Monday, June 19, 2017

Disney World Marathon

Marathon #42:

I wasn't originally planning on running Disney this year since I just ran it last year and had hopes to do it in 2018 for the 25th anniversary.  But then they revealed the medal and I couldn't say no.  I've probably mentioned this strange phenomena before and I still don't understand it:  I don't display my medals.  I have three or so out and the rest come home and go straight into a box.  So you would think the bling wasn't a big motivator for me. But for some reason really awesome medals are still a hook for me to sign up for a race.  So in September I signed up to run Disney.  I debated for a short time about whether or not to do the Goofy Challenge.  I've always thought if I'm flying across the country I should do two races.  But I had my sights set on a fast marathon in March so I decided to just do the stand alone marathon to minimize the race's impact on my training.  In the end, this turned out to be a serendipitous decision because A) I got injured in December and B) the half marathon got canceled due to bad weather.

After Humboldt I took some time off and eased back into marathon training.  The slow increase paid off and I got a zip back into my step which solidified my thoughts that I was overtrained for Humboldt.  I decided to try the Hanson Marathon Method for the first time.  I was going to follow the plan, do Disney easy, then reboot for the remaining weeks until Modesto.

I got through 8 weeks of my training plan and things were going well.  Then three weeks before Disney a tiny ache that I had felt for maybe the previous 4 weeks for just a few steps of every other run became an injury.  I've self diagnosed peroneal tendinitis of my left ankle.  It hurt just below the left outer ankle bone.  My left ankle is the one I have chronically sprained in the past over and over and I'm sure my ankle instability is a big cause of the issue. I ran on it three times more than I should have and knew it blew up into an issue that was a game-over for Modesto in March.

I did a week of no running (I did pool run a couple of times), did another two test runs which told me it wasn't going away any time soon, then didn't run again until the race.  Oh, Disney.  One year I will show up not undertrained/injured or right after a hard PR effort elsewhere.  But this was obviously not going to be that year.

So I did an extreme taper of 6 miles total of running the last 2.5 weeks before the race.

Just walking around the airport, my resort, and the expo the day I arrived in Orlando made my ankle ache.  I knew KT Tape would be at the expo and though I have never done it myself, I knew they would tape you up at their booth. I stood in a Disneyesque queue for over 45 minutes and handed over $5 for a PT to tape my ankle.  It was the best $5 I have spent for injury issues the last decade.  She gave me a 5 minute PT consult while she taped and told me to do some exercises.  I was skeptical the tape would last until the race (it was Friday afternoon for a Sunday race) but she said to blow dry the tape after showering and to sleep with sock on and it should be okay.

MVP of the weekend

The tape job was tight in a few places and I worried it would cause problems. I had to loosen up a few small areas but it stretched out just slightly and didn't give me any issues.  Spoiler alert:  I ran 26.2 miles and walked the parks the next 4 days and I didn't feel a thing in my ankle the entire time.  In fact, the tape job lasted a week and I then peeled it off on my own to figure out the actual state of the injury when I got home (it was a bit stretched by then and not alleviating 100% pain by then).

I picked up a few goodies at the expo, too.  New Balance now makes some Disney themed apparel and they had one shirt left in my size I grabbed.  I also splurged and got a race jacket.  Overall I am never a fan of the official race merchandise.  Champion is not the greatest fit or quality for me and the graphics always seem sort of subpar considering the available man power at Disney's disposable to come up with something snazzy.

It has been a long time since official race merchandise tempted me. I also got a short sleeve RunDisney shirt since I've always wanted one and the one available looked like it would fit.

After the expo I hit the parks and didn't have to worry about getting back to my room early to get to sleep before the half marathon on Saturday.  This was so freeing!  Usually I take the red eye  Thursday night to Orlando and am knackered on Friday but don't want to waste the park day so always hit at least one after the expo.  Then I wake up at 2:30 am for the race Saturday (which with the time change is really waking up at 11:30 pm). But this time I figured even though I was so sleepy I was going to get to sleep in Saturday so I didn't worry about when I got back to the room Friday night.

As I mentioned, Saturday's race got canceled due to lightning.  I woke up on Saturday morning and heard cowbells and cheering. I stepped out of my room and saw hordes of runners doing their own 13.1 around the lake by my resort.  I got ready to leave then went downstairs to cheer the people running for a little bit before heading out to the parks.  It was so inspiring to see the runners getting it done despite what must have been a major disappointment for the official race being canceled.  And everyone out cheering and handing out water was also heart warming.

I normally do a half park day on Saturday then catch a movie at Disney Springs to stay off my feet before the full.  But this year I decided not to do the movie and instead stayed at the parks.  I am a pretty fast walker naturally and while at Disney I really kick it up a notch to cover as much distance as possible quickly. But I made a concerted effort the whole weekend to walk leisurely to save my legs and especially my ankle.

The one downside I ran into not doing Goofy was that because I had gotten to sleep in Saturday, I was not overly tired that day but I had still not gotten adapted to the time change.  This meant that Saturday night when I tried to go to bed early so I could make the 2:30 am wake-up for the marathon (which again, is 11:30 pm in my habitual time zone -- so I was trying to be awake only about an hour after when I would often go to sleep), I was wide awake.  For the first time ever I did not sleep at all before a marathon. Ugh.

This year the marathon day was cold and windy.  They were projecting feels like temps in the low 30s which actually then dipped to the high 20s as the morning progressed.  I did not pack for this weather.  I saw the week before it was going to be chilly and I threw arm warmers into my bag.  I don't know what I was thinking.  If it dips into the 40s I'll sometimes wear capris and a thick long sleeve top when running at home.  But I packed shorts and a short sleeve top for my race outfit.  I didn't consider that I wasn't going to be pushing the pace at all in this race (read: Walking a good deal of it) and I'd need to dress warmer than I normally would when going out for run.

Welcome to 2:31 AM marathon morning.  Yes, you didn't sleep a second and yes, it is freezing outside.

I scrambled the night before and ended up wearing the new RunDisney short sleeve top I had bought at the expo underneath my planned top.  I also decided to wear my compression sleeves I normally wear post-race during the race to keep my legs warm.  My throwaway gloves became my running gloves for the entire race.

I was meeting a friend at the start area and when I got there I looked for a good place to hunker down.  There were barrels anchoring a bag drop tent and I sat right next to one so it would block some of the biting wind.  The actual air temperature wasn't too terrible but the wind made it horrible.  This wasn't as cold as the 2010 race, but it wasn't very pleasant.  I had brought a throwaway sweatshirt and a mylar blanket which I wrapped around my legs.

We sat there as long as possible trying to keep warm before starting on the long walk to the corrals.  We jumped into a portapotty line by the start staging area exit which was a really smart move --  no lines!  This year they changed the corral set-up.  Last year they seemed to be in one long line, but this year they had two parallel lines of corrals set up.  So while last year I had a seat on the road outside my corral entrance, this year there was just a space of a strip of grass outside the entrance since another corral holding area was set up on the road.  So no more chance of just sitting on the ground outside the corral then jumping in before the start at the last minute.

The wind was blowing solidly in a headwind direction. The smoke from the fireworks at the starting line blew towards us.  Disney is a fairly meandering course so that didn't concern me too much.  I decided I would keep my sweatshirt on until I warmed up.  I considered running with the mylar blanket for a little while but the announcer said that a mylar blanket could interfere with the chip timing.  No idea if this is true or if they just didn't want mylar blankets fluttering down the road when they were subsequently dumped.  But I listened and tossed my mylar right before the start line.

As I bopped down the road when the race started I felt SO good.  My legs felt so fresh which was sort of a strange feeling for me at Disney.  I then realized I hadn't done a half marathon the day before which was the usual case and hadn't run much at all the last 2.5 weeks. I knew it was going to be a short-lived feeling, but it felt great.

I kept my sweatshirt on until about mile 4.  I wasn't exactly warm in it, but I didn't feel like it was a necessity and I wanted to ditch it so I could reach my camera and water bottle which was strapped to my back.

I wasn't feeling so motivated to stop for photos this year.  I was very picky with my character stops.  I've done this race so many times and I tried to mentally remember if I had gotten a photo with a character in the past.  I ran without stopping until I reached the castle where I tried (in vain) to get a photo with the castle in the dark.  I ran with a GoPro for the first time (not strapped on, but taken out and held like a camera) and of course I hadn't practiced at all with it before the race.  Major photo fails.  The setting I had it on was pretty terrible even for photos when I gave the camera to someone else to hold.  Disney made a change where the photographers on the course are Disney photographers and not your typical race photographers.  Because of this, if you buy the photo pass you get all of your photos.  I may opt to do this for my next trip.  For one fee I can get all my race photos and all of my park photos. Not a bad deal if you are doing multiple races.  The photos the Disney photographers took were pretty great, too.

I was pretty thirsty this race.  I'm not sure if it was because those first 4 miles I hardly drank any water.  My sweatshirt was blocking my access to my small bottle in my Orange Mud pack.  Also, with my gloves, I didn't really trust myself to reach behind my back and not drop my bottle.  So I relied on the water stops.  They are pretty plentiful on the course so that wasn't a problem.  But considering the cool temperature I was drinking quite a bit of water and subsequently had to stop to use the bathroom multiple times during the race.  No idea why that happened but if you have to pee during a race Disney is the best for portapotties and real bathrooms easily accessible on the course.

Standing in line for a Donald photo

As we left the Magic Kingdom and hit mile 8ish my body suddenly realized that we had only run a total of 6 miles in the last 2.5 weeks and started to shut it down.  The first thing to start hurting were my arms.  Yes, my arms.  Both my biceps got sore from holding my arms at a 90 degree angle.  Then my left quad started hurting (sort of ached as if I had run a marathon the day before) and all these things didn't stop talking to me until the race was over.  But happily my bum ankle was 100% pain free.  My ever nagging pelvis started buzzing for about half a mile at mile 18 but that went away and didn't return.

Timon photo line

As I said I was picky about stopping for characters.  At Wide World of Sports I stopped for Sport Goofy.  While I was in line, he left to take a break!  The characters often take breaks or switch out with another character. I suppose the poor person inside needs to breathe some fresh air or scratch their nose.  But at a race it is so annoying when this happens.  I had only been in line for about a minute, and I debated if it was worth sticking around for Goofy to come back out.  I aborted the mission and started running again.  The next character I stopped for was Joy and Sadness from "Inside Out."  I'm not a huge Joy and Sadness fan, but I was loosely dressed as Bing Bong so of course had to stop.  And when I was second to the front of the line they took a break, too!  Agh!  I stuck around for this one though and lost a few minutes.

I've run this race 7 times and the course has changed a bit over the years.  I know I've spoken about my dislike of the changes in the past.  But I just want to say that I really, really, really dislike the miles in the Wide World of Sports.  It doesn't help they come in the high teens/low twenties miles when you want to just want to be done but still have a ways to go.

Wide World of Sports is where happiness goes to die.  Put that slogan on a shirt and become a millionaire.

There was a lot of construction in the form of dug up land along the stretch by Wide World of Sports.  I thought they did a cute job of putting character paleontologists with dinosaur bones out to turn the unsightly into a stage.  They had cleared out all the large trucks for the race. When we passed it prerace I was wondering if they were going to leave the heavy machinery out.

The green army men from Toy Story were there as usual to whip us into running shape up the last major incline of the course. The army man will yell things like, "Why are you walking?  Drop down and give me 10 pushups!" which always sort of scares me because I can barely do 10 pushups when I'm not at mile 22++ of a marathon. I did see a few runners who were better good sports than me doing pushups on the side of the road.  I ran far enough up the hill to not be a pushup victim then snuck in a little walk break.

I always look forward to the chocolate stop in Disney Studios.  They normally hand out little snack-size Crunch bars or Dove chocolate.  This year they handed out Snickers bars and FULL size M&M packets.  A) I was stunned, B) Who can eat all this while running? C) OMG. This is awesome.  Since I had my Orange Mud pack on I grabbed a pack of M&Ms and shoved them in a pocket to eat later and ate the Snickers while I ran. On a side note, I think they ran out of the candy.  I was in an attraction line later that weekend and a man was telling a woman that he heard they had passed out full size candy at the race.  She replied that she hadn't seen it on the course. So that is a bummer for back of the packers.

Slow but steady was the name of the game for this race.  After running Disney in very cold conditions and very hot conditions a few times each, it is my official stance that even when you are slow as snails cold trumps hot every single time.  In the future, I'll be sure to dress for the weather a little better.

As I crossed the finish I got a high-five from Mickey which is always a special treat.

When I headed through the snack tent I was given a banana with my snack box.  I passed by another volunteer who asked if I wanted another banana.  "No thanks," I said.  "Here, just take them." And he piled three more bananas onto my box.  As I walked out with my box and four bananas I was a little confused but then I realized with the cancelled half they probably had thousands of ripe bananas they needed to get rid of on marathon day.

I hung around the finish area to get a few photos, but was happy to get on the bus and head back to the hotel since it was a cold day. Overall, I was glad to have survived the race without freezing solid and with no injury pain.  There are areas I feel Disney has slid a little over the years but they still put on a very solid race experience.

The race shirts are starting to look the same year after year.  They tore down the Sorcerer's hat at Disney Studios so it was interesting to see they picked the Tower of Terror as the new symbol for that park. 

The medal that inspired the whole thing. 100% worth it. Hands down my favorite Disney medal of all time. I can't even imagine anything else I'd like to see from them. I've alway been a fan of the mouse ear shaped ones and I love the simplicity of the design.

And I did display this one next to my first 2005 Disney Marathon medal.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Humboldt Half Marathon

After the Lake Merced Half Marathon, I got back into serious training again for the first time post-stress fracture-pregnancy-postpartum recovery-we have a kid now!? changes.  I used to have a lot of time to schedule my running so it did not affect my sleep.  I am not a morning person.  I used to rarely wake up early to run on days it wasn't necessary.  I would often start my 23 mile long runs at 11 am.  Living in San Francisco the weather is usually agreeable any time of day and I definitely milked this luxury.

Having a child changed all of this.  At first I worked him into my running by taking him along with me.  But I knew if I wanted to chase time goals I would have to run without the stroller for key workouts.  In order to make this work I had to start doing the one thing I hate which is running early in the morning.

My last two fastest 13.1 times were run in the middle of marathon training on the plan I used to use.  That plan called for a 13.1 specific test where you ran your marathon goal pace for 13.1 miles in the middle of a 17 mile run.  Obviously my half PR was pretty old since my goal marathon pace the last two times was faster than current half marathon PR pace.  For a brief time I contemplated just following the marathon training plan and seeing what I could do in a stand-alone 13.1 when the specific test workout came up.  But I didn't have the heart to run 20+ mile runs before work.

So I instead decided to follow a half plan that sort of mimicked marathon training in mileage but the longest run was only 15 miles.  I've always felt you had to run farther than 13 as a long run if you really wanted to race a half so that gelled well with my thinking.  The plan had you running 6-7 days a week which I felt was too many since I was only getting back to speed and pace work.  So I cut out two of the easy running days and ran 5 days a week.

I haven't trained specifically for a half marathon time goal since 2009 when I went for a sub-2 hour finish.  I've changed a lot as a runner since 2009.  I have never trained this hard for a half marathon before both in terms of mileage (capped out at 55+ miles which rivals some good marathon plans I've done) and in terms of sacrifice (I often ran 12, up to 15 miles before work, twice a week).  One thing I liked about the plan was that the easy paced longer run (10-12 miles) fell on the day I kept to run with my son. I had come to love stroller running and was sad at the idea of not doing longer distances with him anymore after our stroller half.  Of course, it also felt extremely anti-climatic to have trained for a stroller half marathon and to then turn around and eventually run 12 miles with him once a week.

What might be our last double-digit stroller run together 1.5 weeks before the race.
Training went pretty well overall.  I learned how to deal with the early wake-ups.  I actually really appreciate getting a run done early in the day now.  Initially it was hard to run in the 8:30s and by the end of the cycle the low 8:00s felt like a good working pace.  I started to question whether the plan was too hard the last month or so when I had trouble hitting paces during the speed/track sessions.  Unlike track work for marathon training in the past I found I had to walk or even extend the recovery portion of the workouts.  But after the hard track workouts, I'd run 10-12 miles with the stroller the next day, take a rest day, and then always hit my extended goal pace run the following day.  So for two weeks I wrote this cycle off as a bad days at the track or I'm just not cut out for 5K pace work.

Then I had a really bad speed workout that told me loud and clear my body was tired.  In retrospect I didn't respond appropriately. I should have backed down on mileage overall immediately but instead I decided to omit the final speed workout and slightly shorten some of the final taper week runs.  Honestly even doing this, for me, is a big step. I am a slave to training plans once they are plugged into my schedule -- my biggest weakness I think as a runner.  I nailed my last workout at goal pace (2x1.9 miles @ goal half pace with a 1 minute recovery) 10 days before the race and felt that those 10 days of easier running would be enough to have fresh legs.

Originally my goal was to run in the 8:20s-8:30s for the half. But as things came together I decided something around 8:16 (my eventual goal marathon pace) was my A-goal (if I ran slightly faster than this I would beat my fastest 13.1 done during a training run previously).  B-goal was sub-1:50, C-goal was sub-1:53 (my official half PR).  I had done up to 6 miles of half marathon goal pace running in the middle of 12 mile runs and usually was about 10 seconds faster than my A-goal pace.  Those days I felt I could have run a couple more miles at that pace that day.  So I figured, 10 seconds/mile slower should buy me a few more miles, fresh legs another couple, then heart would get me to the finish.

My parents were in town for the race so my husband and I drove up to Redding, CA the day before the race.  Two storm systems were passing through the area and it was pouring rain for much of the 4+ hour car trip.  With the giant redwoods, I figured we had a little cushion to the weather forecast -- perhaps they would shield us from rain and wind -- so I tried to not get too caught up on what the weather was going to be like.  We didn't make it up in time to get our bibs the day before, but this race always has race day pick-up so that was a minor issue.

I've done a race at this venue two times in the past.  The first time we stayed at a super horrible motel.  I had initially planned to return to it post-marathon to take a shower before the long drive home.  But it was so bad, I actually opted to not go back for the post-race shower.  With this in mind, the next time we ran up there I wanted to go with a national chain hotel.  The only one I could book was 1.5 hours south of the race and we woke up early to drive up.  This time I checked the only national chain hotel that was located closer to the race VERY early in the year and they were already 100% booked.  So I ended up finding a little independent place to stay and crossed my fingers it would work out.

Ever stay at a place with brown towels? Questionable.
Also, I washed my hair with this because no complimentary toiletries.
When we checked in we found out that the power was out at our motel due to the storm.  We had been upgraded to a cabin and no power meant no heat, no hot water, no lights.  It was a poorly insulated place.  My husband commented on how cold it was going to be that night. We left to get dinner and while we were out contemplated finding another place to stay. We did price out another motel but called our powerless place first and they said the power was back on.  So we stuck with it.  Side-note:  I have already booked a room at the national chain hotel close to the race for next year in case I decide to run again.

We were still about a 30 minute drive from the race venue so left shortly after 7 am for the 9 am start.  This worked out great as I had time to get my bib, use the portapotty, return to the car to pin on my bib and drop off things, then head back up to the start area for another quick pee.  The portapotty line the second time seemed rather long, but it moved quickly.  I do wish the race started at 8 am instead of 9 am because I think my body runs a little better earlier in the day in race situations.  I think I noted this is especially true for the marathon distance that I ran here years ago.  But I think they give everyone more time to get up there since everyone has to park and there aren't many places to stay immediately nearby.

I made sure to not be too far back in the starting pack so I could hit my pace.  I should have started a little more forward as I had a hard time the first quarter mile or so dodging people.  My pacing plan was to go out at or slightly slower than race pace for the first 8 miles (was hoping to be in the 8:16-8:25 range), then ratchet down slightly from 8-10, and put it all out there at 10-13.

Within the first few minutes of the race, I recall my first thought being:  "I do not want to do this today." The idea of pushing the pace for 13.1 miles just did not seem appealing.  But I tried to tell myself it was race day and we were here to get it done.

First half mile split: 8:16.  Dead on.
Next mile split: 8:20. Right on target

Then somewhere after 1.5 miles I got a mean side stitch. My entire left side was tight and I couldn't breath normally.  I had to slow down.  For a few seconds I couldn't believe this was happening at a goal race. I don't often get side stitches.  And then I felt relieved because it meant I had a reason to not run fast today.  I soldiered on in the high 8:00s waiting to see if it would clear.  After a couple of miles it became apparent that it wasn't going to magically go away.  I was supposed to take a gel at mile 4 so started working on that and contemplated whether I should continue to run as fast as I could with the stitch or take a walk break and see if that would clear it faster.  I know often with side stitches if you walk for a bit it goes away and I thought maybe I would actually lose less time walking for a short while versus the gimpy running I was pulling off trying to run through it.

So I walked.

When I started back up running again the stitch was not as sharp, but I could tell it was still just under the surface and I wasn't about to hit goal pace again anytime soon. I looked at my average pace and I knew immediately I didn't have the mental strength to even try to tackle bringing that back down.  Oddly enough, I had no clue what pace my B and C goals were though I had a pretty good idea those weren't in the cards for the day.  I sort of settled on, maybe we can bring this home in under 2 hours since I knew that was a 9:09 pace and continued running comfortably hard, but no where near racing hard.

As time went on the stitch eventually faded away.  My will to dig deep for any significant pace increase was totally non-existent.  I even walked through aid stations and took little walking breaks here and then.  I watched as my sub-2 slowly faded away. I definitely could have held onto that finish goal but I just didn't have any heart to try.

I decided to enjoy the gorgeous course and marveled at the giant trees.  I had reread my Humboldt Marathon race report the night before so remembered that the course appeared downhill both directions of the out and back.  I was very surprised at just how downhill it appeared. I even started to doubt my past self thinking there was no way this thing was going to look downhill when I turned around and ran in the opposite direction.

The leaders started coming back and I had fun cheering for them.  There are close to zero spectators on the course besides the aid station volunteers and I thought they'd appreciate the boost. 

I hit the turnaround and sure enough, in the opposite direction it also appeared to be going downhill.  This is the strangest thing and it sort of plays with your mind.  It obviously is not majorly downhill in either direction and it starts to feel odd in that you feel like you should be running faster because your brain says you are headed down an incline, but you get no free speed.  Also, it made it really difficult to tell what the incline really was.  I felt like I ran downhill almost the entire time on an out-and-back course.  I'm sure most of it was flat, and there were probably little undulations here and there but I couldn't tell you what was what.

I tried to pay attention to all the things I like to know about a race if I'm going to push for a time goal for my future reference.  After the first few miles the course opened up a lot and there were even times on the return trip I was running all by myself.  Aid stations were advertised at 2.5 miles apart so not plentiful, but enough.  They had water and Gatorade and the volunteers were great at calling out what they were holding.  The road winds gently like a snake so you have to be careful about running tangents.  With all the room it would be possible to cross over the middle line of the road to run the best tangents if you wanted.  I am curious if they measure the course on the right side of the road in both directions or if they measure on the tangent considering both sides of the road fair game.

The trees provide a lot of shelter from sun, wind and rain.  There are a few exposed portions here and there and I could feel the wind more in those areas.  There are only two significant inclines on the course.  The first is a little bridge right after the start/before the finish.  It is just a tiny little bridge and not a big deal and if the course wasn't otherwise flat I wouldn't even mention it.  The second is also in the beginning/end of the race at mile 1 and 12.  This one is also not very long or high.  Overall it is a very fast half course.

As for the weather, it did rain the entire time but it was mainly a drizzle or the giant trees dampened a lot of the rain fall.  I did notice at mile 10 or so that my socks were absolutely soaked and there was a little spot on one toe I would have been worried about if it had been a longer race.  About 1 mile from the finish a steadier rain started which continued until I was almost back to the car.

I fretted about my husband at the finish and wish I had a way to let him know I was way off my expected arrival time but that I was doing okay.  I figured I would finish right around my Santa Rosa Half time from last year.  I thought that was ironic since I had barely done much training for that one and had trained my heart out for this one.  But I reminded myself that time was on a good day last year and today was a bad day.  A woman was running behind me and I heard her tell her running mate, "We're not running sub 8:00s.  It's gone.  Time to enjoy it."  I assumed they had thought maybe they could squeak out a sub-2, too, but had just seen that goal dissipate.  She said, "Time to enjoy it," in a very positive way, and I thought, "Yes!  That's what I think, too.  That is what today is about now."

Suddenly the trees opened up and you could see the little bridge in the distance.  I heard my husband cheering as I rounded the corner to finish in a little over 2 hours.  He came up to me and I could tell he wasn't sure if I was going to be a horrible sad mess over my finish time.  I gave him a "it is what it is" look and said something like, "Today wasn't the day."

I got my medal which is much improved over the full medal years ago.  We took a quick portapotty break in case we couldn't get back in to our hotel cabin before starting the drive back home.

Not a sticker on a cheap medal like they did in the past.

They  have gender specific shirts and a good size range.  The brand they used this year ran a little large. It seemed it would be very easy to exchange shirt sizes at shirt pick-up.

I really am not sure what happened this race.  The side stitch really got things going on a downward spiral but if I'm being honest I am not sure I had it in me to push hard the whole way even if that hadn't happened.  I had no heart to give at all in this race which is really unusual for me.  I usually don't give up like that in the middle of goal races.  After the race when I was talking with my husband he commented that I had seemed really flat before the race.  He said I wasn't as excited as I normally am before goal races.  I didn't feel this myself that morning, but he's pretty perceptive to my moods so it does say something.

It's hard to comment on your body when your heart couldn't get it to try very hard, but I also felt as if I didn't have the pace in my legs.  Even after my stitch went away, I'd try to pick things up and just didn't get much response.  Again, I'm not sure if that was mind issue vs. a legs issue.  Maybe it was a little bit of both.  I had some red flags in my training that I wasn't recovering enough between hard efforts.  I thought I had given myself enough time in the taper to address this issue and who knows if it was part of the problem.

I keep reminding myself that I truly accomplished everything I wanted out of this training cycle.  I know I can make changes to my schedule and life to accommodate serious training. I know I can run high mileage with high quality and not feel injured.  I can run low 8:00s/high 7:00s for extended periods of time again.  All WONDERFUL things I am so proud about. As the training cycle went on I was hoping to PR and I am disappointed it panned out the way it did.  I tinkered with the idea of running another half in the next month since I know I have the training done.  As of now, I'm going to let this half goal-time go and move on to marathon training as planned.  It's a bit of a ding in my confidence but I'll take what I've learned and apply it moving forward.

Training cycle win.  My 10K PR is very soft and out-dated, but this 10K in the middle of a 12 miler is over a minute per mile faster than my standing 10K PR.

One thing I did this training cycle which I have never done in the past was to incorporate strength training into my routine.  I still have a lot of room for improvement in this area, but I tried at least twice a week to do some strength work and core work.  My husband got a video of me running to the finish.  I've always had a strange tilt in my shoulders and I sort of throw my left shoulder higher and forward when I run.  It isn't perfect but that quirk is noticeably improved and I'm really tickled about that change. Hopefully it can motivate me to keep it up and to commit to some sort of schedule when it comes to the strength and core work.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lake Merced Half Marathon

When I pictured stroller running when I was pregnant, it didn't look anything like it ended up being in reality.  I think when I was pregnant I imagined maybe I would go for a 4 mile run every now and then with the stroller.  I remember telling my husband that if I wanted to run 10 miles I would just schedule it to be done without the stroller.  I might have even said "Why would I choose to run 10 miles with the stroller?"

Oh, for the good old days of rookie pre-parenting.

I wasn't able to run much right away after giving birth.  It took me 8-9 months to even attempt to run a continuous mile.  But once I got back into the swing of things it was evident that if I wanted to run, I had to take my son with me.  I think when I was pregnant I thought maybe I would run before he was up.  But when you are breastfeeding you cannot just wake up and go for a run.  Forget the fact that there is a human who demands breakfast upon erratic waking schedules.  Even that notwithstanding you have to get some milk out before bouncing yourself around. So your choices are A) wait for the baby to wake up, feed him and then run or B) wake up earlier and pump.

On the days my husband was home I did Choice A.  But that didn't work for days he worked and I was home alone with the baby because my son got up for his morning feed around the time my husband had to get ready to leave.  Plenty of moms do Choice B and bless their committed hearts.  I had to pump at least once, sometimes 3 times a day and you had better believe I wasn't doing it any more than absolutely required.  Also sleep is a premium comodity and I wasn't about to wake up and spend 30 minutes doing what the baby could get done in half that time.

So the days I was home alone with my son that I wanted to run, he ended up coming along with me.  We started off at just one mile.  Then two.  Then two and a half.  We ran twice a week together.  I had set that 4 mile run as some sort of benchmark where the distance was long enough it had been worth it to go out for a run. We busted through 4 miles and kept adding on.  At the same time I got more confident with both running with the stroller on hills and more confident that my son wasn't going to pitch a fit when we were miles from home.  It took almost 5 months of running together before I was brave enough to venture up and into Golden Gate Park with him and that was so freeing to be able to run on my old running routes again.  Almost 7 months after our first 1 mile run together we ran our first 10 mile stroller run.

Stroller running gives me such a feeling of satisfaction.  Runners know how good it feels to go out in the pouring rain and get a run done.  Stroller running is the same thing.  You didn't have to, but you did it anyway and you end with such a feeling of accomplishment.

After that we continued to do a double digit run usually at least once, sometimes twice a week.  I learned very quickly that going out for a stroller run was the easiest way for me to get some me-time on his-time.  I wasn't sacrificing sleep to get my runs done.  It was a win-win situation.  I was very lucky that my son was very cooperative with the whole song and dance, too.  I learned to bring snacks and to present them strategically.  As he got older I would tell him we would stop to look at trucks and ducks.  I call us the Trucks and Ducks Running Club.  Today if I tell him we're going for a run he will sometimes say, "Trucks and ducks!"

I don't remember when, but I decided since we could run 10 miles + the 0.5 mi walk to and from our starting/end point + the time it took me to do 40 box jumps and 40 calf raises, my son could definitely last the amount of time in the stroller it would take me to run 13.1 miles.  We were so close to that distance anyhow.  And I thought years from now I would look back and just be so wowed that I got up to that distance during my stint as a stroller runner.

I settled on a small local half which was perfect for many reasons.  1) It was cheap.  $10.  This meant if something happened and we had to DNF it wasn't as if we had a lot of money invested.  2) It was very close to home.  3) It was a looped course which meant if my son was throwing a fit it would be very easy to drop out and have the car right there to head home.  4) They were stroller friendly.

The half marathon also ended up falling on my son's 2nd birthday.  I actually saw this as a negative because my parents were going to be in town. The idea of stealing my son away to push him for 2+ hours on his birthday seemed a little selfish.  Frankly, I still feel a little selfish about it.  But in the end, all those above reasons were too good to pass up and the timing worked well for my next race.  I decided to look at it as a celebration of how far I've come back to running two years after the day in my life I was probably least able to run at all.

I had originally planned to do lots of training runs around Lake Merced because I can easily run there from my home.  I took the stroller on one 8 mile run that involved one loop of Lake Merced and decided I wasn't going to do that again until race day.  Lake Merced running is decidedly much less desirable than running in Golden Gate Park.  There is not much shade, only one water fountain, and way more foot traffic to dodge which is a major negative with the stroller.  My running pace for that Lake Merced run was a bit faster than my average pace for a Golden Gate Park run so I decided Lake Merced was also less hilly and therefore training in Golden Gate Park was better preparation. Running the loop once with the stroller made me aware that there weren't any nasty elevation surprises and I was content with that small bit of race prep.

I did quite a few 10 mile stroller runs before the race and a solo 14 miler just to ensure 13.1 wasn't the farthest distance I had run in the recent past.  I even took a 35 lb kettle bell out for a 7 mile run the last week of training because my parents were already in town and I didn't want to cut into their time with my son.

For the record, the kettle bell is heavier than my son and the dense weight centered where it was made it very hard to steer.

Race day came and I was really nervous.  I had butterflies in my stomach. I have no idea why as this was probably the most low-key race with low-key expectations.  The course was three loops around Lake Merced.  The first loop was truncated by running over a bridge and the last two loops were the full 4.5 miles.  For some reason I thought we were doing the truncated loop last which I liked because it would make the last loop the shortest which I thought would be mentally helpful.  They changed things up and had us run the truncated loop first. Logistically this makes sense so they know to just direct everyone the first time out to the shortcut but I disliked the idea of having the longer loops last.

My strategy going in was to run the first loop easy, the second loop with just a little more kick, and then to put on the gas the third loop.  I usually stopped at about mile 5 to give my son a snack and I had brought along his usual cereal treat along with his water bottle.

My parents and husband had decided to drop me off and see me start but then leave and return to see us finish.  We had bought my son a kitchen set for his birthday and I had wanted it to be a surprise when we came home.  So my husband and father put it together while I ran loops around the lake.

I started way at the back of the pack so I wouldn't make anyone upset.  I was a little worried about getting on pace because the Lake Merced pathway is not very wide.  It was a little touch and go in the very beginning (and looking at the photo below I don't know how I got around so many people) but I found my space and stride within the first mile.

That's us taking off at the back of the pack.

I had made it my rough goal to come in faster than my first ever half marathon time.  I thought it would be neat to run my first stroller half faster than my first ever half marathon. My first half was 2:19 and I was pretty sure coming in faster than that wouldn't be an issue.  My average stroller running pace was usually in the area of 10:20. It wasn't a lofty goal, but it was a goal.

In the direction we were running, Lake Merced has an overall downhill grade the first half of a loop and an overall uphill grade the second half. I was a little bit concerned about how we were going to make our way down to the bridge which shortened the first loop. It definitely would involve a little bit of off-road action as there are trail sections leading from the path down to the bridge.  

We hit the turn for the bridge and I stopped to let two runners who were just behind me pass me before I navigated the packed dirt descent.  It wasn't as horrible as I had dreaded and soon we were on the paved path again.

 I was averaging a sub-10:00 pace which generally only happens on downhill splits of a stroller run.  Before I knew it we had finished a whole loop and were headed back out for the second.  Somewhere around mile 7 I looked down and saw that my son had fallen asleep.  Once he falls asleep on runs he usually stays knocked out for about 45 minutes so I knew we probably wouldn't have any problems.  As I finished up the second loop we came through one of two aid stations. I was running with my own bottle but was running low on water.  I had to stop to refill.  I really didn't want to wake up my son so I kept the stroller constantly moving while the volunteer at the aid station filled up my bottle.

I couldn't believe how quickly the miles were ticking away. The last loop I averaged about a 9:06 pace with 1.5 miles worth of sub 9:00 running. My son woke up at just before mile 12.  I heard him ask for his snack and I told him we were almost done could he pretty please wait?  He didn't protest so I kept pushing.  About a mile from the finish my family passed me in the car and honked and cheered for us.  I gave it one final effort up to the finish area and finished in 2:03.  I was really tickled with our 9:27 overall pace which is almost a minute per mile faster than most of our training stroller runs.  My son did his part for race day magic and I didn't have to stop once for him the entire time.  We often stop 2 or 3 times on a 10 mile training run for snacks and water breaks.

The distance on my Garmin read 13.06 and after I crossed the finish I really wanted to go back out for the extra 0.04 miles. I am totally on board with courses measuring long with GPS but am super skeptical about ones which measure short.  But it was obvious that my family wanted to get back home and on with the birthday festivities so I didn't bother appeasing my neurosis.

This race closed out a long chapter in my running story.  I had spent the last two years building back up to being able to run and then getting lots of base mileage done.  I had spent the last year+ doing so many easy miles with my son and the stroller.  My plan for after this half was to get back to more serious training with speed work and time goals.  I was planning to drop down to one day a week stroller running after this race and it made me sad to think that our twice a week Trucks and Ducks tradition was coming to an end. Who knows what the future brings but I was pretty sure this was the end of the chapter titled, "Stroller Running" in my story.  Stroller running is about to become a footnote instead of a main character.

My family got this all set up while we were out running.

The loot

Monday, September 12, 2016

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #41:

This was my sixth running of the Big Sur Marathon.  After Modesto my body needed a break and I wasn't able to give it one due to the timing between the races.  Modesto was a little too far out to count as a last long run for Big Sur.  I caught a nasty bug from my son immediately after the race.  Modesto was on Sunday and by Tuesday I had a fever for the first time in years.  This forced me to take a week off from running entirely.  For 2-3 weeks after that I still felt extremely sluggish when running. I am not sure if it was Modesto or being sick or a combo but if I could have taken time off I probably wouldn't have run more than a few miles here and there.  Instead, after a week off I jumped back into 6-10 mile runs pushing my son twice a week and built up to a 17 miler on my long run day.  I did drop the fourth day of running with speed work I had been doing up until Modesto.  I started to feel a little more like myself two weeks before Big Sur but I went into it looking forward to some down time afterwards.

We drove down to Monterey a tad earlier than in years past so I wouldn't be stressed about making it by expo closing to get my bib.  They are renovating the usual expo location at the hotel so it was located outside in giant tents this year.  I was disappointed at the official merchandise (as usual) so I didn't grab anything.  I stopped for a photo with Michael Martinez, the pianist.  I told him my life's dream was for him to be playing "What a Wonderful World" as I cross Bixby so if he could please throw it into the rotation tomorrow that would be awesome.  He said he would.  Spoiler:  It wasn't playing when I was there.  I had planned to buy his CD if he had a new one this year but he didn't.

We had early dinner reservations so that my son would be human while we ate so the expo was a quick stop.  For the first time I stayed at a hotel across the street from the host hotel and I think I may do this more often in the future. I thought I would have to walk to the garages for the bus which would have been totally fine, but they surprised me with a bus ticket at the Mariott which was just one block away.

My bus ticket was for 4-4:15 am departure so I left my hotel about 3:50 am.  A couple of years ago I got totally motion sick on the drive down to the start and the only thing that saved me was the fact I had a whole seat to myself and could curl up and lie down.  So I'm always a little nervous about this now.  I was hoping to be at the front of the bus so I could see out the front window to keep me from feeling sick, but I ended up towards the middle and there was no chance of having your own seat as they were packing the busses full.

The woman I sat next to wasn't particularly chatty, but that was okay because I wasn't in a chatty mood, either.  We talked briefly and when she found out I had run the race 5 times previously asked if I had any advice.  I told her two things:  1. Enjoy the views  2. Every up has an equal down.  She also asked about the wind and I told her that it had been really windy in the past but the nice thing is the course meanders and you get some protection from the wind every now and then.  I felt a tiny bit sick for a few moments but nothing terrible and I made it to the start okay.  I was trying to think if there is any other race that busses you to the start while you ride the entire actual course and I couldn't think of another that I have done.

Portapotty humor
The start area was not as horrible as it has been in the past but it was definitely very congested.  I do not think they can increase the size of the field purely for the limit of how many bodies they can cram in the start area.  The portapotty lines actually went through areas of people who had sat down on the ground.  It was pretty hard to find a spot to sit.  It wasn't nearly as cold this year as it has been in the past and I second guessed my choice of wearing a long sleeve shirt.  I thought it was going to be a windy day but the announcers were saying that there was very little wind up on their perch and that it was going to be a perfect day to run.

The portapotty lines weren't so long and I used them three times since they were accessible. They encourage people to get up on the road very early but I've learned to linger as long as possible.  There is a gear check bag right by the start line and I usually check my sweats to reuse again. That is one nice thing about this race. You can bring things you want to use at the start vs. just things you want to have at the finish.  At Disney, for example, gear check is probably a mile from the corrals so you have to give your bag up pretty early before the race starts.

The crowd heading up to the start.  Note the check bag truck to the left.
I took off somewhere in the middle of wave 2 once the 4:30 pace group had passed me.  There was a man dribbling a basketball and I prayed he would not be around me the entire race.  He mentioned to someone that he was thinking of a 6:00 finish so I tried to ignore the sound of the bouncing ball and figured sooner or later he'd be a memory.  The early miles in the trees were uneventful but once we hit the coast the weather for the day was revealed.  Cloudy and WINDY.  Man alive, I don't know what those announcers were smoking but it was very, very windy and hitting you full force in the face.  We passed a flagpole at one point and a man running by me said "There's a picture!" and stopped to take a photo of the flag whipping full horizontal in the wind.

Hard to see, but "San Francisco 143."  I always think "I love you, San Francisco" whenever I pass this sign.
I do recall thinking in the early miles that the course seemed a lot more congested than it had in the past. I don't know if this is just my memory playing tricks on me or an actual thing.  I was running near a pace group which might have made things feel more crowded but I definitely felt more boxed in than in the past.  I walked at the second water stop to eat a gel at around mile 5 and after that things really opened up for the rest of the race.

The hill at mile 9 struck me as being harder than I remembered, but there was a nice descent on the other side which swept me towards my absolute favorite miles in marathoning.  The road winds down to the Taiko drummers at the base of Hurricane Point. I was straining in the blasting wind to hear the drums but it was very hard this year. I stopped for a photo op with the drummers then buckled up for the 2 mile climb up to Hurricane Point.

My strategy for the race was to walk when eating gels, walk through aid stations, and run easy the rest of the time until that became impossible.  I had planned to take my gels at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20.  Mile 10 is just past the beginning of Hurricane Point so I took a nice breather there.  I recalled all the false summits to the top and at last year's race when I told a poor guy who asked that I thought the summit was just around the bend, d'oh.  The top of the hill is firmly at mile 12 so until you are there, you aren't there yet!

The wind was wicked.  Even non-windy years Hurricane Point tends to be windy.  I cinched my hat tighter to prevent it from blowing away (I wore my favorite, now forever unavailable vintage JackRabbit hat) as I had seen a few people chasing their hats down the road earlier in the race.  Then down the other side of the hill towards Bixby Bridge.  There are always people agape during the descent stopping on the side of the road to get photos with the bridge.  Whenever there was a break from the wind I tried to hear the piano playing.

It is a very short video, but you can get a sense of how windy it was by looking at people's clothes (check out the guy in the white shirt taking the photo)

I got a little choked up as I approached Bixby. I love, love, love this marathon and I kept reminding myself how lucky I was to be here this year.  I thought about how far my running has come in the past year and how grateful I was for all of that.  With the lottery nothing is guaranteed and I kept telling myself to savor every view and footstep.

This year "Linus and Lucy" was playing as I crossed the bridge.  The song always makes me a little sad because I regret not using it as our recessional song at our wedding.  But now hopefully instead of that thought I'll think of Bixby whenever I hear it playing.  I stopped for a photo with the piano which is almost a futile thing.  My first year I ran I have a photo with the piano and pianist with a beautiful backdrop and not one other runner in the photo with us.  This year, there were people taking photos with him from both sides and the photos I got are just not special.  Imagine 6 people taking photos with the piano at the same time with people standing behind it taking pictures of the scenery.  I think this is a direct result of camera cellphones increasing the number of people with cameras on the course.  Back in 2009 most people had to carry their digital cameras and I guess not as many people were willing to do that. Or people got rude. I tend to think it is the first.

The situation around the piano does not look too crowded above, but all the photos of me and the piano have people taking selfies from every angle all around me.
I also grabbed some shots with the scenery farther down the road.  For about a mile after Bixby the scenery remains magical and there is a downhill that makes your Bixby high give you wings.  I couldn't believe I had already run 14 miles.  Then the harder miles come and the scenery drops a notch in impressiveness.  I buckled on my big girl pants for the working part of this marathon.

The wind was pretty brutal and I was hoping my busmate wasn't shaking her fist at me for what I had said.  I mean, it is true that the course winds a bit and the hills will occasionally block some of the headwind but most of the time it just felt like you were running straight into it.  At one point we wound around a hill that protected us and my pace immediately felt so much easier even though we were going uphill.  For a short stretch there were some scattered drops and I thought for a few minutes it might actually drizzle.  That coupled with the wind made me happy with my long sleeve shirt selection for the day. It wasn't a cold cutting wind, but it was a little chilly.  I even saw one runner pick up a discarded sweatshirt on the side of the road to use.

At mile 16 when I stopped for a photo-op I tried to text my husband to let him know my ETA but there was no cell service. I was getting worried about him having to wait at the finish with a toddler for so long but there was no way for me to let him know.  A woman was giving out free hugs at mile 18.  In the past the hug station was at mile 23 or so, but I took it when I could get it.  Always fun.

I had read a previous race report the night before the race that there had been a hill at mile 21.  So I saved my last gel for mile 21 so that I could take a little bit of a walk break there.  I remembered that there was one last big hill on the course and for some reason I thought that mile 21 hill was it.  Turns out, the last big uphill is at mile 22.

At this point I was walking a portion of the uphills and starting to fret more and more about my husband and toddler at the finish line.  I had been leap frogging for most of the race with a gentleman.  I remembered him because he had the quote, "Life is short but running makes it feel longer" written on the back of his shirt.  At one point he passed me as I was walking uphill and made a comment to me.  Then later when I started running on the downhill I caught up to him and he struck up a conversation.

Honestly, I wasn't looking for a chat buddy.  I was engrossed in savoring every bit of this race on the chance I didn't get accepted again for 10 years.  But the conversation was so good I couldn't not run with him.  This guy had run every single Big Sur Marathon. He was also on the Board of Directors.  It was so neat to ask him questions and pick his brain about the race and living in the area.  I have a dream goal of one day retiring in Pacific Grove. This man was living my dream.

Up until running with me he had been doing run-walk intervals (which explained all the leap-frogging we had done) but he had decided to run it in the last 4 miles to the finish.  And because I was enjoying our conversation I ran those last 4 miles, too.  We minimally walked through aid stations or not at all.  I even ran up the entire mile 25 hill (which isn't so big but feels like a mountain at that point) for only the second time ever.  My race had been spiraling more and more into a run-walk finish but having a friend to run with gave me new wings and I felt great.  I read somewhere once that the people you meet on a race course feel like lifetime friends for the miles you share and this was definitely the case.

As we approached the finish line I saw my husband and son off to the side cheering.  It is always the best boost to get over the finish line.  We finished at 4:48. Not the best Big Sur time, not the slowest Big Sur time, but definitely a memorable finish.

My husband actually made the above sign for the 2015 Big Sur Marathon, my first marathon post-baby.  But at the finish he couldn't figure out how to hold the sign AND the 9 month old so it stayed rolled up under the stroller.  And believe it or not I never saw it.  So he brought it for the 2016 race.  That is our son's 9 month old (1 year and 9 months old at this year's race)"signature" at the bottom right.

The shirt this year looks just like the 2011 shirt which is a bit of a let down. Big Sur used to do really nice graphics on their shirts.  Admittedly, they weren't great for sweating because they are like giant plastic patches on the back of the shirt, but they were so pretty.  They could definitely up their graphic design a bit if only to be able to read the words easier.

As always, my favorite marathon did not disappoint.  I was told by my new friend that he thought this year's wind was one of the top 3 windiest years at Big Sur.  I ran another year which was pretty windy which makes me suspicious that I have run for 2 of the 3 windiest years.  At any rate, that bit of news made me feel like quite the survivor.

I am happy to report that I was accepted in the lottery to run in 2017 so I'll be back again next year.  I had no clue this was the case until my lively chat during the race, but the more times you have run Big Sur, the better your odds in the Loyalty lottery.  I am hoping to keep on adding finishes until I cross some magical guaranteed accepted threshold.  This is the one I want to run every year until I don't run these any more.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Modesto Marathon

Marathon #40:

I signed up for this race for two reasons.  One, I thought the medal and shirt were really sweet.  Two, I consider Modesto to be the best PR course in driveable distance to SF and wanted to check it out again.  I raced it 4 years ago (and did PR) but I couldn't remember a lot about it and wanted to refresh my memory. I am not in PR shape at the moment but am hoping maybe next year I will be and I may target Modesto as my next PR attempt.

I wedged this into the schedule after Disney and figured it would be sort of a nice long run for Big Sur.  We will see how that works out.  It was a bit too far out from Big Sur to stand in as a last long run but a little too close for me to possibly fit another 20 miler into the schedule.

The one thing I really like about this race is that the host hotel is both the site for the expo and is a couple of blocks away from the start/finish.  Staying at this hotel worked out really well the first time I ran this race so I booked a room there again.  For a Modesto hotel it may not be the cheapest, but in the grand scheme of hotel prices it is a decent price.  I just made it to the expo before it closed and easily picked up all my race stuff.  It is a small race so it has a small expo and you can be in and out really quickly.

I went to collect my free bottle of wine that the race was giving out from a restaurant across the street from the hotel.  I noticed there was a movie theatre across the street from the restaurant so ended up catching a movie that night.  Such a treat after having a kid. I also ended up eating dinner at that restaurant after the movie since they were offering "free pasta with beverage purchase (limit one per table)" to runners.  I don't think they counted on single me coming in and getting a $3.50 orange juice.

I had one thing going on this race which made me 5% nervous.  I decided to run with my Orange Mud hydration pack with a tank top on.  I've run loads of miles in long sleeve/short sleeve shirts but this was the first time I was going to try it with the straps touching bare skin. I put enough body glide on the area to move an elephant down a tube slide but it was one of those "never try anything new on race morning" things that could have been a really bad idea.  I also decided to use a smaller than normal bottle with the Orange Mud pack. I usually run with a tall bottle that is easy to reach but I like to run with smaller bottles at races since there are aid stations along the way.  I bought myself a smaller Kleen Kanteen the day before the race -- I tested to make sure I could still get it in and out even though it was shorter but I didn't know if it would cause issues on a run.

The Orange Mud situation.  Staps on bare skin -- potentially day ruining, but I gambled

This was probably only the third or fourth time I could walk to the race start on race morning.  I was meeting a friend in the lobby and we planned to get going about 15 minutes before the race.  Getting a little more sleep, using your own private bathroom -- luxuries on race morning, people!  The last time I ran this race the weather was marathon awesome:  It was overcast and in the 40s the entire race.  Perfect.  This year was not to be a repeat.  It was in the mid-50s at the start and they were forecasting 70s by the finish.  The start ended up being delayed for almost 20 minutes due to road closures not happening on time.  This was annoying from a temperature perspective but since I had good company it was not a total loss.

This was the first marathon I have done in a while that I was in shape to actually run all the way through.  Goofy was done on tired legs and involved a lot of photo stops.  Big Sur I couldn't run much during training. As such I decided it might be fun to have some very loose goals.  My easy running pace these days is about 9:45-10:00 so I decided it was realistic to do a marathon at that pace.  a 9:45ish pace puts you at a 4:15 finish and a 10:00 pace a 4:20 finish.  I decided to make a sub-4:20 my B-goal and a sub-4:15 my A-goal.

Since my target pace is my easy running pace I just went out easy and natural.  I remembered that the roads in town had been pretty chewed up the last time I ran. They must have repaved in the last four years because I didn't notice this being an issue at all this year.  The first 4 miles or so you are in the town portion of Modesto.  There are lots of turns in this area before you pop over an overpass bridge (they had a sign that said, "Mount Modesto 113'"), the first of two hills on the course.  There were a few people out playing music in these areas which was a nice boost.  It would be awesome if the race would bring music out into the long out-and-back areas of the course.

I was pleasantly surprised that there was actually decent shade on the course through mile 9ish.  It was warm, yes, but it wasn't a factor as early as I expected because of the shade.  I only remembered long open stretches of road on this course and didn't think there would be much shade at all.

The half marathoners peeled of a little before mile 8 and you start the long out and back that is the rest of the race. This is not the most interesting course but even taking it easy I didn't find it boring or uninspiring.  There are lots of agriculture fields, cows, horses, and houses.  At one point we ran by a field of kale and it smelled divine.  Kale.  Who knew?  There are spectators occasionally but this is not the race for you if you are externally motivated when running.  The aid stations were plenty plentiful and the volunteers overall did a great job of calling out if they were holding Gatorade or water.  Only once I grabbed a Gatorade thinking it was water.  Because of the expected heat I did take a cup through every aid station but I didn't dawdle, and got back running as soon as possible.

One small thing I appreciated was that the race advertised that there would be trash cans at every mile marker.  Because of the out and back nature of the race the mile markers came up more than every mile.  This was really helpful since I take a gel at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20 and that timing does not always coincide with an aid station to throw away my wrapper.  When you know a trash can is coming up it makes it a lot easier to hold onto your trash. At lots of races people will toss wrappers at mile markers (assuming correctly that someone from the race will have to come to collect the marker and why not the trash) and it felt like such an easy yet small touch to have a trash can for us.

When I hit mile 10.5 or 11 the leaders started coming back in the opposite direction. I had a lot of fun cheering for them.  As I mentioned there are not a lot of spectators at this race and I figured they could use the boost.  For a short while I was running by two men who were also hearty cheerers for the returning runners and that got me running energized for a while.  The low-3:00s pace groups were coming back and they would yell "That's Boston!" which got some smiles from otherwise pained faces.  The men had way too much energy (one was even jumping over marathon signage that came up to my waist) but somehow I pulled ahead of them after a short while and lost my cheering buddies.

The race feels pancake flat but technically has a very slight downhill trend the first half and a very slight uphill trend the second if you look at elevation charts.  I don't know if it was cheering for the returning runners or that the downhill portion really has an effect but my pace was fastest right before the turnaround going into the 9:20s or 9:30s without my even trying.  It also felt slightly harder on the return after the turnaround but maybe I just used up all my extra gas on the approach.

Elevation per my Garmin.  Really flat. But you can see the slight downhill/uphill trend and the little blips for the overpass.

Everyone loves the turnaround of an out and back and it felt good to be heading home. I was still feeling peppy at this point and even had a thought that maybe I would get through this whole marathon and just feel like it was a normal long run.  Those have of late been ending at 20 miles. Spoiler:  It didn't quite pan out.

My hydration pack wasn't giving me any issues which I was very thankful about.  It was a calculated and probably a poor risk but it was working out.  However I kept thinking to myself, "you don't feel chafing until you feel it..."  The smaller water bottle was a touch harder to reach to remove from the pack but it was worth the trade off for less weight, I think.  Though I suppose I could use my larger bottle and just fill it only a quarter full or so.  Ideas to ponder for the future.

Even though there are long straightaways on this course it is so flat you can't see that far ahead in the distance.  So that aspect of the course did not bother me mentally at all.  I tried to note when it started to actually feel hot and for me it was around mile 17 or 18.  I cursed the 20 minute late start around this time and imagined how nice it would have been to be 2 miles farther down the road.  But really, I expected the heat to be a factor much sooner in the day so I can't complain about this.  There was a light breeze here and there that helped to keep you cool.  I had mentioned in the past that on a windy day this would be a horrible course with the long straightaways but that wasn't an issue this year.

I did start to feel off right around when the heat became noticeable.  One strange thing that happened was that I got a very tight ball in my stomach just below my ribs.  It wasn't a side stitch but felt more like a huge air bubble.  It made me uncomfortable and stopped me from feeling motivated to pick up the pace.  Originally I had wanted to run a little stronger the last 5 miles.  As I got closer to that time and my desire to run any faster was low I cut down on the distance.  Okay, maybe the last 4 miles.  Maybe the last 3 miles.  Maybe just hold this pace until the end.  I was slowing down slightly and knew I had to give it a honest kick if I wanted to come under 4:15.  With my air bubble and the heat I decided it wasn't something I was willing to dig for today.

There was a woman cheering with a spray bottle asking runners if they wanted to be misted.  Sweet coolness for 5 seconds! I need to remember this if I'm ever cheering at a hot race in the future.  I took advantage of all of the aid stations. Since it is small race the aid stations are not that long so you have to be sure to grab everything you need in one go.  I only had to refill the water bottle I was carrying once.  A volunteer saw me (I thought) running up to the table as I unscrewed my bottle and she picked up the pitcher.  I was so glad.  I hate having to try to find the large bottle myself or pouring cup after cup into my bottle to fill it.  This won't take but two seconds!  At the last moment I realized that a runner right in front of me had the same idea so I had to stand there while her (giant) bottle got filled.  Not as efficient as I had hoped.

As we got towards the end I was scanning the horizon for my hotel.  It is the only tall building in the area and I knew the finish line was just a few blocks from the building.  I have to say, mercifully, you can't spot the hotel when you are still 4 miles out.  I can't remember when exactly you could see it, but not so early that it seems so far away in the distance.

The overpass was a welcome hill.  I am to used to running on such flat terrain and it felt good to use some different muscles for a stretch.  Given my state of when-is-this-over-how-did-I-think-it-would-feel-like-a-training-run-at-the-end feelings I decided the last mile I would bump it up and press on the gas a little.  I switched my Garmin over to time vs. distance and realized I was actually a lot closer to running a sub-4:15 than I thought I had been.  With only a mile to go I knew there was no way I would get it done, though. But I still pushed as much as I could the last mile and change.  I actually felt better than I thought I was going to when I stepped on the gas so in hindsight probably could have upped the effort a mile or two sooner.

26.33 miles per Garmin

They had Doritos at the finish which is probably the best post race food ever. They also had a tent which was printing out free finish line photos.  They were currently printing photos from over an hour before my finish time when I stopped by it and I didn't have time to wait around.  They also provide free race photos online to download after the race which is an awesome perk I wish more races would consider offering.

Out of 40 marathons, this was my 8th fastest finish which I was fairly tickled about.  That statistic really just speaks to the easy-running nature of the majority of my marathon career.  But the faster finishes came off of very dedicated marathon training cycles.  It was nice to know I could hit this mark off of only 3-4 runs a week with most of the miles very easy.  I had started doing very short interval work once a week and threw in some fast finish long runs a few times but I never was on a rigid training cycle.

I personally really loved the swag and it was quite a motivating factor in me signing up for Modesto this year:

I am not a comic book/superhero person, but I really loved the theming.

The medal had magnets and a kickstand on the back so you could display it easier.  I have a gazillion race medals and have never encountered this before.  Genius (though mine is in a box under the bed).

They had different sizes available, but the smallest size is still way too big for me. Probably shouldn't have even bothered taking the arm warmers.

I'm glad I fit this into the schedule.  I wouldn't hesitate to consider it for a PR race.  The weather is the biggest gamble, but that is always the case.  Even with the warmer temps this year, the course had more shade than I expected in the early miles and it wasn't as big of an issue as early as I had expected it to be (though on a warm day the latter miles are going to be really dreadful).  It is well organized and very convenient logistically with the host hotel so close to the start line.  I personally prefer races which are smaller like this when I am going for a time goal so I can really concentrate on the running.  There aren't tons of spectators, but the pockets of cheerers were enthusiastic.  The last time I ran it, my husband was out on the course cheering and it was very easy for him to see me at various points along the course.

Note to self:  Take the San Mateo bridge when coming home.  Every year you think the Bay Bridge will be faster and I don't think that has ever worked out.  You spent AN HOUR just driving over the Bay Bridge to get home.  Also, do yourself a favor and take the rolling suitcase.