Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Big Sur International Marathon

We arrived as usual to the expo on Saturday about an hour before closing.  The last two years there has been construction at the convention center so this was the first year the expo was fully back in its normal site.  Because of the larger space it felt much less chaotic than previous years, though you do have to go up and down a few floors to get your bib, shuttle ticket, and shirt.

The race took on Hoka as a sponsor this year supplanting their usual merchandise sponsor of Asics. I've learned over the years that Asics shirts run small. I am even fairly certain this year on the registration page for the race they recommended sizing up.  So size up I did and their new generic shirt sponsor shirts definitely ran true to size.  My own fault for not carefully trying it on at the expo, but my race shirt is a touch big and by race day I was told they were all out of the size down. So that was a little bit of a bummer for me.

Big Sur also revamped their logo this year to be a little more modern. I love the new look though do miss their signature "Run on the jagged edge of the Western world."  They said they will bring back pieces with the vintage feel so I hope they do that in the future.

I stopped by Michael Martinez's booth to say hello and get a photo. I told him how he had played "What A Wonderful World" last year when I crossed the Bixby which pretty much made my Big Sur running life. I always check the CD he has for sale but it has been the same the last few years.

I planned to wake up at 3:30 am and sadly did not get a great night's sleep.  My son took forever to fall asleep which kept me up.  Not too terrible, but I also didn't have a good night's sleep the day before so was dragging a little. I thought for sure my son would sleep through my getting ready but he woke up once I got out of bed and was fairly chipper talking to me while I got ready. I didn't mind that but I was trying to be quiet so as not to wake my husband.

As I left my hotel room I noted there was a relatively strong wind and the flags at the hotel were moving about.  I hopped onto the shuttle bus which picks up right next door to my hotel.  This year it was a luxury tour bus (some years you get yellow school busses).  I'm always concerned about getting motion sickness on the long, windy bus trip to the start line. Some years I score the entire seat to myself which helps so I can lie down.  Someone sat next to me so no such luck this year.  I stripped off my jacket as soon as I got on the bus since motion sickness seems to be exacerbated by being warm. The bus had its air on and was fairly cool and I don't know if that was it, but I luckily did not feel even a little sick this year.

I chatted briefly with my seat mate before the bus left. But I closed my eyes and leaned against the window most of the trip to try to sleep, or pretend to sleep, or fool my body into thinking we were sleeping. We eventually rolled to a stop in what I imagine was a long line of busses on Highway 1 near the start.  This was sort of odd as I never recall ever being stuck in a traffic jam.  I looked out the window and the trees and tall grasses were swaying in a breeze which I thought was a bad omen as usually in the tree areas you can't feel much wind on even the windiest days.  Usually we pass the start area and turnaround almost a mile farther down the road before driving back up by the start and getting dropped off. So I was really surprised when the bus driver turned on the lights, opened the door and set us out into the day.  I told my seatmate we were still pretty far from the start. I estimate we walked about half a mile to the start area. We did this the year the bridge farther up the road was not in service but the race warned us ahead of time this would be happening.  So that was a little shocking.

It was a little chilly but by no means cold and I thought it was going to be a really warm day out there. I headed up to the announcer booth area to meet Angela.  She arrived not long after I got there and we found a place to sit down to wait out the masses using the portapotties so we could hop into the start area last minute.

A note on my race day plan:  When I started working with my coach I told her I had no time goal for Big Sur and my goal this cycle was to build on CIM 2017 fitness and lay a good foundation for CIM 2018 work.  After a few weeks of working together I asked her what she considered marathon goal pace to be this cycle. I wanted a framework for viewing the tempo and speed work we were doing. She wrote back and said as we moved closer to the marathon we would be doing more work at goal pace of 8:20. Frankly, I consider 8:20 to be my CIM 2018 goal pace so I was a little surprised she was moving in that direction so soon.  We discussed that and ultimately I told her I'd trust her.  I'm glad I did as we did a lot of really confidence building work this training block.

So as Big Sur loomed I realized I was in arguably the second best if not the best marathoning shape of my life and should I really just go out there and run easy peasy miles the entire way? Obviously I wasn't going to run anything close to a PR at Big Sur, but I started thinking maybe I could go out in the low-9:00s and maybe just maybe snag a sub-4 finish.  At the end of this training block a 9:00 minute mile is the pace I would have pegged as the fastest pace I could say with confidence, "Yes, I can definitely hold that for 26.2."  For perspective, any time I have PRd a marathon I was not confident at all I could hold the pace I held the whole way. So confidence pace was just that, full of confidence and had a healthy dose of break-glass-in-case-of-emergency reserves.

I discussed this with my coach who thought sub-4 was doable, but she recommended running by feel since it was so hilly.  Comfortable the first 5, kick it up a click over the next 10, kick it up a click over the next 5, have fun the last 10K.  I thought about it and comfortable for the first downhill 5 of Big Sur was pretty much probably going to be at sub-4 pace, so I thought I'd go out at that and see what happened.

Angela and I took off with the second wave. The 3:50 pace group passed us after a bit and I felt she was holding on at their pace which was definitely not my 9:00s so I held back. I was hoping to stay around 9:05 for the early miles. I let myself slow on the inclines and pick up a little speed on the downhills and my average pace was right where it should be with effort at comfortable. I had been really worried about beating myself up on the downhills at Big Sur. I wanted to let myself go with the downhill flow a little bit but had told myself I wouldn't go faster than 8:20-8:30 on any downhill. I figured if I had trained with that as goal pace then running that pace downhill wasn't exactly bombing down a hill.

We hit the coast at mile 5 and that is where I always say you will know what the weather will be like that day.  When we were waiting at the start area, I swear it was blue clear skies. I even told Angela that Big Sur is its most gorgeous on blue sky days (Sorry, Angela).  Angela -- who had just run the ridiculous weather Boston Marathon -- joked there was 0% chance of rain. I was sort of psyched up for some warmer final miles. But at the coast it was densely overcast and fairly windy. I've run Big Sur in some truly horrid wind conditions.  This year it was definitely a strong headwind but just below the amount you'd define as soul-crushing. Don't mistake, there were times I held onto my hat and tucked behind people, but I won't say it was a Year of Wind.  It even misty drizzled on and off here and there.

My pace strategy worked really well the first 10 miles of Big Sur which has inclines at that point I would liken to general road marathon hills.  The first more sustained climb comes at about mile 8 and it did slow me a bit but I knew there would be a nice descent down to the base of Hurricane Point to even that out.  I had a minor side stitch in the early miles and it came on full force as I started the downhill pickup towards the Hurricane Point climb.  It was sort of reminiscent of the game-ending stitch of the Humboldt Half the other year.  I rarely get side stitches when I run so it was frustrating.  I couldn't take a deep breath in it hurt so badly and I contemplated walking to work it out. But I was coasting downhill at sub-9:00 pace and I knew Hurricane Point was coming up and I'd need this faster running time to help me smooth out the slowness that was to come.  So I kept running but I couldn't go quite as quick as I would have if the stitch hadn't been an issue. I was hoping since it worsened so badly on the downhill it was ease up on the uphill which turned out to be the case.

As we made that descent you pass through a relay station and normally you can hear the taiko drums as you come down that hill.  I didn't hear anything.  As we got closer I didn't see anything.  Where were the taiko drummers? I always love how they fire me up for the two mile climb. They are so iconic to Big Sur I couldn't believe they would omit them.  A little bit of sadness here.
I hit the climb and told myself I could slow as much as needed but to just keep running. The downshifting continued and continued and I was trudging up the hill.  The climb to Hurricane Point is fairly steep the first third, probably a little easier the middle third, then steepens up again the last third.  As we went up I thought I could hear taiko drummers and they soon appeared about halfway up the hill.  It was nice to get the boost when it was more needed mid-hill, though I think I prefer them at the bottom of the hill. I'm curious if this new placement will be permanent or not.

It is normally quite windy at the top of Hurricane Point during even non-windy years and it was howling this year. I held onto my hat and leaned into it as we rounded the bend.  And then there was Bixby!  God, I love this part of the race.  You round the bend and see the most glorious view and after two miles of climbing you get to run a mile downhill.  The wind was just right that I could hear the piano music from a mile away.  My legs appreciated the down and I coasted on a high to the the bridge.

This year Michael Martinez was playing "Bad" (as in Michael Jackson) which was sort of a surprise as usually there are more dulcet tunes being played. But I guess this is the year of Big Sur suprises.  Or Big SURprises.  Ha ha, hardy har har. :)

For the first time ever I didn't stop for a photo with Michael.  Actually, for the first time ever I didn't take one photo the entire race. I made the decision this year was about running, so I left my GoPro at home. I had my cell phone in my Orange Mud pack but it isn't accessible while on the run.  I figured if it was a gorgeous day or something truly unique presented itself I would stop for a photo but overcast Big Sur is not as pretty as blue sky Big Sur and I had plenty of blue sky Big Sur photos already.  And frankly, I have a library of overcast Big Sur photos from previous races so I figured I was covered. The perks of running a race for the 8th time.

There is a little more of a decline after Bixby and then the real working miles of the race start.  They aren't as pretty, the hills get more serious and you get more tired.  As I departed the Bixby high my overall pace was at about a 9:22 after my trudge up to Hurricane Point. I look back at the next few miles and am still not quite sure what happened. I certainly felt pretty low at that point from a sub-4 perspective.  I doubted I could bring that down almost 20 seconds a mile the rest of the race as I already had an idea of how much the hills were going to slow me.

Somewhere in mile 15 where the climbs start up again, I stopped trying to run my A goal time.  I remember thinking I wasn't even sure if I had mentally given up or if my body was physically shutting down and saying nope. I had the feeling I probably could have dug into it a bit longer but at the same time it would have been a losing proposition from a physical standpoint.

As we hit hill after hill I felt really silly for even contemplating a time goal on this course. I did realize I was well on my way to a hefty course PR. I doubted I would ever be in this shape before Big Sur again and also that I would ever try to run it at any designated pace again. I told myself to just keep running as much as possible because whatever time I put down today would likely be my lifetime Big Sur course PR.

I wanted though, so badly, to take short walking breaks on the hills. I knew once I let myself do that it would be a hard habit to break the rest of the race. I think it started with walking for short periods through aid stations.  Then eventually here and there I'd walk a little on the hills.  I tried to keep them short just to get some pep back all the time with the course PR goal in the back of my mind.
The last few times I've done Big Sur I did it with a run-walk strategy due to lack of training.  I have to say doing it that way the last few times really skewed my perception of the Big Sur hills.  I remember they were nasty but the nasty factor seemed like a distant dream and in more recent years I thought the hills were totally okay. Challenging yes, but not demoralizing. These suckers were demoralizing and challenging and far steeper than I recalled.

At one point I started walking on an uphill and I passed a woman who was running. I don't mean to knock her running pace because good on her for keeping it one foot at a time. But I had this feeling when I passed her while walking at a business casual pace that there was a point of diminishing returns from an energy standpoint. If you can walk up a hill faster than you can run up it, I vote walk.

I took a gel at miles 5, 10, 16 and the rest of the race I grabbed orange slices bananas, and strawberries from aid stations. Maybe a gel would have brought me a little more life but at the time I was craving some real food.

Somewhere in the high teens, I heard a chatter behind me. I could tell instantly it was a pace group.  The pace leader was saying he had paced a 3:45 group last week, had run Boston the week before that, and next week he was running some other marathon.  Unreal.  As they passed I looked at their sign and it said, "4:05."  This really surprised me as I swore I got run over by the 4:05 group at mile 1 or 2 and couldn't for the life of me figure out why they were running so fast.  But here they were making their move on me. In hindsight I wish I had tried to go with them.  It was windy at that point and the pace leader was even joking to a tall guy running with him that he was sorry he couldn't completely block the wind for him. I should have tucked behind that tall guy and held on.  But they passed me not slowly but rather definitively and I could tell they were going much faster than I was moving at that point. But in hindsight I wish I had tried for at least a little while.

As we got into the 20s I knew there was the last really scary hill at mile 22.  I knew I'd probably have to walk up that one a little.  So through the low 20s I told myself to run up all the hills and then I could walk a teeny bit on 22. I thought about a podcast with Desi Linden I had heard recently where she said sometimes during races she says to just keep the pace until that lamp post or that tree and I started playing that game in my head.  For a brief time I counted my steps and told myself to run to 10. Then run to 10 again. And so on. I had two gears at this point in the race.  Run or Walk.  I didn't feel like Run had any sort speed options.

My average pace was slowly creeping up and though I was still far in the clear of a course PR, I had visions of dissolving into a walking mess and losing that shiny star.  So I kept on trudging along. I'm super proud I got over those hills in the early 20s and the 22 hill showed up. I picked a point on it I wanted to run to before walking. Then picked another point.  Then finally took a break. My calves were burning on the uphills at this point and I realized my body was not conditioned for these types of hills.

There's a nice descent after 22, another little climb, and another nice descent.  There's actually a fair bit of downhill running towards the end there.  The camber was pretty noticeable in these miles which made me feel I was almost running horizontal a few times.  But I kept the pace going and tried to capitalize on the final downhills.

I knew the last real hill was at mile 25 and as we approached it I realized it looked much worse than I had remembered.  I had told Angela it looked bad but wasn't actually that bad.  I'm here to tell you it was actually fairly bad.  I have only ever run up this hill without walking twice before.  I told myself this would be the third time.  As I started up the rise at what felt like a barely moving running pace I did tell myself that if someone passed me while they were walking I would just walk. You know, diminishing returns and all.  Up I went and it was so hard to not walk.  It felt like everyone around me was walking. If there's anything that is tough it is continuing to run when you really want to walk and everyone else is walking so you won't feel bad about it. My calves were burning, my hamstrings were burning, even my glutes were burning and getting in on the action.  If you want to fire up your posterior chain, run some hills!

I almost walked probably four times but kept chugging.  And then the last time I contemplated walking I was practically at the top and had no choice but to keep going.  Mile 25 hill mini victory!  After the actual hill, there is still a very slight incline as you approach the finish area.  I started to pick up the pace as I could hear the race announcer in the distance.

Runners approaching the finish, you can get an idea for the weather

As I passed the mile 26 mile marker I got a text notification on my Garmin from my husband.  "Did I miss you?"  Man, way to make me feel good.  Lol.  I love the Big Sur finish because you turn the corner and finally see the finish arch.  It isn't too far away but just enough of some distance that you can get your finish kick going strong.  I pushed as much as I could, heard but did not see my husband cheering, and crossed the line in 4:16, an 11 minute course PR.

At first, I won't lie, I was disappointed with the way I ran.  There's a nagging voice of doubt which wonders if you really weren't trained as you thought you were or maybe your coach has no idea what she was talking about.  My dad sent me an email a couple of hours after the race congratulating me and he asked if I was happy with the result.  Without skipping a beat I wrote back that given the fact that the course was much hillier than anything I normally run and that a time goal was a very last minute decision I was okay with the result. And as soon as I typed it, I knew it was true.  If I had told my coach I wanted to run well at Big Sur I would have done a lot more hill prep. My hilliest longer routes will have maybe 620 feet of elevation gain and Big Sur clocked 1,588 feet of elevation gain.  Maybe for some people running slower than the pace you trained at will sustain them over hills, but I am not one of those people.  Lesson learned.

If you've followed this blog at all you know that this race has my heart.  With my extreme tardiness in race reports I can happily report that I have secured a spot in Big Sur for 2019 and will be back for my 9th running.

For more course photos/info check out prior race reports:
Big Sur 2009
Big Sur 2010
Big Sur 2011
Big Sur 2012
Big Sur 2015
Big Sur 2016
Big Sur 2017

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dopey Challenge

I decided to sign up for my one and done Dopey Challenge this year.  You'll recall I've been sort of a grump about the whole Dopey thing.  I don't think it is much more of a physical achievement over Goofy and it costs about two arms and two legs more in both registration fees and time away from work/time at the parks.  However, I did want to do it once and this year seemed as good as any to make it a big bang trip.

Last year I was unusually very salty about the on-property transportation system to and from the parks from my usual home base of Pop Century.  Everything seemed so slow and so crowded and I felt my internal monologue saying, "I'm not a broke student anymore. I deserve to treat myself to something a little closer to the parks."  It ended up that last year was supposedly a slightly more crowded time of year with the proximity to the holiday crowds as well. I got a little alarmed when I realized 2018 Marathon Weekend pretty much coincided with New Year's and I didn't want to even imagine what it would be like to fight those crowds on busses and in the parks.

So I decided for 2018 to stay at the Contemporary which is the next door neighbor to my favorite park, Magic Kingdom.  You can walk from Contemporary to Magic Kingdom if you want or can catch the monorail.  By the time I got around to booking my hotel only the park view rooms were available.  $$$$$.  I balked at first, but figured, "What the heck, treat yo self." And so I did.  I justified it with the anticipated huge crowds the extra time in the parks versus sitting on a bus was worth the cost and I could easily get home quickly and into bed for the races.

I ended up flying out on New Year's Day to get to Florida on time.  You have to be there by Wednesday to pick up your bibs for the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday races.  I wanted to fly in on Tuesday so if there were any travel snafus I had a little bit of a buffer.

Determined not to check a bag, I managed to stuff into my carry-ons 4 race outfits, 4 throwaway outfit layers, two pairs of running shoes, and all the usual travel stuff.

Luggage for 4 races and a week in the parks

I had heard there were generally monster lines at the expo at opening so I planned to hit it later in the day on Wednesday.  Bib pick-up and shirt pick-up was very easy but the merchandise line was out of control. I had heard earlier in the day people waited HOURS to get into the area with official merchandise.  I'd say by the time I got there the wait was about 45 minutes and I did brave the line to check out the gear.

Line to get into into the snaking queue line which then waits to get into the building, which leads to another bit of line to get into the merchandise area.

It seemed as if there were fewer vendors in the expo area this year, but that may just be because they now also have some of the vendors in an outdoor area.

Last year with my peroneal tendinitis this booth was the MVP of the weekend. 
So glad I didn't need their services this year.

Walt Disney World 5K

It was ridiculously cold with a feels like 28 temperature. The sweatshirt I had intended to chuck at the start of the race became my lifeline. I realized as I froze at the start I did not have anything to wear post-race if I ditched my throwaway sweatshirt. So I planned to keep it the entire race.

Pre-5K weather report. It was actually going to get colder as the sun came up. Note the time, 12:48 am. I actually took this photo before I went to sleep and had to wake up at 3:00 am. Jet lag and park night problems.

I ran into the first photo stop at mile 1 after I was just starting to feel my toes and warm up a bit (Chip and Dale) and stood in the 15 minute long line.  I'd take the sweatshirt off at the last possible moment, get my photo taken, then try to get it back on as I ran onward dodging the hoards of people who bypassed me while I waited.

I stopped for five photos during this race and it took me over an hour and half to finish the 5K (I even skipped two photo stops because I realized time-wise it was getting a little ridiculous).  I didn't break a sweat and didn't even feel as though I went for a run.  It was absurd but I was excited to do it again the next day.

5K motivation; 3:45 am depart room time.

Walt Disney World 10K

I got smart this day and packed an extra jacket to check to be able to wear at the finish.  I didn't want to travel home with my 4 throwaway jackets so I planned to ditch the sweatshirt at some point during the race.  It was slightly less cold this day than the previous.  I didn't feel so bad waiting around as I wore the two jackets, a set of pants I checked every day, a blanket... you get the idea.

The previous day I realized you couldn't wait until the last minute to get into the corrals.  I was supposed to be in corral B but had to run with C the day before since I took so long to get to the starting area.  I headed over a little earlier this day to be able to queue up in corral B and hopefully get the jump on people in the photos lines.

I spent so much time standing around in Epcot during the race the day before waiting for photos, I realized they looped the same songs over and over in the park.  I was impressed and thankful when I realized they chose different songs for the 10K day than the 5K day.

It was still plenty cold and I debated not throwing out the sweatshirt but I finally did around mile 4.5. I left it by a trashcan in Epcot and I really hope it got added to the donation pile instead of the trash pile.  I owe that sweatshirt for my survival the 5K and 10K days.

Both the 5K and 10K days I ran without water which only worked because it was so cold. I figured I didn't need it for the 5K being so short and cold and by the 10K day I realized that the on-off of the sweatshirt layer would be impossibly hard with my Orange Mud backpack on.  It was a good call to run without fluids which is VERY rare for me.  I will note there was an actual water stop INSIDE Epcot during the 10K which is the only water stop I have ever encountered on-stage at a Disney theme park ever during a race. Usually they'll have them backstage I imagine so that the mess can be contained more easily.

The longer distance meant runners got spaced out a bit more (I didn't stop for a photo until mile 4). I was a bit more selective with photo stops and even with the long photo lines I finished the 5K faster than the 10K the previous day.

I had a 8:05 am breakfast reservation at Kona at the Polynesian after the race.  Months before my thought process was that the race started at 5:30, figure about an hour to run which left plenty of time to get back to the hotel, shower and get to the reservation.  And then I ran a 1.5 hour 5K.  I have to say that reservation was on my mind and I decided I would plan to head directly from the race to the Polynesian.  I finished and had about an hour until my reservation.  I gambled and stood in line to get a photo with Minnie at the finish.  Everything worked out perfectly and I arrived at the Polynesian at 8:01 am! Phew.  I have to say nothing was better than having a nice hot sit-down breakfast after the race. Not sure I'd plan it so tight again but that was quite nice.

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

This was the first day I got to take advantage of staying at a monorail resort and rode the monorail to the start area instead of catching a bus.  Frankly, I can't say it was any more convenient though I suppose you don't have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or your bus getting lost.

There were tons more people at the half marathon than the 5K or 10K.  They reconfigured the security lines into snake-like queues to accommodate the additional people. I was excited because I finally got to meet up with Leana at the start.  I consider her my first internet friend as her blog inspired me to start my own in 2008 and she was the very first person to comment on this blog. She is also a Disney runner fan and we have been at the parks at the same time in the past but never got it together.  It was nice to meet her and have some company as we waited for the race to start.

It actually didn't feel all that cold when we were waiting for the start.  I didn't even nip into some of my extra pre-race layers this day.  My hands weren't cold without gloves so I decided to check them to save them for another day.  In my distraction of talking to Leana as I checked my bag I forgot to take off the fleecy hat I was wearing over my race hat before I checked my bag.  I really wanted it for the next morning and future cold runs so didn't want to throw it away but couldn't run with it on because my whole race outfit sort of revolved around the Monsters University hat I had made.  I was able to cram it into my Orange Mud pack during the race. Phew.

Leana and I parted ways when we got into our corrals and before I knew it we were off.  I don't know know what happened, but the first few miles were bitterly cold. I deeply regretted not wearing my gloves.  My hands were freezing and stinging from the cold.  But after a few miles it seemed to warm up a little.

I was again selective about photos stops, not wanting to extrapolate out a 1.5 hour 5K over a 13.1 mile course.  I saw Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars and stopped to get in line. Normally I would have skipped them, but my son loves vehicles and I thought he would get a kick out of that photo.  F, that was all for you.

The course was slightly different this year and we took a new approach to Magic Kingdom entering through the front instead of a side entrance.  I thought that was a nice improvement.  I saw a restroom right outside Magic Kingdom and decided to hop in line.

The run up Main Street is my favorite part of the race and it didn't disappoint. When I hit Tomorrowland I saw Mike and Sully and circled back to get into line since I was dressed as Mike.  Lo and behold Leana appeared!  So I got a photo with her (she was dressed as Sully) and Mike and Sully which was fun.  She was a lady on a mission and we parted ways shortly after as I hopped into another photo line.

Within Magic Kingdom before even running through the castle I stopped for photos with Mike and Sully, Goofy, Sebastian, and the Cinderella mice.  I logged a 51:35 min/mile half-mile split the first part of Magic Kingdom!  Gah.

The Cinderella mice left to take a break while I was in line so I started chatting with the women who were by me in line. One lady shared how years ago Dopey was out on the course and she didn't stop for a photo and has regretted it ever since (especially now that he is never on the course).  She said after that if there is any inkling she stops for the photos.  I had to agree with her. I'd love to one day run Disney with a mini time-goal (perhaps sub-4) but another part of me feels it is a waste of the experience to run this race that way.

By the time I made it out of Magic Kingdom with all the photo stops and that 51:35 pace half mile, I was once again behind much slower runners.  The area after Magic Kingdom is affectionately known as "Cone Alley" where Disney lines up cones side by side along the road to keep runners on one side of the street.  It is very narrow and it was frustrating to be stuck behind people moving at a slower pace than my legs wanted to move.

Disney's fuel sponsor changed this year from Clif to the sports jelly beans.  Those suckers were frozen solid and so hard to eat.  If you're ever planning on running a planned pace I would practice with the jelly beans. I imagine it would be hard to consume them if you were running hard, especially during cold years when your hands are frozen in addition to the beans.

The 5K and the 10K they didn't have characters out giving high fives at the finish line. This was disappointing for me and I thought maybe they had stopped doing that. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, and Dopey were all in the finish area for photos ops so it sort of made sense none of them were out giving high fives.  So I was thrilled when I saw Chip standing by the finish line giving out high fives!  It is my favorite thing to get a high five from a character before crossing the finish.  I was all lined up to run by him and then a group in front of me stopped by him and turned around to get a selfie with him.  Blah!! They so they ruined my high five :(  Sadness.

The med team was telling people to hydrate as we walked through the finisher area.  They were even taking the caps off of bottles for people as we walked by.  I chugged a Powerade and ate a Clif Builder Bar I had packed to refuel right away with at the finish area. Eyes on the marathon the next day. I waited about half an hour to get a photo with Donald Duck with my medal and was freezing in the wind.

The shuttle bus back to the hotel took so incredibly long.  There was so much traffic approaching Magic Kingdom.

I was able to nap about an hour before I headed out to the parks.  I had a Fast Pass for Flights of Passage that I wasn't about to not use.  The wait time posted when I walked right onto the ride was 4 hours.  FOUR HOURS.  It was a great ride but I would not wait four hours to get on it.

Walt Disney World Marathon

Ah, the last 2:55 am wake-up call.

The previous three days I had worn two long sleeve shirts. I debated for a little bit but decided to go with a single long sleeve shirt for the full marathon.  It was supposed to be 39 at the start, warming up to the 40s/50s. Basically perfect weather.  I threw my compression sleeves and gloves into my gear check bag and decided I would make the call at the race start if I wanted to wear them or not.

The security line to check bags was pretty long on marathon morning but it moved quickly. I was meeting up with another friend this morning and found her quickly at our appointed spot. Talking with her I decided to run with the compression sleeves so wrestled them on before checking our bags.

We used the portapotties at the exit of the staging area before you head out to the corrals and there were no lines in that area. This year for the half and full they had less corrals but did mini-wave releases within the corrals.

I ran with a throwaway blanket draped around my shoulders and didn't get rid of it until right before entering Magic Kingdom.  I decided not to use the restroom before entering Magic Kingdom in order to not get pushed back farther in the line of runners at all of the photo stops. I figured I'd grab a restroom before exiting the park instead.

Waiting in line for Donald

I was a bit more selective this day for photo stops and only stopped for photos with Donald Duck, the castle and Woody in this park.  In all of the Magic Kingdom excitement I missed my first gel and realized I was feeling sort of hungry. My legs still felt good as we left Magic Kingdom.  During the half the day before I had tried to take a short walk break at every mile marker to save my legs.  During the full I didn't do this though I did walk briefly through water stations as I drank water.  I probably could have run without my hydration pack during the full since it was cold and Disney has so many water stations on course. I may consider running without it if there is ever another year the temps are in the 30s/40s.

Waiting in line for some Hercules characters

As we ran the long stretch to Animal Kingdom I had the thought that I had seen on the hotel television that morning that there were extra magic hours at Animal Kingdom that day.  So in my head I thought that the park opened at 8 am if you were a resort guest instead of 9 am.  I asked a cast member when we entered a park and he informed me that I was mistaken and that the park opened for everyone at 9 am.  My one major Disney Marathon regret is that I never rode Everest during the race.  Years ago I would pass by and the park was already open and the ride was up and running.  Nowadays with the earlier start time and the earlier placement of Animal Kingdom on the course the park is closed when I run through.  I hit Everest 40 minutes before the park opened.

I contemplated briefly about waiting around but after the last three days of finishing with runners much slower than myself I didn't want the frustration of trying to get around people for 13 more miles, especially once you factored in future photo stops. I thought about the conversation I had with the woman the day prior and realized that Everest is my Dopey.

As I left the Animal Kingdom area I passed two men who were handing out Red Vines.  I am staunchly in the Red Vine camp in the Red Vine vs. Twizzler debate. I took one and yelled, "Red Vines are better than Twizzlers!" as I ran away.  The two men cheered which made me laugh.

I ate a lot of food on course which I usually do at Disney.  Jelly beans, multiple bananas, and spectator supplied candy.  I carried 3 gels intending to eat enough on-course food to account for the 4th gel I'd usually consume. But I ate so much food I ended up using only two of my gels during the race.

As we headed towards Wide World of Sports for the first time during the race I felt ever so slightly warm. My hands were getting sweaty in my gloves which I fully intended to ditch at some point. I decided to keep them on just a bit longer in case it got cold again.  The approach to Wide World of Sports is slightly uphill which I had never realized in the past. I greatly dislike running at the Wide World of Sports. There are so many twists and turns and it comes at a low morale-point in the race as you tick off the early 20s miles.  There were a lot of character stop opportunities in this area but none of them spoke to me and I skipped them all.  Three cheers for being able to use a real restroom with no line in this area.

We finally made it to Disney Studios where I was eagerly anticipating the official chocolate/candy aid station.  This year I grabbed a package of M&Ms and malted balls.  I also dumped my gloves at about this time and nipped into another restroom.  Something about the slower pace or all the aid stations but I just always need to pee so many times at Disney!  They're doing a lot of construction at Disney Studios this year so we were barely in the park before we were headed towards Epcot.

My favorite sign I saw this race:  "Mile 23 is not the happiest place on Earth."

One of the aid stations had a sign that said, "Volunteers: The cold never bothered us anyway." That gave me a laugh. It was cold all weekend and the volunteers were so awesome to be out there for us.

My Twitter friend, Jen, was going to be out cheering at mile 24 and I kept my eyes peeled for her.  I told her later that expecting to see her was what kept me going that mile and I ran over for a quick hug when I saw her.

I entered Epcot and encountered what was the last water stop. I walked and took some sips and told myself I'd run all the way to the finish.  That idea was short lived as I encountered a photo stop at the mile 25 mile marker which was special for the 25th anniversary and Snow White who had no one waiting to take photos with her (I generally don't stop for face characters).

At the bottom of World Showcase I bumped up a gear and tapped into some dormant CIM speed.  Chip was out again giving high fives and this time I slapped paw with enthusiasm as I crossed the finish.  So fun!

There were extremely long longs for character photo ops at the finish.  I think I waited in Dopey's line for 45 minutes to 1 hour!  Luckily it wasn't horribly cold on marathon day so it was as pleasant as standing on your feet can be after a marathon.

That's the one to take a photo with Dopey; back and forth snaking properties of the line not captured

For the 25th Anniversary they gave everyone a set of Mickey Mouse ears commemorating the event. I thought that was a great touch!

My overall race comments are probably redundant from years' past:  Disney does aid stations better than any other race. They are plentiful and there are a couple that are very close together (in the sense they could probably delete one and get away with it, but they don't because they are awesome). They clearly have things set up with water at certain tables and energy drink at others and the volunteers call out what they are holding.  As mentioned, if I run this race again during a 30-40 degree year I may not even bother running with my own fluids which is a HUGE statement from me since I will take a bottle of water out on a 2 mile 50 degree run.

Disney also rules when it comes to on-course bathrooms. They have portapotties galore on the course but they bathrooms in all the theme parks are also available to use. I stopped to pee four times during the marathon and got to use a real flushing toilet every single time.  If you plan appropriately you can utilize real bathrooms instead of portapotties for sure.

After running 4 races in one weekend, I do wish they would mix up the on-course characters a little more.  For example, Vacation Genie was out on the course at every single race. I always say it seems that they have less character stops than in years far gone, but I don't know if that is just my perception or reality.

It helped I met up with friends two of the four days, but the long morning waits in the start area just didn't seem quite so long this year.  And since it was freezing that is a big statement. I was proud of myself for finally packing enough pre-race layers to combat the weather.  Gear check was created for a reason, people.

Disney now has their own photographers on course taking photos and I have to say they do a GREAT job.  This trip I actually bought the Memory Maker package where you get all the photos photographers take of you for something like 30 days.  So for me, that was all the photos around the parks and on attractions, AND four races worth of on-course photos.  So worth it not to have to haggle with my own camera on course which can't take nearly as great photographs. Highly recommend.

I stand by my opinion that Dopey isn't more physically challenging than Goofy. However I will say having to wake up early 4 days in a row is much harder than only 2 days. I planned each day to run the race, get back to the room and shower, and I took about a one hour nap before hitting the parks. I never really got into the groove of getting to sleep early. Coming from the west coast it is just too hard with the time change.

I love the Disney Marathon.  Every year Disney does something that riles up the masses and makes us shake our fists but we always go back for more.  I am always filled with joy during this race.  I feel like a kid running through the parks and love stopping to take photos with the characters.  Even through the tough patches this race keeps me smiling.  You never forget your first and this race always feels like coming home.

I wanted to make a few notes on the hotel (Contemporary) I stayed at this year in case anyone was researching that aspect.

Things I disliked: 
The food court at the Contemporary for quick service meals is quite limited in selection and there is a very long wait to get your food.  At Pop there are tons of food court stations and the food is more or less already prepared cafeteria style so you get it very quickly.  I always sat on a bench for 15-20 minutes waiting for my order at Contemporary.

I also really disliked that all of the race shuttles were shared with other resorts.  And of course Contemporary was the last stop. So leaving the expo or finish area we'd have to go to two other hotels to drop off guests before getting to my hotel. Huge pain and time suck. As a side note, the one morning I took the bus from the race to the Polynesian their bus stopped at their hotel first, so if you ware in the market for a Deluxe monorail hotel, that may be the better option from a post-race transport standpoint.

It is so expensive. I realized I could have probably taken a one month cruise for the amount of money I spent for one week's lodging here.

Things I loved: 
The toiletries at Contemporary are definitely a step above the Value resorts (though not at all a cost justifier).

I loved the room service option at Contemporary mainly because I hated their palsy quick service food court. But it was awesome to order a quesadilla post marathon and have it delivered to my room.

By far the biggest perk of staying at the Contemporary was the ability to walk to Magic Kingdom.  When staying at Pop in order to get home I would walk almost 10 minutes to the shuttle stop.  Stand waiting for 10-20 minutes.  Stand on a crowded bus another 10-15 minutes during the ride.  Then walk from the shuttle stop to my hotel room sometimes almost a quarter mile away.  Major energy and time suck when you're dealing with the races.  I set my GPS one night and it was a 0.6 mi walk from the hub by the castle to my hotel and from there just an elevator ride up to my room.  On my last day I was even able to utilize my 1:50 pm Mine Train Fast Pass and was on my 2:30 pm Magical Express bus to the airport! So that's the reason I spent a small fortune on the Contemporary this trip. I wanted to maximize my time in the parks given my desire to stay off my feet as much as possible and also knowing there would be higher crowds due to the timing of the races this year.

Another great thing about the Contemporary is when you do have to utilize the shuttles I found I was always able to get a seat on the bus whether I was leaving the Contemporary or returning from the parks.  Also, the shuttle stop seemed to often be slightly closer to the parks than the Pop stop which helped a little to minimize walking.

I didn't do this as much as I thought I would, but I did take the monorail to the Polynesian to utilize their food court.  The Polynesian had a really nice quick service counter but I only made it over once the whole trip and I never got around to go to the Grand Floridian to try their food options.

My balcony view

I can't decide if this is a pro or con given the fact I ran the races, but I had a room with a view of Magic Kingdom which was amazing. It was freezing cold the first half of the trip so I was barely out there, but the last couple of days I would sit on the balcony and take it all in.  I thought it would be fun to see the fireworks from my room.  It was great, but it also prevented me from sleeping early.  One night I tried to get in bed before 9 and was just dozing off when BOOM BOOM BOOM!  So you won't be asleep before 9:30 any night if that is priority the nights before the races.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hansons Marathon Method & CIM Post-Mortem

First, I want to say "HI!" to Rabbits' Guy. Hope you are all doing well! I'm always excited when I see a comment from you :)

I tried to do lots of blog reading about Hansons before I took the plunge so I thought I would post my  own thoughts.  If you're seriously interested in Hansons I recommend you get a copy of the book as it goes through a lot of the thought process behind the training.  Hansons is probably most known for its 16 mile long run.  I think because of this people think the plan is easy.  It is not easy.  It's been a few years since I trained seriously for a marathon but I felt as though Hansons was a lot more intense than anything I had done in the past.

The basic premise for Hansons is something they call cumulative fatigue.  You never really get to rest your legs so you teach them to run when they are tired.  They say the 16 mile long run simulates the last 16 miles of the race while other plans have you running the first 20.

The Plan

There are three major workouts a week which are called "something of substance" (SOS) runs:
1. "Speed" which is traditional interval work. This day later transitions to "Strength" which has you doing 6 miles of slightly faster than goal pace running in variable chunks.
2. "Tempo" which for Hansons is extended work at marathon goal pace.
3. "Long Run" which for Hansons is not done at your slow easy pace.  They prescribe them to be done at basically the faster side of easy.
It is a 6 day a week plan so the other days you run easy.

Beginner vs. Advanced

As I noted in my previous post I attempted to do the Advanced plan in late 2016 but got injured halfway through.  I stepped down to the beginner plan for CIM.  I think that "advanced" and "beginner" are a little misleading.  Hansons overall is not a beginner marathon training program.  They also have a "just finish" plan which I would liken more to your typical first marathon training plan. Plenty of people run very fast times off of the beginner plan. The main difference between beginner and advanced is that the mileage for the advanced plan is higher and there are more weeks of SOS runs.

The one thing I did not like about the beginner plan is that the first five weeks has very low mileage and no SOS runs.  I don't mind the lack of SOS runs, but the low mileage seems a rather poor start to a marathon training plan.  Week 2 has you running 15 miles total.  I sort of did my own thing instead of following the first 5 weeks of the plan as I was already running more base mileage. Week 6 you jump to not only speed and tempo runs but you also jump up to 6 days of running.  As I noted in my CIM race report it was a bit of a rough transition for me.  I did a few weeks of introducing some very basic speed back into my routine before week 6 came around, but it was still a bit of a shock to my system that took a few weeks to adjust into.  There was another dubious jump in the plan between weeks 8 and 9, but I survived that okay so it ended up being more mental than physical.

When I did the advanced plan the increases seemed much more incremental and sensible. If you have a good base of 40ish miles I don't think the advanced plan is as much of a shock to your system. Having done the first half of both plans it almost feels as if the beginner plan starts you off easier but then has to make much larger jumps at a time to sort of catch up to the advanced plan. By the end of the plan the SOS runs are identical between advanced and beginner plans. The easy day runs are a couple of miles shorter per day in the beginner plan (hence the overall less mileage even though the SOS days become identical as the plan goes on).

That said, if I ever did it again I would choose the advanced plan and decide if I wanted to maybe step down the easy day run lengths a click. So sort of a hybrid of advanced and beginner. I'd also consider doing an 18 or even 20 miler if I could run it at a pace that keeps it under the Hansons 3-hour as the longest run length rule.

Why it was a good fit for me

If you take a look at my race PRs, you'll see my 5K and 10K PRs do no line up with my marathon and half PRs.  My 10K PR pace is slower than my half or marathon PR pace.  I haven't spent a lot of time training for shorter distances because frankly I don't like running at that end of fast.  I think that is why Hansons ended up appealing to me.  Even the 400m repeats are done at only 10K pace (which for me feels sort of crazy fast on any day) and by the last half of the plan you are doing only marathon pace or marathon pace minus 10 sec/mile which is a very safe place for speed haters like myself. So in that regard this plan definitely catered to my strengths.

I'm the type of person who orders the same thing at a restaurant every single time. I thrive on consistency and predictability.  The workouts for Hansons are very similar week to week, just progressing a bit on the distance of the hard stuff.  I loved this about the plan. It was great for my confidence to see how I could run farther each week at a certain pace during the Speed segment.  It was easy to tell myself, "Okay, you did that pace for 8 miles last week, what is one more mile this week?" when the Tempos bumped up.

If you spend any amount of time chatting with Hansons runners they will talk about how taking the easy days EASY is so important.  I think this probably true of any training plan.  However this point was driven home to me with Hansons and very much appeals to the type of runner I am.  I love to run easy and default to the slow end of easy on any day without a specified pace.  I know some people have a hard time running slow but I am definitely not one of those people.

I'm a member of a couple of Hansons online groups and so many people post saying, "Oh my goodness, I can't run as slow as the book says I am supposed to run on easy days!"  A) I have no understanding of how this could be a problem and B) everyone always responds with, "don't worry eventually you'll slow down from the cumulative fatigue," if the true answer isn't C) maybe your goal time is too slow for you.

I can say from my own personal experience B is totally true.  Pre-Hansons when my legs were fresher my easy pace runs were 9:40s.  By the end of the plan I was running very close (over or under) to 11:00 pace on easy days which sounds alarmingly slow to even myself.  But the other three days a week I was nailing all my SOS runs so I didn't let it bother me.  I think if you have a hard time running truly slowly on easy days Hansons may be a little tough to swallow.

Did it work?

As far as my performance at CIM vs. how training went, I took the most stock in how I did during my weekly tempo run.  In the beginner plan you start with 5 miles at goal pace and over the weeks it slowly increases to 10 miles.  The tempo portion is sandwiched by a warm-up/cool-down which I usually did 1-1.5 miles.  So my 10 mile tempo run was a 13 mile run with the middle 10 miles at goal pace.  You'll recall I had a less aggressive goal when I started out (was originally hoping to run sub-9:00 for CIM).

Here's how my pace for the tempo portion of my run shook out over the course of training:
5 miles  8:58
5 miles  8:58
5 miles  8:44
8 miles  8:44
8 miles  8:44
8 miles  8:38
9 miles  8:41
9 miles  8:39
9 miles  8:38
9 miles  8:37 (I had added in a buffer week for injury/life which I didn't need so had an extra week)
10 miles 8:37.8
10 miles 8:37.8
10 miles 8:35.7

When I looked at the above info I settled on 8:44 as my goal pace (which was revised to 8:43 to help ensure a sub-3:50 finish).  I didn't start training at 8:44 so I'm not entirely sure how to assess whether or not holding that pace at CIM was a success or not.  One could argue maybe I was capable of 8:40 pace which may or may not have panned out (I'm thinking not, but who knows).  Someone once told me the pace you put down your last 10 mile tempo was pretty indicative of performance on race day in which case I utterly underperformed (I think I was wise enough to not get greedy/silly and to see that 8:36 pace wasn't going to happen). I should note I tried to be really cognizant not to race these tempo runs.  After the first 4 runs I changed my goal tempo pace from 8:58 to 8:44 and I was always trying to hit 8:44 on subsequent runs.

That's the tricky thing with marathon training. Your fitness improves over the course of training but that doesn't mean your goal needs to quicken.  I started the training cycle off at a pretty poor fitness level for myself and saw major gains which made goal pace setting a little harder.  I would be very curious to do another round of Hansons with a better feel for my current fitness and train for a time consistently the whole cycle to see how that worked. The plan is designed for you to pick a goal pace in the beginning and to stick with it the whole training cycle.

One thing I questioned during training was that the tempo run pace (which remember is goal marathon pace) never felt the way I assume marathon pace should feel.  I was working to keep the pace every single week.  I think a pace you want to hold for 26.2 miles shouldn't feel too challenging for say, 8 miles.  Other people using the training method would say that the tempo run simulates the last 10 miles and after running a marathon using Hansons I agree.  On race day goal pace did NOT feel the way it felt during the training runs.  It was a working pace but not hard the first 16 miles.  I was definitely working the last 10, but as others said you channel your 10 mile tempos and dig deep to get the race finished.  So the cumulative fatigue really does make everything seem harder and teaches you to run on tired legs.

My two faster marathons were done with a Brad Hudson plan where I ran three 20+ milers during the training cycle. It's a little bit of comparing apples to oranges as I had a much stronger base going into the Hudson training cycles and therefore obviously felt a bit stronger the whole cycle.  But I think if you truly detest 20 milers Hansons is a great answer.  The Hudson plan had an "easy 23 miles" which seemed to take forever.  Hansons is 16 miles at the faster end of easy (which for me felt like a pace I had to work for, but it wasn't hard to keep) and this made the run go by much faster both mentally and time-wise. I'm going to say my official stance on this is that it is probably in your interest to run farther than 16 if you can tolerate it physically, but it may not be entirely necessary. I should in full disclosure also state the last time I did Hudsons I got a PR and also a stress fracture so the claim Hansons has that people get injured less on their plan may have some merit.

Another aspect of Hansons is that there are no true cutback weeks.  The tempo length only increases or holds steady.  There is a slight decrease in mileage every other week by virtue of the fact that the long run is done only every other week.  However weeks without the long run the length of the easy runs increases so you don't really feel as if you're getting a huge break.  I might have run 3 miles less a week I didn't do a long run versus a week that I did.  Even the effort doesn't truly peak as the hardest strength workout occurs during a 9 mile tempo week and not a 10 mile tempo week.  The whole plan just feels sort of consistent.

My weekly mileage this training cycle.  Weekly totals in red.

Hansons also has an almost non-existent taper. You don't get a decrease in mileage/effort until 7 days before the race.  I had one day less between my last SOS workout and race day because I shifted all the run days one day to accommodate what day of the week worked better for me to do certain types of runs. I actually asked Luke Humphrey about this who said that one day wasn't a big deal.  But if I had to do it over again I would have shifted my last SOS day back to where it belonged to have an extra day to recover from hard efforts.  I only didn't do this because it would have meant doing my last 13 mile tempo run the morning of Thanksgiving which I would have had to do very early in order to get to the Turkey Trot the rest of my family participated in on time. And I decided that a few hours extra sleep and being able to fully stretch and recover post-run equaled or trumped one extra day of recovery.

While I was running CIM I had the distinct feeling the last 3 miles that my entire race was spiraling downhill.  It was really rough to keep the pace and I felt certain that the lack of 20 milers was catching up to my poor legs which must be in shock.  I just remember that average pace ticking up from 8:43 to 8:44 in the last miles and it made me feel defeated.  Obviously I met my goal and I was truly over-the-moon with my result, but while running the last 5K I had a different gut reaction to what was happening.  If you look at my actual paces though, the race looks pretty good:

I have my Garmin set to record splits every 0.5 miles:
8:58 (refill water bottle)

The splits are all over the place because of the rolling terrain but I was really surprised when I looked at the numbers.  That last full mile was my slowest, but it wasn't as much of a crash and burn deceleration as I felt I was going through at the time. I think Hansons really gave me a very solid race.

Official stats, very nearly even split race.

This plan didn't get me into the best shape of my life, but that wouldn't have been a realistic goal given where I started fitness-wise.  I do think the fact it took me from doing 2 mile easy runs every other day in June to my third fastest marathon six months later is very impressive.  I am curious what the advanced plan could do with a stronger starting base.  I wouldn't hesitate to endorse or to use Hansons again in the future.

That said, after a lot of soul searching I decided to not use Hansons for my next marathon.  My big goal for 2018 and beyond is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  I'm running Big Sur for mainly funsies in April then wanted to work on speed before starting up marathon training for CIM in December.

I wanted to bring a coach on board for many reasons and the idea of bringing a Hansons coach to the table didn't seem to make a lot of sense.  I could be totally wrong, but my perception of Hansons coaching is that they pull you a plan from a bunch of pre-fabricated plans. I am sure they adjust things as needed, but it doesn't seem to have the level of personalization of other coaching offerings (and it is pricey when you consider this, probably because Hansons Running takes a cut of the profits before the rest trickles down to the actual coach).  I was happy with Hansons but I also didn't want to pigeonhole myself into one training philosophy for an entire year.  The coach I am working with is familiar with Hansons and said she would be happy to discuss incorporating elements I enjoyed from Hansons. That was all I needed to hear to put the "Hansons coach vs. non-Hansons coach" debate in my head to rest.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

California International Marathon

Marathon #44:

After Big Sur I took 4 weeks off from running.  I wasn't going to take such an extended break but Meb tweeted about how he took 4 weeks off from Boston and I figured if Meb could rest for 4 weeks, I could (and should), too.  I needed that time to really settle the funk out of my left ankle and that bowl-dropping incident on top of my left foot appreciated the extra down time as well.

I went on a 2 mile run after those 4 weeks off and thought I was going to pass out. I was running easy and practically seeing stars at the end of the run. I lose fitness so quickly. But my ankle was behaving and I was excited to be able to get back to training and to be able to increase more sensibly this time around.

I targeted CIM at the end of the year as my next race.  My main goal was to get through a training cycle and not get injured.  I had been training really hard and was running really well last fall for Modesto when the peroneal tendinitis sidelined me and I was determined that wouldn't happen again. I decided it would be nice to target a finish time which was challenging in the sense that I had to do some speed work and really train but not so challenging that I was running at my limit in training.

When I was training for Modesto my long run pace with Hansons was 8:58.  Hansons long runs are supposed to be done at the faster end of your easy.  That pace ended up being one I had to monitor and push a little, but it wasn't excruciating.  When I was training that pace felt like one I was fairly certain I could hold over a marathon distance and not feel like it was terribly difficult.  So I decided I would target sub-9:00 as my goal pace for CIM. For reference, the Modesto cycle which had 8:58 as a long run pace my goal marathon pace work had been done at 8:16.

There was a bit of a problem with this thinking, though.  When I started training for Modesto I was in pretty good shape coming off of my Humboldt Half training cycle where I was routinely running 6 miles in the low 8:00s.  So while sliding goal pace from 8:16 to 8:58 sounded like taking it easier, coming off of a 4 week lay-off after months of sub-par running meant 8:58 did not feel as easy as it did the year before.  Duh, RoadBunner.

I also decided to step it down from the Advanced Hansons plan I had followed last year to the Beginner Hansons plan.  Mainly there is less weekly mileage in the Beginner plan but there is also a few less weeks of speed work in the early weeks.  The Beginner Hansons plan is certainly not a beginner marathon training program, however, and I knew it would be plenty challenging.

The first few weeks on the program were pretty tough.  I bumped to 6 days a week of runs and started throwing in specific pace work twice a week.  The first few weeks of training I felt like I got hit by a train. My legs were so heavy on easy days, it was really hard to hit goal paces and I was extremely tired all the time.  But after a few weeks my body got with the program and things started clicking.

I'll do a post on Hansons later so won't get into the gritty details of that in this post.

I had a solid training cycle. I hit all my goal paces for every workout. I missed one 8 mile easy run but otherwise got every single run on the plan done. There were some terrible fires north of San Francisco during this training cycle and I moved a few runs onto the treadmill.  I usually never run on the treadmill but I even did one of my 16 milers on the 'mill.  Early on I had targeted 8:55 as my goal pace and as the weeks went by I started to naturally run 8:44s for those runs.  By the end I was doing 8:38s give or take for goal pace runs.

I realized that a sub-9 goal pace for the pace was highly doable and I started to readjust my goal.  I enjoyed Hansons a lot and another goal for CIM was to assess how I liked their training plan. I was thinking of hiring a Hansons coach for 2018 if the plan worked well for me.  I waffled a bit between wanting to have a strong and more conservative result (the original goal) versus running to what I thought was my current ability. I thought about it, and if I didn't run CIM to the best of my ability how would I know Hansons worked?

So after some thinking I pegged 8:44 as my goal pace for the race.  I plugged this into my pace calculator.  The last time I ran this race my Garmin registered 26.33 miles so I put 8:44 pace for 26.33 miles and realized that it was cutting it really close to a sub 3:50, especially if I ran something longer than 26.33 (I ran that year with a pace group whose leaders were aware of turns and set us up well for running the tangents). These arbitrary time goals are such fun. Wouldn't everyone prefer running a 3:4X vs a 3:5X? So like a sucker for the $X.99 pricing I decided 8:43 pace on my Garmin with the goal of a sub 3:50 finish was the goal of the day.

Calculations I made the night before the race. 8:44 pace JUST barely gets it, shoot for 8:43 to be safe.

I had decided to make this a solo trip, telling the husband months ago I wasn't going for a PR or anything so it wasn't a big deal. At the time I didn't think I was even going to be truly racing it, just running a little harder than easy but not hard.  When I switched gears to racing it I sort of wished I had my support crew coming to Sacramento with me, but it was too late for my husband to take off work the day before the race.

I got up to Sacramento, was able to check into my hotel early, and went to the expo to get my stuff.  My hotel was a relatively short walk to the expo which was really convenient.  I bought a severely overpriced race-branded Headsweats hat I had been coveting during training.

I figured the pasta joints would all be hammered so I had the brilliant idea of ordering take-out.  I called Paesanos and ordered a spaghetti with meatballs for pick-up.  They said 10-15 minutes.  I hopped in the car and lucked into an amazingly close parking spot.  The entire sidewalk was jammed with people waiting but I bypassed that noise and was told to go to the bar.  This is going just swimmingly! I was brilliant for thinking of this option. Got to the bar and told the bartender my order, he rang me up then said, "I'll bring you your order out when it's ready."  When he said this, my heart sank and I just knew it was going downhill.  In his defense he was really swamped and didn't stop working for a second the next 30 minutes I stood there annoyed that I was standing when I should be lounging in my hotel room.

There were eventually two take out orders on the back counter and he was even pouring drinks right over them every now and then.  Some tall men had gotten in front of me at the bar so I wasn't able to get anyone's attention. I finally got another bartender's eye and told him the situation.  He went to check and lo and behold my order was right there in one of the bags that had been sitting there for at least 20 minutes. Bah!  The food ended up being good, though, and I'd eat there again.

I had a nice night watching TV and lounging in bed.  The days leading up until the race I started to get a little nervous.  It had been a long time since I ran a marathon for a time goal.  I hadn't raced a marathon since the end of 2012. It had been a long time since I made a marathon hurt.  I was excited but I was also scared.  There's a fair bit of suffering usually when you're pushing for a time goal and I was trying to mentally wrap my brain around that type of effort.  Devon Yanko posted a blog for Oiselle entitled, "Do Not Open Until Race Day - CIM." It is the perfect read before a hard-effort race.  My favorite part: "We know there will be pain. We know it will be hard. But what I want you to also remember is that there is huge capacity for joy, for bravery."

All of that rung true for what I wanted out of this race.  I wanted to push myself to run the best I could but I also wanted to celebrate that I had made it to this starting line injury free.

The night before I set my alarm for 4:30 thinking the busses left at 5:30 am.  When I woke up at 4:30 I looked at Instagram and noticed one of my IG friends had posted an IG story from the shuttle bus pick-up.  Why in the world was he there an hour early?  Then the slow realization that I had it all wrong and the busses left at 5 am, not 5:30.  Gah.  I knew it would take a long time to load all the runners so not a huge deal, but didn't have as leisurely a morning getting ready as I had planned.

Usually when you stay at a hotel within walking distance of the shuttle pick-up there are loads of runners leaving the hotel when you head out.  When I got downstairs there was not one other runner in the lobby.  I started walking to the shuttle bus stop and not one other runner was out on the streets. I started to get a little nervous. Finally two other runners emerged from the darkness and as we got closer I saw the massive line of busses and runners and knew it was okay.

A comment here on the weather. I had a hard time deciding what to wear. I used to default to a singlet when racing but I had done all my goal pace runs in long sleeve shirts and it was shaping up to be colder at CIM than SF during training. In the end I went with the singlet for speedy vibes.  I had debated about arm warmers but had decided not to wear them. It was 100% the right call. It was supposed to be in the high 40s and it felt like it was in the mid 50s when I hopped on the bus.  It was colder up in Folsom, but even then it was chilly, not cold.

I got on a bus after about a 10-15 minute wait. The bus driver was very awake and peppy and gave us a safety talk about the bus.  First the exits, then the safety glass we could kick out, then the deal about the emergency brake up front which we could pull and bus would come to a gentle stop.  Uh.... Not sure I want to be in a situation where she wasn't the one pulling the emergency brake.  It was a little disconcerting. I think the race required it because she had someone outside the bus sign off that she had given us the talk.

We drove up to the start and while it wasn't a short drive, it was a much faster drive on the freeway vs. the windy road you take to get to the Big Sur start.  There was a beautiful full moon out. When we got to the start area another volunteer got on the bus and gave us the lay of the land. Portapotties that way, bag check this way, the start over there.  It was very helpful.  She also said we were welcome to stay on the busses as long as possible.  I think this is the only race that has this awesome perk.

I ate two honey stingers pre-race while on the bus. I did a little something different with my fueling this race. Typically I'll consume 4 gels on-course (5, 10, 15, 20 miles roughly).  For this race I had one gel pre-race right before the gun fired and then again at 5, 9, 13, 17, and 21. I'm not sure if the extra fuel had any positive effect, but I don't think it had any negative effect (at least while running, my tummy was sort of grumbly the rest of the afternoon after lunch).

After a while I figured I should head out of the bus to hit the portapotties.  The lines weren't bad at all.  Then I decided since it was chilly but not COLD I'd check my throwaways so I could use them again.  I figured I could muster shivering for 10 minutes.

This race doesn't have any controlled corrals but I lined up in-between the 3:52 pacer and the 3:42 pacer.  When the race started I realized that people had been released from both sides of the road. I was completely oblivious to the fact that there had been two sides of the road open.  The start felt congested and I had a hard time getting to my goal pace. I was passed very early on by the 3:52 pace group but I let them go.

A man running by me remarked to his friend that the "biggest hill was at mile 2."  There was a right turn and an immediate uphill grade. I'd say it was probably the steepest grade hill of the course but I'm not sure I'd consider it the biggest hill as it was fairly short and so early in the race it feels like a blip.

My average pace was above goal early on and I started putting my head down to work to get it where it should be.  I tended to run in the middle of the road and was very cognizant of the reflectors so as not to twist an ankle or trip.

I could see the 3:52 pace group up ahead.  Sometimes they opened up quite a bit of distance on me.  Like at Big Sur it was frustrating because as I settled into goal pace I didn't understand why I wasn't gaining on them.  I know pace groups are human and who knows what pace they are actually holding. But it plays with your mind a bit when you see a finish time slower than your goal up ahead in the distance (and I also knew I started in front of them).

Eventually I did come up behind the 3:52 but the pace I was moving at wasn't taking me in front of them.  A few people running by me were commenting that the pace group seemed to be going too fast which made me feel a little better.  "Well, the people who lead the groups are capable of going much faster so it's hard for them to run the slower time," a woman by me said to her friends.  Then they shouldn't be leading a pace group, I thought!

 I disliked feeling so boxed in and on a downhill portion I stepped on the gas and passed the pace group. I never saw them again.  I really dislike running in tight spaces with people and once the group was behind me, I felt like the road opened up and I felt so good. I think I passed them around mile 10.

On my Garmin I had current lap pace as the largest shown field on top, and then average pace and last lap pace on the bottom. I don't bother showing distance during time-goal races because the distances never match up and it just makes me angry.  The mile markers are all I need to know where I am on course.  I don't think this has ever happened to me before, but it was wonderful:  I thought I was coming up to mile 10 and SURPRISE! it turned out to be mile 11.  Best feeling ever. And it also shows how focused I get during time-goal races on the actual in the moment effort vs. the overall race.

One thing I changed up for race day was the water bottle I used.  I wear an Orange Mud HydraQuiver single barrel on every single one of my runs unless I am stroller running. In an attempt to decrease plastic exposure I've been running with a stainless steel water bottle the last few years.  I actually really like it because it is a bit taller than most plastic bottles and has a ring on the lid that makes it easier to grab out of the Orange Mud pack.  I always lament the fact that I am packing so much extra weight between the bottle and the water on race day.  My water strategy for race efforts is always to carry my own liquids. I don't slow or stop at aid stations unless I need to refill the bottle or supplement the water I am carrying.  I'm not sure if the extra weight or slowing to drink at aid stations costs me more time over the long run.  But I train carrying water and so am used to the luxury of drinking on demand so I continue to race this way.

My usual bottle on the left, bottle I used for the race on the right.  And I did actually weigh the two before deciding if the change-up was worth the hassle. Spoiler: Stainless steel weighs a lot more than plastic.

If I'm not pushing the pace I'll often run with a smaller bottle but for race efforts I carry a big bottle to minimize the number of times I need to refill.  The stainless steel bottle is heavier than a plastic one so I decided to use a plastic one on race day to cut down on weight.  I did not do a practice run with the plastic bottle and the first time I reached back for some water had a brief moment of panic when I thought I couldn't reach the shorter bottle.  The plastic bottle was also wider and did not have a ring I could grab on the lid like my stainless steel bottle.  So I had to both reach around a little more and grasp much more firmly with my hand to get the thing out.  But after the first few grabs I had it figured out.

I want to take a moment to comment on how I felt during the race.  Hansons has you doing weekly runs of extended marathon pace effort.  It was always a challenge to hold that pace for the distance. I was working every single week during those marathon pace runs.  As I previously mentioned, the long run for Hansons is done at the faster end of easy.  This was a pace I had to concentrate on working a little, but it was very comfortable and a fun level of exertion.  On race day my goal pace felt like my long run pace had during training.  I remember when I hit mile 11 I thought about all those horribly challenging 10 mile runs of marathon pace and I marveled at how I had just completed one of those and then some and still felt so fresh.  Taper and training magic.

Best sign I saw at the race:  "At least you aren't at work"  And yes, I thought about it and the discomfort and decided that yes, at least I wasn't at work. Ha ha.

I knew about it going in because I have told people myself that CIM has constant, unrelenting rollers for the majority of the race.  But man, they still made me angry. Up and down and up and down. I found this made it sort of hard for me to judge my pace.  Should I ease-up on the ups and allow myself to speed up on the downs?  But then my lap pace for that downhill segment seemed way too fast so should I slow down there? My average pace was pretty dead-on the entire race but I am so used to honing in on current lap pace and making that "right" and it was difficult with the ups and downs.  My Garmin clocked a 666 foot elevation gain (though there is a 994 foot elevation loss) which is close to the elevation gain seen in two loops of Golden Gate Park.  I do not consider Golden Gate Park flat.

I'll note this for myself but there was an especially long gradual uphill grade which made me irrationally angry around 14-15.  My water bottle was close to empty after the half and I pulled over at a water stop to get a refill.  Luckily a volunteer with a pitcher saw me running up to the table with my water bottle sans top in my hand and she very quickly topped me off.  I so appreciate not losing time refilling my bottle. Those steps to and away from her were the only walking steps I took the whole race.

I hit 16 miles and thought about how I hadn't run farther than this in training.  I still felt decent and just kept plugging away.  Overall I'd say the pace started to feel like work at about 18 miles and got HARD at 23.  At one point I thought for sure I had missed the mile 24 mile marker. I thought maybe like at mile 10/11 I would magically hit the mile 25 marker and it would all make sense.  But no, that mile just felt like it was 1.5 miles long.

Those last three miles were pretty rough.  My average pace which I had hoped to keep at 8:43 crept up to 8:44 on my Garmin. I started to feel like my lack of 20 milers was catching up to my poor legs. My internal monologue the last three miles was pretty much, "Oh my god, where's the finish?  Oh my god, where's the finish? Oh my god, where's the mile marker?  Oh my god, this is the longest mile ever!" When my average pace crept up a second I thought about how I have big time goals in the future and how quickly those slip away in the final miles. I also thought about how in those moments you don't even care about the finish time and just want to finish.  Finally, we took the last turns to the finish and I kicked it up as much as I could down the straightaway and crossed with a time of 3:49:58.  I squeaked under my goal time by 2 seconds!

The night before the race I reread the race reports for my last three or four marathon PRs and a common theme was that I almost hurled coming down to or after the finish.  Not to disappoint, I walked over to get my medal and was not bothered by the fact I was handed it by the volunteer as I was mildy nauseated for a minute.  A major race pet peeve of mine is when people hand you your medal instead of placing it around your neck.  I think this stems from me being from Hawaii where someone would never ever not put a lei directly on your neck themselves.

We were given water, gummies, chips, a banana and a painter jacket thing to keep us warm.  Getting my checked bag back was super quick. I didn't have anyone at the finish and didn't run with my phone.  I would have loved a photo in front of the Christmas tree and capitol but I guess that will have to wait for another year.

Some general notes about the race:  CIM is touted as being a fast course and lots of people post PRs and really great times here.  It isn't a slow course, but it also isn't slam-dunk downhill ride that pony home to the finish, either.  Personally I think people do so well at CIM not because of the actual course, but because the weather is generally very good for marathoning.  I would have liked it to be maybe 5 degrees cooler, but overall it was really perfect running weather.  Even when the sun came out it wasn't hot. I recall being worried when the sun came out that it would warm up, but I was aware my uncovered hands were still slightly chilled which means it was still fairly cool.

The up and down rolling terrain actually really ticked me off during the race and immediately after I was thinking I didn't want to run this one again for time.  But after a day of thought I decided I would rather run a rolling course in 40 degree weather vs. a flat course in 60 degree weather and I'm all signed up again for 2018.  I'll just have to train on hills and mentally prepare for the ups and downs.

Elevation per my Garmin. Up and down and up and down. Yes, mainly down but look at all those ups!

When I was pregnant we went to a birthing class and the woman said, "If a friend tells you that labor is like bad menstrual cramps, she is not your friend." (I actually would describe labor as bad menstrual cramps, but I digress)  I sort of feel the same way about CIM. I have heard people describe it as "not that hilly," and I think they are doing you a huge disservice to describe it that way. If you're a trail runner, it isn't hilly.  If you're a road runner I'd describe it as rolling. Though no Big Sur in height of hills, I actually thought to myself while running CIM, "I dub thee F*&@er, Little Big Sur," (Sorry, I get a potty brain when racing) because it just went up and down and up and down as Big Sur does in a much smaller scale.  There's never really an incline you come up to and think, "Wow, that is going to suck!" but the inclines are just enough that goal paces feels rougher.  Since most people run CIM for fast times I think the rolling terrain does make a big impact and I would not describe it as mainly downhill to anyone. If you live in a place you cannot train on hills, I would actually not recommend this one as a time-goal course.

The day of and after the race I felt like an 18-wheeler had hit me. I was so incredibly beat up.  The last time I ran CIM in 2009 I recall I was extraordinarily sore then as well.  I remember I wanted to bend down to get something out of a lower kitchen cabinet and I had to actually pause and contemplate how I was going to lower myself into kneeling.  I've run faster marathons and been less sore so I think there's something about the downhills that just gets you. So don't neglect the uphill training but also don't neglect the downhill training!

In the future I think I would try to memorize the turns on the course so I could set myself up to run the tangents.  I'm debating if I would utilize a pace group here in the future. I had a great experience with a CIM pace group in 2009 but I also really disliked when I was stuck in the pace group crowd.

I thought for a race that likes to toot its horn as being a great BQ and Olympic qualifying time course it had a strange lack of on-course clocks.  There were clocks up at only mile 13 and 20.  I'd think they'd put them up at every single mile marker.  I also really dislike that they have a relay.  If you want to say you're great for marathoning, please just concentrate on the marathon.  There's something about people jumping in who are not running the pace you are doing (whether faster or slower) that just throws me off later in the race.  Also, maybe I am just spoiled by Disney but I didn't feel as if there were tons of aid stations.  They felt pretty spaced out. I run with my own fluids so this wasn't an issue, but it was something that struck me.

The swag this year was a half-zip shirt.  Apparently this was a step up for the anniversary year.  The shirt fits really well so it is a huge bummer that the zipper is super cheap and scratchy.  It doesn't have a zipper garage so it constantly scratches my neck.  I may try to see if I can file down the pointy bits otherwise I won't be wearing it much.

We also got socks I won't be wearing and some sort of stretchy headband/wannabe-Buff thing .

My showing at CIM was my third fastest marathon. When I finished I actually thought it was my second fastest marathon, but go me, I ran another sub-3:50 that I had forgotten about.  While not a PR this race honestly felt like a PR to me.  After 5 years off from serious marathon training and racing I feel so accomplished to get through a training cycle and to execute a goal time. I have big dreams for the future and I needed to crack into the sub-4 range to prove to myself they aren't just pipe dreams.