Friday, November 13, 2015

Santa Rosa Half Marathon

I was really disappointed to not run the Disney Marathon in 2015.  It was my 10 year marathoniversary and I wanted to go back to the race that had started it all.  So I did the next best thing -- I signed up to run it in 2016.  I have no illusions of a fast time.  My main goal is to build endurance vs. speed the next few months.  I signed up for my fifth Goofy Challenge.  Knowing I am heading out to Orlando in hopefully mileage but not speed shape, I figured I should get the most bang for my buck and run both races again.  I would love one day to run a sub-4:00 Disney Marathon but 2016 isn't going to be the year.  I am not interested in the Dopey Challenge.  It is rather pricey and I did the former unofficial Dopey Challenge a few years back (5K, half, then full) and throwing a 10K in the mix doesn't really interest me.

Disney has a corral system and requires a proof of time to seed you appropriately.  I wanted to run a half marathon this summer in order to have a proof of time to submit.  I also figured it would be a good thing to get up to a half marathon distance during the summer in order to feel confident moving forward with Goofy training.

I chose to run Santa Rosa mainly because of the timing of the race and it actually got me excited to run.  There were closer to home races that gave me a blah feeling or ones that took place a little too late.  My first choice race was a month earlier than Santa Rosa -- it got cancelled and I am happy I had and extra month to train.  I was able to do cut-back long run weeks every other week which I think helped me stay injury free.

After Big Sur I cut out the walk breaks and started at scratch at 1 mile runs.  I was able to fit in two double-digit long runs before the race.  I started pushing my son in the BOB stroller for runs in June.  We started off with just one mile runs and by the time the race rolled around I was pushing him 6 miles twice a week.  I only ran three time a week:  Two stroller runs and one solo long run.

My main goal for this race was to clock a time that represented I ran the entire thing.  After utilizing walk breaks all through Big Sur training I wanted to get back to continuous running.

I ran the Santa Rosa Marathon five (!?!) years ago.  The race has evolved a lot since then.  They have since changed the course (the current half marathon course seems to be almost exactly the same as half of the original marathon course), now have an expo, start an hour earlier, and generally are trying to feel much more "big-race" with the deletion of race-day bib pick-up.  This was a real thorn in my side.  Santa Rosa is not that far away from San Francisco but it is also not so close that you want to drive out there two days in a row.

My friend graciously agreed to help me with bib pick-up since getting to the expo in time with my schedule would have been close to impossible.  We thought we would make a little family get-away trip out of the whole thing but logistics squashed that as a sane possibility.  We thought maybe I could head up there myself for a night.  I had images of languishing in a lush hotel bed with cable TV and eating proverbial bonbons saluting my postpartum night away from baby (never mind the race started so early I'd be getting up earlier than I would if I had stayed home with the baby).  But I hadn't really started committing to a hotel until a month before the race in case I got injured. Ye of little faith. So when I started looking, anything that fit into my hotel fantasy was decidedly sold out or $$$$$.  I'm not that picky.  A good 'ole Comfort Inn would have fit the bill.  Everything available was still $$$ and had reviews that were not so palatable.  So I drove up there two days in a row.

Parking was a breeze in a parking structure a short walk to the race start.  I had to pump on the drive up and after I parked.  The portapotty line wasn't very long and moved quickly and I got to the start area with no stress.  I lined up right in front of the 2:10 pacer.  I would definitely recommend that if you are looking to run a good time for yourself to get to the start on time.  The course is narrow the first few miles and there were a few obviously faster runners who must have started late who were looking frustrated trying to get through the crowd.

My run pace had been in the 9:50 range the weeks prior to the race.  I occasionally got down into the 9:30s for average pace on a couple of runs.  I decided on a great day I could probably squeak a sub-9:30 pace for the race but would have been pleased with anything under 10:00 and was shooting for at least a 9:45 pace.

Mile 1 9:26 pace
Mile 2 9:20 pace

The first two miles I got caught up in all the race excitement and went out a bit faster than I had intended.  I was slightly confused since I thought I had lined up appropriately for a slower pace and yet I seemed to be going with the flow.  I decided to slow it down a little to play it conservatively.

Mile 3 9:35 pace

Oh, heck. I was feeling good and naturally seemed to be falling into a faster than expected rhythm.  I decided to go with it.

Mile 4 9:20 pace
Mile 5 9:26 pace
Mile 6 9:16 pace

I decided to hold this comfortable-yet-working pace until mile 10 where I'd start to let myself push a little.

The marathon started an hour prior to the half marathon and the faster runners started passing us as we made our way to the finish.  Also about this time slower half-marathoners (and one elderly gentleman who was walking the full) were still coming back out and it made it a lot of fun to cheer for everyone.

The race was mainly paved but there were a few unpaved trail sections.  They weren't as troublesome as the year I ran the marathon but still not my favorite.

Mile 7 9:25 pace
Mile 8 9:22 pace
Mile 9 9:25 pace

Let's go!

Mile 10 9:15
Mile 11 9:32 (refilled water bottle and chugged three or four half-filled water cups)

I haven't run a sub-9:00 pace since February 2013.

Mile 12 8:51
Mile 13 8:30
Mile 13.1 7:08

Official finish:  2:01:58, 9:19 pace

I have run something like 29 half marathons but only three times have I run faster than a 2:01.  So this is my fourth fastest half marathon.  I have run four full marathons at a pace faster than this half so it only sounds impressive by virtue of the fact that I haven't really been focusing on the half marathon distance much.  But since I don't run a lot of halves at a good effort I'm not used to seeing low 2 hour finish times much and it felt pretty great.

The same effort a few years ago would have yielded about a minute per mile faster pace.  That is humbling and shows me how much work I have left to do.  But at the same time, I felt like a runner again during this race.  It felt great to keep myself at the edge of comfort and save enough to finish strong.  It has been almost three years since I raced and I forgot how awesome it feels.

I had not done any speed work training for Santa Rosa except for pushing my son in the BOB stroller.  My fastest run training for Santa Rosa had been a 7 miler at a 9:30 pace and it sort of blows my mind I was able to run 13.1 at 9:19 pace.  Resistance running for the win.

I followed up the race with a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum.  It is a small museum but worth a visit. I love getting food at The Warm Puppy Cafe which is adjacent to an iceskating rink Schulz built. Meh food but the atmosphere always makes me wish I was a local who could come by every weekend.

I thought this was genius.  At the Schulz Museum, they have solar panels you park your car under.  Keeps your car cool and creates energy. Every place should do this.
A lot of people run Santa Rosa for fast times and a lot are successful.  The course has changed but I did PR the marathon here years ago.  This year the cloud cover stuck around during the race so while it wasn't cool, it was never hot.  Personally, I think it is a big gamble weather-wise to train for a goal race that is held in August.  They start the races relatively early which helps, though.  I am sort of curious about the new full course and may consider it down the road as a non-goal race.  I would race the half again here if only because there probably aren't a whole lot of other great summer options for a fast one.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #38:

I signed up for the 2015 Big Sur Marathon on July 15, 2014 less than 24 hours before I went into labor.  For the 2015 race they decided to open up a few different days of registration due to a 24 hour sell-out the year before.  July 15th was the first day and all the available slots for this day sold out in just a few minutes.  I was so delighted to have nabbed a spot.

Fast forward to my postpartum days and my return to running was anything but smooth or quick.  My post-baby race goal was supposed to be a slow and meandering Disney 2015 race weekend in January and I had to totally scrap that idea.  When I was pregnant my lower back used to kill me.  Postpartum I had a repeat MRI to be sure that my pelvic stress fractures had healed since I was still getting some discomfort that was eerily similar to what I used to feel when it was fractured.  The MRI showed that my pelvis was healed (woo-hoo!) but my doctor commented on the fact that I had swollen SI joints on both sides.

During pregnancy your body releases relaxin which loosens ligaments and allows the pelvis to open during childbirth.  With my pelvis all loose and wonky my SI joints were experiencing a greater range of movement which caused the swelling.  If I was a couch potato just giving birth would have alleviated my SI joint pain.  But if I went on even a 1-2 mile walk my lower back pain would flare up again.  I've been told that it could take 6 months or even until I stopped breastfeeding for the effects of relaxin to 100% leave my body.  It took about 7-8 months for things to get back to relative normalcy but even today longer runs still make my pelvis achy.

Up until January I was hoping to be able to train for Big Sur as I would a normal non-goal marathon. I decided with less than four months to go and no running in sight if I wanted to experience the race I had to be open to the idea of walking.  If I could get to the Bixby bridge I didn't care if I got swept due to time limits.  With the way Big Sur sold out I knew going forward a spot in the race wasn't guaranteed and who knew when I would have a chance to be there again.  Any other race I would have passed but I was willing to walk to mile 13 and get pulled off the course just to experience what I could.  I love this race so much and the thought of missing it another year -- what could be my final year with an entry -- was not an option.

So I started walking.  I think I was occasionally doing 4 mile walks with the baby and that weekend I went out and walked 6 miles.  The next weekend I walked 10.  At the same time I slowly worked on my running.  I would do 30 second running segments with walk breaks.  After that didn't break me I did 45 second run segments, then 60 second run segments and so on.  Eventually I was able to start doing some running on my longer distance day. I started off running for a minute every mile.  Then a minute every half mile.  I eventually settled on a run 4:00, walk 2:00 pattern for my longer run.

The first 10 mile walk.  It took forever.  Also, meet my new running watch, Gaston Garmin.

I did two short run-walks during the week (capped off at about 4 miles each) and one long run-walk on the weekend (built up to one 20 miler).  I also walked pushing my son in the stroller twice a week.  We usually went about 4 miles but occasionally did up to six.  I tried to find as many hills as I could on our walking days together.

By the time race day came I knew I could generally keep a pace that would allow me to finish before the 6 hour cut-off.  The big unknown was that Big Sur is a fairly challenging course and I wasn't sure how my walk-run plan was going to hold up over the day.  I may end up walking all the ups and running the downs.  But then running the downs is actually tougher on your body and I wasn't sure my pelvis was going to stand that.   I decided to have my watch vibrate instead of doing an audible alert so that it wouldn't be too distracting if my run-walk plan went down the drain.  I was going to stick to the plan from the beginning and keep it up as long as possible.

I almost didn't take a camera with me during the race.  I had done this race four times previously and stopped to take photos of EVERYTHING and figured I had documented what I wanted at some point in the past.  With the cut-off being an issue I didn't want to waste any time with photos.  I did end up taking my phone so that I would be able to call my husband if I got swept and I figured I couldn't miss just the one photo opportunity with Michael Martinez by the Bixby Bridge.

One thing I was nervous about was pumping for as long as possible as close to the start of the race as possible.  I left my hotel before 4 am and wasn't going to see my son again until 1 pm.  If you've ever breastfed you can understand my anxiety.  For my weekend long runs I was able to nurse him and leave right after to run.  But at the race there was going to be a 3 hour or so delay between when I left him and the start of the race.  I reached out to the race and they allowed me to sit in the cab of one of the sweat bag trucks to pump.  When I got to the start area I made a beeline to the portapotties to use them before meeting up with the race director to find the truck.

Years ago I stood in line for 1.5 hours to get to a portapotty.  I wanted to pump for half an hour so if this happened again I was going to have to choose between having to pee the first few miles or trucking extra milk 26.2 miles.  Luckily I got into a fast moving line and was in a portapotty within a few minutes.

It wasn't terribly cold this year but another perk of being in the truck was that I didn't have to sit in the chilly air outside.  I stayed in the truck as long as possible before heading to the start.

I fired up my watch and started off doing 4:00 run, 2:00 walk from the very beginning.  It was tempting to run a little longer in the beginning but I hadn't trained that way and was going to do what I knew worked.

The weather this year -- beautiful blue skies and a nice head wind.  I was happy the views would be great this year. I ran once in fog and it was really disappointing.  This race feels like an old friend after running it so many times.  With my lack of running it the last couple of years it felt like an old friend you hadn't seen in a while.

There were a few times I would be approaching an aid station as a walk break would start and I would continue running a little longer knowing I would have an extended walk through the aid station.  I allowed myself to walk extra through aid stations while I drank water.  I got a little carried away as we descended towards the base of Hurricane Point and missed a walk break.  Otherwise I stuck to my run-walk plan.

One of my favorite miles in marathoning is the approach and ascent up Hurricane Point, and then down the other side to cross the Bixby Bridge.  Hurricane Point has a lot of false summits and even knowing this I was surprised once or twice when the top wasn't the top at all.  I kept straining to hear Michael Martinez on the piano as we reached the top of Hurricane Point.  This year he was playing an unknown song as I crossed the bridge.  My hope of him playing "What a Wonderful World" as I cross the bridge will have to keep on keeping on.

I stopped for a quick shot with the pianist then got down to business for the day.  The second half of Big Sur is not quite as scenic as the first and you are getting worn down and tired.  With my walk breaks I was feeling surprisingly fresh.  I guess there is something to this method after all.  The hills didn't seem nearly so numerous or long or high this year.  In short, I was feeling a lot better than I thought I would be and I knew I was going to finish.

I ran past a gentleman wearing a shirt that said "Grizzly 30" and I asked him if he had run all thirty Big Sur Marathons.  "Well, twenty-nine...." he said as he pointed down the road.  Amazing.

I kept up with my run-walk intervals until shortly after mile 25 when I decided to run all the way to the finish.  I didn't look at the distance on Gaston but I consider this to be my first consecutive mile of running since sometime in early 2014.  It felt glorious.

I heard my husband cheering off to the side shortly before the finish line.  I pulled over to give him and my son a kiss and then finished my fifth Big Sur Marathon.

I soaked up as much of this race as I could.  Both for what it was and what it represented.  It was my first real race of any kind since May 2013 and my first marathon since January 2013.  If you had told me in January 2013 that I wouldn't run another marathon for almost 2.5 years and that I would be a mother the next time it happened I would have told you that you were insane.  I thought about everything that had happened since the last time I ran a marathon.  I thought about everything that had happened for me to be on the course today.  I was incredibly grateful for both everything in my life and the chance to do what I love again.

I've run this race in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015.  I was registered in 2013 but had pelvic stress fractures.  I was registered in 2014 but was pregnant.  I told myself years ago that this was the race I would do every year until I couldn't do this anymore.  For 2009 I signed up leisurely months before the race.  For 2014 it sold out in less than an hour.  They switched to the lottery system for 2016 onward so there is no guarantee of entry anymore.  I got incredibly lucky this year and did get in via the lottery for 2016.  It makes me sad that I may get to run this one more time or ten more times but you'd better believe I'll be there every year they'll take me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Mario -- Fin

March 6, 2004 (Gotcha Day) -- August 18, 2014
This blog had been grossly neglected the last year.  It is hard to have a running blog when you aren't running.  I wish I had kept up with the "Monday Marios" because I love looking back and reading them myself and I know Mario had a lot of friends out there who looked forward to seeing his handsome mug.

I am heartbroken to share the news that we put Mario to sleep on August 18th.  He was declining slowly over the course of this past year.  He didn't do his Bunny 500 zooms around the living room anymore.  He didn't really care too much for coming out and exploring as much.  Eventually I noticed he couldn't support himself on any surface that didn't have adequate traction.  He couldn't bend around to groom himself or eat his cecals.  

His veterinarian and I tweaked all sorts of things to keep him happy.  He was put on supplements and pain meds for arthritis.  I did warm compresses on his eyes to help that issue.  We changed his diet.  I modified his pen set up when he couldn't always make it into the litter box.  My veterinarian said to keep perspective:  If he was a person he would be grandpa in a nursing home in a wheelchair and diapers.  We started to have to give him baths.  Everyone who has followed this blog knows how fastidiously clean Mario was and I can only imagine how annoyed he was to be soiled.

All of this became the new norm the last 6 months or so and it seemed to work for everyone.  Then in his last 2.5 weeks Mario started to have major difficulties walking.  The final couple of days he was totally immobile and I made the heartbreaking decision I hoped I would never have to make.  I always wanted Mario to go peacefully in his sleep on his own terms.  After the major health scare and hospitalization we had a few years ago I didn't think I had it in me to make that choice for him.  It is hands down the hardest thing I have had to do and I am not sure pet ownership is for me anymore knowing it could end that way.

After over 10 years together life is very different without him.  I was in my mid-twenties when I adopted Mario and am now in my mid-thirties.  I would argue that is the decade the most drastic change in your life occurs.  Mario was with me through my final years as a student, my first job, a cross-country move, a wedding, and a baby.  He was up with me when I burned the midnight oil studying for Boards.  He was up with me when I would wake at dark o'clock for races.  He was up with me the night before my wedding when I couldn't fall asleep.  When my newborn was crying at 4 am he was up with me wondering what all the racket was about.

Mario was the heart and soul of this blog.  I started this as a running blog and it truly evolved into Mario's little corner of cyberspace.  More than anything else, I am thankful I had this blog to compel me to document his life and my memories with him.

After going to the veterinarian on Mario's final day, my husband parked by the ocean so I could regroup before going back to the craziness of a 4 week old and visiting relatives.  It was beautiful, somber, peaceful, and everything I was feeling.

"The cure for anything is salt water:  sweat, tears or the sea." -- Karen Blixen

It took me a year to get this posted.  Thank you to everyone who ever admired Mario from afar and laughed at his antics with me.  There is a rabbit-shaped hole in my heart.

The day I adopted Mario I met him and an animal shelter worker at a Connecticut train station.  He was in a carrier and looked a little distressed.  "Poor guy," I said.  "He's having a rough day."  The young woman looked at me and replied, "But he'll have a great rest of his life."

I can only hope this was the truth.

Every post I ever tagged with "Mario" can be found here.