Tag Archives: Racing

Weaknesses, Ambivalence, & a Great 10k

I’m at a week (and a half) in recovery mode: Last week I tried to get a bit more sleep (success), not work a ton of extra hours (moderate success), and ran only 23 total miles. I was feeling a lot more optimistic about the rest of Winter training and going into the Spring racing season. Especially after running the Back On My Feet Mardi Gras 10k on Saturday without falling apart (although it wasn’t without cramping).

The course was .20 short. Whoopsy. Mile 5 was slow because we ran into the 5k..bod and weave isn't in my repertoire.

The course was .20 short. Whoopsy. Mile 5 was slow because we ran into the 5k..bob and weave isn’t in my repertoire.

With honesty I’ve concluded that some of the discomfort and bonkyness I experienced at the LA Marathon wasn’t from having a cold (although that was the biggest contributor and certainly exacerbated things), but also was an illustration of several weak spots in my training and other habits that all reacted at once to the stress of 26.2 miles, on a hilly course, while fighting a lack of rest, a high level of stress, and illness over the past few months while also running at a (for me) high volume.


Screen shot from thumbnail…used without permission…is marathonfoto really never going to decide to charge a reasonable prices for downloading images?

Also, side note, I’m on my second “rest day” in a row (because of logistics and weather), so it’s plausible I’ve entered a reality distortion based panic where I can’t stop eating, feel 20lbs heavier, and am certain I’m out of shape. You know, the usual.

What are these training weaknesses? In no particular order here are the things I’ve pin-pointed, which if given some attention, it’s realistic to expect I would run (and generally feel) much better:

  1. DIET: True, I maintain a diet that more-or-less keeps me  more-or-less feeling good, and out of the hospital. Having faulty guts  means that I eat much “better” than the average person. But there are several areas where my vices rule me: lots of sugar, lots of coffee, lots of wine. If I just halved my consumption of those three things , I might wake up looking like Shalane… or at least, I’d reliably be able to button my slacks instead of trying to make leggings work-suitable. us-olympic-marathon-trials-results-team-amy-cragg-shalane-flanagan
  2. STRENGTH: I’m as total weak-ass. Figuratively and quite literally. I have very little strength and gave up my weight lifting habit once my weekly mileage went over 40. So, that was like 4 years ago, and now I have all kinds of hip, back, and core issues when I run… because those areas are so damn weak! And, as suggested, I think my ass is pretty wimpy too.
  3. SLEEP: Poor Jorge can share hundreds of anecdotes illustrating how much I struggle in the morning. I’ve been like this my entire life. Doesn’t matter how early I get to bed, my brain, mood, and body take FOREVER to wake up in the morning. If I sleep less than 8 hours (and who has time for THAT?!) it’s worse, and for me sleep debt seems to accumulate very fast and I almost always develop a fever, or catch whatever virus/bacteria is going around – this is what happened in Jan/Feb first the flu then the cold. I was logging only 5-6hrs of sleep per night from Thanksgiving until I got back from LA and said….NOooooooo I can’t take this anymore!
  4. STRESS: Productivity and stress have such a weird relationship. High productivity increases overall stress, but also decreases it… but then if overall stress gets too high then productivity slows down – creating more stress! GAAAAH! This is my life.

    This counts as a whole week's worth of ancillary work, right?

    This counts as a whole week’s worth of ancillary work, right? (and to be clear: this is me NOT Shalane.

  5. CLARITY OF GOALS: For the first time, outside of wanting to break 3:10 in the marathon this year, I don’t really know what I want from running in 2016 … which makes it hard to focus, do the supplemental work, drink less wine,  plan training, and choose races. Which brings me to my next point.

I’m still waffling like crazy over how to proceed in terms of racing and training. More specifically, I can’t decide whether I should go run the Catalina Marathon on March 19th, or stay home and run the Cary March Madness Half Marathon on the 20th (already registered). I registered for Cary on New Years Eve (it sells out within minutes most years), and then last month, very impulsively I entered a giveaway for an entry into the Catalina Marathon. I was really excited when I won! As it says in my entry post, I ran the Eco Marathon in 2013, and LOVED it. I also managed to finish as the first female, and 7th overall… which was an awesome experience. I wrote about it here.FullSizeRenderWhat I failed to consider in my impulsivity, was that this race is 5 weeks after LA and 4 weeks before Boston, and although it’s a comped race entry, I still need to FLY TO CALIFORNIA, which ain’t free. If the weather and sea conditions cooperate I don’t need accommodations because my bother, SIL, nephew and I will go out to the island on their boat. I usually take 36 or so hours to not be sea-sick, but I mean, who sleeps before a marathon anyway? Not me! The bigger concern is running with “sea legs”, basically then you feel sea-sick, but while you’re on land, running a race that is 26 miles with like 4,000ft of elevation gain. Awesome?

Note: not the actual boat.

Note: not the actual boat.

I honestly feel ambivalent, I can get on board with going and with not going. The biggest appeal is an extra visit with my family . I feel too awkward to ask to defer the entry, because, you know. Contest. But I also feel like a douche if i don’t use it. I need to make a decision so I can figure out how to train…

I can’t decide what to do. 

Thanks for hanging in here with me, now it’s time to CROWD-SOURCE this, yay!

What do you think? Catalina: yes or no?  (follow-up question, am I stuck being a jackass no matter how I handle this?)

Reduce training volume by 20% to make time/energy for supplemental work: yes or no?

Give up candy and wine: just kidding, don’t answer this one.


Which Results Are The Important Ones?

I ran the LA Marathon yesterday, and although what follows may seem to have a dreary tone, I’ve got about a hundred things that when I think about them they make me laugh, so overall I’m in a good place. There was a seemingly unending and hilarious series of small and large calamities leading up to this race, most of which I’ll leave out of this post in the name of talking about some other things. But before I get into it, I have to upfront thank my sister-in-law and mother for journeying to the finish line, Meredith for traveling from San Francisco to spend the weekend with me and my crazy clan, and Erica who was probably the sole reason I made it to the start…because I set my alarm for 4:30pm, not am. Which means if I’d been at my brother’s house, and not a hotel in downtown LA, well, there’s no way I’d have made it on time!

One of the things about running that drew me in and has kept me plugging away is the allure of predictable success. The premise that if you complete x, y, z actions (training details) then you can expect x, y, z results (faster races). The challenge with this concept is that  you have to maintain a sort of aerial view of your training and racing in order for this rule to be supported. There is a constant temptation look at single races and workouts and get sucked into flip-flopping between thinking you’re either the inevitable next member of the olympic team or you should give up running forever, because there’s obviously no hope for improvement.

Another challenge of the a+b=c theory of running is that how we define success, our rate of improvement, the ceiling of our abilities, and how much we can manipulate our daily life to support training is highly fluid. That is, all of these things vary across people, and within each of us across time.

Since my first marathon in 2010, if you’re looking from afar, I have slowly increased the volume and intensity of my training cycles (I’m not going to get into specifics in the name of, trying to be succinct -probably a futile effort). For the most part I’ve seen a positive relationship between these increases and increases in my performance across distances on race days. But, if you take a close up view, this journey is riddled with full-stops, breaks, bonks, DNS’s, and (one) DNF. Admittedly, I’m a little stuck in the myopic view right now, I’m feeling a bit desperate for a breakthrough or at least some unquestionable evidence (i.e. marathon PR) that overall my performance is still improving, or unquestionable evidence that I need to change the way I train.

My current marathon training plan of choice is the Pfitzinger 12 week 70 miles per week training plan. That is, you begin the first week running a total of 55 miles, and at the peak of the cycle you have 4 weeks at 70 miles.pfitz Like most plans out of a book (read: not individualized) this one has weekly elements that target improving lactate threshold (tempo runs), VO2 Max (intervals and goal pace runs), and your glycogen storage and fat utilization (total volume, long runs, medium-long runs). That is to say, each week you spend some time running hard, running at or near goal marathon race pace, running easy, running tired, and put in as many miles as you can without flirting with diminishing returns. Hopefully the outcome is that you end the training cycle with your training and racing paces faster than your previous training cycle, or the start of this one. 

I’ve now “completed” two cycles of this plan.  The quotations are required because in the first cycle, last fall, right as the first taper week began I got very sick with colitis and diverticulitis complications. Then, this cycle for the LA Marathon I had the flu, and had it bad, during the second peak week, then 5 days out from race day developed a cold which began moving from my sinuses to my chest about 36hrs out.

The weather report for racing in LA was not ideal. In Chicago “unseasonably warm” in February means 40 degrees, in SoCal is means 90. But with the early start (6:55am) and running toward the ocean I really never felt hot. In fact, coming down the last couple of miles into Santa Monica, there was a dense fog and I felt rather cold. That said, I also wasn’t running very hard, or fast…Ok…at that point I wasn’t really running at all.

The LA Marathon course is NOT an easy one. People kept telling me it was mostly rolling hills. Those people clearly don’t know what “rolling hills” means. The course alternates between intermittently shoving you off cliffs, and long never-ending moderate inclines. But this could just be my bitterness and resentment talking. Even if you’re feeling at the peak of your game, I suspect it would be challenging to run an even effort or even pace on this course.

Unfortunately, for this race my strategy moved from “target a 3:10 finish and run smart” to “don’t die and/or quit running forever” within the span of a week. The highlight reel of my performance yesterday is as follows (with mile splits for your amusement):

  1. Struggled to slow down for first few miles because options included either blowing out your quads barreling down the hills, or blowing out your knees and hamstrings trying to slow down (do I have that backwards?) — oh and the constant certainty that someone was going to fall.  (7:17, 7:10, 7:18)
  2. Spent 10 miles feeling responsible for some mans BQ because he wasn’t wearing watch and the course clocks SUCKED, and he kept asking me about my pace (note: he was totally nice about it and non annoying). TRANSLATION: my modified race plan to run 7:30-7:45’s and prevent bonking due to chest cold? fail)  (7:19, 7:35, 7:30, 7:15, 7:22, 7:26, 7:15, 7:16, 7:13) *he later took up with the 3:15 pace group as they passed us -phew.
  3. Halfway. Coughing a lot. Shirt full of snot.(7:31, 7:29, 7:08, 7:24)
  4. Mile 17. Chest discomfort. First walk breaks. (7:41, 7:44, 7:37)
  5. Mile 20. Longer walk breaks, chest discomfort spreading. Made friends with a very hungover 2:30-something marathoner. (8:09)
  6. Mile 21 – stopped for a beer with new friend (9:18)
  7. Soon after – abandoned by new friend because he had to pee/saw something shiny – decided to start jogging
  8. Mile 22-25 my diaphragm didn’t seem to be working properly, lots of abdominal muscle spasms and cramps. Lots of stopping to feebly try and stretch them out.(8:53, 8:31, 9:27, 7:57)
  9. Mile 25+ stop to see Meredith, Mom, and Teresa (my SIL) (9:15)
  10. Mile 25.5 to finish – maybe 10 full stops, hard to stay upright for the abdominal cramping. (FOREVER)
  11. Stupid cold. Lame immune system. Running is hard.

For once I perfectly expressed all my emotions: “meh”.

I’ve got two marathons coming up in the next 9 weeks. First, Catalina Island, which isn’t (perhaps obviously) a race at which I’m going to be looking to PR at, I love Catalina and I’m lucky to have a brother who goes there often with his trawler, so to the degree that it’s not insane to do so, I’ll be training around that one. Then, Boston, where I do want to go out looking for a PR. But I’m stuck.

Which data do I look at to decide if my current goal of running 3:10 pace is reasonable and/or if I’m training properly? Do I look at those workouts where I hit the training targets reliably, or do I look at the fact that 3 times now I’ve gone out at 3:10 pace in a marathon and 3 times I’ve bonked. (Boston – hypothermia/med tent/3:19, Bayshore – DNF at mile 20, LA – well…the above).

While it’s true that in each of these cases there were variables that affected performance: wet/cold weather, proximity to the previous ordeal, and moderate illness (in that order), I also don’t feel that I’ve had a very strong half marathon performance in the past two years where I feel like I can confidently say I’m ready for a big jump up in marathon performance.

What say you internet running (experts) friends?


Finding X

Running brings many gifts. Three of my favorites are:

  1. Access and exposure to people you may not otherwise have the grace and good fortune to know.
  2. Running makes you a more informed and enlightened tourist/traveller.
  3. It can bring strengths and weaknesses to the surface, many you may not expect to be related to running, and some that aren’t reality.

Here is one (long) example of this last gift.

As is socially embraced by math-phobics and math-vangelists alike, I often make self-deprecating cracks about my lack of math fluency. One of my most tired lines being, “You figure it out, there’s a reason I decided to be a psychologist, I failed algebra three times”.

If memory serves me right, I actually failed algebra once, in high school, but then I dropped out half-way through re-taking it. By dropped out I mean; simply stopped going to school, got my GED, and moved on with my life (I really, REALLY hated school). Of course, moving on with my life meant having to take “college algebra”, and while I didn’t fail it, I did re-take it to bring up my grade.

This means that I took algebra 3.5 times. (See? I CAN do math!) After which, I should be a freaking Algebra wiz! And you know what. I think I kind of am. Actually, I am more like the Picasso of Algebra.

Seriously. Most specifically I relate to; “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” – Pablo Picasso.

You see, the reason I struggled in school generally. and specifically with math, is perhaps the same reason I ended up in a professional area of expertise that ends with the words “ANALYSIS” and “ANALYST” (NOT as ironic as you may think, stick with me here). I have a hard time doing things in a prescribed order because that order seems to rarely make sense to me. I vividly remember being in math classes, arriving at the “correct answer”, showing my work, and getting marked down (and made to feel foolish) because I didn’t perform the operations and whatever in the right order. That order being, whatever the text book said, or the teacher preferred.

When I really started struggling at school, academically and socially when I was 15, a very unimaginative psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADHD, prescribed TWO meds, and told me I was lucky to have made it that long with becoming hooked on narcotics, getting pregnant, or getting arrested,  I was almost hilariously far from any of those things so I told my parents he was a moron and never went back (I have REALLY GOOD parents).

In graduate school,  while studying Applied Behavior Analysis, the only two classes I struggled with were two that subjected me to the exact same experience (narrowly defined “correctness” not insults and unnecessary psychotropics), except instead of math operations, it was treatment design.

I’ve found in adulthood, and  in my career as a scientist-practitioner these last five years, that we actually have this amazing freedom to do things in WHATEVER ORDER YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE. This drive to do things in an order that seems functional rather than what the book says, helps me to be creative and actually solve problems more efficiently and effectively (and in a way that might maintain) than if I bang my head against the dogmatic protocols.

Wow, that was vague. Cut me some slack, I’m in the middle of some serious self-actualization right now. 

Perhaps the really major flaw in how we teach both algebra and treatment selection, is that we assume only a specific set of tools is available for reaching the conclusion, and that no other tools could ever lead to the same result. When in reality, you could be solving for the same “X” with a wide variety of tools available at different times and in different contexts.

Runners and coaches take hits to their confidence and performance because of this same fallacy. Just because a plan worked before, or this workout meant this or that THEN, doesn’t mean it will work NOW. We treat data that are fairly arbitrary as law (I’ll digress abruptly now, because this is a whole new 1,000 words waiting to happen).

Here’s my point: I was led to believe for 30 plus years that I suck at math. Then, while running the other day, and having to do a bunch of “X” finding to make sure I didn’t run too far or end up late for work, I realized that there are MANY circumstances where I’m actually pretty darn slick with the math skills, here’s a sampling:

  • calculating the tip on a restaurant bill (20%, dudes, 20%)
  • figuring out when to turn around during a run when I’ve altered course multiple times (as above)
  • re-arranging a training plan (where “X” is always shifting, and so are all the other variables)
  • Orienteering with a paper map and a compass (old school!). At least I assume I could still do this…also, this is totally math. Right?
  • Deciding which quantity of a product is cheaper, even though retailers and manufacturers are seemingly HELL BENT on discouraging you from doing so by never using the same unit of measurement for different packagings of the SAME PRODUCT. Sigh. I work in social services. In Illinois, I’ll always be on budget, this is a crucial skill.

The thing about how math (and problem solving) is taught in general education and how we use it in real life, is that the “X”we’re trying to solve for is often a moving target. Moreover, there are often multiple correct answers, potentially high-stakes (positive AND negative), and sometimes the part where you show your work, is truly the only part that matters. NOT because you used the “right” tools, but because you used the tools you had mastery over, you fostered progress, and so, even if you don’t arrive at the “correct” answer for “X”, you win.

What is the terminal outcome for my career, marathon running, and anything else? I’m not sure, and that’s what keeps me trying to solve for X, making the most of what I have, and chasing Unicorns.


Book Review: 80/20 Running – Matt Fitzgerald


This book will be released on September 2, 2014 and is available for pre-order on Amazon (Kindle or Paperback), or via Penguin books.

Read it:

  • You’ve gotten injured, perhaps more than once, when you were otherwise fit and still want to keep running (and improving).
  • You have been running 5k’s up to maybe a half marathon and want to train for a marathon (although the book caters to 5k – marathon distances).
  • You enjoy reading literature reviews and find it entertaining (and helpful) to know what current research is suggesting.
  • You’ve read some of Matt Fitzgerald’s other books (I think it’s fair to say he’s a prolific writer at this point) and enjoyed them.
  • You are a solely motivated by how many miles you log per week, and how much faster you logged them than last week.
  • You like reading books that dispel myths.
  • You’re a fan of the McMillan or Daniels training tools and templates (this book is totally compatible with them).

*I’d like to point out, as an aside, that this book goes very well with Fitzgerald’s “RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel”. My opinion is such that if you read both, and have been running for more than 6 months to a year, you can probably then self-coach with reasonable success.

Skip it:

  • You have a training program that works for you and you haven’t experienced; symptoms of over-training, injury, a performance plateau, a sense of malaise or apathy toward training.
  • You’ve been under the tutelage of a well informed coach, you’re injury fee and happy with the progress you’re making.
  • You don’t like hearing about what “science” says. (yes, I know you are real, and it’s ok)
  • You want to just be given a plan and told what to do, not react to how your training goes or have to spend time planning your runs. You aren’t interested in the why’s and how’s, just the do’s and don’ts.
  • You can only/are willing only to train 3 times per week (<4hrs, but still expect to improve. (ok, so the book doesn’t say this, but I formulate that this training philosophy requires increases over time to training volume)


Several points that might bias me slightly toward liking this book: If you’ve read my rant page on the state of product reviews on the internet, then please allow me a teaspoon of hypocrisy. I did not pay for this book. I asked Matt if I might be sent an advanced copy, and to my surprise he (and his publisher) obliged. Next, as a rather large part of my professional life I spend a lot of time trying to synthesize lots of research results into, basically, getting small or large groups of people to buy-in to some different way of approaching problems and other things, and so I appreciate how difficult this is to do, I appreciate that this is the approach this books embraces. Finally, I like reading about running, and about different training strategies even if I don’t agree with them (in this case I do, however).

That all said, I had a bias to dis-like this book as well. As you may be aware the 80/20 principle (know by several names) is a popular one in business, managing, and with various work/life evangelists. It’s frequently misapplied, misunderstood, or over-generalized (simplified?), and I think more recently has been boiled down to the really annoying “work smarter – not harder” mantra. In order to be able to skillfully select the 20% of any causes that will generate the desired results takes a heck of a lot of hard work…I digress.

My Summative Experience:

Given that I was set-up to love this book, (“Run”, and “Diet Cults” are books I’ve pressured probably 50 people into reading, my interns have all been made to read the latter), I was actually a little disappointed. Of course, I should temper that by saying it’s exactly the same kind of disappointment I felt when I read “Hansons Marathon Method”. Both books are marketed as an approach to marathon training (ahem ,– running) that are “revolutionary”. So of course, you’re expecting some sort of magic bullet. The thought of which, even if you (like me) are in love with the process of training, will still find alluring. But this book is not “revolutionary”, I’d say rather that it addresses a cornerstone of successful training that is a MUST for all runners who want to run better (faster, healthier, happier etc), but one that runner’s typically fall into (the 80/20 formula) as part of their evolution as runners. That is, they get injured, get burnt-out, and so on, and over time settle into this more natural, and happily, more successful ratio.

I am definitely one of these people. I haven’t used a heart-rate monitor while running in years, but in the spirit of the full experience I wore one over the week and a half I was reading this book (it’s actually a quick read – I just had life-ish things getting in the way). Even though I’m still a bit out of shape (week 3 of an 18 week training cycle) I found that once I calculated my training zones I am well within the 80/20 rule. And in fact, when I looked back to my two most successful training cycles in the past, they were too. What’s of great interest to me is that had I followed the plans as set-up at the time, I would not have been. I would have, as defined in this book, been working way too much above the ventilatory threshold, but because I have always been a big proponent of listening to your body, I was “skipping” a lot of the workouts.

What was wholly not disappointing about this book is that I think I could go back twice and find additional interesting component topics to look into. Fitzgerald just does a plain old great job weaving in heaps of research notes.

Also, let’s just go ahead and acknowledge two things: first, the use of the term “revolutionary” is clearly a publishers’ favorite buzz word, and second, that sense of disappointment I had after reading the Hanson’s book? Well, I then used their training templates for 3 PR races, sooo…kettle, meet black.

Target Audience:

This is actually a little tricky to address. Normally I excel at pairing specific content with specific audiences (again, this is an element of my professional gig), but this book has left me a little stuck in the “der, well, everyone who is running should read this”. Let me explain: I hinted at this above, we all have to learn about what our bodies respond best to, and how they respond in general, to training. There is some trial and error to that. The thing is, we actually DON’T have to do the whole trial-and-error fumbling around in frustration thing because it’s been done for us, by other runners over many decades. If you read the books, and spend some time assessing and strategizing, then you can in large part avoid the misery of trial and error training. Reading about running, and the science of running, is a great component to that. I say reading, rather than talking with other runners, intentionally. Often runners get defensive, rather than grateful, when you start to pick apart their chosen training method.

I’ve learned this the hard way. So now, instead, I (try to) make only references to how I’ve contacted success in training, and then I recommend books. My rate of impassioned debates regarding marathon training has greatly decreased. But my recommendation library has grown. This book is perfect for it.

Key take home points (my favorite bits):

  • It is not as simple as arbitrarily delegating 80% of your training volume to easy running, and the remaining 20% to hard running.
  • There isn’t one most efficient way to run (stride, cadence etc), moreover your most efficient run is different given different workouts and other conditions.
  • There are people researching training loads and components of training, and slowly the populations they draw from are broadening (I’m being optimistic here).
  • To get better results over time in racing, you need to increase your training load/volume over time (i.e. run more).
  • Currently training models aren’t ousting old ones: they are building upon them.
  • Cross-training is supportive training (my words) – and has some positive effects beyond potentially injury prevention (I won’t give away the punch line!)
  • The point of diminishing returns in building fitness and skill is a real thing, so is genetic potential (for running fast).

Warnings and potential mis-use:

Within the book Fitzgerald makes the assumption (he might take exception to my use of this term, but I have a word limit here) that most people are running harder than they need to for optimal returns on fitness, I disagree, just a bit. I think within the running population there are people definitely people who fit that bill: I think these people tend to be beginners, or/and fairly competitive age-grouper types (this is where I fall, for a reference point) who tend to get stuck in a work-horse mentality and don’t realize they’re working in the realm of diminishing returns because the metrics like weekly mileage and individual workout stats are so damn reinforcing. Additionally, I think there is a population of runners (many perhaps falling into the 4:45 – 6:30 marathon finish, training 30-45mi/wk) who underestimate their rate of exertion, and aim too low in how hard they should train. It would be another 3,000 words for me to fairly elaborate this point, but I mention it here because I think there will be people who read this book and actually lose fitness gains by over-correcting.

Next, unlike the plans that typically appeal to beginners, where the whole 16-24 weeks of training is all pre-planned, you need to calibrate your training. This book includes great training plan templates and other key element run templates (tempo runs and the like), but you do need to first establish what your training zones are (i.e. easy, moderate, hard – the book will break them down into sub-sections for you), and then you’ll need to calibrate them over the course of training as your body adapts and becomes more fit. That is, as you improve. Call me a negative Nancy, but I can absolutely see people skipping the assessment work, assuming where their paces fall, and then blaming the system (er – Matt Fitzgerald) when they don’t improve.

Overall, this book is a great addition to your training resource library, and I look forward to digging into some of the finer points even more.

Let me know if you read it!


Catalina Eco Marathon Re-cap

Although I had a record setting amount of nerves on race morning, we found the time to ride a fish.

Although I had a record setting amount of nerves on race morning, we found the time to ride a fish.

The Catalina Eco Marathon on November 9th was my last race for the year. Not my last marathon, my last RACE. No impulsive 5ks, no Turkey Trots, nothing, I am done for 2013. Stay tuned, because I suspect 2014 will be very stocked. Although it is 95% self-applied pressure, I still need a break from the pressure, and the structure of training. You know, things like having a panic attack if I can’t “use the bathroom” at exactly the right moment each day, and zoning out at work, or during a conversation with a friend because I’m trying to re-arrange appointments, meals, and social engagements in order to get key workouts done within the appropriate time-frames.To be honest, I was ready for a break before this training taper began. I guess what I’m trying to articulate is when I finished this race, which meant also finishing two very long training cycles this year, I felt hugely relieved.

I registered for this event at some point between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve 2012. I was at my folks place in San Antonio along with my brother and his family. My then 5 year old Nephew very innocently asked me, “Aunt Annabelle, when are you going to run a race in California?” I did a marathon guide search for fall marathons in southern California (spring was out as I wanted to PR at Boston). I presented Beck with a few options and he said Catalina was the way to go. Actually, I’m sure he said something much cuter, and probably more clever, I just can’t remember what it was.

Aboard the Catalina Express on marathon eve-day.

Aboard the Catalina Express on marathon eve-day.

I waited too long to write this recap, so I won’t be able to give a proper mile-by-mile, that’s boring anyway, so we’ll play the fun game of trying to provide some of the more interesting, useful or entertaining details. I’m sure there will be lots of words, I am rarely hard up for things to say, but forgive me if I don’t reveal any life-altering beatitudes.

Marathon-Eve (also, my birthday): Meredith said she’d go to Catalina and do the 10k I think way back in January, so the poor woman got to spend a weekend trapped on an island with a solid contingent of the Winters clan, and all my race-finale anxiety, a true test of friendship/run-bud-ship. We got up Friday morning and went with my sister-in-law to drop Beck as school followed by a shakeout run in the Aliso-Woods Canyon.


After the shakeout we gathered necessary supplies before heading to Dana Point and the Catalina Express.


We took the ferry over to Catalina in the early afternoon, (FYI passage is FREE on your birthday!) between my nephew’s food restrictions and my own, we opted to bring all our own food for the weekend, with 6 people to feed we definitely hit the luggage quota, and accidentally donated a lemon, or squash (I’m still confused about its identity) to the Pacific.

We trekked up a massive hill to our hotel, then back down it for bib pick-up and a course talk. During the talk as people asked the same anxiety ridden questions about toilets and water that people freak out over at every race, upon which my nervousness reached a nearly unbearable level. In the end, even though the course talk referred to many landmarks I’d never heard of before, I was really glad I went because somehow the landmarks made sense once I was out on the course, and I was able to anticipate some of the terrain changes.

Course talk: landmark, landmark, landmark, don't litter, landmark, BUFFALO AND THEIR BABIES = DANGER, landmark, landmark.

Course talk: landmark, landmark, landmark, don’t litter, landmark, BUFFALO AND THEIR BABIES = DANGER, landmark, landmark, RATTLESNAKES, landmark.

From wake-up until the big reveal after the course talk, Beck was working hard not to tell me what the birthday surprise was they had planned.

But, and I quote “wasn’t it crazy?! That the surprise was brownies and not a cake!” I hadn’t had brownies in over a year. So yes, it was totally crazy, and totally awesome to eat some gluten free (homemade) brownies before bed on my final marathon eve of the year.

The question everyone is dying to ask: Any close encounters with buffalo? Sadly, or happily, no. However, I learned from talking with some people on the ferry back to Dana Point on Sunday afternoon, that a small group of guys just ahead of me had a near miss as a couple of buffalo ran across the trail. My assumption is that they were not charging the runners, but rather, just trying to get the hell away from the humans. By the descriptions from other runners, it’s fairly likely that I didn’t see any of the gigantic wildlife only because I was so focused on the ground beneath and immediately ahead of my feet.

Which paid off because guess what? I didn’t fall. Not even once.

See? No blood, no dirt, no joint damage.

See? No blood, no dirt, no joint damage.

Overall and some key points for those who run this marathon:

Speaking of toilets (sorry, I that was a while ago, but segues are kind of killing me lately), there aren’t many readily available at the start. I was prepared for that to some degree from the course talk, but did expect to find a few on the way to the start. There are two public bathrooms at a children’s park/playground less than a quarter mile from the (nondescript) start line, I think there was a SNAFU with the town and the race because only one was open, and there was very little toilet paper. Fortunately, I travel just about everywhere with wet-wipes so I shared. My family informed me post-race that, evidently, I’d gained a reputation from handing out TP…ah well, we can’t choose our fame.

This course was just about as hard as I expected, but not as difficult and treacherous as some of what you find on the internet will have you believe. Of course, as I came to learn very quickly, much of the potential treachery is in the event of operator error (read: running downhill on trails in flippin’ HARD).

My overall impression is that doing well in this race is less about doing a ton of training on hills, and more about general running fitness, and a stubborn temperament. Of course, I did basically ZILCH hill training, so this may be me reaching for justification…

This is the elevation data from my Garmin, basically looks exactly the same as that on the race website.

This is the elevation data from my Garmin, basically looks exactly the same as that on the race website.

It’s also important to point out that we had absolutely perfect weather conditions. There are some spectacular views while running the ridgeline (well, there are great views as you ascend and descend as well but you’re less likely/able to take them in), with the clear weather we were able to see endlessly out to the Pacific west, as well as the California coastline and San Clemente Island. That said, the rest of the scenery is your typical SoCal fare, which, let’s be honest, can leave a little to be desired, I’ll take the Maine woods over the desert/chaparral hybrid any day.

As I’ve mentioned before one of the things about running being so popular that can be problematic is that at most big races now you might have unpleasant encounters with other people’s ego’s and anxieties. This includes but is not limited to: throwing elbows and shoving at aid stations, swearing loudly, wearing headphones, making sexist remarks…those are just my “favorites”. Well, at this event those things were blissfully absent. Everyone was friendly, supportive and generally there was no jackassery to be found.

Only one dude had headphones, and I can tell you most of what he was listening to because it was audible from a few hundred feet away and we leap-frogged a bit. I’m not shy about my serious disdain for wearing headphones during races, but I can’t even fathom how you justify needing them (or wanting them, for that matter) when you are running an event like this that is 1) very challenging, 2) chock full of friendly people, 3) beautiful, and 4) DANGEROUS YOU IDIOT!

True, this was only mile 6, but my

True, this was only mile 6, but my “clinically depressed middle miles” didn’t occur at this race. Trails and very few humans for the win!

The aid stations were awesome. I can’t think of a better way to articulate it. They were just perfect. They always seemed to appear right when I needed them, the volunteers (assumption) were super proactive, taking my water bottle and filling it, offering to answer questions, and complementing my super-hero outfit. This race has (another assumption as I’ve not done one) the feel of a “traditional” ultra event, small field, basically zero spectators (unless you count the Rangers out there keeping a head count), and wicked stocked aid stations. There was candy, salt, pretzels, WATERMELON (I gave myself side stitches from eating too much of it. TOTALLY WORTH IT), coke (again, indulged, want it at every race now), some kind of energy chew, water, Powerade (or Gatorade, I can’t remember, I never touch the stuff), and I’m sure lots of other stuff.

I guess my nerves were clearly written on my face.

I guess my nerves were clearly written on my face.

My personal performance experience:

I like to call my father before the start of each marathon. We don’t usually say much, but it helps me get my head on straight. I’d already checked to make sure he’d be available 20 minutes before the start for a quick chat (he’d planned to come to Catalina, but caught a wicked virus and had to stay home), but I was so incredibly worked up and nervous that I couldn’t make the call. I was afraid I’d cry, and crying does not pair well with physical exertion, or anxiety, or trying to save face.

Anyway, Meredith, my sister-in-law, and my mother all stayed with me until the gun went off, then went to get Meredith ready for the 10k race which started 30mins later. My brother and Beck went snorkeling while I ran, don’t worry they were at the finish.

Miraculously, all that nervous energy went right into running tunnel-vision once it was time to start moving.

I started this race the way I started the Mount Washington Road Race (recap here) in June: with no pacing strategy, and highly flexible expectations. Six months ago I thought I would go for a podium female finish, but after terminating all my hill and strength training when my right knee went kablooey after falling many times on it, I hesitantly adjusted my goals down to a top 10 overall finish. Then I really came to my senses in the week before the race, adjusted again and decided to go for a top 25 overall, top 10 females finish.

Spoiler: Meredith and I both took first female in our events.

Spoiler: Meredith and I both took first female in our events.

Making goals and setting expectations for this race was actually a pretty murky process which translated to me spending several hours looking up various stats and races online. Because of the exposed terrain of this course, there have been several years where the course is re-routed because of weather, also individual performances are highly impacted (like at any marathon, but more so) by the temperature, humidity (or lack thereof), and wind. And not just the weather on race day, but the weather over the summer/early fall season.

Also like the MWRR I started with the plan to run until I had to walk. That is, I did not plan ahead when I would walk. As it happens, I took my first walk break in mile 16, when a fellow runner (hi ROB!) said “don’t be afraid to walk”, he was either presenting an olive branch because he saw me wavering, or it was a natural reaction to the approximately 17 questions I had just asked him. He’d been chatting off and on with a group of 3 men that I leap-frogged with 3 or 4 times. By mile 19 this “gang” of 5 was spread out enough that I didn’t see any of them until the finish area.

Speaking of mile 19, I walked the “Catalina Crush” hill. The damn thing has stone steps build into it. I took one look and decided to walk in lieu of taking a break at the top.

I didn't take a break, but this photo is of my actual first running steps after

I didn’t take a break, but I’m certain this photo is of my actual first running steps after “summiting”.

My new friend Rob, told me that he never worries about the last five miles of this race (I don’t know how many times he’s done it, but he seemed really familiar with both it, and also the Conservancy marathon that is held in the spring). I’m sure he provided some justification, but I can’t remember what else he said. I knew the course started to double back on the trails we came in on somewhere near mile 22, and I was really looking forward to it.

At mile 22 I knew I was in 12 or 13th position overall, and I’d been the lead female from the start. I also knew that I was getting increasingly clumsy going downhill, and increasingly shuffely on the uphills, so I told myself I’d do my best to pull into the top 10 overall, and if that meant 1, 2, or hell 5, female, that’d be OK.

I’d been smart the whole race, running by feel, maintaining an even breathing effort (challenged, but even), drinking a lot of water (90+ ounces by the end), taking salt, and taking gels. And, most importantly, I remembered to look around me and enjoy the views, oh, and to take deep breaths and smell the dirt (I LOVE the smell of dirt).

My reward to myself at mile 22 was to not get anxious, to embrace that any finish was an amazing finish, and to smile at my family when I got there.

Yah, that all sounds great, doesn’t it?

This is me, dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, I felt like we needed a picture, things were getting serious. You're welcome.

This is me, dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, I felt like we needed a picture, things were getting serious. You’re welcome.

Now do you want to know what really happened?

Well, I did all that hippy-shit for a while, but then I got to about mile 23.5, where things are decidedly downhill for the rest of the race, I become utterly convinced there was a women right on my heels. And I went totally crazy. I ran as hard as I could, which was really stupid, and I really don’t understand how I didn’t wipe-out, unless of course I did, and I am now operating in some really perverse parallel existence. The last nearly 2 miles (I think?) of trails is a pretty steep downhill grade, lots of long switchbacks, and lots unsure footing. But I let go and felt like I was sprinting because I was CONVINCED she was right there, I swear I could HEAR her.

I’d been in the first female position for 23.5 miles and there is no way I’d be all honkey-dory-I-did-my-best-oh-well if I was passed now. The trail sort of hurls you out into some weird campground and then onto the road (still very much downhill) with less than a mile to go. I thought the finish was at the same spot as the start was so I absolutely ran as hard as I could.

I was extremely excited to learn I got free shoes (La Sportiva mountain runners), elated even.

I was extremely excited to learn I got free shoes (La Sportiva mountain runners), elated even.

Then I ran right through where the start line had been, and there was no finish line in sight. It occurred to me after a few seconds of panic that it made a lot of sense if the finish for the marathon and 10k were in the same place, and that was about another half mile, or a bit more, down the road, at the bottom of the hill (I then remembered being told this at the course talk. Face-palm).

My all-out pace began to slow and the finish line was apparently never going to appear, I kept looking behind my, nearly falling every time, still absolutely sure there was a woman RIGHT THERE, it never registered that I couldn’t see a single runner behind me, not one. Just one invisible woman.

Finally, I heard the voices of Meredith and my family, and little Beck ran out from the sidewalk, I tried to get him to finish with me, but A) I was having a hard time steering my ship (FYI the ship = my body) and B) as he later told me “he didn’t want to get in the way of other runners” … I guess we shared the same hallucination.

Shortly after finishing I went into the water. Meredith had read online that this was a tradition, and she must be right because we weren’t the only ones. It felt awesome!

Better than an ice bath. WAY better.

Better than an ice bath. WAY better.

I swam around for a while, (after taking off my medal and sunglasses), then we trekked, once again, up the giant hill to our hotel to have some beer, food, and a shower before the awards.

In the end, I had 7 minutes between myself and the next woman. I finished my first trail marathon in 4hrs 7minutes, 1st female, and 10th overall. I met a blog reader (HELLO AL!!!) at the awards, and a blogger on the ferry on Friday (HELLO BRANDEI!), for both of them this was their first marathon. I am so impressed that I’ve spent all this time writing also trying to come up with something clever and meaningful to shout out to them, but all I have it “WOW, so freaking cool!” And finally, my brother, sister-in-law, mother, nephew, and friend were at the finish, and that really made it unforgettable.

I think  I could go on more and more, but here’s a few more photos to finish things off.

Sunset dorky photo shoot.

Sunset dorky photo shoot.

Beck :)

Beck 🙂

Catalina 10k Champ, Meredith.

Catalina 10k Champ, Meredith.


Minocqua No Frills Marathon 2013: re-cap

Note email subscribers, you might prefer to read this post via the web -just click here– because there are a lot of pictures. I actually restrained myself from posting posting many more, but your inbox may not appreciate loading the ones that did make the cut.

This post is more or less two re-caps for the price of one, so it’s feature-length. If you’re not in it for the long haul, I have a much shorter version on my Daily Mile page, click here to go directly to that post.  I won’t be offended. However, if you do read the whole account here, please do leave a comment so I can thank you!

the iced

The iced

I’ll be honest. I wanted to win this race. I wanted to take first place so much that I considered not running at all, and using the upcoming Chicago Marathon (targeted all year as my “goal” race) as my excuse. Yes, that would be poor sportsmanship (had I acted upon such leanings), but this is the psychological journey I think we all take when we work hard for something, and when failure and success are both equally possible outcomes. Especially with an event like the marathon, where any one of a hundred variables could cause you to completely fall apart, and the right combination of another dozen needs to
occur for success. I was worried if I didn’t finish top 3, or had to DNF (did
not finish), especially after hurting my knee a couple of weeks ago, that I wouldn’t be able to move on, that maybe I would lose my joy of running, and my
dedication to it. I’ve never worked so hard at anything, or with as much patience, as I have at running over the last few years, and I’m only now realizing that. An epiphany like that makes you feel very vulnerable.

Spoiler: I did it.

Spoiler: I did it. (also, This post is too long for me to gush much about this race, but it is a CLASS ACT. Amazing volunteers, great course, and a race director that runs the whole race and then hangs out (and hands you an amazing trophy).

There was also a second goal: run a 3:15. A few days after I ran my first marathon (Portland, Oregon 2010), and earned my first BQ (Boston Qualifier 3:37 –former standards), my father asked me what my goal would be for my next marathon. I said a 3:30, and he said, “Why not a 3:15?”. I think I actually laughed, and explained (this was via text message) that to take 15 minutes off my time was preposterous. BQ’ing on my first try was also preposterous, but I’d done that, so the seed was planted and over the next 18 months (I was basically sidelined by injured for all  2011), I made 3:15 my goal. I made the mistake of sharing this with many veteran marathoners while training for Boston 2012 and without fail, every single one (actually, there were a few sub-elite/elite men who encouraged me, they know who they are), made that tooth sucking sound that means “ooooh, you silly thing”, and then said some variation of “that’s a really big PR” (personal record) or “that seems unlikely given you’ve done only one marathon and it was a 3:37.” Veteran runners, specifically those who’ve held BQ’s for a long time, tend to be brutally honest and opinionated. It’s actually rather endearing, I promise. Anyway, my point is that I knew, and my biggest fan knew, that I had a 3:15 in my future, I just had to learn to not get discouraged by other people’s comments about my goal or opinions on my training style, put my head down, and chip away at it.

2002: My father walking me to the start of my first triathlon (Lobsterman, Olympic Distance).  - sorry, picture of a picture.

2002: My father walking me to the start of my first triathlon (Lobsterman, Olympic Distance). – sorry, picture of a picture.

For the last month leading to race day I had a weird conflict when
I visualized the race. When visualizing things going as planned, that is,
running a 3:15, and winning, every time I got very uncomfortable and couldn’t
get past mile 16 in my mind. The only person who knew I really wanted to go for
it at No Frills was Meredith, my training partner this cycle (more accurate
term “person with whom I obsessively text about every workout or plan
adjustment, everyday”). Joking (but not really) about us finishing 1-2, or
winning together, holding hands while crossing the finish line, or grabbing
each other’s pony-tails in an effort to take first, helped to resolve the inner
conflict. It also confirmed that given the data available, last year’s race,
the course, weather, my training and so on, my first marathon win and a PR were
plausible. But given that I have two additional marathons to run this fall, conventional wisdom would be to run only part of the race (20miles or so) then drop out or walk, and I got tired of hearing people say that, so I sort of blurred my goals when talking about it.

Meredith registered the day before the race, when I insisted we go get our bibs. She wanted to wait until race morning because she's a rebel and likes to live on the edge. I do not.

Meredith registered the day before the race, when I insisted we go get our bibs. She wanted to wait until race morning because she’s a rebel and likes to live on the edge. I do not.

I finally registered two weeks before the race. I had just committed to dedicating my marathons this fall to GCS and raising $5,000. Instead of increasing the performance pressure, this commitment actually made me relax and focus. I found myself feeling excited again because I knew those supporting my efforts would not hate me, or regret supporting my cause if I had to DNF because of an injury, or if I didn’t run fast, or heck, if I didn’t win. It’s the cause that’s important, and the better I performed, the more people would contact the cause.

I talk with my hands, so here I could saying something about running, working, or just hello. Or maybe I've very actively listening. I sure love to know what Meredith was thinking (right). This is at the GCS Garden Gallery "First Friday" open-house where I talked to some folks about my fundraiser.

I talk with my hands, so here I could saying something about running, working, or just hello. Or maybe I’ve very actively listening. I sure would love to know what Meredith was thinking (right). This is 5 days post-race, at the GCS Garden Gallery “First Friday” open-house where I talked to some folks about my fundraiser.

You can read about race-eve activities here. I spent the week before the race trying to speed up the healing process for my right knee, which I fell on, hard, the Friday before the race. I shared plenty of my woe’s on that front via Daily Mile.

The race itself I’m going to share with quotes from Meredith’s race re-cap that she wrote for her training journal. We’ve relied on each other so much over the past year that our performances in Wisconsin were really intertwined, which we were hilariously in denial about until after the race. What I mean is that we both have been practicing mindfulness and focusing on “running your own race” in a variety of aspects. But then as we reflected on the race, we realized that our performances had become rather co-dependent.

Exhibit A:



Although we were awake and together for 2hrs before the race start we didn’t talk much about the race. We did however exchange lots of denial statements about the weather. Which was 65 (degrees, at 5am), 93% humidity, and included thunderstorm (translation: NOT ideal for running a marathon as fast as you can). We both knew our goals, and each others. And we wanted it all. It was entertaining, however, trying to explain to Meredith’s parents why we didn’t care as much about the possibility of rain as we did about the dew point, downright hilarious, actually.

Meredith was playing Candy-Crush, I was scrolling my Twitter feed, and we were both watching the lightning. We probably should have been getting dressed and ready to go since it was a 30min drive to the start.

Meredith was playing Candy-Crush, I was scrolling my Twitter feed, and we were both watching the lightning. We probably should have been getting dressed and ready to go since it was a 30min drive to the start.

Pre-race downpour:

Meredith : Waiting for the women’s bathroom , ” I gave myself a little smile, knowing that it really didn’t matter if my tennis shoes and this particular pair of socks got wet, because I had dry socks along with my race shoes in the car. I just enjoyed the moment and the feeling of being super prepared!”

Me: I was huddled under the bathroom building overhang waiting for the unisex porta-potty with 5 men. 4 of home were friendly, one of who would annoyingly not stop fidgeting and was wearing ear-buds (so was clueless). We chit-chatted about the course, and other race, and with eat bolt of lightning and shimmy to get outs feet out of the rainfall, pondered aloud if perhaps they’d delay our start a tad.

Answer: nope. 7:00am on the dot.

Meredith’s line went a lot faster than mine (gender stereotypes do not apply to marathoners), so she made it back to dry land (aka her father’s car) before me. Here’s what she had to say: “And then I realized. It was raining. I needed body glide for my feet. ‘Geez, I hope Annabelle has some Body Glide,’ I said as I turned around and saw it sitting there on the seat. I knew she wouldn’t care. She wanted me to run a PR and get my BQ almost just as badly as I did! So, I grabbed the glide, and like the good friend I like to think of myself as, used my fingers to put the glide on my feet. Seconds later, when Annabelle got back from the bathroom, she told me to go ahead and just glide up! Friends…I tell you…are PRICELESS!”

Requisit pre-race photo.

requisite pre-race photo.

At the start:

Meredith: “Don’t be shy,” Annabelle said, as we made our way to the front of the pack at the start. The winning woman from last year ran a 3:24, so we were expecting to be among the top finishers and I especially wanted to be sure I got a good start with my goal of BQ’ing in mind. As usual, we were mainly surrounded by men, some of whom were talking about running a 3:25. Annabelle and I exchanged looks when we heard this, and normally I would have moved to the other side of the group thinking these men would chat the whole race, but I decided, “Why not embrace this moment?” as the rain was falling around us. It was almost hilarious, really, so I smiled and yelled back that I’d look for them because I was also shooting for that time (Did I believe it at that moment? Not sure!). One guy then thought I was talking to him and announced he would be “going much faster than that,” as he pushed his way in front of me.

Me: An acquaintance from Chicago with whom I’d done a few workouts last winter during Boston training was also running, as was his girlfriend (her first marathon!), so I was chatting with them. Until he stepped on my foot as he dove into a quasi-track start position, then I focused on not losing my focus. My toes are in really bad shape, and the piggies on my right foot hurt until mile 3 after that. Also, for those of you who aren’t marathoners, a “running pose” start isn’t necessary, it’s show-boating.

Legs are the start! That's me with the white compression sleeves and blue Saucony's. This is about 30 seconds (I'm guessing) before the "gun", you can see those black sleeve-clad legs ready to practically track start.

Legs at the start! That’s me with the white compression sleeves and blue Saucony’s. This is about 30 seconds (I’m guessing) before the “gun”, you can see those black sleeve-clad legs ready to practically track start.

Sadly, these subtle shows of misogyny (or just arrogance) are rather common at races, but at No Frills, after these two less than excellent displays of etiquette, there were none to be had. I passed none or 10 men after mile 8, and they were all extremely encouraging. I even got two low-side-5’s.

The first third (miles 1-8):

I spent the first 1.5mi running off and on (our paces really didn’t match) with the Chicago acquaintance, then he fell back and I didn’t see him again. The first 8 miles of the No Frills course are a combination of neighborhood streets, a major route (rt. 51), fire roads, and what feel like little spur trails but I don’t think they are. These many changes in terrain make this first part of the race leading up to the Bearskin Trail go by really fast, and it can be hard to remain patient, because you want to really start racing, meaning, you want to start trying to pass people and pick up your pace, but it’s too early, and too much can happen over the rest of the race (newsflash: marathons are long).

As I said, there's a variety of terrain and scenery in the first 8 miles. I don't know the people or exact mile in this photo. But I love it.

As I said, there’s a variety of terrain and scenery in the first 8 miles. I don’t know the people or exact mile in this photo. But I love it.

Meredith: I knew my dad was coming up when we came out of the woods and crossed a road on the way to the Bearskin, because I could see him off in the distance, and that was just so wonderful! I also knew that he had decided to come check on me at that spot, since we were all worried about my feet and how they would hold up in the rain, so I did a little bit of a check. My feet were fine, and I could do this. I waved and yelled at my dad, he told me Annabelle was in first, and I ran with a little pep in my step onto the Bearskin Trail. I was on pace for a 3:25 and she was nowhere around me, which meant it was completely plausible that she was on pace for her 3:15 goal. We were going to do this!

Me: There were two women ahead of me for the first 4 miles. I knew I could overtake the first girl when she ate a gel at mile 2.5. I’m not trying to be funny or disrespectful, it was just that between that, and a few other things about how she was running led me to put on my Sherlock hat and deduce that she’d gone out too fast. The other girl leap-frogged with me until I think mid-mile 5 or 6. She, I thought, might be a problem, because when we hit the first water two stops she was very cheery, and had a support crew (a CUTE soft-haired Wheaton Terrier, and a strapping young fella) handing her nutrition, which I guessed meant she was either a first timer or going for a time goal. After I passed her I started worrying about Meredith on the trail and fire-road portions of the roads. I thrive on trails and hills (even if I do fall a lot), I love them, and so does she, but she has foot issues, so I was worried she’d be too cautious and lose time. I got a huge rush seeing her father at the main trail head. He gave me a heartfelt confirmation that I was in the lead and asked if I needed anything.

I mean, COME ON! As if the volunteers weren't awesome enough. This is the first or second water stop I think. We actually petted/met this dog after the race, he's somehow related to the folks running the whole shebang, but I can't remember how exactly.

I mean, COME ON! As if the volunteers weren’t awesome enough. This is the second or third water stop I think. We actually petted/met this dog after the race, I’m fairly certain his feet have never actually touched the ground. He’s somehow related to the folks running the whole shebang, but I can’t remember how exactly.

The middle third (mile 8-16ish): I like the juxtaposition of what Meredith and I were each experiencing here and how those experiences mirror each other in our physical discomfort, doubts, calculations, and also observing how others are doing.

Meredith: The second half of a marathon is hard. I don’t care who you are, what kind of time you run, what kind of shape you are in…it’s hard. This is the allure of the sport, though: running the second half of a marathon as fast as you can…I passed another Chicago runner at 15. I didn’t know him well, but he didn’t look good and I didn’t want to waste my mental energy trying to make him feel better, so I ran on by… I don’t know where I took the Pepto or the Excedrin, but I do know my left side started to hurt so I took Pepto somewhere between 13-20 and my foot started to hurt so I took Excedrin somewhere in there as well… At sixteen miles, I took another salt, and I do know I passed mile 17 still on pace. At this point, I started calculating…if I ran the last 9 miles at a 10:00/mile pace, I would have a PR! “Don’t get too excited. Spotlight on NOW.” I kept running to 20.

Me:  It’s hard to explain with credibility, but seeing people who you know truly are rooting for you really does give you wings. My next half mile after seeing Meredith’s father was too fast, and my knee got very painful for about 10 minutes.

I was terrified until about mile 12, after two waves of pain, that I might have to drop out at some point. I focused on my pacing plan, and my breathing (3 steps to inhale, 3 to exhale) whenever I got anxious. Anxiety attacks are my biggest race killer. Last year at Chicago I totally melted down in Chinatown (I know, it should be a band name). I thought I was having a heart attack, I mean, I REALLY thought that.

(Chicago Marathon 2012)Of course this is the time they'd take a picture.

(Chicago Marathon 2012)Of course this is the time they’d take a picture.

I also tried NOT to think about winning, too much pressure. So instead I thought about Meredith, and how I didn’t want to go to Boston next April without her. When the bombing occurred this year and she couldn’t get a hold of us (meaning, our teammates and I) for hours, it was awful for her. She was at work in Chicago and no one understood the gravity of the situation. I’ve said it before and will say it again, it was worse NOT being there. We knew we were safe, but our loved-ones were in the dark.

Outside of the intermittent knee pain, I felt pretty good at a 7:20-7:25 pace. I did begin to fret over maintaining it, so I focused on my nutrition plan, which was to take about half a Power-Gel every 40-45 mins (a full one ALWAYS results in major reflux), and at least 2 ounces of water at each water station. I also started to take in the environment. With only occasional other runners around me, I could hear the comforting sounds of their running rhythm on the path from about a tenth of a mile away (maybe more). And the woods! I love the woods. I expected the humidity to start slowing me down at mile 16 so I mentally prepared to accept a 30 second slow down on my pace, which would still have me finish at 3:15. I passed three or four more runners I’d started with through this stretch a people were starting to feel the consequences of not respecting the weather, and the excitement of a small race.

There were several "Marathon Maniac" runners/walkers whom I passed along the course, I'm not counting them as passes in this re-cap because they started an hour prior to the official race start. This photo is where Meredith's father was, the official start of the Bearskin.

There were several “Marathon Maniac” runners/walkers whom I passed along the course, I’m not counting them as passes in this re-cap because they started an hour prior to the official race start. This photo is where Meredith’s father was, the official start of the Bearskin.

The final third (16ish-26.2):

Meredith: At mile 23…I saw my dad cross the trail up ahead…he was going to hand me my handheld water bottle that I could carry for the last three miles of the race, but something was wrong. He was running across the trail and would be on my left side! I carry my bottle in my right hand! “Daddy, get on the RIGHT!” I yelled, and then, just in case, slower, “On…the…RIIIIIIGHT!” I saw him scramble across the path and assumed my mom was laughing, but I was too focused to really laugh myself (even though it was absolutely hilarious).

She swears she was happy here. And actually, Dan and Susan (Meredith's folks) gushed later about how strong she looked.

She swears she was happy here. And actually, Dan and Susan (Meredith’s folks) gushed later about how strong she looked.

After 23 miles, my pace sped up. My dad had told me I was in fourth and Annabelle was in first, so my thought at that point became to catch the third place woman. I had visions of great marathon wins go through my head…of a sprint down the home stretch, and I wanted to find this girl! And then I started imagining where Annabelle was on the course, how HAPPY she must be to run her PR, hoping that she had run UNDER 3:15, and started to get excited about celebrating a successful day together. My brain wasn’t working well enough to calculate my finish time, but I knew it was good.

I passed the third place woman and then saw the bridge that means the finish is coming. I KICKED! I actually KICKED at the end of a marathon! My pace sped up from a 7:35 last mile to a 7:01 pace in the last 0.2! I heard my dad yelling at me to kick hard, I heard Annabelle say, “You’re going to BOSSSSSTON!!!!!!” heard my mom’s cheers (which are the best things EVER!), imagined her jumping up and down (which I know she was doing!), and saw that clock reading 3:23:14….oh…my…gosh!!!! I ran soooo hard across that line, leaving absolutely everything on the course, and smiled up at the photographer before bending over at the waist and preparing to puke. I’ve never had THAT happen before! It was just dry heaving, but I still couldn’t catch my breath or focus on what I had done. Which, by the way, amazed the HELL out of me…

I ran a 13.5 minute PR, I qualified for the second wave of Boston registration with a BQ-11.5, I broke 3:30, I ran a 3:23, I ran my 16th marathon….

I didn't let her regain the ability to walk, talk, or wipe the sunblock off her face before I was suffocating Meredith with how proud I was of her, and my excitement that we were going to Boston together again. (We actually met in the athletes village- well Fleet Feet bus) - in 2011)

I didn’t let her regain the ability to walk, talk, or wipe the sunblock off her face before I was suffocating Meredith with how proud I was of her, and my excitement that we were going to Boston together again. (We actually met in the athlete’s village- well, on the Fleet Feet bus – in 2011)

Me: I had a few more waves of knee pain, but now I knew that they were probably related to some combination of grade (uphill or downhill) and pace, so I focused on staying calm and not changing my gait (form) when they came.

Outside of a of couple lung-busters the hills really aren't bad, if it weren't for my knee I wouldn't have even noticed them.

Outside of a of couple lung-busters the hills really aren’t bad, if it weren’t for my knee I wouldn’t have even noticed them.

Each time, they passed, though, and by mile 20 I had resolved that a DNF was not an option, but if the pain worsened or I was forced to change my gait, then I would walk. Not winning was better than not finishing.

My pace slowed several times as fatigue set in. One of my goals this race was that when I got tired I would SURGE, I would speed up and then aim to settle back into my pace. Typically the inclination is to allow yourself to slow down for a little while in an effort to recover. I’ve been reading a lot about the physiology of running lately and if you SPEED UP rather than SLOW DOWN you’ll actually tap into the ability to maintain your effort (that’s it in a nutshell anyway). This was wicked hard to execute. I found I was actually negotiating with myself, trying to justify slowing down, then reminding myself that in all likelihood if I slowed down intentionally to “rest” then I would not get a 3:15, I would surely be caught by one or more female runners, and so my chance at WINNING a marathon would be gone, I wouldn’t be able to speed up again, and I would have to walk away knowing that I didn’t fight and give it all I could.

I vividly remember, starting at mile 22, until the finish I looked behind me every few minutes hoping to see Meredith, because then she could push/pull me to the finish. This was always coupled with a fear I’d see some woman OTHER THAN Meredith, which was terrifying. I wanted to win, and I wanted Meredith to break 3:25, and I couldn’t fathom anything else.

I can’t express how much I was looking forward to seeing Meredith parents at mile 23. They were AMAZING! Dan handed me my hand-held water bottle (with 2 gels in the pocket), and from the left side of the road (Meredith’s mom had noted that I’m left handed, they are saints). You might notice this means I probably messed up Mere’s hand off! Dan and Susan were yelling happily that I was holding first, and all I had to say was “Can you take this….please….it’s sticky.” I HATE it when people throw their trash on the ground outside of water stops and trash bins at races. It’s entitled, arrogant, and disrespectful, especially if it’s a trail race, so I’d been holding a half empty gel packet for like 2 miles.

Dan later confirmed. It was indeed rather sticky.

Dan later confirmed. It was indeed rather sticky.

The last four miles were rough, and I didn’t have anyone in sight except for creeping up on and passing two men in mile 23. I connected a sweet side five with one of them while noticing he was wearing a Boston Strong bracelet. My chest hurt instantly and I started to cry. I shook it off by visualizing winning, and calling my father, who I knew would absolutely freak out.

By mile 24 I was able to surge and hold onto a 7:35ish pace and I was so thirsty! I limited myself to sips from the handheld so I wouldn’t throw up. I fought like hell until mile 25.75ish where I realized how close I was to the finish, I dug in, stopped thinking, and stopped looking behind me. If I was going to win, I wanted to look confident while doing it.

That's a look of a confident winner right? Right?

That’s a look of a confident winner right? Right?

I’ve never been happier than as I ran across the Minocqua Trestle bridge to the finish line. Meredith’s parents were yelling “number one!” and the 50 or so people (it could have been less, I have no idea) cheering may as well have been a dang Olympic stadium full of people for how special they made me feel.

The first overall male was waiting for me to finish, and I was extrememly confused when he asked me a few questions (he thought I was someone he'd spoken to pre-race we finally figured out). I hadn't even caught my breath when this photo was taken.

The first overall male was waiting for me to finish, and I was extremely confused when he asked me a few questions (he thought I was someone he’d spoken to pre-race we finally figured out). I hadn’t even caught my breath when this photo was taken.


I was so anxious and excited to see how Meredith was doing that as soon as I had my medal, I walked back to the edge of the bridge (50ft from the finish?) to join Dan and Susan and watch Meredith finish. When they told me how good she seemed at mile 23, and that she’d been in 4th place, I didn’t feel tired at all anymore, and I totally forgot that I just hit a major goal. And HOLY CRAP, she looked so strong when she hit the Trestle and we could see her! All three of us screamed at her, in a good way. Once she’d regained her composure the phone calls began and we headed once again to the finish to wait for the other two Chicago runners to finish.

Aren't we pretty?

Aren’t we pretty? We actually missed them finishing (at the 4:14 mark) because My knee really needed some ice, and I hadn’t yet sat down.

For those who like the numbers:

Minutes per Mile
Avg Pace
Summary 3:15:23.9 26.24 7:27
1 7:31.4 1.00 7:31
2 7:20.1 1.00 7:20
3 7:23.5 1.00 7:24
4 7:20.1 1.00 7:20
5 7:20.6 1.00 7:21
6 7:17.4 1.00 7:17
7 7:24.5 1.00 7:25
8 7:24.5 1.00 7:25
9 7:28.1 1.00 7:28
10 7:25.6 1.00 7:26
11 7:18.0 1.00 7:18
12 7:22.9 1.00 7:23
13 7:29.9 1.00 7:30
14 7:26.8 1.00 7:27
15 7:31.6 1.00 7:32
16 7:33.4 1.00 7:33
17 7:17.9 1.00 7:18
18 7:21.7 1.00 7:22
19 7:36.2 1.00 7:36
20 7:28.9 1.00 7:29
21 7:20.5 1.00 7:21
22 7:33.6 1.00 7:34
23 7:34.7 1.00 7:35
24 7:39.4 1.00 7:39
25 7:41.3 1.00 7:41
26 7:33.1 1.00 7:33
27 1:38.3 0.24 6:55

Also, I got to eat cake, stomach-ache free. So the day really was amazing!

This cake was so delicious, and so NORMAL tasting, that it nearly surpassed winning a marathon as the highlight of my weekend. Almost.

This cake was so delicious, and so NORMAL tasting, that it nearly surpassed winning a marathon as the highlight of my weekend. Almost.


First Marathon Win, Recap Teaser

There are a lot of reasons I like this marathon, including that the final stretch of the course is just very cool. You run across a bridge, over a beautiful lake, and then immediate cross the finish line. It makes every finisher feel like they are in first place because each and every spectator is giving you their undivided attention. It’s possible there were fewer than 75 people in the finishing area at the end of the bridge, but it might as well  be a thousand with how special they make you feel.

That's the home stretch behind me!

That’s the home stretch behind me!

A race recap for Sunday’s marathon will probably take me until the weekend. There were so many wonderful elements and my partner-in-running-infamy and I both reached several new milestones in our marathon running.

The most recent being this “Marathon Guide” siting for me and my BQ running buddy!

Marathon Guide siting for me and my BQ running buddy!

Now you know what my pre-sunrise activities are. Perhaps I could have cropped this screen-shot.

More to come, if you haven’t had enough via other social media portals here’s yet another picture from Sunday:

New PR and the best trophy in the universe.

New PR and the best trophy in the universe.


No Frills Eve in Minocqua

Tomorrow, this will the the 22 mile mark of the No Frills Marathon!

Tomorrow, this will be the 22 mile mark of the No Frills Marathon!

Yesterday, run-buddy Meredith and I drove from Chicago to Minocqua, Wisconsin. Not getting lost was a hugely good omen for tomorrow’s race. We’re fairly certain that the same trip last year took us twice as long.

The scenery was OK. Just, ok.

The scenery was OK. Just, ok.

We arrived at about 4pm and spent a while catching up with Meredith’s folks, then hit some golf balls (they live on a golf course, which tomorrow’s marathon course runs through). We had a great time, and have already started to strategize how we can incorporate golf, or the Diversey driving range into our lakefront training runs. I think my chiropractor and yoga instructor will both approve, as they agree I have serious deficits when it comes to spinal mobility (hopefully they also won’t mind my liberal simplification of the issue).

We went for a late dinner:

martys north

At dinner, I had an experience that has been played out so many times I don’t understand why people don’t talk about it more. I’ve been more symptomatic over the past couple of months and am planning to commit to really getting the last questionable elements out of my diet when I get home from this trip, to see if I feel better.

Anyway, the restaurant last night had several items on the menu marked as “Gluten Free”. But really all they did was replace wheat pasta with gluten free pasta, the sauces and other elements still had gluten or in the case where I asked, the chef was using wheat flour…so, the meals marked as “gluten free” were absolutely not free of gluten! Had I eaten them, even with the pasta substitution, I would have gotten very sick.

Because I know you’re curious: I had broiled haddock and a baked potato. It was delicious!

In other food news, Meredith’s mother is an absolute angel! I had a big bowl of cereal for dessert when we got back to the house. Before the Boston Marathon this year, I had a terrible time getting enough carbohydrates in the 72hrs before the race, and ended up eating a whole box of gluten free cereal, in a panic I should add, the night before. So I laughed (with joy) when, without any suggestion, she had this waiting for me when we arrived.

So good!

So good!

Back to the marathon!

I’m having a hard time accepting that tomorrow kicks off my 3 marathons in 3 months project! Meredith and I are psychologically prepping ourselves for a really hard race; it’s going to be very humid tomorrow, potentially stormy, and warmer than we’d like. BUT, 20 miles of the race are on a beautiful trail that runs through a pine forest…so my complaints are at a minimum.

6:50am Fog over the 7th hole. 24hrs (and 10 minutes) until the start of No Frill 2013!

6:50am Fog over the 7th hole. 24hrs (and 10 minutes) until the start of No Frills 2013!

When we start running tomorrow I will only have run 23 miles since last Friday. My training plan had called for closer to 55 in that time. But my body needed a lot of recovery time after I fell last Friday. And although I know that I made the right adjustments, and my fitness shouldn’t be at all affected, the drastic change in my routine, and my plan, has really shaken my confidence.

What’s counter-balancing this hiccup however, is that my fundraising effort is off to an amazing start! Check it out here.



I am so incredibly inspired by how many people have stepped up to support Garden Center Services, and I’m comically (as in: Poor Meredith is forced to listen to me talk and talk and talk about it) excited to continue this through to November 9th when I’ll climb those massive hills on Catalina Island for marathon number 3!


El Chupacabra de San Antonio Night-timeTrail 10k

El Chupacabra de San Antonio is a trail 10k/5k race that begins at 9pm, and so is run entirely in the dark. I’d been looking forward to this it all year! I was last Friday night 7/26/13.

The race is held at McAllister Park in San Antonio which hosts something like 15 miles of trails. There are paved paths, single track style dirt trails, and also wider trails. The terrain of the trails can get pretty technical because it really only has a couple hundred feet of path that go in a configuration that in any way resembles straight. Some sections are very rocky, others are hard-packed (though, not surprisingly, very dry) dirt. The park has just enough density of tree growth that during the sunnier, hotter hours of the day the temperature is very noticeably cooler (less hot would be a more accurate description) than outside the park.

McAllister park
This was the hardest 10k, perhaps one of the hardest races, I’ve ever done. But it was also a bit exhilarating, as I find all trail adventures to be. In a nutshell; take a fairly technical series of trails, then race on them, then do so at night…also make it 90 degrees with high humidity.

I ran a 10k race last summer, Jalapeno Del Sol, put on by the same group (Run In Texas), and the course, I think, was nearly identical, except for being run during daylight hours. Even so, based on my tendency to not have great command over my body’s general trajectory (read: I’m comically clumsy), and the fact that I got lost or off-course in no less than 4 (FOUR!!!) races last year (one of which was an even tougher 10k trail race in San Antonio, and is my only DNF. Read a bit on it here), my father suggested that perhaps I should go attempt to navigate the course on a practice run the day before the race. I did so, and managed to get pretty close to the race route on my 8mi run.

Chupa course map
I was also reminded how running on trails is so very different from the pencil straight, pancake flat lakefront trail in Chicago. Specifically, I was reminded when I wiped out in the last mile of the run. I came close to falling on many other occasions, so I was far more fatigued when I finished than I normally would be after a moderate effort 8 miler.

Yes, those are inmates walking puppies. I'm showing the dirt in my teeth and you are correct I have exactly zero abdominal muscles and very pale skin. But my shirt weight about 50lbs by the end of my warm-up so it had to go.

Yes, those are inmates walking puppies. I’m showing the dirt in my teeth and you are correct, I have exactly zero abdominal muscles and very pale skin. But my shirt weighed about 50lbs by the end of my warm-up so it had to go.

I was in San Antonio for 5 days to help my folks move, so it wasn’t exactly a leisure trip.

It wasn't a very well organized operation.

It wasn’t a very well-organized operation.

But I did make a new friend, I let him borrow my super excellent new pair of running shorts.

My great-grandfather's Winchester rifle wasn't the only skeleton in the closet I found.

My great-grandfather’s Winchester rifle wasn’t the only skeleton in the closet I found.

Anyway, between looking forward to the new type of race experience, and being ready for a break from the activities associated with moving, I was all dressed up with no place to go hours before the race start.

Ready to hunt.

Ready to hunt.

My father picked up my race packet for me the day before because his office is basically next door to the sponsoring running store, and I was surprised when he said there were over 600 people registered. Which partially explains why there was such a great race shirt.

You escared, mang?

Hey mang, you escared?

I’d assumed, because it was made pretty clear that this was a “no prizes awarded fun run” that there would be a very small turnout. But 600 people trampling through that park is a lot! Based on the results posted, I think there were just over 500 finishers between the 5 and 10k events.

The finish line.

The finish line.

As I mentioned, I have a serious deficit when it comes to navigating race courses, especially if I am leading or find myself alone. Therefore, I was really nervous about getting lost during this race. As it turns out, this was perhaps the best marked course I’ve ever run. There were chalk X’s to indicate “don’t go that way”, orange tape on trees, and glow sticks visible from probably 30 meters hanging from tree limbs to indicate “go this way!”. There were also mile markers with blinky lights, and volunteers at the trickier turns (there are several full-on U-turns and such things that could be hazardous when you don’t know it’s coming, you know, because it was PITCH DARK). These course Marshals were excellent, they communicated clearly and simply (when racing I have an IQ of about .4), and they also gave encouragement that wasn’t annoying (no one said “you’re almost done!” for example). I really can’t say enough positive things about how this race was executed. There was a SNAFU with the timing and results, because people downgraded from 10k to 5k without reporting it. But the race director and timing company were super polite and responsive and sorted it out.

So tired.

So tired.

Figuring out how to run this race, I mean, how to actually perform the act of running at a high intensity, took the first mile and a half. I tucked in behind a man who seemed pretty stable on his feet and just watched what he did as best I could without wiping out. I quickly realized that running on trails in the dark is a lot like driving a motorcycle (a hobby of mine I don’t think I’ve ever talked about here). When you’re on a bike, if you feel ANYTHING that isn’t normal, you lose traction, you corner improperly, or you shift wrong, your immediate reaction is to pull in the clutch to maintain control (well in some circumstances you actually accelerate, it’s complicated, and I’m just trying to make a metaphor here so go with it). When nighttime trail running if you feel anything out of the ordinary, like your foot lands wrong or catches on something, your knee elevation is like the clutch. So every time I landed weird, or felt off-balance my reaction was “high knees! high knees!” , and it seemed pretty effective. Just before mile 2 I vocalized that I was ready to pass and my unwitting coach let me slip past, but not without saying “I wish you were taller so you could catch the branches instead of me”.

There were several pretty elaborately costumed runners.

There were several pretty elaborately costumed runners.

I know I already gushed about the course support, but the other runners were great too, everyone had spot-on etiquette and a great sense of humor, I didn’t witness a single act of jackassary, a totally unknown phenomenon to me!

Waiting to start. I'm in there somewhere. People were friendly here too.

Waiting to start. I’m in there somewhere. People were friendly here too, and even self-seeded appropriately!

It really wasn’t possible to look at my Garmin during the race, because doing so meant losing my sight and taking a definite stumble if not fall. Because of all the hazards to run over/under/around, the constant twists of the trail, the tunnel vision caused by the headlamp, and the really hard effort level, if I hadn’t seen the finish line clock I would have told you I’d just run a 38 min 10k (which would be a 2min road PR for me). I think I said to my father that I couldn’t feel my face, or something equally as weird, after I finished. It took me a full 3 to 5 minutes for my breathing to return to normal, so bizarre, normally it takes under a minute.

Not only did I not get lost, I also didn’t fall!!! In the last mile (which merged with the 5k course), I stopped to help 2 different runners who fell hard, paying it forward because I was feeling sore from my own tumble the day before.

Chupa sign

In the end, I didn’t get the trail massive 10k PR I was hoping for, but I ran my heart (and legs) out, had a lot of fun, and really hope I can do this race again next year!

1st Overall Female  48:44

1st Overall Female 48:44

I’m not shy about the fact that I dislike gimic races such as The Color Run, the Pretty Muddy Series, and the Glo Run or whatever new attempt at cashing in on the running boom has cropped up this month. But, a night-time trounce through the woods with a mythical beast theme? I’m all over that!


Go Speed Pacer, Go!

My new achievement:

You'd think I was carrying the Olympic Flame.

You’d think I was carrying the Olympic Flame.

One of my running buddies was signed up to be a 1:45 pacer at the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon this Sunday, but she’s working through a lingering hamstring issue, so I said I would take her spot, with the warning that I might besmirch her name because I had no idea what I was doing, only that an 8min pace is comfortable right now, and I’d planned to run 10 miles on Sunday anyway, so why not? (yes, Half-Marathons are still 13.1 miles)

I’ve volunteered at races before:

  • I’ve volunteered at water-stops
  • As a course “marshal” (i.e. point and yell “go that way!”)
  • And, as a bike-marshal (the “weee! follow me guys!” kind, the “hey jackass, pull over before 1,000 runners come barreling into you!” kind, the “I’m so sorry but you’ll need to finish your race running/walking on the sidewalk” kind, and also the “please send an ambulance, I just got puked on, again” kind)

I volunteer a couple of times per year because, although the business model of big races is questionable, and actually doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, I do recognize that without the huge numbers of volunteers laboring for hours at every race from a 5k to a marathon, then the opportunities for us age-groupers and experience racers would not exist in anywhere near the abundance or quality they do.

I haven’t ever seriously considered volunteering as a pacer. Mostly because between experiences I’ve had while training, racing, and volunteering, the more popular running gets the more I see a whole lot of self-absorbed runners do and say a whole lot of disrespectful things to volunteers, as well as to fellow runners and walkers. Therefore, I’ve selfishly figured that if I’m going to put the energy into running the entire length of a race, then I’m going to be trying to do so as fast as I can, that is to say, I’m going to race (kind of hypocritical isn’t it? I’m complicated).

If the jersey fits...or whatever.

If the jersey fits…or whatever.

I’ve never run with a pace group even, but I’ve heard enough horror stories that although I was really motivated to help my friend out, and a though I felt pretty sure I could maintain the steady pace, I definitely lost a little sleep over the nuances of being what I thought would qualify as being a “good pacer”.

My experience of the actual pacing gig was 90% positive. The runners who stayed by me from start to finish of the race were all pretty stoic runners, which can be good when people are vying for a PR, because it means minimal banter and no energy to spare for heckling the pacer.

I was relieved to learn, when I went to the expo to get my bib and pacer jersey, that I’d have a partner-pacer who was a veteran at this game and could sort of show me the ropes. He definitely got me going and settled in over the first few miles, and totally helped me to not panic when I realized that everyone’s GPS watches were basically useless in this race (bridges, buildings…city races are fun, but offer a lot of satellite interference), he was great in knowing what to say to help people not freak out, and helped me be confident in my own rhythm and using my Garmin’s stopwatch function. (Which is silly because until a few years ago I’d only ever done so, well, no Garmin) Unfortunately, my pacer-pal was not having a great day and needed to ease off about 70% into the race. So it got a little lonely.

The not so positive 10% was actually nothing to do with this specific experience but some general things that happen in every race. There are always a few people who don’t know or aren’t aware of race etiquette, or more accurately, their surroundings.

So of course, there were the few folks who came to a dead stop getting water, and the guy who dropped a part for his iPod and dead stopped then reversed direction to retrieve it (add this to my growing list of why personal music devices should be banned from ALL races).

There were also a few passive-aggressive digs. This infuriates me, and I assume it happens with regularity, in different iterations, to most dedicated runner’s. I tried really hard to be extremely self-aware during the entire half-marathon. In fact, I made a point to only speak when I was either calling out the mile split, or answering a question someone had asked me directly. As it happens there were several people who had lots of questions. Those people, (4 of them) as far as I know, all ran substantial PR’s, I like to think in no small part because I told each of them, when our mini-conversations ended, that they were clearly feeling comfortable and they should speed up just a touch. They all did.

Insult # 1: Just after I finished one of these mini-conversations (lasted exactly a half mile – yes, I was tracking it), a man said “how can you talk so much while running this pace”? Trust me, he wasn’t giving me a compliment. I responded that I was in peak marathon training (a lie).

Insult #2: Post-race another man from my pace-group, said “I know why women are better endurance athletes than men” Sadly, I took the bait and asked why. He said, “Because women always talk the whole time they’re running.” I responded “No, I can talk because I train my ass of and I was pacing not racing. It has nothing to do with being female.”

I wasn’t trying to be an a-hole, that’s really offensive. Obviously, I’m not going to volunteer to pace a target-time that I don’t know is well within my comfort zone (I’ve since learned people do sign up to pace at targets shockingly close to their own PR’s, I do not like this, it seems very irresponsible).

Also, DO NOT use my sex against me because you’re feeling intimidated.

If you’re feeling intimidated, then work HARDER.

Also, seriously, I barely spoke. In fact, I worked really hard at that.

Equally frustrating (to me) are the runners who don’t understand that yelling at people mid-race is not going to teach proper etiquette. Mid-race is not the time to explain to someone why stopping at the water stop is a bad idea, or to yell sarcastically at completely panicked and clueless pedestrians who “Frogger” their way across the course.

In the end, I think I did well. I figure pulling it in 20 seconds under is enough time that people who were keeping me in their sights as a target could pull off a finish in the 1:45 minute, but close enough to 1:45:00 that there were not dead-sprints needed.


What surprises me is I always considered being a pacer a free entry to races. But it’s not. It definitely felt like work, between staying aware of what a runner might need (count down miles? Yell out splits? Do neither? Talk? Stop Talking? Encourage? Offer gel? Run close? Give space? etc etc etc), making sure I stayed on track for the target finishing time without any periods of sprinting or crawling (my variability ended up being only about an 8 second range), and even trying to find that balance between projecting confidence but not making it seem too easy because that could be really aversive to someone who is just hanging on (maybe I need to work on this, see “insults” above).

Anyway, if they comped your entry into another event (or the next running of that event) so that you could run your own race, then I’d call it a “free entry”, and holy cow, I’d volunteer to pace all the time, my desire to practice racing more and more is bankrupting me!

I probably wouldn’t have ever registered for a “Rock and Roll” event without this opportunity, but I actually can’t review the race at all because I was so hyper-focused on my little pacing-gig that I don’t remember anything except for running through the (McCormick?) tunnel near the list mile and almost falling several times because of the stupid disco-lights and thunderous music. Complete sensory over-load. I guarantee people threw up in there.


Thanks to my new blogger-friend Declan for the above capture of my first-ever pacer finish!