Sunday, March 06, 2011

Marathon #2 - Napa Valley

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After last fall’s adventure in Long Beach, I felt compelled to make another try at a marathon. And it seemed like it might be nice to have some type of training goal to work on over the winter season. So, after a bit of research looking at reviews on Racevine and exchanging ideas/brainstorms with running friends on Twitter and DailyMile, I decided that it would be fun to try out the Napa Valley Marathon on March 6, 2011.

This point-to-point marathon was situated through the heart of wine country, from Calistoga to Napa. Elevation decreased a few hundred feet from start to finish, and the course included beautiful views of vineyards and rolling valleys.

As the event neared, it became apparent that it was going to be a rainy (but not cold) race day. Yikes! As a spoiled Northern CA resident, I was known for being a little wimpy when it comes to rain. Plus the course had a lot of rolling hills. Oh, my. This was going to be interesting. And, of course, I was still very much a beginner marathoner, and not exactly a speedy runner. In the end, however it all went well. Woo hoo!

Decked out in a garbage bag poncho, I rode the bus with fellow DailyMiler Greg P. from our hotel to the starting line. We chatted about training and race strategy and tried not to notice how long the bus ride was – yes, you really get a sense for how LONG a marathon was when you ride the bus to the start. :)

This race gave runners the option to have custom drinks at the various aid stations (as if we all were elite runners – awesome!). As race organizers promised, I was able to quickly find the boxes for the correct stations at the start line and put two different bottles with my own little mixture for the stations at miles 9 and 17. Plus I had a third bottle with me – again with a mix of unflavored Sustained Energy mix.

There were plenty of porta potties along the start, and after taking care of business; it was time to line up. I did some chatting with Tamara, Chris, Lisa and Mark as we waited for the announcement that it was time to start! The fast folks in our group moved toward the front of the line. Because this race limited the number of registrants to 2400, it was refreshingly not overcrowded at the start, and there wasn’t the confusion that I’ve experienced at really large events.

From miles 1 to 7, Lisa and I took a steady, conservative approach to the run, hovering around 10:35 pace for 10 minutes, then walking for 1 minute. Just as we approached the mile 7 aid station, we parted ways. I loved having the company for the early portion of the race and tried not to stress out about all of the people passing us. After all I wanted to be careful not to make the mistake of my first marathon, where I started out too quickly and maxed my HR way too early.

At almost 3 hours into the race, my pace started to gradually get slower during my running segments. I still held to doing these every 10 minutes, but I was definitely slowing down. Then around 4 hours into the race, I was really starting to feel the pain, so I extended the walk breaks and added extra ones, usually around every 5 minutes.

Throughout the whole race, I was also very careful to generously drink my Sustained Energy and take gels frequently. I brought my own supply of gels and then took one offered at the mile-18 station. Last year, at my first marathon, I really felt like my nutrition had been lacking, which probably helped contribute to my “hitting the wall” experience so early in the race (at mile 18).

The rain was pretty steady most of the race, with occasional ‘lulls’ where it faded to sprinkling. I kept on my garbage bag poncho until mile 21, and was teased a little for it by the spectators – all in good fun. I was glad to have worn it however, as it helped keep me comfortable without feeling overheated. Worked much better than my rain jacket, which would have been too warm.

If you’re someone that craves a lot of crowd support, this rural race was not the one for you. It was held on the Silverado Trail road that weaves through winery valleys – very beautiful, but only accessible every few miles. That being said, every time there was a place where people could access the course, they were there, and they were very supportive and friendly. Many of them would literally go from spot to spot on the course, and I actually had ongoing conversations with several spectators, as they reappeared at accessible each location – so fun. Also, the volunteers at the aid stations were very helpful and enthusiastic – their friendly cheering and encouragement were greatly appreciated.

When I finally made those last turns to the finish area at Vintage High School, I was so happy to be there. I hadn’t been watching my overall time, just keeping track of the 10/1 intervals and pace and focusing on doing as much as I could with whatever energy I had throughout. So it was really great to see the time clock as I finished, showing 5:08-ish. I knew that my pace had slowed as the race went on, and with the extra walk breaks I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. I certainly couldn’t have predicted a 23-minute PR (personal record) this time around, but that’s what happened. :)

  • Chip time 5:08:37
  • Garmin time (hit stop slightly after crossing) 5:08:50
  • Garmin distance 26.41 miles
  • Runner perks: technical shirt, awesome bag with great goodies, very nice medal and the ability to have custom drinks at the aid stations of your choice
  • More awesomeness: Official race results on their Website within an hour after the race was complete!
  • Highly recommended event

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Long Beach Marathon, my personal adventure

Well, I finally did it. I ran and finished my first marathon. ☺ It was a bit of an adventure, as they can be… but I’m glad I went through the challenges of training to have this amazing experience.

After finishing my spring half with a new PR, I wasn’t sure what the next goal would be. I’m not a fast runner and am not sure I ever would be, plus I wanted a new type of challenge. After some consideration and a bit of trepidation, I decided that perhaps I should attempt a fall marathon.

Up until now, I had been mostly a half-er. After all, marathons required long runs during the week for training, and the time investments (for us slow types) can be significant. But after considering the amount of training that I put into improving my half marathon time, I realized that with a bit more time added to my existing schedule, I probably was ready to pull off a marathon distance.

After selecting the time frame (fall this year), I needed to find a location. I spent a lot of time reading reviews about marathons and reviewing the experiences of my DailyMile and Twitter running friends. I realized that I didn’t want to do a hilly local marathon, nor did I want to wait until December (and possible frigid weather) to do the California International Marathon. I also considered Denver, but altitude was a problem there, as I trained at sea level. So I opted for the famously flat and fun Long Beach Marathon on October 17.

My summer training regimen was full of long tempos and intervals, and was not your typical novice level approach. It made me feel strong and ready to take it on.

Nevertheless, I was nervous this week as the DAY approached. This was uncharted territory for me, which created both excitement and fear. ☺ I watched the weather closely, as California had an unusual heat wave this October. Fortunately in the day or two prior to the big event, it cooled down until it was perfect weather… 60s with cloud cover, with a predicted high in the low 70s – yay!

We flew down to Long Beach on a short JetBlue flight on Saturday morning. After our arrival, I ventured into the Expo to pick up my number etc. As a local event, most of the vendors were local businesses, charities and races, so there wasn’t a ton of stuff to tempt me. We also walked over to the race staging area, so I could figure out the easiest way to walk there from our hotel.

I also had a chance to meet one of my Twitter buddies @ridgeley in person, which was super fun. And, that evening, I had dinner with several local runners who had all run Long Beach before and had some nice tips for what to expect.

The more I talked to folks planning to participate, I realized that the majority of race entrants were actually doing the half marathon. However, the way the waves were set up, both half marathon runners and marathon runners shared the same waves. This made me somewhat nervous because I knew it would be difficult not to follow the half runners who would likely start out at a faster pace than I would like to do.

On race morning, I strategically edged myself toward the back of my wave as we lined up and settled off to the side, to let the majority of half racers speed by (and speed by they did). The start of the course weaved around a lot with some nice views of the water and the Queen Mary ship. It was fun, and the energy was high.

However there were bad signs: Right from the start, even though my pace wasn’t excessively fast, my HR seemed very high. My rate of perceived of exertion (RPE) seemed to be OK, but I tried to pull back on the pace, to see if the HR would lower a bit. However, as was often the case in my training, once it had spiked, it seemed to stay up there.

Miles 6 through 10 of the Long Beach were situated on a brick and concrete pathway following the beach. It was LOVELY. We had a bit of sea mist blowing on us throughout that section, and it was just simply fun to enjoy the view. At around mile 10 ½, the half marathon runners split off to head back toward the finish line. I admit, I was jealous of them. However, the course traffic lightened up significantly, so that made navigating the course a LOT easier.

At mile 11 ½, I met my husband Dave, per our plan, so I could get a bottle of water mixed with some Hammer nutrition. I tried this approach during my training runs, and knew that the unsweetened protein/carb/electrolyte mix really seemed to give me the boost I needed without too much sugar. I was so glad we were able to find each other easily, even it meant he wore a bright orange Lewis Hamilton victory shirt (he is a fanboy of this F1 driver, and I am not). ;)

At this point in the course, we started doing more out and backs in a variety of residential areas - many parks with various water elements. The out and backs were hard for me mentally, and I was definitely starting to get tired. However, there were always pockets of spectators who were very encouraging and would call out to each of us. I loved it when they read my name off my bib – there’s nothing like having someone cheer for you and call out your name.


By mile 17, which is situated on CSU’s Long Beach Campus, the miles in the high HR zone were taking their toll. I was able to plow up the most challenging incline there, but then my pace seemed to fall apart. I started taking longer walking breaks and was definitely feeling the strain. Shortly after mile 18, I had a bit of a scare when running in an area with lots of cheering students, as I got really dizzy and completely zoned out for about 50 feet or so.

This little scare made me realize that I could injure myself if I didn’t get the effort in hand. And, I realized that my pace was not going to get me the secret time goal that I mentally aimed for… So I purposefully decided that this was going to be an event about having fun and not trying to keep up with my speedy running buddies. So I started walking. A lot.

I wasn’t alone in my walking though (thank goodness!). Many of the runners who had been my companions along the way decided to do the same thing. I continued to greet the spectators and acknowledge the ones who cheered us on. And I focused on keeping the speediest walk I could do, with short bursts of running every 10 minutes or so. I called Dave to let him know my revised ending time. Then, I focused on having fun.

And it was! I took advantage of all the water stations and fuel opportunities. I said thank you to the volunteers who were manning the stations and the police who were keeping traffic at bay through the intersections. I greeted the spectators who had set up fruit and water stations, and occasionally enjoyed their fare. It drove me crazy to see the miles in this section go by so slowly, but I realized that my overall pace wasn’t TOO bad. And then, when we finally got to the “last turn” before the finish, I picked it up into a slow run and focused on good form and enjoying the cheering crowds. I heard the announcer call my name as I neared the finish, and it felt so good. When I crossed the line, I lifted up my hands and exulted in the feeling instead of stopping the Garmin. ☺

When I walked though the chute to get my medal, I was overwhelmed with emotion and started crying. While the race hadn’t gone as planned, it was still an amazing experience. I’m so glad I did it.

Thanks to many of you who were my cheerleaders through this training season. Thanks to my husband, who had to patiently endure my obsessions along the way. And thanks to coaches Jeff and Diane, whose training regimen prepared me to be stronger than I’ve ever been before. There was a lot of time sacrificed for this endeavor, but I’m grateful and glad to have experienced it all.

Official time: 5:31:56
Garmin distance: 26.41 miles, average pace @12:34

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Formula 1 Race Weekend Memories

Guess who I cheered for at the race?

This weekend’s trip to the Canada Grand Prix in Montreal was a treat for Dave and I, a celebration of his graduation. We knew we wanted to travel to a Grand Prix and had originally hoped to combine it with a trip to Europe and another goal-destination of Dave’s (the Nürburgring), but the American dollar was weak and the expenses for said trip went well beyond even our “splurge” budget. So, in the end we thought a long weekend to North America’s only 2010 Grand Prix, held in Montreal, seemed like a good compromise.

After investigating ticket prices, hotel availability and logistics for figuring out a city which primarily functions in another language, we decided to book through a Formula 1 travel group and selected a few from which to choose. The one we ended up using, Formulatours.com, seemed to have good ticket and hotel availability with the right level of “extras” for us (not too little, not too much). They took care of the key logistics we needed (ticket package in a desired grandstand, hotel in desired location and airport pickup/dropoff. Plus, they offered a “VIP” party that was to feature an unnamed F1 driver or drivers).

The choice seemed to work well for us – the hotel was convenient to a nice downtown area of Montreal, the Metro passes and convenient Metro (subway) station ensured efficient passage to the track for practice, qualifying and race day. We even enjoyed a “close encounter” with Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovaleinen of Lotus racing at the touring group’s VIP party. As a bonus, Karun Chandhok, a driver with another new team (Hispania), was staying at our hotel, and we were able to see him on our first evening in Montreal and even get his autograph in the hotel lobby before Friday practice.

Another great choice for us was our rental of a unit from Kangaroo.tv. This small device provided race data, video feed and BBC audio commentary in a small electronic unit during practices, qualifying and the race. I liked being able to look up driver standings, view driver video feed, hear the driver/pit lane audio feed and listen to BBC commentary, since the track audio commentary was mostly in French and therefore useless to us. :) Before reserving the device, I ended up tweeting to the company about the size of the audio jack (standard 1/8 inch) and they tweeted back a great tip to bring/use noise-canceling headphones. Based on their speedy and useful reply, we got a handy 1/8 inch jack splitter (so we could share a unit) and used our Bose headphones, which actually worked GREAT during the whole weekend and were very effective at filtering out just the right amount of engine noise and protecting our hearing – no earplugs needed! Loved the experience the device provided, AND I’m very impressed with their effective use of social media to respond to customer inquiries – first class!

Montreal was also a fun place to visit for non-race activities. It had a very “French” atmosphere and was a nice replacement for our non-European vacation. People dressed VERY nicely in this city, which was a bit disconcerting since we brought casual vacation-type clothing. :) The French food was very good, so that was a nice treat that reminded us of our Paris trip many years ago. Reading signs or navigation was somewhat challenging for English speakers, and even street signs were somewhat confusing – good thing we didn't drive here! There was a music festival also going on nearby, and the street activities nearby were nice for exploring and enjoying the atmosphere.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Milestones

This weekend I attended my 20-year college reunion, not because of any particular loyalty to my alma mater, but because of the opportunity it provided to spend time with a couple of good friends who I don’t see very often, to reminisce about who I was, and to think about who I am and will become.

With the extra, undistracted time afforded by 4+ hours of flying, I also enjoyed the luxury of considering this milestone and other recent significant life events.
  • The year before last I celebrated my 40th birthday in Thailand accompanied by an international group of travelers. This trip provided me the opportunity to see the land of my father through the eyes of an adult and to meet cousins, aunts and uncles who have lived on the other side of the world and who hold the bond of family without the familiarity earned by close proximity.
  • That same year, I spent much time, mental focus and emotional energy working to transform my lifestyle and body into a healthier expression of the person I already was. Because the changes were very visible, people have proclaimed these changes to be extremely remarkable. In many respects, however, this change was just a continuation of an ongoing journey of embracing myself and discarding others’ expectations or labels.
  • In the last 14 months, I became obsessed with the practice of running, which was a very funny evolution if you knew me for the rest of my 40-ish years on this planet.
  • And today I will celebrate 12 years of marriage to my good friend and soul mate, who enriches the daily, mundane yet precious days of my life.
These events provided a reminder of experiences lived and lessons learned. They marked the passage of time and provided distinct moments in the midst of normal life. And this weekend gave me the time to thoughtfully consider how they fit into my personal fabric.

As I spent time with two friends who had known me over many years, though multiple life phases – those awkward high-school years, college youth, young single life, professional pursuits, adulthood and responsibility – we wandered through topics related to the various changes we’d all experienced. And reconnecting with acquaintances and a favorite professor provided contrasts of life two decades ago versus today.

When I thought about the person I was 20 years ago, it was hard to believe that I thought myself an “adult” back then. I had a bit of head knowledge about the world around me and had expectations spoken and unspoken. I also had NO IDEA who I was, what energized me or what I would do with the resources that life and relationships had given me. Some people at that stage in their lives, in their late teens and early 20s, had a clear focus and drive to conquer the goals in front of them and the world around them. I probably even thought that about myself back then. And many accomplished people with singular focus demonstrated the ability to really flourish during that time in their lives.

Some of us, however, were a little more average, like me. We had an idea that we were supposed to go “out there” and do “something.” We may have even selected a vocation or path based on those glimmers. But the joys and challenges of life had not yet hit us, and much of those dreams were untested.

Many of us secretly hoped that life would go exactly as planned. That our “good karma” would earn us a smooth, maybe even moderately successful life. We prayed that our expectations for “normal” living would proceed like a dog-eared novel with familiar characters and settings. Perhaps this plan was similar to our childhood experiences; perhaps it was an aspiration for something different.

Then the devastating richness of life’s milestones started to come our way.
  • That fist “real” job and “real” promotion – with the rewards, challenges and demands involved
  • Car purchases, home purchases, relationships gained and lost, newfound responsibilities, familial and financial struggles
  • Joyful experiences and unexpected, caution-inducing turns
  • Newly discovered strengths and weaknesses
And sometimes, the work and effort invested, and those everyday life actions resulted in greater than hoped for results or experiences.

As I prepared for this weekend’s travels and reunion, I mentioned my plans to go to Tulsa and found out from a Twitter running friend that there was a local race on Saturday morning. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought? So I casually signed up for the race. As part of my running obsession, I had set some pretty aggressive goals for a half marathon this April. The timing was good for a 5K and my coach suggested that I set a similarly aggressive time goal for this race, too. I wasn’t sure how I would do and it worried me. I hadn’t planned for this, nor did I have any experience racing this distance (I’ve done mostly half marathons this past year). But he was convinced that my training was strong and that I would be able to run this at least 2 minutes faster than I had ever done before.

On the morning of the event, I followed my mental plan and normal pre-race activities, with a few tweaks. I chatted with the local runners and focused on being positive and pushing my limits. Right at the start, I realized I was surrounded by a pretty fast set of runners. I jumped into a pace faster than planned and tried to ease up a bit. Each time I looked at my pace, though, I still hadn’t slowed down into my “planned” pace. Still, I was feeling OK and figured, why not push it as hard as possible and see where it goes? Just before mile 3, I felt like I was pushing hard but wanted to see if I could push it more, and pressed on. Getting to the finish line, I realized that I was going to be 4 minutes faster than my best 5K time. I said out loud, “no way!” and ran across the finish line with great satisfaction.

Many times, on my long runs, I found that too much focus on the past or upcoming miles caused me to lose the sense of rhythm and connectedness to the run in progress. Yet, conversely, recollecting the overall experiences and lessons from these runs afterward provided a stronger, almost innate ability to know and understand what I could do when needed, and, of course, provided the important foundation of skills necessary to my running goals.

Similarly, when I considered who and what I had lost and gained these past 20 years, I saw places where I could have made better decisions, loved more, rested more, and embraced the people around me better. However, I also learned that those missteps, heart-wrenching losses, and foolish decisions contributed to my personal makeup and made me a stronger, healthier, more satisfied person.

In my life, the milestones that challenged me most expanded my self-view, developed new capabilities, built extraordinary strength and exposed core weaknesses. They also built a base of life training that taught me to become stronger and embrace the changes that filled me with new questions about beliefs and purpose.

Life was more than just a collection of decisions and consequences. It fed a well that provided unexpected victories in the midst of challenges, and led to surprising fulfillment, in unforeseen places.

Enjoying the experience of the life journey today, wherever I am, helps develop that connectedness and satisfying rhythm. And, at certain life milestones, it’s good to consider, contemplate and remember that progression, and consider what I can do today and what the future could bring.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Barefoot Running Clinic - What I Learned

OK, I'm pretty sure that my non-running friends, who already think I've slipped over the edge into crazy, will now be convinced I'm nuts. But, I'm really excited by what I learned at this morning's barefoot running clinic. Here are my observations and thoughts about what I heard today. Any errors, misunderstandings or omissions are all mine. :)

For those of you who are wondering WHAT I'm talking about, here's the story.

This morning a group of the intrepid and curious met at ZombieRunner on California Avenue in Palo Alto for a barefoot running clinic. Why? Because this was an opportunity to listen to Christopher McDougall, author of the bestselling book Born to Run, and barefoot running expert Ted McDonald, share their knowledge and experience about this increasingly popular topic that fascinates, scares and entrances those of us who enjoy running.

Here are some highlights of what I learned at this clinic:

There is a right way to run – POSE METHOD, Chi and Evolution all identify key characteristics of correct running technique. Barefoot running naturally pushes us into technique that is
more efficient and works with our biomechanics.

Shoes often made to provide the most protection and support can actually increase the impact on our feet, joints and body because we run “heavier” in them than when running barefoot.

Ted's three key principles for barefoot technique:
  1. Run LIGHTLY and SILENTLY – Listen to your running, you should be light on your feet and you shouldn't hear your feet hitting the pavement. To help yourself be aware of this, you should try running without music. Listen and be aware of your connection to the ground.
  2. Use a quick cadence – Quick foot turnover will help ensure a light touch on the ground. It should feel like you’re floating across the ground, moving forward. Your feet should touch down and lift quickly – not sliding across or grinding against the ground (which is how you can get blisters).
  3. Maintain a tall posture – This helps ensure alignment and efficient movement when running.
A lot of running barefoot is about listening to your body – when you’re too tired to follow the key principles above, you’ll experience injury. Start out with barefoot walking, making sure to land on the front of your feet (no heel strikes). Remember the three principles, and build distance gradually.

Start barefoot walking and running on asphalt and other man-made surfaces. Your feet will manage the impact and you’ll be more likely to establish good technique habits (light, silent and quick cadence).

A couple of good training exercises to help with barefoot running technique:
  • Squats (using proper technique) – strengthens key muscles, builds control
  • Jumps that are accurate and light – jump up and down stairs or on the ground at precise distances, with your feet together, landing lightly and quietly. Again the key is to maintain control, keep a light touch, and in so doing build the muscle strength and control for great technique
Thanks to Don and Gillian, owners of ZombieRunner, who have provided great resources for runners through their store and sponsorship of this clinic.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thanks for Your Support

This summer was an adventure as I trained for my toughest event yet, the Dirt Inspires Women's Trail Half Marathon in Aptos.

One of the nice things about this latest goal has been the opportunity to share the experience of training and evaluating the experience with a core group of running friends, both real and virtual.

My real-life training partners faithfully got together to do the day-in, day-out work that is necessary. One group would meet twice a week at a hilly trail in the wee hours of the morning and attempted to conquer hill after hill at the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. With some other friends, we'd drive to destination trails throughout the bay area and try not to get lost as we explored the wooded, hilly paths.

My virtual friends on DailyMile and Twitter were also a huge source of encouragement and advice. I gained ideas, inspiration and motivation hearing about their runs and cross training, often hoping just to get a fraction of the speed many of them had.

THANKS to ALL of you. You know who you are, and I couldn't have done it without you.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's not about IF you should use social media; It's about WHAT you will do.

Great data points for companies and why they should engage online communities via social media.