Sunset in SF

We’ve had some weird weather lately. Sunday, I spent a good chunk of my afternoon sitting at the beach, trying to reason with myself that I should leave (it was just too warm and beautiful to want to move, but eventually the desire for food got to me!). On Monday and Tuesday, it was 80 degrees. The past few days…very chilly. Right now, it’s 50 degrees. Granted, 50 degrees is not bad. But the 30 degree difference makes you feel as if it’s downright winter. The only consolation? My run/walk yesterday was filled with beauty. I normally prefer mornings, but wanted to try something different. I’m glad I did.


Cheating on the plan…already?

A few days ago, I started the Couch-to-5K training plan. I’m a big fan of it, or at least the concept of it, as it makes running accessible to people who don’t run. And it makes recovery easier! This morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn (which is, actually, pretty easy for me to do, with daylight savings time working in my favor). And I ran. And I walked. This repeated for awhile, until my training app told me to cool down. At that point in time, I was just finishing my favorite mixed-path loop around Golden Gate Park, and I knew I had about a mile-ish left, so I continued the run/walk pattern until I was about five mins from home. Maybe this is cheating, but it just feels normal to run/walk for longer than 30 minutes. Also, I feel great! One of these days, when I’m old and frail (or if I get injured again), I might not be able to run anymore. But until that day comes, I vow not to take it for granted.

C25K — A new beginning

Well, it’s official. I have clearance to use my feet in weight-bearing activities again! Given my few attempts at run/walking have ended in frustration, I’ve decided I’m going to take it easy and go the “couch-to-5K” route.

The concept behind the Couch to 5K plan is pretty simple–you gradually build up the endurance to run by doing a combination of run/walking over a period of 9 weeks. Eventually, you’re able to complete a 5K run. It’s intended for beginning runners, but that’s how running feels to me, after being away from running for awhile.

Sunday, I tested out the waters, and it went surprisingly well. A few things I like about it:

  • Being told what to do. OK, I don’t always like this in general. But in this case, it was encouraging. And it took the thinking out of when to start running/walking.
  • Interval training. Interval training is really great for keeping things interesting. It didn’t really feel like I was running, actually.
  • Easy plan. 30 minutes, three times a week. That seems very manageable.

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to start and stop running like this. I might eventually cave and just run for longer than the app tells me to. But I’m convinced this is a great way to start running again.

Race Day

2:44:29 Pace: 12:33
(For reference, my first half marathon ever clocked in at 2:55:43)

Split times
5K: 36:30 Pace: 11:45
7.4 miles: 1:31:00 Pace: 12:18
*Note: they don’t show miles 9-13, the hardest miles of the race! I kept it as steady as possible, though– around 12 mins/mile (with my only slower miles around 13 mins/mile and 14 mins/mile on the last two miles of the stretch)

Highlights from pre and during today’s race:

  • My parents came in town for the weekend and cheered me on at several points throughout the race. It was nice to have their support and encouragement.
  • A few of my friends came over for carb-loading the night before. Again, so much encouragement and good times! Kept my mind off the next day’s activity.
  • My roommate recommended wearing the fuel belt. She said (and I paraphrase): “you don’t want them to decide when you can refuel.” I wore the fuel belt and was so grateful I did.
  • Mr. Peanut! ‘Nuff said.

  • Adrenaline…running with it is so different than otherwise. My first few miles were pretty fast (though I did try to keep it somewhat normal/mildly fast for me).
  • At mile 3, my orchestra/climbing friends cheered me on — following me with a video camera (!) and a boombox. I don’t think I would have ever expected that; it was a fun surprise.
  • Energy of the crowd. Four years ago, I lived with marathon runners and I remember cheering them on several times for various runs — the energy of the crowd is pretty irresistible, even more so when you’re in it.
  • There was a very brief moment early on when I debated listening to music. In the end, trashy pop music won. It most definitely helped with my pace, and getting in the zone.
  • This jogger was fun to run with (not sure if you can see it, but the guy in the white shirt is juggling):

  • Around mile 6, I caught up with my friend, Alison, who was steadily running, and we had a moment on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was great to see her, and we were able to be near each other for my parents/ her boyfriend at their cheer station.
  • For much of the race, I kept up with two individuals: the 5:30 marathon pacer and the fastest walker I’ve ever met. The 5:30 pacer helped me see the potential. The fast walker was just plain demotivating. There’s something about running as fast as a walker that’s hard to deal with in the moment. I couldn’t shake her, though, so I learned to deal with it.
  • PR, by 10 mins…it feels like more than that, though. The SF Marathon has been quoted as “the race even Marathoners fear” (Wall Street Journal, 7/13/2010). The elevation during the first half most certainly has something to do with that. I felt like I tackled the hills with determination, and that helped keep my pace pretty steady. Can’t wait to see what the second half looks like next year.

Half speed, slow motion

Very predictably, every year I was in school, I got sick a few days before my first day. I don’t really remember being truly stressed about it, but somehow, my body was stressed.

Today I finished my last short run before the big one (3 miles), and I’m lucky I didn’t fall over. The whole time, it felt as if I was running through soft sand. Looks surmountable and easy enough to pass over, but in reality, feels worse than trudging through 5 inches of mud. It was definitely one of my more sluggish runs. To make matters worse, my throat was on fire. The last time this happened, I ended up with a major chest cold, and stopped running for a week and a half. I only hope that this is one of those “it’s all in my head” sicknesses, and that I’m just going to kick it before it begins. Even if it is in my head, I’m taking all the necessary precautions, including: vitamin C, throat tea, and Zycam. Germs, go away!

Race day is…less than 3 days away. I’m not nervous, but I just want to feel good about it, and feel good while I’m doing it. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Dress Rehearsal

Over the weekend, I went to the South Lake Tahoe area to visit my friends who are thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. They were having a “zero day.” Some might think this means kayaking and/or floating on the lake all day (this was my misconception). For them, it meant that they needed to resupply for the next two weeks of their journey…and it meant that they had to replace gear that had worn down. This equates to one long day of chores. We did spend an hour at Fallen Leaf Lake (above), and it was positively serene.

When I returned to the bay area, I was determined to have my dress rehearsal, a practice run that would mimic the race next weekend, minus running on the actual route (I run part of that route once a week anyway). All of that Tahoe time meant a long drive + a long run on Sunday, so it wasn’t quite the conditions I’ll face on race day. However, I was very tired after that, and it did give me an indication of what it will feel like running while tired.

I also busted out my previously-unused fuel belt. I was rewarded with constant hydration and a bruise on my hip. How does one wear this thing anyway? I am not a huge fan, but I also want to make sure I have something on hand that’s not my handheld water bottle, and that I’m not relying on the fuel stations during race day…so I’ll probably don this bad boy again next Sunday. Depends on how annoying the bruise is all week.


The run itself went pretty well. MLK Jr. Drive is just one long steady hill, so that will be similar to the last hill I face on race day. That was the only stretch when I dropped down to 14+ mins/mile, so I can live with that. It’s fun to review the splits, because you can tell exactly where I got my second wind (around 5.4 miles). The average is about what I’m aiming for, but I don’t think I’ll be as predictable like I had hoped (sorry, my cheerleaders!).

After my run, I was rewarded with calf cramps (quite possibly from spending too much time at the massage chair at the cabin) and exhaustion. I literally could not move for two hours. Then, I got my second wind.

Me–PR? Really?

Distance: 5.00 mi
Time: 1:02:24
Avg pace: 12:29 min/mi

About three weeks ago, I realized that it’s possible I can PR this race — in other words, not merely just finish it, but set a personal record. Many runners try to do this as a general strategy/goal, but I’ve never operated that way. I’ve always operated under the safety net umbrella of what my perceived limitations are, and that was always to aim to finish in the race minimum of 13:45 mins/mile, nothing more.

All of that said, my speed has *shockingly* increased by more than a minute for most of my shorter runs (see today’s pace above, for instance), and about a min for my long runs. I do think that sticking to my training regimin has helped, but I also think I was underestimating my natural pace to begin with.

This new focus has totally changed the game for my long runs and for speedwork. For long runs, instead of just finishing them and not really paying attention to the pace, I’m speeding up to make up for slowing down on hills, and I’m sticking with the general rule that I know I can and will aim for 13 mins per mile. For speedwork, I have something new to think about. Instead of just aiming for 12 min miles, I’m really aiming to feel what pushes my body — in other words, I ask myself, how do I feel when running? And that’s how the speedy version of me can manage 11+ mins/mile.

I will never be a competitive “elite” runner. I mean, my body was just not made for that. But I do think I can compete with myself and be equally happy. The earlier version of myself as a nonrunner-turned-runner-in-three-months would not want to admit it, but it does feel good to have a measurable outcome that is more than just finishing it. All of these weeks of training are finally paying off!

The everything run

Distance: 9.02 mi
Elevation gain: 725 ft
Avg Pace: 13:32 min/mi

From the hills to the flats, to the ocean and soft trails, to marching bands and dancers, today’s run just had it all. I went through Golden Gate park and then spent a chunk of my time on the multi-use trail that runs alongside the Great Highway. This was my view for the majority of the run (notice the tiny single track on the left hand side of the trail? That’s where my feet were):

When I reached the zoo, I stopped to take in the view:

On the way back, my feet were hurting (sigh…climbing + running = sore feet). So, I took advantage of the soft trails I could find. That meant also taking the hilly trail that runs in between Martin Luther King Jr Drive and Lincoln. It was a tough final stretch and I definitely had to stop a few times and utter “ouch, ouch, ouch,” countered by an obligatory positive “yes, yes, yes,” to try to keep myself motivated (note: next time, I’ll try to do this sort of thing at the beginning of the run).

The AIDS walk was well underway, and on my last mile, I got to see this peppy marching band in action. They were definitely the highlight of the run!

Foggy Times

There are times when the fog is dreadful. You can’t pull yourself out of bed because you hear the fog horns blaring and that means that it will be cold and misty. But then you tell yourself, “it will warm up after 1 mile,” and “fog is good for running,” and that helps you strap on your running shoes and go out of the door.

Then, there are times when the fog is stunning. You look out ahead of you and you see a blank slate. All of the superficial beauty of a sunrise or a sunset is stripped, leaving only the path in front of you. Today was one of those times. 5 miles, Speedwork, Crissy Field, 12+mins/mile… done. *Note: this was Thursday’s run…just forgot to post it!

In good form

Just over a year ago, I met M, who, as I mentioned before, was in the process of getting her Pilates certification. Now she’s off to a higher purpose: thru-hiking the Pacific Coast Trail with her boyfriend.

During my brief time as her client, we covered a very full range of Pilates topics, but the one that stuck with me the most is form when doing non-Pilates activities — like running, cycling, climbing and cello-ing (my four main hobbies). When running, she had me pull down my shoulders (trying to “touch” the shoulder blades together) and relax my arms, to hold them in front of me like I’m carrying a tray. When combined with general good posture, this is surprisingly effective at making running easier.

*Powered by PixtonImages copyright 2012 Pixton.

When cycling, she had me focus on my core and triceps to get the pressure out of my shoulders. Though I really enjoyed having someone to cycle with, I admit that I didn’t always want to hear her commentary while I was cycling (and probably said as much). “Triceps, Sarah!” I can still hear her now. But I think it was effective, and that’s probably why people train with trainers — they can get into your subconscious more than you can do on your own, and make you a better runner/cycler/climber/cello player.

Today started out a little rough — it’s always hard to jump back into running again after a long run on Sunday. The second I remembered to focus on form, however, I relaxed into my pace and finished the two miles with ease, and well under 30 mins. Thanks, M! See you on the trail in a couple of weeks.