Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nike Womens' Marathon Half 2009 Report

Another day, another race report ...

2009 charm in upper left

This is going to be easy because mostly I can say "see last year" or "see the year before" about -- well, just about the whole thing.

Anita and I both made it through the lottery this year and decided that even though we had just run the full Chicago Marathon, we'd run the Nike Half a week later. Maybe a little too enthusiastic but you have to remember that all this registration took place before last spring when life was a bit simpler all around. Our goal was to enjoy the scenery, walk the hills, laugh at the crowds, have a good time and get the necklace.

We decided to go to the Expotique on Thursday night, their so-called "ladies night" and get it out of the way. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes we got to enter the big tent in Union Square. Packet pickup went very smoothly, then we continued into the even more crowded main tent. They had the usual things inside like the Nike+ tie-in, shoe sampling, manicures and oxygen bar. Outside were samples of cereal, chocolate, Luna bars and the free food and drink. We had a glass of wine and some nibbles, wandered around a while and went across the street to see what clothes were for sale this year.

Last year I was able to buy a couple of tops because I was at my lowest weight since I'd started running 10 years ago. This year I wasn't quite so lucky. I lusted after the race-branded shirts and jackets since they were in my colors of black and red. Very nice. But very small. C'mon Nike! How many times do I have to rant about this? This particular race is directed toward newbie runners and walkers training with Team in Training. Many of the women doing the race are completely out of shape and very big and this will be their only race -- ever! They want to buy a shirt and a jacket and a sweatshirt and nuh uh. Nothing for them, they're too big to wear Nike clothes. Even one of the Nike saleswomen couldn't have fit into those tops (she kept apologizing to all the women trying on the tops and putting them back on the racks). I ended up buying another running cap to add to my (really big) collection - at least I got something in my colors!

Sunday morning I met Anita at the Rockridge BART station and we headed to the City. Sadly we're both completely hopeless with directions. Luckily we managed to find the parking lot. Very luckily since my stomach wasn't feeling very well and I didn't want to have to stop on the side of the road. Sorry, TMI. We got on the very warm comfortable bus and got to the start area well before the crowds arrived.

It was such a change from our previous Sunday morning; 30 degrees warmer! I don't normally find standing around in 60 degrees very warm but this time was ok. We had worn our matching tops that we hadn't been able to wear in Chicago and sleeveless was a little chilly for hanging out. I decided not to bother with a poncho since I'd just toss it as soon as we started running. I did keep my gloves and was glad I did.

We checked our gear, hit the porta potties a few times and found our corral. We lined up in the one that went to 11:59 since we didn't plan to walk in the first mile until it thinned out and that's about our normal running pace. We waited, waited, waited. While there we chatted with a group of women who were from Chicago and who had run a bunch of other races. We checked our watches and knew the race had started but were standing still 15 minutes later.

I think it took a good 20-25 minutes to finally cross the start and it was just like last year (well, like all the years I've done this race) with people seeding themselves improperly. Since we were in no hurry we tried not to do too much bobbing and weaving but it was impossible. We ended up darting and dashing for almost the whole race, even when we were ourselves walking.

It was apparent very quickly that I was tired and didn't have too much to offer. I tried to make our walk breaks regular but with the crowds that wasn't easy. Once the hills started I gave it up and we ran when I could and walked the rest. We ended up walking way more than I had hoped. I may say before a race that I don't care when I finish but in real life I do care. Once I get in a race I want to have a good performance. Hell, it's a race!

My worst moment was at about the 6 mile mark when the wide flat road thinned to go up the hill. People were packed in like sardines, in front, on both sides and behind us. I was watching the women next to me who were moving over and totally missed the foot tall barrier pole directly in front of me. I tripped on it, kicked myself in the leg (talented!), started to fly and only Anita's grip on my arm help me stay upright. Ow. OW! This was not my plan for the day, to bruise my leg and wrench my back before the hills even began.

We walked up the hill, along with almost every single other person there. What, does nobody run hills during that race? I feel very sorry for the 2 or 3 people trying to run around the plodding crowds. We were walking and still passing a majority of the other people.

The great views we're used to weren't there. The fog was in and the bay scenery was absent. Too bad for the people hoping for photo ops of the Golden Gate Bridge; all that was visible was one of the lower pilings. It also meant that the fog was coming in, not a problem while we were running but it got a bit chilly when we walked. It was, however, a great weather day for a race: not too cold, not too hot, not too windy, not too sunny.

Blah blah walk walk run run whine walk. See last year and the year before for descriptions of the water stations, crowd support, food and drink - it was the same again. We walked more and more as the race went on because I was exhausted. My breathing was as bad as it had been in Chicago so we just decided to take our time. I felt awful since it looked like Anita could run the whole thing very comfortably and I was holding her back. She insisted that she was happy to stay with me so I just shut up about it.

We did have fun crowd watching, looking at what we could see of the views, searching for bison in the park, walking, eating chocolate (they had plenty this year), chatting. We ran some but very little until the last mile when it flattened out again. As we turned the corner toward the finish I told Anita to take off for her patented sprint but she stayed with me and we crossed the finish together, smiling.

We got our little blue boxes from the tuxedo'd firemen, got our timing chip-thing removed, got a space blanket, a bottle of water, then our shirts. The necklace this year had a very fine short chain with a square charm. The front says "Run Like A Girl" and the back says "NWM SF 2009." The shirts were very similar to the shirts given out at Chicago the week before, the same cut and fabric, with one exception - they had XXL so even with Nike-sizing it was a decent fit. The color was another blue, this one more turquoise than Chicago's.

like usual, my camera doesn't reflect the real colors

Instead of the little blue Tiffany bag we'd gotten in the past, this year the major sponsor Safeway distributed a reusable shopping bag with their own and the race logos. It was very nice, held everything we needed it to hold. There was a different cereal sponsor this year but they still had the cups of yogurt/cereal/fruit. We grabbed that (and then threw it out because it didn't taste good) and headed to the bus to grab our checked stuff since it was getting cold.

The bag check and retrieval was very efficient again this year and we threw our warm duds back on then tried to find the bus line. It was long. Very long, winding back and forth and hither and yon and we started to freeze. An hour later (no, this is not an exaggeration) when we got to the bus my feet were numb, my fingers were numb, my lips purple and I was shivering. That was my excuse when we finally got back to the parking lot and were walking toward my car. We found the car, arrowed that way aaaaaand ... I tripped on the only freaking rock in the entire parking lot. Once again I managed to not fall but I twisted my back again. I shouldn't be let out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Late review: Chicago Marathon 2009

Yes, I do {heart} Chicago!

If a blogger runs a race and doesn't write about it, does that mean she didn't run?

Way back in February I had grandiose plans for the Chicago Marathon. A large group of us registered for the race the day it opened (hurry! it might sell out! do it now!). We made our hotel reservations, dinner reservations (yes, in February) and then flight reservations once they became available. Although I hadn't yet started running because I was too tired from century training, I knew that come October I'd be in tip-top shape, running fast and easy. I didn't know if I could PR but I planned on being close.

Then, as usually happens with good intentions, life intruded. My training was hit and miss. I had scheduled many runs in the 13-16 mile range so that distance would be comfortable; that was the only thing that made running a marathon possible. My during-the-week training was a joke and there were weeks when I only ran our long weekend run. In addition to all the family drama I faced blazing heat, smog and smoke and then a thunderstorm. I tried, and for the most part succeeded, to show up for each weekend run. They were my outlet and my therapy and without Bree and Anita I would have been lost. We laughed, cried and counseled each other and made the miles fly by.

Our 18 miler was a tough run because of the heat, mid-90s when we finished. The 20 miler was the best run of the year, despite the thunder and lightning and rain. My little mishap during the scheduled 22 miler turned the run into a limping 19 miler. I knew by that point I wasn't going to have the greatest marathon ever but I was certain that if I stuck with the plan I'd finish well with mostly even splits.

In 2007 it was so hot during the race that the Chicago Marathon shut down mid-way and pulled runners, those who hadn't collapsed, from the course. It was another hot race in 2008. We had prepared to run in shorts and tanks and weren't prepared for the blast of arctic cold that descended on Chicago this year. I packed for the cold, bringing tights, a long sleeved shirt, gloves, jacket and extra buffs. It wasn't enough so at the expo I also bought one of the cheap throwaway tyvek jackets and an ear warmer that I also wouldn't mind throwing at the side of the road. I ended up wearing running tights, the long sleeved tech shirt, the throwaway jacket, throwaway gloves, throwaway ear warmers, a buff around my neck and another around my wrist. I knew I'd be warm through my core but was afraid of my extremities.

We were frozen waiting at the start. After my last huge run, New York in 2007, I was afraid of what the start would be like. I'm not great in big crowds, getting a little claustrophobic. But this actually went pretty well. I thought there were enough portapotties and the lines moved quickly enough. The gear check seemed to be very organized and quite easy to get to. The corrals were a little harder to deal with, especially close to starting time when every single person decided they'd be the last person to enter. It was hard for people to squeeze into the faster areas and it wasn't very clear where all the pacers were. But we spotted ourselves just behind the 5:30 pacer and waited to start. It was freezing; my teeth chattered and my fingers were numb.

I stood in line with Bree, Anita and Sandy. We didn't see any of the others, they had left the hotel later than we had and in that crowd it would have been amazing to find anyone. My plan was to start out steady, running about a 12:15 pace. I planned to continue with the 4:1 run:walk since we had trained that way, but to not start walking until 14 minutes so that we wouldn't get run over by the crowd. I thought that running the entire first mile might thin things out a bit. Ha.

It finally turned 7:30 am and the gun went off. I think (we were too far back to be sure). It took us about 25 minutes to creep up to the start line. We crossed, started running, and never saw Anita and Sandy again until the race was over. They never looked over their shoulders to see how far back we were and we absolutely weren't going to try to catch up.

It was very crowded and hard to run at any set pace. It was slow down, side step, stagger, run, speed up, speed faster, halt, side step, repeat. Like usual people hadn't seeded themselves in the right place. Hell, we were passing people right and left and we weren't going as fast as our placement would have put us. For several miles we dashed and darted and probably wasted more energy going sideways than we did going forward. We kept up the 4:1 and were going strong through mile 11 or so.

It was amusing (and not a little annoying) that at one point we were being squeezed in by 2 very large pace groups; the 5:30 on one side and the 5:45 on the other. We had seen that both groups crossed the start at very much the same time, so either one was going too fast or the other too slow or maybe a bit of both. But one group was doing a 2:1 run:walk and kept passing us then slamming on the brakes right in front of us. We tried to drop them a few times and finally got away from them. I don't even know if they were ahead or behind, just no longer near us.

With this big of a crowd you expect some pain-in-the-ass people and this race didn't disappoint. My pet peeves during races (or even just on a trail) are runners not paying attention to their surroundings, people not glancing around before darting in front, people pushing and people who take walk breaks coming to almost a halt without moving to the side. With all those and more it was surprising that I wasn't cranky or crabby or mean. I rolled my eyes several times at idiots and muttered obscenities to Bree a few times, but mostly I just went with the flow. I didn't want to waste energy on jerks.

We started slowing down when we were getting close to the half marathon distance and I told Bree that maybe after mile 14 we should switch to a 3:2. She happily agreed and we continued on. Despite that, our paces were too different and before mile 15 I went ahead. I went back to 4:1 and continued with it until, I think, about mile 20. At that point the freezing air in my lungs really started to get to me. I know my form was off from the cold and that tired me also.

Yes, late morning and it was still only in the mid-30s outside. There was a steady breeze making the wind chill factor even colder. Once in a while the sun would pop out but mostly it was overcast. Cold and gray. Brrrr. I had shed my jacket at about mile 10 and threw it away at about mile 15. I alternated with gloves and bare fingers, sometimes one hand covered and one not. I didn't throw the gloves away and wore them continually for most of the last hour I was out there. I never removed my ear warmers and didn't feel that I needed to. The only problem was when I tried to wear sunglasses; my hot breath and the cold air fogged them right up.

Although I had slowed waaaaay down, at about mile 20 I figured that if I kept vaguely on pace I could finish under 6 hours. It became a goal to me to try to keep my time under 15 minute miles and that mean very little walking, except the regular breaks. I was sucking air so badly that I finally stopped regular breaks and just ran until I was gasping and walked until I my breath calmed. I came down with a lovely case of marathon brain and amused myself trying to figure out math and times and speeds. After every walk I'd re-calculate my time and for some reason at mile 24 I still thought I'd break 6. Then I realized that I must have hit the split button on my watch at a wrong time and that I'd have to run mile 26 in 9:30. Heh. Not likely. Then I realized that I had also forgotten to calculate in the .2 mile at the end. Crap. Then I saw that huge mountain leading up to the 26 mile marker and decided that walking was fine until the top (ok, it was a little hill, but it looked like Mt. Diablo to me).

I made it to the top, not even bothering to smile at the photographers like I usually do, and decided to "power" in the last .2 stretch. Despite "sprinting" there were many people who passed me there. I ran as hard as I could, gasping and wheezing, and crossed the finish line at about 6:04. Better than the 6:15 I had expected before starting but not as good as the 5:59 I had hoped for. Nevertheless, as my first marathon in almost 2 years, it was an emotional finish.

I got my mylar blanket and my medal, had my chip removed, and staggered forward. I got a bottle of water, a dry bagel (yuck), a banana and there might have been some chips offered. I was supposed to meet the girls at the beer tent and imagine my surprise when the "tent" was a table set up right after the food, before the baggage tent. Sandy and Anita were waiting for me and one of the beer fellows urged me to take a beer and rehydrate. Being the compliant type I did just that. I steadied my breathing, tried to stretch and almost fell over. Instead, I took my beer over to the nearest curb and plopped myself down while we waited for Bree to cross the line.

During the race there were aid stations at about 1 mile apart; a couple of places it was longer but they were frequent and well supplied. There was water and some electrolyte drink (maybe Gatorade?) at every station. Most of them had a couple of portapotties and a first aid tent also. The volunteers were, in a word, incredible. There were tons of them in that freezing air, friendly and encouraging and helpful. Lots of races have lots of volunteers but these were the nicest ones I'd ever seen. Gu was distributed at one later station and people along the course offered various fruits and candies and waters. And beer, don't forget that (yes, I did have a couple of sips of that, thank you very much). Even late in the race there were plenty of spectators cheering and supporting the runners (and walkers).

Retrieving our bags went smoothly but remember, we were among the last several thousand of people to get there. It's possible that people finishing in the 3-5 hour range would have had more trouble. Even there the volunteers were friendly and helpful.

After the race I was tired and a bit sore, but elated that I had finished. I was stiff and didn't know if that was because I was still so cold. My lungs hurt more than anything else but I had expected that. My knees felt fine and my back felt fine; I had been worried that the injuries last year would complicate matters but luckily, no. Nothing recently has felt as good as my 20 minutes under a hot shower after the race. It would have been even longer but I needed to collapse on the bed and eat something.

To finish this up backward, the expo was incredible. We took the shuttle bus Friday afternoon and it took forever to get there, damn Chicago rush hour holiday weekend getaway traffic! Due to that we had about 40 minutes to get our stuff and go line up for the return shuttle. We decided we'd have to go back on Saturday and spend time then. It was very quick to get our numbers but then we had to hike through the entire expo to get our shirts, located at the back. I wasn't excited by the shirt. It was a lovely blue tech short sleeve top, but Nike-sized. I think I've stated my preference here for looser tops. And my utter hatred for tight, form-fitting woman-specific race shirts that Nike keeps producing. Yo Nike: not every runner is built like a "runner" and not every runner who is built like a runner likes tight clingy clothes. Sheesh. At least offer a XXL for those of us who like loose shirts.

The cap-sleeved girly shirt, with goody bag contents

Anyhoo, we stopped and bought the throw-away jackets because I've seen that company run out in the past. We also stopped at the area with the marathon-branded clothes and other stuff since I've seen those run out in the past too. I got a nice running hat to add to my collection and a long sleeved top and we left.

Saturday we returned early and since it was so empty we realized how utterly huge the expo was. I'm not certain but I think it had more space and more vendors than the New York expo. Anything running-related and lots of things not running-related could be purchased there. Despite my very good intentions I ended up spending some money. My favorite purchase is perversely something I hope I never have any use for: a knee-specific ice pack from Moji. It not only ices, it compresses. Unlike my dependable frozen corn, you can move around while using it. I tried it on and it felt wonderful, even though my knee wasn't hurting. I wish I had had it when I tumbled during our Alameda run. In fact, I wish I had had one for each knee. I bought a second liner so that I could switch off while one freezes. Again, I hope I wasted money on it and that I never need it.

We all did our part in supporting the vendors at the expo. In addition, I was amazed at how much loot we got for free. The official goody bag didn't have much, but we got tons of other stuff. Considering there were about 35,000 runners and many of them had family and friends attending the expo, there was a lot of swag given out. Below is my haul and remember, I didn't take lots of things I knew I wouldn't use.

freebies, including my favorite yogurt

more freebies

the rest of the swag

Will I run this marathon again? Probably not. If I didn't want to run so many many other fall marathons I would definitely consider a re-run. The race was very well produced, the course interesting, the route fast and easy (comparably), the volunteers fabulous and Chicago is a great city.

Will I run any other marathon? Oh HELL yeah! Despite the cold, despite my lungs, despite my pitiful training regimen, despite the exhaustion, I love running marathons. I would like to improve my condition so that the end isn't so tough and I want to return to the old 9:1 interval, but I want to keep racing. Planning is tough right now; I know I could, at any time, have to rush out and take care of my mom since she's my priority. My spring goal race is Vermont (yes, because of the bears!) but I'd like to run 1 or 2 in-between. I'll let you know as soon as I know!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

... and by the way

I finished the Chicago Marathon, I really did. I just haven't gotten around to writing about it (although I will, soon). The short version is that I had a good day. I was mostly able to stick with my plan and ended up finishing more than 10 minutes faster than expected (and 4 minutes slower than hoped for). This ended up being the coldest full marathon I've ever run and it reinforced the reason why I moved from Michigan after college: I truly hate being cold.

The weekend in Chicago with my friends was wonderful. It was relaxing and interesting and fun and expensive. My head has been spinning since I returned, real life intruding as it always does.

Except for the Nike Half Marathon this weekend I have no concrete plans for my next runs. There are races I very badly want to run but right now my schedule isn't my own to plan. I'm superstitiously afraid to register for anything in advance right now because I ended up canceling every plan this summer. I don't want to waste money and I don't want to raise my excitement level and then get shot down. I also feel incredibly guilty planning any time away from my mom, and guilty relying on my brother to take care of her while I play. So the future now is a gigantic blank slate. I guess I'll fill it in on a daily basis.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Are we there yet?

Tick tick tick tick. I'm ready to go, set to run, eager to get the hellouttahere. Counting down the days to leaving: 4. Counting down the days to the marathon: 6. Counting down the days to driving myself insane: -2.

We had a great taper run on Saturday. Bree, Anita and I met in the cool autumn air at the Lafayette-Moraga Trail for a planned 6 miler. I was afraid to do more than that because I'm still feeling the effects of the fall and didn't want to risk hurting myself more. It went quite well, despite a twinge (ok, a pain) or two in my knees. We walked a little and I determined that running hurt less, so we went back to our run:walk. As usual on the L-M Trail we did negative splits - gotta love that downgrade return trip.

We've been (obsessively) checking the weather forecast for the race and we really should just stop looking until Thursday, it's been changing that much. One thing is almost certain, or as certain as weather forecasting ever gets: it will be much cooler there this year than it has the previous two. In fact, we might not be able to wear our matching sleeveless tops. The current forecast (there I go, looking anyway) shows it might not even get out of the 40s. Perfect running weather but not for a tank top. If the rain prediction gets higher than 50% again we might even have to wear long sleeves. Rain hurts!

I've been doing my visualization that I always do before a race but I've added a little something. I hope that picturing myself not toppling over will help me stay on my feet. Falling in front of 40,000 other runners would be much more embarrassing that falling in front of two friends and a couple of fishermen. But the majority of my visualization has me comfortably running miles 20-26.2, speeding across the finish line, feeling great.

And heading straight for the beer tent.

Friday, October 2, 2009

LIVESTRONG Day - Spread the Word

An Open Email from Lance Armstrong:

I had a pre-existing condition

Today is LIVESTRONG Day. Thirteen years ago today, my doctor told me I had advanced testicular cancer. What most people don’t know is that at the time, I didn’t have health insurance. In the following weeks, I received letter after letter from the insurance company refusing to pay for my treatment. I was fighting for my life—but also for the coverage that I desperately needed.

The legislation currently being debated in Congress is not just words on a page—for many cancer survivors, it’s a matter of life and death. Now, as this debate enters crunch time, I need your help to ensure that what happened to me doesn't happen to any other American:

No matter what side of the healthcare debate you're on, I believe we can all agree on two things:

No American should be denied health insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

No American should lose their insurance due to changes in health or employment.

Will you sign the LIVESTRONG Action petition to make sure any legislation includes these two critically important reforms? We’ll deliver these to Capitol Hill this month as the debate reaches its climax and make sure our voices are heard in the debate:

When I received my diagnosis, I was between cycling contracts. My new insurer used the diagnosis as a reason to deny coverage after the new contract was signed. Fortunately, one of my sponsors intervened. At their insistence, I was added to their insurance company and was able to continue my life-saving treatment. If my sponsor, a powerful company, had not gone to bat for me, I may not have made it.

I was lucky. We can't rely on luck to ensure coverage and treatment for the millions of Americans affected by cancer. Some cannot get coverage because they've already been diagnosed. Others get calls from their insurance companies saying they have been dropped. It happens all the time—and it's unacceptable.

Every year on LIVESTRONG Day, we come together to take action for a world without cancer. In the U.S., a critical step is to make sure cancer survivors can get and keep their health insurance.

It has been 13 years since my diagnosis, but in some ways, not much has changed. No person should have to worry about health insurance while battling cancer. That so many do is an outrage, and we must speak out.

Please sign the petition and forward it along to your friends and family:


Lance and the LIVESTRONG Action Team

P.S. Don’t forget today is LIVESTRONG Day. There are more than 1,100 events taking place to raise awareness about cancer all over the world. View our interactive map to see events in your area: