Sunday, November 10, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon 2013 Race Report

If you look close enough, yours truly is on the left side of Mr. Yellow shirt.
Where do I begin? First of all, I apologize for taking so long to post this report.  I would have been finished the night after the race, but the Wi-Fi at the Holiday Inn, cut me off and just like that--my work disappeared.  It cut-off me two more times and by then I had enough.  So thank you for waiting patiently and taking the time to read.

There's always something, isn't it? With every marathon, you hope for the best and pray that everything goes as planned. You wish for stars to align and hopefully blast through that finish line strongly with a sub-4, a PR, or maybe even a Boston qualifying time. Through my past experiences,  I have come to accept that some things are just beyond my control.  I try to do my best to adapt to the situation and not let the 'unexpected' takeover. This was the central theme for my 31st marathon at Marine Corps.  Don't get me wrong, this race report is not all about what went wrong-- far from it.  This race is all about how a minute issue could have crept up to mess with my head had I let it.  It was up to me to tuck that negativity away and dwell on the positives instead. In the big scheme of things, this non-issue played little to no part in my eventual success.  Grab a cup of coffee...this might be long. Here goes my race report for the 38th running of the Marine Corps Marathon 2013 (MCM).

It has been two years since I ran in a huge marathon. In 2010 and 2011, I've had great experiences and got two huge PR's in New York City. I came to love big races and not fear them after that. It used to worry me; variables associated with huge venues, such as: should I rely on fluid and nutrition on the aid stations or bring my own? What if they ran out? Do I check my drop bag at the end? What if they lose it? How will I find my family? Do I need to run with a phone, etc.  Armed with experience, MCM being one of the top five big races in America, has been on my bucket list.  When registration opened in March 2013, I did everything in my power to get in. hit a snafu, with their website unable to support the incoming flood of anxious runners trying to register.  Long story short, registry closed a little over two hours. I got in, but only after I was kicked out in mid-registration twice.  I feverishly tried to get back in and later I found out I was charged three times. Many others experienced the same issue, which caused the MCM organization to drop for next year. They've announced recently that registration will be solely decided by lottery. 

Washington, D.C. is rich with history. Museums and National Monuments are literally at every street corner.  This is part of the reason why I convinced my family for a little 'race-cation'.  I have an 8th grader taking American History right now, so it was timely for us to visit our nation's capital.   We planned to leave on Friday, go to the expo on Saturday, race on Sunday and tour the city on both Monday and Tuesday. It worked out well. The only hiccup was the expo. More on that later...

Make a goofy face.

Show me a shocked face.

a happy face...

Show me a Jack Nicholson face...there it is!

Friday was purely a travel day.  We left SLO at 6 am, had a connecting flight to SFO, then to O'Hare and finally arrived at Reagan National at 8:30 pm.  Most hotels catering to the Marine Corps Marathon had convenient shuttle pickups to and from the Airport.  We stayed at Holiday Inn at Crystal City because it was a hop and a skip away from the airport as well as the start at the Pentagon.  The temperature was on the nippy side while we waited for our shuttle. We settled in our hotel, walked over to Mexicana Cantina (terrific authentic Mexican food, by the way) and retired fairly quickly after dinner.

Reagan National: Waiting for our Holiday Inn shuttle

Saturday morning we attended a once in a lifetime invitation to see Billy Mills. If you do not know who he is and you're a runner, shame on you. Just kidding.  Google or you tube his name along with search words, "Tokyo Olympic Games 1964". He is a living legend and thanks to my running buddy, Julie and her dad, we saw Billy Mills give a moving speech about his experience growing up underprivileged in the reservations, while also being orphaned as a young child and his love of running and eventual running success in college leading to the Olympics.  I had the great opportunity to take a picture with him and shake his hands.   This my friends, was the highlight of my trip.

Needless to say, that I tried to dress for this once in a lifetime occasion, i.e., I put on nice shoes. Uncomfortable, work shoes, that is.  Can you see where I'm going with this?

Let me back track for a little bit. In order to get around in D. C., we used the Metro everywhere we went, (as in Bart in the Bay Area or the Subway in NY.)  It was convenient. The trains came every few minutes and in the whole time we were there, only one delay occurred. Not bad for five days.  However to get to the Metro, you also had to do a lot of walking. Hint: I had my work shoes all day Saturday.  So after seeing Billy Mills, we headed to the DC Armory, where the Expo was held. It was a few train stops from the Smithsonian Station.  When we got off the Armory/Stadium center, I felt relieved that we were headed in the right direction since I noticed runners with their clear plastic bags and bibs getting on the train. I thought that will be me in a few minutes. So I thought.  Little did I know how long they had to wait in line for their bibs, bag and shirt.  Wait! It gets better...

Metro station

So there I was blindly following runners, in their running shoes and jackets and shirts from past MCM marathons. I was getting giddy with excitement as I neared the entrance. I was taking it all in, taking photo op at every chance to document this piece of history.  Then my eyes gazed upon this snaking line. It was zig-zagging. Every one in that line were holding only one thing, their yellow bib# and wearing a not-s- excited looks. How should I say this? Their faces did not express happiness for someone about to run a marathon.  It started to occur to me that the looks I've been reading were looks of frustration, possibly associated with standing and waiting in line for what seems to be an eternity! I was right.  I knew right away that I had to find another line before I could get into this line. I panned my eyes to the possible end of the line.  Where is it?  I got worried and finally asked one of the runners. I was pointed to a field with where the tent was.  Then she offered more information: "The wait is about an hour long for the bibs, then you line up here to get your shirt and bag check."  I said thank you and gave hubby a "are-you-freaking-kidding-me-look."  I was glad that we did not delay getting there anymore than we had planned.

I  thought something was amiss. MCM has been doing this for 38 years, they can't possibly hit a snag today.  Compared to NYC with 45K runners, I was in and out in no time.  Here, we had less than 2/3 of the amount of runners and I had to wait in line for 2 hours? The day before a race to be standing and walking for miles that long is a' no-no.'  I already ran my 3-mile shake out run that morning, walked 3 more miles to see Billy Mills, and then this? I was worried even more because we still had to get to dinner, which was another 2-3 miles of walking. All in all  it was an easy 10 miles of walking on uncomfortable shoes.

We walked closer to the huge white tent. The odd thing was, the end of the line was nowhere in sight.  We asked a runner where the end was.  He pointed to a Marine holding a sign that read "end of line"  We followed him.  Halfway through the switchbacking line, I turned on my Garmin just for kicks.  Mind you this was already halfway through the line. 

That's the end of the line my friends

The friendly Marines who handed me my bib.
Finally made it in the Expo: Me, Julie and son, Carson

Just showing you how big this place is.

Stick a fork in me...I'm done.

After all the waiting outside, I ran out of energy to buy.

Long story short, I was in line for more than 1 hour and 45 minutes.  My feet were killing me.  The shoes hurt my heel and toes.  It was very easy to think about how my race the next day would be severely affected. The negative thoughts invaded my head.  I was resolved to think of it just as a long run and not race hard since I felt I was handicapped anyway. Bad Aileen. Thankfully, I shook this off with a good dinner. Carbs seemed to do the job.

We went to the part of  town called Capitol Hill neighborhood where we found an Italian restaurant called, Trattoria Alberto. The aura of the restaurant was dim and very classy.  Our pasta was cooked to perfection and we enjoyed the attentive service we received.  After a few bites of my linguini a la vongole, my worries about my feet subsided. I thought I would soak them in a tubful of cold water when we got back to our room, and everything would be fine.   After dinner, Hubby and Elena got Dunkin' Donuts for their late night dessert. I hopped into a grocery shop and got my bruised banana. That was all they had.

Lasagna for the Hubs and tortellini for the young lady.

Linguini a la Vongole. Yum!

Breakfast of champions.

After soaking my feet in cold water, I set up my gear for the next day. I pinned my bib on my new shirt (breaking the rules: nothing new on race day) and stashed five gels in the secret pockets of my beloved Lululemon shorts.  Little did I know that this would be very the last time I would wear my favorite pair of shorts, my shirt and my haute pink CEP compression sleeves. It was an honest mistake--more on this later.

Goodbye my Lululemon shorts, CEP compression sleeves, my dry max socks.

I planned to wake up at 3:30 and eat breakfast a 4:00 am--ample time to get "stuff" moving.  I know TMI, but to a marathoner, this a huge priority. This can make or break a race if you know what I mean.

I left the hotel room at 5 am to take the hotel shuttle to the Metro.  I was prepared because  I bought my ticket the night before so in the morning I wouldn't have to fumble over coins and bills getting to the train. Pressure-free, I zoomed in and out as I watched other runners try to figure out how much the fare to put in.  I stayed relaxed.  It was not cold, about 50 degrees. To keep me warm, I had on my hubby's old white sweatshirt and sweat pants I bought for $4 bucks at the hospice thrift shop on Higuera Street.

The Metro ride was only two short stops away.  Not enough time to people watch.  I was calm and ready to rock and roll.  I had a bagel in the bag and Gatorade to top my reserves while I waited for the start.  Runners piled in the train.  The train was filled with the usual chatter and small talks about running and training.  I kept to myself, enjoying the moment as it passes by. I couldn't believe it.  In a few hours I would be running MCM.  The announcement came on "Pentagon City"  I noticed people started to get up even before the train stopped. This was it, I followed.  

It was still dark when we got off the train, and the walk to the start was invigorating and I didn't realize it was two miles long--from the train to that actual check in. The Marines checked my bag and bid me "Have a great race Ma'am."  I couldn't get over how polite they were. I thanked them for what they do.  They lifted my spirit up just by that one moment of encounter. I believed I was going to have a terrific day. At the same time, while walking though, I was keenly aware of the bottom of my feet.  They were sore from the day before walking through the expo inexorably long.  I was praying to the hands of god to please let me run with ease.

I got to the runner's village at the parking lot of the Pentagon around 5:30.  After the walk, I got chilled a little so I marched my way inside the tent to keep warm.  Runners were already huddle in together with warm blankets, earmuffs, mittens, bathrobes, layers and layers of sweats, again the usual chatter was going on.  I observed many connected to their devices, texting, Face-Booking, taking instagram photos and whatever media sharing there was to do, they were on it.  Soon, some faith service announcement came on. The loudspeaker was blasting pop music at the same time as the sermon was going on so I moved away and proceeded to take care of "biz".  One nice thing about this marathon is there was no shortage of facilities. I give MCM A+ for that effort.

I was still hovering around the lines for the porta-potties when National Anthem played, sung by an a-Capella group.  Then high above, the American flag was parachuted and unfurled as the anthem was about to finish.  It was so beautifully done.  Then I rushed out to the start at Highway 110.  I ran and ducked under a divider to get to the other side of the freeway.  Clothes littered the median.  I tried to find my way through looking for the pace group.  It was self-corralled.  I got stuck because the crowd was thick and there was no daylight to squeeze through.  I asked a fellow runner what pace we were in and he said 4:10.  I was happy with that.  I thought that was my happy pace that day.
Wanna know why everyone is looking up?
Because the US flag is unfurling while the National Anthem is being sung.

Total Stranger and Me
Photographer: You two know each other?
Us: No
Photographer: Want a picture together?
Us: Sure

The howitzer was fired on time and we were off.  It took me six minutes to cross the starting line. I was so excited, I'm actually doing this.  Inner monologue: "You got Oprah's time! Do it!"

I studied the elevation and I knew the first 2 miles are the steepest.  I rolled with it, however, I was stuck behind a wall of slower runners--who might have mis "paced" themselves.  I refused to go around them because that's how I would end up with longer mileage.  I knew this course had an inordinate amount of turns as it was, and to add bobbing and weaving was going to add even more.  So I patiently ran behind them.  Lesson for next time, just know that self corralled means slower pace.  Again, there was no way to anticipate this until I was actually running.  I didn't let this bother me.  I pushed on. 

The miles were ticking away so quickly, I was enjoying the moment.  We ran through Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and before I knew it, it was time for the first U-turn just before mile 8. The scenery was green and beautiful.  Trees lined up the course and it was an uplifting sight.  You could see a sea of runners ahead and it seems mind boggling that eventually I would be where they were--it was just a matter of time. Literally.

We ran along the Potomac River then off to Hains Point which was the midway point of the race.  My time was getting faster and faster by the mile. Butt at Hains Point, my breath was taken away by the view.  Lining up the left hand side of the course was rows of pictures of our fallen brothers and sisters with their names across the bottom.  It seemed endless.  As you pass through and read their names, your heart breaks.  Some of them looked so young and yet, they are gone.  They were someone else's sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. They were some one else's best friends.  They all died to protect you and me so, we can be free.  Free to do whatever we want. Free to run.  As I kept reading their names, my eyesight got blurry.  The day before I was belly aching about my feet.   I was complaining about nothing.  In the grand scheme of things, my hurt feet didn't matter.  Absolutely not.  I ran my fingers gently across the placards as I ran through each one.  Under my breath I thank them for what they sacrificed.  I don't know what happened from here on out, but I felt like I was running with wings. I felt like I was running with purpose.  I got a sudden surge of energy I've never felt before.

Miles 14-20
The most densely populated section of spectators were between these miles.  They reminded me of NYC.  There must have been 10 deep of onlookers cheering us on. It was such a boost all the hooting and hollering. I felt like I flew by this part of the course. We ran passed the Lincoln Memorial (Mile 16), Washington Monument (Mile 17), Miles 18 & 19 running along the National Mall.  Mile 20 sent us  back on to the highway.  It got mostly quiet here. We were alone for the most part, just runners and Marines who were manning the aid stations.

Miles 21-24 
We passed through Jefferson memorial at mile 21, but honestly I was too tired to notice that we did.The rollers started again and maintaining pace required more intent focus than ever before.  Mile 22 didn't look familiar either as it should have because I passed by our hotel.  I didn't realized that I entered Crystal City and that should have given me more boost had I realized that.  For once you're in Crystal City you are homeward bound. I knew that Mile 24 we would be on the bridge and it might get windy from past reviews that I've read. Today was not so bad.  It must be due to fatigue because I didn't notice that my pace had slowed down until after this mile was over.
I honestly didn't even notice the Capitol was behind me.

Miles 25-26
I managed to kick it up to  8:57 and 9:03 for these last two miles.  Just after mile 25 we passed by the starting line again.  I knew I was home free.  When I hit the 26th mile, I had a lumped in my throat  with the view from the bottom. 

The last 0.20
Coming around the corner and looking up from the bottom, was a nasty stretch of hill.  I had a small voice inside that said, "Forgettaboutit. Walk this $hit." Before I could even continue complaining how irreverent that hill placement was, it was over and done. I did it!  I couldn't wait for that medal to be hung around my neck.  We passed through the chute and the Marines, congratulated each runner with a salute then the medal came next. We were then handed a box full of recovery food and a warming white jacket.  We were guided to walk over to the UPS trucks to pick up our post gear clothes.  It was a mighty long walk. My feet didn't bother me at all during the race, but then the moment  that I stopped running, I could feel my heels were numb.  In my excitement to be reunited with my family, I had forgotten to take a picture at the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I had seen some pictures of other runners posing there before and I reminded myself that if I ever I should rum MCM, I would be sure to do that.  When you're in delirium after a race, you want nothing more than to see you family again.  That's what I did. Iwo Jima would have to wait until next time I come back.

What's in the box? I forgot, my daughter got into it before I did...

Finally found after 2o minutes of milling around...

Me and the Hubs

I can't quite express the incredible feeling of finishing this marathon.  It was a very emotional race that started at Hains Point. Seeing the pictures of our fallen heroes made me realize that we are so lucky to be alive and be free.  Running through rows and rows of American Flags brushing against my cheeks, I couldn't be anymore proud to be an American and free to do whatever I want.  Running is something I will never take for granted. Running is a gift and I shall cherish every moment of it.

Marathon #31, 1st MCM, 4:01:03

After the marathon, I gathered all my soiled running clothes in a clear plastic bag to separate the cleans from the dirties.  In the bag was empty water bottles from the Smithsonian. I kept the water bottles as a souvenir from the Billy Mills event.  The hotel maid mistakenly threw out the whole bag thinking that it was re-cycling. It didn't help the situation that it was resting next to the recycling bin.  So it was easy to make that mistake.  That's the story of how my favorite running gear went down the tubes.  Even with that loss, I still had fond memories of DC.  MCM was a blast!  Not only did I pull a 6 minute 5 second negative split for the first time in my whole life, I shook Billy freaking Mill's hands folks! Well okay, I also beat Oprah's time.

Just in case you missed the first picture of Billy and me...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I'm Happy, Wilson's Happy

HOB 10K 9/29/13 49:55--That's a PR!

Worthy of mention here is the Berlin Marathon today.  Kenya's Wilson Kipsang just broke the Marathon World Record and lowered it to 2:03:23!  I think we will see a sub 2 marathon in the near future. That's mighty incredible. 
Photo from AFP: Wilson Kipsang 2:03:23

On to mere mortal feats...
Whoa! Who was that out there today?  I finally broke my 10K PR that stood for 16 years.  It was the Berkeley Rainbow Run 10K on March 16, 1997 and I was 30 years old when I got my first 10K pr. I ran two loops around the Berkeley Marina and ended with a 50:11 at an 8:05 pace. I remember feeling awful and very weak at the end. I went out like a bat right at the gate. By the end of the first loop, I wished I had signed up for the shorter 5K.  I would have been done already.  But instead I had to push through the pain to maintain the pace.  I distinctly remember wanting to be done already but the last 2 miles felt so long and endless. My legs didn't want to run anymore and my throat felt so dry. At the time, I didn't know about carrying fluids.  I don't remember if they even had aide stations back then.  Gosh, I sound like I was running in the stone age.

Today, more than 16 years later, and hopefully much smarter, pacing has gotten much smoother.  I think I am finally getting it.  I learned to pace myself better at the start.  The result, I finished strong with enough kick in the end.  I was unchallenged for the most part.  From the first loop on 24th Street, I counted how many women were in front of me. I was in the 5th position.  There was a young high schooler, with her cross country t-shirt in front of me.  She was a good 60 seconds ahead.  By the 4th mile, I had closed the gap.  She tried to stay with me, but fell off at the 5th mile. Then, I was in 4th.  The gal in 3rd was about over a minute ahead and she kicked it even harder.  I was never going to catch her as we were nearing the finish.  It was too bad, because the prize for 3rd place was $100 in do-re-mi.  Shucks! I thought I could really use that to buy my next pair of Newtons. Oh well, I should have ran faster.
Took a serious beating, this pair.

 I felt great throughout the race. This was the first time where I didn't think about or wish it was over already.  Most races I feel that way when I haven't paced myself properly. There was no pukey feeling or stabbing pain in my lungs. There was no side stitches as in 2011, or a foxtail inside my socks as in 2009. I was even able to channel my inner Kenyan and sprinted to a 7:32 pace for the last straightaway. I saw the clock turn over to 50:01 when I stepped on the timing mat.  I was a little disappointed at first, but then a friend reminded me that I started seconds after the start. So I did have some 6 second cushion.  My goal was 49:45 and I was close.  I am more than satisfied with my 49:55 finish.

My quads felt like they can go for another long run.  However I didn't. I decided to reward myself with rest and start the training week on Monday.  I had such tremendous results I want to celebrate a little while longer.  It's been a great training week.  I hope you had a great week too.

Happy Trails!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Santa Rosa Marathon 2013 Race Recap

 The 30th time was the charm!


It finally happened! I broke 4 hours in the marathon.  It took two years to chase this goal and the last year worked harder to attain it. The burning desire started with my training for CIM in 2012 where I devoted 20 weeks to train. Weather thwarted my plans. I didn't do so well with the rain, the wind and the storm.  Bitter about my CIM results, I signed up for the next nearby marathon: Napa.  I worked harder than I ever did and it paid off where I shaved some two minutes of my NYC best. While at the Napa Expo, I ran into the SR Marathon booth where they gave a discount if I signed up right then. I thought, "Why not?"  This was another fast course where I could possibly try again--in case I couldn't break 4 at Napa or Ojai.  This would be my insurance, so to speak.


I was excited about the progress I've made with my Napa training.  So for Ojai I went back to what worked and tweaked my schedule. It paid off once more. Race day came and I shaved two more minutes. However,  I was a little upset because I could have broken four hours if it were not for the time I've squandered at three pit stops. I was disappointed at myself. Honestly, I had no desire to re-live that moment much less motivated to write about it. I wanted a do-over, but I couldn't turn back time. My next opportunity would have to be Santa Rosa. I was so glad I had the foresight to sign up.



The Santa Rosa Marathon was essentially the last chance for entry into Boston 2014. So many runners had this goal in mind, I couldn't help but get swept away in the dream.  I knew it might be doable since I have been seeing results in my training, but deep in my heart I knew that a sub 4 was going to be a little bit more attainable than the BQ.  But still Boston was in the back of my mind.  I had 12 weeks to prepare. On Sunday, all the sacrifices of time spent away from my family, all the sweat and the hours pounding the pavement culminated in one moment. On my weekend long runs with hours spent on the road alone with only my thoughts to entertain me, my mind often drifted to what it would be like to reach my goal of breaking four hours.  I wonder how it would feel to beat that clock.  I visualized myself grinning (or crying-depends on my mood), arms outstretched in victory like those winners we see so often in championship races.  Or sometimes I have visuals of me breaking down in hysterics and kissing the ground in disbelief. None of the above happened on Sunday as I crossed the finish line in Santa Rosa Marathon--far from it.



We had a week of a hot spell in California, some 6 weeks out from the race.  The race director Orhan Sarabi, proactively moved the start time to 6 am instead of 7 am.  He sent out a mass email of the change and a litany of reasons why a 6 am start would be more advantageous to BQ'ing.  I didn't have to be convinced as I like early starts.  I was happy with the time change.  One thing though that they did revised after I had already signed up was the race course. I prepared my mind for the challenge of two loop course for a marathon, when it was announced that a new course was under approval. I was never a fan of double loop courses to begin with, so I was curious to see how this change might work to my advantage. Now I have the cooler start and no loops--this would make breaking 4 or my secret quest to BQ more attainable.



I woke up at 3:06 am, without even giving my alarm the chance to go off. I had 4 hours of sleep, but I was not worried. I slept well two nights ago. I was already up, excited and ready to go. I ate my oatmeal, banana, coffee, and 3/4 of a bagel. I chugged down an 8 oz of PowerAde. In hindsight, I should have drunk 32 ounces like I normally would have.  It was in my subconscious not to drink too much because it gave me reminders of Ojai and how I squandered precious minutes.


We left the house at 4:30 am.  As soon as I stepped out the door, I didn't shiver like I normally do.  I was already comfortable and that was bad news. It was going to be warm and humid, and I hoped that I wouldn't fall apart in that kind of humidity. 



My husband and his Aunt dropped me off at the Juilliard Park, downtown Santa Rosa, the location for both the start and finish. "This is good, I can get off here."  Eric's Aunt said, "We're not just going let you off here. It's dark and there's no one around." She ordered Hubby to drive around the block one more time to see if there would be more runners walking around on the other side. After seeing other runners, they felt better and let me off. I said my goodbyes, hugged them and said "See you at the finish--just before 10!" I emphasized the time confidently. 



I was at the staging area shortly at 5 am.  The organizers were barely getting there.  All the porta potties were still locked.  The start arch was still deflated on the ground. I hopped over it. I don't know why, but I did. I made up a symbolic superstition by hopping over it, like giving it my blessing. It doesn't mean anything. It was 5 am, I was high on carbs, apparently I thought of crazy stuff like this.


It was 60 degrees at 5 am.  Not the 57 that was forecasted the day before. I could feel some pockets of hot air. I try not to think about the weather. It was beyond my control. I had an hour to kill. I used this time to warm up and do some stretching.  I didn't do any slow running which I should have but I just didn't feel like it since it was still dark. I stayed where the runners are. I was in unfamiliar territory and I wanted to be safe with other folks. There were a number of folks who were lucky enough to carry their iPhones with the flashlight app. It proved to be handy inside the dark porta-potties.



Ten minutes before the start, they counted down on the bullhorn, "5 minutes!  2 minutes!" I was just in time when I got out of my "office" and ran to the staging area.  I couldn't find the way to get inside the fenced off area.  Instead of waiting to find an outlet, I saw some guys hopped over the barricade fence.  I figured I would do the same. "Do it, just don't be clumsy," I thought to myself.  That wouldn't be so funny if I fell again just before the race, ala-Ojai. Oh, but we won't talk about my fall in Ojai. 



Once I climbed over the barricade, I found myself in the 3:10 pacing group.  Whoa, wrong spot. I got out of there!  I worked my way to the 4:00 group and shortly decided that I would move up closer to the 3:50 group. I found the group and we were off. 



At 6 am, it was barely getting light. The wind was calm and excitement was in the air. Everyone was hooting and hollering "Woo hoo!" as they ran. I thought, "Here we go!  In four hours or less I would find out what I am made of.



In 2013, the 5th year of the marathon, the course was changed.  In the previous four years it was a two loop course.  Now it is an out and back COURSE which incorporates Downtown Santa Rosa, the Prince Memorial Greenway stretch and two other wineries including Deloach Winery where the Expo was held. We passed through Sonoma county's rural paved roads with sporadic homes, corn fields, horse ranch and milk dairy.  Majestic oak trees covered some parts of the race course. It was a truly scenic change and advertised as a fast BQ course.



I studied the course elevation the night before and I realized that the first 6 miles and the last 6 miles are on the same path.  Going out was downhill and going in would be uphill.  Sometimes the elevation on paper seems scarier than the actual course. So I thought nothing of it. No cause for concern. However, as I ran the first 6 miles, I realized that I could feel the downhill.  It was not as gradual as I had hoped.  My thinking was, if I could feel the decline then I knew for a fact that coming back on the last six miles after the fatigue of the first 20 miles has set in, I would feel this incline. EVERY INCH OF IT.  To maintain any kind of pace would prove to be a challenge.  Was I up for that? I was worried. I did not train on an uphill finish on tired legs, not at all.



I hung around the 3:50 pacer for as long as I was able.  She was a phenomenal woman early 30's.  I was amazed in hearing her story. She had an incredible background where she began running on Jan. 10, 2012 and has lost 50 lbs. She was rocking the pace.  She was smooth and effortless.   I knew I may have to let her go at some point, later on in the race, but I wanted to stay with her for as long as I could.  I was not being pessimistic but only being honest with myself and my ability.  


After the 6th mile, the undulating hills came up.  We were around the vineyards.  The scenery was beautiful.  Lots of trees and cloud cover however, it was around this area was where the humidity started to affect me. I was sweating profusely and the 2.5 mile water station seemed too space out for the humidity. It didn't matter that I had downed an 8 oz of pickle juice the night before. I was losing electrolytes fast as I could feel the caked on salt on my face. I knew I would be in trouble later on and cramps would be my enemy.  I quickly ripped a packet of table salt I picked up from "In 'n Out Burger". I only packed 3 of those. I should have brought more. I was rationing it as if I were in a calamity.



The ups and downs started to also affect my calves.  I started to feel the faint tug every time I pushed the pace. Just then, our pacer yelled out, "Look! There's Tire Girl!" The visual entertained me for a short time and took my mind off my rebelling calves. Tire Girl had a harness around her waist. She was dragging a tire behind her and as she pulled that rubber, dust billowed behind her. "Great, that's just what I need--some dust up my lungs," I thought. Someone asked what pace she was doing.  Another runner yelled "She's trying to beat 4 hours."  Geez, there I was on the verge of my 30th marathon and have yet to break hours while she's carrying that tire behind her. Thoughts flew in my head as I tried to forget my calves.  Thoughts like, what if I sat on her tire? Clearly, she was doing this for a fund-raiser.  She had some signs around her but I wasn't able to read what her purpose was. Was that bad of me for my lack of curiosity or sensitivity?



I was only on the 12th mile when my calves started barking. I didn't pay no mind, so I kept pushing. Just then, I ran into RRCA director George Rehmet.  As I came out of the Wine Barrel Barn, he was shooting a selfie.  I yelled out, George!  Then he took a selfie of the both of us.  It was great seeing someone you know in this sea of marathoners.


That's George on the right taking a self-ie! That's my pacer with the sign!


Excuse Me! Coming Through the Barrel Room...

I had been carrying this 1/4 of a raisin bagel in a Ziplock for all this time and it was starting to bug me.  I figured I would only spend more energy chewing this bread so I chucked it. It was hard enough to get the GU down, I didn't need another complication. With free hands, I ran another two miles right behind the pacer, she was still in my sights but I gave up catching up to her and risking my calves cramping prematurely.  By the 18th mile, I lost the pacer, and I accepted that. While my semi-secret BQ dreams faded, I refocused my energy on just breaking four hours.  I knew I was going to make it because by the three hour mark I had already gone 20.45 miles which meant, I ran an 8:48 pace.  I had about 5.75 miles to go and  I roughly estimated that if I ran anything under 10:25 pace I would still make my goal. I just had to make sure that I go under that. 


Remember the first 10K was downhill and that we had to pass through this same route again going the other direction? What comes down must come up. I prefer the other way around. I had forgotten about this little info as I struggled to maintain pace in the last 10K.  All I could think of was how I was blowing this and slowing way down, without accounting for what I had known earlier. I saw my Garmin ticked away with 9:xx.  I got a little worried, when I saw 10:xx after I stopped at the last aid station. But I got it down back to the 9's.  Then the 25th mile came and I posted a 10:23 pace.  All of a sudden it just got harder, my legs started to go downhill from there. They felt tight as if I were lugging timber.  No matter how much I tried to run faster they just would not cooperate. It did not help when I turned the corner coming close to the finish. My calves, hamstrings and both my legs started to cramp hard (ala-Napa this past March).  I was too close to the finish to stop and stretch the cramps. I had not a single second to waste.  I kept chanting to myself, "Don't stop, keep running." While the clock ticked away just two seemingly short blocks ahead, (normally I could sprint this distance anytime of the day; this day, not so much) I had the thought of Tire Girl running in my head. God must be punishing me.  Not only was I not lugging a tire behind me, I felt as if I were pulling two tires, one on each leg as I hobbled towards the finish.  I have this recurring nightmare of running as fast as I could, but not really getting anywhere--this must be one of those, only I was living in it. 

I reminded myself, pain is temporary. So I pushed and it was the ugliest running form on earth. I saw Hubby and daughter at the sidelines cheering for my sub-four finish.  Hubby was yelling you're going to make it!" All I could give them was my grimaced looked. It's all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I have no idea what my cumulative time was, as I had my watch set at the mile/pace I was in.  I managed to lift my legs and step on that timing mat as if I had just learned to walk. My legs were super stiff and the worst mistake I made was I stopped moving completely.  The moment I stood still, my cramps grabbed so hard I had to be assisted to the medical tent. Yeah, it was embarrassing. I felt so bad I grabbed the volunteer's arm so hard, I must have left a bruised. He was only trying to hand me my medal. Another came to my aid and I was down on the grass with the med trying to unkink my muscles.  I was given a cube of bouillon which I was assured would fix me up quickly.  I also ate a banana and drank water. While I was sitting down, I realized my Garmin was still on. I forgot to stop it when I crossed the finish. Now I was even more annoyed that I don't have my best time accurately recorded!  I just can't win. It must have been shorter than 10 minutes when that miraculous bouillon fixed me right up.  (Good to know for next time.)  I asked the med doctor if it was a good idea to run with the bouillon during a race to alleviate my cramps. He gave me a disapproving "Are you freaking kidding me look." Sorry I asked.


All in all, Santa Rosa was a great experience.  I was so grateful for the medical people who assisted me with my cramps. The course was not my favorite, but it did give me a PR. Ask me again in a couple of days, I would probably have a different opinion. If you pace yourself correctly and not get carried away in the first half as in CIM, then it could potentially be a fast course.

This Bling is huge!

The double spinner medal is beautiful and quite substantial. I really like the fact that the medal had no rings that are attached to the ribbon.  NYC's medal are done like that. Santa Rosa's medals did not disappoint. The other parts of the swag were also great: a bottle of wine from DeLoach Winery, and a nice jacket which I didn't received.  They ran out of the small sizes by the time we arrived at the Expo.  I was assured I would be mailed one.  It does look very cute and I am embarrassed to admit that my mood became soured when I found out they ran out. I mean, I signed up back in March and I don't get one because they let an extra 1500 more entries this year? But that wasn't the case; the vendor shorted them by less than a hundred. The RD assured me that they will be settled.  I hope so. But hey, I am over it. I would still recommend this race, even with no jacket.   


How does it feel to have a "3" next to my name? As in 3:58:04. Hmm…not feeling any different.  I am still me; still trying to achieve what so many of us can/can't.  That elusive BQ, I am not done chasing it. If it takes me 2 minutes at a time, so be it.  I can be patient. 

I want my jacket Santa Rosa!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Salinas Valley 1/2 Marathon Race Review 2013

It has been seven days since I ran the Salinas Half Marathon.  To bring you up to speed, it's the half marathon that I've been going back and forth over for the past couple of months. Should I do it or should I not? All the while I've missed out on saving registration fees, had I made up my mind sooner. I wasn't sure how well it was going to fit into my training schedule. The decision was not easy as it meant having to miss my final long run which was 3 weeks out from my next marathon.  One thing is for sure, I had to be flexible and trust in my training.  Logistically, this was the only 1/2 marathon close enough in both distance and time, to be used as my final tune up. 

My running buddy Liz Byrnes has been talking about this 1/2 marathon for over 3 years now.  Every year, right around August, she brings it up.  She never failed to mentioned the great weather she ran in both years and that it could be a PR setting course (Liz did an impressive 1:54 in 2010.)  However, she also underplayed the "little" hill on mile 6. Deal breaker.  I'm not a fan of hills especially if it's going to be a PR setting course.  I postponed signing up until this year, not exclusively because of the hill, but due to also that I just didn't have the desire to drive to Salinas.  As it turned out, the drive was not bad, and it was the best decision ever.  Moreover, I gained more confidence going into a marathon with this race under my belt.  So here goes the nitty-gritty details about this new half I just ran. I can say that this might be my new favorite half course.

My other running buddy, Linda S. and I left SLO at 5:00 am.  We arrived at Soledad Mission around 6:20 am or thereabouts.  We had plenty of time to pick up our bibs, scout the restrooms, and eat some bagels, bananas, oranges and drink water prior to start.  Where we had to park our car was about two tenth's of a walk.  It was a pretty good warm up.  The weather was in the low 50s with cloud cover.  Can you say perfect?  It is, if you don't mind a little humidity.

Before the start, I planned to do some dynamic warm ups--the same running drills that Coach Nancy has us perform weekly on Wednesday nights at the track. Coach Nancy's running drills are a staple to my starts now and if I don't get to do them, I get all out of sorts.  So I did some high knees, butt kicks, karaoke (no, not the singing kind), pawing, grapevines, strides, arm swings.  I added some lunges, leg swings and leg kicks. I wanted to run a mile of slow running but there wasn't enough time.  It had to do.

At the start, some of the SLDC club members who showed up were my running partner,  Heidi Harrison, Dave Dunbar, Liz Byrnes and soon to be SLDC club member, Linda Stimson. Dave lined up with the 1:40 pace group, Linda with her pacing group while, Liz, Heidi and I stuck around the 1:55 pacing group.  I was tempted to move up with the 1:50 group.  I thought about it, but that was as far as I got. I wanted to do an honest race and I felt that I would only be disappointed if I weren't able to keep up. I knew that if I stuck with the 1:55 group, I could handle the pace, and if I had something leftover in the tank, I could maybe squeak on ahead.

The race promptly started with our National Anthem and some welcoming words from the race director. At 8:05, I hit the start on my Garmin at the same time I stepped onto the timing mat, and we were off.

The course was point to point from Soledad to Gonzales.  The finish was at the local winery called, Pessagno Winery. We ran through vineyards and shaded areas, on asphalt and roads.   It was a bit humid and I felt my tank stuck to me early on the race.  I made the mistake of dunking water on my neck to cool off.  Well my tank top absorbed the water and because it was 88% humid, the tank never dried off.

I ran very close to the pace leader--too close in fact, I almost stepped on his shoes. Sorry buddy. He held the 1:55 pace sign. While he was in front of me and during the first mile, I heard one of the runners ask him, "Are we on pace?"  The leader said, we need to speed up a bit so that we can have some cushion to slow down on the big hill."

Hmmm, not what I wanted to hear. Experience has shown me that banking time never works. Soon after hearing this, I made a quick decision to peel away from the group.  I can't leave my execution plan to someone else, well at least not this day. If I wanted to PR, I needed to take matters into my own hands and have no one else to blame but myself had I failed.  I was thankful I heard this revelation when I did.  This brings me to the point: before joining a pace group, it might be worth your while to ask in advance (at the expo, where they introduce themselves usually) what their plan is, i.e., are they going to walk to the aide stations or stop every now and then, slow down on the hills, or speed up, etc.  It's easy to hitch a ride, let pacers do the pacing work and assume they are going to stay on your pace. Before you know it, you may start to feel too tired because the pace is to fast or realized the pace might be too slow and then you start questioning your fitness.  You have to ask questions and take charge of your race. Just my two cents.

I found my own groove to settle where I was comfortable and then the miles started ticking away.  I had my iPod shuffle and my earphones ready in my ear but it was turned off.  My plan was to turn it on only for the latter miles when I know it usually gets harder to push the same pace.  I listened to my steps, my breathing and glanced at my Garmin from time to time to make sure I was on pace.  I kept an even effort and I was pretty proud of myself for doing so.

Mile 1 - 8:33
Mile 2 - 8:22
Mile 3 - 8:26 rollers
Mile 4 - 8:19
Mile 5 - 8:25 rollers
Mile 6 - 8:28 hill
Mile 7 - 9:22 hill
Mile 8 - 9:00 hill
Mile 9 - 8:19
Mile 10 - 8:39 rollers & water bottle refill
Mile 11 - 8:24
Mile 12 - 8:29
Mile 13 - 8:19
Mile 0.10 - 8:08

My first taste of the rollers came at Mile 3. I took a deep breath and chugged along.  I couldn't help but overhear some conversations behind me about a woman and how she said her strength was the downhill.  Another guy exchanged some thoughts about some 1/2 he did and how this other woman passed him and how surprised he was she cooked him.  I was amazed at how they were just warming up and could hold conversations on an uphill.  Meanwhile, there I was, trying my best to stay focus and not lose pace. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't multi-task and share my experiences with anyone at this time.  All I could do was run, breathe and step one foot in front of the other.  That was plenty. It just seemed too much energy to talk while at the same time attempting to PR.

About Mile 5, with more rolling hills, I started to feel that familiar side stitch.  The week before at Wednesday night track, it hit me also in the middle of a 1000 meter repeat.  I get it from time to time, and when it hits, there's nothing I could do but slow down. Luckily, I remembered one blogger who suggested to stomp the opposite feet where the stitch I,s to get rid of the pain.  I did that a couple of times and it worked.  By the time it went away, I was faced with the dreaded big hill that began on mile 6 and ended at mile 8.  I kept calm and chugged along until I was over it.  I knew it was going to slow me down and I thought of keeping the effort even.  It seemed endless, but thankfully, I reached the peak.  My quads were on fire and it was a welcome relief that I reached the top. I reassured myself with  'only five more miles and the race is over.'  The last 5 miles were fairly flat, I am happy to report.

There were aide stations  about every 2.5 miles with water and Gatorade.  I remember Gu gels were passed out in two points and I grabbed one to replace the one I just ate in my pocket.  This was in case I need it in the end.  At mile 10 there was a strawberry aide station and I really wanted to stop and eat it but, there was just no time.  They looked so good. I felt bad for not taking them, I hope the volunteers realize that  I was not trying to be rude.  I love strawberries!  Any other time, I would pull up a chair and eat a flat myself.

There were two other ladies that I remember running with near the end; one seasoned runner with the running skirt and the other 20-something year old,  with a bouncing water flask on her back. I wonder how annoyed that would have made me with that thing bouncing everywhere.  Earlier on the race, we leap frogged.  At miles 11 we were all together.  By mile 12, they both took off.  My pace kept the same, but they both have enough energy to put it in another gear.  Oh how I wished I could do that.  All I could do is stay on pace. But was happy to stay there. I turned on my Ipod and listened to 'Come on Eileen'--how fitting.  I was glad I didn't slow down.  I could still see the ladies in front of me and that was enough for me to stay motivated; they were forever my markers of where I could have been.  I wasn't feeling sorry for myself being left behind. I was glad I was able to pass other runners as well.

The last left turn to the finish, where we had about half  a mile to go was pretty amazing.  You could see the line of runners ahead and my eyes tried to search that finish arch.  It was hard to see since the trees almost covered it and it was black and almost hidden in the shadows.  Seeing that arch or any other finish line arch, gives me hope and a smile when I am most tired.  That's usually where I can gauge to push it, if I have anything left to give or just know how soon I will be done. I saw the digital clock with the seconds ticking away at 47, 48, 49. I kicked to beat the 52 minute from turning over.  Afterward,s I realized that I really didn't need to speed up since I had some ~20 seconds cushion at the start. My Garmin matched my official time of 1:52:36, a PR  by 1:27 from SFO Kaiser Permanente 1/2 earlier this year.  On a side note,  I placed 6th place in my age group category.  The fifth place finisher was listed with the exact same finish time as I did. But she edged me by one hundredths of a second.  Oh, and to make myself feel better (sarcasm) I saw her in front of me.  I asked myself, "You're gonna let that knee-band-wearing-lady pass you?" We know what happened next.  I am kicking myself! No more Mr. Nice Guy.  I've come to realize, every second, every step counts and it's not over until it's over.  Can I sound any more cliché than this?

The end was relief, at the same time, honestly, I was a little disappointed. I received my beautiful medal and tried to catch my breath.  I scanned the crowd to see the other two ladies who pulled away from me in the penultimate mile.  I couldn't help but think about what could have been had I had enough in me to fight for it.  At this point, it hadn't sunk in yet that I had PR'd.  I saw the clock but I was so tired that my brain hadn't computed it yet for me.  All I could think about was, I should have had more in me to stay closer to them. I could tell a lie and say, "Yeah I was holding back because I don't want to outrace myself before my big marathon in three weeks--but I couldn't, I did my best.  It was all I had today and they simply had better kicks than I did. I congratulated the ladies and we exchanged some encouraging words. What awesome runners!

The finish chute had a tableful of post race nutrients such as, chocolate milk, packaged apple slices, bagels, orange wedges, boxes of raisins, and cut up bananas. Water was plentiful.  The post race festivities were super fun.  Dave Dunbar and Liz Byrnes ended up as age group winners, taking home a bottle of wine each. Heidi and Linda both did well clearing their best half results this year thus far. 
Heidi and I with our medals.

My SLDC shirt was still in the wash...

Aww, Linda Stimson was taking the picture...

I agree with the Liz and Heidi that this is a PR setting course, sans the significant hill. If you want to PR, better make hill workouts a part of your training. There are other rollers on the course but the weather couldn't be beat.  The endless flow of food is awesome.  I forgot to mention there was a barbeque at the finish.  If I am not mistaken you have the option of adding a few dollars to your registration fee to enjoy the goodies.  I didn't take advantage of it, since after races my stomach needs something else and BBQ aint' it.  But that's just me.  (Today I craved menudo! Yummy!)

After the podium celebration and picture taking, we boarded an air-conditioned bus back to Soledad.  The buses were nice and comfortable , unlike the bouncy yellow school buses that CIM , Napa and Big Sur uses. I'm not complaining, just making a comparison.

If you sign up early like my buddy Liz, you can save more and only pay $65. But if you are wishy-washy, like me, you will end up spending $99 including other fees (okay, hubby probably didn't need to see that)--a little hefty for the half, but well worth it. Knowing this, I will definitely sign up early next year.  Also with the fees, we received a long sleeve tech tee  (burgundy is the color this year)  and a beautiful wine glass. I guess for the 4th year in a row, weather has been perfect. This race draws a lot fast runners, both local and out of town, sub elites and elites.  Daniel Tapia, a Salinas native, is currently representing the US in Moscow for the IAFF World Championships,  won this race in the past two years. (He also won the stormy marathon at CIM this past December).  This year he was understably absent.

It was a great race, with incredible volunteers and very nice venue. The drive from SLO to Salinas took less than 1 1/2 hours. If you are looking for a new half course, I highly recommended this one.