Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Big Sur International Marathon

Marathon #43:

After Disney I went on a very short test run the week after the race and decided that my ankle definitely needed an extended break before any regular running.  I took 3 weeks off.  When I got injured in December I got very serious (finally!!) about core/strength/balance training.  I made it my goal to every day do one thing for my running that wasn't running. I can proudly say that I have been doing all those things regularly for the last 5 months.  I don't know if it is my age, my own physical quirks, or the accumulation of a myriad of injuries over the years but I think I am safely in a place where just running won't work for me anymore.

I got back to running after my break and my ankle was a lot better.  I eased into it with run/walks and every other day runs.  My ankle would occasionally talk to me but it generally didn't hurt during or immediately after runs.  With Big Sur looming I was unfortunately forced to increase distance faster than I would have liked.  I worked up to a 9 mile long run and then switched to a run-walk strategy for all of my long runs through race day.  There was no way I was going to be trained to run 26.2 by April and with Big Sur being such a difficult course I knew walking was inevitable.  So I decided to go into it with a set strategy of run-walking and to practice that on my long runs.

My mileage was pretty low. I didn't hit even 20 miles a week in February and in March/April capped off with weekly mileage in the low 30s.  Hardly marathon shape.  I got two 16 mile runs done utilizing a run 6 minute, walk 2 minute strategy.  The weeks before race day my ankle was definitely getting cranky and I had to really baby it and cross my fingers.  I did try to run as many hills as possible to get prepared for Big Sur.  While I'll normally add mileage onto runs at my favorite (flat) Stow Lake I instead would run repeats up and down MLK in Golden Gate Park to get more hills whenever I could.

Three days before the race I dropped a glass bowl onto my left foot from freezer height.  In my alarm to get my toddler away from the shards of glass I ended up slicing my foot up a little. The cuts bled a lot but were thankfully pretty shallow.  I was a little concerned about them opening up during the race.  I had a bruise on the top of my foot but I didn't think it would bother me during the race.  Famous last words.

My whole family headed down to Monterey the day before the race. I have been lucky enough to secure a spot every year since my son was born and it is starting to feel a little bit like a family tradition.  I have such vivid snapshots of my son on each Big Sur day and it a benchmark for me to marvel at how much he grows every year.

The expo this year felt more disorganized than in years past.  They were squished into a smaller ballroom since the normal location is still under renovation and this might have been one factor in my feeling.  After the major success of KT Tape at Disney I was hoping there would be a KT Tape booth at Big Sur.  The race was unresponsive to my queries of whether or not KT Tape was a vendor but like an oasis in a desert they magically appeared as the very last vendor I encountered at the expo.  Unlike Disney where you had to fork over $5 for a taping they were doing it for free at Big Sur!

There was also physical therapist at a booth talking to people and I stopped to chat to him for a bit.  I would love to find a run-focused PT to get ideas from to help me stay injury free.  He videoed me doing some single leg squats and I realized that while improved, I have a way to go to improve my stability.  I had brought my CD from a previous year for Michael Martinez, the pianist, to sign but I forgot it in the glove box of the car.  So that will have to wait for another year.  My one major disappointment:  Haribo was a sponsor this year.  From social media I know they gave GIANT bags of gummy bears to people who stayed at the host hotel with a cute little note.  We weren't at the host hotel but I was hoping to get a photo with the Haribo bear.  But he was no where to be seen :(

For the first time I stayed at the Embassy Suites.  I've stayed at a neighboring hotel before and utilized their race morning shuttle bus.  With my son being older I thought it would be nice to have a suite so that I would be able to get ready in a separate room and not wake him.  This worked out great and having extra room for him to run around in was much appreciated.  We could also put him down for his naps and still be able to hang out in the other room without having to be too quiet.  I can't wait for him to be old enough where staying in hotels won't be a logistical headache but this year things couldn't have gone better with the suite.

You cannot spectate at Big Sur because the road is closed to most traffic.  So generally the only way for family to see you is at the finish.  With a toddler in hand I wanted to give my husband the most accurate finish predication time possible.  Last year I was a little optimistic with my finishing time and he was worried about getting parking and he ended up waiting a long time since he got there early.  I didn't want him to have to wait this year.  He said to give him the best case scenario time.  I figured that time was probably my 16 miler run-walk pace extrapolated out to 26.2 miles.  This turned out to be 4:42.  Given this was based off of a 16 mile distance that wasn't nearly as hilly as the race I figured this was a highly unlikely finish time.  But I gave that to my husband and told him best case 4:42 but most likely 10-15 minutes after that.  I looked up my time from last year figuring I had been in better shape last year and that was a 4:48.

The calculations and note I left for my husband so he could time getting to the finish line.

I made two very last minute decisions on race morning:  1) Should I wear the ankle compression sleeve I had been training in over the KT Tape (the Big Sur tape job was not nearly as supportive feeling as the Disney tape job and I was doubting it would help the same)? and 2) Should I wear a new pair of shorts (new brand in fact) I had never worn for a single mile?  I decided to wear the ankle sleeve, figuring it was easy enough to take off and stash in my Orange Mud pack if things went amiss.  The shorts if they failed would pose a bigger challenge but I decided to BodyGlide copiously and cross my fingers.

I snuck quietly out of the suite without waking the toddler and headed down to the shuttle bus pick up right in front of my hotel's doors.  It was chilly outside but definitely not cold.  I got onto the bus fairly quickly and a gentleman asked if the seat next to me was taken.  I said it wasn't and he sat down next to me.  Strangely, he had other friends sitting across the aisle and within a couple of minutes he went to sit next to his friend who had an open seat next to him. I have no idea why he didn't just sit with his friend to begin with.  But bless him for his indecision because the net result was I had the ENTIRE ROW TO MYSELF.  This is pretty much me winning the lottery a second time at Big Sur.  In my older age I suffer more and more from motion sickness and the long windy bus ride the start often makes me nauseous.  The best way to remedy this is for me to lie down which is impossible if you have someone sitting next to you.

Hard to tell, but that's the EMPTY seat next to me with my drop bog sitting on top of it.  Big Sur GOLD.

The bus was pretty quiet overall.  There's a point you pass the finish line and you think to yourself, "Right, I'll be running back the entire distance from here on out."  Big Sur is the only race I have done which shuttles you to the start along the entire actual race route.  I contemplated the absurdity of paying someone to drive you out 26.2 miles, drop you off, and make you run back.

We were on a fancy tour bus and after a while busses making the return trip started passing us.  There were tons of yellow school busses so we got lucky with our plush seats.  Once we passed the Bixby bridge at mile 13 I lay down on the seats and closed my eyes.  I didn't sleep but I also didn't get sick so overall a win for the shuttle bus this year.

The bus usually passes the start line, drives a bit farther down the road and then turns around to drop you off at the start on its return trip.  A bridge south of the start was demolished this year so instead of doing that the busses dropped us off 0.5 miles north of the start line and we had to walk the rest of the way. The one thing I'll say about this experience is that you don't realize how downhill the start is until you have to walk up the hill to get there. It was chilly enough that I wrapped my throwaway space sheet around my legs as I walked, but it definitely wasn't toe/finger numbing cold.

The start staging area

The race has coffee and bagels at the start (one year they even had instant hot chocolate!).  I sort of find this strange because I don't think I would be willing to put all of my eggs in that basket and say that I would plan to rely on a bagel at the start.  But it is nice perk.  I was actually tummy rumbly hungry on the bus so thought about trying to get my hands on a bagel to supplement my usual pre-race Clif Bar. But when I arrived at the start I decided to jump into a portapotty line instead of what appeared to be the line for refreshments.

Packed with people

The lines weren't so terrible especially if you walked all the way to the back.  Afterwards I found a curb to sit on.  It seemed easier than usual to find a place to sit, maybe because it was a warmer year and people weren't hunkered down as much.  As usual I waited for most of the runners to head up to the start line and then jumped into a portapotty for one last line-free visit.

With my loitering, it seemed this year I was the last person to leave the staging area. I dumped all of my throwaways into my gear check bag and chucked that into the truck.  The one awesome thing about Big Sur if the gear check truck is right by the start line entrance so if it isn't terribly cold it is easy to check and reuse on a later date anything you brought.  I wasn't even chilly after I took off my jacket.

Cue tumbleweeds

I waited for the 4:45 pace group to go by during wave 2 and jumped into the race. I self seeded myself honestly based on my predicted finish time but I probably should have left a little sooner.  I forgot to take into account the fact that my pace was based on a run-walk strategy. This means my running pace was faster than those around me and I found it incredibly frustrating to hit my stride.  There was so much side to side movement as I tried to get around people the first few miles.

Watching the early wave depart.

Even more frustrating was that I found myself leap-frogging with the 5 hour pace group for a few miles.  This totally confused me because they weren't supposed to leave until 5 minutes after the 4:45 group (Big Sur has three waves and the 5:00 group starts off wave 3) and I was moving faster than a 5:00 pace.  They were a pretty big group and the leader was doing annoying army chants and I just couldn't deal.  They were walking 30 seconds every mile and with my more frequent walking I just couldn't shake them.  Again, this confused me because I was not moving overall at a 5:00 pace.  I skipped the first aid station and then I skipped the walk break after that station to be sure I left them behind for good.

A person in a group of runners by me yelled, "Why do we run hills?" And the rest of the group yelled back, "So we can run Big Sur!"  Must have been their training mantra.

It seemed so much more congested in the early miles, but this may just be my imagination.  I remember thinking this last year, too.  It took about 5 miles to open up and for me to relax into my groove.  In the early miles all of my walk breaks seemed to occur right as I crested a hill which was mildly annoying.  I took my first gel at mile 5.

At mile 8 we were hit with an awesome headwind. It wasn't nearly as terrible as last year but it was definitely a headwind and definitely made it hard work.  I shook my fist at the announcers who earlier at the start had said it was going to be a perfect day with no wind. Liars!  The wind as an obstacle ceased at around mile 12 so the announcers were back in my corner again.

I passed a runner who was running with a group of friends.  This guy was carrying a DSLR camera.  A DSLR camera at a marathon.  I hoped his friends were grateful about all the awesome photos they were getting.  I also wondered how he got stuck with the short stick to be carrying that thing around his neck.

The second guy from left, that's a DSLR camera looped around him that he is cradling in his left arm.  The entire group of runners in red would stop for photos that he seemed to be happily taking.

At mile 9 the descent to the base of Hurricane Point started.  I LOVE miles 9-14 so much. I live for these miles.  The hill going up to mile 9 is one of the first real hills and can feel a little rough, but right as you crest it the views open up and the anticipation of Hurricane Point and Bixby just fires me up. These miles just fly by and I consider them free miles because I blink and they are over.  I decided to skip the walk breaks running down to the base of Hurricane Point.

Hurricane Point winds up that hill ahead

This year it struck me that the taiko drummers seemed to all be women!  I am not sure if this is always the case or who showed up today but that was neat.

We started the ascent to Hurricane Point which is a solid 2 mile uphill climb.  My impressions from being out of marathon shape the year:  The first third was rough, the second third highly runnable, the last third was rough.  But I kept with my run-walk plan and only walked at scheduled times.  I took myself second gel at the closest walk break after mile 10.

Up, up, up!

At Big Sur, sometimes it is a good idea to look back at where you came from.

Still heading up

I had planned to stop and get a picture with the Hurricane Point sign this year but there was an ambulance parked right behind it and I didn't think that was going to be the most stop-worthy photo.  There is usually a short line to take pictures by the sign and this year there as nobody stopping so I guess the ambulance is a good photo deterrent.

The top of Hurricane Point is at mile 12 and after that you have an awesome downhill mile to Bixby.  I again skipped the walk breaks on the descent.  I had started the race with 3 gels and had planned to pick up the fourth at one of the aid stations.  The aid station around mile 12 was the first to hand out gels.  I knew the available flavors beforehand and was searching for the caramel gel.  But it was never offered and by the time I realized that flavor wasn't at this station I wasn't about to turn around and double back to pick up another flavor.  So I mentally made a note that at the mile 18 gel station I had to be sure to grab something.

Running down towards Bixby

Hello, Lover.

The first piano song which was playing as I started crossing the bridge was Con Te Partiro which is a song I love and I was satisfied and happy it was my song this year.  But as I approached the halfway point of the bridge my life as a Big Sur runner was made whole as Michael Martinez started playing "What a Wonderful World."  Years ago, probably after my first running of the race or even shortly before I saw a video of a man crossing Bixby during the race while "What a Wonderful World" was playing.  It moved me to tears and I decided I couldn't die a happy runner until I experienced that, too.  Last year at the expo I even asked Michael to throw it into the rotation a few times.

I got choked up at the beauty of the moment.  I had planned a very quick in and out departure from the piano this year but I stopped to film Michael playing and couldn't leave until the song was over.  As I headed away he started playing "Hallelujah" which was my piano song from another year and one I also enjoy.  Three awesome songs, including the one song to rule them all :)  Day, year, life MADE.

You can see in the video the full on people pollution at this point in the race. My first running I got a photo with Michael, the piano, and that beautiful backdrop with no other runner in sight. I doubt that is possible ever again unless you are very fast or very slow.

I always ride the Bixby high for another mile after the bridge which is conveniently downhill.  And then the real work starts.  The highlights of the race are over after these miles and the hills and pain starts to set in.

I knew I had lost a lot of time stopping for videos/photos at the bridge so I cut back a lot of photos the rest of the race.  I tried to take them on the go or when I was walking.

I had planned to take my next gel at mile 15 but they were handing out bananas at that aid station so I decided I would hold off on the gel until mile 16.  I was drinking lots of water and even supplementing with Gatorade at the aid stations. In my former runner life I used to run with Gatorade so I knew it would work for me.

It was a pretty warm day and the sun was out in full force. That headwind which had been pesky for a few miles earlier in the race became the MVP of the day as it kept me cool enough that I never melted into a puddle of despair. Without the wind which was more of a strong breeze at the end, it would have been a pretty miserable hot day.

In the latter half of the race the walk breaks seemed to synch better with the hills where the downhill portions seemed to occur when I was running and the walking portions hit uphill grades.  At mile 17 as I was running uphill, I got a very sudden, very localized stabbing pain in my left foot right where the glass bowl had hit a few days earlier.  My first thought was that I had damaged the bone with the bowl impact and 17 miles of running had fractured something.  It honestly hurt that bad.  For a half a mile it was a little touch and go where it would stab for a few steps here or there and then subside.  Eventually the stabbing pain stopped and my foot just ached dully like a bruise in that area especially the last 5 miles of the race.

They had my preferred gel flavor at a mile 18 aid station and I made sure to grab it for my planned gel at mile 20.  But before mile 20 came I had another banana at another stop and Gatorade and then I knew strawberries would be at mile 23 so I ended up not having that fourth gel during the race.

As a parent, I totally sympathize.

Hard to tell, but the last significant hill of the course.  And it is a doozy.

The last really big hill is at mile 22 and I was delighted to get to the top of that one.  There is a very long downhill after the mile 22 hill and I skipped walk breaks coming down the other side.  The whole race I stuck with my 6:2 run:walk ratio.  I did skip some walking breaks but if I did that I just ran 14 minutes, then picked up the next walk break.  I never walked if I was supposed to be running.

Signs of civilization

The famous strawberry stop


When I got to mile 24 I considered trying to run all the way to the finish.  I got to mile 25 and the last hill on the course appeared.  It isn't a terribly big or long hill by San Francisco standards but it looks intimidating as you approach it and the placement in the race is pretty insulting.  As I approached the hill one of the race directors was standing there cheering.  He said "That's it!  I'm out of hills!" which gave me a chuckle.  I decided before starting the hill that I wasn't going to run all the way up it. I took my last walking break on part of the hill.  This is my 7th time running Big Sur and I have only managed to run up this hill without walking twice.

I switched my watch over to time and saw 4:3X.  I realized that I was way under 5 hours and was going to finish pretty close to my best case scenario 4:42!  As I approached the finish I started scanning the crowd to try to find my husband and son.  I heard him yell to me right before the finish and I blew them a kiss before crossing the finish line.

Turned around and shot this after I crossed the finish.  That's a guy proposing.

The medal greeters.

They have liquid aid stations set up right after the finish and I chugged 2 cups of Gatorade and 1 cup of water right away. I was pretty thirsty. I regretted walking on the mile 25 hill a bit, but my husband said he had arrived at his spot only minutes before I came through so I figured if I hadn't walked I might have missed them at the finish line.

I finished in 4:44 and given the video and photos stops along the course, I figure that translates into roughly my best case finish time of 4:42.  I was actually pretty shocked I came so close to that time.  I didn't think I'd keep my 16 miler pace up for the full 26.2, especially given the hills.  At mile 21/22 I was certainly ready to be done.  I barely maxed out at 30ish miles a week in my training and wasn't marathon trained.  But with the run/walk strategy I just kept ticking and my running pace held up pretty well the whole way.  This was my third fastest Big Sur which isn't necessarily saying a lot but for the amount of preparation I put into it, I'm pleased with that.

I surveyed the damage to my foot after the race.  There had been a bruise there the day after I dropped the bowl on my foot, but race morning as I put on my compression sleeve and Body Glided the toes I don't recall even noticing a bruise.  But after the race I had a very nice bruise on the top of my foot and some swelling in the area.  I was a little concerned that I had damaged the bone but I did end up seeing a podiatrist who assured me it wasn't broken.  Phew.  But I still find it odd that I had that stabbing pain so suddenly in the race.

I didn't really practice before the race but I also certainly made strides with my GoPro which I used to get videos and photos.  After the photo failure of Disney I almost returned it, but it fits so easily into my Orange Mud pocket that is accessible I decided to give it another go and will keep it for future races.

I prefer my marathons overcast and cool but I have to say Big Sur really shines in the bright sun.  We really lucked out that the winds, while pesky for a few miles, ended up being just the right strength to keep us cool without slowing us down.

I wore my glovers this race (basically arm warmers that only go halfway up your arms) so that I would have someplace to wipe snot off my face and for some UV protection for my hands.  They worked great for this and I'll do it again.  When Big Sur gets windy you need something for the inevitable snot issue.

The next time I run I want to try to go behind the piano to get a photo with Bixby.  I saw someone's photo of this after the race and I don't think I've ever tried that location because I'm so dazzled by the piano.

Once again with my tardiness of getting this report posted, I already know that I've been accepted in the lottery for the 2018 running.  This race has my heart and I'll attempt to run it every year they take me.  You are squandering your running life if you don't do it at least once.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Disney World Marathon

Marathon #42:

I wasn't originally planning on running Disney this year since I just ran it last year and had hopes to do it in 2018 for the 25th anniversary.  But then they revealed the medal and I couldn't say no.  I've probably mentioned this strange phenomena before and I still don't understand it:  I don't display my medals.  I have three or so out and the rest come home and go straight into a box.  So you would think the bling wasn't a big motivator for me. But for some reason really awesome medals are still a hook for me to sign up for a race.  So in September I signed up to run Disney.  I debated for a short time about whether or not to do the Goofy Challenge.  I've always thought if I'm flying across the country I should do two races.  But I had my sights set on a fast marathon in March so I decided to just do the stand alone marathon to minimize the race's impact on my training.  In the end, this turned out to be a serendipitous decision because A) I got injured in December and B) the half marathon got canceled due to bad weather.

After Humboldt I took some time off and eased back into marathon training.  The slow increase paid off and I got a zip back into my step which solidified my thoughts that I was overtrained for Humboldt.  I decided to try the Hanson Marathon Method for the first time.  I was going to follow the plan, do Disney easy, then reboot for the remaining weeks until Modesto.

I got through 8 weeks of my training plan and things were going well.  Then three weeks before Disney a tiny ache that I had felt for maybe the previous 4 weeks for just a few steps of every other run became an injury.  I've self diagnosed peroneal tendinitis of my left ankle.  It hurt just below the left outer ankle bone.  My left ankle is the one I have chronically sprained in the past over and over and I'm sure my ankle instability is a big cause of the issue. I ran on it three times more than I should have and knew it blew up into an issue that was a game-over for Modesto in March.

I did a week of no running (I did pool run a couple of times), did another two test runs which told me it wasn't going away any time soon, then didn't run again until the race.  Oh, Disney.  One year I will show up not undertrained/injured or right after a hard PR effort elsewhere.  But this was obviously not going to be that year.

So I did an extreme taper of 6 miles total of running the last 2.5 weeks before the race.

Just walking around the airport, my resort, and the expo the day I arrived in Orlando made my ankle ache.  I knew KT Tape would be at the expo and though I have never done it myself, I knew they would tape you up at their booth. I stood in a Disneyesque queue for over 45 minutes and handed over $5 for a PT to tape my ankle.  It was the best $5 I have spent for injury issues the last decade.  She gave me a 5 minute PT consult while she taped and told me to do some exercises.  I was skeptical the tape would last until the race (it was Friday afternoon for a Sunday race) but she said to blow dry the tape after showering and to sleep with sock on and it should be okay.

MVP of the weekend

The tape job was tight in a few places and I worried it would cause problems. I had to loosen up a few small areas but it stretched out just slightly and didn't give me any issues.  Spoiler alert:  I ran 26.2 miles and walked the parks the next 4 days and I didn't feel a thing in my ankle the entire time.  In fact, the tape job lasted a week and I then peeled it off on my own to figure out the actual state of the injury when I got home (it was a bit stretched by then and not alleviating 100% pain by then).

I picked up a few goodies at the expo, too.  New Balance now makes some Disney themed apparel and they had one shirt left in my size I grabbed.  I also splurged and got a race jacket.  Overall I am never a fan of the official race merchandise.  Champion is not the greatest fit or quality for me and the graphics always seem sort of subpar considering the available man power at Disney's disposable to come up with something snazzy.

It has been a long time since official race merchandise tempted me. I also got a short sleeve RunDisney shirt since I've always wanted one and the one available looked like it would fit.

After the expo I hit the parks and didn't have to worry about getting back to my room early to get to sleep before the half marathon on Saturday.  This was so freeing!  Usually I take the red eye  Thursday night to Orlando and am knackered on Friday but don't want to waste the park day so always hit at least one after the expo.  Then I wake up at 2:30 am for the race Saturday (which with the time change is really waking up at 11:30 pm). But this time I figured even though I was so sleepy I was going to get to sleep in Saturday so I didn't worry about when I got back to the room Friday night.

As I mentioned, Saturday's race got canceled due to lightning.  I woke up on Saturday morning and heard cowbells and cheering. I stepped out of my room and saw hordes of runners doing their own 13.1 around the lake by my resort.  I got ready to leave then went downstairs to cheer the people running for a little bit before heading out to the parks.  It was so inspiring to see the runners getting it done despite what must have been a major disappointment for the official race being canceled.  And everyone out cheering and handing out water was also heart warming.

I normally do a half park day on Saturday then catch a movie at Disney Springs to stay off my feet before the full.  But this year I decided not to do the movie and instead stayed at the parks.  I am a pretty fast walker naturally and while at Disney I really kick it up a notch to cover as much distance as possible quickly. But I made a concerted effort the whole weekend to walk leisurely to save my legs and especially my ankle.

The one downside I ran into not doing Goofy was that because I had gotten to sleep in Saturday, I was not overly tired that day but I had still not gotten adapted to the time change.  This meant that Saturday night when I tried to go to bed early so I could make the 2:30 am wake-up for the marathon (which again, is 11:30 pm in my habitual time zone -- so I was trying to be awake only about an hour after when I would often go to sleep), I was wide awake.  For the first time ever I did not sleep at all before a marathon. Ugh.

This year the marathon day was cold and windy.  They were projecting feels like temps in the low 30s which actually then dipped to the high 20s as the morning progressed.  I did not pack for this weather.  I saw the week before it was going to be chilly and I threw arm warmers into my bag.  I don't know what I was thinking.  If it dips into the 40s I'll sometimes wear capris and a thick long sleeve top when running at home.  But I packed shorts and a short sleeve top for my race outfit.  I didn't consider that I wasn't going to be pushing the pace at all in this race (read: Walking a good deal of it) and I'd need to dress warmer than I normally would when going out for run.

Welcome to 2:31 AM marathon morning.  Yes, you didn't sleep a second and yes, it is freezing outside.

I scrambled the night before and ended up wearing the new RunDisney short sleeve top I had bought at the expo underneath my planned top.  I also decided to wear my compression sleeves I normally wear post-race during the race to keep my legs warm.  My throwaway gloves became my running gloves for the entire race.

I was meeting a friend at the start area and when I got there I looked for a good place to hunker down.  There were barrels anchoring a bag drop tent and I sat right next to one so it would block some of the biting wind.  The actual air temperature wasn't too terrible but the wind made it horrible.  This wasn't as cold as the 2010 race, but it wasn't very pleasant.  I had brought a throwaway sweatshirt and a mylar blanket which I wrapped around my legs.

We sat there as long as possible trying to keep warm before starting on the long walk to the corrals.  We jumped into a portapotty line by the start staging area exit which was a really smart move --  no lines!  This year they changed the corral set-up.  Last year they seemed to be in one long line, but this year they had two parallel lines of corrals set up.  So while last year I had a seat on the road outside my corral entrance, this year there was just a space of a strip of grass outside the entrance since another corral holding area was set up on the road.  So no more chance of just sitting on the ground outside the corral then jumping in before the start at the last minute.

The wind was blowing solidly in a headwind direction. The smoke from the fireworks at the starting line blew towards us.  Disney is a fairly meandering course so that didn't concern me too much.  I decided I would keep my sweatshirt on until I warmed up.  I considered running with the mylar blanket for a little while but the announcer said that a mylar blanket could interfere with the chip timing.  No idea if this is true or if they just didn't want mylar blankets fluttering down the road when they were subsequently dumped.  But I listened and tossed my mylar right before the start line.

As I bopped down the road when the race started I felt SO good.  My legs felt so fresh which was sort of a strange feeling for me at Disney.  I then realized I hadn't done a half marathon the day before which was the usual case and hadn't run much at all the last 2.5 weeks. I knew it was going to be a short-lived feeling, but it felt great.

I kept my sweatshirt on until about mile 4.  I wasn't exactly warm in it, but I didn't feel like it was a necessity and I wanted to ditch it so I could reach my camera and water bottle which was strapped to my back.

I wasn't feeling so motivated to stop for photos this year.  I was very picky with my character stops.  I've done this race so many times and I tried to mentally remember if I had gotten a photo with a character in the past.  I ran without stopping until I reached the castle where I tried (in vain) to get a photo with the castle in the dark.  I ran with a GoPro for the first time (not strapped on, but taken out and held like a camera) and of course I hadn't practiced at all with it before the race.  Major photo fails.  The setting I had it on was pretty terrible even for photos when I gave the camera to someone else to hold.  Disney made a change where the photographers on the course are Disney photographers and not your typical race photographers.  Because of this, if you buy the photo pass you get all of your photos.  I may opt to do this for my next trip.  For one fee I can get all my race photos and all of my park photos. Not a bad deal if you are doing multiple races.  The photos the Disney photographers took were pretty great, too.

I was pretty thirsty this race.  I'm not sure if it was because those first 4 miles I hardly drank any water.  My sweatshirt was blocking my access to my small bottle in my Orange Mud pack.  Also, with my gloves, I didn't really trust myself to reach behind my back and not drop my bottle.  So I relied on the water stops.  They are pretty plentiful on the course so that wasn't a problem.  But considering the cool temperature I was drinking quite a bit of water and subsequently had to stop to use the bathroom multiple times during the race.  No idea why that happened but if you have to pee during a race Disney is the best for portapotties and real bathrooms easily accessible on the course.

Standing in line for a Donald photo

As we left the Magic Kingdom and hit mile 8ish my body suddenly realized that we had only run a total of 6 miles in the last 2.5 weeks and started to shut it down.  The first thing to start hurting were my arms.  Yes, my arms.  Both my biceps got sore from holding my arms at a 90 degree angle.  Then my left quad started hurting (sort of ached as if I had run a marathon the day before) and all these things didn't stop talking to me until the race was over.  But happily my bum ankle was 100% pain free.  My ever nagging pelvis started buzzing for about half a mile at mile 18 but that went away and didn't return.

Timon photo line

As I said I was picky about stopping for characters.  At Wide World of Sports I stopped for Sport Goofy.  While I was in line, he left to take a break!  The characters often take breaks or switch out with another character. I suppose the poor person inside needs to breathe some fresh air or scratch their nose.  But at a race it is so annoying when this happens.  I had only been in line for about a minute, and I debated if it was worth sticking around for Goofy to come back out.  I aborted the mission and started running again.  The next character I stopped for was Joy and Sadness from "Inside Out."  I'm not a huge Joy and Sadness fan, but I was loosely dressed as Bing Bong so of course had to stop.  And when I was second to the front of the line they took a break, too!  Agh!  I stuck around for this one though and lost a few minutes.

I've run this race 7 times and the course has changed a bit over the years.  I know I've spoken about my dislike of the changes in the past.  But I just want to say that I really, really, really dislike the miles in the Wide World of Sports.  It doesn't help they come in the high teens/low twenties miles when you want to just want to be done but still have a ways to go.

Wide World of Sports is where happiness goes to die.  Put that slogan on a shirt and become a millionaire.

There was a lot of construction in the form of dug up land along the stretch by Wide World of Sports.  I thought they did a cute job of putting character paleontologists with dinosaur bones out to turn the unsightly into a stage.  They had cleared out all the large trucks for the race. When we passed it prerace I was wondering if they were going to leave the heavy machinery out.

The green army men from Toy Story were there as usual to whip us into running shape up the last major incline of the course. The army man will yell things like, "Why are you walking?  Drop down and give me 10 pushups!" which always sort of scares me because I can barely do 10 pushups when I'm not at mile 22++ of a marathon. I did see a few runners who were better good sports than me doing pushups on the side of the road.  I ran far enough up the hill to not be a pushup victim then snuck in a little walk break.

I always look forward to the chocolate stop in Disney Studios.  They normally hand out little snack-size Crunch bars or Dove chocolate.  This year they handed out Snickers bars and FULL size M&M packets.  A) I was stunned, B) Who can eat all this while running? C) OMG. This is awesome.  Since I had my Orange Mud pack on I grabbed a pack of M&Ms and shoved them in a pocket to eat later and ate the Snickers while I ran. On a side note, I think they ran out of the candy.  I was in an attraction line later that weekend and a man was telling a woman that he heard they had passed out full size candy at the race.  She replied that she hadn't seen it on the course. So that is a bummer for back of the packers.

Slow but steady was the name of the game for this race.  After running Disney in very cold conditions and very hot conditions a few times each, it is my official stance that even when you are slow as snails cold trumps hot every single time.  In the future, I'll be sure to dress for the weather a little better.

As I crossed the finish I got a high-five from Mickey which is always a special treat.

When I headed through the snack tent I was given a banana with my snack box.  I passed by another volunteer who asked if I wanted another banana.  "No thanks," I said.  "Here, just take them." And he piled three more bananas onto my box.  As I walked out with my box and four bananas I was a little confused but then I realized with the cancelled half they probably had thousands of ripe bananas they needed to get rid of on marathon day.

I hung around the finish area to get a few photos, but was happy to get on the bus and head back to the hotel since it was a cold day. Overall, I was glad to have survived the race without freezing solid and with no injury pain.  There are areas I feel Disney has slid a little over the years but they still put on a very solid race experience.

The race shirts are starting to look the same year after year.  They tore down the Sorcerer's hat at Disney Studios so it was interesting to see they picked the Tower of Terror as the new symbol for that park. 

The medal that inspired the whole thing. 100% worth it. Hands down my favorite Disney medal of all time. I can't even imagine anything else I'd like to see from them. I've alway been a fan of the mouse ear shaped ones and I love the simplicity of the design.

And I did display this one next to my first 2005 Disney Marathon medal.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Humboldt Half Marathon

After the Lake Merced Half Marathon, I got back into serious training again for the first time post-stress fracture-pregnancy-postpartum recovery-we have a kid now!? changes.  I used to have a lot of time to schedule my running so it did not affect my sleep.  I am not a morning person.  I used to rarely wake up early to run on days it wasn't necessary.  I would often start my 23 mile long runs at 11 am.  Living in San Francisco the weather is usually agreeable any time of day and I definitely milked this luxury.

Having a child changed all of this.  At first I worked him into my running by taking him along with me.  But I knew if I wanted to chase time goals I would have to run without the stroller for key workouts.  In order to make this work I had to start doing the one thing I hate which is running early in the morning.

My last two fastest 13.1 times were run in the middle of marathon training on the plan I used to use.  That plan called for a 13.1 specific test where you ran your marathon goal pace for 13.1 miles in the middle of a 17 mile run.  Obviously my half PR was pretty old since my goal marathon pace the last two times was faster than current half marathon PR pace.  For a brief time I contemplated just following the marathon training plan and seeing what I could do in a stand-alone 13.1 when the specific test workout came up.  But I didn't have the heart to run 20+ mile runs before work.

So I instead decided to follow a half plan that sort of mimicked marathon training in mileage but the longest run was only 15 miles.  I've always felt you had to run farther than 13 as a long run if you really wanted to race a half so that gelled well with my thinking.  The plan had you running 6-7 days a week which I felt was too many since I was only getting back to speed and pace work.  So I cut out two of the easy running days and ran 5 days a week.

I haven't trained specifically for a half marathon time goal since 2009 when I went for a sub-2 hour finish.  I've changed a lot as a runner since 2009.  I have never trained this hard for a half marathon before both in terms of mileage (capped out at 55+ miles which rivals some good marathon plans I've done) and in terms of sacrifice (I often ran 12, up to 15 miles before work, twice a week).  One thing I liked about the plan was that the easy paced longer run (10-12 miles) fell on the day I kept to run with my son. I had come to love stroller running and was sad at the idea of not doing longer distances with him anymore after our stroller half.  Of course, it also felt extremely anti-climatic to have trained for a stroller half marathon and to then turn around and eventually run 12 miles with him once a week.

What might be our last double-digit stroller run together 1.5 weeks before the race.
Training went pretty well overall.  I learned how to deal with the early wake-ups.  I actually really appreciate getting a run done early in the day now.  Initially it was hard to run in the 8:30s and by the end of the cycle the low 8:00s felt like a good working pace.  I started to question whether the plan was too hard the last month or so when I had trouble hitting paces during the speed/track sessions.  Unlike track work for marathon training in the past I found I had to walk or even extend the recovery portion of the workouts.  But after the hard track workouts, I'd run 10-12 miles with the stroller the next day, take a rest day, and then always hit my extended goal pace run the following day.  So for two weeks I wrote this cycle off as a bad days at the track or I'm just not cut out for 5K pace work.

Then I had a really bad speed workout that told me loud and clear my body was tired.  In retrospect I didn't respond appropriately. I should have backed down on mileage overall immediately but instead I decided to omit the final speed workout and slightly shorten some of the final taper week runs.  Honestly even doing this, for me, is a big step. I am a slave to training plans once they are plugged into my schedule -- my biggest weakness I think as a runner.  I nailed my last workout at goal pace (2x1.9 miles @ goal half pace with a 1 minute recovery) 10 days before the race and felt that those 10 days of easier running would be enough to have fresh legs.

Originally my goal was to run in the 8:20s-8:30s for the half. But as things came together I decided something around 8:16 (my eventual goal marathon pace) was my A-goal (if I ran slightly faster than this I would beat my fastest 13.1 done during a training run previously).  B-goal was sub-1:50, C-goal was sub-1:53 (my official half PR).  I had done up to 6 miles of half marathon goal pace running in the middle of 12 mile runs and usually was about 10 seconds faster than my A-goal pace.  Those days I felt I could have run a couple more miles at that pace that day.  So I figured, 10 seconds/mile slower should buy me a few more miles, fresh legs another couple, then heart would get me to the finish.

My parents were in town for the race so my husband and I drove up to Redding, CA the day before the race.  Two storm systems were passing through the area and it was pouring rain for much of the 4+ hour car trip.  With the giant redwoods, I figured we had a little cushion to the weather forecast -- perhaps they would shield us from rain and wind -- so I tried to not get too caught up on what the weather was going to be like.  We didn't make it up in time to get our bibs the day before, but this race always has race day pick-up so that was a minor issue.

I've done a race at this venue two times in the past.  The first time we stayed at a super horrible motel.  I had initially planned to return to it post-marathon to take a shower before the long drive home.  But it was so bad, I actually opted to not go back for the post-race shower.  With this in mind, the next time we ran up there I wanted to go with a national chain hotel.  The only one I could book was 1.5 hours south of the race and we woke up early to drive up.  This time I checked the only national chain hotel that was located closer to the race VERY early in the year and they were already 100% booked.  So I ended up finding a little independent place to stay and crossed my fingers it would work out.

Ever stay at a place with brown towels? Questionable.
Also, I washed my hair with this because no complimentary toiletries.
When we checked in we found out that the power was out at our motel due to the storm.  We had been upgraded to a cabin and no power meant no heat, no hot water, no lights.  It was a poorly insulated place.  My husband commented on how cold it was going to be that night. We left to get dinner and while we were out contemplated finding another place to stay. We did price out another motel but called our powerless place first and they said the power was back on.  So we stuck with it.  Side-note:  I have already booked a room at the national chain hotel close to the race for next year in case I decide to run again.

We were still about a 30 minute drive from the race venue so left shortly after 7 am for the 9 am start.  This worked out great as I had time to get my bib, use the portapotty, return to the car to pin on my bib and drop off things, then head back up to the start area for another quick pee.  The portapotty line the second time seemed rather long, but it moved quickly.  I do wish the race started at 8 am instead of 9 am because I think my body runs a little better earlier in the day in race situations.  I think I noted this is especially true for the marathon distance that I ran here years ago.  But I think they give everyone more time to get up there since everyone has to park and there aren't many places to stay immediately nearby.

I made sure to not be too far back in the starting pack so I could hit my pace.  I should have started a little more forward as I had a hard time the first quarter mile or so dodging people.  My pacing plan was to go out at or slightly slower than race pace for the first 8 miles (was hoping to be in the 8:16-8:25 range), then ratchet down slightly from 8-10, and put it all out there at 10-13.

Within the first few minutes of the race, I recall my first thought being:  "I do not want to do this today." The idea of pushing the pace for 13.1 miles just did not seem appealing.  But I tried to tell myself it was race day and we were here to get it done.

First half mile split: 8:16.  Dead on.
Next mile split: 8:20. Right on target

Then somewhere after 1.5 miles I got a mean side stitch. My entire left side was tight and I couldn't breath normally.  I had to slow down.  For a few seconds I couldn't believe this was happening at a goal race. I don't often get side stitches.  And then I felt relieved because it meant I had a reason to not run fast today.  I soldiered on in the high 8:00s waiting to see if it would clear.  After a couple of miles it became apparent that it wasn't going to magically go away.  I was supposed to take a gel at mile 4 so started working on that and contemplated whether I should continue to run as fast as I could with the stitch or take a walk break and see if that would clear it faster.  I know often with side stitches if you walk for a bit it goes away and I thought maybe I would actually lose less time walking for a short while versus the gimpy running I was pulling off trying to run through it.

So I walked.

When I started back up running again the stitch was not as sharp, but I could tell it was still just under the surface and I wasn't about to hit goal pace again anytime soon. I looked at my average pace and I knew immediately I didn't have the mental strength to even try to tackle bringing that back down.  Oddly enough, I had no clue what pace my B and C goals were though I had a pretty good idea those weren't in the cards for the day.  I sort of settled on, maybe we can bring this home in under 2 hours since I knew that was a 9:09 pace and continued running comfortably hard, but no where near racing hard.

As time went on the stitch eventually faded away.  My will to dig deep for any significant pace increase was totally non-existent.  I even walked through aid stations and took little walking breaks here and then.  I watched as my sub-2 slowly faded away. I definitely could have held onto that finish goal but I just didn't have any heart to try.

I decided to enjoy the gorgeous course and marveled at the giant trees.  I had reread my Humboldt Marathon race report the night before so remembered that the course appeared downhill both directions of the out and back.  I was very surprised at just how downhill it appeared. I even started to doubt my past self thinking there was no way this thing was going to look downhill when I turned around and ran in the opposite direction.

The leaders started coming back and I had fun cheering for them.  There are close to zero spectators on the course besides the aid station volunteers and I thought they'd appreciate the boost. 

I hit the turnaround and sure enough, in the opposite direction it also appeared to be going downhill.  This is the strangest thing and it sort of plays with your mind.  It obviously is not majorly downhill in either direction and it starts to feel odd in that you feel like you should be running faster because your brain says you are headed down an incline, but you get no free speed.  Also, it made it really difficult to tell what the incline really was.  I felt like I ran downhill almost the entire time on an out-and-back course.  I'm sure most of it was flat, and there were probably little undulations here and there but I couldn't tell you what was what.

I tried to pay attention to all the things I like to know about a race if I'm going to push for a time goal for my future reference.  After the first few miles the course opened up a lot and there were even times on the return trip I was running all by myself.  Aid stations were advertised at 2.5 miles apart so not plentiful, but enough.  They had water and Gatorade and the volunteers were great at calling out what they were holding.  The road winds gently like a snake so you have to be careful about running tangents.  With all the room it would be possible to cross over the middle line of the road to run the best tangents if you wanted.  I am curious if they measure the course on the right side of the road in both directions or if they measure on the tangent considering both sides of the road fair game.

The trees provide a lot of shelter from sun, wind and rain.  There are a few exposed portions here and there and I could feel the wind more in those areas.  There are only two significant inclines on the course.  The first is a little bridge right after the start/before the finish.  It is just a tiny little bridge and not a big deal and if the course wasn't otherwise flat I wouldn't even mention it.  The second is also in the beginning/end of the race at mile 1 and 12.  This one is also not very long or high.  Overall it is a very fast half course.

As for the weather, it did rain the entire time but it was mainly a drizzle or the giant trees dampened a lot of the rain fall.  I did notice at mile 10 or so that my socks were absolutely soaked and there was a little spot on one toe I would have been worried about if it had been a longer race.  About 1 mile from the finish a steadier rain started which continued until I was almost back to the car.

I fretted about my husband at the finish and wish I had a way to let him know I was way off my expected arrival time but that I was doing okay.  I figured I would finish right around my Santa Rosa Half time from last year.  I thought that was ironic since I had barely done much training for that one and had trained my heart out for this one.  But I reminded myself that time was on a good day last year and today was a bad day.  A woman was running behind me and I heard her tell her running mate, "We're not running sub 8:00s.  It's gone.  Time to enjoy it."  I assumed they had thought maybe they could squeak out a sub-2, too, but had just seen that goal dissipate.  She said, "Time to enjoy it," in a very positive way, and I thought, "Yes!  That's what I think, too.  That is what today is about now."

Suddenly the trees opened up and you could see the little bridge in the distance.  I heard my husband cheering as I rounded the corner to finish in a little over 2 hours.  He came up to me and I could tell he wasn't sure if I was going to be a horrible sad mess over my finish time.  I gave him a "it is what it is" look and said something like, "Today wasn't the day."

I got my medal which is much improved over the full medal years ago.  We took a quick portapotty break in case we couldn't get back in to our hotel cabin before starting the drive back home.

Not a sticker on a cheap medal like they did in the past.

They  have gender specific shirts and a good size range.  The brand they used this year ran a little large. It seemed it would be very easy to exchange shirt sizes at shirt pick-up.

I really am not sure what happened this race.  The side stitch really got things going on a downward spiral but if I'm being honest I am not sure I had it in me to push hard the whole way even if that hadn't happened.  I had no heart to give at all in this race which is really unusual for me.  I usually don't give up like that in the middle of goal races.  After the race when I was talking with my husband he commented that I had seemed really flat before the race.  He said I wasn't as excited as I normally am before goal races.  I didn't feel this myself that morning, but he's pretty perceptive to my moods so it does say something.

It's hard to comment on your body when your heart couldn't get it to try very hard, but I also felt as if I didn't have the pace in my legs.  Even after my stitch went away, I'd try to pick things up and just didn't get much response.  Again, I'm not sure if that was mind issue vs. a legs issue.  Maybe it was a little bit of both.  I had some red flags in my training that I wasn't recovering enough between hard efforts.  I thought I had given myself enough time in the taper to address this issue and who knows if it was part of the problem.

I keep reminding myself that I truly accomplished everything I wanted out of this training cycle.  I know I can make changes to my schedule and life to accommodate serious training. I know I can run high mileage with high quality and not feel injured.  I can run low 8:00s/high 7:00s for extended periods of time again.  All WONDERFUL things I am so proud about. As the training cycle went on I was hoping to PR and I am disappointed it panned out the way it did.  I tinkered with the idea of running another half in the next month since I know I have the training done.  As of now, I'm going to let this half goal-time go and move on to marathon training as planned.  It's a bit of a ding in my confidence but I'll take what I've learned and apply it moving forward.

Training cycle win.  My 10K PR is very soft and out-dated, but this 10K in the middle of a 12 miler is over a minute per mile faster than my standing 10K PR.

One thing I did this training cycle which I have never done in the past was to incorporate strength training into my routine.  I still have a lot of room for improvement in this area, but I tried at least twice a week to do some strength work and core work.  My husband got a video of me running to the finish.  I've always had a strange tilt in my shoulders and I sort of throw my left shoulder higher and forward when I run.  It isn't perfect but that quirk is noticeably improved and I'm really tickled about that change. Hopefully it can motivate me to keep it up and to commit to some sort of schedule when it comes to the strength and core work.