I ran, uh finished, the Boston Marathon

Three weeks before the Boston Marathon, I pulled my calf and considered dropping out. I gave it some rest and TLC and decided that run, walk, or hobble, I wanted to experience the legendary race and take home the hardware. Cue Law and Order voice: In Boston Massachusetts, an injured desert dweller tackles 26.2 miles in the rain. This is her story.

At 3 AM Friday morning, my boyfriends’ parents and I drove to Phoenix to catch our flight to Boston. It was 8 PM when we finally reached our Cambridge apartment. We hit packet pickup and the Expo on Saturday. The finish line area had been set up, and runners swarmed the area. I was starting to get excited.

I knew I wanted to buy some of the official clothing, but the line to the fitting rooms was long. Ross’s mom, Sue, tied our jackets together and shielded me while I changed in a corner. A couple of other women liked the idea, and we took turns in the makeshift changing room. A man said, “Hey, if your arms are getting tired, I’ll hold those jackets.” One of the women rolled her eyes, and said, “My husband.” Note: my suitcase gained eleven pounds on the trip.

We explored the city a little bit on Sunday, and were continually amazed with how friendly everyone was. We struck up several conversations with runners and locals on public transit, in restaurants, and simply around town. People were quick to help us find our way around, point out local treasures, and talk about the race.

I had decided on my race outfit a few weeks ago. I’d been having a lot of issues with thigh chafing, whether or not I used Body Glide, so I decided to wear tri shorts for function and a wpid-20150420_074245.jpgsparkle skirt for form. I had cheap tube socks for makeshift arm warmers, an ill-fitting long-sleeved cotton shirt, and some cheap knit gloves for throwaway clothes. I fashioned a tank top and skirt out of garbage bags to wear on top of everything else. I gave Ross’s parents my light weather-resistant jacket to hand to me on the course. The rain wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon, and I get pretty warm once I get moving, so I didn’t want to have it unless I needed it.

Race morning dawned cloudy and chilly. Unlike most marathons that started around dawn, my wave wasn’t slated to go off until 10:50. I woke up at 7:00 and had yogurt, granola, fruit, and tea at the apartment.

It was a short walk to the Red Line. We got off at the Park exit, and several buses were lined up ready to transport the runners to Hopkinton. The locals waved as we made our way out of town, and I waved back. I had heard about the legendary crowd support in Boston, and had seen it action several times before running a single step. I chatted with a local runner about the Newton Hills and ate a banana and almond butter on the ride. Rain splashed the front windshield.

The Athlete’s Village covered the grounds a local school. Canopies were set up to shelter the athletes, and there were plenty of tables laden with food and water. I grabbed a mini wpid-20150420_095337.jpgClif Bar and headed toward the port-o-pottie lines. The facilities were plentiful, but so were the runners, and the lines moved slowly. I had time, though, so I wasn’t worried. The excitement and nervous energy were palpable. Music was pumping, and a man in dreadlocks grooved along. I felt like hugging him for putting a smile on my face.

We had to walk .75 miles to reach the starting corrals. Some locals had set up a table and offered Vaseline, hair bands, and a host of other things the racers might need. The throng of bodies provided partial shelter from the wind as the rain misted all around. I was in the first corral of the third wave, and stayed in the back since I wan’t fully healthy. We huddled in the corrals for about ten minutes before we were sent off with the blast (and I do mean blast!) of the gun.

Everyone was corralled according to qualifying times, so the large group moved smoothly. I set off at what felt like an easy pace. The early miles were downhill, and I had been warned to hold back. When I checked my pace and saw mid-eight, I wasn’t sure if I should worry. I felt like it would take more of an effort to slow myself down than to go with the flow. I would run by feel, and I certainly wasn’t pushing.

I had a new, larger handheld bottle with shot bloks and a sunscreen stick tucked into the pouch for quick access. My biceps burned, so I kept switching it back and forth between hands. I felt each extra ounce. Shame on me for not trying it out before race day.

While I was still surrounded by runners, brightly-colored bobbing heads stretched out as far as my eye could see. I knocked off a couple more mid-eightish miles and started to think that the sub-4 hour finish was still a possibility. From time to time, male runners stepped off the course and turned their backs. The song “Whip It” popped into my head. Hydration tables were set up on the right side of the course and then the left, so the runners never had to move too far to reach them. I drank some Gatorade.

After four miles, my injured calf tightened up. I hoped it was just a reaction to the cold weather and would work itself out. Five miles in, tightness turned to pain, and I decided to walk up the next hill. When I started running again, the pain returned. My body was warm by now, and I tossed the garbage bag top. By mile six, the pain had intensified to the point that I knew I had to walk.

Ross’s parents were waiting at the 10K point and they asked me if I wanted my jacket. I was still fairly warm and said no. I told them that I was hurt and would probably be walking a lot. The course would be shut down six hours after the start of the fourth wave. The first six miles were faster than I had planned, but I still had twenty to go. The world record for race walking a marathon was 3:21:54. Time to see what I could do.

The next four miles went by fairly quickly as I was able to hold about a twelve-minute mile pace. Still, it was hard not to get discouraged as hordes of healthy runners flew by. Even though the weather was bad, the course was still lined with spectators who cheered, waved signs, and passed out water and food. There is no need to carry water at Boston.

As I approached Wellesley, I wanted to see if I could pick it up. Bad idea. A stabbing pain shot through my calf, and I was forced to slow down. My right hip flexor was also in agony because it was not used to prolonged bouts of speed walking. I lost it at this point and started bawling. My ragged, gulping sobs were lost in the cacophony. I felt alone and defeated. Every time I heard someone say, “You look great!” I knew they weren’t talking about me. I tried to focus on the beautiful trees and lakes and the Wellesley girls that were waving signs asking for kisses.

I was walking so slowly now that I wasn’t generating much body heat and a chill set in. My legs were in a lot of pain and my pace had slowed to twenty-plus minutes a mile. Far slower than what I needed to make the cutoff. Ross’s parents were supposed to be at the halfway point, and I decided that I’d quit when I saw them. There was so much race left, and I didn’t want to risk being injured for months. I thought about the special Boston Marathon medal display hook that Sue had given me hanging empty, judging me.

Mile 13 came and went with no sign of my support crew. I texted them. Nothing (I later learned they were having their own adventures with inconsistent trains and spotty cell service). All I wanted was to find them so I could get off of my feet and into warm, dry clothes. I texted Ross and Facebook-messaged his sister. As you can see, cold fingers do not type well.

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Ross called. I don’t remember what exactly what he said, but it was great to hear his voice. He encouraged me and said he’d keep trying his parents. My phone, which had been fully charged a few hours ago, was down to 37%, so I said goodbye and switched to airplane mode.

The rain let up a bit, and the slower pace eased my hip flexor pain, so I hobbled on. I thought about my friend Susie, whose twisted spine eventually caused her to hang up her sneakers. I thought about her husband Jon, who had finished an Ironman after being diagnosed with the ALS that eventually took his life. Limping or not, I was doing something they couldn’t. I’d like to say those thoughts immediately strengthened my resolve, but they were just a few of many that ping-ponged around my head.

I didn’t feel the part, but I said aloud, “I am a runner. I am a runner.”

At mile 17, I encountered the famous Newton Hills, which caused searing pain in my calf. I turned the toe of my injured leg at a 90-degree angle, and walk-sidled up the hills. One of the hills was so steep that I thought it had to be Heartbreak, which meant the course would soon flatten out again, but the hills kept on coming. By now, I was mixed in with the run/walkers and the occasional blind runner and guide.

A med tent worker asked if I needed help. When I said I had a calf pull, she told me to go inside. I laid face down on the padded table while a medic massaged my muscle. When she asked if it helped, I said yes. Being off it certainly felt better, but I wasn’t sure how much the massage would help once I started again. No matter. I had a race to finish.

Due to my side-walking, I got a good look at the spectators. I had written my name on my bib, and some people cheered for me personally. I made eye contact with a couple of guys who yelled, “Yeah, Michelle! You’re doing great. You’re awesome!” Something about their energy combined with those New England accents made me start crying. Again. They cheered louder.

I’d been on the course long enough to crave something more substantial than Gatorade and energy chews. A man and his daughter held out a box of cookies. Normally I’d pass because I’d be afraid they wouldn’t digest well, but at my pace, it was a non-issue. I savored the sweet, chocolate-peanuty crunchiness. I took a slice of watermelon from another spectator. Oranges, red licorice, and Swedish Fish were other popular offerings – the Boston Marathon was like a long trick-or-treating session with moisture-wicking costumes.

Since going uphill caused the most strain, I figured the reverse had to be true for the downhills, so I tried running the next one. I remembered reading that sometimes calf problems occur because the legs are too straight, so I adopted a semi-crouched position.

It worked.

I couldn’t reach the speeds I had been hitting at the beginning of the race, but it was an improvement. I felt like Forrest Gump after his leg braces fell off. I could almost hear Tom Hanks say, “I… was… running!”

After mile 20, things flattened out, and I realized I only had 10K to go. I can do this. I walked whenever the road sloped up, but I was on track to finish in less than six hours.

During one of my walk breaks, I saw the dancing dreadlocked man from the Athlete’s Village. His name was Eli and he was from Atlanta.

“I wanted to finish under 3:30, but after mile six everything hurt,” he said, drawing out the eh sound in everything.

“But we’re doing it, we’re going to finish!”

“Yes we are! We ain’t stopping.”

“We’re getting those medals. Tough it out, baby!”

“I tell you, eeeeeeverything hurts, but you’re inspiring me to walk faster.”

“We’ll help each other through. We’ve got this!”

We hung together for about a mile when he told me to go ahead and he’d catch up. Ten minutes later he passed me, looking strong. I didn’t see him again, but I was grateful for the short connection we’s shared.

The rain had started up again, and I sloshed through the cold puddles. Several competitors were wearing plastic rain ponchos and I wished I hadn’t tossed my trash bags. I was still wearing all of the clothes I had planned to throw away, so my crappy cotton shirt would survive to see the beginning of another race. My right toes hurt from slamming into the front of my shoes on so many downhills.

Despite the worsening weather and the fact that it had been over six hours since the elite women had toed the line, several spectators still lined the course. A couple of girls jumped up and down and called my name. The the crowd started chanting “Left on Hereford, right on Boylston,” and I knew my journey was almost complete. Some people banged on drums, and I focused on the pounding rhythm.

Boylston. Finally. There was still over a quarter mile to go, but I could see the finish line. I squat-ran as fast as I could until I passed that final timing mat. My body shook with tears. I’d made it.

Mission accomplished, my brain decided to stop pumping out adrenaline or whatever it had been giving me the last several hours. My raw, aching legs inched along. Since I was no longer exerting myself, I cooled rapidly. There was still a way to walk before I got my medal. A kind volunteer gave me a disposable poncho and tied a mylar blanket around my waist.

More walking. I shivered violently and a volunteer asked if I needed help. “Just show me where to find K in family meeting area.”

She pointed down the road and said, “They’re letting people warm up by sitting in the buses.” Since the bus was much closer than the K, I decided to hobble over.

A few runners were coming out of the bus and the driver said, “You can’t sit here anymore. Warm up in the med tent.”

Our little group walked to the med tent where we were told, “This is for medical treatment. It’s not a warming tent. Go sit in the buses.”

I made my to different a different bus, but got the same story: go to the med tent. At this point, I thought screw it, and headed toward the K area.

A wide-eyed volunteer stopped me and had me sit in a wheelchair while another volunteer gave me some coffee. My hands shook and hot liquid sloshed over the side of the cup and seeped into my already wet gloves. I had gone from a Boston Qualifying runner to quivering invalid in the space of six hours. They pushed me to the K sign, and I saw the Forees. They supported me on the slow walk/subway/walk back the apartment. As I relaxed into a hot bath and sipped a steaming cup of tea, I got a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Garmin data: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/756961394

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If you’d like to read about more Boston experiences and see some on-course pictures, check out The Half Ass Bad Ass, Blessed With Thunder Thighs, and Runs On Syrup.

As tough as my race was, it was nothing compared to what this man endured. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/04/21/boston-marathons-final-finisher-an-inspirational-story/

Sedona Half Marathon

Building my mileage on my weekend long runs has been a challenge this go-round. I’ve been running alone, and my body has rebelled a couple of miles before the end of each one. I hadn’t done a race since December, and I missed the excitement and camaraderie of competitive events. The Sedona course is known for its challenging profile (1000+ feet of elevation gain) as much as its beauty, and I thought it would be a nice addition to my Boston Marathon buildup. My boyfriend Ross would be racing as well, and he makes every run more enjoyable.

wpid-20150131_073604.jpgThe heavy rain the day before had damaged enough of the trail section of the marathon course that the organizers called it off, and the runners were given the option to run the half. The shorter courses were completely paved and would be held as planned.

When we left Flagstaff that morning, we were relieved to see that the rain had stopped. We fueled up the car, stopped at McDonald’s to fuel up Ross, and hit the road. We grooved to a cheerful, catchy tune called “Shantantitty Town” on the way down. We’d heard it several times before, but only just realized that it was about a whorehouse where one of the visitors finds himself “all freckled and speckled.”

We parked downtown and waited for one of the race shuttles to take us to the starting line. We waited and waited… and arrived at the race site with about fifteen minutes to spare. We managed to take care of our pre-race business, check our bags, and take a few starting line pictures before we were sent off. The lingering clouds against the backdrop of the red rocks were spectacular.

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While it was cool at the start, the sun shone warm, and we shed our warm layers before mile two. Luckily, Ross’s shorts had large pockets, and he kindly played pack mule for both of us. I was afraid that we’d get hot, but we stayed pretty comfortable throughout the race.

A few miles in, we were passed by a wiry guy in a Flagstaff singlet. The way he was running, I was surprised that he’d ever been behind us. Then we were passed by more and more people. I mean, it happens, but this seemed like an extreme number. Not that much later, we saw wiry guy running back the other way and realized that he was doing the 10K (they started after us, and I think he won). I decided to pretend that every person who passed us up until the 10K turnaround was doing the shorter race.

wpid-20150131_092803.jpgThe course was almost never flat, and we ran conservatively because of it. When we saw event photographers, we’d hold hands and make silly faces. The aid stations were well-stocked and just frequent enough. There were a decent amount of spectators for a smallish race. We waved at a family and their inert dog, and saw a guy in a green full-body suit. A couple of girls in sparkle skirts and shirts with It’s My/Her 21st Birthday! on the back passed us. They weren’t doing the 10K. The course was an out-and-back, and we started to see the male leaders. Then the female leaders. Ross kept count for about ten of them.

At the turnaround, “Total  Eclipse of the Heart” knocked Shantantitty Town out of my head for about a mile (Turn around…). We still felt pretty good physically and were now facing a stunning rock formation. It was one of those views that would have stopped me in my tracks if 1) I hadn’t been running a race and 2) I wasn’t going to be running toward it for over two miles. I wished that I hadn’t worn my trail shoes. The Half course was completely paved, and I longed for some extra cushioning on the downhills. The inert dog must have summoned the strength to move a few feet only to collapse again.

wpid-20150131_113555.jpgThe eleventh mile was steep. I felt the miles, but also felt like I could push the rest of the race. Ross wasn’t sure, but he tried to hang. This same woman kept passing me and taking walk breaks, during which I overtook her. I just wanted one of us to take the lead and be done with it! I pulled away from Ross in the last mile and kept testing my legs. I felt that old, familiar burn in my lungs and embraced it. I was happy that I was feeling strong, because the final miles of my recent long training runs had devolved into shuffles. I finally left the walk-run lady behind, and turned toward the finish line. There were a couple women ahead of me, and I tried to catch them. I passed one, but couldn’t overtake the other. I finished in 2:01:47, which I was happy with considering the course and my current fitness level. Ross crossed the line eighteen seconds later. It was the only time I’d ever beaten him in a race, and it will probably never happen again.

Once we stopped moving, our sweaty bodies quickly grew chilly again. We grabbed some post-race snacks, chatted with a few friends, and decided to take shuttle back. We waited and waited… Shuttle frequency is my only real complaint about this race. Later we found out that Ross was somehow listed as a 99-year-old, and ended up winning his age group. In his words, “It was the only way I was going win an award.” They mailed it.

Between the views, weather, and being able to share the experience with my sweetie, this race goes down as one of my favorite running memories, and I plan on doing it again.

Race data: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/688216929

Sun Run 10(+)K

Racing season begins! I have a lighter than usual schedule planned leading up to my March marathon, but I can’t swear off completely. I had been really excited to run this race. It seems that 10Ks aren’t very common these days and my 10K PR is out of line with my 5K and half marathon times. I have run this race several times, and while the course is flat and the weather is cool, it falls at a time of year after I have either eased up on my training or recently run a marathon. This year, however, I would be in the middle of a marathon build, which I thought just might translate into a great race.

Unfortunately, I had been battling a calf injury the past couple months. Several of my runs had been replaced with elliptical and step mill sessions and I hadn’t gone faster than a nine-minute mile pace in weeks. I had been feeling good lately, though, so I was ready to come out and see what I could do. Within reason, of course. What kind of pace my body would let me run and, more importantly, hold?

It had been two and a half months since my last SAR race, and it was good to see Imagefamiliar faces. This race is several years old, but the course gets tweaked constantly. While it was a little chilly when I arrived, I shed almost all of my layers by the 9 o’clock start. Bright, sunny, and cool, you could not ask for more perfect running weather. I did an easy warm-up mile and then headed to the start. There was a 5K option that started slightly earlier at a different part of the park, and those runners dashed by just before we were set loose.

I took off at what felt like a good pace and was pleasantly surprised when I clocked my first mile in 7:07. My PR pace was 7:05. Maybe I can do this, I thought and I tried to run a little faster. My calf was a non-issue. As I felt the familiar burn in my legs and lungs, my mental DJ briefly considered Rob Base’s “Joy and Pain”, but then settled on “It Takes Two“. I don’t know all the words, but there is a profane reference to a popular fast food burger. At least the energy level was about what I was looking for.

Former Ragnar teammate Steve F. was ahead of me but in sight. Another Ragnar teammate, Steve O., passed me, but I tried to keep fairly close. I went back and forth with a big guy in a navy tank top a few times. My next splits were 7:11, 7:19, 7:04. I knew I probably wasn’t going to PR, so I adjusted my goal to finish under 45 minutes. Part of the 10K course looped back on itself and it was here that local legend and Olympic Trials runner Craig Curley passed me. I finally pulled away from navy tank. We also started mingling with some of the 5K runners and I could no longer see the Steves. I was now fixated on the song ImagePropane Nightmares as it repeatedly growled, bring it on home.

I came upon a fork I had run by before, and there was a chalk 10K on the road with an arrow pointing straight – the same way I had gone last time. I had run 5.8 miles and thought that if I followed the arrow, the finish line had to be farther away than .4 miles away. Still, I wasn’t sure and there was no instruction to go a different way the second time through, so I went straight. When my watch hit six without a six-mile marker or the finish line anywhere in sight, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. My friend Keith, who had been done for a little while took a picture and cheered me on while I yelled something like “I went too far!”

My detour had me approaching the finish line from the wrong side, so I cut through the crowd to U-turn into the chute. I figured if anyone said anything, I would point to the 7+ miles displayed on my Garmin. Or just be DQ’ed and be done with it. I was annoyed and in some ways glad that I hadn’t been on the verge of a PR. I know an athlete should know the course, but on the other hand, during a race, I don’t always think clearly.

I ran a few cool down miles with some friends and hung out for a while. One of my friends pointed to a couple of men who were approaching the finish line, one leading the other with a strap. A blind man was running the race. Instant perspective. We all cheered loudly for them.

All in all, it was a great day. I was happy with my 7:14 pace and my calf felt fine. I also felt confident that I would be able to run my marathon without a problem as long as I didn’t go crazy with speed or hills, which my plan doesn’t call for anyway.

Race Data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/429034450

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I wish I remembered what we were talking about here.

Rockland County 5-Mile Turkey Trot

After a full year of racing, I had decided that November would be a recovery month of sorts before ramping up training for my March marathon. I was still teaching classes and getting the odd swim and bike ride in, but I had knocked my weekly mileage down to 20 and wasn’t doing speedwork. Still, I couldn’t go cold turkey when it came to races, especially on Thanksgiving 😉 When I knew I was going to spend the holiday in New York, I scoured the internet for Turkey Trots and found one in nearby Rockland County.

The race was about an hour from where we were staying and I needed to pick up my packet on race day, so the alarm went off before six. A big thanks to Ted for waking up early with me and handling the driving. The roads were quiet and it was nice watching the sky shift from dark to light. I got a kick out of some of the local businesses we passed: there was a dentist named Zitofsky (would have been a great name for a dermatologist) and the law offices of Hood, Hood, and Hood.

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I think the camera was kind of sleepy too…

It was 25 degrees outside, which is cold but manageable for this warm weather girl. But add some wind and ugh… I got my packet and went immediately back to the car. When it was time to leave my warm sanctuary I was grateful for each and every one of the layers I had put on that morning. The announcer told us that this was the coldest it had ever been for this race. Even so, there is always that one guy wearing a tank top and shorts…

I had looked at previous year’s results and knew that I was fully capable of bringing home an age group award. On the other hand, I had strained my calf a week and a half before, and had only done one easy walk/run since. The muscle felt good, but I did not want to push too hard and mess up my upcoming marathon training. I also wasn’t sure how much Easy November had affected my fitness, so my main goal was simply to enjoy running outside in a new place.

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At least the New Yawkahs were bundled up too.

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Fun hats!

I started toward the front, but it still took a little while for me to cross the start line. There were icy patches on the road and I slowed down to navigate the large ones and hurdled the smaller ones. I knew that there were hills in the early miles, and did my best to keep an even effort, even though it meant I got passed by more than a few folks on the way up. My mental DJ blasted The Black Eyes Peas’ Pump It. Even though the wind sliced through my clothing, I ended up taking my hat off after a couple of miles. Around mile three, we were treated to a view of the sparkling lake. Now that’s something that I don’t normally get to see. Even though it was cold, the sky was a beautiful blue. It was a nice reprieve from the dismal and gray weather we had been seeing, but simply thinking about gray skies brought the song California Dreaming to mind.

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My arm warmers were damp with sweat even as the frosty air bit my cheeks. I focused on the sensations I felt and reveled in being alive, which brought this blast from the past into my head. I knew that my mile splits were probably short of what I would need to place, but I was glad to be running pain free. The final straightway was right smack into the wind. I felt like a football player pushing an invisible tackling dummy. Still, I was feeling good enough at the end that I picked up the pace a bit and passed a couple of people.

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I grabbed a banana and bagel and found Ted. We decided to not wait around for the awards. I ended up placing fourth in my age group and missed third by just over a minute. My pace for this race (7:35) was slightly slower than the half marathon I had run a few weeks ago (7:27). I was a little disappointed, but in the spirit of the day, I mostly thankful to be healthy and to spend the rest of the day in warmer places.

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Runners are BANANAS!

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/411141192

Tri For Acts of Kindness

The Tri for Acts of Kindness is one of the few pure charity races that I know of in my 1260887_4735832454093_1547911403_n hometown. Every cent made from the race goes directly back into the Shyann Kindness Project, where volunteers distribute gifts at low-income schools and discuss what it means to be kind. The race is held at La Mariposa, where I teach RPM and do my swim workouts, so I feel like I have a home field advantage (eh, not really, but I am used to the extremely shallow pool). I also appreciate any race my travel distance is less than what I will be covering on the course.

The swim is about as short as you will find in a triathlon: a scant 300 yards. As we all lined up according to number, I was happy to see that I would be sharing a lane with my friends Trisha and Gilbert. Things were running a bit behind, so we had a chance to catch up and talk about future race plans. When it was our turn to head to a lane, we launched into a “Who should swim first?” discussion. I ended up starting between Trisha and Gilbert.

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Swim:
5:05 | 300 yards | 01m 41s / 100 yards
Age Group: 3/18
Overall: 35/182
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/376219885

The water was a bit chilly, so I eased in. I went fairly hard because it was such a short swim, but I also felt pretty tired. Some days are just rough. Gilbert ended up passing me quickly, but he’s bad at counting laps (he freely admits this) and didn’t want to get too far ahead. He ended up waiting for me to finish to make sure he had gotten all of his laps in.

I ripped my cap, goggles, and ear plugs off as I ran to transition. I ended up dropping a plug and decided to leave it there. Because this was a hilly course, I wore my regular helmet because I didn’t know how much I’d be in the aero bars. I ran out of transition holding my bike in the air because I had heard of people getting tire punctures from weeds in the grass and I figured better safe than flat.

Bike:
40:07 | 12.5 miles | 18.7 MPH
Age Group: 2/18
Overall: 12/182
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/376219889

The early part of the bike course is really cracked and bumpy. I looked down at my Cateye and noticed that it was displaying miles per hour, but not cadence, which is the reverse of what it has been doing. A few miles in, I dipped down to drink from my aero-bar mounted bottle and it wasn’t there. I found it in the transition area after the race – it had gotten knocked off when I unracked my bike. I was glad that this was just a sprint and figured that I would probably be alright. Still, it was a warm day and dry mouth is no fun.

There were quite a few hills on the course, but I did a pretty good job of staying in the aero bars. I will use the aero helmet next time. My mental DJ was in a mellow mood and the song “Come Together” went through my head. I heard a rattling sound each time I shifted to my small chain ring and the middle gears, so I spent most of the bike leg in the large ring*. There weren’t  a lot of people on the bike course, which made for a much more enjoyable ride. At the turnaround, the more upbeat song “Perfect Day” was now in my head. My legs were feeling affected by the the large gear pedaling.

Run:
23:51 | 3.1 miles | 7:41 minutes/mile
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 8/182
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/376219905

Gilbert was just ahead of me as I started on the run, but he quickly pulled away. My legs had no oomph. Maybe it was because of the bike, or the heat, or that this was a B race that I wasn’t tapered for. The hills also sapped my energy. It was an out and back, and I counted three women ahead of me on the run. With the staggered starts I didn’t know how far ahead of me they really were, but it’s always good to have targets during a race.

After the turnaround it was mostly downhill, and I was thankful for that. As I turned off the main road and headed back to La Mariposa, there was a blond woman in my sights. My mantra became blond blond blond blond, which morphed into blond Bond blond Bond and led to a vision of Daniel Craig. I ended up passing her. When I knew I was approaching the finish line and sped up, but I couldn’t see it because it was tucked around the bend.Being able to see the finish line really helps to motivate me, but alas…

I ended up passing three people on the run. A man with a Scottish accent who finished just behind me told me that he had been trying to catch me and that I “looked like a runner.” I took that as a compliment.

After the race, I went to the results table, entered my number, and got a nifty receipt printout of my time and splits. I had never seen that at a race before. Then I headed to the resort section of the club and picked up the included breakfast. Yum!

1231240_4735830054033_978586301_nI stayed around for the award ceremony and found out that the only female who beat me was also in my age group (I was 9th overall). They didn’t give special prizes for the overall winners, so I ended up getting a 2nd place medal. It was made out of an old bicycle chain, which I thought was thrifty, creative, and environmentally friendly.

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*I took my bike to the shop, and it turned out it was a case of cockpit error. The bike was fine, I just needed to trim the gear lever on the big ring depending on the sprocket I was using. At least I knew what to do for the next race.

Hotshots Run To Remember (and unofficial reverse duathlon)

During the summer, 19 Arizona firefighters tragically lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Fire, and the Hotshots Run To Remember And Never Forget was created to honor their memory and raise funds for their families. It’s modeled after the Dipsea Race, where runners are started at different times based on age and gender so the faster runners chase the (theoretically, at least) slower ones. The first runners get a 25-minute head start and subsequent groups start at 1-minute intervals. My station in life garnered me an 8-minute advantage. The first 19 finishers would be awarded with numbered T-shirts, and the first to cross the line would receive a beautiful fireman’s axe.

I really needed to get some bike miles in for my upcoming Half Ironman, and because the road to the race has wide bike lanes and few lights, I decided to pedal there. I figured the ride would take me about an hour, so I set my alarm for 4:40. It was still dark when I left, but I had just bought a sweet 500-lumen lamp and was ready for it. The air was thick with humidity.

Going was slow, and I blamed sluggish morning legs. The sky turned a gray-blue as I rode and it was very peaceful. I had packed my running shoes and clothes in a drawstring backpack and it kept shifting to the side, which was a little annoying. There were a couple of stranded bikers on the side of the road a few miles from the park. They asked if I had a spare CO2 cartridge and a patch. This was not their first flat of the day and they had run out. Fortunately, I was able to help and that made me feel extra good about my decision to bike to the race. It took me 1:12:51 to reach the race site (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/372050073), but I still had time to get my number, change into my running clothes and shoes, and suck down a Clif Shot.

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I would be starting at the same time as my friend Amy. Both of us were treating this race as a training run. Then I noticed that she had some Mace attached to her hydration vest. She said it was in case she ran into any hostile critters, but I think she might have been planning to take out the competition…  🙂 The race director kept calling for the different start groups, and most of them were pretty small until it was our turn.

From the start, it felt like I was left in the dust. Enough time had passed since my ride that I didn’t have the rubber-legged feeling I get during a triathlon, but I was definitely feeling its effect. On the plus side, it was still cloudy and there was a nice, refreshing rain. The early part of the race was paved but hilly. There was a working ranch nearby, and the scent of horse hung in the air. The first two miles were run at about 8 minutes a piece, and I was happy with that. Amy was long gone, though. As I ran by one woman she said, “I go to your Body Pump class.” I didn’t recognize her, but it was a fairly large class and it seemed like a lot of the faces change from week to week. It’s silly, but I felt like since I was the instructor that I should be faster.

The staggered start made the passing situation interesting: I was able to pass some people easily and other people were dropping me like a hot potato. My mental DJ was in a cultural mood and had selected Triumphal March from Verdi’s opera Aida for this morning’s festivities.

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Soon it was trail time. I had worn my Saucony Mirages because they were the most stable shoes I owned, but they weren’t really suited for trail running. Parts of the trail were fairly smooth, but in other places several rocks jutted out of the ground. I hit a few of them awkwardly and my ankles yipped but didn’t buckle. I soaked in the surroundings. The musky scent of skunk lingered in the air. In some places, the dirt was a beautiful red color. The skies brought Newton Faulkner’s song “Clouds” to mind.

Stop looking down at the ground
Pick it out of the clouds
No one’s gonna put you down
Just let it out let it out

With the staggered starts, some obviously faster runners came up behind me, and because it was a single-file trail, I had to step to the side and let them pass. It was an interesting challenge to constantly keep adjusting my pace and foot placement, but I am a road racer at heart. I didn’t want to run too fast and risk a fall. The silly, egotistical side of me wished that I had a sign on my back that said “Hey! You do realize I rode my bike here, don’t you?”

A little after the six-mile mark, there was a dramatic steep and rocky climb, and I did something that I don’t think I’ve done in a race since I was in junior high: walk. Post-race reconnaissance revealed that I wasn’t the only one. When I finally reached the top, there was less than a mile remaining. I heard footfalls behind me and this time the Body Pump lady passed. At this point, I was feeling confined by the trail and wishing for an open stretch of road where I could just run the pace I felt like running. It was trail until the end, though, so there was no finishing kick. I ended up finishing 30th taking the handicap start into account and 29th based on raw time. Amy was 16th, and my friends Keith (3) and Steve (10) also finished in the top 19.

Run data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/372050091

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I ate a banana and a Honey Stinger Waffle to fuel up for the ride home. I hadn’t tried the vanilla flavor before and it was outstanding. I hung around for a while and actually started to feel chilly. In Tucson. In September. The ride home was enjoyable and much quicker (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/372050102). It was still cool and there were some large, beautiful white flowers on the side of the road that I hadn’t noticed in the dark. All in all, it was a great morning. While I wasn’t fast, I got a heck of a workout and probably saved a gallon of gas.

Saguaro National Park Labor Day Race

After a long, hot summer break, the Southern Arizona Roadrunners racing season resumes with the popular Saguaro National Park Labor Day run. The course is a paved 8-mile loop with a big, honking hill smack dab in the middle. Beautiful and challenging, it’s one of my favorite places to run and bike. With the combination of heat and humidity, the weather can be brutal this time of year. I had run an easy four-miler the day before, and it was nasty.

My PR at this race was 1:07:09, set two years ago. I missed it last year to run the Disneyland Half Marathon. My goal was to go under 1:05.

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The day dawned cloudy, if not cool, and I took that as a good sign. The desert was beautiful in the early morning light. My husband came to watch, and he dropped me off by the entrance and then went to find a parking space (expect a long walk to the start if you ever do this race). I picked up my number, chatted with some friends, had my Clif Shot, and then it was time to take care of business. No, not race: hit the port-o-potty. The lines were long, and I kept looking at my watch and the people ahead of me, performing mental calc. It would be close. My adrenaline was pumping. It was almost race time, but they hadn’t sung the national anthem yet. It was finally my turn, and if this portion of the race had been timed, I think I would have done very well. I dashed to the starting line with a few minutes to spare. It was pretty packed, so I couldn’t get as close to the front as I wanted, but I wasn’t too far back.

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People were tightly clustered, so the initial pace was kind of slow. Shortly after the start, there’s a steep downhill and I had to hold myself back because of the crowds. I passed a lot of people early on – I had been farther back than I thought. I ran by my friend Melody and she cheered for me and then told her friend, “I used to beat her.” A light, refreshing rain fell. This was by far the best weather I had ever experienced at this race. I hit the first mile at 7:15, which I felt really good about. I passed my Ragnar teammate Tim, but he blazed by me back shortly after, never to be seen again (he ended up beating me by almost five minutes).

Things had thinned out enough that I was able to run my own pace comfortably now. The next two miles splits were 6:55 and 7:16. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” ran through my head. But Fonda ain’t got a motor in the back of her Honda. But I do, and I was ready to use it. Motor, motor, I got a motor… A strong crosswind blew as I headed up the hill and I felt like it might push me into the cactus. A few local high school cross country teams dressed up as super heroes manned the different water stations. The next two miles were covered in 8:05 and 9:22. Just a wee climb. “Flesh and Bone” by the Killers was in my head now. And what are you made of? Flesh and Bone! And sweat. Vats of it. My shorts were soggy by this point.

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After the five-mile mark, it’s mostly downhill. Barring catastrophe, I would easily beat 1:05. My friend Craig, who is training for a 100-miler, was volunteering and cheered for me. He had done a 30-miler the day before, and today’s mileage was running to and from the water station. There are so many supportive people in our local running community who love to come out to races when they aren’t participating just to encourage others and help out.

There was a girl up ahead that I had my eyes on, and people kept cheering “Go, Diane!” I didn’t make the connection that it was Diane, one of my local running heroes, until after the race. The cloud cover surrendered to the sun during the last mile. I tried to focus on keeping my footsteps light and quick and ignore the increasingly nasty sensations coursing through my body. Diane pulled farther and farther away. The final mile has a lot of twists and ups and downs, so I was constantly changing gears. I made the final turn toward the finish line and knew that I had run a 1:02-something, so I was thrilled. It gave me hope that maybe one of these years, I could possibly break an hour.

Results:

1:02:02 (7:45 / mile)
Age Group: 2 / 75
Overall: 81 / 764

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/369508499

Mountain Man Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

The Mountain Man Triathlon in Flagstaff, Arizona bills itself as “The Toughest Race You’ll Ever Love.” Something about altitude. And a hill. I had done it last year, and was looking forward to testing my mettle on the course again. I was also faster, more experienced, and perhaps most importantly, I had better gear. After the tube and tire fiasco at the previous month’s triathlon, I had made sure to take care of everything bike-related well before the night of the race. The latex tubes were in my tires, and I was able to use both race wheels.

The night before the race, my husband and I headed to Picazzo’s. I had a delicious Greek salad and a whole-grain crust pizza. Several other triathletes were carbo-loading there as well. Afterwards, we headed to Target. I needed berries and granola for my breakfast yogurt, and if a few other things happened to find their way into my cart, well, far be it from me to throw them out. We had planned on walking around downtown, but decided to head back to our room and watch Trouble With The Curve (purchased at said Target) instead.

I woke up a little after four, ate my yogurt breakfast, sipped black tea, and let Ted sleep for another half hour. He got up without too much urging, and we quickly loaded the car and headed toward Lake Mary. The mountain air was delightfully cool, and I wore a sweatshirt and yoga pants over my tri clothes. We parked off the side of the road as instructed, and made our way toward the transition area.

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Some races assign racks by number, but this isn’t one of them. Trying to find a spot to slip your bike in can be a little tricky, but I’ve never had a big problem. Sometimes, however, I do have a problem getting the number onto my bike using the twist ties provided. Aerodynamic frames have funny shapes. My friend Jeff says that he staples his number on, and I might just have to do that myself next time.

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Hmm… Will this way work?

After everything was set up, I had plenty of time to eat some more, use the port-o-potties (the lines weren’t bad), and don my wetsuit. My wave was assigned golden caps, and I think they look as snazzy as latex head covers can possibly look. My time here last year was 2:44:57 and my goal for this race was to go under 2:40.

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Swim (does not include time to reach timing mat) http://connect.garmin.com/activity/357513147
00:30:20 | 1640.42 yards | 01m 50s / 100 yards
Age Group: 4/13
Overall: 85/278

The water was a bit chilly, as we stood half-submerged waiting for the start. I positioned myself about a third of the way back. Once we started, it was a mass of flailing limbs and brown, churning water. I knew from past experience that the first few minutes of the swim would feel awful thanks to the altitude, but knowing didn’t make it any easier. I felt like my lungs had shriveled up and I just had to keep telling myself that the feeling would pass and to keep going. My upper body felt powerless, and it was all I could do to weakly paddle forward. There had also been some turmoil in my personal life over the past month, and while I had gotten my workouts in, they certainly hadn’t been stellar. It would be interesting to see how this DSC03353race unfolded. I threw in a breaststroke every so often as I tried to sight, and I had to re-align myself more than once. The crowd had thinned by the time I reached the first buoy, so I was able to make a tight turn. I was also breathing much better by this time, but my stroke still felt weak.  

As I turned around the last buoy to head to the ramp, I was nearly blinded by the glare of the sun off the water. I could make out swimmers ahead of me, but not much else. I kept popping up to sight, but I couldn’t see the exit. It felt like I was never going to get out of this lake. I kept going, and swam right into a volunteer who was there to keep people from hitting a reef. At least the finish was in sight now. I was disappointed with my 30+ minute swim because it was slower than last year. I know I wasted a lot of time zigging and zagging. Still, there was a lot of race left, so I ran toward the transition, cursing the pebbles along way.

Transition 1 http://connect.garmin.com/activity/357513149

I scarfed a Z Bar and applied some sunscreen. In the process of unracking my bike, I knocked my aero bottle out of its cage, so I had to re-rack and put it back. I know my official transition time of 3:29 is slow, but since according to my Garmin I went all the way to Africa, I’d say that it was pretty fast. Seriously, check out the link. What up, Garmin? Atmospheric disturbance?

Bike http://connect.garmin.com/activity/357513150
01:14:09 | 24.85 miles | 20.05 mile/hr
Age Group: 3/13
Overall: 85/278

Bike Course

The bike course is kind of an oxymoron: hilly, but fast. It’s an out-and-back, with most of the climbing taking place in the first half. Some people seriously fly on the way back, DSC03376hitting speeds of 50+ miles per hour. I had decided to leave my aero helmet at home because I didn’t know if I’d be riding mostly upright on the hilly parts. I knew the first part of the course was pretty flat, so I settled into my aero bars and rode at a controlled, fast-ish pace. My bike computer was showing cadence, but not speed. I am ashamed to say that the song going through my head at this point was Ke$sha’s “We Are Who We Are.” My only excuse is that it was in the RPM release that I was teaching that week. At least some of the lyrics were motivating.

Tonight we’re going har-har-h-h-h hard
Just like the world is our-our-ah-ah-ah ours!
We’re tearing it apar-par-par-pa-pa-pa part
You know we’re superstars
We R who we R

The lake and mountain scenery was gorgeous. It seemed like I wasn’t too far into the bike leg, when I saw the lead men coming back the other way. They had gotten an earlier start, but still. One of them was wearing nothing but a Speedo. Not so gorgeous.

I remember being challenged by the climbs last year, so when I hit the biggest hill of the day and it didn’t seem too hard, I wondered if it was the hill I remembered. I ended up passing my friend Shannon on this climb. His swim had been really rough as well. I was getting passed by people, but it seemed like a lot fewer than usual in my Olympic distance racing experience. I hadn’t heard any auto-lap beeps (I have it set for five mile increments on the bike), but I think that’s because the Garmin still had me in Africa. 

I finally reached the turn-around and knew that time-wise I was over halfway there. I back-and-forthed with a sixty-year old woman for a while. I eventually took the lead, but I was seriously impressed with her. I wanted to shout out the cheer from the audition scene from Bring It On: “Awesome! Oh wow! Like totally freak me out!” I decided to save my lungs, though. 

When I got to the long downhill, I remember thinking, This is what had me shaking in my spandex last year? It really didn’t seem scary at all, even though I reached 39.7 miles per hour. My hip flexors bothered me a bit, but I was mostly able to ignore it. I had decided get all of my bike-time calories in liquid form, and had Body Armor sports drink in my aero bottle. It tasted great. So much better than the mass-produced “ades”.

I was really pleased with my bike. I had taken over eight minutes off of last year’s time, but more importantly, I was happy that I was a much stronger and more confident rider. Improvements come slowly sometimes, but they do come. Next year, I’m bringing my aero helmet.

Transistion 2 http://connect.garmin.com/activity/357513156

I applied more sunscreen. 1:51, officially.

Run http://connect.garmin.com/activity/357513161
00:46:00 | 6.2 miles | 7:25 min/mile
Age Group: 3/13
Overall: 35/278

RunCourse

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Taking a tight turn running downhill

I will spare you a thousand words describing the course, and let the picture above speak for me. It’s very flat – until it’s not. I felt confident that finishing under 2:40 was well within my reach. I tried flipping through my Garmin screens to get a sense of what my instantaneous pace was, but got nothing useful (it still had me in Africa). So, I just ran by feel, which is what I normally do anyway. Still, I like peek at my pace and check my splits. There was a pebble in my shoe, but I decided I to ignore it.

Hill time. Just focus on putting one foot in front of the other… There were kids with super soakers at the switchback, and I waved at them and hoped they’d let me have it. They obliged. I didn’t feel like I was running fast, but I kept passing people. I saw my friend Jeff, and we gave each other hollers. I was losing feeling in my left foot, and Linkin Park’s “Numb” started coursing through my head. At least I no longer felt the pebble.

After the hill, there’s a brief section on a dirt road, then it’s turn around and head on back. I was looking forward to screaming down that hill. I gave Shannon a wave as he made his way up. It was warming up, but at least I was in the home stretch now. Finally, it was back to the flats. When I hit the one mile mark, I knew that I would easily surpass my time goal. Feeling started to return to my foot.

I felt the cumulative physical effort of the race, but I was nowhere near as mentally exhausted as I had been in my previous Olympic triathlons. I saw two women ahead of me, and made it my goal to catch them. Concentrating on Linkin Park’s “Bleed It Out” had worked well for my last tri, so my mind went there again. I passed one woman. Digging deeper. The finish line was in sight, and I passed the second. I managed a little kick-lette, and I heard “Michael Kaseler from Tucson” over the loud speaker. Michael? Well, keep running, Michael. I crossed the line and the woman that I had passed was close behind. No one had passed me during the run.

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Even though my swim wasn’t great, I was very pleased with this race. I had knocked over eight minutes off of last year’s time, and felt so much stronger and more confident in my abilities as a triathlete.

Final time: 2:36:31
Overall: 59 / 278
Age Group: 3 / 13

Firecracker Triathlon

I have no one to blame. I know better. Don’t mess with things right before a race. Here’s what happened: I had read that one way to decrease rolling resistance on the bike, and therefore go faster, is to use latex tubes instead of the standard butyl ones. They cost a little more, but compared to other my other bike upgrades, it was pretty inconsequential. I had bought the tubes weeks ago and promptly stowed them in the cabinet, where they remained until 9 PM the night before the race. After I swapped out the tube and started to put the tire back on the wheel, I realized that the valve was too short for my race wheels and I wouldn’t be able to use them. The things you don’t think about…

I removed the latex and wrestled the old tube back into the tire and and the tire on to the wheel. It had been a while since I had changed a tire, and my clumsy and somewhat forceful efforts damaged the original tube around the stem and caused a leak.For a panicked moment I thought that I wouldn’t be able to race, but I still had my stock wheels lying around so I created a bike mullet (business in front, speed in the back!). Crisis averted, but I was now worse off that I would have been if I had just left well enough alone. As an aside, I am now the proud owner of two shiny, new valve extenders.

To beat (ha ha) the heat, the race starts early. The youth waves started at 5:45 in the morning, with the adults starting at six. To get people through the course as quickly as possible, a serpentine swim is used and each individual racer is assigned a unique start time. I would be going at 7:21, which gave me some time to kill (all bikes had to be racked before the kids started).

I have a streak of besting my previous time each time I have done this series, and I hoped to keep it going. The last time I did a Tri Tucson race, the volunteer had signaled for me to get out of the pool before I had completed all 825 yards, so I am using my estimated time of 1:13:23 rather than the official time of 1:11:42. Firecracker tends to lead to slower times because the pool was set up long-course (50 meters), you have to somewhat awkwardly duck under lane lines after each out-and-back, and it’s really bloody hot, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. On the other hand, I did have my one race wheel and an aero helmet this time.

Swim 
13:26 | 750 meters | 01m 38s / 100 yards
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 56/279
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/338960136

After doing some easy laps, I lined up according to number and got ready for my start. The pool is cooled during the summer and felt really refreshing. The race director double-Snapshot 2 (9-6-2013 8-39 PM)checked my name and number, and I was off. At a recent aquathlon, my training buddy Ross had noticed that my stroke was choppy, so I tried to focus on extending long and keeping my body as flat as possible. After a few laps, I passed a swimmer, and I felt like I had a good rhythm going. Down on one side, flip, back on the other, duck under the lane line, continue. About two-thirds of the way through, I reached a bottle neck. I had caught up with two other swimmers, and I couldn’t really pass them because of how they were positioned. When I tried to make a move, I kicked pretty hard and got some water down the wrong pipe. Coughing, I had to stop at the wall and catch my breath. Thankfully, there was only one 50-meter length to go.

Transition went fairly smoothly, although it took a couple of tries to get my aero helmet snapped on.

Bike (includes transitions)
37:26 | 11.5 miles | 19.9 MPH (estimated speed after taking transitions out)
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 74/279
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/338960142

I got off to a good start and felt really solid in the aero position. The song “I’m Flying” from the musical Peter Pan popped into my head as I zoomed down the road (I had played Wendy’s daughter Jane in a 7th grade production. It was a small part, but I got to fly!). Not exactly a push yourself song, but it captured the fun of biking fast. Because of the serpentine swim, the course is a little more crowded than it is during the spring and fall races, but the passing and being passed went smoothly. I saw one woman who had a full backpack on and wondered what she might be carrying.

The course is three loops around the University, so there are a lot of turns. I kept hearing Ross’s voice telling me to downshift before making the turn, so I don’t waste so much energy getting back up to speed. There were a few times where having to steer around people and kept my hands away from the shifters, but I did it for most of the turns. I was happy that I was even able to stay in the aero bars part of the time while on crazy-cracked Euclid. It’s been a slow process, but I am becoming a decent bike handler. I had put a Nuun tablet and a bunch of ice cubes in my aero bottle, but the fluid was warm now and not super-refreshing. Still, hydration is hydration. The good news was that there was cloud cover, so I was spared the brunt of the sun. I hoped that it would stay that way for the run.

Transition Happens. Riveting, I know.

Run
20:50 | 3 miles | 6:56 min/mile
Age Group: 1/20
Overall: 16/279
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/338960149

Last year I had made the decision to carry a small hand-held bottle at this race, and it served me well. I could use my bottle to for hydration and pour all of the cold course water directly onto my head. I was feeling good about keeping the streak going, as long as the heat didn’t suck too much life out of me. There were some kids with water guns on the course, but I was next to another runner when I passed them, and he got the benefit of the soakage.   Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 9.25.09 PM

I saw my friend Pat taking pictures when I made a sharp turn at the east end of the mall, and tried to smile for the camera. The beep of the Garmin alerted said I knocked off my first mile in 6:45, which was much better than I was expecting. I didn’t feel like I was going too fast either, and felt that I could probably hold the pace. I was also passing people at a regular clip, which always makes things more fun. My friend Shannon, who was in the middle of Ironman training and not racing himself, was out cheering, which I appreciated. The second loop was more of the same, and I was almost worried that I didn’t feel worse. I mean, I was running hard, but maybe I was holding back? Mental DJ, cue Linkin Park. I bleed it out, digging deeper… 

The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds as I finished my second lap and headed toward the finish line. Ross was heading out for his run, and we high-fived. I crancked up the effort, but in reality, I wasn’t going that much faster. My heart rate shot up though, and it certainly felt worse.

I bleed it out
I’ve opened up these scars
I’ll make you face this
I’ve pulled myself so far
I’ll make you face… this… now!!!!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any chase-fodder to provide extra motivation. Still, when it was all over, I had completed my run almost a minute faster than I had in March, and came within one second of beating my official (short) time from that race. It was much better than I had expected to do, and I was thrilled. I also ended my Firecracker podium drought and by winning my age group.

Snapshot 1 (9-6-2013 8-31 PM)Final time: 1:11:43
Age Group: 1/19
Overall: 34/279

San Francisco Half Marathon (A Race to Love)

Racing opportunities thin out during the summer in southern Arizona, so I kept my eyes open for events in cooler locales. I had several friends who were heading up to the San Francisco Marathon and Half Marathon, and I decided to join them. My husband Ted and I volunteered to drive our fuel-efficient Hyundai Elantra and Keith and Monica were game to travel with us. We decided to break the 880-ish mile trip into two days with a stopover in Bakersfield.

We crammed ourselves, luggage, and a couple week’s worth of snacks into the car, and waved goodbye to hundred-degree temperatures for a few days. Before we even left town, we ended up doubling back for sunglasses and a cell phone (the names of the forgetful parties have been withheld). A harbinger of other things to come… Finally, we were on out way, and our GPS (hereafter referred to as Dot) was plugged in and ready to navigate.

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Driving was pretty uneventful for a while, which is a good thing. We broke into our snacks and talked about our goals for the race. Monica wanted to break two hours. Keith, who averages over a marathon a month, had set a PR of 3:01:18 a few weeks ago and was feeling good. Personally, I was just wanting to go under 1:45 (My PR is 1:40:03). I knew it was a hilly course, and my training had been very short-distance focused lately. I had met my goal of breaking 21 minutes in a 5K and simply looking forward to getting out of town and having fun. We stopped in Phoenix for lunch and took few more pit stops along the way. It’s funny, no matter how much food you pack for a trip, you always want to buy more. Monica bought some gummy octopi, which led to her sharing this video with all of us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=astISOttCQ0. Warning: Watch only if you like obnoxious things.

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Standing outside the General Patton museum at a California rest stop.

Keith brought his Sirius radio, and we listened to some classic rock and old school, “new wave” alternative music while it was sunny out. As night fell, our moods mellowed, and we dialed in Sirius XM Love. Easy 70’s tunes abounded, which was fine for everyone except Ted. Then it happened. The moment that set the tone for the rest of the trip. Minnie Ripperton. Loving you. Tweeting birds. La la la la! La la la la! La la la la la la la la la! Doo doo doo doo doo! And… ahh ahh ahh ahh ahh! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE0pwJ5PMDg Yes, we sang. And it sounded awful. Runner’s lungs are not necessarily singer’s lungs. Our vocal chords strained and sputtered. But there was lots and lots of love in the car, and we dubbed this the road trip of love to the city of love. We were still feeling it when we arrived at our Bakersfield Super 8 super late that night.

Keith, Monica, and I met in the morning for an easy five-miler before we hit the road again. It was slightly cooler than in Tucson, which was nice. After we hit the road, Keith handed us his iPhone so we could hook it up to the auxiliary, and Minnie’s high notes poured through the speakers. The miles rolled by, and I gave Dot the expo address and she dutifully took us to Treasure Island. We saw a marina with a lot of expensive boats, but nothing that looked like a convention center. Then I realized that I had chosen the wrong zip code. Oops. We made our way back over the bridge and right into the heart of downtown San Francisco. Dot did her best to guide us, but the GPS signal frequently got lost amid the tall buildings, so some of her instructions weren’t very timely.

We were about to give up on the expo for that day and just head to the motel, when we passed several people carrying marathon bags and saw the convention center. When we arrived, we decided to split up so we could each look at what we wanted to. I started searching my purse for my phone to make sure I had everyone’s number, and I couldn’t find it. I frantically emptied my whole purse on the floor,and it wasn’t there. This amused some people… Ted had his phone, so he was stuck with me for a while.

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Yeah… I keep a lot of stuff in there.

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To paraphrase Templeton the rat from the first animated Charlotte’s Web movie, the expo was a veritable smorgasbord, and I tried almost everything. Bars, snacks, bars, drinks, chews, bars… Apparel, massagers, hydration systems, and all the usual stuff was present. I ended up buying a Tiger Tail and some sunglasses. Keith, who is an Ambassador for the race, met up with his fellow Ambassadors at their booth. He was also interviewed by a local news station because he had been at the Boston Marathon. We also messed around at the TRX station. Photo ops abounded.

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Because Keith was an ambassador, he was invited to a special dinner at a Thai restaurant and we were able to come as guests. The food was delicious and plentiful. After dinner, we walked around by the waterfront. The Bay Bridge was lit up beautifully. I had brought my sweater, but I still felt chilly.

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We decided to drive around so we could see the Golden Gate bridge and get a feel for the course, which went right over it. When we turned around in the little park, the bottom of the car scraped on something, and one of the underguard thingamajigs came loose (are you overwhelmed by my automotive knowledge?). Ted and Keith wrestled with it for a while, and were eventually able to completely detach it. More Minnie was needed… Ah, feel the love.

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We spent the next day at the Expo, and then Ted, Monica, and I took a side trip to Sports Basement, where I scooped up some running and tri gear and Ted got a free beer. Then we stopped at Trader Joe’s for some lunch salads and more snacks. I ended up finding my phone in one of my other bags. Who knows why I had put it there instead of my purse.

We decided that it would be fun to go to Little Italy for our pre-race dinner, so we piled into the car (people who live in the area might be laughing at us right about now). All of the parking lots in the area were full. Roads were blocked off due to some kind of street fair. Dot sounded annoyed as she repeatedly told us she was “Recalculating.” Traffic was congested. Dot faded in and out, and gave us our directions after we had already passed the turns. We drove up and down some of those crazy, steep hills that you see in the movies. An hour and a half later, we returned to the motel and ate pizza at a place across the street. I ended up having a veggie pizza sub and a salad.

It was another really cold evening, and I was regretting not bringing warmer bottoms to the race. I decided to ask the front desk for trash bags, figuring I could wear them to keep warm before the start. The desk guy raised his eyebrows, but gave me the bags. Monica kindly gave me a pair of throwaway gloves and let me borrow one of her fleece jackets. I had at least had the foresight to bring some tube sock “arm warmers” to toss.

I set my alarm for 3:20 the next morning. Bruce and Terri, who are also from Tucson but were staying elsewhere, kindly offered to drive me and Keith to the start. Ted was going to drive Monica to her start because she was running the second half of the course and didn’t have to get up as early. Bruce and Terri were also having problems with their GPS, but we made our way to the start in plenty of time. Security looked through our bags, but it didn’t take very long. It was a cool morning, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. With my extra layers and garbage bag, I was completely fine.

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*******************Skip if you don’t care about potty stuff********************************

Being an Ambassador, Keith was able to wait inside a restaurant and drink nice beverages and use plumbed toilets. Meanwhile, I made my way to the port-o-potties, and thankfully didn’t have to wait in line. If you have read my other race reports, you might have picked up on the fact that when it comes to the solid stuff, I usually have to go early and go often. This morning, nothing. Not at the hotel. Not in the plastic blue facility. Not even after taking a caffeinated Clif shot. It must have been that pizza sub. I don’t normally eat white bread. I knew that white flour can be used to make paste. Add some gummy cheese, and well, you get the point.

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I put Monica’s fleece in my gear check bag and headed toward the second corral. The air was cool, but I was fine in my tank and arm warmers. I also chucked my trash bag. It was crowded at the beginning, but I didn’t have to weave too much. My mental DJ cued up Republica’s “Ready to Go”.

It’s a crack, I’m back yeah standing
On the rooftops shouting out,
Baby I’m ready to go!

Because I wasn’t feeling the need to be aggressive in this race, I was fine with a slow start. I hit the first mile mark in 8:16. We ran along the waterfront, which was beautiful. The next couple miles were just under 8 minutes, then in the 7:40 range. The aroma of sourdough permeated the air. There was a steep climb as we approached the bridge. Now, My Chemical Romance’s “Famous Last Words” coursed through my head. I am not afraid to keep on living… That mile was run in 8:36.

Now for the highlight of the course: running on the Golden Gate Bridge. While it was still crowded and I needed to make sure I didn’t crash into anyone, I made sure to look to the side from time to time and take in the view. I had discarded the “arm warmers” and gloves by this time. The air was cool, but it felt wonderful. I saw Keith making his way back across the bridge around mile seven. There was some gentle ascending and descending, but I didn’t feel like it made that much difference in my pace or effort. At the end of the bridge, we ran into the park for the turn-around and then ran back across. A live band played some classic southern-style rock. I was feeling really, really good and decided I’d try to push the pace a little. Cascada’s “San Francisco” was in my head now. I had recently taught it in RPM, and well, I was in San Francisco. At least “Loving You” did not make an appearance. 

19913_4294477140486_1286549467_nAfter leaving the bridge, we headed inland a bit. After a sharp ascent, there was a nice view of the houses below. Then it was time to fly down a long, steep hill.  The last couple of miles were more up and down, emphasis on the up. I was still feeling good, and cranked up my effort and started passing some people. I saw someone with a sign that said “Lauf, Micha, Lauf!” I speak a little bit of German, and pretended that the sign was specifically encouraging me to run.

264894_4294477260489_1691156455_nAs I approached the finish line, I was passed by one person, and I decided to see if I could reel him in. I dug in and went for it, and I got him. My chip time was 1:43:17, and I was really happy with it. Ted and Monica had been able to see everything from the sidelines and got some great shots.

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Behind the guy in gray…

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Not anymore

I met up with Ted and Monica and got my dry clothes at bag check. While the weather 1005875_3280320263584_1794908932_nhad been perfect for running, it was a bit cool for just standing around. I picked up some Greek yogurt at the finish, which was delicious. I appreciated that they provided something with some protein. Soon it was time for Monica to line up for the Second Half, and Ted a I took a long walk to the car and drove to the finish line. 

Keith finished his marathon in an impressive 3:03:49, while Monica was happy with her 2:06:12. Bruce gutted out a 4:55:32 for his fifth marathon this year. I never saw one of our other Tucson friends, Brian, on the trip, but I saw that he won his age group with a 1:23:46. I ended up seventh in my age group of 431, which was a pleasant surprise. We headed to Pizza Orgasmica for some post-race fueling. Was it as good as it sounds? A lady doesn’t eat and tell 😉

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After lunch, it was back into the car and we headed to Bakersfield. When we asked Dot to take us to a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended by a local, she led us to a cemetery. Tall buildings weren’t the problem this time, so we banished her to the glove box for the rest of trip. On the way home, we refueled at a Love’s (where else?) travel stop.

This race was one where I was able to simply enjoy being a runner. I came into it without any real expectations, pressure, or plans. I just let my body do what it felt like doing and enjoyed the moment. Sometimes the fact that running is a celebration of being healthy and alive can get lost in the splits and mileage logs. Any day that I can move on my own power in a new and beautiful place is a good day indeed.

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/329579065