Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Running 2000 Feet Down the Side of a Mountain

Yes, that right there is the elevation profile for my very first leg of the Hood To Coast Relay race Friday!

I'm running the Hood To Coast Relay Friday through Saturday as part of the Runner's World Team. 12 runners each run a relay leg, then you do it again, then again. So each person has three legs to run. Teammate Bart gave me a choice: Run Leg 1 (and each subsequent 12th leg from there) or run Leg 4.

Leg 4's okay, but rather plain. But Leg 1 caught my eye. I like to look for certain places for me to get a little outside my comfort zone. I'm probably the slowest runner on the team, so what's more nerve-wracking, especially with a famous runner as a teammate, than to make yourself be the VERY first to go?!? I did the same thing when Steve and I went ziplining in Hawaii. With control issues and fear of heights, Steve was surprised when I volunteered to be the first to go on the very first zipline in our group.

Ziplining: A major getting-outside-the-comfort-zone moment for me

Aside from the whole going first thing, it is also considered a very hard leg. As you saw above, it drops 2000 feet down the mountain of Mt. Hood over just 5.64 miles. And as you can see below, it's not exactly a straight road we're on either.

How exhilarating! Scary, but I did some pretty good hill training during San Francisco Marathon training, and I saw it pay off at that race just 4 weeks ago. And that training included running downhills. It's funny to me people who CHARGE the uphill and then walk or lightly run the downhill. I go for even effort. Yeah, that often means walk the uphill, and then sprint the downhill. :-)

So yeah, why not take the challenge? Keep me in your thoughts, sending safe and healthy vibes, as I careen down a mountain Friday morning at 9 am. I can't wait for this experience of a lifetime!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Dreaded Course Time Limit: Rocky Raccoon 50K

It's become apparent I might be backing myself into a corner. My first 50K is about 11 weeks away at the Rocky Raccoon 50K on November 5th. It has an 8 hour cutoff. For a lot of people who run a road marathon in sub-4 hours, I'm sure this concern seems unwarranted, but let's break down my anxiety, shall we?

The race starts at 6 am, so I'm trying to go with the plan that I'll fast hike, not run, that first hour or so in the dark, especially since I'm pretty night blind, it's my first 50k, and I've never been on this trail before. Better to take it as a warmup at the beginning, than to take a nasty fall and either DNF or have to lug my injured carcass another 30 miles.

So with fast hike for 3 miles, that leaves me a 15 min/mi pace for the next 28 miles if I ran a consistent pace. Yes, my road marathon pace is a 12:45 min/mi, but that's on road. So put me on trail, add some roots and loose rocks, and I'm easily a 15-16 min/mi pace. And that's not adding in the highly probably gradual slowdown through the day as it heats up and I get tired.

I'd like to think when the weather cools down that I have sped up some naturally through all this marathon training. But have I? And do I really have to wait until mid-September to see any of that?

Then, there's some improvement that may be gained in just running more trails. You get a better sense for where to place your feet, so you can traverse the terrain more easily and not lose time to picking footing. But there's a limit to how much time I can reasonably spend on trail when they are all at least 25 minutes away.

And then there's the fact that I have several other races on my calendar before November 5, including the Chicago Marathon on October 9. It makes that the 50K will be here before I know it!

So what to do? For now, try to calm down and see where my pace is in another few weeks. I think another calming element is knowing there are always other races. If Rocky Raccoon 50K just isn't working, scrap it or run the 25K and then 2 weeks later, there is the Wild Hare 50M/50K/25K in Warda, TX. With a longer distance like a 50-miler available, they have a time limit that would be much more doable. It's a 15 hour course limit!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sickness and A Major Comeback Run

Wednesday, August 10 - woke up with the worst cold ever. I'd never made Steve stay home from work all day with the kids. Thought my head would explode from the sinus pressure.

Sunday, August 14 - I think I'm feeling better. I run 5.3 miles with Shannon before we cheered at the Hottest Half Marathon.

Monday, August 15 - starting to cough and maybe wheeze a little in the evenings.

Wednesday, August 17 - 5 miler get down to 4.3 miles in the evening with Shannon because I am wheezing BADLY on the run.

From that run, I headed straight to the Carenow clinic to see the doctor. Chest x-ray was fine. But yes, sinusitis and an upper respiratory infection. I'm put on a powerful cocktail of multiple antibiotics and a steroid medicine. Why? Because the doctor listened and was worried that if he gave me only one antibiotic and it was a bacteria resistant to that particular medicine, I'd be sicker and back in there a day or two before the Hood To Coast Relay race. Thank you, doctor, for listening!

Saturday, August 20 - I'm feeling well enough to go to Erwin Park to run trails with friends. It's my first time out at this park. I thought I'd just see how I felt. I planned to also do some trails the next day, so the goal was to at least get in a few miles each day. I warned everyone that I may turn around within a mile or two and head back, and I even checked to see who had a phone on them so I could check in that I made it back to the car if and when I turned around.

It was a beautiful day, even if it was hot as blazes. It was 83 degrees at 4:20 am, 90 degrees when we started a 6:20 am, and 100 degrees when we finished around 11 am. A mile into the run, we all stopped to take a picture since it was getting lighter out.

I wheezed and coughed a little the first couple miles and then it was like it had helped break up some stuff, and I could breathe okay again. Within a few miles, I actually felt really strong across a field segment and moved to the front of our pack for a while.

About a mile and a half from the end of the first 8-mile loop, Lesley and I, who were in the front, heard a sound and turned just in time to see Shannon fall. It looked so painful, as she slammed into a big pile of roots.  She lost skin on both knees and palms. We all grabbed wet wipes and used water from our packs to irrigate the wounds and try to clean them up. After we finished the 8 miles, our on-hand nurse runner Kristi managed her up. I love how Lesley talked about how it made Shannon look like a burn victim.

But Shannon was still willing to go out for another 8 mile loop. She is one tough cookie. She, Lesley, and Alicia planned to do another loop. Lesley had given me a Nuun tablet (I'd brought no electrolytes) and once I had that with about 20 ounces of water I chugged, I declared I felt good enough to go for another 8. "Plus," I said, "Then I can rest tomorrow and sleep in!"


Within a few miles, it was really starting to heat up. We'd go through prairie fields with no shade. Alicia's IT band was killing her, and Shannon was just out of energy. Lesley and I moved ahead. 4 miles out, Lesley ran out of water. We started walking the woods and running in the heat of the field. I ran out of water about a mile and a half from the end. A mile out we got a text that Alicia and Shannon had cut the course 3 miles short to get back to the cars early. When we finished, I was tired and hot. But happy that emerging from an upper respiratory infection, I had completed 16 miles in that heat. And while the idea of doing my 50K in November, doing twice what I had just done, seemed scary... I also realized that 31 miles in cool temps when I'm feeling healthy might feel about like the 16 I'd just done, LOL!

Second loop - still smiling

2011 Hottest Half Marathon, Now with More Gummy Bears, Ice, and BEES!

2010 Hottest Half Marathon had been interesting. I cheered at the race, brought gummy bears and ice to hand out to tired runners, ran out very early of both, and then I spent the rest of the rest triaging runners who were suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration because of lack of water on the course by the race. It was not a lot of fun, and a little scary.

Shannon and I on the left (cheerers, Greg unpictured was a fellow cheerer who
took this pic) with good friends Fiona, Corina, and Marci.
Flash forward to last weekend's 2011 Hottest Half Marathon. This was WAY more fun! I considered what I had brought last year and wanted to make sure I had enough ice and gummy bears for all of the runners. So I stocked up. Cashier at Walmart wanted to understand the insanity when I paid for several foil pans and EIGHTEEN pounds of gummy bears.

5:30 am the next morning, race day, I stopped at the gas station and thankfully the attendants helped me carry out the 120 pounds of ice I was buying. I had also stocked the car with a blanket, a 2 1/2 gallon water jug, and some cups, just in case there were any water supply problems at the race again. Here's what 120 pounds of ice in a car trunk looks like:

6:30 am, Shannon and I met up at the cheering spot, about 11 miles into the race (also 2.5 miles out on the course). It was such a humid morning, and I wasn't feeling the best with the cold I had, but we did about 5.3 miles. We had gone out too far and had to sprint the last half-mile to a mile.

But we got back in time to see a lot of friends run by and to pass Lesley a San Francisco Marathon sweatband that she wanted for the race.

Then, Greg and his three little girls (ages 7, 6, and 3) arrived to help cheer wife/mommy Fiona. We set up a table, filled a couple pans with gummy bears, and another couple with ice. Then, the bees arrived!

Big bees were after the gummy bears. Greg ended up having to serve as Ninja Bee Killer for all of us shrieking women and girls. He had a plastic bag filled with the empty ice bags to wallop bees once they landed on the table or in the gummy bear pans. The girls would help cheer now and then. It would be "Ice and Gummy bears!" But occasionally it became "Ice and Gummy bears... and Bees!" And Shannon and I would shush them, "Don't say that!" And occasionally, Greg would swat dead a bee in the gummy bear pan as a runner came up, and as he fished the dead bee out by its wings, we'd say, "Um, get a gummy bear from the other pan!"

We were able to see lots of runner friends (or "Frunner" as Corina calls them) come by. But the strangers' reactions were hilarious. The occasional "Are those for us?" No, we just like to set up gummy bears and ice on the edge of the trail right at mile 11 of a big race. :-) We'd advise the women to stuff the ice in their sports bra. Many would go for it, and they'd gasp and laugh, but man, I've been there, and it really does work! One guy seemed really befuddled and asked, in regard to the ice, "What do I do with this?" LOL. We spewed out like 10 different ideas. But golly, it's 90-something degrees, 11 miles into a half marathon, I'm sure you can come up with something!

The awards for friends happiest to see us, in no particular order...

Elaine - "Glory Be To Gummy Bears"

Marcie - "Man, I Love Me Some Ice"

Marci, Corina, and Fiona - GANG SIGNS. Corina was "Mansfield, Representin'". SMH.

Derek - Always a smile on his face! He makes it look easy, even when it isn't!

Michelle K. - That smile says, "Thanks for deleting the pic where I was actively stuffing the gummy bear in my mouth." LOL. And yes, there was, and yes, I did.

Erik K. - His wife Michelle had come up about 5 minutes before him. And while I overhear Greg telling Erik Michelle had just come through while I'm throwing out some empty ice bags, I return to tell Erik that Michelle had passed like a half hour ago so he might as well take his sweet time and just walk it in. Can you tell I'm part of #TeamMK? :-)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Let's Get This Over With: 2011 El Scorcho 25K Race Report

El Scorcho 2010 was a fantastic experience - a triumph of showing what a pregnant runner's body could do. Now contrast that to 2011 where I had a horrible experience. Hence, the title. "Let's Get This Over With". It only took me a month to finally write this race report.

I could have also gone with the title "I *HAD* never puked on a run before". Ugh.

All smiles BEFORE the race
What's El Scorcho? It's a 25K and a 50K at midnight in the July Texas summer heat in Fort Worth. Oh, and it's run on 5K loops. That's a lot of loops! It was July 17, 2011, for the 5th year - El Scorcho Cin5o!

Race day was a long day with a 7 am wakeup with the girls. Steve was in South Carolina visiting family so I would watch our 3 year old and 8 month old all day, while trying to hydrate and eat healthy, and then pick him up at the airport at 7:30 pm, trade cars, and head to Fort Worth for the race.

After the car trade, I hurried to packet pickup, just a mile from the hotel where I had gotten a room. Yes, there's no way I'm driving back to Allen an hour away at 4 am after running in the dark for 4 hours. I checked into the room but was just TOO excited to sleep. I dressed, packed up, and headed to the race site at 10 pm-ish.
I've arrived!
I found our big crew of runners and supporters already setting up. Corina, Julie, MarciCassie, Megan, and Fiona were the big cheerleaders of the group, having made cheer signs, brought water guns, and had a multitude of glow stick accessories.
Cassie accessorized with glowing items
"Camp" set-up before the race
Our whole crew. That's a lot of people. Forgive me for not naming everyone!
Andy and me

Marcie and me
Waiting for the 25Kers to start. David, Corina, Megan, and me
I had my first marathon in San Francisco still to come two weeks later, so this was supposed to be my approximately 13 mile taper run. I figured I could always just run 13 and walk the last 2.5 miles.

It was time for the race to start, and I didn't really think through my pacing. I thought I'd go with my practiced long run pace, a 12:45 and a walk break at the end of each mile. I didn't account for the fact that it was middle of the night, in the dark with a headlamp, on varied terrain (you jump between decomposed crushed granite trail, sidewalk, packed dirt, grass, and even traverse a basketball court). So stupid pacing plan plus I went out too fast with the excited crowd.

Loop 1: Way Too Fast, even if it had been light out and on regular road. Pace splits for 3.1 miles:
Mile 1 - 11:49
Mile 2 - 12:40
Mile 3 - 12:31
Last 0.17 - 11:31

Loop 2: Still Too Fast, But Finding Groove. Pace splits for 3.1 miles:
Mile 1 - 12:29
Mile 2 - 12:14
Mile 3 - 13:11
Last 0.14 - 10:51

Loop 3: In the Groove. Look at that consistency! Pace splits for 3.1 miles:
Mile 1 - 13:16
Mile 2 - 13:23
Mile 3 - 13:16
Last 0.10 - 10:54

Loop 4: Tired and Hot. I start putting in walk breaks every 1/2 mile instead of every mile. I'm just feeling HOT.
Half-mile pace splits: 12:47, 13:28, 13:16, 13:34, 12:29, 11:34

Loop 5: It All Fell Apart. At this point, I'm feeling tired and so hot. About halfway through this last loop, I start feeling really nauseous. Then disoriented. I've stopped running now, and I'm slow walking. I'm so dizzy and disoriented that I turn off my headlamp (not good when you're kinda night blind so tells you how woozy I was) and hang it around my neck. I feel like I'm staggering. My belly feels sloshy. I know I only have about a mile to a mile and a half left. Finally out of nowhere I feel super sick, pull off a little to the side, and throw up. I start moving again and 20 seconds later, pull off again to throw up again. With that out of my system, I actually feel a little better and walk along the rest of the way. When I start approaching the crowds at the start/finish, I manage a decent little kick to run it in at the tail end. Finish strong? Heh.
Half-mile pace splits: 12:50, 13:56, 15:01, 16:38, 19:19, 19:52

Was I overhydrated (sloshy belly)? Was I hyponatremic (diluted or low electrolyte levels in the blood)? I don't know, but it was the most scared I'd ever been in a race. Could it have just been that I had been up since 7 am, chasing two kids all day, and now it was 3 am.

Later I thought about the reaction from everyone in camp when I told them. I was angry when I left to go to the hotel post-race because I felt like the help I needed wasn't there. When I finished, said I had thrown up twice and sat down, someone asked if I needed anything. I said, "A few Oreos might help." And they said, "Oh, they're over there" and gestured. I said, "Can someone get them for me?" And someone did jump up. This kinda hurt my feelings, especially when going into that last loop I was looking stronger than Erin so Marci ran the last loop with her, and they shot by me mid-loop.  But the initial anger I felt in the half day post-race disappeared when I realized that to some point, I think I still acted pretty closed off and stoic about what had happened. I don't think I did a good job communicating how I was feeling and had felt out there those last 1.5 miles. It's my fault because I don't think anyone, until they may be reading it now, knows how absolutely terrified I was.

It was the scariest 1.5 miles ever because I didn't know what would happen if I had collapsed out there, I didn't know how quickly emergency vehicles would get to me since we were on a completely dirt trail area at that section, I was scared about what all this would mean for the marathon I had trained so hard for.

Now I know I need to be more open and honest with that stuff. I think people think I'm generally a strong person, and I think the weakness looks like it's just dripping off me. I need to recognize that difference in perception.

Final time was 3:41:39. I had run a 3:56 and 3:57 at my last two 25Ks, so I was happy with the 15 minute new Personal Record improvement. Of course with proper pacing, I hope in the future to shave off more time.

Official chip timing results below:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tackling my First Marathon at San Francisco Marathon (Part 2)

Part 1 covered a quick summary of training for my first marathon, my race strategy, race schwag and expo, and pre-race time race day morning. This is Part 2 with the walk-through of the race itself and my finish to complete the journey to becoming a marathoner.

This San Francisco Marathon race report is long. I'm just gonna say it. If anyone reads this and just wants to skim through it, that's cool with me. I don't do most of my blogging for others - I do it for my own journaling, especially so I can go back and relive the race when I want to, but if others find it helpful, that's awesome too! I don't have too many pretty pictures, but I've tried to break up all the words by sprinkling some in. Enjoy!

July 31, 2011 - the day I became a marathoner!

Live Tweeting the Race

The day before the race, Steve and I had found the hotel room didn't have Wifi for Steve to access the iPad app for SF Marathon runner tracking. He would have to go down to the lobby to get the udpdates on the iPad since he was signed up for the text messaging. When I started the race, I hadn't planned ahead of time to live tweet (post messages to Twitter) through the event, but I realized it would be a great way for my husband to know where I was at, how I was doing, and when to expect me at the finish line. I'm @Libbyruns if you're on Twitter!


About 55 degrees at the start. Only ever got up to the mid- to high-60s during the race. A little cold wind here and there. I wore my San Francisco Marathon Ambassador singlet, with a long sleeve Dallas Running Club shirt over it, and a short sleeve DRC shirt over that. Especially after people talked about how cold the race was at the start. Right before the start line, I actually took off the short sleeve shirt and left it to the side. I thought about getting rid of the long sleeve because I felt like it was too much, but I kept it just in case and was glad I did.

The First 5.5 Miles - To the Bridge

Taking my scheduled walk breaks the first couple miles were definitely hard. I can understand how people can throw their plans aside in a race. I felt strong in such lower temperatures than we'd seen during training in Texas.

The race starts on the east side of the bay on the water at the Embarcadero. You spend the early miles following the coast around the north side, past Fisherman's Wharf, through the Marina and Crissy Field, before getting onto the Golden Gate bridge.  It was really funny to see the line of tourists waiting for the ferry to go Alcatraz, staring at us like we were crazy to be doing this so early in the morning (it was maybe 7 am when we passed them), while we're all looking back like, "There's something much more fun you could be doing this time of day!"

The first big hill came at mile 2.5. You could see the people walking up it before you even got there. It was 75 feet up in only one-tenth of a mile. But I had been training the most comparable hill north of Dallas I could find, 60 feet up in a tenth of a mile, so it was no big thing. My walk break was scheduled here so I just powerwalked up, passing people, even lightly jogged a little of it, and it was over.

Mile 3 I had this pain in the ball of my left foot that started. I have a metatarsal bone with little to no padding that pushes down there, and it can be very sensitive. I may have just stepped down on something unevenly and bruised it a little, but it plagued me in the early miles, and I stopped a couple times to retie my shoes to try to get more comfortable. I don't remember it later so maybe I just forgot about it with everything else, or it became less sharp of a pain at least.

Here are my splits the first 5 miles:
Mile 1: 12:13
Mile 2: 12:47
Mile 3: 12:26
Mile 4: 12:46
Mile 5: 12:57

Miles 5.5 to 9.5 - Across the Golden Gate Bridge and Back

All of mile 6 was spent climbing two big hills to get up to the bridge. It was a 200 foot ascent over the 1 mile. I knew this from my Race Strategy Band and therefore didn't sweat the pace too much, knowing that I'd make it up later on a downhill.

The Golden Gate bridge segment is running out in one lane of the roadway, doing a turnaround at the vista point past the bridge, and then coming back across in the next roadway lane. This is the only marathon where you can cross the Golden Gate bridge and actually run in the road. However, mile 6 is that time for me of "You want me to do 20 more miles?" So I'll admit that I actually didn't look out over the bay that much. At any rate, since I was in the last wave, there were no gorgeous city lights to enjoy, it was 8:00ish and so just a dull overcast grey everywhere.

So I spent mile 7 running across the bridge, distracting myself from all that lay ahead by looking at the big group of runners coming back across the bridge searching for the faces of two Twitter friends, Peter and Lauren. I'd never met either of them, but Lauren had posted a pic of her outfit the night before. Both she AND Peter were in tutus. Even with the mass of people running towards us, I thought I'd be able to spot them. However, with the live tweeting at walk breaks, I'm wondering if looking down then, that's when I missed them. Oh well, the distraction had achieved its goal.

How did I manage to miss this? SILLY BEAR!

During the out portion on the bridge I saw a girl fall onto her knees and two guys help her up. I'd heard about people falling on this section. There are large metal trusses and grates and section breaks. It seemed they'd made the worst of them better by putting big rubber mats on top of them, but I later learned a friend fell on one of these when the bridge shuddered just a little and the mats buckled.

I'd glad on the bridge that I had my long sleeve shirt. It was a cold wind coming across, and it turned out there were occasional sections of cold gusty wind until about mile 24 in the race. I turn around at the vista point and head back. I'd heard someone say the bridge is uphill both ways. Yes, but it's also downhill for half the bridge both ways too. And generally, the uphill was so gradual, it wasn't a big deal - again, thank you, hill training!

About 0.3 miles before the end of the bridge, I see a girl right in front of me start to fall. It's that slow motion type where she spends 4 or 5 steps trying to catch herself but we all know the inevitable. Well, she not only ends up falling, but her hands don't quite catch her and her attempt to stop herself had just added to the momentum, and she skids... on her face. Luckily it appears she has friends there because three girls immediately stop. I stop for a second but there are already three girls attending to her, so I start running again. At this point, you can contrast the tweet that comes next to the one a mile before:

At Mile 8:
 At Mile 9:

My splits through this section:
Mile 6: 13:16
Mile 7: 12:31
Mile 8: 12:35
Mile 9: 12:39

Miles 9.5 to 13.1 - The Notoriously Hilly Presidio

I don't remember this being as bad as I've seen in a few other race reports. Yes, it was hilly. Here's what my pace strategy band said:
Mile 9.7         :  aid, GU
Miles 9.5-10.0   :  hill (150+)
Miles 10.1-10.5  :  hill (175-)
Miles 10.5-11.0  :  hill (75-)
Mile 11          :  aid - no walk
Miles 11.1-11.5  :  hill (100+)
Mile 11.1        :  walk
Miles 11.8-12.0  :  hill (50+)
Miles 12.05-12.15:  hill (50-)
Miles 12.3-12.7  :  hill (75+)
You can see the feet of elevation gain or drop. But with planning my walk breaks and allowing myself even effort through this section (which meant some miles were faster and some were slower, with the faith they would average out to where I wanted to be), it never felt too hard.

Mile splits:
Mile 10: 12:53
Mile 11: 11:55
Mile 12: 13:19
Mile 13: 12:58
At 13.1, I was at 2:46 for the first half. This is 2 minutes slower than Rock N Roll Dallas Half Marathon in March and 1 minute slower than Big D Half Marathon in April. I'm nothing if not consistent.

Miles 13 to 19 - The Neverending Golden Gate Park

The San Francisco Marathon is able to eek out 6 miles just in Golden Gate Park. They wind you every which way in that park, to the point it's a little discombobulating and when you see another segment of runners, you can't tell if that's where you've been or where you are going.

Our path in Golden Gate Park!
It's a beautiful park, although sadly I never did see a buffalo as they are known to roam there. It was sad to pass the finish line for the first half marathon as they were closing it down. You kinda just wanted to be finished. But I just kept on with my even splits. Around mile 18, Bart Yasso tweeted  with a mention of me with a rousing cheer to how I was doing at that point, and that did a great job of fueling the fire to make me push to keep running strong.

I was getting fearful, miles 18-20 seems to be where that dreaded wall lies for many, where they "bonk". I felt like it was a monster lying in wait for me to round the corner. This was the first time too that I chatted with anyone during the race. A couple sentences exchanged with 4 or 5 people in the quiet of the park.

When you exit the park at Mile 19 to enter the Haight-Asbury area, there was a huge group of homeless people and their unleashed dogs. I thought it would be ironic if one of the dogs suddenly attacked me, preventing me from finishing. I actually came up with a lot of those scenarios in the late miles.

Just as I'm exiting, a guy passes me and says "Great job, Libby" with this smirk. I'm getting tired because I just say, "Oh, thanks, how ya doing?" I know some people in San Fran but I'm thinking, I don't recognize this guy. Me, the moron, has forgotten my name is on my bib. :-)

Mile 14: 12:46
Mile 15: 13:20
Mile 16: 13:32
Mile 17: 13:00
Mile 18: 12:39
Mile 19: 12:53

Miles 19-25.0 - Rollin' rollin' rollin'

We start a series of rolling hills. Maybe not tiny rolling hills like Dallas, but every uphill has a downhill! There's not a ton of detail through this area but a few highlights.

Perspective: one of those rolling hills, as seen from the top of the hill

I hit mile 20, and it was like the clouds above my head lifted. NO WALL. Had I actually conserved my glycogen properly to not bonk and enjoy the end of this race? I remembered my promise to not adjust pace until I hit mile 20, and how laughable I had thought the idea of speeding up would be. But rolling hills was an advantage for my pacing.

I averaged 12:45 the first 20 miles. So the next half mile after hitting mile 20, my lap pace falls to a 10:30. Oops. I'm feeling good, euphoric. I'm passing so many people who are walking. I add in another longer walk break for every mile through to the end of the race. And I'm still getting faster. Miles 20-25 averages 12:35 compared to the 12:45 in the race leading up to that.

I turn a corner about mile 21 on a downhill where I'm hauling and a pedestrian gets in my way. I have almost zero ability to swerve that late, so the guy gets brushed by me with a yell of "Watch Out!" That shakes me a little, that was a close one.

The police stopped us around mile 22 to let car traffic go. I was ANGRY about this. Don't give me 30 seconds this late into a race for my legs to stiffen up! Grrr.

At Mile 22.8, I take my last of 5 GUs. I tweet, "Now I hate GU". I felt like if you even showed me a GU, I'd have thrown up. Ugh, there's only so much GU you can take in a race. But when you are out there for 5 1/2 hours, I'm glad I did 5, rather than 4.

Mile splits:
Mile 20: 12:33
Mile 21: 12:24
Mile 22: 12:36
Mile 23: 13:11
Mile 24: 12:21
Mile 25: 12:26

Miles 25-26.2 - The Last 1.2, well, 1.4 Miles, to the Finish

We've made it back to the coastline. I strip off my long sleeve shirt because the sun is now out, the winds appear to have passed, and I'm speeding up, so heating up! We go RIGHT by AT&T Park (Candlestick Park?) and can see onto the field through the metal gates. It was actually pretty cool, even for someone like me who doesn't follow sports.

I'm getting lots of cheers from spectators this last segment as I pass lots of walkers. But it also re-emphasizes that I've spent the last 6 miles WEAVING through walkers. I wonder how much of my energy I used up just on the weaving.

Mile 26 is an 11:39, compared to my overall finish pace of 12:41! I'm feeling great.
Then I move into a hard kick. My Garmin ended up at 26.4, as it was hard to always run tangents a lot of the race. The last 0.4 miles are at a 10:20 pace!

The Finish Line

As I come into the finish, I'm almost missed by the announcer, Bart Yasso, as he's telling a story, but luckily fellow Ambassador Joe is with him, and points out, "There's Libby, Bart!" excitedly. I get a huge shout-out and a high-five from Bart. He celebrates my finish over the PA System and fills people in a little more about me. How I'll be running Hood To Coast with him on his team by winning a contest, how I was one of the SF Marathon ambassadors, how I'm from Dallas-Fort Worth. I'm feeling really proud right now.

Finishing strong! My favorite pic of the race!
Photo Courtesy: Joe Whelan
I finish in 5:34:10 officially (once we sorted out that my chip had failed at the finish line). My first half marathon was 2:46, and my second half marathon was 2:48. Overall I finished at a 12:41 average pace. I couldn't have asked for a more consistent race.

Heading into the finish!
As I slow down post-finish and walk through the short line to get my finisher medal, I can feel my legs stiffening up. I see my husband who walks along outside the corral.

Very pretty medal, designed to double as a coaster!

I get some extra photos from the photographers because it's my first marathon and I fully plan to buy them, once I sort through the millions of unidentified images to find all of them. Grr, that's what I get for folding my bib small and pinning it to my shorts - I never get many pictures.


Hubby and I hang out for a few minutes in the VIP area. I get a nice picture with Bart Yasso and fellow Ambassador Monika.

From left to right: Monika, Bart, and me!
And Joe took a picture of my husband and me as we were leaving.

Coming Up Next

Where does a first-time marathoner go from here? He he he, they run a second marathon in 9 weeks, and then their first ultramarathon, a 50K, 4 weeks after that.

After 2011 San Francisco Marathon, I next have Hood To Coast Relay on August 26-27, running on the Runners World Team with Bart Yasso. It will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Then, October 9, 2011, I tackle my second marathon at the Chicago Marathon with 44,999 awesome runners. I signed up for this marathon in March when I signed up for San Francisco because I never wanted to have just one impression of the marathon. I wanted to know that even if SF Marathon was an awful experience, I was going to give it one more try before I got to decide if I never wanted to run another one again.

Finally, on November 5, 2011, I will go for my first ultramarathon, a 50K (=31 miles), at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville State Park outside Houston, Texas. I'll be blessed to have Corina and Alicia along for the ride, two people I'm thrilled to spend 31 miles with! :-)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tackling My First Marathon at the San Francisco Marathon (Part 1)

Part 1 here covers a quick summary of training for my first marathon, my race strategy, race schwag and expo, and pre-race time race day morning. Part 2 is here with the walk-through of the race itself and my finish to complete the journey to becoming a marathoner.

Sunday, July 31st, I became a marathoner. It only took 6 years, 26 half marathons, 3 25Ks, to get there. And it took 684 miles of training, including 3 20-milers, and 25 hours of strength training, and 12 pounds lost & 8% drop in body fat percentage, over 6 1/2 months after being released to run again after my C-section, to get me to the starting line of my marathon experience.

And so it was time for the San Francisco Marathon. I'd spent months hearing Dallasites asking why I would choose a summer marathon (because it meant training in Texas summer heat) that was also notoriously hilly. But I was excited. I had already been registered for the half marathon last year and had deferred that entry with the pregnancy, and then in 2011, they were asking for people across the US to apply to be a San Francisco Marathon ambassador. It was a multiple page, short essay, type of application, but then I was surprised when I was one of about 15 ambassadors chosen.  I already knew I was on the path to deciding to finally run a marathon, and that cemented it for me. To be honored to be chosen as an ambassador for the race and to run in such a beautiful city I'd enjoyed on a handful of past vacation visits - yes, I was going to run a marathon.

You could spot me at runs and races all spring/summer in
my SF Marathon Ambassador singlet! REPRESENT!
So I guest blogged for 20 weeks on the San Francisco Marathon website as their "Follow a New Marathoner's Training" series. It felt like it added some pressure on me, but it was also fun to get feedback and support from others during the training cycle.

Race Plan

I put together a race strategy wristband that I self-laminated (matereials available at an office supply store) to put around my wrist with tape (a thanks to Chris M. and Holly L. for that suggestion). The band listed where every determined walk break was, every hill with +/- elevation feet change listed, and every aid station and times to take my GU energy gels. The notes would serve as little mantras of a sort too by way of numbers (says the mathematician). "Don't worry pace is a little slow now, the hill's almost over.", "Just 0.4 miles until I can walk for a minute again.", "Pick up the lap pace just a little here because the big hill's coming up so average pace comes out right". Important since I'm a believer in even effort up a hill, instead of the more popular charge the hill for even pace (which equals extra effort).

My entire marathon race strategy on a 2" wide bracelet?!?

I posted this pic on Facebook in the days before the race and received a lot of fun and interesting comments:
"Wow that is detailed. Maybe I need you to create my plan for Vegas so I qualify for Boston."
"My plan has always been calm down and finish strong."
"Add a reminder - relax and enjoy the experience... if your pace isn't quite what you want it to be, that's ok, it's about the experience, not some specific number that may or may not allow you to enjoy the race!"
"I think you're going to finish a lot stronger than you think :)"
"Have fun and stick to YOUR plan. Can't wait for u to report back about your first full marathon!!"
Now I knew I'd be in a beautiful city, but part of "enjoy and have fun" for this race for me was to finish strong and feel good so that I could go on to 3 fun days of vacation in Napa Valley! I'm very analytical, and I realize this strategy band wouldn't work for every personality type.

So the plan was to plan one walk break of about 0.06 miles (done in mileage so I would get less anxious than counting down seconds to the next run) for every mile I ran. The walk breaks would be shifted a little here and there as needed so that I could have them fall on 1) an uphill, 2) an aid station, or 3) a GU stop. Running through water stations and taking energy gels makes my stomach upset.

I wanted to keep a 12:45-13:00 minute per mile pace. I laughingly gave myself permission to speed up at mile 20, with the assumption that I'd probably hit a wall and be "death marching" it in at that point so wouldn't be speeding up at all. So while new marathoners get told not to have a time goal, I adhered to that with the goal to finish strong, but recognized that if I followed the pacing plan, I could be about 5:40, and if the wheels fell off, it would be up to 6:20.

Race Schwag and Expo

While there are 25,000 runners in the San Francisco Marathon, it's still a nice homely race. Not overly concerned with glitz and glam, just a solid race experience. Since I'm not an expo shopper or care much about my goody bag, I wasn't bothered when the race expo was small and there were no flyers and product samples in our race bag (they did a "virtual race bag"). I know a lot of people who want a massive expo, where it's an event unto itself, and want a million product samples (do I really need a sampler shaving cream? Or small sample bag of Mahatma rice?) - this marathon isn't for you if that's what's important to you.

What's nice is that the fabric sport sack they give you (doubles as your gear check bag with a place to put your bib number in permanent marker) is solid construction. I actually had last year's bag (gift for all ambassadors) and had been using it all season as my "odds and ends" run gear bag. This is a bag I'll actually use.

The technical shirt was long sleeve (a little sad about that since Texas running weather gives you about 42 total days a year to wear a long sleeve shirt if you get hot easily like I do), but it's a gorgeous shirt. Black with an embossed design of black-on-black of the Golden Gate Bridge on the front, and a smaller gold SF Marathon logo on the bottom corner of the back of the shirt. Down the sleeves is this year's tagline for SF Marathon: "Worth the Hurt".

The race bib was nice and colorful, and avoided my pet peeve of going to a very big race where I register far far in advance and they don't personalize the bib with your name. I just think it's such a nice touch, and fairly inexpensive (about $0.02 per bib depending on your vendor) but has a huge effect for the morale of the racer.

Race goodies - bag, bib, and entrant technical shirt

Race Day Morning

4 am wakeup. I had  my pre-race bagel and got dressed into the clothes I had carefully laid out the night before.

Out the hotel lobby door at 5 am, Steve drove me to the race site and dropped me off a couple blocks away. That worked marvelously. As an ambassador I had entry into the VIP area that day. This was a big relief for this first-time marathoner as I had indoor restrooms (yay!), pre-race breakfast available (gnawed on a bagel a bit), and private bag check. I chatted away with Pat Finney, a local runner who was pacing 5:00, and other pacers. I got to meet Jon, who was pacing 5:45, and I told him that if he caught up to me, it meant I was slowing down. :-)

I jabbered away my nervousness with a few of the other ambassadors. My biggest thanks goes to Joe who was running the 5K since he's recovering from injury. That meant he was way laid back and was gracious enough to deal with my blabbering when I vented that I really needed the distraction.

When I left to go line up in Wave 7 (there are 8 waves total), I slowly moved with the crowd and discovered that the barricades went so so far back that I was quickly losing time. By the time I got into the start area, I had heard Wave 7 take off a few minutes before, but I thought they might let me go ahead rather than wait for the Wave 8 start since my bib had the 7 on it. So I squeezed my way all the way through the throng of runners to the start line, right under the start banner, and they wouldn't let me go ahead. :-( But the fun part of that is that when they did start Wave 8, I was RIGHT on the start line. And how often does a runner who's not an elite competitive athlete, get to be ON a start line when the gun goes off, even if it's just for their wave?

Part 2 tomorrow: the race experience itself. Journey to becoming a marathoner wraps up!