Category Archives: Running

Oh, Right. That.

If a blogger starts training for a marathon and doesn’t tell the Internet, is it really even happening?

That’s more or less what I’ve been asking myself for the past couple of months. But considering I ran 18 miles on Sunday, I suppose it’s official enough: I’m planning to run the San Francisco Marathon in July.

This isn’t a sudden plan — far from it, actually. Back in November, I found out I’d been selected as a marathon ambassador for 2014, which meant I got a free entry to one of the events in exchange for writing a few posts for the official blog and generally exhorting people to sign up. (I did plenty of that in person and on social media, but uh, obviously not here — bad ambassador!) I’d been starting to get the itch to run another marathon anyway, and after running the first half in 2012 and the second half in 2013, running the marathon this year would gain me entry to the 52 Club. I do like swag, and while a sweatshirt isn’t enough to convince me to give up nights out and lazy weekend mornings in favor of hours of running, it at least helped to sweeten the deal. After confirming with the organizers that I could switch events if something came up, I registered for the full.

Then there was the matter of training. After making biking my focus over the winter, I planned to spend April remembering that running was a sport worth paying attention to and May starting to ramp up my long run distance. That more or less happened; I squeezed in a couple of 8-milers, a 10, and a 12 before Wildflower, but I had a hard time getting my overall weekly mileage where I wanted it. I hung out in the 15-20 miles per week range for a little too long, but I finally heaved myself over the 30-mile barrier last week.

So far, this could hardly be more different than my Berlin training. Then, I mapped out every run in detail; I stressed over every change of plans; I was terrified I’d end up not being able to start, or finish, the race because of injury or undertraining. This time, I cobbled together a Franken-plan (a little Hal Higdon Novice 2; a little Run Less, Run Faster; a few lessons learned from last time; a lot of adjustments and allowances for triathlon training through early June) and most weeks I look at it only to remember what I’m basically supposed to be running. Because the race is local — and, frankly, because I haven’t spent money — I feel very relaxed about it; I know that if training goes poorly or isn’t fun any more, I can drop to a half or just … not do it. I know that’s a luxury, and I’ll probably never have a situation like this again, so I’m really trying to appreciate it.

Since Wildflower, I’ve done long runs of 14, 16, and 18 miles. The 14 was solid, even including a fairly effortless trip up the Point Lobos hill. The 16, in Portland, was a slog, with walk breaks every two miles the only reason I got it done. The 18 was back to feeling smooth; there was something relaxing about knowing I was going to be running for three hours, and yes, I think that is probably pathological. (History shows that I had the same 16-awful/18-great situation last time. Weird.)

It hasn’t all been smooth. My shoe drama continues, and I haven’t loved the shoes I’m running in (Asics GT-2000); I got the worst sports bra chafing of my life on the Portland run (and that’s saying something), and it’s still healing a week later; and I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when it seemed reasonable to run 18 miles this past weekend, race an Olympic-distance triathlon during my “cutback week” this coming weekend, then go right back into long runs of 18 and 20. Oh, and my training plan calls for my final long run of 20-22 miles to happen while I’m in Chicago for a friend’s wedding in July, and I’m a girl who was dripping with sweat after 18 miles in sub-60-degree weather. (Seeing the calendar shake out that way almost made me drop to the half right then and there.)

But hey: I’m eight weeks out, I’ve already run 18 miles, I feel mostly functional other than wanting to eat everything in the house (which is nothing, because I’ve already eaten it), and I’m way more caught up on podcasts than I’ve been in years.

I guess I’m running a marathon?

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Race Recap: Berkeley 10-Mile

Oof. Hi. Last week was one of those insane work weeks — the kind where I worked more in four days than I usually work in five and exercise seemed like something that some alternate version of me used to do. It’s over now — and better yet, I’m soon to start a two-week vacation — but I still feel like I’m digging out from inside a cold, deep hole.

Said hole includes some fragments of blog posts I never finished, though, so let’s rewind to the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when I ran the inaugural Berkeley Half 10-mile race.

Way back in 2011, I made a 1:30 10-miler a goal, figuring it would be a stop on the way to a sub-2 half — not something I’d finally get around to attempting almost a year later. And yet, my loose goal for Berkeley was still 1:29:59; I wanted to finally claim a sub-9 pace for a longer race. (My half PR is 9:05/mile pace.) In the weeks leading up to the race, I’d been debating what my strategy should be: Go out hard and try to hang on, which worked fine for a 10K but might be awful over four more miles? Start slow, finish fast? Try to run exactly 9:00/mile? I do have the ability to run consistent splits, but only when I’ve been doing tempo runs, which I hadn’t been.

The one thing I definitely didn’t intend was to run without data, but when I tried powering on my Garmin at the start line and was met with a pathetic beep and a gray screen, apparently I was going to be doing just that. My phone was in the car on the way to the finish line; my Garmin was my only clock. I figured I’d take note of the time at the start clock and compare that to the clocks along the course, but it turned out there weren’t any clocks along the course. All of that meant that this was the first race I’ve ever run where I had no sense of how I was doing until I saw my time at the finish line.


Downtown Berkeley (miles 1-3ish)

We started in a park downtown, looped around to the southern edge of the Berkeley campus, and ran through some residential streets I vaguely remembered from grad school. There’s a minor but steady uphill in the first mile, which I suspect is why I felt tired early on; maybe I was running too hard for that early in the race, but I’ll never know, because I have no data.

I’d decided at the last second to run with music — my first race in 2013 with music! — and I’m glad I did, because being legitimately surprised by the songs shuffling through on an ancient running playlist distracted me from how exhausted I felt in those first couple of miles.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.25.03 PMThe Frontage Road (miles 4-6ish)

I’d find out later that most people hated this part of the race. We were, apparently, running on a frontage road next to Interstate 80. I say “apparently” because I was too busy looking at the water to notice. If there’s one thing I learned from the Berkeley race, it’s that you can basically plop me down on any shoreline and make me do anything and I won’t even care as long as I can see the water. We hit this road and I finally felt strong.

Besides staring at the water, I was also scanning through the droves of runners coming the other way. I knew a lot of people running the race, but the only one I saw was grad school friend DR, who was near the front of the 10-mile pack. It was weird — I figured I’d have been able to find a friend, or spot a pacer, or see something that would give me a sense of how I was doing, but there was nothing, so I just kept running.

The Marina (miles 7-9ish)

On the way around the Marina, I started thinking about the long runs I’d been doing with a faster friend. Running at her easy pace had pushed my easy pace to the quicker end of my range — 9:20s instead of 9:40s. I remember thinking very clearly that if I could run 9:20s while chatting, I was probably running 9s without having to talk at all. I briefly considered asking someone near me what pace they were running, but I’m not sure if that would have meant anything anyway — there were half-marathoners, 10K runners, and 10-mile runners all on the road together, but because of the staggered start and the course deviations, I wasn’t sure if I was running with 1:45 half-marathoners or 2:30 half-marathoners.

I did realize, though, that I was passing a lot of people. I’m not sure I’ve ever passed that many people that steadily in a race before, other than maybe in Berlin, when I managed to get a second wind around mile 24. I felt weirdly guilty passing half-marathon runners who had already run more miles than I was going to run the whole day … but feeling fast was fun.

Part of this stretch was on what had been noted in the race guide as “gravel trail” but was in real life more like “large, slippery rocks and/or broken-up road.” It was also at a particularly crowded point, right where half-marathoners, 10-milers, and 10K-ers were all converging, and I backed way off my effort in favor of staying upright.

That Damn Hill (the finish)

I knew about the hill from reading Angela’s Let’s Go 510 race report, and I could see it for maybe half a mile before I actually reached it. It was a little blip on the elevation chart, but I knew even a blip would feel like a mountain at mile 9.5. And it was pretty terrible, though at least it was back on solid pavement and at least I’d get to tear down the back side toward the finish.

And that’s exactly what happened: I crested the top, saw the finish arch, and started gunning it. On the way down I saw Pete and my parents, who managed to capture photographic evidence of what I thought was graceful galloping toward the finish but was actually more like pained lumbering with a mean heel-stike. Regardless! I whooshed down the hill and into the 10-mile finishing chute, where I finally, finally saw my time: 1:28:26.


I’d find out later that my one official race split — at mile 7.6, because sure — had me at 8:48/mile pace, and I finished at 8:51/mile pace, so I did slow down some on the trail, but maybe not as much as I thought. I wish I had my mile splits, just out of curiosity, but I’m glad I didn’t have them during the race. I think I might have been thrown by my rough start, or by the wobbly “trail” miles, if I’d been looking at my watch. I don’t think racing without data is going to be my thing forever, but I can’t pretend it hasn’t worked for me so far.

This was my last race of 2013 (there was also a turkey trot, but that doesn’t count), and it was exactly the right note to close out the year. This year I took multiple minutes off my 10K PR, hit a long-set goal for a 10-miler, and (while I think PRs matter less in triathlons) dropped more than 30 minutes from my Olympic tri time. And I think finishing a half-ironman is the axis on which all of those things turned, because it gave me a base of fitness and taught me how to get things done even when it wasn’t comfortable or easy. It was a very good year.

(Next up: I climb a mountain on my bike! A small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.)

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The Fast People

On Tuesday nights, the track is for fast people.

I don’t know where all the fast people come from. There are at least two big groups, one all women, one a mix. The groups have coaches, and the coaches yell out times, and the times are inconceivable to me.

The fast people hover in bunches along each set of bleachers. They spread out across the lanes like neon-compression-clad soldiers. By the time I get to where they are, they’re off like a rocket, condensing down to lane one before I can feel smug that I at least have better track etiquette than the fast people.

I don’t ever feel at home on the track. I feel inelegant, ungainly, elephant-like. But it’s especially true on Tuesdays, when the fast people are swarming. I feel like I’m taking up space I haven’t earned.

No matter how hard I’m running my repeats, the fast people pass me like I’m standing still. When they pass me, they’re usually talking about races.

The fast people are people who win races.

One of the fast people looks like Ryan Hall. After the first time I saw him, I needed a solid half-hour of googling to convince myself it wasn’t Ryan Hall. Granted, I’ve never seen Ryan Hall run in person, but the fast people are fast enough that I could believe one of them was Ryan Hall.

Every so often I amuse myself by trying to hold onto their pack for a few seconds. Sometimes I even do — when they’re running their cool-down.

The fast people yell “good job!” and “keep pushing!” at each other when they’re done with their own laps. Sometimes I pretend they’re yelling it at me, and I run a little harder.

I wonder sometimes what the fast people must think of me, the bumbling slow girl with the boobs and the butt and the jerky dumb stride. Usually I conclude that they don’t think of me at all.

I don’t much like running with the fast people. I should find it inspiring, but I don’t. Inspiring, for me, would be running with people a few seconds faster. The fast people are multiple minutes faster. I’m never going to catch up to the fast people.

I still go to the track on Tuesday nights, though, sometimes, when I oversleep in the mornings or when I want to run a harder workout after a long day. I like the track lights and the cool evening air. The city is beautiful at night, and I like watching the moon rise as I’m rounding the near-side corner.

And I like listening to the fast people, the churn of their feet and their breath cutting through the wind like pulsing, steady beats. We’re all doing the same thing, I guess, running toward our potential, running alone together, sweating and striding and wondering what it takes to be one of the fast people.


Race Recap: Run 10 Feed 10 10K

Before Sunday, I hadn’t run a 10K since August of 2011. I was, and am, damn proud of that 55:07 10K, but I’m a different runner now. In the summer of 2011, I’d just started doing speedwork; I hadn’t run a marathon or finished a triathlon; I was still more than a year away from running a sub-2 half marathon. After running a handful of 57-minute 10Ks in Olympic triathlons this year, I started to wonder what would happen if I ran 6.2 miles without going for a swim and a bike ride first.

That was the question when I signed up for the Run 10 Feed 10 10K. I had a feeling 55 minutes — my old goal — was a soft target, but I wasn’t sure how far that time could fall.

My immediate preparation for the race was less than stellar, but I had some promising workouts here and there — the 2-mile time trial from the end of Santa Cruz training and a good track workout last Wednesday that I ran entirely in the dark and entirely by feel. And I wanted the PR; I was ready to fight for it. I said to Pete while we were running in Vermont, I don’t think I’ll ever sign up for another 10K if it isn’t at least a stab at a goal time. I don’t need to prove I can run 6.2 miles at my normal pace these days. I needed that once, but again, I’m a different runner now.

That said, I sure didn’t spend Saturday acting like I was running a goal race. We got last-minute tickets to the Bridge School Benefit, which was fantastic, but which was also scheduled to end at midnight … and then actually ended at 1:15 a.m., a 30-minute walk in uncomfortable shoes from our car, an hour’s drive away from home. And there were 2 a.m. Jack in the Box cheese sticks. (The one saving grace is that I was sober, because I refused to pay $12 for a plastic cup of bad beer.) I fell asleep around 3 a.m. and slept a little too soundly, because I didn’t hear the first 45 minutes of my alarm and woke up totally confused at 6:45 a.m.

Luckily, the only thing my late start lost me was the chance to park across from the start before the street was shut down. Well, I’d planned to jog a warm-up anyway. I was out of the house in 15 minutes and parked a half-mile-ish from the start by 7:20. Bib pick-up and bag check were hyper-organized, porta potties were plentiful, and I ended up wishing I’d cut things a little closer, because it was windy and chilly and I wanted to get going. A little after 8, we headed down to the start corral. There were some half-hearted attempts to line us up by minutes-per-mile, but even though I lined up by the 9-minute sign, by the time the crowd crunched down, I was closer to the 7-minute sign. Oh well. National anthem, and we were off.

I had glanced at the course map, but I hadn’t really studied it, other than to know it was flat. The best way I can describe it is a 10K course in about a 5K’s worth of territory. If you know San Francisco running, the course went from Sports Basement down to the Mason/Old Mason split, turned left, picked up the trail, went along the water to Hopper’s Hands, U-turned there, and came back on the sidewalk and path to Sports Basement. That added up to somewhere between three and four miles, with the rest of the distance coming from two more (progressively smaller) loops on the same terrain.

It’s probably good I didn’t look more closely at the map, because if I had, I would have known I’d hate it. It loosely mirrors one of our go-to TAG training runs, and the gravel/sand trail (its exact composition at any moment seems to depend on the wind) always feels like it steals my energy — not to mention the nasty spit of cambered road on the way to Hopper’s, which I wish the ocean would hurry up and reclaim. Plus, it can have a nasty headwind going outbound. When we turned onto the trail for the first time, it slowly dawned on me what I was in for — and though it made the race harder than I’d anticipated, I was somewhat happy for the challenge; if I did PR, I couldn’t just shrug it off as “easy course.”

Most of my pictures were of someone else, so when I found this one, I stole it. If that gets fixed, I'll buy it legally. Promise.

Most of my pictures were of someone else, so when I found this one, I stole it. If that gets fixed, I’ll buy it legally. Promise.

I wore my Garmin but put it under my sock-armwarmer and never once looked at it. There were clocks at every mile marker, and that was plenty of feedback — almost too much, actually, because when I crossed the first mile somewhere between 8:50 and 9:00, I was annoyed. I knew I’d started a bit back from the clock, but my previous PR pace was 8:52, and I felt like I had to be faster than that now. At that point, I reset my expectations to run all sub-9-minute miles — so if I hit a marker, and I was below that mile’s multiple of 9, I’d know I was doing OK. That actually worked, plus it occupied my mind to remember all the multiples of 9.

Here’s what I remember:

Mile 1: Half on the road with the wind at my back, half on the trail with the wind in my face. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Guys behind me chatting merrily away, probably running sub-8s, passing me easily. Thinking “steady.” Thinking “breathe.” Thinking “please let that dumb song from the radio get out of my head.”

Mile 2: All trail. Felt long. Passed the 4-mile marker and realized how the looping thing was going to work. Mind mostly blank except for some dumb song. Why on earth had I turned on the radio in the car?

Mile 3: Stupid, rutted road. Saw the crowd behind me at the turnaround and realized I was relatively far up in the field. Weird! Coming back on the road — tailwind, slight downhill, real pavement — felt great, but I was also getting tired, and as I came near the 3-mile marker, I remember thinking I’d run a really smart 5K, but too bad this was a 10K.

Mile 4: We looped past the finish, where a very enthusiastic announcer was yelling things like “keep pushing! keep driving!” I started leapfrogging with a couple of girls and eventually tucked in behind one in a way that I hope wasn’t obnoxious but probably was.

Mile 5: The last bit of awful road. I passed the girl at the turnaround and never saw her again, but then a girl I’d passed a while back passed me. I think this mile might have been slightly long; my watch beeped a solid 2 minutes before we hit the 5-mile marker, but I recorded 6.2 exactly for the course.

Mile 6(.2): Looping past the finish again, I was not in the mood to hear the chipper announcer. The wind had really picked up, or maybe I was just tired, but I swear it felt like I was being pushed to the right. The trail cut across Crissy Field and deposited us near the mile-5 marker, which made it seem like there was a lot of race left, but there was a clock there for mile 6, too, and it said 51:xx. Wait. 51? I tried to kick — I later watched my finish line video, and my idea of a kick could use some work — and ended up crossing just as the clock ticked over to 53.

My final time was 52:50, which I cannot believe. I mean. My 10K time starts with 52! That sounds so fast! That doesn’t sound like a time I can run. It’s an 8:31 pace! That’s insane. Looking at the splits later, it was a pretty consistent race — everything was under 8:45, and my first and last miles were the fastest. The best thing is, I think I could do it again. I’ve been afraid to run another half because I worry that my one and only sub-2 was a fluke, but this feels repeatable.

I don’t think I’ll chop another big chunk of time off this PR anytime soon; this leap was definitely helped by the fact that it was my first 10K in more than two years. But hey, if I average a minute a year, I’ll be at 50 minutes before I’ve aged out of my current age group. Seems like a good goal.


Cost: I registered via a LivingSocial deal for $39. Early registration was $50, regular registration $60. There were also various $5 discount codes floating around the internet. The race was one of three 10Ks (the others were in Chicago and New York) sponsored by Women’s Health magazine, and the big sell was that part of the fee would go to provide 10 meals “in my community.” I couldn’t find much info about what that meant, but in 2012 the race donated some amount of money to the San Francisco Food Bank. Fundraising was encouraged but optional, and I didn’t.

Parking: Free and plentiful at Sports Basement before 7 a.m.; after that, you were on your own. I parked in a free lot about a half-mile from the race start that had plenty of spaces when I arrived at 7:20.

Race Day Logistics: This gets its own bullet, because I was really impressed. Packet pick-up was Saturday at Sports Basement or Sunday on-site from 7-7:45. When I arrived at 7:30ish, I immediately spotted a volunteer holding a sign that said “Still Need Your Packet?” I pointed and said “that’s me!” and she directed me into a short line. There were two computers for pick-up and two for on-site registration, but if nobody was registering and the pick-up lines were full, the volunteers would use the on-site registration computers to re-assign your number. And bag check was brilliant! It was set up with different lanes by the last number of your bib – one lane for bibs ending in 0 or 1, another for bibs ending in 2 or 3, etc. Each had its own table and its own volunteer, and the process for both pick-up and drop-off was seamless. I don’t know if it would work for a larger race (there were about 530 finishers), but it was perfect for this field size.

Swag: A burlap FEED bag (similar to this tote) that is pretty handy (and my cats love to sleep on it), a bracelet instead of a medal, and all the free toiletries you heart desired. Say what you will about Unilever — and I have said some things — but they sponsored the race and, most directly, stocked a post-race “referesh” station with sample-size moisturizer, Vaseline, deodorant, and towelettes in giant buckets with volunteers encouraging finishers to “take as many as you want.” And the main swag was a bag, so holding stuff was not an issue. There were also bagels with various toppings and spreads, apples and oranges, Kellogg bars and cereal samples, coconut water, and Cabot cheese packets. This is what I brought home:


Post-Race Festivities: A 30-minute workout/yoga session I didn’t stay for because I got cold; foot massages; a station to get your picture on a faux Women’s Health cover; foam rolling stations; manicures.

Overall Organization: There were volunteers at every turn (and there were a lot of turns), ample porta potties (it likely helped that there were public restrooms at the far ends of the course), good signage, and computers for checking times after the race. Times were online almost immediately, and photos and finish line videos came on Monday, though all of mine were of somebody else until things finally got sorted on Monday night. Photo downloads are $10 for all photos, which is on the better end of the spectrum, but it appears to be all or nothing; there’s no single-download option that I can see. (I’d be cooler with that if all my photos were of me, but oh well.)

Would I Run It Again? I wish I liked the course more, because everything else was great (and while $60 seems a bit steep, I think $50 registration is fair given the charity aspect, and the $39 I paid felt like a steal). I’d do it again with friends or as part of a long training run, but I’m not sure I’d try to PR there again, unless I wanted to go for consistency.

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Running is Weird

I’ve been writing and re-writing a blog post for the past couple of weeks about running since Vineman. The gist of said post was: Man, running has sucked so much since Vineman. 

I took more time away from running than anything else — more than a week before I ran even a step, and 10 days before anything that could be considered a “real run” — and yet compared to swimming and biking, running has been such a slog through the rest of the season. I had a decent 2-mile time trial in the second week of Santa Cruz training (and tied my PR from earlier in the year of 16:23), but that time trial led to tougher pace prescriptions at track workouts, and most of the time, I just have not been hitting the numbers. I feel like a kid who needs 90% to get an A and keeps getting 89% on every quiz. And long runs — which have topped out at just over 8 miles — have been slow and awkward. Thank goodness I’ve been doing most of them with company, because the conversation has been their saving grace. I’ve switched to newer shoes, I’ve started MYRTL-ing again, but nothing’s quite clicked yet. 

But maybe I don’t know anything at all about running, because this week, we had a surprise time trial re-test and I somehow ran a huge PR. 

I truly have no idea how that happened. I did go out way too fast: My first mile was a 7:53 — a number I’ve seen, uh, twice before in my life — and my second a wobbly 8:07. But even that 8:07 would have been the fastest mile I’ve ever run at a time trial. And I didn’t feel completely destroyed the next day, so I might have had a little more in me if I’d been smarter about pacing at the start. But a 23-second PR? After this crappy summer of running? 

I suppose this teaches me a couple of lessons: 

1) trust your training; there’s some kind of dark magic in it. 

2) running makes absolutely no sense at all.

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Finish Lines

I wasn’t always a person who crossed finish lines, but I became one four years ago, and it changed me.

I crossed a finish line on Sunday, elated, hugging friends and looking around for strangers who had become instant buddies over the length of the race course. I was writing about that finish line yesterday, and then I heard about Boston.

Boston shouldn’t feel any closer to me or mean any more to me than so many other horrible events. It’s not my tragedy. But maybe because I’ve become a person who crosses finish lines, Boston feels both more relatable and even more unimaginable.

I’m not saying that people who cross finish lines are different from anyone else. I’m saying that I’m different from the person I was before I crossed finish lines. A finish line to me is a marker of growth and perseverance and power, and it’s a celebration with friends and loved ones who supported me while I became the person who could get across that line. I’ve been cheered on at a finish line, and I’ve been there to cheer on others, and it’s always felt like this wild little community — hugs and cowbells and orange slices and tears, volunteers and medics and racers and supporters and dreamers. I picture that, and I try to reconcile it with what I’m reading and seeing, and I can’t. My brain won’t bend that way; it doesn’t make sense.

But what this has made clear is that the weird little finish line community? It continues long beyond those finish lines. It’s the people running today in race shirts, and reaching out to the runners and athletes they know, and checking in, and vowing to be there again. There’s a lot of love out there, and I’m trying to reach for that today.

When The Fire Comes Back

On December 8, sometime around 9 a.m., I crossed the Walnut Creek Half Marathon finish line boasting a new PR and looking like a total goober.

December 8, sometime around 9 a.m., was — until last week — also the last time I tried to run hard.

OK: I’ve done one half-assed track workout, and I’ve thrown in some strides every so often just to remember that I have another gear. But my January running reset required taking all the pressure off, and that meant ignoring speed and just getting outside.

Training with TAG, though, means getting back on the track. I missed our first session while on the East Coast for work, so when I rejoined the group last week, I was hopping right into our benchmark workout: the two-mile time trial.

I could not tell you my exact 5K PR without looking it up, but I can produce my results from last year’s two-mile time trial in a heartbeat — the total and the mile splits. Why? Because I was so frustrated with how I ran it. I’d run my 5K PR less than two weeks before, then showed up on the track and ran 8:36 and 8:36 — both slower than any mile I ran during that 5K. I remember fuming at 17:12, and fuming at how ridiculous it was to be fuming at 17:12, which I would have considered a decent time had I not run — wait, looking it up — a semi-hilly 26:04 5K 10 days earlier.

I was pretty new to running on the track then — especially for any substantial distance — and I was definitely new to running without headphones, and I know both of those things got to me psychologically. This year, I’m slightly more comfortable hearing my breathing — and I know a bit better how hard I can run and still be upright at the end. With three months away from tough running, I wasn’t sure I could beat that 17:12, but I knew I could run something more representative of my fitness than I had last year.

Since it was my first track workout with the group this year, I didn’t know who ran what pace; I didn’t have a rabbit in mind. But less than 100 meters into the first lap, I found myself one lane over and a couple of steps behind a girl in Nike Tempos running a tough but comfortable pace. As much as I tried to focus my energy on my own running, I couldn’t ignore the fact that we were basically matching strides.

One of our coaches was calling out splits at every lap, and I clocked the first one at 2:00 exactly. Hm. That wasn’t going to work for 7 more laps, so I tried to reel it in just a bit without losing all intensity (which can be a problem for me on the track; somewhere in the third lap I’ll realize I’m thinking about dinner and composing a work email instead of remembering to run hard). The word “controlled” popped into my head, and I focused on that for the next three laps — be controlled. Know that you’re running hard, but also know you could run harder. How’s my breathing? Controlled. How’s my form? Controlled.

First mile in 8:20, and I was still with the girl in the Tempos.

I knew then that I’d beat last year’s time unless I absolutely dogged the second mile, and I relaxed a little — too much, though, because the next lap clocked in at 2:10. I wanted a negative split, and that meant I only had 10 more seconds to play with over the next three laps — as much time as I’d put on in one 400! Time to go harder.

Lap 6. Still controlled but starting to feel it. Uh-oh, is the girl in the Tempos slowing down? Am I losing my rabbit? Time to make a move; I scooted around her on the second curve. Missed the time call at the end of the lap but I knew it was faster; it had to be faster.

Lap 7. Oh, the sweat. It was a cool night, but even in shorts and a tank top I could feel the sweat dripping into my eyes. I imagined steam rising off my head. — or maybe I wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it was happening. That’s OK. Push a little more. Footsteps behind me — oh hey! Tempos! I hear the lap at :35 — could that possibly be right?

Lap 8. Now I’m feeling it. Can I kick? Get around the curve — you hate curves, it’s OK, focus on the trees on the straightaway. Don’t look around. Stay with Tempos. Crap, she’s ahead, she’s away. Way away. It’s OK, just keep this pace. Last curve. Last half of the last curve. Stride this out. Tempos just finished. It’s OK. You got it. All the way to the coaches — just reach for it.

Second mile: 8:17.


The girl in the Tempos and I do the mutual-admiration thing — the “I was running fast because of you!” “No, I was running fast because of YOU!” thing, the “Damn, you smoked me at the end —” “— yeah, but I never would have tried a first mile that fast without you!” thing. I love this part of group training, finding people who can push me, people I might also be pushing without knowing it.

The next morning, I hurt — I hurt from running for the first time since I woke up on December 9. My glutes, my quads, my hip flexors. I’m that kind of sore that only comes from trying. That kind that sucks but is also wonderful, because it means I fought, I didn’t give in.

I’ll see you again in a couple of months, 16:37. I’m back now. I’m ready for this. And it feels awesome.

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Thursday Threes: In Which I Turn to Numbers in Lieu of Themes

Three: This is the number of times I have biked to work so far, and I admit it: I’m getting hooked. This is not to say it’s not still scary, but with every ride I learn how to handle a new thing that terrified me the first time. I’m starting to get some kind of sense of when I can be aggressive and when to hang back, when a situation is going to resolve itself and when I really don’t want any part of that mess. And I’m slowly increasing my comfort level with riding new places, or riding in the dark, or doing any of the other things I need to do to really ride my bike as transportation in this city. The second time I rode to work, I stopped by Sports Basement for a bike maintenance clinic on the way home — and managed to get lost twice in a three-block radius — and it was dark and windy but wasn’t ever more than what I could handle. And the third time, last night, I rode through some entirely new territory to get to my triathlon club meeting — the whole time thinking about how ridiculous this was going to sound to anyone there who knew me last year. I think the key has been giving myself permission to put my bike on the bus if I ever feel truly uncomfortable — which I actually took advantage of for the first time last night when I decided that in the dark, with my computer, wearing jeans was not how I wanted to learn the hilly route home from Sports Basement. Instead, I biked a mile to a bus stop, bussed around the hills, and then biked another mile home. Someday I’ll do that whole ride, but right now I’m working on recognizing my limits, understanding where the fears are coming from, and acting on the rational ones. I should also apologize to anyone riding the outbound 43-Masonic around 8 last night for making the bus late; I promise I know how the bike rack works now.

Three: This is also the number of sports bras I am about to throw in the trash. Look: I love running. It takes a special thing to make me want to skip a run. But one of those special things is chafing, and good heavens, I cannot deal with the sports bra chafing situation right now. As a — what are we calling it these days? — well-endowed runner, I have long bowed to the throne of Moving Comfort, especially the Juno, which I heartily and frequently recommend. Hell, I recommended it to someone yesterday! But it’s gotten to the point where I eye my collection warily, because when I go out for a run of let’s say more than 30 minutes, I’m going to come home with some portion of my unmentionables rubbed raw. Yes, I Body Glide. Yes, I Ride Glide. No, neither of these things has prevented what appears to be a permanent hickey on the right side of my neck, a gross rope burn on my back, and some other things that I truly cannot speak of in polite internet company. I don’t know if they’re just old or if I’ve somehow fundamentally changed — and it’s not the size, ahem — but I think it’s time to clear the slate.

Three: This is the model number of the Brooks Ravenna that I am currently stockpiling in my closet. Sigh, shoes. I was so excited when the Brooks Adrenaline 13s came out — I’d just finished my last pair of 11s, having skipped the 12s entirely, and I heard the 13s fit like the 11s, so I was psyched. I’ve worn them on every other run for about six weeks now, and I think the love affair is over. When I run in them, I feel like I’m landing extra heavily, like the soles are just smacking against the ground — but without any of the springy energy return I usually get (and like!) from a stiffer sole. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; I never liked the Adrenalines until the 11, so maybe that model was just magic for me. And I don’t think the 13s are bad for me, so I’ll probably keep using them and see if anything changes. But just in case, I picked up a backup pair of Ravenna 3s, as my original pair is creeping ever closer to 300 miles. I don’t know if they’re the best for me as an everyday shoe — I originally bought them only to wear on shorter runs during Berlin training — but I made it through a half marathon training cycle in them, so they’re not breaking me worse than anything else does. And anyway, I’ve seen the Ravenna 4 start popping up places, so it’s time to hoard older models, because that’s the law of running shoes. (But! Apparently this triathlon season, we’re getting set up with fancy video gait analysis, the likes of which I haven’t had since my pre-PT days. Stoked to see if anything’s changed and if there’s a better shoe for me now, since apparently I’m on the hunt…again.)


Inside My Flailing Post-Goal Brain

Last night, I was syncing a workout to my computer and decided to check in on my yearly running mileage. Last time I looked, it had been in the mid-600s, so I was expecting maybe just over 700. Turns out, it was 756 — 760 if you count the one 4-miler I did in September that for some reason got labeled with a date in 2014.

I know that’s still … paltry, in the scheme of people who run. But 750 was also my goal for the year, one of the ones I’d pretty much written off making after getting injured in January and taking off all of May. Another one of the written-off goals? A sub-2-hour half-marathon. Ahem.

Meeting goals is awesome! It’s fun! Aaaand it’s really confusing, because I flop around uselessly without a goal, and I don’t have a new one yet.

My plan when I started doing Run Less, Run Faster was to train through the Kaiser Half (the first weekend of February), no matter what happened at Walnut Creek. But I also didn’t think that I was going to break 2 hours at Walnut Creek. I thought I’d run a 2:02 or 2:03 and be so close and so annoyed that I’d have no thoughts about doing anything but running hard for the next six weeks.

So now what do I do? Keep training for Kaiser, with my heart maybe less than 100% in it? Consider my goals met and stop thinking about running? This is one of the times I could really use a coach, but I don’t have a coach. Internet, be my coach?

On the one hand:

  • I intended to train through February, and I like keeping plans.
  • I wouldn’t mind a) proving that sub-2 #1 wasn’t a fluke and/or b) running sub-2 at sub-9 pace, which seems not out of the question on a course I think is a bit easier.
  • Kaiser starts practically in my backyard. Home-court advantage!
  • It’s only a few more weeks! I’ve worked to get this speed (back?) (at all?) and I don’t want to lose it before running necessarily falls into a smaller spot in my schedule during tri training.
  • I have never had a 20-miles-per-week base for this long (going back to July, I think? with peaks above that, but only a couple of weeks below) and I’m scared of having to start over … again.

And on the other hand:

  • I’ve been avoiding routes I’d like to run in my new neighborhood because I know they aren’t conducive to keeping my Run Less, Run Faster paces.
  • I have shoes to break in — I’m trying to switch to the new Adrenalines from the Ravennas I’ve been running in since Berlin — and that’s been challenging when I’m chasing a goal on every run.
  • I know my body could use a break that I didn’t really give it this fall. Given how quickly I threw speedwork in my routine, I shouldn’t be surprised that all the little parts of me that like to protest have gotten a bit grumbly.
  • I don’t want to do speedwork in the snow over Christmas, and I sure as hell don’t want to do it on a treadmill.
  • I need to ride my bike and swim more.

The one thing I know I don’t want to do is run Kaiser just for the hell of running Kaiser. Walnut Creek gave me the taste of capital-R Racing that I’ve been craving, and I don’t think I want to go back. If I don’t want to train hard, I also don’t need to be paying money just to run my regular route with a few thousand strangers. (I still have nothing against not-racing a race, but I would prefer to do it with some other goal in mind — trying out a particular pace, or running with a friend, or getting in a supported long run while training for something else, or enjoying the scenery somewhere new and fun. I wouldn’t have any of those for Kaiser.)

I was so close to bagging running until 2013, especially after seeing I was at my mileage goal, but I’m not ready to commit to that either. I’m about to go to Dallas for work, and I specifically booked a hotel near a running trail because running is my favorite way to see a place. And then we’ll be in Michigan over Christmas, and it’s my yearly chance to drag out all my winter running stuff, and I love it (…because it’s only once a year). Aaaand then there’s the 10-miler I’d been eyeing for January, the one I didn’t get to do last year, and I’d love to finally race that distance, and if I’m training for that, it’s only two more weeks till Kaiser, and and and and yes, this is what it’s like in my brain when I’m trying to make essentially inconsequential decisions.

Right now I’m leaning toward the middle road — run whatever I feel like a couple of times a week, do either track or tempo but not both, and do the 10-miler but not Kaiser. The middle road is also the easy road; 10 miles is a new race distance for me, so while I might have a time goal, I wouldn’t be eyeing it with the same fervor that I had for the half. It feels like a cop-out. But copping out isn’t always wrong … right?

Ugh, I don’t know. Is anyone else this indecisive and equivocating when goal-less?

Race Recap: Walnut Creek Half Marathon

The shortest story about Walnut Creek: 1:59:12.

Some longer stories:

  • A 400-foot climb can be an incline, or it can be three hills.
  • Pacers in bright clothing deserve the best of everything.
  • Run math is always wrong. Always, always wrong.

And here’s the longest story:

I have a terrible sense of direction, and it’s typically at its worst in the East Bay, so I left San Francisco a little after 5:30 a.m. The info sheet we’d gotten at the expo said the start would only be open for four minutes, so being late wasn’t an option. At the first “road closed ahead” sign, I turned onto a side street where lots of runners were parking. I left when I saw the meter would turn on at 9 a.m. and found a garage instead. If I didn’t break 2 hours, the last thing I wanted to show for it was a parking ticket.

I got to the start around 6:50, closer than I would have liked, but the porta potty line moved fast, and I found a spot in the staging area near the 9-minute sign, behind and to the right of the 2:00 pacer. Countdown from 10, and we were off.

My plan was to treat the first mile like a warm-up, kick into tempo mode until the hill, do whatever was necessary to survive the hill, and then ride the downhill for as long as possible. This plan went out the window when the pacer took off at about an 8:30 pace. I figured she was banking time for the hill, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bank time for the hill, so I hung back a bit, but still not exactly a “warm-up.” First mile: 9:08.

… or so I thought. I’d decided to manually lap my watch at the mile markers, figuring that “GPS distance” didn’t matter, only course distance. (What IS distance, anyway? wonders philosophical runner.) Good in theory, if the mile markers were separated by a mile. Of course, I didn’t know then that they weren’t; the pacer mentioned later that she’d had a tough time with the markers being so off, and when I uploaded the data, the discrepancies between what I saw during the race and the “shadow race” happening in the background were hilarious. Then again, who cares what time I run one mile in, or three, or 10? The only time that counts is the one at the finish.

And I’m glad I remembered that, because otherwise I would have given up on this race after clocking “mile 7” in “11:02.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At some point, when we merged down to one lane, I squeezed in front of the pacer. I knew I was running faster than I’d intended, but I decided that banking time wasn’t the worst idea; the hill would suck no matter what, I’d have a downhill, and then I’d just have to hang on. So I made it my goal to stay in front of her, and it worked; at one point I’d relaxed a bit, and she came up on my shoulder and it was a good reminder to keep pushing.

I listened to a little bit of music and a little bit of a podcast review of Homeland, and I spent almost all of mile three eavesdropping on the women behind me. I resolved to stay in front of them, too; worst case, they were entertaining.

Miles 1-4: 8:36, 8:58, 9:10, 8:58 [what I saw: 9:08, 8:15, 9:20, 8:56]

By mile 4, when the hill started, we were running in some serious fog. I figured, this could work: If I can’t see what’s ahead, I can’t be freaked out by it.

The elevation chart had made the hill seem like it was going to be one incline over about 2.5 miles:

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 12.24.54 PM

But it was actually two or three different hills: one that ended just before the mile 5 marker, then a couple of shorter, steeper ones with a gradual incline in between from about 5.5-6.5. Here’s what the Nike+ data looked like, which I think better represents how it felt (up, plateau, uppppppp):

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 10.09.16 AM

I’m good at gradual incline, but I wasn’t expecting short and steep. I focused on taking quick, little steps and keeping my eyes focused ahead — and not on my pace, definitely not on my pace — but I was clearly slowing down. A couple of younger girls (teenage cross-country runners, is my theory) were bounding up the hill like lovely little deer while I shot them dagger eyes. The 2:00 pacer passed me on the steepest hill, and I couldn’t stick with her, but I kept telling myself, “Just don’t take your eyes off her.”

I lapped at the mile 7 marker and saw 11:02, and I was pissed. I knew I’d slowed down, but that much? And for a whole mile? But I could still see the pacer’s pink sweatshirt up ahead, and I said — out loud, I think — “well, you’ve got some work to do.” I saw a bunch of people celebrating as we started to run downhill, and I thought they were crazy — because I’d misread the elevation chart and thought the hill extended beyond mile 7. Nope, it slowly dawned on me that it was literally all downhill now.

Miles 5-7: 9:33, 9:16, 9:34 [what I saw: 9:41, 8:33, 11:02]

So then I was flying downhill, realizing we were going down a lot faster than we’d been going up, starting to understand that there was going to be a whole lot of race left after we hit the flats, and thinking, “don’t care. just go.” It had become absolutely beautiful — early morning sun on the rolling hills of an open space preserve, a lick of fog sitting right over the valley.

Mile 8 was sub-8 on my watch and my run-math told me I’d gotten back one of the minutes I’d lost. I could still see the pacer, but it didn’t seem like I was getting any closer. I reminded myself that Run Less, Run Faster thought I could run a 2:02, and a 2:02 would still be a massive PR, and I was just about on pace for a 2:02, so that would be that. I spent mile 9 feeling like there was cement in my quads. I remember thinking I should eat a Gu and then spending the better part of a mile trying to get it into my mouth; I’d never Gu’d at that speed before.

Miles 8 and 9: 8:05, 9:00 [what I saw: 7:56, 10:25]

Everything after that is a blur. I remember the enthusiastic aid station just before mile 10 saying we were at mile 10 and being like, no, you fools, we’re at 9.5, not the same. We made a hairpin turn onto a winding path through a park, where I kept losing sight of the pacer on the turns, and I thought maybe I could figure out how far back I was by counting the time between when she passed a tree and when I got there, but I couldn’t handle the logistics.

I remember hitting mile 10 at 1:32-ish and thinking, “well, 2:02 it is, if you keep going!” Because: your run math is always wrong. I thought I was going to have to run a 25-minute 5K to go under 2 hours, and my legs wouldn’t turn over any faster than they already were.

I remember thinking I’d stop at an aid station and refill my water bottle once I was sure I couldn’t break 2 hours, but I never stopped, because I was never sure.

Right around the mile 12 marker, we turned onto a dirt trail, and my watch said 1:48 — which was almost certainly not 12 miles into the race, I realize now, but at the time I did a double-take and thought, oh wait, this is still possible. GO. My legs were stuck in their gear, but I thought maintaining that might be just enough.

I closed on a girl who was ahead of me on the trail. Passed her. Passed a guy. Got passed back. Tried to stick with him. Turned again. I could feel my form getting hilarious. Could still see the pacer’s pink sweatshirt, getting closer.

Mile 13, right around 1:56. Holy hell, I had this.

We went over a bridge, turned again, and made a hard left into the finish chute. The actual finish was on goopy grass and my feet went thwick – thwick – thwick and I remembered falling on my face at Ice Breaker and had just enough time to think “Please don’t fall on your face” before crossing the line. I heard the announcer call out the pacer and say “right on time!” and the clock still said 1:59:xx so I was pretty sure I’d done it.

Miles 10-13(.1): 9:04, 9:09, 9:15, 9:15, 1:19 [what I saw: 8:19, 8:14, 8:15, 9:43, 1:19]

How did I feel? Um, just look at this goober:

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 10.20.01 AM

I immediately put my hand on the pacer’s shoulder and babbled a stream of “thank you thank you thank you I’ve tried for this for more than a year and you were always right there and I couldn’t stay with you on the hill but I caught up and your sweatshirt was so bright thank you for wearing something bright thank you” until she finally was like, “uh, cool, yeah, congrats, I have to go pay my meter.” I grabbed a bunch of food and wandered around in the sun, stretching a little, trying some free coffee before realizing I had no use for a beverage I couldn’t chug, and continuing to grin a giant shit-eating grin.

It’s crazy, looking at the splits again, how different this race looks by miles on my watch and by miles on the course. But I wouldn’t change anything about how I ran it. I didn’t really know until mile 12 that I had a chance of breaking 2:00, but I also didn’t know that I didn’t have a chance, and that kept me fighting just enough to get there.

At the end, as I was making a parachute out of my space blanket to hold all my stuff for the walk back to the car, I started chatting with a woman right at the edge of the park. “Did you do as well as you’d hoped?” she asked.

It felt so damn good to be able to say, “Actually? Yes. I did.”

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