Thursday, December 11, 2014

CIM 2014

The fast facts:

I finished in 3:15:08, which was a happy result for me. My recent runs indicated I was in 3:15-3:20 shape at best, and my leg problems were backsliding into a bad place, so all things considered it went pretty well.  I had a couple tough moments in the race (to be expected) and a 5 minute positive split due to hitting the wall pretty hard, but these are largely the kind of marathon battles I am happy to take on and learn from.

Final stretch
Slow molasses facts:

The theme word for this race was "Caution."

I was very cautious.  Every run was warning me I was not in tip-top racing shape (see: recent half marathon finishes of 1:35 and 1:33) and that my leg locking/cramping problems could stop me from getting to the finish line in a timely fashion, if at all.

I spent the evening before the race googling "chronic exertional compartment syndrome" since two blog commenters noted that my symptoms sound similar; and indeed they do.

chronic exertional compartment syndrome of the leg is a condition caused by exercise which results in increased tissue pressure within a limited compartment.  When this happens pressure builds up in the tissues and muscles causing tissue ischemia [...] This condition is commonly seen in athletes who train rigorously in activities that involve constant repetitive actions or motions. Symptoms involve numbness or a tingling sensation in the area most affected. Other signs and symptoms include pain described as aching, tightening, cramping, sharp, or stabbing. This pain can occur for months, and in some cases over a period of years, and may be relieved by rest. It also includes moderate weakness that can be a noticeable factor in the affected region.  [link]
In some cases, weakness and paresthesia may accompany the pain. Onset of symptoms typically occurs at a specific exercise distance or time interval or intensity level (eg, within 15 min of initiating a run). Symptoms tend to subside with rest and are minimal during normal daily activities but return when activity is resumed. [link]
This discovery was troubling because during my google hunt I read that you can cause permanent damage if you run through the symptoms.  caution!

I ate a steak and potato dinner the night before, a new pre-marathon meal for me.

It required some heartburn relief, so we went to the nearest drugstore where I found the BEST holiday gift for any runner, you must buy this for any runner you know.

Elsa Hat
I normally love staying at the Lake Natoma Inn in Folsom, close to the start.  This time my room window was perfectly situated next to a wedding at the Inn that celebrated until close to 11:00 p.m., which was unfortunate for runners trying to tuck in early.  I laughed myself to sleep imagining leaning out the window and yelling at someone to shut it down on their wedding night.

I woke up Sunday with a splitting headache.  This is one of those special treats that I was gifted when I turned 30 (I used to proudly never get headaches).  Not a huge problem, I can deal with this, my head might hurt but my legs have to do the work.  Instead, the problem was that the headache was preventing me from eating.  I could not do it :(  I made it to the race start with half of a picky bar, coffee, and small sips of gatorade in my belly.

The Race

I love this race.  LOVE.  Best marathon (for me).  I love that it is close to home; in December; point to point; perfect crowd size (10,000-ish marathoners); perfect amount of crowd support (in regular spurts from start to finish); great variety of hills and flats; few tangents to worry about.

The weather was 100% humidity, started in the 50s, ended close to 60.  This is very warm for CIM, and it would have been nice if it was 10 degrees cooler, but all things considered it was nice weather.  I loved the middle miles when the fog hit, thick.  Very dreamy.

I nailed the first mile - 7:25.  That turned out to be my overall average pace (by Garmin) so I can at least takeaway the fact that I did not start out too fast!  caution!

The first (and only) time my leg super worried me was mile 5.  From the moment I passed the Mile 4 sign until the moment I passed the Mile 5 sign, my left foot cramped.  This is really similar to what happened at Boston (foot cramped at mile 4) so I read the cards that I was going to repeat Boston.  I wiggled my toes and tried to rellaaaaaxxx so it would stop.  It's a pretty terrible feeling! Eventually the cramping faded, and didn't pipe back up.

I tried to eat a peanut butter Gu at mile 8, but it was still in my hand, half full, at mile 11.5.  I could not get it done!  The PB flavor was grossing me out and making me feel gaggy.

You know what would have been really great? If CIM had gatorade, powerade, or any sports drink at the aid stations.  I was hella thirsty (humidity) and would have really benefitted from getting those easier calories down.  Instead, every aid station was Nuun (what like 2 calories at most?) and water.  I missed the memo on this, but unfortunately it is becoming the norm.  The Napa half and Berkeley half did the same thing.  It's a fine option for some, but it is not a replacement for a sports drink with calories.  And I know I'm not the only one who has gotten a side stitch after drinking Nuun at a race.

Anyhoodle, point is I was fueling like a chump which is my fault (and my headache's fault) but I'm gonna go ahead and blame Nuun as well for being so delicate and calorie free.  

I passed the half at 1:34:39 and was feeling decent.  Miles 2 through 13 were pretty easy and steady between 7:05-7:20.

Right before Mile 14 I saw the Gentleman and he miraculously read my mind.  He was holding a small bottle of Gatorade!  What a life saver.  I grabbed the bottle and took a few swigs throughout mile 14, drinking about 1/3 of it (another 1/3 spilling down my shirt).  I was worried a full bottle would be too much for my stomach in that short a span of time, and I didn't want to hold it any longer, so I tossed the rest.  Miles 14-15 were a little slower at 7:2X.

I got a great boost of energy from the Gatorade and miles 16-20 were solid, between 7:08-7:15 pace.  I was running with the front of the 3:10 pace group and was feeling so pumped (thanks gatorade) that I was having visions of keeping with the pace group until the end, then sprinting ahead to a 3:09:xx finish.  What a lucky day!

Aaaand then I faded.  Miles 22-23 dropped into the high 7 minute range.

Annnnd then I got totally marathon drunk.  Miles 24-26 were 8:20; 8:33; and 8:24.  I stopped at each aid station, walked a while, stretched. I was super marathon dumb drunk.  I did the math in my head and was like, "you'll finish under 3:15 if you run the next mile in 8 minutes flat," and then was like, "cool, cool, I'll do that then, I got that," but instead I forgot to execute that plan and started walking.  At some point I saw my shadow and that snapped me awake for a minute (like when you are drunk and see yourself in a mirror).  But I was also all, "who is this shadow? who am I? what is life?"

I hit the wall hard.  Probably because I was in 3:15 shape and nothing better, and probably because I was under-fueled.  I have no memory of whether my leg was a problem during those miles, but it clearly wasn't bad enough for me to remember it. Phew!

I would LOVE to one day be the kind of person who runs a perfectly-split marathon, where the last few miles are spot on if not a few seconds faster.  I am so not there.  I have no idea how people do it.  I think I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I could run miles 1-23 at a 9 minute pace and I still wouldn't be able to run the last 3.2 miles at 7:00 or faster.  After that many miles, I don't know how one makes Goal Marathon Pace happen!

It's a good goal to work for.  I'm happy that I survived and it motivates me to try again, with a little less caution, with way better fueling, and with effort to get closer to that elusive even-split race.

I'm not sure yet whether I will slink away into the internet darkness for a few months while I continue to work out leg kinks, and take a chunk of time off running....or whether I will bite the bullet and sign up for the Eugene marathon (in May) now that I know I can survive a marathon undramatically with my leg issues.  The winter in California is my favorite time to run, so I am tempted to keep on chugging and instead go MIA from running for the unbearable summer months.  TBD.

I haven't run since the race but plan to on Saturday. My mornings this week have been indulgently lazy.  They look a little something like this.

Wednesday morning
Peace out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


I am running CIM tomorrow.  I'd prefer to best my Boston disaster (during which I was in waaayyyy better speed shape than I am now, around 3:10 shape if all had gone well) but the problem is that I still have problems.

After Boston, I stopped speed work and fast running for several months. I focused on strength training, and paid $$ for weekly training, up through last week.  I met with two Kaiser orthopedics who both told me to stretch more, and both refused a hip MRI.

After those few months I decided to test the waters of speed work by running a few races.  Slow running and strength training convinced me my leg was improving, because I was having no problems.  I ran a 5k in July (19:4x, 2nd place woman); a half in July (1:30:5x); a half in August (1:28:04, 2nd place woman); a 5k in September (19:2x, 1st place woman); a half in September (1:35:03, 2nd place woman); and a half in November (1:33:xx).

With the exception of the Oakland half in August (which I blogged about), these were all pretty disappointing.  No speed training = racing slower = no fun.  And my left leg did not like racing.

The September half was a new and small race in Napa with proceeds benefitting an earthquake recovery fund.  I ran a 1:35:03.  This was the hardest road half marathon I've ever done.  It was UP, down, UP the whole time. And I had a cold. I started the first two miles with a fast friend, and we were both hoping for a sub 1:30.  We fell wayyyy off track by the third mile and the 50th hill.  (There was no elevation chart so this was all a surprise to me).  On the bright side I still locked in 2nd place female, 4th overall, and I only had to stop and stretch my bad leg once at mile 8.

The November race was the Berkeley half.  Another tough and hilly course, and I happily had no leg problems until the 13th mile, thanks to a 7:00 minute mile pace.  I still haven't dared to look at my time for that 13th mile because it was such a gross mile.  I stopped three times to stretch my left tangled calf out, with the finish line tauntingly close.

Tie-Dye because BERKELEY (hand made, badly, by me)

After strength training the shit out of my left leg (and a fair share to my right leg), the left leg is way more flexible than my right leg; way more stable in a balance-off; stronger in a squat-off; and according to a body composition test, it is 0.1 pound heavier (muscle).  That work is done.  An imbalance may have caused the injury, but strengthening the leg has not been the cure.

I have nixed the ART/Graston because once it improved some IT symptoms I was dealing with, the improvements stopped.  This week I started foam rolling my IT band to prep for the marathon, and I think foam rolling has made things worse.  You heard it here first, foam rolling is EVIL.

Other than that I am at my wits end.  Despite a full summer of no speed work and feeling good, the second I tried to run fast (mostly at the above mentioned races), not a GD thing changed.  Same old seizing up of the leg, around the knee, down the calf, stiffening the foot.  Same exact thing.

I have had the occasional good day, or even good week, and wisely resisted the temptation to come blog about how great things are going.  Total swings.

This makes me pretty nervous about running CIM.  I am dreading a repeat calf issue with the intensity of 26 miles on the tangled leg.  After all, just a few weeks ago at the Berkeley Half, my calf couldn't handle thirteen miles.  My only plan so far is to keep my expectations incredibly low (I swear, sub 3:30 is no guarantee with how my runs have been lately), stretch early and often to ward off the leg-lock / calf tangle, and DNF if things are really painful (although it would take A LOT to make me drop out.  You can always walk/jog.)  But I'm still a stupid runner who wants to run fast, and will likely try to hang on to a low/mid 7:00 minute mile pace for at least the first half and longer if possible.

Since I won't be breaking any records this weekend, I tapered mildly.  I've been running 60-75 mile weeks the last couple months, and right now I'm on track for a 35 mile week pre-marathon. pre-fontaine.  Just kidding we are in the era of post-fontaine.

Another thing about how sucky I will run this weekend.  Starting about 9-10 weeks ago I really did TRY to get in better speed shape with CIM looming.  But instead I kept feeling like I was getting in worse and worse speed shape.  For example. Instead of track workouts I did about 8 weeks of hill speed work.  This nasty hill behind our house is super steep and takes me about 75 seconds to sprint up.  I started one week with 5 repeats and worked up to 10 repeats.  But I swear to god, it never got easier.  It felt just as fucking hard and dreadful every week.  Hunched over, hands on knees, gasping for breath at the top of the hill after each repeat, even on my 7th week of doing them. And I'm certainly no better at running up hills for it. What the hell?

Last, I have done a bad thing which is accept a free product and then completely forgot to review it. These "I am funny running shirts" are cute and soft.  I like the way they fit after a wash. I ran a half in one and a 5k in another.  When I wore the "running late" shirt to work on a casual saturday, it got a little too much attention.  So there's that.

"Running Late"

"I'd rather be running"

Here's hoping my next post won't be about a personal worst. Ciao. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Old News

Keep up with me bros.  The Napa 6.0 earthquake was 3.5 weeks ago on August 24.  Now reporting! Buy your pape! Second cycle news for a penny!

If you live in the Bay Area, you probably felt it at 3:20 a.m., you probably woke up, your baby probably didn't, your pet probably freaked out and ran away.  That's the general report.

We woke up and rode it out for ~15 seconds, and like a lot of people my first thought was, "that was scary.  I wonder if it was worse somewhere else?"

So I got on the internet, and quickly learned it was worse somewhere else, and that somewhere was Napa, where half my family and friends live.

I wasn't very worried, and in fact my greater worry was that I would wake up my parents/sister if I called them.  Maybe they slept through it?

I texted my mom to be safe.  It wasn't until an hour or so later (4:15 a.m.?) that I finally got any communication from Napa. Everyone's electricity was out (no land lines) and following disasters, cell phone reception is chaotic, as we all know.

Once I spoke with my mom, I pounced into rescue/panic mode.  She sounded shaken up and scared, and I could tell from her muffled background conversation with my dad that she was being patched up from some injuries (my dad is a retired M.D.)

The earthquake was so powerful and so loud, that everything possible (even heavy furniture like dressers and a grandfather clock) was tipped on the ground, and they didn't hear it crashing down amidst the sounds of the earth cracking.  My mom got straight out of bed in the blackness afterwards only to trip over furniture and step on broken glass.  She was bruised and sliced.

We drove straight to Napa to help my parents however needed.  When we got there at 5:30 a.m. it was still dark and hard to be very useful.  We starting cleaning as the sun rose, and I didn't think to take any pictures until most of the cleaning had been done.  Suffice to say we filled a truck bed full of broken glass and other dead items.

Every room looked like the one below (but add glass).  My mom inherited and owned a lot of fragile items, including french vases that apparently were worth enough to pay off a decent chunk of law school loans.  Information that would have been useful YESTERDAY! (kidding).

Napping dresser
On our drive up, in the dark, we were (stupidly) so confused why we kept hitting bumps and ruts in the roads.  I was like, "huh, when and why'd Napa put a sharp speed bump there?" My parents live in a part of Napa that was hit hardest by the quake, due to the location of the fault line. The roads were a buckled mess.

Unfortunately we had to jet out of Napa by 10:00 a.m. because it was the Gentleman's birthday and we had scheduled a tie-dye making party with some friends and their kids to celebrate.

And also for his birthday we had booked some fancy A's tickets. 

....And we even wore gloves during the tie-dye

We lost, but I was too busy staring at Jack White a few rows down to really care.  He was in town for an SF performance.

Jack looked way happier that night than he did at the Cubs game.  He must be an A's fan.

Real picture

Earthquake day was not only the Gentleman's b-day, it was our one-year wedding anniversary.  We won't normally celebrate our marriage on this date (since it's his b-day, duh) but this year we had the chance to celebrate by staying at the Claremont, which is where we stayed during our wedding.  The hotel treated us (long story short: over a complaint I made about our stay last year), and I got a kick out of seeing "Mr. Connell" everywhere since I booked the rooms.  You see, this is an error because we both kept our own last names.  But surely one day I'll convince him to change his to Mr. Connell ;)

The weekend after the earthquake I snuck back to Napa for a run.  16 miles.  I never run with my phone, never ever, because I love testing fate and being unsafe (no phone, no road i.d., no money, no planned route.)  I've begged strangers for water before, that's how stupid I roll.  

Running with a phone in hand was not fun (sweaty and slippery!) but I did capture what I intended--the earthquake impact to downtown Napa and my parents' hood.

The sidewalks were snapped in half.  The City pounced on fixing roads, but no time yet for the sidewalks.


There were also a number of red-tagged homes that were visibly crooked.  Melting.  Poor things.

And a lot of missing chimneys.  Brick.  Not so sturdy.

A chimney used to be there

The Napa civil courthouse, where I interned after my first year of law school

Where there is a courthouse, there is a Bail Bonds business

On the bright side, while in Napa I got to see these cute faces

The end.  I'll talk about running some other time. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Town's Half Marathon 2014

Three race recaps in a row.... all part of my mission to become Arkansas Runner Mom (Tia can race a LOT, and very well, when she is in fighting shape!)

The Town's Half Marathon in Oakland took place on Saturday August 16, 2014.  I became interested in running it just a few weeks beforehand since Facebook is very clever and knows that the best ads to put on my stream are race ads.

I signed up for it the day I posted the race giveaway -- last Monday.  Definitely not a "goal" race (as if I can remember the last time I raced a half marathon having really prepared for a PR) but racing sounded appealing after the San Francisco half three weeks prior.  I was itching to try and run a little better and harder.  And most importantly, finish strong.  I was disappointed in finishing a half marathon with a 7:20 mile on a flat road, since I kind of feel like at this point a sub-7:00 pace should be an easy target to reel in for a strong finish even if I haven't been speed training.  Maybe that feeling is misguided, but it's there.

During the 3 weeks between the SF Half and this race I practiced finishing strong 2-3 times a week.  No idea why I haven't done this before because I am loving it.  Who doesn't want to finish their run thinking "Boo-Yah! Did you see THAT neighbors!?"

Three weeks, of course, is not long enough for any serious magic to happen.  But it was long enough for me to not finish with a 7:20 mile, and to run almost 3 minutes faster overall.

This race had all the qualities of my ideal race:

  • Overcast (I LOVE overcast weather - I get headaches when I run in the sun)
  • Small field (1500ish runners)
  • Not dead flat the whole time, but not constant hills either
  • Loop (as opposed to out-and-back or point-to-point)
  • 7:00 a.m. start (less likely to get to warm!)
  • Super easy to park near the start
  • The race fees went towards things more novel than a band every few miles (I personally find bands at races...forgettable, and gain nothing from hearing them play for 4 seconds before it fades behind me).
Those novel things? There was a "minimal waste" theme, such that at the finish instead of handing out water bottles all racers received a Brita-filter water bottle that could be filled up at a number of water barrels.  Another new race trend that I am loving is free race photographs.  I would gladly pay $10 more per race for free photos. 

Speaking of photos.

Lake Merritt WHYYYYY DID YOU LEAVE ME COME BACK.  Oakland makes me wistful. 
I loved the race route.  Nothing fancy, just a nice tour of some of my favorite parts of Oakland, but on the road instead of the sidewalk where I am normally delegated to for a run.

The weather was still not ideal despite being overcast - about 63 degrees at the start and pretty humid.  Perfect race temps, to me, means I am wearing a throwaway sweatshirt at the start and shivering.  Anything less is too warm.

70% good job to this photographer

My left leg was bitter as always but I'm learning to live with it, develop some improvements, and continue to try and understand it.  I felt the urge to stop and stretch it out as it was locking up at mile 2, but since I didn't have to until mile 4.5 at the SF Half, I mentally refused to stop/stretch before mile 4.  I stretched right around the mile 4 marker, and decided to take quick stretch breaks at every water stop.  I ended up stopping to stretch at water stops 3 times.  Bonus: I was able to hydrate fairly well!

Right from the start I was in 2nd place for women, and I stayed that way throughout.  I played leap frog with the same 5-10 guys or so but was often kind of lonely.  The volunteers were extra fun and supportive.

The mile markers were off by about 0.2 miles until the last 2 miles, but I went through the halfway mark by my watch (~ mile 6.55) at 44 minutes.  I decided to try my freaking hardest to negative split and finish under 1:28.

Juuuuust missed it.  1:28:04.  6:44 pace.  2nd place woman of 768.

I was still happy to even-split.  That's not something I do often.  Especially given the hills were in the second half of the course.

I didn't finish with my fastest miles, but they weren't my slowest either, and they didn't start with a "7." 6:42 and 6:50.  I was content with that.

One of the quietest finish lines ever.  Except for Mayor Quan, who was jumping and cheering and gave me handshake

I stuck around for over an hour after finishing to chat with friends I hadn't known would be there and to collect a nice prize of a Brita pitcher and a good month's supply of Vega Sport products.  Anyone have any thoughts, good or bad, on Vega? It appears to be plant based protein foods that support an athlete's diet.  Sounds good to me so far, but tastes like you would think plant based protein would taste.  Chocolate flavored grass.

Afterwards I had my perfect Saturday.  A visit from my sister, niece and nephew, and a night out in SF with two stellar friends I hadn't seen in too long.  My cheeks burned from laughing by the end of the day.

Admiring the race medal
Next up is a 5k in a few weeks, so I am hesitantly going to test out the track in the next week or two.  Still trying to balance the line between not aggravating my left leg while physical therapy is proving to bring some degree of improvement to my leg; and getting back into running hard and preparing for CIM.  

Monday, August 11, 2014


After years of being too afraid and too attached to longer distances, I ran my first 5k on July 4.

I walked into a running store a couple weeks before the race and they were promoting the race with a $30.00 registration.  I rationalized it was the perfect time to run my first 5k.  It was conveniently located; I needed something to jumpstart running faster after a long period of taking it easy; I could test out the progress of my ART/Graston/training treatment; and I had no pressure to run anything spectacular, so my automatic PR would set a nice high bar to allow the opportunity to knock out new PRs if it turned out I enjoyed this whole 5k thing.

Plan: go out at a 6:00 pace, hang on to that pace.

Actual: 5:58; 6:02; 6:21 (this is approximate based on my memory; it has been over a month after all).

The course is officially a 3.22 course, which is almost spot on with what my Garmin clocked me at.  Official finish time 19:43, 6:07 pace, 2nd place woman.

From the course website

It turned out to be one of the most economical races of my life.  For $30.00, I was lucky enough to get a 2nd place-women prize of a $100.00 gift card to Sports Basement, a store we were already hooked on.  We've been there all summer, and we bought our bikes there, so I was ecstatic to cash in for some new camping gear before we went to Lassen.

before the race. my eyes stay sleep-squinty until I run

The course wasn't particularly easy; there were a couple decent humps to climb, and some cars parked in inner-tangents to maneuver around.

I saw a girl with a sponsor tattooed on her six-pack at the starting line, and thought to myself, "second place will do."  She did indeed win, and was lovely to talk to after the race. 

 You can see her up front in the photo below; and you can see me with a look of terrified despair at how to run a 6:00 pace in a clump of arm swings, far right of photo in the same pink/red shirt I have worn for my last 3 races, I now realize.

I knew that a 5k would hurt, and specifically it started hurting right around mile 1.5.  It was a pure, grunt and sweat countdown from there.

I learned that a 6:00 minute mile is reasonable for 2 miles, but impossible for 3.

I learned my treatment wasn't a miracle yet; in the last half mile or so my left calf was angry and tangly, further substantiating that this cramping issue isn't electrolyte related.  I mean it was hot, but it was mile 3.

With no speed/track work under my belt, my leg turnover felt sloppy rather than snappy, as it does after a few weeks at the track.  I'm excited to run a 5k later this year after some track work to see how much better I can do.

The last 0.22 of pure pain


One thing I loved about this race is that it was presented by the local police association, benefiting crisis centers.  Uniformed cops running the bib pick-up and race course? Yes, yes, and thank you.

That's about all I've got for a 5k recap.  It was over right after it began.  I think that made it my husband's favorite race so far; he got a coffee after the start, and then there I was back at the finish.  He rode his bike to/from the race with me while I jogged there (4 miles each way) which also made it a really fun morning for me.


AND NOW my favorite kind of giveaway: a race entry!

The only things most runners really "need" are shoes, shorts, a sports bra (women), and an occasional race.  Come jump for your chance to get one of those essentials.

I apologize in advance for making you act fast, because the race is THIS SATURDAY.  It is in Oakland, my very favorite city in the whole wide world (depending on my mood).

I'm feeling particularly wistful for Oakland lately so I really, badly wanted to run this brand new race that mimics my old running routes, which I stomped over hundreds of times over the course of 6 years.  So badly that I contacted the race director, and here we are.  Me and one of y'all get to run it in just a few days.

The race: The Town's Half-Marathon.

The descriptionThe Town’s Half Marathon—Run 13.1 miles throughout the best of Oakland.  Start at Tribune Tower, wind your way through uptown, downtown, Jack London Square, around glistening Lake Merritt and finish to a concert on the steps of City Hall!  Join us at this hyper-local event and stay for the RunOak local wine and beer festival.

To enter: leave a comment here, or on one of my forthcoming tweets about the giveaway.

If you enter and do not win, or if you want to bypass the giveaway, use this 10% off code: THETOWNSROSERUN at this link.  It is good through August 15, 2014. 

I will contact the winner by the end of Wednesday, since odds are 100% I won't be putting up a blog post by then to announce a winner.  If you don't comment with your blog or twitter name, leave me your email in your comment. 

There will be a few more half-marathon race entry giveaways in the next year, and next time I promise to post them with more advance time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

San Francisco Marathon - 2nd Half Marathon

Race satisfaction is all about expectations.

I didn't run anywhere near a personal best at the San Francisco Marathon "Second Half-Marathon," but I finished more content than I have at a race in a while.  I've had a lot of disappointments with races the past year, primarily attributable to feeling strong in my training but having issues ("injuries") with respect to my left leg that leave me unable to give it my all when the heat is on.

Without speed or hill training, and with months of low mileage (for me), I expected this race to hurt and to generally be disappointing.

Instead, I finished right at my "wishful thinking" time (1:30) and for the first time in a LONG time, I finished without feeling like my bad leg had been put through a meat grinder.

All was not perfect, but seriously.  My leg didn't feel abused.  That's a good thing.

Free race photos! Huge perk

The first half of the race was through Golden Gate Park, overcast, and I clung to my cheap, fog-attracting sunglasses since I thought they would fall off my head.  Oakley, call me.  (Or tell me what running sunglasses you recommend, I'm in the market).

It was far more humid than any weather I've run in this summer, because race day always brings weather obstacles.  Once the sun came out, the humidity felt extra special.

The first mile was downhill, and fast.  Somewhere around 6:15 for me.  After that, the race was steady up, up, up, DOWN SO STEEP SO SHORT, up, up, up.  At least that's how it felt to me.  The downhill portions were harsh!  Feet-slapping downhills.  The kind where you worry your quads will pay for that soon.

This photographer.  With his clever close ups. 
Even though this is one of the hilliest road half-marathons I've run, the most challenging part of the race was not the hills, but the mental exhaustion of weaving around marathoners.

The second half marathon throws runners into a stream of marathoners that are hitting their halfway point on pace to a 4.5-to-5 hour marathon.  

This is both cool, and very, very bad.  The cool part is that it is motivating to reel past other runners; it makes you feel strong as you pick other people off.  It is cool because marathoners might get a burst of energy from seeing all the fresh half-marathoners pulling them along.

It is bad because it is a mental challenge to constantly be alert and focused on how to pass all these runners.  So much weaving, so much running on the farthest tangent, so many water stops missed.  I ran a 13.32 according to Sir Garmin, and I'm sure this was partially attributed to all the weaving.  I also think I settled for a pace that felt fast, comparatively, because in some strange way the marathoners' pace was messing with my inner metronome. 

On the same note, it sucks for the marathoners who are probably thinking "shut it halfers.  I've been trucking for 2 hours and you and your spritely legs can go ahead and run the long tangent because I'm tired and have 2.5 hours to go."

This start schedule also meant I experienced what it is like to be in the caboose of a race in terms of water stops and volunteers....and it's rough.  Volunteers seemed to be running out of steam and few were handing out drinks.  The roads were a mess of cups.  People slowed and crowded to a stop for water, and I couldn't summon the energy to wedge my way in there (or otherwise failed to find a cup when I made an attempt).

Without any hydration, and the extra dose of humidity, I became overheated and/or dehydrated and boy did I feel it during the last mile. 

Miles 2-12 were all around 6:45-6:50.  Mile 13? 7:20.  I was hanging on for dear life.

6:49 garmin pace for 13.32 miles; 6:55 official pace; 1:30:52. 

I finished feeling pretty sick.  I drank everything in the world (water; coconut water; kombucha; a green drink) and couldn't eat food for several hours.  I felt so drained and needed to lie down with my eyes closed during a birthday barbecue we went to that afternoon. 

Things had been feeling ok until that last mile!  It was a flat mile, but exposed and shadeless.  I was just toast.

I felt the alarm bells of a potential calf "tangle" cramp, and the associated stiffening/locking of my knee, at the fourth mile; so I stopped and stretched at mile 4.5.  I stopped again near mile 8.  This method--stop at the first sign of a problem and stretch -- seemed to really work for me.  My leg issues didn't become a bigger problem like they have in past races.  I really wanted to stretch again during the last 3 miles, but I knew it wouldn't be worth it to find the impossible energy to start again at the same speed after coming to a dead stop.

I'm going to continue to subscribe to the running plan I've been on -- namely, no serious speed work.  My leg is feeling better, and I feel I'm on this precipice where I could slide backwards and lose these gains so easily.  I'm afraid of speedwork because of this.

I will be avoiding the track for a while (sad. I like it there) and focusing on continued but decreased treatment with my sports therapist, throwing in some comfortable tempo miles (7:00-ish pace) and some fast-finishes, something that seems so key and that I have never done.

Never done.

I also never finish fast in races.  Huh.

That's my new goal.  Stop finishing like the fading positive splitter that I am.  Finish strong.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a breathtaking little secret.

We got a generous dose of nature's medicine over the course of 6 days in the truly North part of Northern California.

Lassen is about 4 hours north of the Bay Area, an hour east of Redding, and the least visited National Park (I think that is a true statistic but don't hold me to it.)

I don't mind if it stays that way....but it is confounding why it is the case.  I have only been to Yosemite once and was underwhelmed, partially because of the high expectations but mostly because of the crowds.  I can't understand why Yosemite is 10000000x more popular than Lassen.

I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Our first campsite was in the center of Lassen at Summit Lake.  The lake was serene and the campsite is one I would definitely return to because of the convenient location near great trails, some of which start right at the campsite.  However if you want to avoid kids, this isn't your spot.  They play in the lake all day.  And avoid spot C11.  We were too close to the primitive toilets for the comfort of our noses.

Nice and early before the kids take over

We pulled off 5 mostly comfortable nights in a small backpacking tent.  The secret is to lay out a thick comforter, and then use your sleeping bags on top.

Our first hike was 8.5 miles from Bumpass Hell parking lot to Kings Creek.  That's pronounced "Bump-iss," unfortunately.

Lake Helen
We hiked by Lake Helen on the way in and out, and I dunked into it as we approached the end of our miles.  It was a hot 90 degrees out and I was dreaming of this reward.  Lake Helen, it turns out, is snow melt and I later learned is the coldest lake in the park.  I might have screamed while dunking in.  Genius pick on my part.

As the park name implies, Lassen consists of several volcanoes, one if which was so massive that when it blew, it left a ragged outline of mountain peaks and a huge valley of geothermal activity in its wake.  The geothermal activity is a nice preview of what Yellowstone has to offer.

Bumpass Hell is the most exciting geothermal attraction.  It hissed so loudly with steaming sulphur that you could hear it from a mile away.  The attraction is named after a guide who lost his leg after stepping onto a loose layer that collapsed into a boiling mud pot.

The rest of the hike towards King's Creek was silent, empty, and full of gorgeous meadows, flowers, animals and lakes.  We saw some unique birds, beavers, a ton of chipmunks, and thankfully no bears.  Lassen is bear country, which is the one reason that national parks are not perfect.  Bears scare the balls out of me and I wouldn't be sad at all if we could sprinkle magical bear food on the ground that turns all bears into cartoon-ish Winnie the Poohs or Yogi Bears.

We didn't see this coming since our hike was hot and dry....but somehow during our 8 hours away from camp, our campsite got rained on.  It's July so we reasonably didn't put our rain tarp over our tent.  

Our sleeping gear was soaked.

We had about 1 hour of sunlight left to lay out everything to dry in the sun.  It worked? ish? Lesson learned -- always put your rain tarp up!

Another day, another hike.  12 mile "lake" loop from our campsite, past the Twin Lakes, the Bear Lakes, back to our site.

We took a dip in one of the Twin Lakes.

The rest of this hike was creepy and depressing.  We tried hard to find something to appreciate in the acres and acres of blackened trees (from a 2012 fire).  After all, fire is an essential part of the life cycle of the wilderness. But we failed to appreciate it.  No shade = extra hot.  About 4 miles of fire graveyard.

At the end of this day it was time to head over to our second campsite, at Butte Lake.  This was a good 1.5 hour drive from our first campsite, to give you an idea of the size of Lassen.

We passed through Lake Manzanitas, which is a major entryway for everyone coming from Redding, and thus more crowded than it deserves to be.  We filled up on an ice cream cone, fire wood, and ice for our cooler.

We also stopped by this "book exchange" on the side of the road because I forgot to bring any reading material.  The options were slim, very slim, and I reluctantly picked John Grisham's "The Firm."  What a fantastic pick.  It is (accidentally) the funniest book ever, EVER, for the modern lawyer at least.  It is so silly and dated and not-quite-accurate.  Two small examples: it repeatedly refers to "flunking" the Bar exam, which is something I've never heard.  You pass or you fail. You don't "flunk."  Another is the constant reference to how billables are a uniquely big deal at this firm.  "It's all about the billables."  Newsflash: that's every private firm in the country. I'm going to start a new blog where I go page-by-page and discuss hilarious findings.  It's such a bad book.

When we got to our site at Butte Lake, it was raining again.  We stalled and stalled before setting up camp, hoping the rain would stop, but it didn't.  We unpacked and made a quick meal and I stole the Gentleman's raincoat since he brought one.  I had wisely declared it would be 90 degrees the whole time, and therefore brought nothing warm or waterproof.

Our Butte Lake site had access to one of the parks most memorable trails: the Cinder Cone trail.  You pass by miles of solidified lava chunks that flowed from the Cinder Cone volcano about 350 years ago.  Then you hike straight up the Cone itself.

Presenting, lava!!

First glimpse
If you take a good look at the picture below, you can see the small specks of two people hiking up the trail.  It is so, so steep and challenging.  My legs were shaky with fatigue just halfway up.  The entire volcano consists of cinder, so it is a steep hike up earth that is the consistency of sand and pebble.  A lot of people don't make it to the top.  It seems to never end.

But once you reach the top, the reward is so very worth it.

Straight up Cinder Cone

Looking into the mouth of Cinder Cone 

A view of the miles of  solidified lava flow

Painted dunes and more lava flow

Mount Lassen yonder.  The trail to the peak was closed for maintenance/improvements, so we missed out.


During our 6 day trip, I ran on days 3, 5, and 6 (4 miles, 5 miles, and 8 miles respectively).  I mostly ran in circles around the campsites because I'm not a fan of running by myself in bear country.  

I was not the only weirdo running.  Our neighbors at one site were 4 young runners who seemingly did nothing but run.  I woke up and saw them running; we started our fire at sundown and saw them running.  I tried to make friends with them, but quickly learned they were incompatibly younger than me based on the degree of valley girl accent.

I'm running a half marathon in San Francisco tomorrow (Sunday July 27).  It's probably going to be really uncomfortable for me.

My doctor never officially lifted his "no speedwork, no hill work" stay on my running, and I never officially dove back in to hard work.  The extent of my speed work since the Boston Marathon, three months ago, is one fast mile (at 5:50); a 5k (to be discussed later); and a 9 mile "effort" run at about 7:15 pace.  I haven't done anything more strenuous because, quite simply, I'm not done with all the work required to fix my leg.  Something is still not quite right, despite some improvement.

I'm trying to make my brain understand that it is more eager than my fitness would allow.  I should go out tomorrow at a 7:15 pace, and just try to hold that, or speed up.  But I won't.  I'll probably fall into old habits and start at a 6:30 pace, then totally die after 4 miles.  That sounds ok though.  I'd rather at least freaking try.

And maybe, just maybe, the FueledByLolz training plan of "no speed work at all, ever, except occasional 5ks" will magically work, and I can pull off something close to a 1:30.    


Who has been to Lassen?

What's your favorite National Park? I spend a lot of time debating this in my mind.  I think my list goes: Grand Canyon; Zion; Yellowstone.  I am DYING to go to Glacier National Park next.