Race Recap: Mountains2Beach Marathon

If you take nothing else away from this post, or rather, get tired and bored midway through, please just know this: I Beat Oprah’s Time. Finally! After two failed attempts, I bested the Mighty O. Skinny Oprah, mind you. Let a girl have her micro-victory.

True to the theme of this solo runner opening up and sharing my running via this blog and/or running with others (at times), it’s fitting that I ran this marathon using, for the first time, a pace group. What a fantastic experience! Now, it sounds like this is not always the case, as people in my group told stories of uneven pacers, but running with this pace group was awesome. Most especially because of our pacer Tammy. She stuck to the plan, reminded us throughout the race to relax our shoulders, breathe, take gels and fluids, as well as generally encouraged us. She made all the difference in the world.

The group itself seemed comprised of a wide range of runners, including three high school boys who were running their first marathon and showed up with zero gels. Luckily, Tammy made them pick up at the aid stations. All ages and levels of experience were represented in our motley crue.

So as noted in my pre-race post, I wanted to not be Garmin-dependent in this race. I just wasn’t in the head space for it, so I basically pushed start on my watch and switched screens. I put my faith in Tammy and the pace group. The first 9ish miles are a loop around Ojai (the mountains portion), through neighborhoods and a lot of horse country. I didn’t notice the scenery too much, as our pace group was pretty chatty and upbeat. Not only did I switch off my Garmin, I turned off my music, and just hung out. It was like a fast-paced weekend group run. I felt pretty comfortable and just enjoyed the company, and the first part of the race went by in a blur.

TMI side note. I did have another new marathon experience: Dropping trou with three other women behind a row of port-o-potties and relieving myself. Our pace group wasn’t going to wait and nature was calling, so…it was a bonding moment, for sure.

It seemed like a good portion of the pace group was doing the course for the first time, and so when we hit the downhill portion at mile 9, there were quite a few cheers. However, I was burned by this downhill portion last year. Last year, elated like those newbies in my pace group, I charged down this hill. I wanted to gobble it up. Yeah, well, I’m the one that got chewed up and spit out. My quads and knees were on fire last year, and I hobbled the last 8 miles. Miserable. So, while the group was happy, I was cautious and a little fearful. My quads were already starting to tighten up around mile 12, but they weren’t fatigued, so I just went with it and again, trusted in Tammy.

Things started to get quiet at mile 14 as shit started to get real. I turned on my music but kept it low. I didn’t want to miss any important instructions from Tammy. This is the prettiest part of the course as you run down the mountain into the valley and cross a quaint wooden bridge. By mile 18, our group of 20-25, dwindled down to about 8-10. I’m sure there were a few just behind us, but I dared not look back. While it’s still slightly downhill for miles 18-22, it’s also shade-free, and we had no cloud cover, so it was challenging. The scenery also switches to kind of an industrial setting, which is weird and interesting. I told myself that I would hang with the pace group for as long as I could after mile 20. I just needed to get to mile 20.

Our pace group starting to dwindle. Do you see my little head?
Our pace group starting to dwindle. Do you see my little head?

I finally looked at my watch at mile 20, and I was at 3:18. Good news. Even though my quads were tight and my knees were feeling it, I didn’t feel injured, and felt OK. I was able to hang until 22, but then my pace group lost me. I needed to walk at the water stations, and they weren’t having it, so at mile 22, I told myself that I was now going to have to run my race and go with what I had left. I also told myself “Don’t do anything stupid, run smart.” Wouldn’t you know it, at just this moment, the sidewalk jumped up at me, and down I went. Splat. Yup, another ugly little gash on my left knee. Anyway, I picked myself up and just.kept.going.

Well the last four miles were just as painful and slow as you can imagine. I walked a little bit but not much, kept a good shuffle and managed to reel in a few people. At mile 24ish, I just wanted to walk, but even though I had left myself a little cushion to PR, it wasn’t much, and I couldn’t risk it. And this is where my pettiness worked for me, because seriously, I had the thought “I will NOT let Oprah have a faster time than me!” My last few miles I finally lost my goal pace and went 10:26; 11:14; 11:23; and 10:52. The last mile plus is along the beach, and I saw my FMC and waved. At the finish, I had a huge smile and raised hands — I was elated! I met up with Tammy and another person in my pace group and we high-fived. Yay!

You'd think I'd won a gold medal or something. Haha
You’d think I’d won a gold medal or something. Haha

So like my other two races this year, I reached my “B” goal, which was to PR. I got about a five minute PR! I also didn’t feel miserable (relative – you known what I mean). This solo runner hates to admit it, but running in a group was not only helpful, but fun. Did I say that?!? In fact, this was my most enjoyable marathon experience. Eff me. The only disappointing thing is how far down I finished in my age group, gender, and overall. This is a fast course, and a lot of speedy people run it to BQ, so I was pretty way down there in the race results. Hopefully I can rise up in the ranks.

I dunked myself into an ice bath when I got home and spent the afternoon for the most part just icing, compressing, and Adviling…in between eating. My quads and knees are toast, but I never felt that searing IT band pain, just a dull “OMG, this [marathoning] is not a good thing to do,” so I’m hoping there won’t be any post-marathon issues unlike the last two I’ve done. Cross fingers. Next step is to email my FMC to come up with a plan for Ventura, and then go on a much-needed vacation for a couple weeks.

Marathon Week 22: SUCCESS!

medal

Eeks! I’m Running a Marathon Tomorrow!

I woke up this morning and, after a few swigs of caffeine, had this thought “Shit, was I supposed to run a marathon today?”

I think this little tableau best represents my mental state regarding tomorrow’s race. I don’t know if I’m relaxed or in denial. If you’ve been following this blog, then you know I’ve had 21 – 21! – weeks of training. It’s not like running this marathon was a last-minute WTF type of decision. But a few things have happened in the past six weeks that have put me in a strange mental space for the marathon.

The very obvious thing is my small injury five weeks ago, which caused me to lose two weeks plus of valuable training. This was the sharpening phase when my MP miles and tempo runs were supposed to be peaking; instead, I was icing and resting. Emotionally, I dealt with this by downgrading M2B, and I no longer view it as my A-race.

The factor I underestimated was my holiday. What kind of idiot plans an international trip three days after a marathon? And it’s not just a regular going to another Western country type of vacation. I will write about it in a later post, but there is an element of “adventure” and uncertainty. My husband has gone ahead to the first meeting point, which is in itself stressful. We’re hardly ever apart, and this is the first time he’s flown away from me, so it’s been a little sad and lonely…but not gonna lie, I have enjoyed having the bed to myself. We’re also traveling with three other people, so having to coordinate that is an added element. In short, I have been distracted.

So here we are, less than 24 hours away from my marathon, and …Holy shit! I better get it together! Here are my goals:

C-Goal: Complete the marathon injury-free.
B-Goal: PR (sub 4:30:49).
A-Goal: 4:20ish range.

In some ways I feel my C-Goal is a bit of a cop-out, but considering my last two marathons have ended with IT band injuries in both knees, this seems a respectable goal, especially since I did not do the cross-training/leg strengthening I had hoped to do this training cycle. Being injured post-marathon has interrupted and stunted my improvement for almost two years now, and I am over it. Finishing injury-free but slower than I hoped will do more for my running than killing myself to get a small PR that puts me out of commission for 4-5 months. Plus, my trip. I have two weeks of walking following the marathon, and I’m not screwing up my dream trip when there’s another marathon in September.

I have two plans for the race, and both focus on me not focusing on my Garmin. The first is to run by feel. I saw a helpful graphic on running by color based on perceived effort. Yellow Zone is for the first 14 miles and at an effort that you should be able to talk to someone; Orange Zone is a moderate effort for miles 15-24 and is more like one-word answer capability; and then Red Zone is for the last 2.2 miles. I hope there’s a Red Zone.

I also plan to start with the 4:23 pace group and hang with them as long as I can. Either way, I’m not going to be checkity-check-checking my Garmin.

I’m curious about how my race will go tomorrow. I haven’t run a marathon in a year, and the last one I did was on this course….I got injured and was out of serious running for six months. So there’s a little fear there too. I’m also disappointed about those two-plus weeks of training I missed and the lack of cross-training I did. However, I listened to a podcast with Greg McMillan about pre-race freakout, and one of the suggestions he had was to counter these negative thoughts by listing what went well in training. So here goes:

1-Added up to thirteen MP miles into my long run.
2-Had a great run over twenty miles.
3-Ran some beautiful trails.
4-Lost weight! Yup, I stepped on the scale today, and I lost 0.2 pounds since Day 1 of training. I won’t be stepping on the scale tomorrow as I plan on eating only white things today.

Anyway, last night I did start to get a some race excitement when I picked up my bib and t-shirt. See swag below.

swag

So off I go. I have a busy day until 3:00 and then it’s just resting and carbing in bed while watching English rom-coms. Next post will be the recap! Ready or not. Gulp.

Shout out to the three pairs of shoes that got me through training!
Shout out to the three pairs of shoes that got me through training!

Marathon Training Week 21: It’s a Wrap – Training Cycle Review

Weekly Summary: 5/11/15 to 5/17/15

Although technically I’ll have a fullish week of running before this Sunday’s marathon, the runs are just to keep the legs from getting stale, and basically, training is done.

This prior week was fairly banal, except for the fact that it was a short week because I had to do last week’s tempo run on Monday, so I crammed five runs into six days. Here’s the breakdown.

Tuesday: 3 miles easy run
Wednesday: No run; cross-train
Thursday: 5 miles tempo run
Friday: 3 miles easy run
Saturday: 12 miles easy run
Sunday: 3 miles easy run

As you can see, taper had begun, with me doing like half my distance from the past two weeks. Although my mileage was low, I had a strong short tempo run, doing three miles at paces of 8:53, 8:54, and 8:38. Super encouraging to see that I can still hit a sub-9:00 pace. My legs felt a little heavy on my long run, but my pace was fine, and perhaps it was just the result of a two- tempo-run week. I just can’t believe that my legs would be fatigued at this point considering I had two weeks off from injury just a month ago.

Last long run. Couldn't ask for a prettier day!
Last long run. Couldn’t ask for a prettier day!
In lieu of anything of note, this seems a good opportunity to do a training review. Below is my self-assessed report card for my training for the Mountains2Beach Marathon 2015.

Total Miles Run: 741!

Cross-Training. Meh. This was a C+. You’d think someone who has been injured in her last two marathons would be more vigilant about cross-training, but unfortunately, if I don’t feel the injury, then I forget “Oh, I have weak glutes. I should do more bridges and clams.” There are mostly no injury warning signs for me as I’m either hurt or not, so cross-training has to be a habit rather than any perceived need.

Diet. Despite what I’m going to tell you next, I guess this was a success? See, I weighed myself yesterday, and from Day 1 of training to today, I GAINED one pound. Haha. I find this hilarious because most people think if you run marathons, you lose weight. This has never been my experience. The marathon I ran in 2012, I gained like 8 pounds. Buh-loat-ed. Even though I would have loved to lose weight, there’s been a lot of experimentation in this area about how much I really need to eat, and it’s still a work in progress. Finding that tipping point between fueling enough to perform well and eating tons because “Hey, I just ran 15 miles, I can totally eat a pizza!” is a struggle. However, I will say this, I did give up eating sugar for most of the past couple months, and I feel better.

Low Point. Well this is easy: My post-Hollywood Half Marathon injury. Actually, the whole half marathon experience was a bummer. Not only did I not break two hours when I felt totally trained for it, I got a calf strain that put me out of commission for two weeks. And not any two weeks, it was two weeks of my short sharpening phase. Argh. The timing on this was not cool.

Weirdest Injury. While the calf injury is something I’ve experienced before, I got a bizarro small irritation on my mid-back, right where my bra hits. It’s been there for about a month, and it hasn’t gone away. What the f-ck is it?! Well, I won’t be able to check it out until after the marathon, so I’ll be wearing a big bandaid patch on that area because I know this no-big-deal annoyance can turn painful in a marathon.

Most Unexpected Happening. Running with new people. I was a solo runner the past two marathon training cycles, but one of my 2015 goals was to be open to running with people. Sure enough, I made some interesting friends along this training cycle. I ran with four new people at various times, and I’m not sure we have all that much in common other than that we run. Ha. And while they’re not regular running buddies, it was an unexpectedly fun experience to share a few of my weekend runs with people I’d otherwise not have gotten to know better. I’m still bent towards running alone, but running with people was better than I thought it was going to be. Spoken like a true borderline misanthrope.

Oh! And I got to “meet” via email one of the bloggers I’ve followed for the past few years. Jim from 50 after 40 was kind enough to share his experience with me, and I got some important info about tempo runs and incorporating marathon paces into my long runs. Unfortunately injury made applying some of this information moot, but it was still super cool to connect with someone who’s been an inspiration to me the past couple years.

Best Run. The one I wiped out in! Doing a run over twenty miles was one of the two additions to my training schedule this cycle, and this 22-miler was a big confidence booster. Even the wipeout at 18 and ugly little scar it’s left was worth it.

knee

Worst Run. See Hollywood Half race recap. A struggle from start to finish, with a little “gift” post-race.

Coolest Routes. Well, there was the time I ran through the Bywater in New Orleans. That was pretty cool.

09

But on the regular, I’d have to say it’s the ridgeline about 1.65 miles into the main trail up on Mulholland. Gorgeous, and I can’t wait to get up there again. I had to give up trail running after my calf injury as I couldn’t risk straining my calf again, but I’m itching to get back on that dirt again.

sm mountains. jpg

Biggest Lesson. Well, so maybe the Hollywood Half wasn’t a total disaster. I learned an important lesson on my fueling strategy. I didn’t hydrate enough — hence the cramping – and you can best believe that I’m hyper conscious of my fluid intake this entire week. Also, I will not be running the marathon on an empty stomach!

Most Mary Moment. The pool running debacle. Of course I would get motion sick running in a pool.

Well this is awkward.
Well this is awkward.
So there you have it. If you’ve been reading my weekly updates…thanks! This blogging experience has been a weirdly fun endeavor for me, and I’ve appreciated the support. So here we go, the last week before I run the race that launched the blog!

Hope everyone has a great running week!

Total weekly mileage: 26
Long run: 12 miles (0 MP)
Cross-training: As if.

Marathon Training Week 20: A Tale of Two Halves

Weekly Summary: 5/4/15 to 5/10/15

This was the last week of hard training before taper, and I went into it on a high after a great rebound-from-injury week. I felt hyped and ready to destroy this week of training. Yeah, not so much.

The week was supposed to be a slight decrease in mileage but an increase in intensity, going from a weekly total of 48 miles to 42, with a long run of 16 miles (13 at MP) and an 11 mile tempo run (9 miles at 9:20 pace). The other filler runs were to be an easy 4-7-4.

Well, I started like I usually do with a relative rest day on Monday, meaning I did strength training but no running. Cool, so far everything is on schedule. I didn’t really care which day of the week I did my tempo run, so long as I had at least a day in between before having to do my long run. Tuesday rolled around, and my legs were still fatigued from my long run, which was done on a Sunday rather than my usual Saturday, so I just did an easy seven, super slow. Still, cool.

Wednesday rolled around, and …an unexpected rest day. What? Just didn’t feel like it. I actually felt rebellious. I have not had one “I don’t feel like running, and I’m not going to, so there. Go kick rocks.” day at all in this training cycle. I’ve only missed a run due to injury, but Wednesday morning, it was one of those days. Fine, I guess, but not on the last week of training! Especially after having missed a couple weeks because of injury! My timing for staging a mutiny blows.

Now I had every intention of getting this tempo run done on Thursday. I even did two miles at tempo pace, but then I realized that I didn’t have any gels or Endurolytes with me. Arggh. I would have pushed through if I felt great, but I didn’t. I started doing the math in my head, and then the bargaining with myself began, and, well, I ended up back at home after six miles.

I was now down to three days to get my 16-mile long run and 11-mile tempo run done. Pretty daunting at my age. Friday, I went out again, ready to get this tempo run done, dammit. But my legs! My legs were so heavy and tired. I really couldn’t figure out what was going on. Was I depressed? (I’d had a weird experience the night before – later post.) Was it the weather? (We’d had a bit of a late winter push here in LA.) Now, in addition to Wednesday’s rebellious no-run, Friday was a defeated seven-mile easy run.

run-1

So that’s how the week started. Midway through Friday, I was pretty down about how my last hard week of training was going. I thought for sure that between the two-week injury layoff and the knowledge that this was the finish line, I’d be killing it on my last week of training. Not only was I not motivated, my legs felt like shit. Tired and logy, from what I didn’t know. Oh, and P.S., since I’d blown my diet during the Pacquiao fight, I figured WTH, and proceeded to eat dessert and carbs during the week. F-ck me. What the hell kind of way was this to enter into taper? I started spiraling down about how crappy my marathon was going to be, how I was never going to get faster, how I didn’t have what it took to be a semi-competitive runner, and that I should just give up running marathons. Have you been there? Geez, that was miserable. But then something *clicked* and I had my Scarlett O’Hara moment. I was not going to give up so fast. I would get that long run and tempo run in even if it meant ending my week on a Monday. That night I texted my buddy and committed to her that I was doing my long run the next morning, which pretty much, if I tell her that, then it’s happening no matter what.

Set in stone.
Set in stone.
Ugh. Saturday. Wasn’t feeling it. Decided to change things up in my gear, and lo and behold, I found the culprit to my heavy legs. Sometimes the things you think will help you, end up hurting you.

run-3

My knee had started feeling wonky towards the end of last week’s 20-miler, and I thought it might be a mechanical issue, so I slipped my orthotics back in. I got them about seven years ago when I got plantar fasciitis, and I’ll wear them once in a while if I think something feels off. Well, they may help mechanical issues, but they are heavy and hard on the feet too. I took those puppies out, and my legs felt totally different. I had a strong 16-mile long run and after taking a break from marathon pace for a couple weeks, did my highest total of MP miles at 13. Actually, I didn’t quite hit all 13 at sub-9:55 (9:52, 9:50, 9:45, 9:50, 9:50, 9:56, 9:41, 9:36, 10:01, 9:52, 9:56, 9:50, 9:23), but it was close enough, and a good/bad thing is that even though these paces are slower than the weeks prior to my injury, they are consistent, and they are actually near my goal marathon pace, so there’s that. Looks like I won’t be in danger of going out too fast. Ha.

Gray skies, gray shoes. Last long run done!
Gray skies, gray shoes. Last long run done!
Took another relative rest day on Sunday but did weights and took a hard Pilates class, and texted my friend one more time to make one last commitment. Monday morning (!), I finally tackled that last tempo run. Damn, fam. My legs were still tired from that long run and Pilates class, but I told myself that I’d do the best I could, and I never gave up. I was supposed to do my paces at 9:20, and they were more at 9:30, but I kept pushing (9:25, 9:33, 9:28, 9:30, 9:13, 9:34, 9:10, 9:30, 9:05). After that, I took my last ice bath and smiled. I’d met my commitment, and I’d completed the hard part of the training cycle.

The look of a woman who's finished her last hard training run and taken her last ice bath!
The look of a woman who’s finished her last hard training run and taken her last ice bath!
This was a weird way to end training. Plans changed from day-to-day. It was supposed to be a 42-mile week; it was 47. I was supposed to do a faster-paced tempo run; it wasn’t. Yet I managed a lot of fast-ish miles anyway. The thing I’m taking away from this week and tucking away for future training is that I can change things mid-week. Even though Mon-Fri was sucky, I was still able to pull out a productive week, and I can enter taper on a solid note. Yay.

Hope everyone has a great running week!

Total weekly mileage: 47
Long run: 16 miles (13 MP)
Cross-training:
Abs (10x); Upper Body (4x); Leg Strengthening (12 exercises)

Marathon Training Week 19: Can’t Keep a Runner Down

Weekly Summary 4/27/15-5/3/15

I did it! After taking a total of a week-plus off for a calf injury, I completed my highest mileage week for this training cycle: 48 miles!

Friends, I am not going to lie. I was pretty anxious about how this week would play out. I started my week off like I always do, a rest day. I completed this easily and without injury. Then I turned my sights on the rest of the week. I only had two daunting runs on my schedule — an eleven-mile tempo run and a twenty-mile long run. I was more worried about the former as my injury/re-injury history indicates that speed-work can be a real calf aggravator, so I wanted to postpone that for as long as I could so as to give my calf ultimate healing time. I took it nice and easy on Tuesday and Wednesday with mellow seven and five mile runs. A little discouraging seeing my times on these but pleased that my calf felt great, and that at least they weren’t mentally taxing like that first six-mile run back from five days off.

I missed my pre-work runs. My day goes so much better if I get these in.
I missed my pre-work runs. My day goes so much better if I get these in.

Finally, I could put it off no longer. Well, actually, I did put it off for a bit longer. When Thursday morning rolled around, I couldn’t seem to get out of bed and really had to psyche myself up. I had such a late start that I contemplated pushing off the run until Friday but knowing I had the 20-miler this weekend, I finally got my ass out the door. (I would eventually have to email my bosses that I would be later than usual that morning and luckily, they’re really cool. Or scared of me.)

The run comprised of a 1-mile warm-up, 9 miles at a tempo pace of 9:30 (originally 9:22), and then a 1-mile cool down. I told myself that I would do the best I could and just keep pushing the pace, even if the pace was more like 9:45. Well…surprise! I ran the first mile at 9:29, just under tempo pace, and at that point, I decided to change my Garmin screen and just go by feel. The “feel” was difficult but difficult like normal tempo-run difficult. The paces for the rest of the eight miles were 9:14, 9:23, 9:05, 8:49, 9:13, 9:11, 9:16, and 9:16. Pleasantly surprised to say the least and my calf felt fine. Yay!

Another successful rest day, and then a long run-turned easy run. I had planned for the 20-miler on Saturday and had even had my usual pre-long run dinner, but again got a late start. Southern California had a mini heat-wave last week, so by the time I got out the door, it was already warm and I knew that at my snail’s pace, I would most likely have to tap out at mile 15-17 from the heat. I really wanted to get another 20-miler in because I had missed one already, so I decided to turn it into an easy 5-mile run and save the 20 for Sunday. Phew. Really glad I did. It was much cooler the next day, and even though it was a trudge, and my right knee seemed fatigued the last few miles, it was not miserable, and a confidence booster.

Most importantly, I got into long run recovery right away and put myself into an ice bath for a good 30 minutes with an extra bag of ice for good measure. It actually felt good. Ha. So far, everything feels fine. Cross fingers.

In addition to wonky calf, I have ginormous running calves. Note how tight my jeans are in my lower extremities.
In addition to wonky calf, I have ginormous running calves. Note how tight my jeans are in my lower extremities.

On a negative note, my cross-training fell off. I guess I saved all my energy for getting my miles in, which is fine for this past week, but as the miles start to go down as I near taper, I hope to ramp up the cross-training again. And, well, if I’m going to be completely honest here, I full-on broke my training diet. I had been so good. So.Good. Not eating sugar or white flour…Arggh. But this weekend was the Pacquiao fight and we had people over, and you have to eat pizza when there’s a sporting event, and OMG someone brought Argentinian petit-fours and Trader Joe’s chocolate peanut butter cups, so…

This was a much-needed full healthy week of running. Even though I didn’t get my MP miles in on my long run, I got ALL the miles in. A grand total of 48, which is the high mileage week for this training cycle. My calf feels fine, and with just three more weeks to go (what?!?) before the marathon, I feel ready for a strong last week of all-out training before taper. What a difference a week makes.

Hope everyone has a great running week!

Total weekly mileage: 48
Long run: 20 miles
Cross-training:
Abs (6x); Upper Body (1x); Leg Strengthening (7 exercises-15 reps-3 sets)