Bakersfield Marathon Race Recap

“Bakersfield?! That sounds like it would be …interesting” I responded to Chris when he told me that he would be pacing the full marathon. Combing through the website, I came across the course map and thought it actually looked interesting, and in a good way.

course-map

I clicked around, curiosity mounting. As an industry professional, I’m critical of website items such as ease of accessing pertinent information like course maps and registration, spelling and grammar, communication of dates and times, and general layout. Stumbling upon the awards page, I noted that the prize purse for the first place woman was $1000. I don’t usually win marathons, but this was an inaugural race and I figured maybe I would luck out and earn an easy win. I also checked out the event’s Facebook page and learned that it had been canceled before. I began to get the sense that race organizers have been trying to get it going for the last 2 years, but the city wasn’t easy to work with. While I was nervous that it would be again be canceled, I went ahead and registered.

Training was and has been going well: long runs, harder effort runs, my beloved hill workouts, a 32 mile run/race in the bank, no major injuries, and a general sense of smoothness to my running. The only component that I have yet to add back in is speed/track work; I’ve been extremely apprehensive to add this back into my routine. Though it likely has only been a single factor in past injuries, I feel like it is the most significant contributor. A lack of speed work + not having run a road marathon since June = no idea what I would run on race day. My A goal was sub-3:20, with my “secret” goal being to break tape and take $1000 home.

Chris and I arrived at the packet pickup about 15 minutes before closing on Saturday and hastily grabbed our race items. In addition to a bib and race shirt, our “goodie” bags included some The Wonderful Company samples, coupons for meals and desserts, race advertisements, and a very helpful event guide. In fact, I referred to the event guide multiple times on Saturday and Sunday – this is something that every event should provide!

welcome-sign

 

I found Hodel’s Country Dining on Yelp! and we took full advantage of their inexpensive, but delicious, buffet. Full of food and tired, I fell asleep early and woke up feeling rested on Sunday morning. Chris and I are both naturally (very) early morning risers, so we were both ready to go much earlier than our planned departure time. We stopped by 7-11 for coffee and leisurely made our way to the race. Traveling to and parking at smaller races is generally much easier than the big affairs. I visited the porta-potty, pinned my bib on, chatted with other runners, and dawdled until locking up the car and dropping my bag off at gear check. I arrived in the start area at about 6:45am and chatted with Lori and Vanessa for a few minutes. At 7:00am, it was announced that the start would be delayed. While slightly irritating, there isn’t one much can do about it, so we continued standing around and chatting. I recognized a girl I’d run a few miles with at the OC Marathon and we caught up.

At about 7:15am, it was announced that the race would be further delayed. It wasn’t terribly cold (high 50s, low 60s?), but I felt like my body was stiffening up from not moving. At 7:30am, a runner loudly chided the race announcer to start the damn thing. At 7:45am, I began to consider just dropping down to the half marathon because I didn’t want to run the latter miles in the heat, and also because I was feeling lazy. An hour after the race was supposed to start, and we were still standing around CSU Bakersfield. The race announcer then let us know that we were 5 minutes out from starting and that a car accident on the course had been the source of delay.

At 8:05am, the 500 of us tackling 26.2 miles finally left the campus. We twisted and turned our way toward downtown Bakersfield and I fell into my rhythm about 10 feet behind the 3:08 pacer. The pace didn’t feel like a jog, but it felt smooth and sustainable. Boredom motivated me to catch up to the 3:08 pacer, who was running solo, and initiate conversation. He told me that the course markers were a bit off, so he was trying to maintain 7:00 minute/mile to make sure he finished in close to 3:08. While that’s faster than I wanted to run that early in the race, I felt good and decided to continue with him. Around mile 8, a woman breezed past me and I realized that I was in the 4th place OAF position.

A few yards before the mile 10 marker, we discovered that a group of runners had run off course and added a mile onto their marathon! That’s never happened to me, but I’d be annoyed for sure. I slowly pulled away from the 3:08 pacer after mile 10 and was feeling curious about how the 4 mile climb between miles 12 and 16 would feel. We started going up at about 12.5 miles and my legs welcomed the elevation change. The incline was more than I anticipated, but I passed ~20 runners between miles 12.5 and 16 and was never working overly hard to maintain my pace. There was a short downhill right before mile 15 and I remember thinking “what the heck? It’s over already?” Of course, we turned a corner and continued going up. I learned how far behind the first 2 females I was during an awkward circle around a fountain on the Bakersfield College campus (mile 16).

elevation

Miles 15-19 felt twisty and turn-y, but we were rewarded with some nice views on fittingly named Panorama Drive. I regained my rhythm and took my Clif gel, waiting for the downhill section Doug had told me about. Running alongside the bluff reminded me of the Back Bay bluff section of the OC Marathon. I was feeling great, moving well, and smiling. I felt the best between miles 15 and 20, but kept my zeal contained. I am always cognizant of the fact that things can go south quickly during the marathon. A short, but very steep downhill segment took us to the bike path.

I remember reaching the mile 19 marker and thinking that maybe I could catch up to the two women ahead of me. I was still feeling strong and even picked it up slightly after mile 20 (wishing I race Garmin-equipped right about now). The riverbed was boring, exposed, and windy, but I don’t feel like the weather was a factor in my deterioration. In fact, aside from a vague feeling of nauseation, I think I just lost steam due to a general lack of endurance. I saw a lead cyclist pacing the first 2 women turn to look back at me a few times at the 22 mile marker and I wondered if he said anything about how close I was. Unfortunately, I switched into “just get to the finish line” mode after mile 22 and slowed down. My smile turned into a half-grimace and my energy went toward simply moving forward. Thankfully, the path was becoming busier with half marathon walkers and I directed my attention toward grabbing snippets of their conversations. I passed a marathoner right after mile 24 and we traded words of encouragement. When I arrived at the 25 mile flag, I thought “next stop, finish line!” Boy, was I ready for it.

The riverbed curved and I finally caught sight of the finish line. I could hear the announcer, see the crowds as well as the mile 26 and mile 13 flags. The feeling of nauseation that had set in earlier suddenly became much worse – I felt 90% sure that I would vomit either right before the finish line or upon stopping. “Should I turn and throw up before the crowds become thicker, or try to make it past the finish line and then hurl?” I asked myself right before the mile 26 flag. I continued on, took deep breaths and wondered what it would be like to throw up in front of all of these people. I crossed the line in 3:04:42, received my medal, grabbed a bottle of water and kept walking. I am very happy to report that I did not throw up! I think that Clif gels are too thick for me and that I need to stick with Honey Stinger gels, which didn’t seem to cause me issues during WIEM.

Done!

Done!

The male runner I’d passed around mile 24 finished about 40 seconds after me and we congratulated eachother. It was his first marathon and his longer training run had been only 12 miles! I was thoroughly impressed with his epic achievement. Lori and Vanessa found me and we all chatted about the race. Lori and I picked up our finisher’s sweaters and then started to walk over to the festival area. While the finish line is in an odd spot, right in the middle of the riverbed, the festival area was great. On the way there, I talked with the girl who had passed me at mile 8 and learned that not only had she placed 2nd OAF, it was also her very first marathon! She’d played soccer in college, but was now experimenting with long distance running. She ran a 3:01 – I see a bright distance running future for her. Apparently, she had run step-for-step with the woman who won from miles 9 until .10 from the finish line and the other woman out-sprinted her for the win.

img_9185

Since Chris was pacing the 3:53 group, I had time to change and relax for a few minutes. I always enjoy turning my phone on after a race and receiving a barrage of texts from friends asking how it went! The rest of the morning was uneventful and naturally, we hit a lot of traffic in LA.

In reflecting on the race, I’m disappointed and satisfied at the same time. I’m disappointed mainly in how I fell apart quickly within the last 4 miles, which I realize now was to be expected. Consistent speed work helps me speed up or at least maintain pace in the latter miles of a long race, but I have yet to add that element back into my training. I’m frustrated that I wasn’t able to fight a bit harder at the end, especially since I boast about being a fast finisher. At the same time, I’m satisfied with the way that I felt during miles 12-20, especially for the 4 mile uphill segment. Always grateful that I am physically able to even complete marathon races, I am also happy that I finished in a very respectable time. In fact, it was my second fastest marathon! With the lack of real speed work and loss of training time after San Diego Rock n Roll, I’m surprised that I even went sub-3:05. “Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” -Frank A. Clark

I hope to continue growing, training, strengthening, experimenting, failing, succeeding, learning, and running freely.

 

Whoo’s In El Moro 50K Race Recap

Saturday marked my slowest running of the Whoo’s In El Moro 50K and served as an eye-opener for me. I am happy that I ran, elated that I finished, slightly regretful that I didn’t stick with the 25K, but ultimately disappointed in my performance.

Pre-race positives: I went into this race with 2+ weeks of consistently higher mileage, a few decent hill repeat sessions, felt good during my easy run the day before, and was mentally excited for the challenge of 50K, especially having not run a marathon+ since June.

Pre-race negatives: I felt physically and mentally tired the week prior and was under a lot of stress at work. I wasn’t sleeping or eating enough, and felt like I wasn’t recovering well after runs.

I was able to sleep in on Friday morning and run later in the morning, both of which felt good. The rest of the day felt long and stressful: I was very late for a work event, spent too much time in traffic, didn’t eat a hearty enough dinner due to being stuck in said traffic, and just felt tired and irritated. When I finally arrived home, I packed for the next day and tried to get some sleep. Since I’d picked my bib and race items up on Thursday, I didn’t rush to get to the race too early on Saturday. I ate a Quest bar and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee on the way to Crystal Cove State Park, arriving around 5:55am for a 6:30am race start. I didn’t feel very hungry when I woke up, so I felt like the bar would be enough of a breakfast, but I probably should’ve had a bit more.

Lori and I caught up for a few minutes before the race started and then we all made our way out and up! I usually find someone to run and chat with during the first 8-10 miles, but was left to enjoy the sunrise by myself this time. I felt very content and happy for the first hour, thinking about how lucky I was to be running freely while watching the sun rise over the mountains. It was one of those moments that I wish I could bottle up and use later. I also saw my friends John, Telan, and Carrie (course rovers) in the early miles – it always cheers me up to see friends out there!

There are two aid stations before the “major” West Cut Across station, but I generally don’t feel the need to stop that early in the race. We hit this major station a total of 4 times, the first time at 9.5 miles and the second at 13.75 miles in. I foolishly decided to skip it during the first two passes and try to power on toward the halfway point/turnaround/mile 15.25 aid station. I really wanted to get the Poles segment out of the way (.4 miles, extremely steep) and I actually felt really good going up. This climb almost feels like a break from “running” since I’m using a different set of muscles, but it’s definitely still a challenge. I finished off the last of my water bottle and took my gel while cruising down the No Dogs trail toward the turnaround. At this point, I would see how far behind the female leaders I was.

I should’ve paused here and re-filled my water bottle, but I didn’t want to stop running and then immediately start to climb, so I just made the u-turn to go back up No Dogs and down Poles. I didn’t feel overly thirsty, hungry, and still felt like I had some power left in my legs. After descending Poles, the course goes back up Machione, and this is where I decided that I absolutely needed to stop at the West Cut Across station. At mile 17, I re-filled my bottle for the first time, ate a few peanut butter pretzels and M&Ms, drank a small cup of Coca Cola, and grabbed a few paper towels. The food and drink aren’t the only energy-boosters on the course – Molly recruits awesome course support volunteers. I always love hitting this aid station 4x because of it! What I didn’t love, however, were the ensuing miles. I felt like I went from 85% to 40% between miles 17 and 20.5.

I tried to focus on my surroundings and remember sections of the trail, but I started to feel discouraged by how quickly I was losing steam. “Maybe the gel and food hasn’t kicked in yet” I thought as I approached the West Cut Across station for the fourth and final time. I definitely didn’t look as peppy as I did during the first 3 visits, but the knowledge that I was well on my way home perked me up a bit. I re-filled my bottle again and grabbed some more peanut butter pretzels before starting toward my least favorite section: El Moro Canyon to Slow ‘N Easy.

It was definitely slow, but not easy: I crawled along at a snail’s pace and stopped 3-4 times for a few seconds. I had a lot of time to ruminate over what lead up to me feeling this badly. I realized that I’d had at least 3 marathon efforts on my legs going into my last two WIEM 50Ks. In fact, I looked back on my results today and noticed that I’ve always run the 25K in October – this would be the first time that I tried the 50K “fresh.” Additionally, September and October are the two most stressful work months for me and training takes a back seat. It isn’t surprising that my lack of longer runs and sustained climbs plus not consuming enough calories in the days leading up to the race would result in an epic sufferfest. Being 20+ miles in though, all I could do was crawl on and get to the finish line.

I also started to notice the effects of dehydration. I’m not sure if this happens to others, but my hands start to tingle and my fists close up. As I become more dehydrated, my fists get tighter and won’t un-clench. I was drenched in sweat and still sweating (which is good), but was definitely losing more fluids than I was taking in. I didn’t walk for more than 5 seconds at any point in the race, but I was move very slowly. At this point, my goal was simply to make it from aid station to aid station. I was happy to reach mile 24, and celebrate the end of my least favorite part, but I felt pretty terrible. In the hopes of energizing myself for the last 8 miles, I chugged a Coca Cola and ate a handful of Swedish Fish. I usually find a second wind on Missing Link, but it was… missing. I knew that the next section (Moro Ridge) was going to feel 2x as long as normal in my depleted state. I entertained the notion of just hanging a right down I Think I Can, but knew that I would be left with an ugly DNF. If this race/run served as anything, it was a long and tough mental strengthening session.

When I arrived at the three-way intersection where we start the last, but most difficult, out-and-back section, I offered Jon and two other course marshals $100 each to let me just turn right toward the finish. They laughed, my heart cried, and my dead legs carried me out, and back. On the way back, I saw Michaeline who was running strong in the 4th overall female position. She is a very strong runner and could definitely catch me during the last, long downhill section. Unfortunately, I had no legs left for any type of a “race.” and desperately just wanted to finish. Seeing that three-way intersection again and knowing that I would finally be able to run straight to the finish line was a good feeling. I was working hard going down I Think I Can, but it definitely felt slower than usual. After what felt like 5 miles, I felt the energy of the finish line drawing closer, and crossed the bridge to complete my 4th Whoo’s In El Moro 50K.

With clenched up hands and dead legs, Molly helped me get a chair and a bottle of water. I was tired and dehydrated, but my stomach felt fine and I didn’t feel any odd aches or pains. I sat down for about 2 minutes, then got up to walk around and chat with people before the awards ceremony.

october-50k-medal october-50kMaggie (1) and Cindy (2) ran phenomenal times and looked great when I saw them on course. I would love to run that 50K as fast as they did some day! My 3rd place prize package included a pair of 2XU compression socks and calf sleeves, a Nathan hydration pack, a visor and draw string bag, a Running Skirts headband, and a few other small items. I also won a large container of Carbo Pro protein powder. My goal this week is to chase every run with a protein drink, regardless of if its an easy or harder effort. I don’t take in enough protein and know that it is likely inhibiting my recovery.

The remainder of my Saturday was spent eating and napping, and ended with a late night babysitting gig. I slept in on Sunday and ran a very easy 6 miles on the treadmill. I kept Monday’s effort easy as well, but felt surprisingly spry on Tuesday morning and ran faster than expected. My quads still felt sore and tender, but much less so than on Sunday. I’m optimistic that this weekend’s poor performance was just my body being shocked by 31 miles of hills after a 3+ month break from long-distance racing. I’m calling it a rust-buster and moving on.

 

 

Running, lately

Promises of weekly writing prefaced my last post, yet here I am, 7+ days later.

The last 2 weeks were excellent in terms of training. I was able to log a lot of miles (90, 93) which included harder efforts and hill repeats. I also completed two solid long runs of 18 miles at a quicker pace and 21 miles with a fast finish. I’m happy with the last 14 days of running and excited to see how my upcoming races play out! I’d originally registered for the 25K at the October edition of Whoo’s in El Moro, but switched to the longer distance and will be completing my fourth WIEM 50K on Saturday.

My non-running activities have also been very enjoyable and fulfilling. I finished reading All the Light We Cannot See, was introduced to the show Stranger Things, visited an apple farm, and finally bought and enjoyed some fresh persimmon (such a delicious and under-known fruit!). I like the balance of working hard during the week and relaxing on the weekend. It leaves me excited for a fresh start on Mondays, but seriously ready for a reprieve by Friday. This week’s non-running focus is on my mid-term and major changes at work, which I will likely explain in a future post.

 

Today’s Run

I’ve decided to try to post more often about my day-to-day running versus only recording races and posting the occasional thought spill. In doing so, I hope to 1) save memories and thoughts, 2) improve my writing skills.

I felt fresh and eager this Monday morning after a few days off. A minor ankle sprain on Saturday of last week rendered me unable to run Monday-Thursday, which made managing the event-week stress even more difficult. Though I had a lot of energy, it was almost too much. I’ve noticed that my energy levels have adapted to my running load over time and when I’m not expending a lot of it on running, it builds up QUICKLY and is sometimes overwhelming. My brain goes 1000 mph and I find it difficult to concentrate. Anyway, I tested my ankle on Friday, on the treadmill, and it felt fine. On Saturday and Sunday, all waking hours were spent managing the 15,000+ participant event which I proudly help produce. After 12 hours of sleep on Sunday night, I was very antsy and excited for the week’s runs. I decided to start the week on the treadmill to ease my body back into it, but hit the streets for a hard run on Tuesday morning (yesterday). It felt difficult, refreshing, and cathartic. I still feel slightly tired from last week and the weekend, but know that my bounce will return quickly.

I did my standard 9 mile Belmont Shore loop today and decided to podcast-and-picture it, i.e. dawdle and relax. I’ve been running in this area for 10+ years and it never gets less beautiful.

I also listened to a great podcast about the so-called Anthropocene epoch, a nickname for our current Holocene epoch. The prefix “anthro” means human, humanoid, or human-like and the nickname (I use the term nickname, but many scientists are pushing to officially recognize our current epoch as Anthropocene, though when it started is in question) stems from the belief that human activity has significantly impacted and even changed the planet. Millennials such as myself have grown up with the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” “greenhouse gases” being thrown around, as well as instilled fears of impending global environmental doom. I knew that it was a problem, but parts of this podcast made me feel truly sad that it’s come this far. At one point, the narrator refers to our time as the cream part of an Oreo. The cookie sections are extinction events or serious climactic catastrophies and the cream part is our current “golden summer.” The larger message was that although these major earth extinctions are somewhat unpredictable, human activities are only helping to get us there sooner.

Surrounding that sad message though, there were some interesting tidbits that I pulled from the podcast such as Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar, and this hidden gem in Norway:

 

The Marathon

A series of runs a few weeks ago inspired this post and I’ve been chewing on it for a while.

There are runs which serve the purpose of striking an item from the to-do list. They aren’t necessarily enjoyable; I call them “just-get-it-over-with” runs. I’m usually dissociating and crave the assistance of a podcast and sometimes music. Sure, I enjoy the usual post-run endorphin rush, but it has the routine feeling of “glad that’s done for the day!” Honestly, the running boredom is present more often than I’d like to admit, especially during high mileage training segments. I have to give myself a serious pre-run internal pep talk, or incentivize myself with a post-run treat. I feel like a fraud advising people that their running routine should always be enjoyable while I’m trudging down the road wondering when I will be at my end point. There are days when the absolute last thing that I want to do is lace up. There are 10 mile runs where I want to quit at miles 1, 3, 4, 5… basically the entire time. The reality of proper marathon training is that it is a straight up grind sometimes.

In Lore of Running, author Timothy Noakes devotes a chapter to the concept of cumulative fatigue and it’s role in marathon training. The concept is also a core element of the Hansons Brooks training program and many others. Physically, it provides the dual benefit of strengthening fatigue-resistant muscle fibers and expanding the aerobic engine. Essentially “training” the muscle fibers for the latter miles of the marathon, cumulative fatigue conditions them to withstand a tremendous amount of fatigue. Long-distance running is a unique sport in that it is almost entirely based on endurance – there isn’t much happening other than running forward… for a very, very long time. The human body isn’t inherently prepared to go for that long, hence training it to do so. In my experience, building the barrier to fatigue is one of the toughest aspects of a quality marathon training block; it is not for the faint of heart and I understand why many shy away from it.

The second component of the physiology of the grind entails expanding the aerobic engine. Every person has an aerobic capacity: the amount of oxygen that the body can utilize during exercise. As the effort level of an activity increases, the body requires more oxygen. Various systems work harmoniously to deliver the delicious chemical element to the hard-working cells, and runners can train these systems to work even more efficiently together through base training. While I knew and understood this concept, I didn’t realize how much of a difference it made until I started to experiment with high mileage training. I view aerobic capacity like an engine with a limitless size, expanded by stacking layers and layers of miles on. The key component is the layering. Running a single 90 mile week won’t do much, but consistently stacking higher mileage weeks on top of each other builds the aerobic engine. It is difficult to understand unless one has experienced the feeling of having a deeper well of fitness from which to pull. Breathing still feels smooth even at faster pacers, running economy is high, and feelings of fatigue set in much later. Making it through the grind feels worthwhile after a good-feeling marathon and solid performance.

In addition to the neuromuscular and aerobic adaptations, training the body to handle the demands placed upon other various bodily systems is crucial. Many systems will be stretched to their limits – the G.I. system, the nervous system, the circulatory system, the respiratory system to name a few. Sodium concentration (extremely important to normal heart function) is thrown off balance and studies show that 10-15% of runners have hyponatremia after a race. Muscle degredation as a result of long distance running could lead to myoglobinuria (release of myoglobin in the bloodstream – not good). Troponin levels increase, which is a marker for predicting cardiac arrest. While all of these conditions are usually corrected in the hours and days following the race, the the speed and ease with which the body corrects these levels correlates to fitness levels. Toughening up the body by completing a thorough marathon training block ensures it is race AND recovery ready. This aspect isn’t so much about the grind, but really important to general training. Unless one wishes to potentially end up like Pheidippides, properly training for a 26.2 mile run is important!

On the mental side, the grind prepares one for the psychological arduousness of the marathon. For the average runner, completing a marathon requires 3 or more hours of focused effort. Three to five hours isn’t an extraordinarily long period of time, but it seems like 333 hours of physical activity. Completing those long, not-great feeling runs provides one with a sense of “I can get through this” which comes in handy during the later miles of the marathon. Running a marathon requires just as much mental tenacity as it does physical and developing a sense of belief and confidence is paramount to a seeing results on race day. Mental strength must be built in order to see the fruits of the physical labor.

I’m not inferring that marathon training means being habitually tired and achy. While first-timers should certainly train to run on tired legs, as they will need to do during the race, preparing should still be an enjoyable and experimental experience. However, reaching a higher level in any sport sometimes requires searching for the upper limits of what the body and mind can handle, perhaps even more so for endurance sports. I think that a majority of long distance runners, including myself, seek to improve their fitness and race performances. The grind removes some of the glamour, but rewards await at the finish line. The Science of Experience theorizes that there are three important components to expert performance, the second of which is deliberate practice.“That dedicated, slogging, generally solitary exertion — repeatedly practicing the most difficult physical tasks for an athlete, repeatedly performing new and highly intricate computations for a mathematician… the kind of practice we hate, the kind that leads to failure and hair-pulling and fist-pounding.”

I’m also not inferring that marathon training should take over other aspects of life like social relationships, down time, pleasure activities, work, etc. A majority of marathon runners are not professionals, not on the hunt for a prize money check, and not able to just run and eat and sleep full time. A majority of marathon runners have full lives: kids, busy jobs, hobbies, normal life duties. But again, one needs to evaluate the alignment of goals with sacrifices. It takes a lot of time and energy to reach the higher goals and it’s up to each runner to decide whether they believe its worth it or not. This post isn’t meant to claim that every person training for a marathon absolutely needs to run a lot of miles per week, but rather to explain to those looking to run better and faster what is required.

“Well, that surely can’t be healthy for the body.”

Correct. However, completing a 26.2 (or more) mile race is a choice, much like smoking, eating an entire pizza, or drinking 5 too many margaritas. Making the choice and training to run a very long distance race requires acceptance of the ensuing bodily chaos. As a runner gains experience and knowledge and begins to recognize the benefits of the grind, it becomes a choice to experiment with cumulative fatigue, depletion runs, meaty workouts, longer-than-marathon-distance long runs, and gauge whether the race results make it worth it.

Ventura Half Marathon Race Recap

Coming within 9 seconds of my half marathon personal record came as quite a surprise on Sunday, but I am very pleased with how the race went. Since I’d done almost no “speed work” (aside from a few faster-paced tempo runs in the 2 weeks prior), I thought that 7:00 min/mile – 7:15 min/mile would feel fast, but do-able for 13.1 miles. I’m only just getting my bounce back post-injury and am not looking for PRs any time soon.

As usual, race day started early with a 4:00am wake up call. I drove to Culver City and hopped into Cristina’s car along with Ellen to carpool to Ventura. We stopped at a Starbucks to use the bathroom and I joked that I’d had a great… session… in the bathroom and that it was a good sign for my race. After parking, we jogged over to the start line area to pick our race items up. The race start was actually on the upper level, flush with the pier, while the festival was on the lower level, underneath the pier. We received a very nice and high quality race shirt and hat, a durable shopping bag, and some edible goodies. I definitely gave this race a 10/10 swag rating. After leaving our bags in gear check, Ellen and I did a short warm up and lucked out as the pier was just being opened for the day. The combination of ocean sounds and smell, cool morning air, and feeling of running was heavenly.

I said hi to Chris who was pacing 2:00 and positioned myself in wave 1 for the 6:30am start. The first few feet are downhill as we descend down from pier-level and I was immediately thinking “woah, slow down!” I was within striking distance of the 1:30 pace group – way too fast for this early in the race. I was wondering if they went out a bit too slow because I felt too good, but felt the pace of the group quicken as we approached the first mile marker. I dropped back and struck up a conversation with Bill, who was turning 60 the next day. We had a great rhythm going and I was running strongly and smoothly. The course is an out-and-back, which is my least favorite, so I was happy to be distracted by the conversation.

Right before the turn-around, I started to look for Cristina on the other side. She looked strong, happy, and fast, sitting in the 2nd place overall female position. I continued running with Bill until about mile 7.

Miles 1-6 ~ 6:52, 6:53, 6:54, 6:43, 6:48, 6:55 (tight u-turn!)

Reviewing my splits, I see that I sped up. Although I don’t like out-and-back courses, I tend to run faster on the way back simply because I know that I’m running straight to a finish line. I still didn’t feel like I was running too fast or like I would blow up. I kept the 1:30 group in sight while passing runners here and there. I saw a few AREC friends on the other side and distracted myself by cheering groups of runners on.

Miles 7-10 ~ 6:43, 6:44, 6:44, 6:37

I passed the 1:30 group around the 9 mile marker. I still felt really good and knew that I could keep chugging along at that pace, if not faster. It is truly amazing how quickly fitness bounces back. I used to believe that one lost speed before endurance while injured or taking a break, but I’m beginning to realize that it may actually be the other way around. I passed a ponytail, then another one, then a third on the way to the finish line. I took my gel out of my sports bra, but I never needed it. My last 3 miles were 6:2x and I truly didn’t start to feel uncomfortable until mile 12. I’ve been dealing with a painful callus/hot spot on my left forefoot pad for a few months and it starts to burn when I’m running fast. There were a few turns during the last 1.5 miles which aggravated that spot.

Excited?

Excited?

Miles 11-13 ~ 6:33, 6:28, 6:23

I passed the third ponytail between miles 12 and 13, and was 2 SECONDS away from a top 3 finish! Not only that, but I discovered that we were the exact same age, which pushed me into 2nd place for my age division. I try not to be that person who cares a bit too much about their finish place, but… 2 seconds! When I looked at the clock and saw 1:27:xx, I was in shock. Though I wore my Garmin, I had it set on distance and didn’t check it until mile 12.5 (I also forgot to stop it at the finish line, oops). I spotted Cristina and learned that not only had she placed first overall female, she earned a 2+ minute PR and ran a 1:24. Ellen had a great day too finishing in 1:36 and change. Collectively, we are a speedy trio, clocking a 1:30 average half marathon time!

I look... confused

I look… confused

Since the vendor area wasn’t open until 9:00am, we ran a 3 mile cool down along the beach. We ended up running with a very nice gentleman who was out doing a 20 miler in preparation for the Long Beach Marathon. In fact, he knew Bill! The running community is surprisingly tight-knit sometimes. Ravenous after 17 miles of running, we stopped at Wildflour, which is the cafe that I visited after running the Cheseboro Half Marathon. Oatmeal, breakfast burritos, and coffee kept us satiated for the traffic-laden journey back to L.A.

I actually felt the effort of the race a bit more on Tuesday than Monday (hi DOMS), but it wasn’t enough to keep me from doing hill repeats. In fact, I was really hungry for the hills this week and ended up logging two quality hill sessions. I suppose I felt I had to make up for missing both of my strength training sessions, which I’m hoping to get back to next week. This weekend started with a 20-turned-21 miler with Cristina and ended with a 10 mile run with Al. For the record, Cristina logged 24 miles on Saturday and Alberto was running 10 in the morning and 16 in the evening, so I feel like the lazy one.

Conquer the Bridge Race Recap

It’s been a while since I’ve drafted a race recap so I am elated to write one!

Conquer the Bridge is one of my favorite races of the year for a few reasons:

  • It is a tough 5.2 mile course and a great workout if I run it hard
  • It is a very pretty and one-of-a-kind course
  • A large amount of AREC (my running club) members run it, so it feels like a giant party!
  • It is local and has a small, home town-y feel
  • It is managed well and travel/parking logistics are simple

Historically, I’ve run decently at CTB:

  • 2012: 35:17 / 3rd OAF
  • 2013: didn’t run
  • 2014: 37:59 / 3rd OAF
  • 2015: 42:12 (walked a LOT)
  • 2016: 37:15 / 3rd OAF

Since I am just getting my legs back after the injury and break, I was on the fence about running this easy with a friend or trying to push myself. My runs felt good the week prior, so I decided that I didn’t want to run it easy. While I’m not running any intense workouts yet, my weekly mileage is climbing and I can tell that my fitness is returning. I knew that I wouldn’t run my fastest CTB time, but I was curious to see how I’d do. I did a short hill circuit the day before the race just to make sure my legs still knew how to climb (they did). I decided on two goals going into the race: 1) sub-40 minutes 2) not fall apart on the second climb.

The course heads straight for about .4 miles before a wide turn onto an on-ramp and the Vincent Thomas Bridge ascension. After the first up, comes the first over, followed by another slight uphill toward the u-turn. Every year, I feel like I run the first up-and-over too fast, and end up falling apart while going up the other side of the bridge. It’s all fun and games until I hit that u-turn and I remember what lies ahead. The return trip begins with a slight downhill and the second up-and-over. Cresting that second time is a glorious feeling and made even better by the fact that a fair amount of downhill follows. Unfortunately, the last .4 mile stretch feels like 2 miles after the hard effort of the bridge.

course-map

Race day started out as a typical one does: wake up, pee, prepare, stop at 7-11 for a coffee and breakfast bar, and drive to the race. I love traveling with others to races, but I also really enjoy listening and singing along …loudly… to my favorite songs while driving there. I packed a post-run breakfast as well which was a really good idea since I was ravenous afterwards! I arrived at about 6:00am and started my 2-mile warm up at about 6:15am. I ran through an interesting part of the Port of Los Angeles which felt eerily deserted and like I probably shouldn’t be there. It felt like I was running through the set of a creepy movie. I made sure to park right next to a porta potty so that I could hit it when I finished my warm up and so I would also remember where I’d parked. I pinned my bib on before jogging over to the start line area.

My timing was perfect because I arrived just in time for the AREC club picture! I chatted with a few friends and my co-worker Phyllis while waiting in the start line corral. I started too far back last year and did not want to make that mistake again this year, so I made sure I was only 3 or 4 people deep. At 7:00am, we were off!

Pre-race ARECers

Pre-race ARECers

“Stay controlled and smooth” I told myself during the first .4 mile stretch. I decided to wear my Garmin during this race to see what my splits on each section were.

Mile 1: 7:14 (first .4ish flat, gradual incline starts)

Mile 2: 7:12 (uphill on the bridge)

I felt great for the first 3 miles and was pushing just hard enough to feel like it wasn’t easy, but also saving myself for the second climb. People were flying past me for the first 2-3 miles and especially on the first decline, but I knew that I would end up re-passing them as we went back up for the second time.

Mile 3: 6:45 (downhill, small uphill, u-turn, small downhill)

“Get ‘er done.” I thought to myself as I glanced up toward the top of the bridge. I settled into a pace and tried to ignore the lactic acid building up in my legs. I focused on waving at AREC runners on the other side of the median, yelling names when I saw a familiar face, or just yelling good job to random groups of runners. I didn’t care if my pace slowed – my goal was simply to run strong to the top. I passed 4-5 females and wondered if they’d pass me back on the downhill. This portion felt very long and my legs felt like jello at the top, but I had a huge smile on my face when I reached the apex.

Mile 4: 7:41 (up up up)

I just leg my legs do whatever they wanted for the next downhill section and they surprised me with a fast mile.

Mile 5: 6:09 (downhill, flattening a bit at the end)

During this downhill stretch, I spotted a ponytail up ahead. I suddenly found myself neck-and-neck with a girl who was about half of my height, and I guessed to be about 11 years old. I felt silly “racing” this little girl, but the competitive little devil on my shoulder decided at about the mile 5 marker that I wasn’t going to get beat by someone who had 50% less weight to carry up that damn bridge than me. I activated my rocket boosters right making the turn into the straight away and just tried to run fast. I was determined to not get passed by mini-Shalane. J.T. got some good pictures of me!

Last .34 miles: 6:22

Upon crossing the finish line, I came face-to-face with a giant news camera. I found out later that I had video-bombed the first place girl’s post-race interview.

I met my goal of sub-40 with a 37:15 finish time, which was good for my third 3rd place OAF finish since 2012. Yet again, I felt like an old woman, finishing behind a 12 and 17 year old.

J.T. rode alongside me on his beach cruiser while I completed a cool-down mile and then I hung out with my fellow AREC-ers for a while. I absolutely love the post-race hang-out parties and sharing race stories with my friends! I finally completed the rest of my miles and started to make my way home.

arec-group

Post-race ARECers

As my first race back after being injured, I am happy with the way that it went and with my current running. I made sure to run EASY today and not make the same mistake that I did after Mountains 2 Beach. I am also making every effort to be diligent with daily foam rolling and “pre-hab” exercises. Despite going into my 9th year of running, I still learn something new with every race and every injury.