Thursday, December 20, 2007

14 minutes closer...

My mom and dad were nice enough to come out and watch me run CIM. They had wanted to come up for my triathlon, but I knew that CIM would be a tough race, and that it would be nice to have some support on the course. My plan for this race was to run a 3:40 – that’s right, Boston qualifying time! – and my training was definitely on the right track.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without talking about the intense training leading up to it. Every week I got together with the same basic group of people – Matt, Pam, Joe, Bob, David, Harriet, and others – to train for this race. We ran ridiculous repeats at the track, we met at 5:30 on Thursdays to do tempo runs, and we did long runs every Saturday. And then there were the runs in-between!

Tuesdays at the track were always hard to get through. Tell me I have to run 5000 meters of speed work, and I’m going to complain, but I’m going to do it. I honestly can’t even remember what the last track workout was, but I do remember that I was DAMN proud of myself for getting through it. Matt and I had perfect splits – every 400 at 1:46. For 8 800’s. It was absolutely painful. We finished right around the same time as David, who was doing his 10 Yassos. I think we were all delirious and in complete disbelief with what we had just done. But we all felt amazing. We all knew that we could have done more (we wouldn’t have WANTED to, but we could have), and that we were very well-trained.

Thursday mornings were pretty ridiculous as well. 5:30 is really early (duh), especially when you know you have to run 11 miles. Fast (oh, and did I mention that most Wednesday nights I ran 4-6 miles as a pace leader with the Nike group?). Every time I got to the Marina Green I was sure that I would never be awake enough to reach my tempo pace. But somehow, after our 3-mile warm-up loop around Crissy Field or the Marina, I would manage to dig deep down and find that extra speed. Maybe it was the post-warm-up Gu. We had some really cool mornings out there, like the time when we watched a cruise ship come in under the Golden Gate, or the many early morning foggy runs, accompanied by nothing else but the crunching of the path under our feet and the occasional sound of the fog horns. After a brief regrouping, we’d head over the hill to Aquatic Park and begin our tempo run. Typically, we’d run to the Ferry Building – me, Matt, Pam, and Patricia, all taking turns pulling the group along, breathing hard, trying to keep pace without checking how much time remained – and then we would turn back toward the Marina. The longest tempo run was 32 minutes. At a 7:42 pace. When I got there that morning, I was absolutely convinced that I didn’t have it in me, but I somehow managed to find my groove that morning, and I ran with it! 4 miles. It was incredibly painful, but felt so satisfying afterward!

Then there were the long runs. I joined the reds (a.k.a the fast people) so that I could run without walk breaks. I managed to keep up with the back of the group, which was just fine with me. We had some pretty hardcore long runs, all around a 9-minute pace (and 18 miles or longer!). The peak of our running experience was the 25-miler to Tiburon (see my blog about last year’s Tiburon run). We were so anxious to be done at the end that I think the last few miles were actually the fastest!
So add all those workouts together, throw in a few other runs for good measure, and you’ve got one hell of a training season.

I expected to be a nervous wreck during the week leading up to the marathon, but I was surprisingly calm. On Friday afternoon, my parents arrived from Phoenix, and we spent the evening hanging out in San Francisco. Saturday morning, we picked up Jack and headed up to Sacramento. The “meeting” went well, which I had expected, and everyone got along just fine, so that made me even more calm.

When we arrived in Sacramento, we went straight to the expo to get my race bib and stuff. We made the rounds and got free samples – Starbucks, Clif Shot Blocks, and Powerbars – and we ran into a few other SFRRC members and said hi. After the expo, we checked into the hotel (slightly awkward moment when my dad asked, “How many rooms did you get? 3?), and my parents settled into their room and Jack and I into ours. We didn’t get much time to rest because we had to head to Buca di Beppo for dinner with the club. We all rode over to the restaurant with Matt, and had a nice, simple pasta dinner with the other runners.

Me and Jack at dinner

Matt, John, and Sina

David, Wanda, Karl, Joe, Pierre, and Leslie

After dinner, we headed back and made arrangements for the next morning – figured out where mom, dad, and Jack were going to meet me on the course and all that good stuff. I spent a good half an hour laying out my stuff in exactly the order I wanted it, and then tried my best to get some sleep. I had a hard time falling asleep, so Jack and I chatted for a while. Then we heard the music. Apparently there was a party going on upstairs. The people at the Holiday Inn are a bunch of geniuses to allow a loud party the night before a marathon (especially when 90% of their guests are there for the race!).

So anyway, 5:30 rolled around earlier than I would have liked, but I got up, made my oatmeal, and got dressed, doing my best not to wake up Jack, and then I headed downstairs to meet Matt and Denise (who was running the first leg of the relay). Matt and I chatted about the training season on the bus ride to the start – we were both feeling pretty good about the work we’d put in!

Denise and I decided to hang out on the bus for awhile…it was cold outside, so we wanted to stay warm as long as possible. We made a final trip to the bathroom, dropped off our sweats, and then lined up at the start. It was kind of a mess – the pace groups weren’t lined up in order, so the 3:40 group was behind the 3:45 group, so I was a little panicked. But the race started, and Denise and I did our best to weave through the crowd with the 3:40 paceleader, Mike, a serious ultrarunner who has done the Western States 100 nine time (and had just gotten into his 10th!). Since Denise was just doing the first leg of the relay, I let her pull ahead and did my best to pace myself with the group. Mike was really good at giving us tips – he knew the course well, and he made sure we always ran on tangents so we wouldn’t waste any energy.

I helped call out split times to keep my mind occupied, and I tried my best to ignore the chatty, annoying women who were running with the group. I don’t think some of them realize how frustrating it is to try to concentrate and keep pace when they’re talking about random, unimportant stuff. There was one chick in particular who kept talking to the paceleader, and for some reason she just couldn’t get the hint. So I pulled ahead of the group just a bit to avoid having to listen to her. I felt a little better not having to watch the pace sign, like I wasn’t under as much pressure. When we got to Fair Oaks, at mile 10, was feeling pretty dang good. Mom, Dad, and Jack were waiting there for me, which gave me a huge boost. I tossed my gloves at them, and kept on going.

The 3:40 pace group somewhere around the 10 mile mark. I'm in there someplace...

The half marathon mark is kind of a blur. In fact, the next five miles or so are a total blur to me. I was hanging on alright, but could feel the 3:40’s creeping up behind me. Knowing that Leslie would be waiting for me at mile 15 kept me going. When I saw her, I couldn’t have been happier! I was really starting to struggle at this point, but she kept me on pace. We passed Bob, David, and Harriet somewhere around mile 16 or 17. It just wasn’t David’s race since he had gotten really sick just a few days earlier. Crappy!

Me and Leslie at mile 20. I look pretty dang good considering how bad I felt!

I was slowly breaking down, and by mile 20, the next time I saw Mom, Dad, and Jack (with his poofy orange vest – thank God he wore it, because it made him really easy to pick out of the crowd!) I pretty much knew that Boston wasn’t in the cards for me. I was so happy to see them though…their cheers gave me a boost that would allow me to pick it up just a little bit and still finish strong.

It had been pretty windy all morning, but here’s where it really got me. We ran through these trees right after mile 20, and then over the Sacramento River. The bridge was the worst. Not only was it a hill, but we were running straight into the wind at that point. Not fun.

As we headed into the outskirts of Sacramento, I actually started to kind of have fun, though you would never know by the way I looked – I’m sure I looked like hell! It was at this point that one of our faster runners, Megan, passed me by, well on her way to qualifying for Boston. This is also where Leslie and I caught Pat and Harriet. The four of us ran together for a bit, and then I surged ahead just a bit, knowing that a 3:45 was still a possibility. The last couple of miles through Sacramento are terrible, because the course runs through numbered streets. From 40 or 50 something all the way to 3rd Street. I did my best to ignore them, and picked it up for the last mile or so. I came around the corner toward the Capitol Building, and I was happy to see Denise, Jenny, Melisse, and Sam all standing right there, cheering for me – they’d all just finished the relay.

I sprinted the final few hundred feet into the finish line, barely managing to keep myself on my feet on the other side. 3:45:54. 5 minutes short of a Boston qualifier, but still a 14 minute PR over last year’s CIM. I was slightly disappointed, but I’d had time to come to terms with it over the past 7 miles or so, and was really just happy with my overall performance!

I probably should have gone to the med tent…my legs were *this* close to giving out, but I really just wanted to find Jack and my parents and the rest of SFRRC to find out how everyone had done. I found Jack and the ‘rents, and used them all to help steady myself. Not long after, I ran into a big group of SFRRC runners, many of whom had qualified for Boston or gotten huge PRs.

Matt and me after the race - we ran this one together last year, and he managed a huge PR too!

Pam: 3:48:51 BQ, PR
Matt: 3:50:08 PR
Megan: 3:44:31 BQ, PR
Pierre: 3:59:14 PR
Elizabeth: 3:59:27 BQ, PR
Kevin: 3:59:23 PR
John: 4:11:02
Sina: 3:10:46 BQ, PR
Joe: 3:05:20 BQ, PR
Karl: 3:19:39 PR
Harriet: 3:47:43
David: 4:09:40
Bob Bellino: 4:10:35 PR
Emily: 4:08:57 BQ

After running into the other runners, I decided that I really just needed to sit down on the grass for a minute. Bad idea. I took off my shoes, and then when I tried to walk again, the balls of my feet were in so much pain that I couldn’t walk without assistance. They looked fine, but it was ridiculously painful (later I would find out that I had basically rubbed my feet raw from the inside out – a couple weeks after the race, two massive blisters came to the surface!). I somehow managed to hobble the five blocks or so to the hotel, where I was more than happy to relax and clean up.

Getting some assistance from Jack...

After a little bit of rest, we all headed out. The drive home was pretty uneventful, and we ended the trip in Berkeley where we stopped for some dinner at Vik’s Chaat House – we had all kinds of yummy Indian goodies – dosas and curries and all that fun stuff. It was a very well-deserved post-race meal!

So it was a great race. I didn’t meet my ultimate goal, but the hard training period and the race itself taught me volumes. And I’m 14 minutes closer to Boston. I’ve signed up for the Chicago marathon, and I’m starting to get excited about training…watch out, Boston, here I come!!!