Trails by Nature

 

Some thirty years ago, when I started running, I was running trails.  These were trails in the woods that were across the street from my home in my native state, New Jersey.  Being in the woods was an escape for me.  It was a chance to think.  It was a chance to get away from an abusive environment that I was captive in.  A sad consequence of this environment, my brother committed suicide.  September 16, 2016 will mark 30 years since I found him. Having no form of therapy, I turned to running.  My therapy was my running. Another sad consequence, I have eliminated from my life those who created this environment regardless of their biological link to me. The heart creates thin scabs that fall off once in a while, but the running continues.  And…I am stronger because of it.

The one thing that I take away from the environment I was raised in was that this biological donor was a cross country coach.  I remember going to meets and watching his athletes.  I remember listening to him coach them and thinking that I can do what he is telling them to do.  So I did.  In my healing, I found that the happiest I was happened to be when my feet were on the trails.  I did not have special shoes.  We could not afford them.  They wouldn’t be bought for me even if we did have the money. There were no hydration vests or fuel belts, they were not around yet.  I just ran.  My ankles would be caked in crud and filth from the earth that I ran over.  My legs showed the scratches from the wild blueberry bushes and fallen branches.  My heart grew lighter, my chest opened up, my shoulders got broad and I found myself, again.

Flash forward to Sunday, July 10, 2016 when I found myself loving every single inch of a trail run that I signed up for with Baytrail Runners.   The past few years, my focus has been on road running as I have been trying to qualify for Boston.  I have only tried three times to qualify (December 2013 (hit mile 20 in sub 3 hours but lost it at mile 22 – hip flexors), December 2014 (broke down early-bad pacing mistake) and November 2015 (sick with the flu)), but I can see how addictive it is to beat that last time or run the same race a year later, differently, thinking that the BQ is right there.  The truth is, it is downright hard to qualify.  My training runs are there and everything points to qualifying, but darn if that brick wall doesn’t show up at mile 22 and fall on top of me.

So here I am, eyeing my first 50k.  Okay, more information here….here I am eyeing my first 50k trail run!  [insert cheshire cat grin here]. This all started out so innocently.  I run trails at least twice a week and have been for years.  I am on hills a lot (2x a week). This is not something that I am just introducing myself to all over again.  I need the time away, the one-on-one time with the dirt and stones, where my office is.

My goals have NOT changed.  I am going to give that old BQ notion a shot again here soon, but for the next month, I am eating, breathing and sleeping trails.  We have to challenge ourselves to grow.  We have to face tough obstacles to test our mettle.  Believe me, what I endured in this lifetime is more than many can even imagine. Running 31ish miles is just another obstacle for me to take on.

I set a goal for myself to run a 50k by 50 years old.  I am running to support a friend who is celebrating her 40th birthday with a 50k.  I can’t think of another way to celebrate that milestone than to be there with her and to check off a bucket list item too.  A friend stated to me that it [running a 50k] is a slippery slope to the 50 mile, 100k and 100 mile.  Will I be writing a similar blog entry a year from now?  Who knows.  I know I can’t wait to find out.

If You Can’t be a Unicorn, be a Mermaid

It has been a while since I have written a blog entry.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that I am just so busy!  So much has happened since my entry in November.   After I healed my wounded spirit from my debacle at Revel Canyon and losing that elusive Unicorn somewhere on the course (well, it was actually at mile 16), I immersed myself in other things running related.  I even managed to land myself a job working with a very respected and wonderful race director for a women’s race series entitled, Mermaid Series.

Shortly before coming on board at Mermaid, I passed my RRCA (Road Runner’s Club of America) coaching certification.  That’s right folks…I am a certified coach now.  Not only can I share my almost 30 years experience as a runner with people, but I can do it with a certificate to back up what I have learned through years of running and through my course study.  Mermaid was icing on the triple layer cake!  mmmm, icing….

My focus is on group coaching.  I create training plans for the participants who sign up for Mermaid Series runs.  Many who run the Mermaid Series are new to running or are trying to gauge their abilities to move on to bigger races. My plans are tailored to the new runner.  I feel confident and comfortable talking to a newer runner and building their confidence levels.  Keeping these people in a positive frame of mind helps not only their training go smoothly, but it also is a big boost to see these athletes cross the finish line.  Perhaps that is my selfish pleasure, but, I love seeing them cross the finish!   Though I had a itty bitty part in that journey, I feel a sense of pride in watching them achieve their goal.  To say that I am “honored” to be a part of their journey is an understatement.   I share their passion and their enthusiasm.  I have finally found my groove and I am in this for the long haul.

With Mermaid, I have learned a lot about race production and am now focusing on getting my certification to be a Race Director.  For me to be a help to my RD, I need to know the industry and what is required.  Besides, Assistant Race Director really, really sounds good to me! Recently, I have been approached by an organization to design a race for them and to have this honor has just completely made me so excited.  I honestly can not find the right words to express how incredibly happy I am and what an honor it is to be considered an authority.  My passion about this crazy little sport of running is turning into a very lucrative thing for me.  Knowing that people believe in me and hold me in high regard is really very humbling and I am just without words.

In addition to my position at Mermaid, I have also been a taste agent for SkratchLabs.  This is my second year as a taste agent and I have managed to bring Skratch to our races as our means of hydrating our participants.  Knowing that I can keep our participants healthy while on the course from the inside out, gives me peace of mind.

Skratchlabs is not the only ambassadorship that I hold.  For the second year in a row, I am wearing the Ambassador hat for The San Francisco Marathon.  Representing my local marathon and being one of the faces of this very prestigious and beautiful race is truly a wonderful experience.  I have the pleasure of working with some really amazing and talented people.  The San Francisco Marathon is in just a few short weeks, three to be exact.  TSFM will be my 15th full marathon and comes close on the heels of celebrating the 10 year anniversary of my first full, Nike Women’s Marathon in 2006.

There is plenty going on in my world and every time I run, I think about what I should be writing, but it just never happens.  I find that it is easier to write on my Facebook page, I RUN California, about the daily motivation, inspiration, and perspiration in my world.

I am still chasing that Unicorn.  I just have the tail of a Mermaid to help propel me along.

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Game Changers and Learning Experiences

I am now three days post marathon and while I was fairly quiet about doing Revel Canyon leading up to it, I decided that after running that course, that I will NOT be doing CIM ( California International Marathon​)this year. I just deferred the 2015 race to 2016. My decision was based on the extreme forces that were put on my legs running Revel. I would not be able to recover quickly enough to “race” CIM the way I want to. Even if I ran CIM for the miles, I fear that I would risk injury. I have learned that no medal is worth the injury or the potential for injury. I know my body well enough that I really think that this emotional decoupling and ability to pull off this race was the best for me and my running future.

I will be running the Berkeley Half marathon as my last big race of the year. I will run a small 5k on Thanksgiving morning with my children. I will not be toeing another line until March. Berkeley will be run at a nice, gentle pace as I will only be two weeks post Revel. In December, I will ease back into training again for my favorite full marathon, the Napa Valley Marathon​. I will “race” Napa. There are only two marathons that I attempt a PR or even give my all at for the hope of a BQ. They are Napa and CIM. My body needs the gentle downhill course with the softer rolling hills for change in muscle work. I also need the cooler temperatures as I do not do well at all in temps higher than 65 degrees. Napa and CIM offer exactly the perfect environments for me to do what I think, is my best work.

I post this because it is important that you give yourself the chance to heal when you need to. I am here to validate you. I am also posting this because this is advice I would give to anyone. This is my attempt at leading by example.

To say that I am very disappointed in my results at Revel is an understatement. I trained very hard on this last training cycle for this race. My paces were where they needed to be for a PR and even if lucky, a BQ. I left that course without even as much as a PR. But, I am proof that regardless of how hard you train and regardless of what your watch says, if the body does not want to work, it won’t. Running Revel sick was not my intention, obviously. But it happened. I rallied and I did not give up. I had no idea that I would be dealing with a 2K+ gain either – that was a game changer. That mountain was a beast and I gave it everything I had. Believe me, I have been through so much more in my life – that mountain did not beat me – I still got off it and I got the earned medal to prove it. I also know that it may not be my race to run again. Does that make me miss out on a possible chance for a PR or a BQ on that course in the future? Maybe. But, I know beyond a doubt that I now know what my body can tolerate and what it can’t on a course. Maybe all is not a loss. Maybe I gained Personal Reflection (my new PR) on that course. Maybe it is true after all, every race you learn something different about yourself.

My Garmin results at a glance from Revel Canyon on 11/7/15:

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Revel Canyon City Recap

“What did you just do to us?”  “We are going to shrivel up and die!” “I will no longer support you!”  If my muscles could talk, I am sure that these are the things that I would be hearing from them right now.  Twenty four hours ago, I managed to bring my very tired, lactic acid filled body across the finish line of the Revel Canyon City Marathon.  I went into Revel thinking it was, as they state on their website, “a smooth downhill slope”. For the most part, yes, the race is exactly as it states.  It is a fast course.  So fast in fact, that I found myself forcing to slow down because the grade is so steep (approximately 5%) that the course will get away from you, if you are not careful.

I had the most amazing training cycle leading into this race.  My coach, a 7 time Boston Marathoner, accomplished marathoner, and intelligent runner/athlete worked on a plan designed specifically for me and what my strengths and weaknesses are.  I followed that plan to the letter.  Early on, we found that speed work was really not something that my body tolerates well.  I get injured quickly with speed work.  We adjusted and went more for hilly tempo runs, pace work, and long slow distance work that kept me within the minute to minute and a half race pace projection.   I trained on hills.  I had races and training runs where the hills were long descents and ascents to help my muscles acclimate to what I was about to endure.   My neighborhood is full of hills.  My days were spent working on core work, strength training, and making certain that I was strong enough to sustain 26.2 miles of pounding that a “net downhill” course can bring.

Based on Revel Canyon City’s description, this would appear to be a good race to get a BQ and a PR.  I combed through the site for months.  I read descriptions of the course.  I ran down the course virtually at least once a week.  I was going to be fully prepared.  I looked up reviews online.  Nothing ever came up about the hills that one faces at mile 16 and thereafter on this course.  Apparently, the end of the marathon was changed from the inaugural year, taking the participants up hill before turning them into Azusa Pacific College for their finish.

When I talk about hills on this course, I mean they are significant hills.  These are hills that go on for approximately a quarter to a half mile or more.  The first significant climb is right out the gate at about mile 2 where you are dumped onto hwy 39.  This was actually a nice break given that as soon as you cross the start, which by the way, nobody in the back realized the race had started.  There was no overhead announcement.  There was no National Anthem.  There was an announcement to put all our drop bags into the truck to be taken downhill, but nothing to announce that the race was beginning.  Unless you were in the front of the pack, you would have been completely unprepared for the gun, and many of us were.

At mile 2 there is a hair pin turn around where runners run up a hill after starting off on a fast down hill.  The change in muscles being used was a nice break on what would and could eventually harm runners who did not take care to slow themselves down.  Runners are still fairly high in altitude so the breathing started to get heavy at this point.  The hill is quick and over fast. It was a nice little reprieve. Runners are sent flying down the hill for another 11 miles of winding turns on a road that cambers to help with water run off.  This camber began its slow chew through my ankles and tendons of my feet.  My outer calves began to feel the stabilization work I was doing to keep myself centered.

I was running with my dear friend and coach, Jackie, from FitSparrow.  For the first few miles that we were together,  we kept checking in with each other knowing that we both wanted a BQ on this day.  We also had a understanding that if one needed to break away, the other would let that person go.  We run well together.  Our relationship is such that we understand each other without having to express much.  However, our mutual respect for one another keeps the communication open so that there is never a question or doubt.  Jackie had to separate from me, I went on without her wondering if I would see her again later on the course.  I had a lot of race left ahead of me.  She is pretty fast, so I anticipated her arrival.

At Mile 10 or so, after Jackie and I separated, I tucked in with the 3:45 pacer till about mile 16.  I asked her what to prepare for ahead because I had been warned that there were significant hills on the second half of the course that would make all my muscles feel like they had been slammed against a wall.  The pacer named Jen from Beast Pacing, was amazing.  Even at a 8:13 avg. pace, I was not winded, and could talk in complete sentences.  This shows me how fast the course is.  For example, just a week prior, I won my age group in a 5k and my average pace was 8:11.  I could barely talk when I got over that finish line.  I was having full conversations with my friend Jackie and the pacer for the first half of Revel.  I was told that at mile 13.5 there would be an uphill.  And there was. My half time was a solid 1:47:50.  I had built a beautiful 10 minute lead that I could work with.  I was trained to run and finish a 3:50 marathon.  All my pace work was solid.  All my training was solid.  I was running faster than pace in a lot of my training runs.  I was strong.  But mile 16 hit.  Mile 16 is a hill that comes out of nowhere and it is a solid climb.  The change in muscle groups that are used to try and climb this hill demolished all in our running group.  We had an accomplished marathoner who was aiming for a sub-3 hour marathon who fell apart at this mile due to the hill.  While she did finish the marathon in 3:18, a stellar performance by any standard, she also claimed that mile 16 and all the rolling hills thereafter were what finished her off.  It was also at about mile 16 when Jackie caught up with me.  She ran with me again for about 5 minutes, but I was struggling.  She went on ahead.  I kept her in my sights for a few miles.  Mile 20 was the last I saw her.

This course may be a net downhill, but there is absolutely nothing on the site that warns a participant to prepare for the work that lies ahead of them.  There is nothing on the site that talks about the hills on the second half.  They are the ones that are going to change your whole race.  I can not tell you enough how difficult it is to run a course downhill, monitoring your speed, making sure you are keeping your feet under you without overstriding, making sure you are not braking, making sure that your foot falls are light and quiet, for an entire half marathon.  All of that is happening while you are trying to keep your wits about you and then the course changes to an uphill trek.  It is like slamming on the brakes after going 100mph down the highway.  Physics work against you.  Your muscles are literally shredded.  When you try to run the downhill again, and there are more of them, you are hurting so badly that it is hard to take anymore steps.  You honestly can not believe that you find yourself walking on the downhill.  At least that is what I felt.  This course is not to be taken lightly or thought of as being easy.  You will be trashed.

At mile 20 there is another significant hill.  At this point, it became almost comical. The lack of mention of these hills in the later miles of the race left one completely unprepared.  I was resigned to the fact that I would not be getting that BQ.  I had watched my 10 minute lead dwindle and was now a 10 minute deficit.  To say that I felt defeated was an understatement.  That mountain took it all from me.  At mile 23, with 3:46 elapsed on my watch, I was in cellphone range and I managed to text my husband that the BQ was gone.  The PR was possibly gone as well.  It was at this time too, that I began feeling the cold that I had been battling for the last 48 hours.  My body was shutting down.  My walk breaks became longer.  I was no longer concerned about time.  I merely wanted off this course.  I was getting angry at the improper description of the course.  I was not angry with myself.  I gave it all.  I had nothing left to give.  I had the training.  There was nothing else I could train for.  I was strong, but now, I was broken down.

Mile 24 was flat, though still descending into the town of Azusa.  It was hard to run in a straight line by this point.  What would normally feel like a easy two mile run was now so hard to manage.  Each footfall had to be thought out and controlled.  The muscles in my legs were shutting down.  The last mile was uphill before turning into the finish.  Everything I had was left on that course.  There is absolutely nothing that I would have done differently.  It was not about going out too fast.  That was controlled and many of my pace runs were sub-8:30.  This course was a different beast altogether.

Runners exit the race through chutes filled with volunteers giving out water, a huge, and very heavy medal that is about as large as a teacup saucer, wet towels and food.  I was too exhausted to go through the food tents or take advantage of the beer garden.   With wobbly legs, I managed to get my drop bag and left the course.  But before I did, I noticed something I have never witnessed in the 12 marathons I have run prior to Revel.  I could not believe the number of people in the first aid tent and those collapsing around it.  There were collapsed wounded everywhere.

Revel is definitely a different race when compared to other road races out there.  However, if you are considering it, be fully warned that this race will trash your quads and all large muscle groups.  Your stabilizing muscles will be extremely sore.  You will feel muscles you never knew you had.   My review is based on my opinion and my experience.  Others ran the race and did obtain their PR and BQ.  But, they all echo that it was a different and very tough race.  I am not saying that a marathon is easy.  I am trying to convey that this one is beyond any other course I have ever run.  It is very technical.  There really is no way to train for something like this unless you are used to running downhill for significant periods of time (10+ miles) at a 3%-5% grade.  For now, I will let the bicycle enthusiasts keep claim of this course as their own.  In my humble opinion, this is not a road for runners.  The steepness and and the camber make it more conducive to a wonderful bike ride down the side of the mountain with scenery that is breathtaking. This runner won’t be going down that mountain again, unless I am in a car.

Thank You: From the Front of the Pack, To the Back

Amazing! Worth the re-blog because this sentiment never gets old.

Bad Angel Rules for Running

*Guest post*

The time has come for me to finally say thanks, to thank a lot of people I’ve been meaning to thank but haven’t had the courage. I want to say thanks for all the inspiration I got from the runners I’ve seen and talked with, but that I’ve never run with. Specifically, the people who doubted themselves in word, but inspired me through work.

This is my confession of thanks, from one runner in the front of the pack, to the runners in the back.

(Photo credit: Drew Reynolds http://www.drewreynolds.com) (Photo credit: Drew Reynolds http://www.drewreynolds.com)

This year was my second year training for the Chicago Marathon with Chicago Endurance Sports (“CES,” as we call it), an awesome group of people that run year-round training for all manner of races. And when I say all races, I mean it: they have groups for people just beginning running to complete their first 5K and for…

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Smaller is Better

I have really grown to love the small races. In particular, I love the Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5k that is put on each year in September. This race is located in Petaluma, California. Petaluma is a small town just north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. Known for its acres of farmlands and poultry industry, Petaluma is also a famous backdrop for movies. The movie, “American Graffiti”, put Petaluma on the big screen in 1973.

The Clo-Cow Half Marathon and 5k started 4 years ago in 2010. I was lucky enough to run the first year when it was called the Moo-Cow Half Marathon and 5k. I missed the second year due to injuries, but have subsequently run years three and four. The course is very challenging. It is not a course that you just go and do on a whim. You really must train for the hills. They are not little hills either and are rather sneaky in the way that they deceive the runner.

I have grown so comfortable with this race, that I do not even get the pre-race jitters any longer. I absolutely love every turn I take heading out to the farmlands and run with a huge smile on my face when I hit the down hills. I love taking the tangent of the curves on fresher legs while heading back into downtown Petaluma knowing that the funnest portion of the race still lay ahead.

Immediately after leaving historic downtown Petaluma, you are hit with a steady incline that leads you out to farmland. From there you are hit with a host of relentless, lactate threshold inducing hills. These hills are long and relentless with their slow inclines. You can see the course here: http://www.clocowhalf.com/#!course-info/c1xnv

Throughout the entire course there are many wonderful sights. The rolling hills of Petaluma are speckled with cows. You run by stables with horses. The course is filled with animals. They cheer for the runners with a steady percussion of moos, winnys, bleats, oinks, barks and whatever sound emus make – grunts??

This out and back course is full of wonderful volunteers. There are plenty of aid stations full of smiling volunteers ready to hand you a dixie cup of water or electrolyte replacement. Each volunteer wishes the runners well as they pass through. There is no shortage of encouragement.

The best miles to run on this course start at mile 7. From there it is all downhill. The fastest mile for me was and continues to be the last mile as the downhill works in my favor. Leg turnover is quick and light. Your legs are relieved that they are not taking the uphill beating that they were just a few miles before. Your final stretch is back through downtown Petaluma onto Kentucky Street where you finish in front of the famous McNear Building.

Chris Mason, the race director for Clo-Cow, puts on a great event. It is a relaxed race with a hometown feel. After a post-race hug from Clo, the Clover Stornetta mascot and namesake to the race, I shook Chris’ hand and thanked him for another wonderful year.

So long Clo-Cow 1/2 Marathon. I will see you in September.