Tuesday, September 11, 2012

San Francisco Marathon Recap Part 1

Because I love challenges and I love hills (yes, I'm a glutton for punishment) I gladly signed up for the San Francisco Marathon. I love San Francisco and all the different areas that the city offers plus it was deemed as a race "worth the hurt". My sister-in-law, her husband and my nephew live in the city and since we haven't seen them in a while, we decided to make a weekend of it. I found us a nice, dog-friendly hotel a short distance from the race start and we drove up the Friday beforehand.
Shameless self-portrait
(It's a good thing we went up north when we did because I would've never known that they're building another bridge next to the Bay Bridge). My brother-in-law's dad is the electrical engineer for the new bridge. The wiring is so complex!

We checked into our room right away and unpacked. I'm kind of obsessive about unpacking and making myself at home right away. Dinner can wait but the toiletries have to be all lined up on the sink!

Owen got busy with scoping out the view of the city. This crazy boy even slept in the most uncomfortable chair just so he could make sure he kept an eye on things.

Toiletries unpacked, I made my way to the hotel gym so I could get in a short, 2 mile easy run. We cleaned up and then met up with my sister-in-law and my cutie pie nephew. By the end of the weekend I had him saying "cheese and crackers" when he posed for photos. It's a good thing I left my potty mouth at home because this little guy is very impressionable.

Going for a walk

Jimmy and Marco
My sister-in-law, Itza and Emma

We walked around for a bit, chatted and met up with my brother-in-law for dinner. Part of the reason I love San Francisco so much is that the public transportation is so accessible. It takes 3 hours and 6 bus changes in LA to go across town.

Someone on the MUNI was getting the party started early but I wasn't invited

We headed on over to Tony's Pizza Napoletana in North Beach for dinner because I have an enormous wood-fired pizza obsession (and I Yelp everything). I could write an entire post about the pizza alone and how it's the bees knees and the left coast's answer to legendary pizza but I'll stick to the task at hand. (Have I mentioned before that the best thing about marathon training is the shameless carb-loading??)

After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel room to get some sleep. I typically don't sleep that well the night before the race so I try to get plenty of rest the week prior.

The next morning, we got up nice and early and took the dogs with us to an adorable cafe and bakery called La Boulange, which was a very short walk from our hotel. San Francisco is so dog friendly with lots of outdoor seating and patios. I had a piping hot bowl of oatmeal with fruit and a delicious cappuccino.

Afterward, we drove over to the race expo so I could pick up my race packet. I love love love race expos. I love the vibe and being surrounded by same-minded runner people who will also be suffering and exhiliarated in the next 24 hours. Jimmy thinks we're all crazy but loves the free samples I get at these expos.

Don't ask, Jimmy insisted I pose for this

We drove around the city a bit and then met up with our family again at Crissy Field for a mini picnic. The little guy had to get home for a nap so Jimmy and I drove around the city for a bit before heading back to our hotel room for a little nap. We met up with them again for an early dinner at Tommy's Joynt which was nothing fancy but it was cheap and I got a turkey sandwich on wheat with a side of fresh fruit. I was in bed by 9pm and had all my race day goodies laid out.

My excitement was building when it hit me I'd be running across this beauty!

We met up with our family again at Crissy Field for a mini picnic. The little guy had to get home for a nap so Jimmy and I drove around the city for a bit before heading back to our hotel room for a little nap. 

We met up with them again for an early dinner at Tommy's Joynt which was nothing fancy but it was cheap and I got a turkey sandwich on wheat with a side of fresh fruit.

On our way back to the hotel, we drove by the race start and I was so excited to see all of the race area set up!

Finish area under the Bay Bridge!

I get so excited when I see flashing red traffic lights due to marathon street closures and signs like this one:
This makes my heart race!

With that, I was in bed by 9pm (laying there atleast) and had all my race day goodies laid out.

To be continued...

Friday, August 31, 2012

City of Laguna Hills Memorial Day Half Marathon Recap

I seem to enjoy the pain and reward of hilly runs so I signed up for a half in Laguna Hills. I didn't have any plans for Memorial Day so I wanted to do something active.

I drove down to pickup my race packet a few days beforehand at Road Runner Sports in Laguna Hills and it was speedy and well organized. Fast forward to race morning and there was plenty of (free) parking at the Laguna Hills mall right next to the start line. I had lots of time to walk around and chat with other runners. The start area was very casual, there weren't any pace markers so we all got to start on time.

The course immediately goes through Leisure World (now known as Laguna Woods) and it was so cute to see all the elderly people sitting in front of their homes cheering for the runners.

The course had lots of rolling hills at the beginning and more once we reached the Aliso Creek Trail. I LOVED the course and how scenic it was.

Orange County is such a nice place to run and there were lots of trees, flowers and shade. There was a steep, cruel uphill portion at mile 13 which totally sucked but I pushed it hard because my Garmin said I was going to PR and I saw someone taking pictures.

I finished in 2:03:44 and couldn't have been happier! New PR!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pasadena Half Marathon Recap

I ran the Pasadena Half Marathon two weeks after the OC Marathon just for fun. I didn't have any preconceived notions about what time I'd finish it in and my husband, who is a firefighter, was working the marathon.

This race was the first one where I didn't feel nervous at the start, mainly because I got ample sleep at home and didn't have a finish time in mind. It's a good thing that I didn't have any goal set because right around mile 2, I had to use the porta potty with a fierce vengeance. Two minutes later, I was running again.

The route took us along the Colorado Street Bridge and near city hall and up Arroyo Blvd and the surrounding area where I do most of my training. When I looked at the course map, there was supposed to be an electrolyte drink somewhere near the Rosebowl but there was only water. I was so thirsty and it was pretty warm on the course that day.

I didn't die, but I had a massive headache two hours after the race and threw up. I still had a good time in retrospect. I finished in 2:09:27 and when I checked my Garmin, it would've been 2:07:18 without the bathroom break.

Post-race compression legs up

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My First Marathon!

I put a marathon on my list of New Year's resolutions for this year and signed up for the OC Marathon based on its location, beautiful views and relatively flat course for this newbie. My friend, Brian, also signed up for it and the 16 weeks of training it would entail.

Jimmy, Brian and I booked a hotel room near the start and arrived the day before the race to get our race packet and walk around the expo. We were in and out in no time and I ran into another friend who was running the half marathon while I was there.

I was super nervous in the days leading up to the race and I have to admit that the taper made me more anxious because I felt like I was losing my fitness or something. As the day before the race led into evening, we all went out for a nice carb load dinner at the Cheesecake Factory at Newport Fashion Island. I had a chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato and a plain side salad. I didn't want to risk any stomach upset come race day. After dinner we all headed back to the room and slept early. My worries and nightmares about oversleeping for the race start kept me from getting a full night's sleep so I was up and about at 3:30am munching on a bagel with honey while everyone else slept. My friend and I hopped on the shuttle to race start and got situated in our corral at about 4:30am. Originally when I signed up for the race I had no idea what my finish time would be so I put down 5:30. Based on my prior two half marathons and training runs, I knew I could come closer to 4:30 or 4:45 so I lined up in an earlier corral. The start area was nice and wide and everyone had plenty of room to stretch and there were lots of porta potties. There was a bit of a delay to the 5:30am start, but before I knew my friend and I were running and my nerves seemed to settle a bit because I was so excited to finally be doing this. I was in a sort of fog of disbelief. All these weeks of training and proper eating and hydration were all coming to a crescendo at the marathon. I was so entranced in the run and how pretty the course was that I didn't turn on my iPod until about mile 3 and that's where Brian and I parted ways. He had some stomach issues so I continued ahead. I was so happily surprised at all the spectators out cheering this early in the morning. There was such great crowd support at this event and I found myself muting my iPod so I could hear the cowbells and cheers. I couldn't have asked for more perfect weather either, low 60's and overcast through mile 22.

I was touched when two soldiers who were running with backpacks came upon the Vietnam soldier statue in Castaway Park and stopped to pay their respects as did another runner. So awesome.

I took a GU at mile 10 and another at mile 14 and I think something was wrong with the second GU because it tasted off. It was kinda gritty and I totally gagged but finished the pack anyway. In hindsight, that was probably a big mistake. I had bouts of nausea throughout the rest of the race and didn't eat another GU either. I alternated water and Gatorade at each aid station and I knew it wasn't enough but the thought of ingesting another nasty GU packet completely discouraged me.

I reached the OC Performing Arts complex around mile 16 and knew that my husband would be waiting for me at South Coast Plaza so I picked up the pace a little.

I was so happy to see him out there and yelled, "I'm doing this!" I don't know why, I must have been in a bit of a stupor. He said I looked good and checked his watched and thought I'd kick major butt for the rest of the race. Little did I know that my early speed (half marathon time was 2:04:07) and lack of glycogen would contribute to my struggles later. When I reached mile 21 I was still feeling pretty energized but nauseous. There was a cheer area with the Area 21 aliens that made me laugh.

Area 21 aliens
That kept me smiling until mile 22 when I wanted to stop and cry. My legs felt like lead bricks and I felt like I was swinging my arms but not going forward. I looked around and there were alot of other runners struggling too so atleast I wasn't alone in my agony. My hips were hurting, my knees felt like they were hit by a hammer and I really wanted to go #2. I knew if I stopped to walk, I wouldn't be able to get going again and all I wanted to do was get to the finish line for my medal. I went through a whole string of emotions, an emotional roller coaster if you will. I thought I had to be psychotic to be doing this. Why am I doing this to myself? Why had I signed up for Long Beach AND Surf City before running this first? WHY? WHY? WHY? I got choked up with a few tears at one point and then found my happy place again when I realized I was really doing this thing! How many people did I know who could do this? I kept telling myself that while you're healthy and capable, you need to do this because there will be a day when you're old where you wish you could do this! I told myself that I was in the best shape of my life and that nothing could be harder than this...ever. Ever curb I had to jump onto was pure pain but I just kept listening to the crowds in front of their homes and taking their time to cheer for strangers. I was so happy to see them and felt like they were just for me, my personal cheering squad. At mile 23, I caught up to a girl with a sign pinned to the back of her shirt that said, "there will be days when you don't think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have." I've stared at that exact same quote on my desk for the months leading up to the marathon and took this sign as a personal message to me to suck it up and keep running. At mile 25 along Fairview Rd, I saw my parents and their dog, Snickers, cheering for me! I tried to make it look fast so they felt that the drive out was worth their time. I can't promise that I looked fast but my dad said that I looked like I wasn't suffering as much as some others. He also told me at the finish that he couldn't believe this many people paid to do this. When I got closer to the finish, I saw a guy who already had his medal high-fiving the runners as they passed and I planted a firm high-five. It was all the extra oomph I needed to keep running. I saw my husband at the finish area and couldn't wait to cross the line so I could stop.

When he asked me how it was I told him it was the hardest thing I'd ever done but I'd do it again. I felt a bit lightheaded but I couldn't eat anything so I laid down for a few minutes on the grass before taking a few bites of a pb&j sandwich. Brian finished a few minutes behind me and he had his own struggles. We reunited and drove home where I took the best shower ever and a two hour nap! I woke up hungry and finally ready to eat!

I finished the marathon in 4:33:53 and was very happy with that even though I wish I never hit the wall. I took this as a learning experience and learned so much about myself in the process.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Inaugural Hollywood Half Marathon Recap

I signed up for the Inaugural Hollywood Half Marathon in hopes of achieving a 2:00:00 PR because it HAD TO BE a faster course than Agoura Hills and 6 minutes isn't THAT much, right? Wrong!! 

My friend, Brian,  and I at race packet pickup
Being a newbie to the half marathon scene, I thought it would be an easily attainable goal. I failed to look at the elevation profile for the course and although I enjoyed a PR, I thought I could shave a hefty 6 minutes off my time. The course was alot more challenging than I expected and although I banked some minutes in the early part of the race, I peetered out a bit when I hit the long, gradual hills along  Highland Ave and Cahuenga Blvd. Every street seems flatter in the car! How did I not notice these hills before when I've lived in LA my whole life?? My motivation for powering up the Cahuenga hill was not finishing behind a guy wearing tight, onesie pajamas with spacemen on them who was wearing a helmet.

Isn't that a gorgeous medal?
The course was an out and back which I didn't care for too much and there wasn't a whole lot of crowd support. The volunteers were friendly but at one point they ran out of cups for water at the aid stations so I cupped my hands and a volunteer poured it for me. No biggie. I didn't let it ruin my run. 

PR happiness
After the race I found my friend, Brian, and a couple of coworkers who also ran the race and grabbed an iced tea from Starbucks at CityWalk which was packed! We got out of there before it got too hot and had no traffic getting back to the freeway. It was a fun, high energy race with lots of costumed runners, but the course itself wasn't much to look at. Mentally, the out and back course kept me wondering how much further I had to go before I reached the turn around point which wasn't fun.

I didn't hit my 2:00:00 PR but I did finish in 2:04:38 which meant it was a new PR and only my second half ever! 

The Great Race of Agoura Hills (Pacific Half Marathon) Recap

The Great Race of Agoura Hills was my first half marathon and I signed up for it in preparation for the OC Marathon. I wanted to work out all my nutrition needs and get over the prerace jitters in a practice race. 

My husband and I drove over to Agoura Hills the day before the race to pick up my race packet and goodies. There was a group discount at the Sheraton which wasn't too far from the race start so we thought we'd make a mini trip out of it. 

Agoura Hills and the surrounding areas are so charming. I love the wide open spaces, the lack of hustle and bustle and the general friendliness of the community. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the chaos of LA. 

One of the many signs advertising the event in the city
I picked up my race packet right when the expo opened and we met a friend who lives out there who we hadn't seen in a while for lunch. Chatting and relaxing the day beforehand helped calm my nerves because this was my first race of this distance and to be honest, I was pretty nervous!

Race bag schwag!
I made a point of heading to bed early because I knew I'd spend much of the night tossing and turning, but atleast I'd be horizontal. I woke up around 3:30am to have a bagel with honey and to have time to digest it and then went back to sleep for a little bit.

I boarded the shuttle from the hotel to the race start about an hour before it began and chatted with some very nice ladies who were also running their first half marathon. It was dark for a while but the sun came up over Paramount Ranch, the movie set for many western films. Before I knew it we were casually lining up and then the gun went off! The weather was a cool 50 degrees at the start with some light mist but I prefer the cold over the heat any day! The Pacific Half course, which is a road course, is quite challenging with lots of long, gradual uphills. I was so happy that I made hill repeats a part of my training! There weren't alot of spectators along the course, but there were plenty of cheerful volunteers at the water stations. There was no shortage of water, electrolyte drink or energy gels. There were also lots of porta potties all along the course with no lines. The course takes you through all sorts of roads winding through the Santa Monica mountains, Malibou Lake, Old Agoura and by some of the prettiest homes you've ever seen. 

Totally geeky double-thumbs up

I ran better than I thought possible even though my nerves were a wreck at the start. I finished the race and was pretty tired but so ecstatic that I did it! My husband was so proud of me and I was so happy to see him at the finish line. The finish area at Chumash Park was bustling with excitement. There were so many breakfast foods to choose from but all the lines were too long for me so I grabbed an FRS drink and a banana before heading out to the car. 

I finished the race in 2:06:31 and had a smile on my face for the rest of the weekend! This is definitely a pretty course with all of the history of the area and backdrop of the Santa Monica mountains. It's challenging but with a little preparation, I think it's a great race with a small town feel.