Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Nike Women's Marathon recap

The weekend:
So, as you can probably imagine, Nike goes to great lengths to make this a spectacular event for everyone involved. They're so good about catering to women runners! One of the cool things they did was put everyone's name on the side of the Niketown store.

If you look closely, you can see mine! (click to make it bigger)

Justine and me in front of the Niketown store in our lovely paceleader uniforms

I worked at the race expo on Friday and Saturday afternoons, which was a blast. It was great to talk to so many people from so many places who were so excited about the event! I was a little bit worried because I was assigned to a job that had me standing up all afternoon, but it was fun, so the time went by rather quickly and I had some rather funny experiences in helping people with their pace bracelets. Runners told me their projected finishing time or pace, and I would print out a bracelet that had their time-per-mile, taking into account all of the hills on the course. Most people had a finishing time in mind, and I printed out bracelets for anything from a 3 hour marathon to a 7.5 hour marathon. One girl though, decked out in heels and this really cute but ridiculously fashionable outfit, had NO idea. She couldn’t tell me how long it takes her to run a mile, she couldn’t tell me whether she was fast or slow...it was hilarious! I mean seriously, how do you decide to fly all the way across the country (she was from NY) to run a half marathon and have NO CLUE about your running abilities? Hilarious.

After the expo on Friday night, a big group of the Nike pace leaders went out for dinner in North Beach, and we had a great time getting to know each other better. It’s funny, I’d been running with all of them for the past 16 weeks, but I never really got to talk to most of them because we were in different pace groups...I’ll definitely be hanging out with these people again!

Saturday morning I got up early, got all of my triathlon gear together, and headed to Treasure Island with Anne for our run-through. It went very smoothly, and I’m feeling a lot better about the upcoming race. It was a beautiful day, and the City looked amazing from across the Bay, so it made for a great experience! We did a mini triathlon, with a swim in the Bay, a couple loops of the bike course and a (very) short run before heading back to the City to work at the expo again.

Fortunately, Saturday afternoon had me sitting in a nice little chair behind a table, so was at least able to stay off my feet. I answered lots of questions and handed out corral bracelets so that everyone would know where to line up on race morning. It was a gorgeous day, and it was an absolute treat to sit outside and enjoy it. The buzz from all the other race participants was great too, and it got me psyched for race morning!

Saturday night Paul took me to dinner at a really cute Italian place, and I felt kind of bad because he wanted to order all kinds of good stuff that I knew I just couldn’t eat. I stuck with my regular pre-race dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce and salmon (which was particularly good at this restaurant), and I ate a little bit of Caprese salad...the cheese was so good, but I wasn’t about to take any chances! I was a little disappointed to find out that he was leaving early in the morning for a camping trip, so he wouldn’t be there for the race, but at least I knew that there would be some other friends out there to cheer me on. After dinner, I finished getting my stuff together and went to bed at about 9:30.

Race day:
I have never slept so well before a race! The downstairs neighbors decided to be considerate for once, so I made it through the night without having to break out the earplugs. Very nice. I got up at about 4:45, made a huge bowl of oatmeal, and tried desperately to decide what to wear for the race. The past few days had been so warm that I was concerned about what the race day temperature was going to be. I nixed the idea of wearing a long-sleeve shirt and opted for a sleeveless one, but stuck with the pants. I caught a cab and headed down to Union Square, and I was slightly worried when I noticed that it was 5:30am and I was uncomfortably warm in my jacket. More on that later.

I headed to the VIP tent, where I was scheduled to hold the 10 minute pace sign. There, I met up with some of the other pace leaders and the girls I was planning on running with.

Susan, me, Yvonne and Denise in the VIP tent before the race

Denise and Susan, among others, did every long run with me throughout the training series. We survived the Scott Street hill and the Lyon stairs, the heat and the cold and the long miles and the freezing cold water in the Bay, and we all got to know each other pretty well over the course of the training series. Since it was their first marathon, they hit all of their training goals with me, and they swore that they couldn’t have done it without me, but the truth is, they got me through it too! They were both super excited about the race, but I was feeling surprisingly calm. We finished getting ready (pinned on race numbers, stuffed our sports bras with packets of GU, and checked in our bags) and went to the bathroom three different times, and then lined up to watch the elite racers start. After a pep talk from Joanie Benoit Samuelson (the winner of the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984 and inspiration for this race), we were ready to race.

First half: 2:06:06
We counted down the last 10 seconds and then took off through the dark streets of downtown San Francisco. Soon, the sub-8 runners started passing us from behind (the one downfall to being in the front of the pack), and we tried desperately to hang onto our own pace for the first couple miles. By the time we got to Fisherman’s Wharf, we had settled into our pace and started to prepare for our first hill. We made it up and over with no problem, passing all those out-of-towners along the way. Based on the first few miles of the race, we figured it was going to be a rather warm day, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a fair amount of fog sitting in the Bay and hanging underneath the Golden Gate. I wish I were one of those people who carries their camera with them, because I definitely would have taken a picture of it!

About that time, I also realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. I figured it was just nervousness in the first mile or two, but when the feeling hadn’t gone away by mile 4, I knew I needed to do something about it. I didn’t drink that much water, so I really don’t know what my deal was! I left Denise and Susan, and ran on ahead to find a port-a-potty. I found one about a half mile ahead, did my thing, and ran out just in time to see Denise and Susan approaching. I ate my first GU, and we headed out Crissy Field down toward the foot of the GGBridge to our killer hill. It’s not particularly steep, just extremely long. All of mile 7, to be exact. It was tough, but we made it, and we actually gained some time – I guess all those weeks training on the steepest hills in San Francisco paid off! At the top, we were greeted with massive amounts of thick fog, a very welcome sight on a day that we had expected to be too hot! We were rewarded with a very nice, long downhill, where we gained even more time and prepped for our last major uphill in the race. Somehow, with all the people around, the killer hills didn’t seem nearly as hard as they had been in training, and before we knew it, we were on our way down to the beach and into Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately, this was about the time when we started to regret our clothing choices. I would have killed for that long-sleeved shirt I had planned on wearing!

Upon entering the park I saw Kirk, Leslie, and a bunch of other San Francisco Road Runners, which was a great boost! We also stumbled upon Yvonne who we had lost in the chaos of the race start. She was looking strong, and feeling great! Denise and I pushed on ahead, and Susan and Yvonne ran together on the gradual uphill through the park. It was like being in the Twilight Zone running through the fog...the bison in the park were exceptionally close to the road, which was unusual, and they were about the only thing we could see! A few minutes later, the sun was desperately trying to break through the fog, and it was really bright, but my sunglasses were so fogged up that I felt like I was blind either way. The fog finally broke, and I was able to make use of my sunglasses on our first out-and-back, where I saw a lot of my friends from the Nike running group. Denise and I saw that Susan wasn’t far behind us, and we waited for her at the next water stop, but she never appeared. We found out later that she had decided to go to the bathroom right then, so it’s a good thing we didn’t wait for her to appear!

One very bad rendition of “Hey Ya” later (spectators were allowed to do Karaoke versions of their friends’ “power songs”), and we were taking a nice steady downhill out of the park and out to Ocean Beach. On what seemed like a never-ending straightaway, we saw Denise’s friend, her mom and her brother as well as some people from my tri club, so we had plenty of support. I only wish I could say that much about the loop around Lake Merced! The entrance to the lake loop is a decent hill for that late in the race, but the downhill afterward gave us a little break and the salsa band on the other side gave us a little burst of energy.

Mile 20: 3:14:17
Soon after that, we were really starting to feel it in our legs. We saw a couple more of Denise’s friends, but it help much because all we really wanted was some water. The sun had come out and it was pretty hot around the lake, and poor Denise had sticky hands from her last GU, which can be exponentially more annoying at mile 20 of a marathon. Mile 21 passed and still no water (my only complaint about the entire race). There was a huge cheering section, which is never a bad thing in a desolate place, but from far away we thought it was an aid station, so we weren’t nearly as pleased to see them as we should have been. Finally, about a quarter of a mile later we came upon an aid station. The water refreshed me, but it was too late for Denise, so she told me to go on ahead while she got herself back together. I checked on her a few more times to make sure that she was doing alright, and when I was sure that she was okay, I took off.

I was feeling a little bit stiff, but I had tons of energy from God knows where, so I took it and I went with it. I feel terrible for thinking it, but I passed one guy from our training group, and I was very pleased to see that he was walking – he was the guy who would join a pace group and then throw everyone off by running way too fast. I have a feeling he started out that way, and then just couldn’t keep up with it for the whole 26.2, so it kinda made me snicker, and only made me want to go faster (I found out later that he finished in 4:40)! I passed a couple other people that I knew, said “hi” and “good work”, and then proceeded to blow by them toward the finish. I’m sure I looked pretty darn determined at that point because I was getting lots of encouragement from the crowd and I was still feeling good, so I gave it everything I had. Miles 25-26.2 were the fastest of my entire race! I crossed in 4:11:49, feeling tired, but not totally wiped. I finally made it out of the 4:20’s (I had been stuck there for my last three marathons) – only 31 more minutes to Boston! On top of that, this is the first time I ran negative splits (my second half was 23 seconds faster than the first half!), and the first time I actually ran the whole race (Okay, I walked through a few water stops, but only because I didn’t want to spill Gatorade all over myself!)!

I collected my finisher’s medal (AKA Tiffany necklace) and shirt just in time to get back to the finish line and watch Denise cross in 4:21 – I was so proud of her!!!! We headed to the VIP tent to get some food and see how everyone else had done. Susan showed up about 20 minutes later to introduce us to her husband and three kids. What a cute family! She was so happy (she finished in 4:45), and I was beaming like a proud mother for both of my “girls.” I think I was actually happier for them than for myself! I gave them both a card and a little bottle of champagne so they could celebrate later when they were feeling up to it. We’ll definitely all be keeping in touch!

Me, Denise and Susan after the race - we ROCKED!

I hurried home, showered and then headed out again to the Bridge School Benefit Concert down near San Jose, where Jessica and I sat in the grass all day and saw some great performances – Death Cab For Cutie, Trent Reznor (acoustic, and very...interesting), Foo Fighters (awesome!), Brian Wilson (too freaking funny...especially considering that Jessica and I used to be obsessed with the Beach Boys back in elementary school), Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band (Dave was in rare form – very funny!) and Neil Young. Definitely a treat! Good friends, good times, good music – What a great weekend!

My (scary) race day photos can be seen HERE
Race results can be seen HERE

Next up: Treasure Island Olympic Distance Triathlon – November 4th!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rock 'N Roll!!!!

I really wasn’t sure what my goals were for the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. I signed up on a whim to avoid having to do a 20-miler and there were definitely some factors working against me:

  • the 10-miler I had run the day before (which was also quite a bit faster than planned)
  • the jerks downstairs who woke me up at 10:30pm and 2am – I actually went down there and asked them to shut up!
  • I ripped my race number off my shorts before I had even left the house
  • my freaking watch decided to break right when the gun went off
  • AND the fact that I am at the height of my training for Nike and CIM.

I just really didn’t know what I had in me. So honestly, the only goal I really had was to finish under 2 hours. I would be very happy with a PR (anything under 1:58:35), but given the aforementioned issues, I wasn’t expecting anything too great.

Before the race, I was pleased to find that parking was easy, I turned in my bag, had plenty of time to go to the bathroom (and there were more than enough port-a-potties – nice work on the part of the race organizers!), stretched, looked around for Janae and Troy and Bob, and when I didn’t see them, I finally headed to my corral. Luckily, Bob was waiting for me at my corral, so we got to say hi and chat for a little bit. Soon, they announced that it was about time to start, so we lined up and made last minute preps. I checked my watch and it seemed to be in working order, but when it came time to turn it on for the race, it froze up! No numbers, just the word “footpod” and a couple of weird lines. I muttered a long string of expletives, and then realized that I could follow one of the unofficial pacers (members of running clubs and charity groups who had numbers on their backs based on the times they were planning on running) Other than that, I would have to rely solely on feel and the mile-marker clocks! All I could think was, “God I hope these people are on pace!”

The race start...

After a mile, I overheard one of the pacers say that we were about a minute faster than the course clocks, which put us at an 8:30 mile. I was feeling alright, but I also knew that this was only mile one. “Can I really keep this up for 12.2 more?”

And that’s when Matt, one of my coaches, suddenly appeared out of nowhere. We talked for a little while, and I fully expected him to go on ahead without me, but we ended up running the entire race together! He was looking to run a 1:55:00, and I was feeling good a few miles in, so I decided to stick with it. We thoroughly enjoyed the on-course entertainment, and we both encouraged the crowd to cheer for everyone (instead of just standing there like bumps on a log!), and we pretty much just kept each other going. At around mile 6, we got a glimpse of the Kenyans as they sprinted by, and we saw Meb Keflezighi (2004 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon) too, which was really cool. That gave us a huge boost!

That’s Meb on the right – not to be confused with the Kenyans! He’s American – immigrated with his family a long time ago and grew up in San Diego. Cool dude.

Kenyan Duncan Kibet won the race in 1:00:22, the second fastest time ever raced on American soil. Haile Gebrselassie set the world record earlier this year at PF Chang’s in Phoenix (58:55).

We noted how the crowd around us seemed to change as we ran – pretty soon, everyone was silent and focused, and we were passing people right and left. That was a very good feeling! Matt told me about a dream he had had the night before – he dreamt that he had seen flying pigs, and he thought, “No, that’s not possible...they can’t be flying, they’re just gliding...but wait, no, they’re actually catching air and getting lift...” So he decided that he was the flying pig. “Maybe it’s a good omen,” he said. I told him I’d go with it...sounded like a pretty good omen to me!

At this point, we were looking good for a finishing time well under 1:55, so we just held our pace and decided that if we felt good in the last couple of miles, we’d go for it. It was starting to get warm, and I was getting tired, but then right around mile 11 I saw a woman standing on the side of the road holding – get this – a mylar pig balloon!

A FLYING PIG! Definitely a sign!

We kicked it up a notch because we knew it was getting close. Somewhere around mile 12 I told Matt to go on ahead – he was in a groove, but it was just a little bit faster than mine, and I didn’t want to hold him back! I managed to keep him in my sights until the final turn, and at that point my only focus was the finish line. I could see the clock was almost at 1:53, so I gave it everything I had...I knew that my time was better than what was up there because of the timing chip, but since my watch was broken I didn’t know exactly how much time I had to work with! I crossed at 1:53 and change, maintaining a smile just long enough for them to snap a picture. Matt was still just past the finish line – we gave each other a huge high five and a hug and then proceeded to get our medals and goodies. I would have been more happy about the ice-cold towels than the medals, but the little girl who gave me my medal was so cute that she totally made my day (well, other than that whole PR thing!)! She was like 5 years old, and she even told me, “Good job!” So cute.

Ha, there was a picture of her in the image gallery from the race – the little girl in the middle. Guess I wasn’t the only one who thought they were cute! I’m assuming that’s their mom who ran the race - What a cool thing to do as a family!

So anyway, the race was a huge success. It was a great course – flat and pretty for an urban course – and it was very well organized. There were plenty of bathrooms, lots of on-course support, lots of water and Amino Vital, great music and just an overall good vibe. I will definitely consider doing this one again! We walked along the race course back to our cars and cheered for the runners who were just finishing – a great end to an already great experience! I promptly made a phone call home to share the good news, and then headed back to SF where I enjoyed a beautiful afternoon watching the Blue Angels from the roof of our apartment.

We’re in a perfect spot to watch them because they fly right over the top of our place...it’s a little freaky when they fly super low, but it’s pretty cool too! Great way to top off an already awesome day!

I FINALLY got my official time at about 4:00 in the afternoon – 1:51:59!!! That's 6.5 minutes faster than my last half marathon!!! Woo hoo! Matt’s was 1:50:59 (talk about cutting it close...we were both right on the edge!)...definitely something to be happy about! A lot of the other SFRRC members did really well too, and Janae and Troy and Bob all had a good race as well. Now I’m super pumped for Nike and CIM!!! Bring it on!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I feel so hardcore...

There's nothing like a good run in the rain to make you feel invincible. I don't care how fast you are or how many races you've run, if you don't run in the rain, I can kick your ass! Okay, maybe not, but that's how I feel when I do it! There's something so exhilarating about getting out there and facing the elements. People look at you like you're crazy, but all the other runners out there know. You're lucky if you pass one or two of them, and you glance at each other for a split second and give each other "that look." Something along the lines of, "We're out here running in the cold, wet, nasty weather while everyone else is sitting on their ass watching TV. WE ROCK!!!"

Sure, I could go run on a treadmill in a smelly, hot, humid gym, music blaring, fluorescent lights glaring...Nope. Not a chance. I would much rather be outside - freezing cold and wet and thoroughly enjoying the shining streets of San Francisco!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Training really freaking hard...

Like I said, I'm at the peak of my training, so this past weekend was a tough one! I don't plan on my blogs looking like this, but I figured I'll start with something meaningful, rather than this morning's swim practice! In the future they'll be much shorter!

I led the Nike Women's 10 minute pace group on a 22-miler, the biggest run of the training series. I was SO proud of my girls...most of them are training for their first marathon, and they all did a GREAT job! We were more conscious of the time spent at aid stations, and we managed to finish our 22-miler in the same amount of time that it took us to do 20 miles two weeks before. Crazy how a 22-miler can actually feel BETTER than 20! I did manage to biff it somewhere around mile 6...I was checking the map to make sure we were going the right way, and I tripped over a jagged piece of sidewalk. I think something like this is bound to happen to me at least once per marathon! Fortunately, I caught myself somewhat, so I didn't fall too incredibly hard. Got a little scrape on my knee, and I was COVERED in black dirt, but it didn't hurt too bad. I got up, brushed off what I could (although, being nice and sweaty, it mostly just stuck to me!), and kept going. I almost immediately busted up laughing...good thing I can find the humor in these things now! I think my knees were destined to be ugly, judging by the amount of times I've scraped them up this year. Maybe I'm just clumsy, but my ratio of times fallen to miles run is pretty low, so I'm okay with it!

Iced my legs for a bit in the Bay, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at a music festival at Shoreline down in Mountain View. We saw The Shins, Muse, the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, and Beck (along with a marionette version of his band...pretty funny!).

Had a couple of beers and relaxed...not a bad way to spend the afternoon!

My first ocean swim! I donned the wetsuit for the first time, and I went for it. I did pretty well, although I was hesitant to stick my face in the water. I panicked a little bit, but I got myself back together and managed to finish the 1-mile swim in about 50 minutes. Next time I'll actually pay attention to the clock!

I really just wanted to go to bed when I got home, but instead I forced myself to go for a long bike ride. If I'm going to do this tri, I'm really going to have to work on the bike! I mostly followed the Nike Women's Marathon course, and ended up riding about 30 miles. I was totally exhausted when I finished, but I'm really glad I did it! Got in some good practice with the clip shoes too!

Swim practice this morning was like hell! Try as I might, I couldn't keep my form in check because I was sooo tired from the weekend. I managed to get through it - 2100 meters in all - and then I was a zombie for the rest of the day - water-logged and wanting desperately to take a nap!

On my way to the track I considered turning around and going back home about a thousand times. I felt tired and light-headed, something that rarely ever happens to me, but I kept on going. We stretched a little bit and then headed toward the park. Within the first tenth of a mile I thought, "You've got to be kidding me. I have to run 10 miles tonight??? I can barely even make it across the street!" But fortunately, Kirk, our comic relief, started telling us all about helping another of our runners to qualify for Boston. I was instantly interested, and I forgot all about how sluggish my legs felt. She qualified with about a minute to spare, and they rode her ass the entire way saying, "IF YOU LEAVE ANYTHING ON THE COURSE AND YOU DON"T QUALIFY, YOU'LL NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT!!! THIS IS BOSTON WE'RE TALKING ABOUT!!!" They had come up with topics of conversation for ever mile of the race, things like "favorite movie" and "weirdest place you've had sex"...needless to say, they attracted some attention from other runners as well, making the time (and the miles) go by even faster! I think I'm definitely going to have to recruit Kirk when I make my first attempt at a BQ!

Anyway, I made it through the warm-up without any major issues, but I was doubting myself again when I got to the actual track workout! Thankfully, Coach Matt set me up with another girl who's about my pace, and we ran together. I don't think I could have done it on my own...three sets of 1000 (2.5 laps) + 800 (2 laps) with recovery in-between each. With my long cool-down, I had 10 miles on the dot, and I felt awesome!

Stopped at Whole Foods on my way home and picked up some super healthy food, some brown rice spicy shrimp sushi rolls for dinner, and some goat's milk mission fig ice cream for a treat. It's an interesting flavor, but surprisingly tasty! I'll definitely be buying their product again!

Click here for their website!

Whew, well now I'm up-to-date...this morning we had no coach at the Y, but our 2400 meter workout was there for us (2400 meters?!?!?). Fortunately, it wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected. I made it through just fine, and managed to do my 1500 meters (the distance of my upcoming race) in about 35 minutes, which is pretty respectable. I'll be in better shape on race day anyway! I'm glad to say that I'm feeling perfectly fine right now, and I'm actually looking forward to my Nike run tonight. 6 miles along the Embarcadero. Aw yeah.

My very first blog!

Well, I'm not really sure where to start! There are so many things I could say...

I guess an introduction might be in order. I'm an average athlete with one big goal in mind: to qualify for the Boston Marathon before I'm 30. That leaves me about two years and nine months to qualify. So far I've run 5 marathons and 3 half marathons, and I've improved by leaps and bounds over the last three years. I think I'm pretty well on my way! I'm doing my best to stay/get in shape, which includes a pretty strict diet and lots and lots of working out. I'm right at the height of my training for four upcoming races, all of which will take place in the next two months.
  • San Jose Rock n Roll Half Marathon - October 8
  • Nike Women's Marathon - October 22
  • Treasure Island International Triathlon - November 4
  • California International Marathon - December 3
My ultimate goal is to run a sub-4 hour marathon at CIM. I'm nervous, but I'm excited!

So this blog will document my road to Boston, my incessant training, and a little bit of life in general...hope it's enjoyable!