Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lake Merced Half Marathon

When I pictured stroller running when I was pregnant, it didn't look anything like it ended up being in reality.  I think when I was pregnant I imagined maybe I would go for a 4 mile run every now and then with the stroller.  I remember telling my husband that if I wanted to run 10 miles I would just schedule it to be done without the stroller.  I might have even said "Why would I choose to run 10 miles with the stroller?"

Oh, for the good old days of rookie pre-parenting.

I wasn't able to run much right away after giving birth.  It took me 8-9 months to even attempt to run a continuous mile.  But once I got back into the swing of things it was evident that if I wanted to run, I had to take my son with me.  I think when I was pregnant I thought maybe I would run before he was up.  But when you are breastfeeding you cannot just wake up and go for a run.  Forget the fact that there is a human who demands breakfast upon erratic waking schedules.  Even that notwithstanding you have to get some milk out before bouncing yourself around. So your choices are A) wait for the baby to wake up, feed him and then run or B) wake up earlier and pump.

On the days my husband was home I did Choice A.  But that didn't work for days he worked and I was home alone with the baby because my son got up for his morning feed around the time my husband had to get ready to leave.  Plenty of moms do Choice B and bless their committed hearts.  I had to pump at least once, sometimes 3 times a day and you had better believe I wasn't doing it any more than absolutely required.  Also sleep is a premium comodity and I wasn't about to wake up and spend 30 minutes doing what the baby could get done in half that time.

So the days I was home alone with my son that I wanted to run, he ended up coming along with me.  We started off at just one mile.  Then two.  Then two and a half.  We ran twice a week together.  I had set that 4 mile run as some sort of benchmark where the distance was long enough it had been worth it to go out for a run. We busted through 4 miles and kept adding on.  At the same time I got more confident with both running with the stroller on hills and more confident that my son wasn't going to pitch a fit when we were miles from home.  It took almost 5 months of running together before I was brave enough to venture up and into Golden Gate Park with him and that was so freeing to be able to run on my old running routes again.  Almost 7 months after our first 1 mile run together we ran our first 10 mile stroller run.

Stroller running gives me such a feeling of satisfaction.  Runners know how good it feels to go out in the pouring rain and get a run done.  Stroller running is the same thing.  You didn't have to, but you did it anyway and you end with such a feeling of accomplishment.

After that we continued to do a double digit run usually at least once, sometimes twice a week.  I learned very quickly that going out for a stroller run was the easiest way for me to get some me-time on his-time.  I wasn't sacrificing sleep to get my runs done.  It was a win-win situation.  I was very lucky that my son was very cooperative with the whole song and dance, too.  I learned to bring snacks and to present them strategically.  As he got older I would tell him we would stop to look at trucks and ducks.  I call us the Trucks and Ducks Running Club.  Today if I tell him we're going for a run he will sometimes say, "Trucks and ducks!"

I don't remember when, but I decided since we could run 10 miles + the 0.5 mi walk to and from our starting/end point + the time it took me to do 40 box jumps and 40 calf raises, my son could definitely last the amount of time in the stroller it would take me to run 13.1 miles.  We were so close to that distance anyhow.  And I thought years from now I would look back and just be so wowed that I got up to that distance during my stint as a stroller runner.

I settled on a small local half which was perfect for many reasons.  1) It was cheap.  $10.  This meant if something happened and we had to DNF it wasn't as if we had a lot of money invested.  2) It was very close to home.  3) It was a looped course which meant if my son was throwing a fit it would be very easy to drop out and have the car right there to head home.  4) They were stroller friendly.

The half marathon also ended up falling on my son's 2nd birthday.  I actually saw this as a negative because my parents were going to be in town. The idea of stealing my son away to push him for 2+ hours on his birthday seemed a little selfish.  Frankly, I still feel a little selfish about it.  But in the end, all those above reasons were too good to pass up and the timing worked well for my next race.  I decided to look at it as a celebration of how far I've come back to running two years after the day in my life I was probably least able to run at all.

I had originally planned to do lots of training runs around Lake Merced because I can easily run there from my home.  I took the stroller on one 8 mile run that involved one loop of Lake Merced and decided I wasn't going to do that again until race day.  Lake Merced running is decidedly much less desirable than running in Golden Gate Park.  There is not much shade, only one water fountain, and way more foot traffic to dodge which is a major negative with the stroller.  My running pace for that Lake Merced run was a bit faster than my average pace for a Golden Gate Park run so I decided Lake Merced was also less hilly and therefore training in Golden Gate Park was better preparation. Running the loop once with the stroller made me aware that there weren't any nasty elevation surprises and I was content with that small bit of race prep.

I did quite a few 10 mile stroller runs before the race and a solo 14 miler just to ensure 13.1 wasn't the farthest distance I had run in the recent past.  I even took a 35 lb kettle bell out for a 7 mile run the last week of training because my parents were already in town and I didn't want to cut into their time with my son.

For the record, the kettle bell is heavier than my son and the dense weight centered where it was made it very hard to steer.

Race day came and I was really nervous.  I had butterflies in my stomach. I have no idea why as this was probably the most low-key race with low-key expectations.  The course was three loops around Lake Merced.  The first loop was truncated by running over a bridge and the last two loops were the full 4.5 miles.  For some reason I thought we were doing the truncated loop last which I liked because it would make the last loop the shortest which I thought would be mentally helpful.  They changed things up and had us run the truncated loop first. Logistically this makes sense so they know to just direct everyone the first time out to the shortcut but I disliked the idea of having the longer loops last.

My strategy going in was to run the first loop easy, the second loop with just a little more kick, and then to put on the gas the third loop.  I usually stopped at about mile 5 to give my son a snack and I had brought along his usual cereal treat along with his water bottle.

My parents and husband had decided to drop me off and see me start but then leave and return to see us finish.  We had bought my son a kitchen set for his birthday and I had wanted it to be a surprise when we came home.  So my husband and father put it together while I ran loops around the lake.

I started way at the back of the pack so I wouldn't make anyone upset.  I was a little worried about getting on pace because the Lake Merced pathway is not very wide.  It was a little touch and go in the very beginning (and looking at the photo below I don't know how I got around so many people) but I found my space and stride within the first mile.

That's us taking off at the back of the pack.

I had made it my rough goal to come in faster than my first ever half marathon time.  I thought it would be neat to run my first stroller half faster than my first ever half marathon. My first half was 2:19 and I was pretty sure coming in faster than that wouldn't be an issue.  My average stroller running pace was usually in the area of 10:20. It wasn't a lofty goal, but it was a goal.

In the direction we were running, Lake Merced has an overall downhill grade the first half of a loop and an overall uphill grade the second half. I was a little bit concerned about how we were going to make our way down to the bridge which shortened the first loop. It definitely would involve a little bit of off-road action as there are trail sections leading from the path down to the bridge.  

We hit the turn for the bridge and I stopped to let two runners who were just behind me pass me before I navigated the packed dirt descent.  It wasn't as horrible as I had dreaded and soon we were on the paved path again.

 I was averaging a sub-10:00 pace which generally only happens on downhill splits of a stroller run.  Before I knew it we had finished a whole loop and were headed back out for the second.  Somewhere around mile 7 I looked down and saw that my son had fallen asleep.  Once he falls asleep on runs he usually stays knocked out for about 45 minutes so I knew we probably wouldn't have any problems.  As I finished up the second loop we came through one of two aid stations. I was running with my own bottle but was running low on water.  I had to stop to refill.  I really didn't want to wake up my son so I kept the stroller constantly moving while the volunteer at the aid station filled up my bottle.

I couldn't believe how quickly the miles were ticking away. The last loop I averaged about a 9:06 pace with 1.5 miles worth of sub 9:00 running. My son woke up at just before mile 12.  I heard him ask for his snack and I told him we were almost done could he pretty please wait?  He didn't protest so I kept pushing.  About a mile from the finish my family passed me in the car and honked and cheered for us.  I gave it one final effort up to the finish area and finished in 2:03.  I was really tickled with our 9:27 overall pace which is almost a minute per mile faster than most of our training stroller runs.  My son did his part for race day magic and I didn't have to stop once for him the entire time.  We often stop 2 or 3 times on a 10 mile training run for snacks and water breaks.

The distance on my Garmin read 13.06 and after I crossed the finish I really wanted to go back out for the extra 0.04 miles. I am totally on board with courses measuring long with GPS but am super skeptical about ones which measure short.  But it was obvious that my family wanted to get back home and on with the birthday festivities so I didn't bother appeasing my neurosis.

This race closed out a long chapter in my running story.  I had spent the last two years building back up to being able to run and then getting lots of base mileage done.  I had spent the last year+ doing so many easy miles with my son and the stroller.  My plan for after this half was to get back to more serious training with speed work and time goals.  I was planning to drop down to one day a week stroller running after this race and it made me sad to think that our twice a week Trucks and Ducks tradition was coming to an end. Who knows what the future brings but I was pretty sure this was the end of the chapter titled, "Stroller Running" in my story.  Stroller running is about to become a footnote instead of a main character.

My family got this all set up while we were out running.

The loot