October 31, 2011

Halloween + October

Happy Halloween!!

It certainly did creep up on us, didn't it? I did my celebrating over the weekend and took things easy tonight. Saturday night my bff and I got all decked out in our costumes for a night on the town. My mom and I had been working on my costume all week and even at the last minute were still adding final touches, but it came out so much better than I expected! For those of you who can't tell/live under a rock, I was Ursula, from The Little Mermaid : ) I bought a strapless black dress and then my mom sewed the tentacles to be worn underneath. As for the accessories, I made the jewelry with craft clay and my mom sewed the stuffed eel.
just a couple of witches : )

We hit up a couple bars in midtown, but ultimately it ended up being a slightly disappointing night. I think I try to convince myself sometimes that I like going out, but in the end it's usually just not that much fun for me. Around midnight, my bff and I looked at each other and both were like, man, how much better would it be if we were back home on the couch in our sweats? Haha! I'm still glad we went out and I got to wear my awesome costume. I'll definitely be saving it for future occasions!

Tonight I went for a nice run and then just stayed in and handed out candy and watched some scary movies. Pretty perfect if you ask me. Did you dress up this year? Do anything fun?



Total: 81.3 miles
swim - 3,200 yards
bike - 16 miles
run - 63.8 miles

I've said this every time but man, where did the month go!? Seriously, after Chicago the weeks seemed to fly by and then here we are at Halloween! It wasn't a big month training-wise, but there were some highlights. I ran my second Urban Cow Half Marathon at the beginning of the month as a final long training run and ran with the same pace group I set a PR with last year - except this year it was an easy pace! It was nice to see how far I've come in the past year and the slightly new course was great!

The following weekend my mom and I headed to Chicago. I had an absolute blast exploring the city, but I didn't end up having the race I'd planned and hoped for. For the most part I've made my peace with it, and I'm still really glad I got to experience a marathon like Chicago. I know I still have a sub-4 marathon in me, and when I finally do get it, it will be that much sweeter : )
 the Bean! my favorite.
 view from the top of Sears Tower!
floating on the Skydeck
The rest of the month was honestly a bit of a flop with workouts, but that was kind of the plan. 2011 thus far has been a busy year with racing, and I've jumped from one training cycle directly to the next. With my most intense training cycle on the horizon for Ironman, I wanted to just take the rest of October to do whatever I felt like. Sleep in. Be lazy. Get my sweat on in other ways besides running. And so I did just that. I did a little hot yoga, had a reunion with my Jillian DVD and got my ass kicked, hit the pool a couple times, went on a killer bike ride for the first time in months, and even ran a handful of times. I know I needed the break, but after a few weeks I found myself missing a routine. So now with marathon no. 10 on the calendar it's time to get back to work!


Ok guys, sliiiight change of plans. After I finished the Chicago Marathon the plan was to take it easy for a while before kicking off/signing my life away to Ironman training December 1st. I've had a few casual, shorter races on the schedule over the next few months but for the most part, my focus has been on the Ironman on June 24th as my next big race.

Well that all went out the window when I decided to upgrade from the Houston Half to the full on January 15th. Whoops : / So it looks like the 26.2 mile run leg of Ironman will no longer be marathon no. 10 for me, instead I'll be hitting that milestone in the Lone Star State several months earlier.
change of plans : )

Just to clarify, I am aware that this goes against my earlier training and racing plans. I'm willing to eat my words here. No, I am not trying to get redemption after a seriously sucky Chicago Marathon. My rationale, however, is still not very sophisticated. In my efforts to get one step closer to my 50 states goal, I figure if I'm flying all the way to Texas for 5 days, it should be to cross it off my list. Originally, the whole point of the trip was to watch the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials, and that is definitely still happening and will certainly be a highlight of the trip. I just decided it would be more fun and worthwhile to run a marathon while I'm there, too : )
marathon no. 10!

In terms of training and logistics, I don't plan to race this one or try again for a sub-4. I think, especially after Chicago, that I need to enjoy a marathon, without the pressure of a big time goal. I also don't have the motivation or desire to do another traditional, time intensive marathon training cycle, so a fast (for me) Houston Marathon is just not gonna happen. Since Chicago, I'm afraid to say that my sweating exploits have fallen to the wayside. The first week it was all about recovery. The second week was about catching up on sleep and relaxing a bit. But the third week, I hate to say, was more about me just being lazy. I need something looming on the horizon to get my butt back out there.

I've only run a handful of times since Chicago, maxing out at 5 miles. I've felt slow and out of shape, so I'll admit the thought of a marathon in 11 weeks is a bit daunting. My plan is to build up a good base in November with some moderate long runs (like 16ish miles) thrown in, then switch to my Ironman training plan on December 1st. I'll still try and include some quality run workouts and hopefully a 20 miler, but the main focus will be on the Ironman. I know that my body can complete a marathon on minimal training, and I also know that the hours I spend on the bike and in the pool will keep me in decent shape.

And with that said, I think I'll go for a run later ; )

October 25, 2011

Chicago in Pictures

So the race didn't quite go as planned, but the rest of my time in Chicago was incredible! It truly is an amazing and beautiful city. We stayed in the heart of downtown (Hampton Inn Majestic - wonderful!), right in the Loop, so we were able to do most of our exploring on foot or with the help of public transportation. My favorite thing, hands down, was the infamous Bean (aka Cloud Gate) - I could've stared at that thing all day! But really, everything about Chicago is wonderful - the architecture, food, parks, people, shopping, sights & sounds... I will most definitely be back one day!

Here are the highlights of what we saw/did:

* oohed and ahhhed at the famous sign at the Chicago Theater
* admired the views from the Skydeck at the top of Sears Tower (aka Willis Tower)
* rode the carousel at Navy Pier
* took an architecture cruise down the Chicago River
* visited the John Hancock Observatory for some sunset views of the city
* went shopping on the Magnificent Mile and the Loop
* walked along Lake Michigan
* saw Sue the T-rex at the Field Museum
* strolled through the lovely Old Town
* took a skyline cruise on Lake Michigan
* quick visit to Shedd Aquarium to see some jellies
* devoured some authentic deep dish pizza
* celebratory cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery
* saw the Bean and Crown Fountain in Millenium Park
* strolled through Grant Park and saw Buckingham Fountain
* quick trip to The Art Institute of Chicago for some Picasso, Van Gogh, & Dali

October 18, 2011

Nothing but a Number

If you're like me, there have been moments in races when you hear footsteps behind you, then seconds later you see a flash of graying hair as you're passed by someone that could be your grandparent. In fact, at last weekend's Chicago Marathon, to rub salt in the wound when I had to drop back, all of the 4-hour pacers were at least twice my age! Clearly, when it comes to running at least, age seems to be just a number. A look at most age group results shows that it's not always the young guns that are winning races these days. And masters running has become pretty damn competitive.

But there certainly must be a line drawn somewhere, right? Well, that may not be the case as this past Sunday 100-year-old Fauja Singh set the record for the oldest person to complete a marathon. Seriously, this dude has been alive for an entire century and covered 26.2 miles in 8:25:16 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. And believe it or not, this wasn't even his first marathon - this was number 8, and he ran his first at age 89! You can see a video of him finishing here.

The Toronto Waterfront Marathon saw another age-related record broken on Sunday by 80-year-old endurance running wonder Ed Whitlock who shattered his previous age group record with a 3:15:54 finish. No, there are no typos...this guy is just old...and crazy fast! Whitlock obviously won his 75+ age group, but he also beat the top finishers in the three younger age groups as well. Also on his list of incredible accomplishments is being the only person 70+ years old to have run a sub-3 hour marathon. Ummm, what!? Seriously, this guy is wicked fast! According to the article, he was actually in Sacramento this past summer for the World Masters Track & Field Championships (where he set records in the 1,500m and 10,000m) - I wish I'd got a chance to meet him!

Pretty incredible stuff, right? I can only hope to be a fraction as active at their age, if I even make it that far!

October 17, 2011

Chicago Marathon (Race Report)

Now that it's been a week since the race, I've had some time to reflect and put my experience and feelings into words. You might have guessed from my lack of an immediate declaration of success that my sub-4 goal did not go as planned. I was disappointed and bitter, and have run through the race in my mind countless times trying to see if there was something I did or didn't do. But in hindsight I know that it was out of my control and I did the best I could under the circumstances. I still do strongly believe I am capable of running a sub-4 hour marathon, and I know that one day soon I will. For now, I'm trying to make peace with my Chicago Marathon and focus on what lies ahead.

We caught a shuttle to the expo Saturday morning, hoping to beat the big crowds. It was still pretty hectic, so I tried my best to get in and out fairly quickly. I couldn't help looking through the official Nike apparel and ended up buying a cute half zip and the singlet I ended up wearing race day. While it was crowded in there, I have to commend them for being organized and efficient in distributing packets and shirts. I did a lap of the booths and then we got the heck out of there. We wanted to check out a couple of the museums nearby after but found out there was no transportation there so we ended up walking. Probably not a smart idea considering I would be running a marathon the next day. The rest of the day was one fail after the next and I ended up walking way too much. 
Chicago ended up owning me : /
found my name on the Nike wall!

By 6pm we were back at the hotel where I passed out and took a nice little nap, waking up just in time to order room service for dinner. The Italian restaurant we ordered through looked promising, and had the prices to go with. I ordered some tortellini in marinara sauce, but when it came and I opened it up...I seriously thought it was a joke! I had five tortellini in what I can only call a broth, not a pasta sauce. It was pathetic, and at $16 a total ripoff. We called to complain and they finally offered to send something else up but I just made do with the salad, bread, and tiramisu that we ordered as well. I did some trigger pointing and foam rolling before going to bed, then tossed and turned, trying to get my mind off the race so I could fall asleep!

Race morning began like most others, cursing my alarm, wanting to crawl back in bed while dressing, applying a copious amount of Body Glide and sunscreen. Our hotel had breakfast set out extra early for the race so I headed down for a bagel with my favorite maple almond butter brought from home (Justin's brand if you were wondering...it's like crack!). Maybe it was nerves but I had a hard time getting the whole thing down. I grabbed a banana to take with, hoping my stomach would settle enough later to get some more calories in.

I picked our hotel primarily for it's proximity to the start - we had less than 1/4 mile walk to the start! I tend to get anxious about making it to a race on time so this was one less hassle to deal with in the morning. One thing I will say about this race is that it has excellent organization. There were a ton of volunteers out there for the sole purpose of answering questions, and believe it or not, they actually had the answers! I found my way to the entrance for the open corral and said goodbye to my mom and then joined the throngs of anxious runners.

With about 30 minutes til the start I managed to find a potty line that was moving pretty quickly and was in and out within 10 minutes. I headed for the corrals only to discover that they were being closed! The only place I could get in was back by the 13 minute pace. I noticed that the volunteers were letting certain people move up to the next corral so I told the volunteer that I was running with the 4 hour pace group and needed to get through, but I was told that they were only letting runners through that had the official Nike pace group bibs on...ummm what?! I somewhat incredulously asked him if he expected me to start back here with the walkers when I had trained to run a certain goal time, and all he could say was "sorry". So I did what I had to do... I ducked under the rope and walked right past him into the next corral.

I wish I could say this was the end of my pre-race complications, but once I made it to the next corral I was still back with the 11 minute pace group. The 9 minute signs and 4 hour pace group were much farther up but the corral was so packed there was no way I was going to get there in time. So once again I did what I had to do. I hopped the fence to get out of the corral, hopped a bush, ran around some more fences and then ran along the corrals til I reached the 9 minute signs. I managed to hop the fence to get into the corral just as the race was about to start. I still was a ways off from the 4 hour pacers, but I figured I could just keep them in sight for now and catch them later. So things ended up being a little more hectic pre-race than expected, but when that start gun went off I was excited and ready to go!

It took less than 10 minutes of start-and-stop shuffling to cross the start, then I immediately set my sights on catching the pacers just ahead. To say this race is crowded is quite the understatement, especially in the first several miles. It was just a sea of runners pressing in on all sides. I dodged and sped up when I could and just before the first mile mark I finally caught up with a pair of 4 hour pacers. The first several miles were chaotic to say the least. With such heavy crowding it was impossible to hold a steady pace. There were lots of turns in the beginning which lead to massive bottlenecks that practically brought us to a standstill. These would be followed by big surges in speed to make up time. It was frustrating to say the least, but I just tried to focus on staying with the pacers and hoped things would thin out a bit in a few miles.

The first few miles took us through the famous Loop, skyscrapers towering all around us. The streets were packed with people cheering and between them and and the runners you could just feel the energy in the air. I was feeling pretty good, warming up quickly but thus far enjoying myself. We came up on 5k pretty quickly and were right on pace. As I crossed the timing mat I couldn't help but think of those at home tracking me and was glad they'd know I was right on track. I grabbed water at the first couple aid stations and took my first Gu around mile 5. I took a salt cap here as well and in an effort to make them easier to get in the future I tore the top off the tiny ziploc bag I had them in and stuffed them back in my bra. This would really come back to haunt me later.

The next few miles took us toward and through Lincoln Park. Things had thinned out a bit and we were finally able to settle into a more consistent pace. I was still feeling pretty good and was surprised by how fast the first 10k seemed to go by. It was warmer than expected so I started early on pouring water on my head to keep cool. Not long after the 10k mark things started to feel a little harder. The pace felt much faster than it should have and my legs felt heavy. Usually by this point in a long run I'm warmed-up and settling in, but this was quite the opposite; I just hoped that it would pass. Around mile 8ish I took another Gu but when I reached for my second salt sap, my fingers only closed on loose salt. I may or may not have cursed aloud. This meant I was without my usual electrolytes on a warm day with almost 20 miles left. This was about when the wheels started to come off.
fall was evident in the colorful trees

The aid stations were fairly frequent (about every 1-1.5 miles) and I'd been taking advantage of the water, but with the loss of my salt caps I knew I needed to start drinking the course electrolyte...lemon lime Gatorade. At first it wasn't so bad; I would grab a cup of Gatorade, toss it back, and then grab a cup of water to chase the syrupy sweet Gatorade. Around mile 9 my stomach started to feel a little sour. We ran through the crazy Boys Town neighborhood which helped distract me for a bit with the screaming crowds and crazy cross dressers. But I was working far too hard to keep up with the pace group and I could feel the contents of my stomach sloshing around ominously. I was angry with myself at the turn in events and kept going back and forth in my head, trying to keep it up. I pushed myself to mile 10 and then made the painful decision to let the 4 hour group go. Half of me felt like I was giving up, but the other half knew that this was more than that and there was actually something wrong. I was pushing myself as hard as I could but with 16 more miles to go there was no way I could keep it up feeling the way I did physically.

From here things went downhill mentally and physically pretty quickly. I slowed and even walked a bit, and kept beating myself up for letting them go. I knew there was no way I'd catch up and in that moment my sub-4 goal went out the window. I withdrew into myself over the next few miles as I progressively felt worse. I'd continued to drink the Gatorade and could now feel it sitting uncomfortably in my stomach. The faster I tried to run the worse it felt and I just knew I needed to get it out. I started to look for a place to pull over and yak but there were so many damn spectators that there was no space! I crossed the 13.1 mat and felt a pang of guilt and disappointment as I knew that my friends and family would see that I'd fallen off pace. Not long after there was a clear stretch of road so I pulled off behind a tree and barfed.

I hate to say it but this was not my first time throwing up in a marathon. Although the last time, I was actually sick going into the race so it was somewhat expected. I felt a little better after but from that point on I couldn't really keep anything down. With my stomach emptied of that nasty yellow fluid, around mile 14 I made the mistake of trying to get some calories back in and took another Gu and a little Gatorade with some water. Not surprisingly this put me right back where I was pre-puke and the sour stomach pretty much lasted the rest of the race.

The course continued through the West Loop while I started to incorporate regular walk breaks to let my stomach settle. My whole body just felt like it had nothing left, which is not a good sign barely halfway into a marathon. I tried not to think about how many miles I had left and instead focused on getting to mile 16 where my mom was waiting. I passed the 16 mile marker and started scanning the sidelines for her, but after a while I figured I'd either missed her or she hadn't made it there in time. Then just before the next aid station I saw her face and just stopped in my tracks. I mumbled something about not feeling good and barfing and told her to just walk with me. I explained what happened and that I couldn't keep anything down and was running much slower. She told me she was going to head to mile 23 next so I said goodbye and started running again.
mom's POV at mile 16
Around mile 16 we crossed over a little bridge and passed some photographers, and for the first time in a race I couldn't muster a smile. Not only was I miserable physically but bitter disappointment had filled my head and was ruining my race one step at a time. From the beginning my Garmin was measuring the course long, too, probably due to all the weaving and being unable to run the tangents on such a crowded course, but by this point it was long by almost 3/10th of a mile. So I'd hear my watch beep and know that I still had quite a ways to go officially. Just one more thing to mess with my head, right? With 10 miles to go I knew I was going to finish, but I also knew I was going to be nowhere near my goal. As the miles ticked by I was forced to adjust my expectations...4:15...4:20... then just hoping for anything under 4:34, my current PR.
I think the face says it all

The crowds continued to impress me, and I so wish I could have fully enjoyed them and fed off their energy and and smiled back. Seriously though, there were very few empty stretches, and where there were spectators there were rows of them, yelling so loud I couldn't hear the music on my iPod : ) Just one more thing that makes me wish I'd had a good race. Because of the warm weather there were a ton of spots along the course where spectators or volunteers had hoses to spray us down and I made sure to take advantage. Every aid station it was two cups down the throat, one more over the head.

Around mile 19 we entered Chinatown and here the crowds were just nuts! It actually gave me a little boost that got me through the next couple miles. Just after Chinatown I stopped to let my stomach settle and a girl passing asked if I was ok. We started chatting and turns out she was having the same kind of day as me. She was attempting a BQ but got sick early on and was just having a miserable race, too. We both were suspicious of the Gatorade and cursed the warm temps. We commiserated some more and ran together for a bit, and it made such a big difference to have some company! Around mile 22 I lost track of her but was grateful for the knowledge that I wasn't alone.

At that point I knew I was so close and I just wanted so badly to be done. The typical aches and pains that come in the later miles of a marathon had started to make themselves known in addition to some rather painful blisters on the bottoms of my feet. I looked for my mom at mile 23 but didn't spot her so I assumed she hadn't made it there. I actually didn't care much at that point and could only think of one thing: crossing that finish line and being done with this horrible race. My iPod also died around this point but I didn't mind so much as the crowds were loud enough anyway.
again...check out that face!
The course eventually steered us back toward Grant Park and the finish. With just a few miles to go I ran more consistently just to be done as soon as possible. A lot of runners had started fading in the last 10k and I actually managed to start passing some. The crowds and noise were overwhelming the closer we got to the park. I glanced at my Garmin and knew I was going to be close to my time from Marine Corps last year and might just PR. I can't help laughing at the irony of this... MCM was a hard effort the entire race, and here I was, having gotten sick and walk/ran the last half of this race and I was going to have nearly the same time. This thought makes me feel a little better and reassures me that I do indeed have that faster sub-4 marathon in me.
 one more mile...

We entered Grant Park and then finally I could see the finish line. I gave it everything I had left for a final finishing kick (which wasn't much), but I didn't feel any joy crossing that finish line. I did end up PRing by a few minutes with a final time of 4:31:12. I was so glad to be done, but I immediately got a little emotional at having such a failed race. My legs started throbbing as soon as I stopped running so I tried to keep moving. I felt faint, not surprising considering I hadn't consumed any calories since mile 14, and all I wanted to do was lie down. I grabbed my medal and some water and joined the throngs of runners through the finish chute toward the finish festival. It was slow going of course and at several times I felt quite faint. After walking almost another mile I made it to the family reunion area and found my mom just as I collapsed on the ground.
 trust me, I was not really this happy
glad I wasn't out there alone : )

We hung out there for a while amidst all the runners celebrating their accomplishment. I was still extremely bitter. I called my friend Erin and got a little emotional as I told her what happened. I think the worst part is knowing that I was capable of sub-4, it just wasn't my day. I trained hard for this race, harder than any other before and I was ready. I'd faced the doubts and mental roadblocks that have derailed me in the past, and yet ironically, it wasn't my head that was my downfall, like I would've expected, but rather my body that let me down. Having reflected on the race I can pinpoint a few things that are probably responsible for what happened. The Gatorade was a bad idea, and I should've known better, but I didn't have much choice. It probably would've been just as disastrous to forgo any electrolyte on such a warm day considering how much I sweat. I also think the inconsistent pacing over the first 10k came back to bite me in the ass. I know that it was unavoidable in such a crowded race, but clocking 8:30s so early on in a marathon when we should've been running 9:00s probably didn't help matters.

I took a few ibuprofen while I laid on the grass and once those finally kicked in we ventured back toward our hotel. I had to get my shoes off since the blisters were killing me, so I walked back barefoot and my feet felt infinitely better. My stomach was still feeling kind of off but I knew I needed to get something in it so we stopped for some chocolate milk on the way back and I ate a Clif bar back in our room. When I showered I discovered that in addition to my usual chafing along the bra line I had some nasty chafing on my lower back from my shorts pocket. The square shape matched up perfectly with the pocket : / I think it was from being so wet during the race trying to stay cool. But man! Those first few moments in the shower were brutal!

We actually spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city seeing some more sights. I was exhausted and sore, but I also didn't want to waste an afternoon, and I knew ultimately it was better to move around after a race. I managed to eat some plane pasta a couple hours after the race, then later that night we finally enjoyed some real Chicago deep dish pizza. By that time my stomach was fairly settled but absolutely ravenous from being empty for so long! I also may have treated myself to a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery... I did run a marathon after all!
deep dish
cupcakes make everything better
In the end, it wasn't the race I'd hoped for. I wish I could say I still enjoyed it but that was most definitely not the case. I just couldn't enjoy the sights, the people, the course when I felt so terrible and was so disappointed. I almost regret this the most - I wish I could've somehow just accepted the turn in events and enjoyed the race. The thing is, I've run a lot of marathons...this was no. 9. I know I can cover the distance. I've run marathons just for fun or just for the experience, and this time I wanted it to be more than that. I wanted to see what I was capable of, not just run another marathon. 

Now that I've had some time to reflect on the race, I know there wasn't much I could've done differently. I think it's actually part of what draws people to marathons. You can train hard, follow a plan, put in the time, sweat, and miles, but ultimately anything can happen come race day. You have to respect the distance. It's when the stars align that you see your hard work finally pay off in that perfect race. And so I'll keep running, keep training, until one day, when everything comes together I have that perfect race.

p.s. While the marathon wasn't much fun, the rest of my time in Chicago was amazing! It's an absolutely incredible city, I wish we'd had more time there to explore. We did get to see and do quite a bit in our short time there, though, so I'll try to put together a post with some pics soon!

October 8, 2011

The Moment

"That moment is a crossroads, where everything you want will collide with everything standing in your way."

My friend sent me a video to pump me up and inspire me before Chicago, and the above quote is the one that stuck out to me. When I signed up to run the Chicago Marathon more than a year ago, it wasn't just to run another marathon. After running the distance (and then some) 10 times, I know I'm more than capable of finishing. But this time, that's not enough. In the past, I've focused more on quantity then quality with my marathons, running them for fun, with friends, etc. This time around I wanted to see what I was capable of with focus and more serious training. And more specifically, I want to break 4 hours.
t-minus 9 hours...
For many people, this is not a fast marathon by any means. But for me, it's something that, until recently, I never thought I could do. I ran my first marathon a little over two years ago, finishing in 5:27. At the time, I was just elated to finish, and actually didn't even have any plans to do another. But it turned out that completing that first one lit a spark in me, and over that next year I ran 6 more. I finally broke the 5 hour mark in my third, and at the time, it was a huge deal. Then about a year ago I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, hoping to take another chunk of time off and run around 4:30. I finished with a PR of 4:34.

Earlier this year I took a break form road running and discovered trail running while I trained for my first ultras. It was during these months that I started to see big changes and improvements in my running from the higher mileage and challenging terrain. When I would run on the roads my paces were naturally faster. It was strange to start seeing numbers that once meant "fast" and now were "easy". In February, on a whim, I ran a half marathon, and not only PRed but broke 2 hours for the first time, something I used to think impossible. I'd also been working at Fleet Feet for several months at that point and had gained a lot of knowledge from my coworkers on training and racing. This past spring I completed my first 50k and 50 miler, and while challenging, they also taught me a lot. Summer brought triathlon season and a cutback from running, but still I found that cycling and swimming made more excellent cross-training and helped maintain my run fitness.

Then it was time to start training for Chicago. With a lofty goal (35 minutes is a lot of time to drop!) I decided to take this one seriously and follow an actual training plan. I picked one that I knew a lot of friends and other bloggers had used with success, and that incorporated some of the elements I knew were responsible for making me faster like higher mileage, speedwork, medium-long runs, and tempos. It was hard to find the time to fit all the workouts in, but I trained harder for this race than I have for any other, including the ultras. I ran my highest weekly and monthly mileage ever, and could feel myself getting stronger. In August I set a new half PR of 1:55, giving me a boost of confidence with Chicago looming in the distance. I ran a half marathon up a mountain, from 0'-4,000'. I hiked for 9 hours on incredibley challenging terrain to summit Half Dome in Yosemite. I did tempos and speedwork in the the heat, long runs before a full shift of work, even commuted to work on foot to get a 10 miler in.

Over the past 11 weeks, I've put in the time and hard work. I know my body is capable of breaking 4 hours. The biggest hurdle standing in my way? My head. We all know how running mental can be, and that can be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the person. Unfortunately I fall in the latter camp. My mind starts playing games with me from the start. "Oh, this pace feels fast and you're gonna hold it for 26+ miles?", "It would be so much easier to take a walk break right now", "Who did you think you were to go for such a big PR?", " You haven't run a marathon in a while, they're a lot harder than you remember"...

I know I can't let these thoughts get to me. I need to remind myself that I've put in the training, I've had some strong races these last couple few months, and I can do this. And that brings me back to that quote - it all comes down to that moment. When I have to make a decision, to listen to the voices in my head, to let the doubt creep in, or say no. Before most of my races I've set A, B, and C goals. I know that sometimes things just happen on race day and it helps prevent you from being too disappointed. This time, however, there is only one goal: to see the number "3" when I cross that finish line. I know I can do it, so anything else will not be enough.

My race plan is to start with the 4:00 pace group since I notoriously suck at even pacing. I'm going to remind myself that it often takes me 6+ miles to really warm-up and get in a groove. I'm going to enjoy the scenery, feed off the energy of the crowds, and try to stay relaxed. It's going to be a warm one, but I've done long runs and speedwork in much hotter temps, so I've just got to use the aid stations wisely and be consistent with fueling and hydration. Will it be easy? No, but the things that are worth the most usually aren't. I'm going to remind myself of all the time and miles I've put in over the last few months, and believe. Believe that I can do this, I will do this, I am doing this!

p.s. If you're interested, you can go here to track me tomorrow. My bib no. is 38744. FYI, the race starts at 7:30am CST, and it may be almost a half hour til I actually cross the start line!

October 7, 2011

Pier to Peak Half Marathon (Race Report)

Well folks, considering it's now been over a month since I ran Pier to Peak, how about that race report? I'll try to keep it short and sweet!

We headed down to Santa Barbara after a full day of work so we didn't get in til pretty late. The drive wasn't as bad as I remember, but I did have some good company : ) We stopped by one of my favorite restaurants (Natural Cafe, holla!) and got some pasta to-go, then headed to my friend Tom's place where we were crashing. Tom is kind of like my running mentor. I first met him when I joined Team in Training back in 2009 and ran most of my first marathon and all of my second with me. He also is responsible for instilling in me a true love for running that's lead me to where I am today. I hadn't been back to Santa Barbara since I graduated in June 2010 so it had been a while since we'd seen each other, but it was a wonderful reunion. We had an early wake-up call so as soon as we ate it was off to bed!

The race starts downtown at the Dolphin Fountain at the start of the pier, right on the beach. I did so much of my training along that stretch of the beach it brought back some great memories. I miss running along the ocean! It was dark when we arrived, but a small crowd of runners were already milling about. It wasn't a huge race so after a quick trip to the potty and a brief announcement by the race director we were off!
waiting at the start

The first couple miles are actually fairly flat as they wind through downtown Santa Barbara, starting down the shopping mecca of State Street. I tried to keep it easy since I knew what was coming. Around mile 2 we passed the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission, shrouded in mist at the early morning hour. Just past the Mission we took a sharp right and headed straight....up.
Santa Barbara Mission
and up we go!
From here we started a steep climb that wound through a nice neighborhood. Around mile 5 we got our first glimpse of how high we'd climbed. The houses on the hills below us were nearly covered with a marine layer of fog. I was powering up the mountain up to this point, albeit at a very slow pace, but the second half of the race turned into more of a hike. The hill was literally never ending, and many sections were just too steep for me to run. I tried to distract myself with the views, which were more and more amazing the higher we climbed, but the fact remained I was running up a mountain and I just wanted to reach the top!
at least there were some great views!

Around mile 8 Tom texted me from the top to let me know that the winner had just finished...and it was Chris! I was not surprised in the least, but I was also slightly annoyed that he was now done and I still had so far to go. A couple miles later I got another text that Erin had finished second female. Again, I wasn't surprised, but I texted back that I was dying, and I still had three miles to go! There were many profanities uttered on my way up that mountain. It had warmed up significantly by this point and many stretches were in the sun, so I made sure to take advantage of every station by stuffing ice down my bra. This left me totally soaked, but was also absolutely brilliant.

Just around mile 11 I saw a bunch of runners coming back down the hill, and for a brief second I assumed they had already finished and for some reason were running back down. But then I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner who informed me that actually it was a short out-and-back, and that mile 11 was almost entirely downhill! As soon as I reached that turnaround I let my legs fly and it felt so good! I got to see my pace drop to single digits for the first time since the first couple miles and actually felt like I was getting somewhere. This stretch was greatly needed, physically and mentally.

The lovely downhill stretch eventually came to an end and we started climbing again with a little over a mile to go to reach the summit and finish line. I ran as much of it as I could and even managed to pass a few folks. Along the way I passed a couple hikers, and I couldn't help but think how much wiser they were than all of us runners : ) Then, as if the first 13 miles of the race weren't enough, the last 0.1 was up an incredibly steep winding trail leading to the summit, totally crushing your spirits. You're so tired at that point from climbing the freaking mountain, and then to have to finish on an steep stretch like that sucked big time.
last mile
trudging up the final stretch!

When I rounded the final corner I saw Chris, Erin, and Tom up ahead and didn't want them to see me walking when I was so close, so I gave everything I had to crawl up that last hill. Needless to say there was no finishing kick! Crossing the finish line was a little anticlimactic. More than anything I was just glad to be done.
here I come!

Going into the race I really didn't know what to expect from myself performance- and time-wise. I knew I would be much slower than with a normal half, but I think I also underestimated just how difficult it would be. It took me almost an hour longer than my PR - 2:51:12 - but it was also the most challenging race I've ever done. Seriously, this course is no joke. It's certainly a unique race that's not for the faint of heart. The swag kind of sucked - the "medals" were really just double-sided coins (really, how much does a ribbon cost!?) and the t-shirts were cheap cotton and unisex. But I guess that's what happens with small-scale races. And this is one race where you do it for the experience.
 finisher coin...hmm...

We chilled for a while at the top of La Cumbre Peak, taking in the amazing views of the surrounding Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean, and looking 4,000' down below at where we started hours before. It was a tough race, but I was proud that I pushed myself and finished the damn thing. After a while we headed back down the mountain, this time via car, and as we descended I couldn't help but think just how far and high up we'd ran.
finish area at the top of La Cumbre Peak
 me and my speedy pals
 these kinds of views at the top *almost* were worth it ; )
elevation at the top

Once back downtown we met up with some of Chris' friends for breakfast on the beach where I inhaled some amazing strawberry pancakes. Then we made a quick visit to the dog shelter I used to volunteer at before heading back to Tom's to wash up before heading out for a little Santa Barbara fun. I took Erin and Chris into Isla Vista, the square mile housing most of the UC Santa Barbara population. We made a quick stop by my old sorority house, got some froyo, and took a stroll down Del Playa Dr. along the beach. Brought back some good memories! Then we ventured into the ritzy Hope Ranch neighborhood to meet up with Chris' friends again and spent the rest of the afternoon poolside with a killer ocean view. That evening we met Tom downtown at the pier (same one from that morning) for a nice dinner just as the sun was setting.
 doxie pup at DAWG shelter!
 Isla Vista beach
 our view for the afternoon
Tom & I
Santa Barbara sunset

We got back to Tom's and almost immediately crashed after such a long day. All three of us had to work the next day at 1pm, so we were up and on our way before the sun was even up. Luckily I didn't have to drive this time so I got a little nap in. It was a really short trip and I didn't get to do or see nearly as much as I'd hoped. But I guess that just gives me a good reason to go back again soon!

p.s. To get a better feel for this race check out this great video from last year's race!

p.p.s. Chicago is AWESOME! Be back tomorrow with some thoughts and goals for Sunday's race : )