Friday, September 30, 2016

OCNJ Half Marathon, Ocean City, NJ. 9/25/16

I wanted to run 20M this past weekend with Kim, but I was looking to do something more interesting than just the 20M course we usually run.  As I drove home from work last Monday,  I remembered that last year, Kim and I made a last minute decision to run the OCNJ Half Marathon and we loved it! The race was taking place again this weekend, so we decided again, last minute, to go for it. 

First, I have to say that I just love this race.  The RD does so many things right to take care of the runners. The races is well organized.  The shirts are really wonderful, the material feels great and the ladies long sleeve shirt is cut for women. They give out gloves as well. The course at the beach and is challenging in the beginning, but very fast after passing the 4M mark. They provide lots of aid stations and even hand out Gu on the course. At the end pizza and other food is provided.  Race photos, which I purchased, are so very reasonably priced, especially if you use the 25% discount code before Oct 5.  The cost to register early is only $50 which really is a steal.

I woke at 4:15 am, realized it was 44 degrees out and for the first time in a long time I actually cranked the heat in my car as I made the 1:45 minute drive to Ocean City, NJ.  The weather looked amazing for gun time, with a low-50 degree start. I regret not getting the dew point this morning to calculate the comfort scale. I wonder if I can find that somewhere. We did have some wind, but because this course was essentially a double out-n-back, we would have to fight it for only half the race.  Unfortunately, it seemed to get stronger as the morning grew longer and the last 5K was really a battle into a headwind on tired legs for me.

We picked up our bibs at 6:45 am and ran a 4.5 mile warm up before lining up to race.  I had gotten a cold last week and still felt bad the day before. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I noticed that as we jogged over to the start, I actually felt better than I had felt all weekend.  My legs had some pep in them for the first time since I raced my marathon two weeks ago.

I wore the Brooks Hyperions for the second time. I really like these racing flats.  I had raced in Brooks T7s, or some version of the T-series flats, since I first started racing. The T7s have given me so much trouble that I started looking around for a replacement shoe.  The Adios Adizeros felt good, but not the same, a little too narrow… the NB RC5000s are incredibly light and I love them, but I develop hotspot under my forefoot which is not good at all.  I may use them for 5k's, but for the half they tear up my feet.  The T7s are now just a bit too narrow in the toes (which I could fix by just sizing up) but I have worn the soles cleanly off the last 3 pairs of shoes in races to the point that rubber just dangles and flops off the bottoms.  I had one pair replaced, but since it happened 2xs more I am done with them.  The Hyperions, I believe, are intended to replace the T7s anyway.  I definitely like them a lot… my toes like them… the sole stays attached to the bottom of the shoe solidly, and they feel good on my feet… I wish they were a tad lighter, but really, I have no complaints. 

Yesterday, I completed an article about lactate threshold.  I learned a little more than I had previously knew, just through fact checking my work. One significant piece of information that I learned is that once we surpass our lactate threshold, depending upon by how much be blow past it, our lactate levels will remain in the peak elevated state for 3-8 minutes. During that time, we have no choice but to slow down, to allow our bodies time to clear out the overage of lactate in the blood stream.  3-8 minutes is a long time to suffer from an impaired ability to run our best and by the time the pacing error is remedied, our competition is long gone. However when paced properly, lactate get recycled back into useable energy and we retain the ability to shift into a faster gear when ready and when appropriate. Pace ourselves well and we should really be surpassing our lactate threshold as we finish the race, where it no longer matters what happens in the next 3-8 minutes after we stop.

The Gun goes off. I get a good start. Only one woman is ahead of me. I look at my watch and it is a 6:35.  I realize this is too fast. After submitting my Tempo Run article, yesterday, I can't help but feel like a big dummy if I screw up my own pacing now. I exercise restrain and wait until the second half of the race to run any faster than what I decided would be my Tempo Run pace. Based upon my 5k PR, I assigned myself a Tempo pace for this race environment as 6:45-6:50.  I wanted to hang there until 7M, before I even thought about picking it up and risking pushing too hard.  At M7, I wanted to be able to make a definitive move that could be sustained. If possible I wanted to find a final gear to dig into during the last 5K. And if possible, I would like to kick into the finish.

As I slow down, to my goal pace, one by one ladies start to pass me. At least I can count what place I am.  2nd, 3rd, 4th… pull ahead and I sit there in 5th for most of the first mile.  M1 - 6:47

Then another pulls ahead, 6th... and one more 7th… 

Number 6 is so nice. As she pulls up next to me she said “You are in Great Shape! You are so fit!”  This was such an ego boost for me, that it probably set the tone for the rest.  I thanked her, and return the complement, as she was pretty darn fit, too.  She pulled off ahead. I felt the urge to go with her, but I reminded myself "It is just you and the watch…. Run Your Own Race.  Smart pacing is the best racing and chasing leaders at too fast a pace in M2 may not work out for the best…" M2 - 6:55

I am glad I gave myself permission to relax because in M2, we started to climb up the bridge. It felt like it was a mile long, but it was probably more like .4M.  My pace slowed as we climbed and one more woman began to overtake me.  “Take it easy, Take it easy," I reminded myself.  My right hamstring started to feel tight, which was a surprise to me because my left hamstring was the tired one all week.  

I wanted to really stay comfortable until M7 before I tried to increase the pace. It was so very very hard to let people go.  The only reason I felt ok about not trying to stay with the leaders was because this was not my goal race.  This was just a random half marathon we found to make a 20M day more fun.  I wanted to see how it felt to hold back, so it if did not work out, I had nothing to loose. 

As we crested the bridge and ran down the other side my average pace for the entire race so far was now 7:00… and we had to crest this bridge again after the turn around at mile 3.4.  To try to find any edge I could, I hugged every single tangent as tight as possible. The head wind was not helping matters and I felt I was really working very hard to hold the 7:00 pace I was stuck at.  I could not wait to turn around.  
M3 - 7:18 (running some uphill and into headwind)

It was amazing to see so many fast women racing today, especially since last weekend was the USATF-NJ Half Marathon Championship.  However, this race offered prize money for 1, 2, 3 OA. Money brings in talent, so it made sense that the women here were such excellent athletes.  I did not expect to place. Top 5 would be really nice… especially since as we approached the bridge just a M4, I was in 9th.   M4 - 6:48 (running some uphill with tailwind)

As soon as we crested the bridge I thought about how I do tend to run downhills well. I took advantage of the descent and passed one woman and small pack of men on the way down. Once the bridge was done, we had to run mostly on the boardwalk to the turn around at about 10.5 miles.  
M5- 6:40 (running some downhill with tailwind)

After the bridge, we turned to run the boards. The wind was shifting a bit through most of this section, but I felt it mostly at my back which did help… I knew this meant we would be running into it for the last 5k back.  Once at our back, the wind no longer helped with cooling.  It started to feel like I was overheating a little. I was glad there were so many water stops so I could dump some on my head.  M
6 -  6:39

While on the boards, I started to feel really good.  I had passed a female just before the boards but was caught up with running with a pack of men and we were moving. The woman who told me I looked good was up ahead and I concentrated on reeling her in. I wanted to start to make a move to pick up my pace. I looked at my watch and it read 6:26…. that was too fast.  I had to settle down and be patient.  As I finally caught her, I encouraged her to run with me and she did for a bit. Some spectators called out “Number 1 and Number 2 ladies!”  She said “Yeah, I wish!”  I said “Hey we can pretend ;)… in a lot of other races we would be at this pace.  I think we are 6 and 7 now.” 
M7 - 6:32

As I pulled away, I could see two ladies in the distance.  I could sense I was moving slightly faster then they were, but not by much.  It would take a while to catch them.  I just wanted to makes sure I did not run myself out of a kick by trying to catch them too soon. I knew the wind would be challenging at the end of the race and it was already starting to get a little crazy. The flags were shifting in all directions as the buildings seemed to create some turbulent air.   M8  6:40

I was working hard, but I never felt a sense that I was pushing too hard.  The entire race I felt like I was just waiting for the final turn around so the suffering could begin... but as I waited, I was reeling people in.  People around me were fading. M
9 - 6:47

It took me all the way until mile 10 to catch the first of the two ladies. I heard a man call out to them 4th and 5th females (from his balcony).  I really really love when spectators give useful information that helps runners understand what is going on in the race.  Within a minute I had passed both and I was now in 4th.  This is where I wanted to really make a push with my pacing, but I was getting tired.  M10- 6:32
After a minor collision with a guy at the aid station, thank goodness neither of us fell, I hit the turn around and started the hard work of trying to kick in a headwind. As I headed back to towards the finish, the guy on the balcony yelled out… Lead Lady 3 minutes ahead… 2 and 3 are 90 seconds ahead.  Man, there are less than 3 Miles to go and 90 seconds will be hard to make up.  I saw them all at the turn around and they looked strong.  But I was not going to give up. 

It is just me and the clock… no one else.  Run your own race… M11 - 6:36

The wind was obnoxious and worse on the boards.  It made it tough to get a good solid pace increase, but my effort was definitely harder than the rest of the race.  I was working as hard as could.  I saw Kim on the way back and she said "4th lady, no one behind you.".I was glad to hear that b/c I was not sure if either woman I passed had been able to hang with me.  I didn't look back.  M12  6:48 

The last two miles felt like the longest two miles on the planet. I was fully grunting at this point and really trying to find a faster speed.  "Where is the finish!" I seemed so far away.  I looked at my watch and realized that I was going to be really really close to my PR.  I dug as deep as I could.  But I truly had maxed out. A guy flew past me and I had nothing left to respond with.  I was so happy to see that finish line.  


1:27:27 (6:40 pace)
(6 secs slower than my PR). 

4th Female OA

22nd OA

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Newport Liberty Half, USATF-NJ Championship Half Marathon, Jersey City, NJ, 9/18/16

Photo shared on FB by Jamie Mantari
I only ran because I love being part of a my racing team, Clifton Road Runners, and this was an important team race.

I had hoped that even if I ran at less than 100%, I would still be helpful. My toes were still sore from getting destroyed at the marathon last weekend.  I lost three nails. I have new racing flats to try so I was hoping for the best.  My quads are not recovered fully, but they were good enough to run 13M. I was most worried about my hamstring.  The left still felt like it had some tightness and that really concerned me.  I told Anthony I would run as fast as I could comfortably run without hurting myself and if anything felt badly I may not make it the whole way.

I had 11 runners racing this one race today so I wanted to be there to see how my athletes did.  

I was a little disappointed because the day before was nice and cool, but this morning was oppressively humid. 

When looking at the comfort scale we were at a 138 (Air Temp + Dew Point) and anything over 130 is not good for racing PR’s. The scale was a 122 when Kim and I ran half marathon PRs last month on a cool morning in Calicoon, NY. 

I already knew this day would be much tougher than many expected it would be. Fast forward to the finish line. As I stood there watching the stream of familiar faces race towards the finish, it was clear that most people were coming in about 3+ minutes slower than their ability and looking toasted from the humdity.  Sure there were a few amazing outliners who managed to set new PR’s in the humidity, but most suffered from the weather.

I wasn't sure how the race would go, but I still lined up towards the front.  I figured this would likely be very very hard for me but I did not want to rule out he opportunity for a surprise good day.  Adrenaline can sometimes be magical, so why now go out strong and adjust from there.  This is not my goal race. Last week was my goal race. This week I can play around and do things wrong without too much worry.  I decided to get a good start, and then listen to my body.  M1 6:45

Photo shared on FB by Elaine Acosta
I was surprised to find my legs could move this fast, but I could tell I was not keeping this pace up for any duration. My hamstrings were not as tight as I feared they would be, but I still felt limited range of motion. My back started to hurt, just like last year but not as bad, so I tried to gradually slow down until I felt I was at a pace that would not hurt me but still represent a good effort. 
M2 6:57,  
M3 7:03,
M4 7:05,

By M5, I started to really feel like my legs were made of cement. I felt heavy and sluggish and had no real spring. My back pain was impacting my ability to run comfortably.  I felt that I should have really just stayed home today, but now I was in this.  I slowed down more to try to find a sustainable pace.  I knew if I could get to 9M, to go, I could try to pick the pace back up and finish strong.  5 ladies passed me as I tried to find a place where my back hurt less. 
M5 7:13
M6 7:18
M7 7:24
M8 7:22

Photo shared on FB by Elaine Acosta
Once I settled down, I stopped really caring what the watch said. I really did not have much of a choice.  This was the pace my body could handle today and I was ok with that.  

Every day cannot be a PR and one week post-really-hard-marathon, is not the time to expect great things to happen.  But even as I settled down, I knew I still had another gear. I just needed to decide when to use it.  I wanted to start picking back up at 9M and ideally make a second surge at 11M to the finish.  As soon as I hit the 8M mark I opened up my stride to the best I could, but my back pain was still there  I could feel myself running so tight, but I could not loosen up without triggering back pain… so I just ran the best way I could.   7:00 minute pace for 9M to the finish was not sustainable, but I felt 2 final fast miles could be possible if I could get to Mile 11 feeling ready to work for it.
M9 7:00
M10 7:11
M11 7:09

Just by bumping up my pace by 20 seconds per mile over the lats 3M allowed me to pick off 4 ladies, but one woman did come with me. I was not sure who she is or what team she runs for, but my entire purpose today was to try to place as best as I could, safely, for the team, so I really wanted to try to make sure I finished ahead of her. 

She mentioned something about this not being the pace she normally runs, which seemed to imply this was slower than her usual, but maybe not. Maybe she was having a great day.  I wasn't sure how to respond to that remark so I just commented that "today may not be so much about pace as it is about place…" 

Then Ryan, pulled up next to me and said, “Oh Wow, you recover fast!”  I added “Well, everything hurts! I am really happy to be running this well but I am tired.  The only thing I know to do to make the pain stop is to hurry up and run faster!”  Ryan agreed and we all picked up the pace as soon as we hit M11. 

It felt great to run faster, but I was worried about popping something.  However, since I noticed the woman was still going with me, I had to push on.  A guy in long pants was just ahead of me and we pulled the pace down. We passed as many as possible as our pace dropped to a mid-6.  Just after M12 my watch dropped the signal in the building. I had no idea what the pace was, but we just did not let up. 
M12 6:27
M13.1 8:30 for last 13.1 
(which is really at least 13.3 on this notoriously long course for a 6:23 pace)

Once I stopped running, I felt a wave of dizziness wash over me and my legs almost buckled.  It was hard to keep my balance.  I know this was the humidity kicking my butt.  

I am thrilled to have been able to run so well when my entire body was will still exhausted and recovering.  Had this not been a team championship race, I would not have raced at all this weekend.  But I do feel like my presence did help a little. 

Photo shared on FB by Kerry Monahan Gaughan
Our 40’s women (which includes our top scorer who is over 50) beat the second place 40’s women team by over 28 minutes, so maybe they didn't need me much there.  However, our Open women team placed 3rd OA, which made me feel like I did help the Open ladies place well today, and that makes me feel great to have run hard on tired legs. 

Time: 1:33:30 (This course is always at least .25-.35M long… every single year on almost everyone's watch. Normally I don't complain about a course reading long, and Garmin data is not reliable, but in this case I think people should know).
Gender Place: 11th 
Master’s (All women over r40):  4th 
Age Group:  2nd. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Revel, Big Cottonwood Marathon (sub-3!), Salt Lake City, UT, 9/10/16

There's a hole in my pocket where my dreams fell through,
From a sidewalk in the city to the avenue
There's a leak in my dam 'bout the size of a pin,
And I can't quite remember where the water's getting in.
But when you're wearing on your sleeve, 
All the things you regret, 
You can only remember what you want to forget ... 

It is rarely ever just about running. Especially for us non-professionals runners, who still go out and suffer through the miles, experiencing intense physical and emotional pain just for the chance to feel the intense joy of doing what we set out to do.

For some people, like me, running defines them. Or maybe it saves them from a lot of things that would beat them up inside. It is not about winning a race or getting a medal. It is about feeling complete. 

For some people, like me, running "fast" (this is relative, no matter what that time is), reminds us that if we set our mind to do something, then work hard when times get tough, accept pain as part of the process, expect nothing to be handed to us, cope with obstacles, and never ever give up hope, then we just may find that we can achieve more than we ever dreamed of. 

This important lesson about our personal strength transfers to the other parts of life, where resiliency is needed ... in situations that are more “real” and more serious than any race could ever be.  

For me, running strong when things get hard helps me to see that I can overcome the “impossible” by recognizing my strengths and believing in myself. The race course is one of the best classrooms to teach people, like me, this lesson.  Sometimes I need a refresher course. Today was that day. 

Brief History (for those who may not know): My story starts way back, over 10 years ago, when at 29 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Running and racing saved my soul. Cancer is an insidious physical and emotional trauma that teaches some that our bodies can betray us at any time without warning. Cancer can take everything from us in one fell swoop.

Running is my defense to this fear. Each day I run, I know I am doing everything I can to be the healthiest person I can be. This is the only way I know to minimize my risk of battling cancer again. If cancer comes back, I will be physically strong enough to handle the treatment. Running every day is a constant reminder that I am STRONG. Running is not just something I do for exercise. It means more to me than that. As a coach and student of exercise science, running has become my life’s purpose.

May 2015, my back spasms took away my ability to run. I could run about 15 minutes only, before spasms hurt so bad that I feared I would pass out or throw up. My business was threatened and my income plummeted. I had to cancel all my In-Person training sessions because I could no longer do this work reliably. I began to doubt the decisions I had made  to quit office work to try to build a life doing what I love. I felt I was failing. I had become depressed as my identity was destroyed. I gained weight because I could not move like I used to and I tend to eat more when sad. Everything felt hard. I did not enjoy my life as much. 

Five doctors could not help me. I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and Degenerative Disc Disease that had degraded my spine to the extent that I could no longer run pain-free. I was told there was nothing that could be done to repair the discs that are now destroyed and that if I could not run without pain, then that was a sign that I should not run at all. 

I died inside that day in November 2015 when the doctor told me to give up my dreams.

I worked on acceptance. I was willing to accept that my best running days were over, but not until I tried everything. I looked for exceptions.There were days I was able to run marathons in 4:00-4:15 without any pain, but most other days I could not make it to the 2M mark without suffering. There was something that allowed me to run some days but not other days. I don't know what that was but I would try to figure it out.

In May, I changed my nutrition, stopped training by pace, and worked first to lose weight and build muscle strength back. By June, things started to turn around in a big way. My back still hurts when I train, but in a race I have been able to run with less pain. 

Once I started to believe I could beat this, I then became the leanest, strongest, fittest version of myself. I religiously stuck to my plan. I logged my training, my nutrition, and my sleep patterns. As a result, at 40 years old, I started to blow my life-time PR’s out of the water.

Big Cottonwood started out as a goal race picked for a friend. I wanted to see her BQ. I chose this race because it was the fastest race in the country on the last weekend to BQ before Boston opened registration. She could not make the trip, but I decided to see what I could do. I knew I could PR and this was the place to do it!  

It was not until Friday AM, when things started to feel real. As I drove myself to the airport, Brandi Carlile was in my CD player. The song linked above, played. This CD was something I bought when I was feeling remorseful about many things, my running life being just one of them. The metaphor of how her dreams simply fell out of a hole in her pocket, that she did not know was there, really spoke to me. I regretted not doing more when I could. But as this song played, I thought about how I worked to change my situation. 

As I parked at the remote lot in Newark, I glanced down and noticed my arm, and then snapped this photo. Ok, Grandma … I know this is from you…. :)”

I got on the bus to the terminal and felt compelled to write this note to myself

“For a long time now, I have felt the weight, a struggle, pushing me towards regret. I am fortunate to have been able to cope with this while figuring out my life’s path, even when times felt a little dark. Acceptance of change helped me stay focused on solutions. Patience during adversity helped me to not suffocate from despair. I know that if I want to find my way out of a dark place, I need to keep my eyes open and look for the opportunities around me. This world is full of caring, compassionate people who want to see me succeed. There is opportunity for positive change everywhere. It starts with first believing it exists. It starts with believing I can achieve it. Over 12 months ago, I felt my world crumble and it broke my heart. But today I have found a brighter more hopeful existence. God Bless Second Chances. They are everywhere. They are all around us, if we are patient, solution-focused, remain aware of our opportunities, and believe in ourselves.”   ok… so no pressure, right?

The course!
Race Day: 

I woke up at 3:30 am to board the bus outside my hotel at 4:00 am. I had some coffee, two chocolate honey stinger waffles, a few chocolate-covered espresso bean, and 15 oz of gatorade while riding the bus to the starting line. I knew the course would be really fast when the bus had to pull over from overheating on the climb up to the start. 

As we stepped off the bus, about 1300+ runners huddled for warmth on top of the mountain at 9696 ft elevation

The air was chilly and very thin.  I could feel it impacting my ability to breathe. 

Inspirational music played loudly as the sun slowly rose over the summit.  

As I threw my gear bag into the truck, I thought about a man I have been FB friends with, but never met in person. He had posted yesterday that he was on his flight to Salt Lake City to run a marathon. I wondered if he would be here and at that moment he walked right in front of me. This made me smile. It was like seeing an old friend. 

When you are going to do something hard, it is really nice to have a friend in your corner to keep your focused. Abel became that person for me today.  (Thank you Abel).

We discussed goals. I told him I wanted to target an even spit and if everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3.  We get up front and after the national anthem and then a count down, I cannot believe we were off and running.

20 weeks of focus. 20 weeks of trying my hardest to do everything “right”... so when my back finally does go out in the years to come, I will have No Regrets.   

If everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3, which was a pipe-dream and never something I felt could be a reality.    

There is so much pain... at Mile 1.5... 
Now here we are running in the dark down a mountain so steep that in Mile 1 I can already feel my toe nails banging against my toe-box. I am trying to look at my Garmin, but I cant read it in the dark with my eyes tearing up from the cold air. I am running so fast, too fast. The hill is so steep I can't slow down with out jamming on the breaks… I decide to just go with it.  

At M1 my Garmin beeps: M1- 5:53. Holy Crap! That cannot be correct. My first sub-6 mile in a race… and at the absolute worst time to do it! This is NOT good.

“If everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3.” 

But this is very very bad! This is one full minute under sub-3 pace. I pump the breaks to get myself under control. Abel looks back, to check on me, I waive for him to just go. I need to settle down.  

As I try to slow, the front of right shin spasm hard. Shooting pains are sent up my leg. I cannot step without pain. I never cramp.  I am today. I can feel my big toe is swollen badly and now I can't step without pain. It is not even Mile 2 yet. Then my Garmin loses a signal and I have no information about what my pace is. 

"Will it away!"
If everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3”  

My Garmin timer is working, so I have that for information at each mile. It feels like the entire field is passing me as I giddy-up with a contorted painful gait.

We pass the 3 Mile Mark and start to run uphill. Up hill at 8700 feet is hard on a chick who lives at 100 ft. My Garmin picks up a signal here, just to tell me “Hey do you know you are running a 7:50 pace!” then it dropped again. Thanks! 

My devastating internal dialogue begins: “If everything goes perfectly today, you should be able to run a sub-3…. Well, guess what! Today is NOT your day. It is not yet mile 4 and you are running a 7:50 pace with shin spasms so bad you can’t step and bruised toenails making it harder than it needs to be. It is only going to get worse from here! You can’t even get your turnover fluid. Accept it! You are not a sub-3 marathoner and you never will be! What even made you think this was possible. If you can’t do it here, at one of the fastest courses in the country, today, when you are in then best shape of your life, then it will never ever happen for you. So right now you need to stop dreaming and start figuring out a way to be OK with this because 22 miles is along way to go feeling sorry for yourself... if you  can even make it that far.”

Just Believe!
And then I remembered glancing down at my wrist when I parked the car at the airport. "Believe!" I thought about how hard I worked. I thought about my last race where I had bad foot pain and I focused on “Willing it Away” and how that worked for me.  I thought about my 1:27 negative split half marathon that I won outright (against like 35 runners ;), but so what, I still won). I thought about a story Laura D. shared with me about her dad telling her to always “Have Fun and Never Give Up”… 

I thought about my Grandmother and how I felt she was there with me and I said to her: “Ok Grandma, I am not ready to quit. I don't care if I don't make it. I just need to try… I need to keep trying no matter what happens!”

And then the MUSIC in my head started. When a song gets stuck in my head during a race, good things happen. At the starting area music was being played… and one perfect song wormed its way into my brain and here it was, just as I needed it most.

And with this music, my shin loosed up… My gait became smooth… My toes still hurt, but I know that if I run hard enough a bruised toenail will blow up and actually feel better…  So with this music in head, with my grandmother in my thoughts, I ran my heart out!  

As I ran from Mile to Mile, not really sure how I was doing, I told that negative voice of self-doubt to Shut It. I don't need a “perfect day.” I just need a chance!  Today, I have my chance!

I came through 13M sub-1:28’s… Yes! I had a chance!  

I took off my singlet and got comfortable. I take a lot of unwarranted crap for running in a sports bra from judgy people whose opinions don't really matter. When I run in a sports bra I feel strong and confident. My body cools itself better. I always run faster when cooler. A chick yells out “Nice 8-pack!! You go Girl! You are crushing it!” and that is all I needed to hear! 

Everything comes together. The fast course pulled me at paces I don't often get to see in a 5k!  My Garmin was working again (finally) and I clicked off a series of incredible splits from M13 - M17: 6:08, 6:12, 6:14, 6:22, 6:14.  

This stretch of running, brought me back to life!  Every mile under 6:53 was giving me something to use during the hardest miles of this race that were about to hit from 18M-24M. I just needed to get to mile 24 with a chance. 
Then I think, “OMG! What if this is a dream?! What if my alarm for the bus is about to go off and I am not actually here doing this”… but the pain feels so real.

We entered the harder stretch and I hold a 6:36 for M18. I fade to a 7:00 for M19. I am ok with this because, I banked some time.  

But then my hamstring spasms and I feel like I am about to pull it… “Not now! Will It away!  Will. It. Away!”  

I see Abel on his way back and he looks good, but also like things are getting tough. I know they are for me. I ignore my watch. This stretch is hard. I focus on the people around me and I try to reel people in. M20 - 6:58.
M21 - 7:01. 

I’m having trouble holding on. I feel my shin swelling and my shoe, around my ankle, starts to get tight. I need to be at M22 before 2:30 to have a chance. I glance at my split: 7:24.  I cant bear to look at the total time. I don't want to know… I am afraid it will tell me I am too slow, so I look away and just run.

I get the pace back under 7:00 for M23 (6:52). I tell myself, just get to mile 24 with 16 minutes to go (7 minutes for 2 miles and then 2 minutes for .2).  I hit Mile 24 at 2:41 OMG I think I really can do this!!! 

Then as the course starts to head back downhill my left pinky toe explodes in my shoe… it blows up and my foot pools with blood and fluid… :Not Now!!!! 2 miles to go… Not now!!!"

I see Abel, he is reaching back towards his hamstring. I can see he is working for this but he, too, is in pain.  I catch up and I say to him “Will It Away!” (He tells me later all he heard was me say “Suck it up!”  LOL!  That is not what I said!!!). I tell him “We can do it!  But I secretly I believe in him more than I do myself.”

Starting to Believe!
I need to be at M25 before 2:50. I hoped be there by 2:48. I am taking nothing for granted.  

Everything hurts, but I am so close. I am checking my time and I see it roll over 2:50 and I ask the guy next to me if we passed M25. I never trust mile markers. What if the others were short? What if I did not reach mile 25 yet and now it is 2:50???  

He says, “We are just past 25.3 miles!

OMG, less than a mile to go if he is right!  If he is right, I can run a 2:56!  But what if he is wrong? He could he be wrong?   

But what if he is right?

At 2:54:xx I pass the flag for M26…  "At two fifty four I pass the flag for mile twenty six" This does not feel real to me. It is now and only now that I truly believe. 

I open my stride as much as I can and my heart fills with joy. I cry. I don't care. I run the last .36 miles (on my watch) in a 6:12 pace. 

I am escorted to the med tent because my legs are weak, I am emotional, and my asthma is making it hard to breath. I look at my watch… 

Two Fifty Six … 2. 5. 6…. 2:56!  

I cant believe it. 

I did it. 

And with a 10 second negative split! 

Abel finishes shortly after and gets his first Sub-3, too! 

After I returned home to New Jersey, I get in my car, with the CD still in the player. I was greeted by this song which really sums it all up.

I think it's time we found a way back home
You loose so many things you love as you grow
I missed the days when I was just a kid
My fear became my shadow, I swear it did

Wherever is your heart I call home
Wherever is your heart I call home
Though your feet may take you far from me, I know
Wherever is your heart I call home
(I "Heart" Marathons)

Thank you Grandma. I know you were there to see this, to help give me strength when I was full of self doubt, and to help me believe I could overcome everything thrown in my way, if I just made sure to believed in me. 

Time 2:56:14 (6:43 per mile)
OA place: 29th
Gender: 3rd

Age: First Master Female

We don't need perfect, 
We just need a chance.  

Dream Big.


The Aftermath: Lost toenails and bruised shins.
(Not for the weak-stomached).

You may look at the elevation chart and think "Downhill races" are fast courses. 

Yes, this is true... They are, but for those who can survive the beating. Be prepared to get you butt kicked for 26M straight without a break. Do your downhill training. Expect round after round of jarring impact without relief. This may be fast, but it also painful. 

I lost 3 toe nails already and my shin spasms resulted in a nice bruise from the inside out.  My hamstring is still knotted. 

Recovery from this race is taking me longer than when I ran 110 miles in a day. I am being patient, but I already know this was the hardest race I have ever run even with gravity assisting me most of the way. 

Yet, still, when I look at my feet, I am proud.  

I hear toenails are over-rated, anyway :)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Headlands 50K, Muir Beach, August 26, 2016

I needed a Long Run to complete my marathon training cycle.  31 Miles is a Long Run, right?

I was going to a week-long Kinesiology Institute in Arizona the week I needed this Long Run. Arizona is close to San Francisco, right?

The race description: "Marin County's most famous trails - Coastal, Miwok, Steep Ravine and the Dipsea - provide the spectacular setting for this classic, single-loop race... Only minutes from downtown San Francisco, the Tamalpa Headlands 50K is a demanding ultra marathon with over 7,300 feet of elevation change." 

This sounded like a great idea! I asked Sidney to fly out to meet me for a few days after the race so I could combine school, racing, and a short vacation into one 9-day trip.

I picked a hotel at the last minute, as usual, and found one about 25 minutes away in a small town called Tiburon. I can't explain how much I love Tiburon. If I had 6 million dollars I would move there... for a year and then be broke... It was such a beautiful place for a vacation. I am already looking for other reasons to reasons to return.

Town of Tiburon, photo from
I had not trained specifically for the Headlands 50k. I have had some great races, for me, lately so there was some expectation in the back of my mind that maybe I could run well.

But the reality is I have been preparing to run well on roads, not trails. My trail running has been only easy paces as recovery runs. I do very little climbing on a daily basis, unless I am doing a hill workout. I rarely climb stairs at home or at work. My experience at this races has really taught me that I need to climb more. 

The trail shoes I decided to use had only 13 total miles on them and I wasn't sure if they would be too light for a long race, but they fit in my suitcase well so why not use them?

Basically I was running this race with very little specific prep. However, I was confident I would finish it. I just didn't know how long it would take. I didn't even know where the race was, or how far apart aid was, or what the elevation or terrain was like until I was sitting down for dinner the night before. It was only then I finally had some time to figure things out. I looked at the elevation chart and knew I was in trouble! ;).

The weather was beautiful. I heard it was humid for the area. But it was nice to me. It was 60 degrees with 54 degree dew point. It felt cool and a little damp.

The race was cupless. They did have some plastic cups they would wash between uses (I am not sure how I feel about that, but I had my own bottle). I contemplated using a small 10 oz bottle since most of the aid was about 3-4 miles apart. (I could have done that). But I decided I wasn't sure how long I would take and I would rather have more fluid on me rather than not enough. I filled a 17 oz bottle with Gatorade and carried it in one pocket of my race vest. I threw a few gels in the other pocket. I also wanted to bring my phone so I could take photos if it turned out that I was not in a rush. It was going to be a gorgeous course.

The entire day before I traveled to the race I ate a ton of carbs, more than I have eaten in months. I had a banana-chocolate chip muffin for breakfast. I had a espresso brownie at lunch. I had dessert after dinner too. I was definitely carb-loaded and ready to go. (This worked well for me).

The morning of the race I had coffee and a small triple chocolate brownie. I used this race as my chance to enjoy all the sweets I have stayed away from for a long time. Why not? I would be burning tons of energy so I enjoyed it all.

It was fantastic to get to meet Frankie, at the start!  I had been fortunate to have coached her a few years ago, where she ran a 100M PR! I had never meet her in person, but  today was the day! Some people, like Frankie, just have wonderful spirits and their positive energy is so contagious. It was so wonderful to meet her!  

The race started and it did not take me long to realize I was NOT going to run fast today. The single track section, early on, meant the pace was set by the runners ahead, unless I was willing to pass. But since I need to spend most of my time looking at my feet, I wasn't planning to pass anyone on single track unless I really could stay ahead of them. I was just trying to stay uprigh and moving forward. 

The elevation chart made it appear that the the bigger climbs were at the end so I wanted to stay comfortable. But once the climbing started, my calves and achilles were screaming at me. The grade was incredibly steep. Even though I felt like I had the cardiovascular fitness to move faster, my muscles were getting so burnt out by the grade, that I just couldn't pick up my pace. Yet, people were bounding up the hill like mountain goats? It was amazing to see how well-trained climbers handled the course.

I was in awe of the views and decided to forget pace. I just wanted time on my feet and I wanted to work the descents when I could. My next race would have a lot of downhills so I wanted to beat my legs up today so they could respond and be stronger by my road marathon. I know that pace does not matter, when the goal of a workout is to get strong in a different but specific way. Running hard down hill would help me recover stronger and be a better down hil runner later, even if my overall pace for this race was slow. I needed to break down a little under the specific stress of downhill running so I could come back stronger in two weeks.

The incline was so steep and I was so slow climbing that I started project this 50k taking me between 7-8 hours. This would be one of my slowest 50ks.  

A few people around me learned that I was from NJ. At 5.2M into the race a guy turned to me and said "Hey New Jersey, don't get discouraged. This is the longest steepest climb of the race. Once this is over the rest are all more gradual."

His words were a gift. The elevation chart I saw made it appear that it got worse, not easier. His words were so uplifting. What a great guy!

After that climb we had a long fast descent on a paved road. I took advantage of the chance to beat my quads up a little. A group of runners were coming up the hill. I was wondered out loud to they guy next to me if we had to run up this steep road later? He said he didn't think so. I said I sure hope not! 

We were moving. 7:19 pace for this short burst. I felt great until I heard the yelling from behind us: "Wrong way!!!" Ugh. What bad timing! Just as we were acknowledging the running group on our left, we both missed the entrance to the single track trail on our right. As we turned back, the guy says, "Well I guess we DO get to run up the hill!" Lol.

These trails are not like North Jersey trails, where I truly need to watch my feet the entire way. Here there are long stretches of single track where I was easily cruising at sub-8:30 pace. In 31 miles I did not fall once. The footing was very runnable. But this also give you a sense of just how slow I climbed. Lol.

When we weren't climbing up hills, we were climbing up stairs. Stone stairs. Rail road ties. Actual stair cases. Or down stairs. Unevenly spaces stairs. Switchbacks with stairs on every curve. Stairs that made me nervous about running down them fast, since I wasn't sure how stable they were or how stable I would be.

When we ran out of stairs, we had to climb up a ladder! :)

The lack of confidence I had with my footing while running fast on the trails, slowed me down even when I had great energy. In fact, my energy was so steady for the entire race that I needed almost no aid to run the entire way.  I never hit a wall at the pace I was moving. I consume about 30 oz of electrolyte drink, 5 potato chips, and one cube of cantaloupe.  Otherwise I jus blew through aid stations and kept on going beacuse I did not feel depleted or in need of anything. I felt the full impact of carb loading today and it made me feel wonderful! 

In my opinion, the first 10M of this race were the hardest. After 10M, the only issue I had was foot pad pain at Mile 21 from using the minimal trail shoes and stepping on a ton of rocks for hours. Had I trained more on rocky terrain in the shoes my foot would likely have been fine. But today my right foot felt bruised and it became painful to step. I was very concerned. 10 miles to go and my gait was off.  This type of damage really could mess up my actual goal race. So I asked my body to take care of this for me, to "Will It Away!" I repeate that over and over, and in 2 miles the pain was gone. Numbed? Ignored? Not acknowledged? What ever happened, there was a remarkable difference in my experience of foot pan to the extend that I could run again normally for the rest of the race.  Since my back pain, I have also worked alot on "mind over matter" for pain management, and it truly does work!

I started passing people in the last 10 Miles, but I was not fast. I ran when I could. I took photos when I was inspired. I missed a lot of photo opportunities when I was running down hills.  Often I would catch myself exclaiming out loud how beautiful the trails were. LIke when I popped out of the woods, into a clearning, to catch a glimpse of rolling hills with peaks covered with fog. I am so grateful to be able to do this!

I finished in 6:22. My foot pain returned after it was all over and this made me very worried. This race was not my goal race, and now I had some bruising under my foot. I really hoped it would not impact the race I had actually prepared for.

Shortly after I finished, I headed back to hotel to answer my coaching emails before I needed to pick up Sidney.

On my drive back to Tiburon, it occurred to me that one of the most special things about being an ultra runner is during the 6-7 hours I spent in Muir Forest, I probably saw more of that gorgeous terrain than most people who lived nearby will ever get to experience. This is a good enough reason to run, no matter what the pace!

A few days after the race, the RD asked if I had collected my medal? No. I just left.  6:22 was not anywhere near the leaders. But it was a nice surprise to find out I was second place in the 40-44 year old age group.  I was mailed a wonderful National Championship Age Group medal. 

Time: 6:22
AG: 2nd