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.



RUNNING

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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Oiselle Runners World Article

What's ablaze!?

Last week it was an article in Runners World about Oiselle -- specifically, how it strives to be a "different" bird in the running apparel world.

Secret: I knew this article was coming, kind of, and was also quoted in it.

I had no idea what the article would be about.  I was contacted by the journalist for an interview about Oiselle, which I was happy to oblige.  The interview was a solid hour, and although I almost saw it coming I was mostly blindsided by questions about a very, very ancient post I wrote about the Oiselle Olympic Track Trials contest.

Because it was stale to me, I didn't have a lot to say during the interview.  I did discuss, in general, the various reasons why people like me in this online running community are rubbed the wrong way by the company.  Including the way they feast on pretty girls with a compulsion to engage in social media to pimp their brand, without any compensation in return other than a faux feeling of "belonging" or....superiority.

For a small demographic of "thoughtful" consumers who see through the company's hypocritical, vulture-like tactics, the marketing turns me off.  And it's impossible to escape.  I get an email weekly from Oiselle (which I haven't unsubscribed to purely out of fascination with the ridiculous bubbly girl-time tone), or from Twitter asking me if I'd like to follow Oiselle.

Anyway.  I basically ended up in the article as "the loser of a Oiselle contest, to the cute and self-deprecating winner and leading woman of the article."

(Not to mention the month+ old quote attributed to me doesn't make sense now that virtually anyone can join the flock if they cough up $100 fast enough.)

If you can't find my quote, search the article for "Caitlin."  That's me.

My other reactions to the article beyond celebrating my loser-status:

1) Girlfriend threw away all of her Lululemon gear in exchange for a singlet and a 30% off code?! That's crazy.

I honestly don't have anything else to say about this other than it was eye-opening, especially as the lead to the story.  Pure crazy.

It's a terrible deal for everyone but Oiselle. Why not negotiate for a hot second to reach an agreement where the flock members get to keep their old running clothes like the normal people they are.

And it's probably a case of too many selfies on the internet if you have to throw away non-sponsored clothes at risk of being seen in another brand.

2) This women power shit is so disingenuous.

As intelligently discussed here.

If Oiselle truly wanted to build a camaraderie among women runners, how about start by selling your singlet for a normal price without requiring membership or a label.  They have built their marketing scheme on a platform of exclusivity.  The Flock.  The Team.  It's bogus to then promote it as a company for all women.

Don't listen to Oiselle.  Just run without worrying about whether you belong to a cool club or not.  One of my favorite things about running in many ways is how lonely it is.  Of course some would turn running into a clique.

3) It's Not Too Late To Turn Your Reputation Around

Case in point: I voluntarily bought some Nuun last week.

 I purchased Tangerine Lime


With these hotter summers than I'm used to (microclimates -- it is way, way hotter in my new city than it was in Oakland), I have been fading hard during weekend late-morning runs.  Grabbing a couple tablets, and carrying my small handheld water bottle, sounds like a good solution (haven't tried it yet so can't confirm).  We are also going to be hiking during 90-100 degree days in Lassen, and I think they will help enhance our water.

Point being, I was finally able to see the product in the store without recoiling.  I saw it for the first time as a useful product that solves a real problem.  They've kept themselves disassociated with desperate blog shillers (at least on my blogroll) for a long enough period of time that I no longer distrusted the brand.

4) In conclusion....

The article and author produced a commendable attempt at a "fair" presentation of the company status.  The fact that it acknowledged the naysayers on a big platform like Runners World is pretty cool.  The voices of the annoyed consumers are heard.

I especially enjoyed the ribbing at the relatively small ripple Oiselle has made in the real, non-runner-online-community world: "I am not very familiar with that company. Sorry I can't help." -- retail analyst.

The $$ numbers also add up to a sort of anticlimactic story.  Oiselle is gossiped about at a much greater proportion than one would imagine for a truly "small" company based on sales.  Not all publicity is good publicity y'all.  Clearly some approaches to marketing are failing.  All this talking isn't corresponding to dollars in the bank.

And you know what? Maybe my thighs are just getting too strong (i.e. wide) for the pretty Oiselle crowd, but my much-adored Distance shorts are starting to really suck.  I'm chafing even in my fresh pairs.  They don't have me hooked at all anymore.

Time to share YOUR thoughts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

You're Still Talking About Boston?

Ha cha cha, blog post!

Did you miss me-slash-us??
When RunnersKitchen has been  blogging more than you, you know you're slacking.

I'll tell you where I've been since Boston.  Focused on fixing my body and the legendary leg-lock.  Very focused.  More than I've ever been.

Continuing to blog while trying to fix an "ailment" (notice I am not committed to using the word "injury") would be wise to document, both for me and readers.  However it's not something I have wanted to do.  Instead, I committed to weeks and months of proactive recovery, in the hopes that I will be able to share true progress reports.  Or share an affirmative "I'm fucked forever" report.

I've been working with Precision Sports Medicine for several months.  Treatment began about 5-6 weeks before the Boston marathon, and I've stuck with it since.  One day a week of treatment (graston, ART) and two days a week of physical therapy (TRX, bosu balancing, medicine balls, all of it).

The value there is fantastic -- for almost a full hour of treatment, I pay the same amount I used to pay for 15 minutes of ART at a competing business.  And I love my docs.  They are patient, encouraging, determined, and understanding (of things like runners wanting to, you know, run.)

I'm sturdy as shit now, too.  I'm breaking world records at the one-leg balance on a bosu ball. 40 seconds.  Call me, Guinness book of whatever.

I'm hoping to cut back soon, for the sake of my wallet and the stress of fitting this all in between work hours.  It has been tricky to pull off.

Treatment won't completely stop anytime soon though.  I've seen improvements in my running, I feel sturdy and strong and less uneven or "crooked".  But I am not confident the improvements are permanent yet, or that they won't slip slide backwards as soon as I try and race again.  I mean I have certainly had demoralizing runs mixed in with the encouraging ones these past 2 months.

Along the way, I got an x-ray of my left hip and an MRI of my back.  The orthopedic I was referred to straight up refused an MRI of my hip because he was positive, based on my 30 second description of my symptoms, that it was not a hip issue -- and that if it was a labral tear, well who cares because 50%+ of the population has a labral tear.  Oooookkkaayyyyy.

Anyway good news, nothing wrong based on those images.  My sports therapist has continued to treat me as though a number of potential things could be wrong, so the results of a hip MRI probably wouldn't change our course much.  No one seems too concerned (or concerned enough to call running off altogether) since I can technically run 10+ miles (so long as I'm not racing it) without problem.

I was prescribed less mileage after Boston.  I rocked 40 miles/week forever, and have recently worked my way up to about 60.  I was also prescribed no speed work, no hills, only soft surfaces, so that has been boring as shit.

I plan to dip my toe back into speed work any minute now, which is part of why I thought I should get back to blogging.  First, to see how my body reacts to faster speeds with the treatment and strength training; and Second, because....

I'm signed up for THREE races! 2 out of 3 are complimentary entries, thanks to leaning on the crutch of some of my old fast times. (sub 1:28 half allows free entry for these races).  San Francisco Marathon "second half," Berkeley half, and CIM! Love CIM.  So sad I had to miss it last year.  Sorry to everyone planning to run it, but now that I have signed up, the forecast will be a monsoon or 85 degrees or 4 degrees.

Not to bring up Boston, which is old news, but I had intended to share some other fun photos and moments from the trip but then I was kidnapped and denied access to my blog.

Traveling with my mom was a major highlight.  I don't think I've had the luck to do so since I was 16!

We played tourist all over the Freedom Trail
The coolest photo to make it out of Boston with us.  Captured by the Gentleman around mile 17

Ze Boston Public Library, like all good libraries, had a room of stinky homeless people

With time passed, my feelings towards the trip are still conflicted.  Great experience, bummer experience.  I'm pretty sure I won't be running it again in 2015, or even 2016.  It was for sure worth doing in 2014, of all years, and that will tide me over for a few years I think.  I can't justify that expense again in the near future for a 3-day "vacation."   We are leaving shortly for a 5-day summer vacation to Lassen National Park, and the whole trip so far adds up to about $300, gas and food included, so it's not cool for me to be like "HEY let's multiply that cost by 15, and spend it on a 3 day trip all about ME and my hobby that I can do virtually ANYWHERE."  So....California marathons it is for the foreseeable future.

Am I level headed or am I missing something? Traveling across state lines for races every year, or multiple times a year, is whack to me (for the non-professional runner).  Even if your family claims to be 1000% supportive of devoting vacation funds to your races, it's unfair to them.  Unless you're just dripping with extra money and free time...

Also in reflection, the memory of the last few miles at Boston still stings.  I appreciate the electrolyte and pickle juice advice I received in my last post, but I know my body.  The dreadful calf cramp that threatened to end my race at the 26th mile was related to my leg-lock symptoms.  I had the same tangle cramp at all of the most recent races I ran, even a 50-degree half-marathon.  The only difference is in those races, I didn't have another 15 miles to run on the tangle cramp, so I survived without much issue.  Frustratingly, not even my sports therapist understood.  When I told him what happened, he thought it was great I got to finish, and blamed it on electrolytes.  Nah.  Most patients may be a matter of "doc, just help me get to the finish line!" but that's not me.  I didn't need his help to get to the finish line.  I've run sub 3:10 marathons on this mess of a leg.  I needed help to get strong and healed so I could focus on my race and normal marathon pain, instead of leg-lock problems.  Well, I wasn't strong or healed, since I gave the poor doc 5 weeks to fix a 2.5 year old injury.

You runners are the dictionary definition of insane.
Regardless, I am now feeling strong on my leg formerly known as the bad leg-lock leg, and only time and a race will tell how it holds up.

Hopeful. 
I'm planning to turn that photo into an inspirational poster.  "When you feel like you've reached the end of your rope, climb into a bird home and hang on."

In addition to pumping some medicine balls and TRX cords, the Gentleman and I have been spinning wheels.  We bought bikes!

I'm not great at getting ON the bike.  Or off.  It's messy.

We have been going for "short" rides every weekend, and occasionally after work (TGI-Summer).  Haven't gone farther than about 15 miles on any given excursion, which is just about all my crotch and back can handle.  Flabbergasted as to how any of y'all can stay in that position for 100+ miles.

Please be advised I'm a big bike wimp.  I hate riding on roads with cars; I hate sharp turns; I hate going fast downhill; I hate that I can't hear anything because of the wind whipping around my ears.  I sometimes forget how un-athletic I am until I try something that isn't running.  (see: swimming.)

As another supplement to "cross-training," we occasionally go for a hike from our front door.  Can you believe that the hike to this photo view is exactly one mile (almost all straight up) from our home? I still can't.  I'm handling suburbia quite well.

Our "backyard."

Aaaand, using a teapot to water the one non-weed plant in our real "backyard."

I'm back! Say hi to me so I remember how this works, and I'll come again soon.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

2014 Boston Marathon



The title of my last post before Boston amuses me now.

“I have no idea what to expect.”  

It was true! I was prepared for the best – a safe, wonderful race with a shiny PR.  I was prepared for the worst – having to stop to stretch, warm weather, a new blog-marathon-worst somewhere above my previous blog-marathon-worst of 3:11:47.

I left my expectations wide open for Boston to surprise me, because I simply had no brain capacity to imagine the experience of running a race with 32,000 others, on a historic course, with more energy and pride and everything buzzing.

Still…I never prepared myself for the possibility of flying all the way out for the Boston Marathon…. and not finishing.  Not stepping over the painted concrete that I and thousands others had swarmed around in the days prior, like the celebrity that it is.

But there I was. Lying on the ground with one mile left.  Causing a nuisance to all the tired runners trying to trudge around me.  And I was not going to finish the Boston Marathon.

Dramatic enough?  Let’s rewind.

*****

For anyone who reads here and is not immersed in the obsessive running community such that they have already read (or experienced) an account of the 2014 Boston Marathon, I want to share details that illustrate what made this year so….Boston.  So unique.  So Special.

And so this will be a bit long. 

About to see the Finish Line for the first time

From the moment I arrived at the boarding gate at SFO, to the moment I exited the BART train to taxi home, I was surrounded by runners (or supporters) adorned in Boston marathon finisher jackets and other clothing.  It is such a freaking cult, and I don’t mean that in a mean way, I mean it just is that way.  It's easy to get sucked into.

Boston was heavily saturated with Boston Strong energy and pride.  It was on everybody’s mind at all times.  This year….is for last year.  That is what it was.

I ran a 2 mile shakeout run Sunday.  I made an executive decision that I hated the arch support that I was “prescribed” by my physical therapist, and so I took them out and never looked back.  Who knows if things would have played out differently if I stuck with them.

Dinner was pho.  I slept about 5 hours, and honestly? I dreamt about terrorist attacks.  I’m telling you, last year is all that was on anybody’s mind.

The Gentleman took this photo so he would remember what colors to look for.  I bet I was super easy to find in this special color called red.
Monday morning, I got on the bus by my lonesome and was so tired (very little sleep all week, work and travel related) that although as excited as I’ve ever been about anything, I decided to play calm and not engage too much with bus-mates.  There was constant engagement throughout this trip – strangers have never had so much in common or such easy topic starters  But this morning, I wanted to be in my own brain and take it all in.

The bus ride was long.  The Athletes Village was huge.  I smiled ear to ear entering under the Athletes Village sign.  Welcome to Hopkinton!  (which is the most beautiful unusual town I’ve ever seen…the spread of homes is so different from anything in California).

I ate what seemed like a lot for a "brain time" of 4:00 a.m. (PST time, no chance to adjust to the time change).  I had most of a bagel with a tiny bit of peanut butter; half a banana; a honey stinger gel; and chugged probably 150-200 cals of electrolyte carb drink (tailwind nutrition endurance fuel, found at a local running store.)

I sprawled out on a space blanket after using the bathroom and sunscreened up. Tip: they hand out free packets of sunscreen at the Athletes Village (although I sacrificed a full bottle that I brought and tossed).

There was a moment of silence in the Athletes Village in honor of last year's losses. Thirty thousand chattering and excited voices fell silent, and even the portable bathrooms were left untouched. Chills.

As I approached my wave around 9:40 a.m. (Wave 1, Corral 8), jets flew overhead to fly the course from start to finish.  More Chills.

I took off my warm-up clothes.  No chills.  

This would be a warm day.

I met blog reader Dana who was running 3 months after giving birth.  She ran a 3:18, making her one of the only people I know who did better than planned that Monday.  Tell me how!

After I finally skipped over that starting line, about 6 minutes after 10:00 a.m., this is how it went for me:

“I’m in mile 1 of THE BOSTON MARATHON. Woo hoo!”

“I’m in mile 2 of THE BOSTON MARATHON. OMG!”

“I’m in mile 3 of THE BOSTON MARATHON. High five! Power five! You are wicked awesome too!”

And so on and so forth.

For at least the first four miles I was jammed enough in the crowds that I had zero say over my pace.  It was all right on target however, between 6:50-7:05.

I noticed a little leggity-lockety at mile 2, but with all the sense overload…it was hard to feel anything except the sound of the crowds. I certainly did not focus on my leg the way I normally do in training or at "quieter" races.  At mile 4, I noticed the foot in my bad leg going a little stiff which was painful. Before long, I had forgotten about that too.

Also in these early miles, we passed a stereo blaring “Sweet Caroline.”  (Not a song I'd want to hear on repeat the full day.)  The mass of runners chanted along in chorus, still sprightly, early, cheerful.  Chills.

Through mile 13 it was smooth sailing and easy, to my recollection.  I passed the half in 1:31:37, which was a very conservative effort on my part given all the adrenaline, the caffeine, the downhills, the crowds, etc.  I had been warned about taking the first half easy or I would pay, and I honestly did not think I could have been more gentle. 


Feeling good at the half, as documented by the only flattering photographer angle

I checked myself at the half, and thought, “sure, I can run another 1:31.  Ok, maybe 1:32 or 1:33.  But A PR is something I can still fight for.”

Obviously Mile 13 was indescribable.  Those Wellesley girls cheering had me smiling ear to ear.  It’s funny, after the race my mom asked me if they were hanging out their dorm windows cheering, and I realized I had that similar image in my mind when I heard about the Wellesley girls years ago from a roommate in college (grad student) who had graduated from Wellesley. Ha, it’s not like that at all. 

You know what else? College-aged girls look way younger than I remember.  I’m getting old. They were little girls!

I hung on through the first serious hill that threw on the brakes for many runners (mile 16?)  I was energetically anticipating MILE 17, where I’d see my hunk and my mom.  I slowed down to a 7:10 pace by now, losing sight of a PR, but was feeling ok (at least I don’t remember major problems) and reached my happiness pinnacle when I saw them.  Two high fives! Put your camera down who cares I need high fives!

In Boston with Cheerleader # 2, my mom.
I was...probably not fueling very well.  I had tried to balance the fine line of starting the race fueled, but not full.  Instead I realized I was nearing "hungry" at the 10:00 a.m. start, so I started eating honey stinger chews at mile 3.  Then I ate 1-2 chews every mile until I ran out.  Then I started taking both a water and a gatorade at every other aid station (which was slowing me down) because I was hot and thirsty.  Dumped a lot of that water on my head.

One brilliant thing about the crowds was how much independent fuel they provided.  I grabbed a water bottle twice from unofficial "aid stations" where a crowd-clump was handing them out.  Chugged a little down, dumped the rest on me.  I also grabbed a banana from a kiddo sometime around mile 20 thinking the potassium would save me or something. 

A contributor to my failed fueling was, having noticed in my training that drinking too much slows me down, I was carefully trying not to drink....too much.  I did not nail this.  I may have been dehydrated.  This may have played a part in what was to come. 

About a mile after I passed my cheerleaders at mile 17 my focus abruptly shifted from "can't wait to see my cheerleaders!" to "hey, what's going on with my body."  I think we went up, down, and then up down again, my pace slowed to high 7 minutes, and I observed my left leg was feeling the toll of the hilly course.  

Specifically, my calf started to fail on me.  Every few minutes -- maybe about every half mile -- I would lurch forward as my calf began to twist into a cramp, and then I would kind of "save" it from cramping with a shuffle step, and I would continue on, a little bit slower.  

I'll never know exactly why this was happening, but my suspicions, in order of likelihood, are: 

1) I was so distracted by the excitement that I was not in tune with my body, and I failed to stop and stretch my bad leg the way I normally do in training; and this pushed my leg past its normal operating point so my calf completely broke down; 

2) it was hot, hilly, and I was not getting in enough electrolytes.  The traveling certainly didn't help with my hydration levels.

Regardless, my mind goes kind of blurry from miles 20-25.  I recall thinking about quitting a lot, because shit felt tough.  I was thirsty.  That same old stupid calf tangle-cramp that has bothered me at many of my last few races was worse than ever before.

I remember finally pulling over to stop and stretch my calf around mile 20-22, and talking to it

"Come on calf, come on, you're ok! Let's get going!"  

Up and down another hill; stop to stretch.  My miles were beginning to clock in at the low 8:00 minutes.  I was shocked.  I haven't seen an "8" on my watch in a marathon during the 3+ year life of this blog.

I remember seeing a lot, lot, LOT of people walking.  It was messing with my brain.  I've never seen so many people walking during a marathon.  Like, 50% of people were walking from mile 22 onward.  I started to think walking was normal.  What the hell.

I was nevertheless still in kickass marathon mode so I forced my leg on.  The hills were over (although some dude totally lied to me and told me the second-to-last big hill was Heartbreak; it wasn't) so I kept trying to pick up the pace -- but each time I did, I would lurch forward and trip as my calf seized up.

Eventually I found myself near the end of the 25th mile.  

Suddenly, I was on the ground.

I can't remember if I fell, or how I found myself down there, but I was on the ground clutching my calf. The crowds were yelling at me -- "massage it!"  So I did.  I urgently clutched and massaged it, but my calf would not, for the love of Boston Strong, stop spasming.

At some point I looked down at my watch; I remember seeing a 3:05.  This was a bad dream.  Maybe it really was a dream? Here I was, stuck to the ground, the clock ticking away.

Since I was embarrassingly splat in the middle of the road in all the other runners' way, a Boston police officer squared himself in between me and oncoming runners.  A medical volunteer crouched next to me on the other side.

There was a lot of conversing with the Medic.  "Can you get up? Can you Move? Can I help you up?"

Let me try -- yeeeeoooowww -- nope.  The calf kept spasming.  It was dancing.  I stared at it pulsing, undulating in and out.

"Did you train?" Yes, sir.  I'm sorry. This doesn't usually happen.  I have this problem with my leg...sometimes my calf just....

"Should I get a medical shuttle for you?" I guess....I mean I can't get up.  I'm trying.  I can't get up.  I'll try again.  Yeeooowww! (louder.  more painful)

"Well. The medical shuttle just left to bring someone else in." (Thank goodness. This bought me some time).

Meanwhile, the cop was talking to me too.  "What can I do for you?"

My mind was flashing with frantic thoughts.  Most of them surrounded the tought that...holy fuck....I came all the way out here to Boston....and I'm not going to finish this marathon.  

"....Can you call my husband?"

I don't know why I thought this needed to happen, but I was in full emergency mode.  As far as I could think, this was a disaster, and he was at the finish line wondering where I was.  Instead I was a world away, an impossible distance, it would take me hours to crawl to the finish, and he would be worried.

Hesitating.  "Sure.  What's his number?"

And the sweet cop called my husband.  The Gentleman sure enjoyed getting a call from the Boston police.  Ha. Didn't occur to me that would be momentarily scary for him.

There we sat, waiting for a medic to sweep me out of everyone's way.  20 million hours had passed.  My watch confirmed it. 

I made my 1,000th attempt to pull myself on my feet without the calf beginning to spasm.  For some reason, finally....it didn't spasm.  I got up.  OMG.

The medic looked at me.  I looked back. The cop stared at me. I stared at the cop.  

"I think....I'm going to try.... and make it?"

I took a few gentle steps towards the finish line.  The crowd roared.  I laughed. I took a few more steps.  I started trotting.  And I was back in the race! The clock was ticking with me instead of against me!

I looked at my watch: 3:15.  Damn.  I had lost over 10 minutes.  (I'm still confused as to how much time I actually lost -- I truly do not know.)

Unfortunately, my goal to not be negative, and instead to leak positivity, was not working.  I was passing all these landmark moments - Citgo sign! A banner that said 1 mile to go!  Right on Hereford! Left on Boylston! And all I could think was, "NO. Not like this. Not like this."  I was not feeling positive.  I wanted the noise to turn off and I wanted to be invisible so that if I fell again, which I feared was certain, no one would see.

As soon as I turned left on Boylston though... ha, yeah, try not feeling amazing there.  What a moment.  For a brief second I was happy to be hobbling (at what was actually an 8:00 minute pace) because I was able to take that Boylston homestretch in, moreso than if I was sprinting my last breaths for a PR attempt.  I was scanning the crowds desperately looking for my cheerleaders, but I later learned there was restricted access and they did not make it in.  

I thought that homestretch would never end.  I was terrified my calf was going to cramp again.

I made it.  I finished.

Why yes, thank you, I will take all of the ice

3:23:45.  I'll never get those lost minutes back, but that number says it all.  It says, "something went very, very wrong."  20 minutes off my goal time.  22 minute positive split.

Facts:
Overall finish number is still, miraculously, lower than my bib number.  Huh. Everybody had a bad day?

The wreath from the hotel was a very cool touch. I hear Shalane really wants one of these, all she needs to do is stay at the W.
I could talk and talk and talk about my thoughts in hindsight.  It boils down to these simple things:

1) I had an amazing time
2) I had a terrible time
3) My result disappointed the shit out of me
4) I got over it; it's not that significant, and at least I finished
5) I really, really enjoyed my short 9 week training cycle in my new city
6) Thank you Boston for sharing your city in such a huge way
7) I am capable of so, much, better, and
8) I need to get an MRI.

More thoughts and Boston remnants to come. 

Fine print: "not even with a cramping calf."

Friday, April 18, 2014

I have no idea what to expect.

Here I am, balancing my last few hours between packing for a little trip to Boston and cramming in one last blog post.  Because come on.  You better post something before a big marathon, especially someone like me who only runs one marathon per year.

I am really looking forward to having a wonderful, emotional, claustrophobic, crazy, fun time.

My goal is to leak positivity out of every limb.  Out of my ears and eyes and mouth.  I want to enjoy the experience for what it is, and soak in every mile instead of count them down, or wish for the finish line to arrive.

Boston Happy

It can be a challenge for me not to get mired in negativity about my "bad" leg.  I remember too vividly how it felt to run my last marathon, in Napa, and how the leg obliterated what I thought could be a PR day.  I often feel betrayed by the leg, and so when it locks up, I get very angry.  I feel unlucky.  But of course, my leg did not betray me, I betrayed it.  It's all laid out here on the blog--it started bothering me back at the end of 2011, and I just kept on chugging along, not taking care of it for who knows how long.

It's not unfair.  I'm not unlucky.  So what if I have to stop every few miles to stretch out my leg.  At least I can run! Far! At the Boston Marathon! Relatively quickly! It will all be groovy.

I have focused a lot of time and energy in the past 2-3 months on the leg, and while there were glimmers of hope, my leg still quits on me.

My best analogy is that it feels like running with a leg that is sewed on; and after about 2 miles, the threads start to unravel, coming further apart by the mile, and then the leg falls off and I have to pull to the side and sew it back on.  The next mile is easy with the leg freshly sewed back on.  Then it starts to unravel again.  Cycle continues.

About 6 weeks ago I googled "graston" in my new city because if it's good enough for Michael Phelps, its good enough for me.  I found a bunch of athletes raving about a certified graston doctor who helped all their wildest injuries disappear, so I made an appointment.

My first appointment with him ended with my left leg from my outer knee up to mid-thigh completely bruised and battered (I guess this is called a success)?

While I can't claim to have found the cure, I do love this guy and his energetic drive to "fix" me.  Also, he has done a helluva job fixing all of the side effects of running through the leg-lock, such as an angry IT band, tight "calves of steel" as he calls them, and a couple other goodies.

He also has me wearing arch inserts because my bad-leg arch isn't looking so hot, which is an awkward adjustment, but I will be trying it out at Boston.  (Not for the first time - I've done at least 6 runs in them so far).

Hopefully once Boston is over his treatment will find even greater improvements.  No improvements = finally get an MRI.

******

The 9 weeks of training for this marathon went by just as quickly as 9 weeks would, but the cool news is the speed work I did went very well 85% of the time.

I find a huge amount of joy and excitement in those little gains and "PRs" even though they are just, ya know, speed work.  Sometimes it's about the journey....not the destination... and I really love the training journey.  I love my morning runs.

I also love this little guy.  Pointless photo. 
The noteworthy workouts of past 3 weeks:

April 1: 5 x 1 mile at ~5:55.
April 3: 12 mile tempo at ~ 6:40 pace.  This included at least 4 stops, mostly for traffic lights but I won't lie my leg needed the stretch break. This is about 15-20 seconds faster than my "goal marathon pace."  My goal, as always, is to PR.  My other goal, is who gives a shit just run hard.
(75 miles total this week)

Taper week 1:
April 8: 8 x 400m at 78 seconds.  This is my first training cycle where I am regularly running 400m's under 80 seconds, and that has been delicious! I would like to try my first 5k soon before this fluke ends.
April 10: 7 mile tempo at about a 6:50 pace.  I didn't stop once, which was hard.  Very hard. My leg didn't like it and it made my pace slower than planned.
(55 miles total this week)

Taper week 2:
April 15: 1 mile @ 5:41; 1/2 mile @ 2:47; 400m @ 1:17.  While these times are fast, I felt like crap, which was worrisome.  The taper always makes me feel awful.
April 17: 4 mile hilly tempo @ 6:45ish.  Felt heavy and not great again.  Humph.
(19 miles so far this week)

SHOES.  Shews.

I will be wearing a shoe that is pretty new to me for the marathon.  The Brooks Pure Connect 2.  The Pure Cadence 3 never warmed up to me.  I'm sticking with the Cadence and Connect 2's until they expire.

Pure Connect

The left shoe in this image is for my left foot -- I always wear out the outer heel first.  What does that say about how shitty the foot lands? This is a real question.  I don't understand this foot

The weather is a little scary to me for a 10:00 a.m. start - I'm seeing 64 degrees which is practically a sauna for a marathon as far as I'm concerned, especially having trained in a t-shirt at 40-50 degrees most mornings of the past month.  I'm remembering all the salt I was losing at the last marathon I ran (also reaching the 60's) but all can do is fuel as normal.  I tried Salt Caps a few times during long runs the past 2 months, and I always felt like crap after taking one.

In the spirit of leaking positivity: thank goodness it isn't hurricane weather, or in the 80's+.  It will be lovely, especially for those awesome spectators ;)

Ok my final Boston questions for you:

  1. Where should my cheerleaders hang out? Any recommended tricks for how to see them twice, etc.?
  2. Seriously what do you eat before a marathon when you have been awake for 4 hours?  The most I could manage to practice during training was...to be awake for 1.5 hours before running.
  3. What happens if you mess with the bus schedule? My wave requires bus boarding between 6:00 and 6:50, and you can bet I'm going to try and get there at 6:49.  But....what happens if I get on the next wave's bus schedule? I don't intend to, but I want to know my worse case scenario.  Do I get booted to the next start wave?
  4. Where are all the meet ups? I want to see my blog friends. 
  5. Food. Beer. Museums. Parks.  Please recommend.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Running In A New City

Hi sister heroes.  Brother heroes, hello to you as well.

We have been living in our new home, in a new city, with a new commute, a different micro-climate, new friends, it's ALL new!  I haven't had much square footage to call my own in the 12 years since I first left home for college.  I can practically do speed repeats through the house.

This is what our house feels like to me after a lifetime in our apartment.  And I don't mean it feels like it is filled with museum sculptures. 
Other adjustments include: bleeding money.  Spending most of my "free time" doing house stuff.  Sleeping without neighbors stomping above or blasting music below.

It's plain fantastic.

I have begun to fall in love with the home.  It felt like a creepy stranger for the first few days there, but having friends and family over helped fill the space with memories and happiness, and I am able to associate it with a true home.  And each time I head out on a run, I grow more and more comfortable and happy with our neighborhood.

Aaaaand segue to running in our new city!

First Objective: Find a Track.

I wrangled my way into a new track.  It is exactly 1 mile from our house, and while it is not technically open to the public, I made friends with a teacher at the high school who opens the track so she can jog at 6:00 a.m. every morning.  She kindly gave me the ok to join her a couple mornings each week.

I feel a little terrible because the first time I showed up at the track to see if it was open, it was pitch black out but the gate was open and I saw another runner (the teacher) so I figured it was a free for all.  And I went off on a sprint.

It turns out I scared the shit out of the teacher, as she is used to running there by her lonesome.  Poor thing! It didn't occur to me that another runner would be stunned to see someone running by, at of all places, a track.

I like that the track is our little secret for now.

My track workouts thus far at the new neighborhood track:

-- 4x1 mile at a 5:55 average pace.  I like to think I could have run a 5th at the same pace, which was my plan, but I ran out of time and had to start running home after the 4th repeat.

--a 9 mile "tempo" at the track at about a 6:30 pace, cruising on the outside lane.  I interrupted the run by stopping at miles 3.5, 5, and 7 for about 15-30 seconds to stretch my left leg out.

-- 4x400 (81),  2x800 (2:53), 1x1 mile (6:03), 2x800, 1x400 (I intended to bookend with another 4x400, but I ran out of time.  Again.)

Second Objective: Find Amazing Routes for Long Runs

Two Sundays ago was a long run of 22 miles.  I thought it would be great to explore all the "trails" in the new neighborhood (Contra Costa Canal Trail; Ygnacio Canal Trail; Iron Horse Trail) but they are all so, so flat.  It didn't like it.  I'm used to long runs being full of hills.   It felt like a big cheat.

This past Sunday I strayed from these paved trails into neighborhood territory for my long run, and hit every hill I could. Hilly neighborhoods are all pressed up against Mt. Diablo and the related hill networks, so this was also what we would call a beautiful, stunning run.  It was my safe/wimpy way of capturing the beauty of running real trails, but avoiding the mud.  I ran by a freaking horse ranch.  21 miles* went by faster than it has for any of my other long runs while training for Boston.

running by a sweet little park in a sweet little neighborhood
*For inquiring minds I ran these 21 miles with Gushers for fuel because I couldn't find anything better the night before when I popped into a CVS.  How were they? So ridiculously delicious. But I also got a side stitch immediately after eating my first one.  Coincidence? I'm going to risk yes, it was merely a coincidence, and so I shall try them again because YUM.



Third Objective: Find A Route With No Interruptions For Tempos

I have not succeeded here yet.

See above: I ran one tempo at the track.

I also ran a 10 mile tempo on the paved trails, which are interrupted by traffic lights every 1-to-4 miles. My average pace was somewhere between 6:45-6:50 I think.  Fastest mile was 6:34 (last mile), slowest was 6:58 (hairpin turns and small hill).

I noticed something.  With some mayyyybe improvements thanks to my new physical therapist (more on that next blog post, which hopefully won't take me forever to write), my leg-lock was manageable during the tempo when I was running flat; but my leg flared with stiffness/weakness/lockiness when I ran up or down (in this case, up/down overpasses that were relatively weak elevation).  I'm thinking maybe I should have signed up for Chicago instead of Boston ;)

Fourth Objective: Find a New Gym

For the first time since I was...16 years old? I don't belong to a gym.  The gym has always been a great supplement to my running that I have turned to for the following reasons:
  • Too dark/early/late to comfortably run outside
  • Too rainy/cold/hot/windy/fire-smoky to comfortably run outside
  • Too injured to do anything but ride a bike or the elliptical
  • Yoga.  hahaha, just kidding, still just....can't
  • Easy recovery workout on the elliptical
  • treadmill tempo runs, where there are no stoplights to interrupt me
  • look into the weight room and consider possibly one day giving it a go
I haven't found a new gym since we moved, and there aren't any that I consider to be in jogging distance (within 1.5 miles).  There's something about the idea of *driving* to a gym to workout that makes my brain spasm, so I really prefer to be able to walk/jog there.

Until I figure out what to do - or if I ever do - I haven't cross-trained in a really long time.  And I have been forced to run in some pretty serious rain and darkness.  It turns out it is not that bad.  Rainy runs can be rather lovely since no one else is bothering to run and the roads are all for me.  I suppose I may not need a gym.

Miscellaneous:

  • Plank (UP TO A 4:35 PLANK holy hell.  I think about quitting 847 times during a plank this long, but I am stubborn.) 
  • I'm now incorporating wall sits into my routine.  So far 2 x 1:20 minute wall sits, I'm a wimp at them.  Many of the routes I am currently running in my new neighborhood are flat as a pancake so I need something to make the quads burn a little.  
  • I'm still topping out at 70-75 miles per week, which is slightly unsettling for me.  This is the lowest marathon mileage for me since I've been recording miles.  Long runs feel LONG to me.  I'm worried I've lost some of the endurance that used to be one of my strengths for a marathon.  We shall see.  If it works, I'll stick with this lower mileage next time.  If it doesn't, I'll consider cranking it back up to 80-90 miles per week next time. 

Also recently got in a Friday night meal with Angela, Alyssa, Margot and Sesa, four great blog friends that make me feel mushy enough to say that blogging can really enhance your life.  Very excited about the addition of Margot to the Bay Area running community.  Sorry SoCal but she's ours now!

We spent the evening enabling each others freakish running habits. Thank goodness for running friends who make us feel a little bit more normal.

Well reader heroes, see you next time.