Monday, July 30, 2012

Race Recap: San Francisco Marathon

I still can't believe that the SFM is over. When I signed up for this race 8 months ago after running my first half marathon everyone thought it was a joke, some hopeless dream an amateur runner was chasing.

Needless to say I proved them wrong. First with the St. Louis Marathon and now with #2 in the books. I still have so much to learn and so much room to grow with this sport. The thing you can appreciate the most about running a marathon is that NO MATTER how in shape and ready you are, come race day ANYTHING can happen. The uncertainty, the risks and the post-race reward all make running so worthwhile. All you have to answer is "HOW BADLY DO YOU WANT IT?"

I wanted it badly. But I did not know what "it" was. A PR? A BQ? A race where I would finish strong and not feel like death? Running in honor of my track friends?

Two Days Before...

So let's rewind to EXPO day. I had a little conversation with the 3 hour marathon Pacer that went a little like this.

"So I can't decide if I want to go for a BQ or not... I mean I think I might be able to run a 3:35 marathon but I'm not sure and don't want to die in the last 10k."- Me
"What was your last marathon time and where was it?"- Him
"3:56.... in St. Louis"- Me
'rolls eyes...' "This is REALLY hard course"- Him
"BUT I was injured and forgot to taper then! I feel much better now"- Me
'rolls eyes again...' "Have you done hill work and track repeats?"- Him
"Kinda..."- Me
'sigh' "Well if you want to...just do it. Or try. I don't think you'll be able to make up time in the downhill if you go out too slowly, you'll have to run 7:30 miles" (you're stupid)- Him

I probably should have listened to Mr. Pacer Dude. After all, his PR is a 2:30 and even he says that SF is a tough course. I blissfully ignored his wise words and went about my day dreaming about 3:35.

Yep, those are some hills.

Race Morning

My alarm went off at the lovely hour of 3AM, but let's be honest here; I was up before my alarm went off. Dang insomnia. Still, though, I felt rested and ready to rock and roll (or run.) I headed downstairs and quickly ate breakfast of coffee and oatmeal with peanut butter and banana in hopes of digesting for a few hours before the 5:30 start time.

I had laid out my gear the night before so after getting back in bed for 40 minutes or so, I quickly got dressed and headed out to my car. My mom and brother were accompanying me to the race so all I had to worry about was getting mentally ready; they took care of driving/parking and the rest.

I got to the start at around 5:20 and really had to go to the bathroom. There were tons of porta potties, but also tons of people. Fortunately I made my way though the line and jumped into Wave 3 1 minute before the start time. Whew, cutting it close. Before I knew it, my wave was off and running and so was I.

 Good Morning!

At this point I was still struggling with the decision to try to BQ or not. I kept glancing at my Garmin, mentally cursing myself for going too fast (BQ pace) or going too slow (3:40 something race pace.)

F* it, I decided I was going to go for it, even if it meant that I was going to crash and burn at the end. I was going to give it my all.

Miles 1-5 went by quickly. The course was flat and fast along the Embarcadero and temperatures were perfect. Overcast and cool. My pace was right on track and I was feeling great.

We started climbing at mile 6 to get up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I saw the climb from the distance and mentally got ready to drive up hill and pump my arms. My pace slowed significantly, but I finished the hill without feeling winded and knew that I would make up time on the downhill. Miles 6-10 were on an out and back on the Golden Gate Bridge and I got back on track despite the rolling hills. Running on the bridge was eerily blissful. The mist blanketed my whole body and fog surrounded the whole bridge. At this point I was running without music so I soaked in all of my natural surroundings. (I was planning on turning on my music after mile 14 for a bunch needed second half boost.)
Then came miles 10-15, which were a few of my favorite miles. Crowd support for the first half marathon was super. I high fived chains of people and had a HUGE smile on my face, almost forgetting that I was running a marathon and still had 16 miles to go. Starting around mile 12 I started falling off pace a little bit, but ended up keeping that pace for a few miles. I clocked right at 1:50 at the half and knew that I needed to run massive negative splits to hit a 3:35. Knowingly accepting that it wasn't going to happen, I focused on having a great run and feeding off the energy of the course support. My left ankle started hurting at this point, right around where I tie my shoe laces; instead of stopping, I decided to run through the pain.

We looped around the Golden Gate Park for a few miles and hit some rolling hills. Fortunately I was somewhat knowledgeable about the elevation here; I had run a Turkey Trot and walked around the park after Bay to Breakers. At this point I turned on my music and had a great mental boost, but the music soon stopped as my iPod ran out of batter after a quick 20 minutes. (I thought I had fully charged it?) The muscle fatigue started to set in and my body definitely knew I was running a marathon. I employed a strategy and started walking through aid stations to catch my breath. (I definitely think this strategy works!) I stopped at mile 17 to retie my left shoe lace in hopes of making my ankle feel a little better. It worked for the next few miles.

I never really hit the wall. Exhausted but still happy describes exactly how I felt. I saw my mom and brother at mile 20 on Haight street which was absolutely amazing. I had NO idea where they'd be on the course; we never talked about it before and it was such a surprise to see them. Due to my excitement, I ran mile 21 a lot faster. The last 10k was especially excruciating for my left foot. With each step on the gradual downhill, I thought my foot was going to fall off.

I'm still disappointed with miles 23-26; I really didn't want any miles over a 10 minute pace. I definitely did NOT need the two walking breaks I took but I sure as hell wanted them. At the mile 25 mile mark I told myself I'd run it in all the way, no matter how quickly or slowly it took. I did not want spectators watching me walk. Looking back on it, considering that the last .61 miles were at an 8:37 pace, I don't think I gave it my all which is quite defeating. (Dang it, I thought I was running the tangents but I guess running a perfect 26.2 is near impossible.) But no marathon is without the mental and physical struggle of pushing your body and soul to the next level. For future races, I definitely want to work on not getting too emotional during the last 10k and accept the pain.

And here's what we've all been waiting for...

Obviously no AG win here or BQ. The 19 and under competition is much easier; not many teenagers tackle on the daunting marathon and I was fortunate enough to have the privilege of getting an award in STL.

However, I still ran a 3:49 on a tough, hilly course just 3 months after my first marathon. With a flat, fast course and more speed work, I definitely think a BQ is calling my name in the future. I'll have to work hard, but hard work pays off. To say that I'm thrilled with a 7 minute PR would be an understatement. I'm still riding the post-marathon adrenaline rush 36 hours later and loving the sport more than ever. I ran in honor of Alan and Gabby, two talented runners whose lives were tragically cut short. With each name written clearly on my arms, whenever I had any ounce of self doubt (read: walking breaks) all I had to do was look down and know that they would have cheered me on for a strong finish. Thank you, both of you, for being such wonderful and inspiring people in my life. 

Also a HUGE shout out to my mom and my brother. THE BIGGEST THANK YOU EVER for dealing with my craziness the few days prior to the marathon. I was an absolute wreck; nerves got the best of me. Thank you for waking up at 4 AM on a Sunday and thank you for walking 6 miles to get to Haight Street in the cold for watching me for a good 10 seconds. You two are the best.

Cheering from the start...

To the sweaty finish!

 I'm not really sure what's next. For the first time in about 9 months I have no races scheduled. I'm thinking maybe some 10k's and an attempt at a half marathon PR. We'll see. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm Bad at Tapering.



And I'm itching to run. It's been two weeks of "taper" and I can firmly say that I'm awful at following rules.


Here's a look at my mileage for the last two weeks.

Week of July 16
M- 5 miles
T- 5 miles
W- 10 miles
TH- 6 miles
F-10 miles
S-6 miles
SU- off

Week of July 23
M- 6 miles
T- 10 miles
W- off
TH- 8 miles
F- off
S- off

So there has definitely been a decrease in mileage these past two weeks.  I peaked around 75 miles two weeks ago. Recently, I've been running at very easy paces just to get my legs moving and blood pumping. Everything feels great; I have no lingering injuries and YES I REMEMBERED THE CORRECT DATE THIS TIME. (for the St. Louis Marathon I went through the entire training cycle thinking the marathon was on April was on the 15th... I ran 24 miles the week before the race...)

I'm not exactly sure what my pacing strategy will be like for tomorrow. San Francisco is notoriously hilly and I don't know if I've done enough hill work. I think I'll just let everything fall into place and run the best race I can.

Is it "Worth the Hurt?" Absolutely. See you in 26.2!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Running Tip: How to Buy the Right Pair of Shoes

I've rotated through many pairs of running shoes during the last year. The biggest problem I've encountered is really finding a pair that offers enough support without feeling too cushioned. To find out whether a pair of shoes works for me or not I actually have to buy them and try them out for a few long runs. A few little circles around the store simply does not do it for me.

That being said, I can't recommend a specific pair of shoes for you. Each person has their own preference; weight and running stride also factor in to determine which shoe works best for injury avoidance and overall running experience. However, I can tell you what has worked for me in the past.

What's the most important part? Choosing the Right Store 

From personal experience I can say that choosing the right store is key towards purchasing the right pair of shoes. Everything else (finding the right fit, size, etc.) will follow.

I bought my first two pairs of shoes at Foot Locker and would advise against it. They sold me the Asics Gel Kayanos. While I'm sure these shoes work for someone else with a larger build/different stride, they definitely did not work for me. Coincidentally, these shoes also happened to be the most expensive Asics... hmmm interesting... Anyway, the Gel Kayanos are heavy and were weighing me down during long training runs. (at 5'3" and 108lbs I did not need shoes that weighted 9.7 ounces) I was also wearing the wrong size shoe! You're supposed to size up in running shoes to avoid getting the dreaded black toe nail. Unfortunately I didn't know this at the time (evidently neither did the sales person) and purchased the Kayanos anyway. Moral of the story? Don't go to any store where the sales people probably don't know what they're talking about/ aren't runners. BUT! If you do know what shoe you want, then go to Foot Locker/Online Retailers during sales and score yourself a snazzy deal!

Road Runner's Sports is a national running chain that I frequent because of its great customer service and return policies. However, it can be a hit or miss. The first time I went into the store, they had me go through their Shoe Dog program which analyzes your stride to determine your foot arch, flexibility, and pronation. I have high arches and overpronate so I was put into the stability category. (there's also neutral and motion control) Great. However, the woman I worked with seemed unsure about the shoes I was looking at. I was looking at the Pure series by Brooks and asked about the difference between the Cadence, Connect, and Flow shoes. She just brushed off my questions. Another downfall to Road Runners is that they definitely try to sell you more than you come in for. I was told that I needed insoles which were like 100 dollars a pair?! No. I'm sure they just wanted me to spend more money. However, the best part of Road Runners is their VIP program. For 25 dollars a year you get 10% off everything in the store and a 90 day return policy for worn shoes. This is great if you want to try a new pair of shoes but aren't sure about them. You can wear them for a few weeks, and if you decide that you don't like them, return them for your trusty old style of shoes!

I can only speak for the few local running stores I've been to, but for the most part you pay for what you get. You definitely won't find gear on super sale. The upside is that the service is top notch and you work with people who love the sport, love talking about the sport, and most importantly want to help you love the sport as well. I got my first pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes from Movin Shoes in San Diego and they have been my favorite pair of shoes so far. The sales person had me run outside while monitoring my stride, giving me feedback on which pair of shoes helped correct my overpronation/heel striking the best. I believe this is more effective than having your stride monitored on a treadmill first because you want to see how a pair of shoes affects your stride. I think the quality of service and experience of going to a local running store is definitely worth the price. Plus, they usually have run clubs where you can get your run on and meet new people!

My Gear

I currently rotate through three pairs of shoes.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12- Primarily used for long runs. Great support without weighing me down. My favorite pair of shoes. Ever.
Mizuno Wave Rider 15- A great neutral shoe but not ideal for me as I need more of a stability shoe.
Asics DS Racer 9- Just purchased, but I bought them as a lighter racing shoe that still offers support.

Finally, don't forget to buy new shoes every 400-500 miles or when your knees start to ache! You don't want to risk an injury just because you wanted to get a few more miles out of your shoes. Happy running!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Confidence Boosting Long Run

I left my house around 7:30 this morning to embark on my final long run before the SF Marathon. Surprisingly, this run felt GREAT. During my last 20 miler, I ended up walking/running the final 7 miles due to dehydration and exhaustion. I gave up at mile 13 on my last 16 miler....

Not today. I was determined to finish strong and was prepared to mentally grind through the pain. Miraculously, however, I never felt winded and actually had to make myself slow down. I ran a little over 20 miles at an average pace of 8:35. Now I feel both mentally and physically ready for the marathon! Bring it, SF. :)

Today's Stats. I didn't end up taking any Gus simply because I didn't need any. I had a sip of water at mile 6 and grabbed my water bottle at mile 12.