for the fourth time in eight miles and they were all smiles. The course zig zagged through our neighborhood so it made it easy for them to walk down and get from point to point rather quickly. I waved hello, and knew the next time I'd see them was at the finish. I continued my run toward San Ramon and soon intersected with all the families walking the 5k with their kids. There were a ton of people, but the race organizers did a great job of keeping a lane open strictly for the half marathon runners. I passed a volunteer who called out that I was the 9th female, and then just after, a man who was walking the 5k called out, "You get em, girl". The combination of the two gave me a little boost and kept me going.

The last few miles had four high school bands out playing, in addition to what looked to be a glee club. Over the course of the last few weeks, I've only run a handful of times, one of which was the marathon, and I could tell my speed wasn't quite back to what it was. I knew this would be the case, but this race proved that my body is feeling fully recovered from both the calf injury and the marathon. I know it's only a matter of time before I get my speed back. Forcing myself to take some recovery time cross training was definitely a smart move.

We made the turn onto Alcosta Blvd, and ran the last quarter of a mile toward the finish line at Iron Horse School. As I sprinted to the finish, I didn't hear any cheers from my family, so figured they didn't quite have enough time to reach it before I finished. Turns out they had to park about two miles away, so missed me by about 10 minutes. Luckily, they made it just in time to see my sister finish, and we all cheered her in. Just like last year, the top 50 female/male finishers received special, commemorative shirts. Last year, I was number 52 and a bit bummed I'd just missed it. This year, I was number 14, and I happily claimed by "Top 50 Finisher" shirt.

This was the first race where my parents got to see me run, and it was the ideal weekend. Not only did I get to run it, but my sister flew home to do it as well so they got to see us both. The bonus was that Sully and Colton were there as well, and that the race was in our hometown. Next year, I'm pushing for us all to run it.

Race stats:
Overall Female: 14th of 200
Age Group: 7th of 75
Chip time: 1:42:27 (7:49 avg pace)
GPS time: N/A

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Half Moon Bay Marathon - 9/25/11

Choosing which of the many marathons out there to do is always a hard choice. This year I chose the Half Moon Bay Marathon for a few reasons. It was its inaugural running, the course would probably be one of the most scenic there is, and the timing fit in nicely with my life. The few weeks leading up to the race I was feeling really good. I'd been on top of my training, even incorporating hill runs, tempo runs, and intervals. With the help of my running group, all my long runs were going extremely well. And then, three weeks out, I strained my calf. I have no idea how, all I knew was I couldn't run without it cramping into a tight knot. I didn't even know if I could run the race. With the help of my sports med doctor and taking two full weeks off, I was able to test it out the week of the race to see if it would hold up, and thankfully it looked like it would.

As the race approached during that last week, I was surprisingly not that nervous. I think I was just so thankful that I was just going to be able to run it. The only real anxiety I had was whether or not the calf would be able to make it the entire distance. I was up at 4:30a on race morning eating an english muffin with peanut butter and drinking a cup of coffee when it finally hit me; today I would be running another marathon. Even though it'd been 13 months since the last one, I still remembered exactly how it felt to run that long, and that's when I started to get nervous.

Annelyse, who was running the half marathon, and I drove in the dark to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay where the start and the finish were held. We made our way to the start area and could see the steam coming off of the water, and the sun getting ready to peak through on the horizon. After a few pre-race pictures, a live singing of the national anthem, and a small freak out on my part for not having my watch prepared, we lined up in the corral. Annelyse and I said our good lucks, and before I knew it, my 26.2 mile journey with 111 other runners had begun just before sunrise.


We started off running through the local fishing harbor, and we were soon headed on a dirt path toward Mavericks, the site where the big wave surf competition is held annually. This was our first turnaround point, and from there we headed north toward the Point Montara Lighthouse. This is where we were hit with the hilliest part of the course. We came off the dirt trails and ran through a residential neighborhood of HMB, where many of the locals were out on their porches, drinking their morning coffee, and cheering us on. I started talking to a fellow runner, who I learned had just had a baby not long ago, and this was her first race back after pregnancy. Turns out she'd completed some full Ironmans in the past which is thoroughly impressive, so I took the opportunity to ask a lot questions about what that was like since I've always had a huge curiosity about what it takes to be able to do those (not that I ever want to). Chatting with people definitely makes the miles go by faster.

(The trail out to Mavericks)

It was just before mile 6 that we reached the northern most part of the course where the lighthouse at Point Montara was. From here we turned around and headed back to Mavericks, and then back passed the start. We ran south along the coastal trail with incredible views the entire way. The race was very well staffed with cheerful and supportive volunteers all along the course directing us on the correct paths. The courses terrain was a combination of roads, bike paths, and a lot of dirt trails. Eventually the half marathoners started passing us going in the opposite direction to the finish. This gave me a chance to briefly see Annelyse as we passed at what must have been my mile 15.

(Coastal Trail)

My pace remained relatively steady, but I was starting to tire, so I dropped it a little knowing I had a long way to go. Miles 15-20 I feel are mentally the toughest. You've been out there for a long time, yet you still have such a long way to go. Eventually I saw the Ritz Carlton which I knew was just before the last turnaround point. We ran by the the well manicured golf course out to the bluff where the grandiose hotel sat overlooking the ocean. Guests were sitting watching us run by, and enjoying the bagpiper who was arranged to be out playing for all us marathoners. The uphill as we passed the bagpiper was brutal, but soon we found ourselves at the final turnaround point at mile 19. Finally, I was heading back to the finish and not away from it.

(Ritz-Carlton Hotel photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton)

We followed the same path along the coast back to the finish. Miles 19-22 saw my pace drop, but not substantially. That didn't come until mile 23. Just as miles 15-20 are mentally tough, miles 20-26 are physically tough. You know your close and you know you'll be able to finish, but physically you're body just doesn't want to go on. I played every trick I could think of to just keep moving forward and not letting myself stop to walk. I held on OK until mile 23, at which point, everything just hurt. I kept telling myself, just make it to the mile 25 marker, because from there it's just a litte over an easy mile to the finish.

Near mile 23 I came upon a guy who was running his first marathon who happened to be from the town next to the one I grew up in. One of the cool things about this race was that everyone who was running their first full marathon were given red bibs, so they could be easily spotted and given extra encouragement. He asked if he could run with me for awhile since he was cramping and needed the motivation to keep going. We were both hurting pretty bad, and I had to apologize for my poor conversational skills. Eventually we separated, but it was reassuring hearing him behind me for the remainder of the race. The last few miles all I could think about was one foot in front of the other, and that's what I did. Soon after mile 25, I saw the finish in the distance. Almost done. All along the course were motivational signs, but my favorite had to be the one after mile 26 that said "You look marvelous".

(crossing the finish line)

I picked up my pace and ran up the hill toward the finish. Being that there were only a 100 or so people running the race, I was the only one coming in at the time, and everyone cheered me in. I crossed the finish line completely wiped with a 3:52 time. I had nothing left in me, and had a hard time even walking over to Annelyse who was my biggest fan throughout all of my training. After shoving a cliff bar in my mouth, and sipping on a jamba juice, I checked my stats and found out I'd finished 3rd in my age group. Two weeks after the race, the organizers sent me a nice 3rd place finisher's plaque. During the race, I remember thinking it would be great to go to Half Moon Bay Brewing company to get a beer, but I couldn't even stand without everything hurting. I just wanted to collapse in the car, so it was clearly time to go.

(yes, it was hard to even smile at this point)

My goals changed for this race when I got the calf injury. They went from really trying to pull out a fast time, to just being able to run it. My secondary and tertiary goals were to be able to run the entire thing without walking, and to finish with a sub-4:00 time. Thankfully, my training wasn't comprised too much because the time I took off was during my taper period, so while I did lose a little conditioning, I'd already done all the hard work. I accomplished all of my goals, and I'd beaten my previous best marathon time by 40 minutes. Annelyse drove us home where we both celebrated PRs with beer champagne and red velvet cupcakes while watching the 49er game. I was on top of the world, and couldn't be happier.

(post race treats)

This was a fantastic race. It was small, well organized, filled with friendly volunteers and residents, and most of all, breathtakingly beautiful. You can see a flyby of the entire course here. There's one thing that I learned the next day that really touched me. During the course, I kept seeing a man running with a pink rose in his hand. Every time I passed him, he had a huge smile. I had assumed the rose had something to do with breast cancer awareness, and I found out that he lost his wife to cancer four months ago. He was not a runner, she was. He ran in her memory, and like the three previous races he did, he carried a pink rose, and left it at the finish line in her honor. It's hearing things like this that remind me how running means so many different things to different people, and how thankful I am to be able to do it.

Race stats:
Overall female: 6th of 45
Age Group: 3rd of 21
Chip time: 3:52:28 (8:52 avg pace) - race was .21 miles long
GPS time: 3:50:17 (8:47 avg pace)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Giant Race - 8/27/11

A trip to Switzerland last year kept me from running this race, and after hearing all the good reviews on it, I registered early this year since I knew it would sell out, which it did. The timing fit in perfectly with my marathon training schedule as it was a recovery week requiring lesser mileage. After a typical Friday night these days of no alcohol and a pasta dinner, I went to bed looking forward to a flat and semi-shortish run (in comparison to what I have been doing) in the morning.

Being that I was oncall and needed to have a laptop nearby, Annelyse and I decided to drive down to McCovey Cove for the start. We picked up Zoe and Kirsten on the way, and encountered a wall of cars trying to get into the parking lots. We decided to veer off and park on the street in a two hour parking space. Zoe was doing the 10k, and I knew I'd finish the half marathon in under two hours, so we figured one of us could move it in time. The advantage of this was the start was a mere block away. And while we never actually moved the car and were well over our two hour limit, we lucked out and didn't get a ticket.

We left the car, checked our sweats at gear check, and ventured to the start where I got to wave a quick hello to Hannah, Meaghan, and Connie who were all running the 10k. I jumped into the corrals near the front and after a few words from Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who was running the half marathon, we set off in perfect running weather - cool and overcast. I had some lofty goals for this race. With the exception of the hill at Fort Mason, it was flat. I wanted a PR, and having looked at the race results from last year, I wanted to place in my age group. I went out fast and my first four miles were all under a 7:14 pace. The lanes heading out to Pier 39 on the Embarcadero were closed down allowing us ample room to run.

It was near Pier 39 that the 10k turn around point was, and where we split off. Myself and the rest of the half marathoners ran around Aquatic Park to the base of the hill that climbs up and over Fort Mason. While short, this hill is no joke. Luckily, it's one I run ALL the time, so I was more than prepared for it. And your reward for getting to the top is a downhill through the park to the Marina Safeway. Shortly after we passed Safeway, I heard some people calling my name, and realized it was two girls from my running group who were out on their Saturday morning run. I love my running group, and it was fun seeing some of them on the course.

As we ran along the Marina green toward Crissy field passed the Yacht Club, the wind picked up a bit. This is usually the case around this area, and while it wasn't that strong, I definitely felt it. It always just makes me feel like I'm working that much harder. My pace dropped a bit, and my legs were feeling fatigued from all the miles I'd been putting in the weeks previously. I took my GU earlier than usual this race thinking I would need it. Right after doing that, there was a water station at the warming hut where the turn around was. I took some water this time to wash down the GU, and being the horrible basketball player I am, when trying to throw my cup in the garbage bag that a small child volunteer was holding, I hit him in the face. I felt horrible, so had to go back and apologize.

We were now headed back to the finish along the sand path at Crissy Field. We had six miles left, and this is where I was feeling the worst. I was really starting to question if I was even going to be able to PR. As we came off the trail, we ran beside all the runners heading toward the turn around point. Almost immediately I passed Annelyse for a quick high five before continuing on. Further down the Marina Green, I saw Emily and her mom as well, and we yelled out a quick hello. I then saw something odd, the entire 2:45 pace group had stopped and were all taking a picture together. It wasn't until later that I was told Brian Wilson of the SF Giants was out there cheering everyone on and taking pictures. This clearly explained why Emily was so busy typing on her phone when we passed. I don't follow the Giants, but it was clear by his dress and the casualness of it, that this was something Brain Wilson did on his own accord. Big props to him for taking time out to give a bunch of runners a big thrill.

(Emily and her Mom with Brian Wilson)

Next, it was back up and over Fort Mason, and we headed to the Embarcadero. There were many more tourists and spectators out now watching us all run passed. I had no idea what place I was in. The field was very spread out and I was running with mostly men. One lady passed me at mile nine and she was the last female runner I saw for the rest of the race. I struggled the last few miles, and it took everything I had to hold a decent pace. This course I could run blindfolded. Not only does it follow the same route as a lot of my long runs I did before joining my running group, but I also run it at least 1-2 times during the week. I knew exactly how far I had left, and AT&T park couldn't come soon enough.

Finally, the stadium came into view, and slowly I began to close down on it. I ran by Red's Java House and soon after rounded the corner of the stadium where I saw Hannah, Meaghan, and Zoe waiting for all of us half marathoners to come in. The runners entered the stadium through a gate at center field and ran along the outfield in the dirt toward the finish in left field. I was finally done, and I was exhausted.

Before we were funneled up the stadium seats we were given our medals, yogurt, granola, and water and walked just outside the third baseline to the stands. It was pretty cool being on the field, but I will admit, my yogurt had all my attention. We then walked along the concession stands and gathered our goodie bags, race shirts, Tim Linecum bobbleheads, and even more food and drinks. I must say, the giveaways for the race were quite good, although I'm not sure what to do with my bobblehead.

I made my way out of the stadium to where my friends were, and was thrilled to run into Mary who had just finished the 10k. I slurped down my chocolate milk while waiting for the other two half marathoners, Kirsten and Annelyse, to finish. When everyone finished running, we all went for brunch where I had exceptional coffee, and maybe the best breakfast burrito of my life. Thanks to Kirsten for introducing me to Sunrise! Sitting there inhaling our food, we all realized (or those of us that kept track) that we each set PRs, including Annelyse who beat her PR by over five minutes, and Kirsten who is getting so close to breaking the two hour mark. Not a bad day on the race course!

In the end, even though my watch mapped the course at about .15 miles long, I did set a PR, but I didn't place in my age group. The field doubled this year, and there were some really fast runners (not to mention an Olympian). I did manage to pull off a fifth place finish out of 322 in my age group though. While I did PR, this was a much harder race than I anticipated, and I'm sure the 50+ mile weeks were taking a toll. I've also realized that while I'm running these high mileage weeks, if I'm trying to PR, I do much better when I take the day off before the race to let my muscles rebuild so they aren't so fatigued on race day. Another lesson learned.

Race stats:
Overall Female: 21st of 1405
Age Group: 5th of 322
Chip time: 1:37:49 (7:28 avg pace) - race was .15 long
GPS time: 1:36:47 (7:23 avg pace)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Big Gay 10K - 8/13/11

I've never run a 10K race before. Or at least I don't think so, but there is some debate about whether I ran one when I was little kid with my parents. I wanted to run this last year, but by the time I decided, it was sold out. This year I had a great reason to run it. Kirsten was getting a group of people to run it for her birthday, as she did last year. Obviously, I was in. In fact, it sounds like something I would do for my birthday, so I was quite excited for it. The only problem being I was supposed to run my 20 miler that day. So I did what any obsessed runner would do. I took a PTO day on Friday so I could fit it in while I was still fresh, and then give whatever I had left to the 10k the next day.

Annelyse and I arrived at the race start at Fort Mason, and everywhere you looked, there was glitter, tutu's, feathers, and some very flamboyant outfits on those hoping to win the costume contest. It reminded me of a Bay to Breakers for the LGBT community, but with proceeds benefitting the San Francisco AIDS foundation. Those of us on Team Handsome (aka Team Kirsten) were all wearing "Big Gay Birthday" t-shirts while accessorizing with a plethora of rainbow socks, wristbands, arm warmers, etc. We looked good.

I decided I'd start up near the front with the faster runners in hopes of placing in my age group. My legs were tired, but overall, I was feeling pretty good considering the long run I was coming off of. I wasn't quite sure how to run a 10k, so I just ran fast and hoped that I could sustain it. For the first mile I followed a guy wearing a green speedo with a cape on, and apparently I was flying along with him, because that first mile ended up being a 6:53. There was no way I was going to be able sustain that pace, and sure enough, I naturally fell into a more comfortable pace a bit slower along with the green speedo wearing superman.

As we ran down the Marina Green, the distance between myself and the only girl I believed to be ahead of me, kept shortening. I wasn't about to push myself to catch her though, I was just going to run my race and whatever happened, happened. Eventually, at about mile 2.5, I caught her along the Crissy Field trail. Soon after, we landed on the paved road heading out toward Fort Point, where we were greeted by barking sea lions in the bay. At one point, I even found myself enveloped by bubbles courtesy of some of the volunteers on the side of the road. The half way turnaround point was at Hopper's Hands, and we headed back to Fort Mason.

For the last three miles, I found myself keeping pace behind a guy with what looked like aluminum foil shorts, and a mesh shirt. One of the best parts of this race was watching all the tourists look on in astonishment as the craziness ran by. A 10k is a fast race, but I was very aware of every mile ticking by. I was tired, my legs were clearly showing their fatigue and didn't want to go anymore, but I knew I had to keep pushing. While I've placed first in my age group in other races, I wasn't going to let an opportunity to be the first place overall female finisher pass me by. It's easy trailing the lead runner because you always know where you stand, but the worst thing about it was I had no idea how far in the lead I was, which was a very disconcerting feeling. That is until we entered Fort Mason for the last quarter mile.

I briefly glanced back and saw another girl not too far behind me. I had no choice but to sprint the uphill to make sure I didn't get passed at the very end. This race was mine. That was the first time I ever felt the urge to puke while running. I passed under the pastel colored balloons, started to stop, until I was made aware that that wasn't the finish, and it was actually about 10 yards around the corner in front of me. I crossed the finish line to four cheering men wearing blue and purple glitter dresses with balloon breasts. A pretty spectacular sight. I was the overall female winner, and I soon found out that the only male member of Team Handsome, Sasha, was the overall male winner. We cheered the rest of Team Handsome in, and it was pretty fun watching everyone finish with (mostly) big smiles on their faces.

Now here's where the disappointment comes. Even though I was the first female across the line, the overall award was incorrectly given to the second place girl because her chip time was 10 seconds faster than mine. This was a USATF sanctioned course, and in accordance to rule 245.1 -"The order in which the athletes cross the finish line will be the official finish position." In other words, gun time should be used to establish the official overall winner, which was me. (chip times usually determine age group winners) The runners goal is to cross the finish line first, you shouldn't have to try and account for differences in start time, hence the disadvantage. This is why if you feel like you might win, you start up front. Had I known, you bet I would have pushed to make up the time difference. It was only 10 seconds.

The competitive side of me was not happy, I wanted the pink sash and tiara. However, this race was about having a good time, raising money for a good cause, and I did get to feel what it was like to be the overall winner of a race, so I can't get too bent out of shape about it. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity to win a race, but for this, I settled for first place in my age group and a blue "Big Gay 10K" winner's ribbon. The course was more like 6.3 miles, and my time was 45:57 (7:17 pace). Based on chip time, I was second out of 247 female runners. Team Handsome did well, with the birthday girl herself finishing an impressive 7th out of 91 in her age group.

After snacking on lara bars and peanut butter sandwiched graham crackers, taking a whole bunch of pictures, and receiving our awards from Juanita Fajita, we all headed to brunch to do some more eating and celebrating with the birthday girl. What a fun day, and such a great event to get people together for a birthday celebration!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wildwood Trail Half Marathon - 7/31/11

After committing to going to Portland, Oregon for the four day long Oregon Brewer's Festival with a number of friends, my next task was to find a race in the area. I knew the exercise would make me feel better about sampling beer for so many days in a row, and what better way to see a new city then to run a race there. As luck would have it, Coastal Trail Runs, who puts on mainly California trail races, was doing a trail race right in Portland that Saturday. I went to work trying to recruit as many people as possible who were going to be up there to run it with me. Four of us signed up. Stacey and I were doing the half marathon, and Annelyse and Donna were doing the 10k. Like Seattle, this was turning into the perfect weekend.

I did my best to lay off the beer sampling on Friday, but there was just so much good beer to try, it didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped. Thankfully the race start time was 8a, and not 7a, like a lot of summer races. Annelyse reserved a zip car that we picked up right around the corner from our hotel, and the four of us made the four mile drive to Forest Park which is the largest forested city park in the United States. As with most trail races, parking and bib pickup was easy. The half marathoners started 25 minutes before the 10k racers, so Stacey and I lined up not long after arriving. After some instructions from the race director, we set off into the forest.

I'd done a bit of research on the race earlier, and I knew it was relatively low on the elevation gain profile, at only about a 925' gain. However, the difference between this race and other trail races I've run, was it was basically straight up for the first half of the course before turning around and running all the way back down, so I knew the real challenge would just be getting to the halfway point. We left the grassy patch at the bottom and entered the park on a single track path. After crossing a small bridge right at the beginning, the paved path quickly turned to a rocky, dirt path, and up we went.

I'm not much into warming up and running back and forth immediately prior to races, but I probably could have used it. My calves immediately cramped up during the first mile from the constant uphill (and likely a bit of dehydration), and it wasn't until sometime in mile two that they loosened up enough not to be an issue. The field of runners spread out really quickly which made running single file along the curvy trail not an issue. Within the first mile, I was already thankful that I'd decided to wear my ankle brace and that I had proper trail running shoes, as the extra stability was going to be much needed.

As we wound our way around Wildwood trail, we often found ourselves crossing small, low to the ground bridges, one of which had a giant plank missing, and another felt like it was about to give way when too many people were on it, all adding to the ruggedness of the trail. The course was actually over a half marathon, at 13.8, which fit in nicely with my training schedule that had me running a 14 miler that day. Since I'd just started to incorporate hill training into my workouts, this course fit in perfectly, killing two birds with one stone, my long run and a hill workout. The great part was that the uphills were very runnable, so you didn't have to stop and walk like you do with a lot of trail races.

After one last huge climb to the half way point, we found our first fully stocked aid station. I took a couple minutes to eat a GU, drink some electrolytes, and top of my water bottle. Shortly after I turned around to continue back down the same path we came up, I saw Stacey heading my way. It's always fun to see people you know on the course, because you know you have someone to compare notes with at the end of the race, and this hill was going to be one of them.

It felt good knowing that the course was mainly all downhill from there, however, within only about a mile, my surgery ankle was feeling it. The tight, downhill cornering, and uneven terrain was tough to take. Trying to make room for the runners headed up, and a few missteps on branches and rocks didn't help. I reminded myself there was no reason to take this last half of the course fast and hurt my ankle, so I took things nice and steady until the end. I won't lie though, my legs were tired from the climb, so the pace felt very comfortable. I did, however, come to the conclusion that my ankle is probably not 100% ready for this kind of terrain.

Since we were in an area so densely covered with trees, the natural canopy created a shaded trail the entire way keeping us cool despite the 80+ degree weather Portland was having. This also caused my fancy new Garmin 610 to keep losing satellite reception. I kept wondering why it was showing my splits as 13 minutes. I knew I wasn't killing this course, but I knew I wasn't going that slow either. It also explained why the miles on my watch kept ticking by so slowly.

The closer we got to the bottom, the rockier and steeper the course got which continued to take it's toll on my lower limbs. The trail was getting more crowded with hikers and other locals, so I knew we must be getting close to the bottom. I was pretty happy when the trail turned to asphalt, signifying the end was not more than a quarter mile away. Annelyse and Donna were at the end of the first bridge cheering me in, and I passed them to head out of the tree coverings and into the open, grass area of the park where the finish was. After I finished, I immediately indulged in the wide spread of goodies they had waiting. After stuffing enough brownies and pretzels in my face, I went to cheer in Stacey with Annelyse and Donna who came by only a few minutes later.

(this girl whizzed right by me at the end)

I finished the race in 2:07:24 (9:14 pace), and got 5th out of 39 in my age group. Except for me, this was everyones first trail race, and everyone did great on such tough terrain. Stacey, who had only run one half marathon previously, finished not long after me, landing 8th in our age group. The four of us all sat in the sun talking about our races while drinking ice cold Diet Cokes. I think everyone was feeling pretty good about our accomplishments that morning, and I'm so happy that I had such a fun crew who wanted to take part in the race with me. The best part about it was that all we had to do the rest of the day was go sample some beer while sitting in the sun, all the while knowing we got a good days worth of exercise in.