houston marathon

How far it goes- Houston Marathon 2019

904131_286214042_XLarge.jpg

It is hard to describe the feeling of crossing the finish line on Sunday. It is hard to explain how far away I felt from the person I was when I ran the Olympic Trials in 2012. When I was running amazing in 2012, I never wanted to let that feeling, that rush go. I wanted to stay at that fitness level and see what I was capable of. And I had a great stretch there in 2012. But as any athlete knows, the highs and the lows last only so long. That time was over in the flash of an eye after a freak fall during a routine trail run in my new, at the time, neighborhood. Then came the bakery. And frustration, trying to run when my life of 100 hour work weeks wouldn’t allow. I stopped beating my head against the wall finally and realized that trying to do the same thing over and over again was unproductive. So I flew to South Africa and ran a marathon and then two weeks later, Ultra Trail Cape Town. It was the hardest 100km I have ever done, but I finished, proud in 3rd place. A few weeks later, I ran Javelina 100 and set the third fastest trail time ever (at the time). I enjoyed immensely the reinvigoration of my ultra running career that had taken a backseat to the life of a small business owner. 2016 brought golden tickets instead of OTQ’s as a realized my head and heart just weren’t into the quest. The fast marathon had become something overly complicated in my mind and I found myself self-sabatoging my races and really not enjoying myself. And so, I raced WS and finished 3rd. My satisfaction immense, my love for ultra running true.

And then came the struggle and the fighting for my running life. To be honest, the last 2.5 years have been intensely hard. I was fighting almost constantly just to keep my head above water. I suffered my first major injury in the fall of 2016 and at the time I thought it would be just a blip on the radar, but instead it became an incessant test of my fortitude and will. Sure, there have been amazing bright moments in the last 2.5 years- two top 10 finishes at Comrades, winning Leadville, 2nd in the 50km national championships, winning a marathon outright for the first time- but mostly, it has just pressed me to wonder if my best racing days were behind me, if feeling good as a runner and sometimes even just as a human, was something I’d feel again. The spiral began when my foot exploded and was misdiagnosed in March 2017, fast forward to major foot surgery and recovery, followed by a swift decline into extremely poor health in 2018. I’ve fought like hell over the past few years. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve found myself lower than I could remember and it wasn’t just because of running or not running. I felt like I was floundering around in the world at times and being kicked in the face at other times. I started to joke that March was a cursed month for me after experiencing major illness and missed races, totaling my car and one other very terrible experience that I still cannot reconcile. When I was knee deep in it, I didn’t think much about how hard it was or the depth and breadth of all that was seeming to go wrong, I simply focused on trying to fix what was right in front of me, what I had the power to change or control. And sometimes, that was just my perspective. A perspective of gratitude and of hope was something I returned to again and again. 

IMG_1740.JPG

If I have learned anything in my life, from the very earliest of my days, is that you ultimately need to be willing to do what it takes for yourself. What it takes to feel better, what it takes to heal, what it takes to learn. I never abandoned my faith in myself, I never lost trust in myself that I could weather the storms. A few months ago, I was thinking about the moment in Billy’s movie, Life in Day, when I am sitting in the chair, unsure of how I can keep going. I realized, watching that for the nth millionth time, that I had been thinking about that moment wrong. I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I ended up in the chair. Trying to figure out how to avoid the things in life that stop us in our track. But as I watched that moment, I realized: it’s not about if you end up in the chair, it is what you do after you get out of the chair that matters. 

You get up. You move forward. That is what matters. What you do next is what matters. Its not the faltering or failure. It is what you do with it. It is weathering the storm, it is surviving and coming out the other saying “holy shit, I’m just soaked”. 

That is when I realized that I had to let go of the hurt, the failing, the faltering of the past few years. What mattered was how I chose to proceed. Would I play small and safe or would I again risk it all? It is scary to take risks when you’ve felt the intense disappointments of epic failures. I felt that last year when I tried to go all in post foot surgery on London Marathon. I couldn’t even toe the line I was so ill. Heck, I could barely move off the couch. Watching TV was exhausting. I had been humbled again by the sudden onslaught of a barrage of health problems, a pattern that had played out every few years of my running career, heck of my life. Once in 5th grade, I missed an entire month of school (probably the month of March ;) ) because I was sick. In high school, I spent half of a summer in bed with mono. My college boyfriend called me “sickly D” because I caught every bug that I came in contact with.

But last year really scarred me. And I became afraid to go all in on a goal. I raced sure and did some pretty decent things, but the reality is, I was undermining myself. Not allowing myself to risk too much, put too much on any one thing. While this makes for some fine results, they are pyrrhic victories. After a series of 4 races in 7 weeks of that sort, I emailed my coach Ian and said “I have the next great idea! I’ll do CIM!”. He responded in a way that I cannot appreciate more. He told me that if I want what I say I want (a marathon PR) then I needed to stop all the unspecific racing, traveling, stress and focus. He told me CIM was the wrong choice and I should instead focus on Houston Marathon. He told me that I had to go ALL IN. It was uncomfortable for me because it was true. I know I can perform at a very high level on non-specific training, but I also know I can’t run my best if I am not focused. And so for 12 weeks we focused. I narrowed my life down to this one goal. I set aside the fear. I showed up and did the work, day after day. I didn’t race, I didn’t travel. I just burrowed down into the details of this one goal. I put all my eggs in one basket. And while it terrified me, I knew it was the only way.

GPTempDownload.JPG

Day in and day out, I was just married to the process. I removed unnecessary distractions. I did all the little extras. I neither stressed the failures or celebrated the successes to much, I just built myself brick by boring brick. When things went suddenly sideways in the first week of December, I didn’t panic. I suffered a crazy nerve impingement in my leg, got sick and then fell over my foam roller and broke a rib. I just stayed with the process and realized one bad week didn’t matter, I simply had to stay focused. And workout after workout, I saw paces I never thought I would. I found myself having to hold back instead of stretch. I arrived to my two week taper excited, confident. I had trained for 12 weeks, run hundreds of miles and only taken one day off. I knew I was strong and ready.

But as tapers do, I started feeling the doubts, I started to question what I had done, I started to question each and every brick I had laid. And then came the weird niggles and my legs #notfeelinggood. I honestly had to make an immense effort to get my mind right in the last 72 hours before the race. I read the book “Mind Gym” after taking the USATF Level 1 Coaching clinic and found these words to be the game changer for me: “Since you don’t know what’s going to happen, why not act as if you’re going to have a good day. When you are not afraid to fail, your chances of succeeding improve”. I stopped wallowing in the idea of “ending up in the chair” and started to embrace the infinite possibility of good. I didn’t focus on the weather report of 10-15mph winds and freezing cold temps, or my leg feeling weird. I focused on eating, resting and calming my mind.

IMG_2595.jpeg

By the time I toed the line at 7:01am, I was free of doubt and ready to celebrate the fitness I had cultivated over the weeks and months. I lined up with the other sub-elites in the ADP corral and we shivered and finally were allowed our place behind the elites. The gun, the frenzy, I found myself calm among the surging masses. I started my Coros watch when I hit the start line a few seconds after the gun, but I quickly turned the screen to daytime, knowing I did not want the feedback of GPS pace. I settled in and chanted to myself “right effort, right mind”. I knew that if I wanted to run a PR, I needed to run on the more uncomfortable side of uncomfortably hard, but I also knew that I needed to stay calm and patient in the first half.  I floated through mile 1 in 5:45. Oops. There were people around as the half and full went off together, but I was surprised how, within 4 miles, I was basically running alone. Welp, guess I don’t get that CIM type group magic today! The wind gusted and I just hoped that that meant I would have a tailwind on the way back (spoiler alert, nope). 

Finding myself alone so early, I knew that I HAD to stay focused, I had to stay strong and on plan. I followed the instructions I had written on my hand for each Maurten gel. I followed the instructions for my mind. I smiled and remembered that this race was a celebration of my fitness. It is not a test, it is a celebration. At mile 12, a woman was holding a sign for me and I damn near started crying because it feels so awesome to have people out there rooting for me. 

904132_286196240_XLarge.jpg

I hit halfway in 1:18:40, about 40 seconds slower than coach and I had planned, but I barely even acknowledged it (although to be fair, hit the 13.1 mile sign at just over 1:18 flat, but that mat was another 40 seconds beyond the sign). I was focused, focused on running a PR effort, even if the wind meant it wasn’t much of a PR day for me. I stayed calm, I stayed on it. I pushed as hard as I could and smiled as big as I could. I was wholeheartedly determined to have no regrets at that finish line.

I knew with about 12km to go that my goal of a PR was gone. I was running as well as I could, feeling good actually and just not able to take anything back from the wind. I remained undeterred, I would not back down, I was not going down without a fight.

At long last, I made my way back into the heart of Houston. With 1.5 miles to go, I reminded myself that my goal was to “drain the tank” and I pressed harder, unwilling to let go of the sub 2:40 and my fastest time in 7 years. I ran the last 1.5 miles in 5:43/mile pace. I powered to the line, 2:39:37 my 3rd fastest time ever (and my 2nd fastest time is a 2:39:36!). What a moment. Joy, relief, all of it. I ran the effort I came to and am so proud.

IMG_2597.JPG

It is what matters what you do after you get out of the chair that matters. Failure, faltering and flops are part of life. We must take lessons from them sure, but we cannot become defined by them. It is a choice where we go from the low points. It is a choice if we let it those things break us or lift us to greater heights. I know that in life I will surely find myself in the chair again, I will certainly cry out “but I don’t know how to keep going”, but I also know that I will get out of that chair and I’ll walk until I can run again. 

A day in the life the non-professional OT marathoner


With just 30 days left until the Olympic Trials I have been reading plenty of feature stories of professional runners getting ready to rock the Olympic Trials. While fascinating, I cannot, nor can the majority of the runners, relate to their lifestyles. Professional running is hard work, but so is training like a professional runner while still holding down a full time job. I decided on my evening run that I would share a typical day as I prepare for the Trials.

5:46am: Alarm goes off. Pretend I can't get out of the altitude tent so Nathan will get the snooze button.
6:05am: Stare at the clock and contemplate exactly when I need to leave the house for my run.
6:09am: Get out of bed, make cup of black tea.
6:10am: Drink tea while writing emails to clients.
6:30am: Get dressed in layers and prepare for run.
6:40am: Start running with Nathan to the Beach.
7:10am: Split up with Nathan and run longer through Land's End
7:35am: Have woman exclaim "You must be freezing" as I run towards her, despite wearing hat, gloves, long sleeve and long tights. It is 43 degrees out.
8:00am: Finish 11 mile run.
8:02am: Bundle up in warm clothes and start making breakfast.
8:03am: Make delicious and quick pumpkin oat pancakes with peanut flour.
8:15am: Eat pancakes while doing client planning for the days double (i.e. two clients).
9:00am: Take quick shower and get dressed
9:43am: Leave for work
10:00am: Arrive at Rainbow grocery and shop for clients.
10:24am: Leave Rainbow and drive to Whole foods to shop for clients.
10:44am: Leave Whole Foods and drive to client #1.
10:54am: Drive round and round in circles looking for a parking spot.
10:58am: Eat snack of kale chips and kombucha and end up wearing both since the kale chips are crumbly and the kombucha explodes.
10:59am: Thank the universe I am a chef and it is normal for me to have food all over my clothing.
11:05am: Start cooking for client.
12:40pm: Finish cooking, clean up and head home for lunch
12:54pm: Walk in front door, sprint to kitchen before I eat my arm off.
12:55pm: Reheat poblano, mushroom, chard enchiladas from the previous night. Put it on a bed of greens and call it a salad.
1:20pm: Leave house for second client
1:30pm: Start cooking for second client. Thank the universe that my client lives a half mile away.
3:45pm: Finish cooking, clean up and head to Whole Foods to buy supplies for dinner
3:55pm: Shop for fajita ingredients
4:05pm: Arrive home
4:12pm: Receive a text message from my mom about Jesus Toaster. Think its spam and text back to make sure her phone didn't get hacked.
4:14pm: Confirm phone not hacked and that according to CNN, the Jesus Toaster is moving "briskly" off the shelves this holiday season.
4:16pm: Realize my mom must be really bored at work.
4:17pm: Play a word in each of the 5 ongoing games of Words with Friends.
4:25pm: Leave house for run number two
5:00pm: Enjoy watching beautiful sunset over Golden Gate bridge
5:25pm: Run through a very dark Presidio and home I don't fall in a hole
5:27pm: Put on Poker Face and start running really really fast
5:40pm: Remember how much I love running at night and what a bad idea it is that I am wearing all dark clothes.
5:45pm: Finish 11 mile run #2.
5:50pm: Start making dinner. Steak and veggie fajitas.
6:05pm: Start writing blog about day.
6:27pm: Realize that the blog is taking me a long time.
6:30pm: Text from Nathan that he is going to be late. Realize I have time to stretch before dinner, but also realize that I might eat my hand off if I do this.
6:40pm: Stretch and do core work.
7:10pm: Finish making dinner
7:20pm: Dinner
7:45pm: Plan for my Thursday client
8:15pm: Take shower number two
8:30pm: Play more Words with Friends, W.E.L.D.E.R and read
9:20pm: Collapse into bed and try to go to sleep because of 4:35am wake up on Thursdays.

Back in the saddle

It would be nice if my experience at Houston reflected this cool, fluid shot from my finish. I had a fantastic last 3 miles of the race and kicked in signature style. Unfortunately, the other 23 miles of the race were not as fantastic, did not feel as good and were not as pretty. No, they looked much more like this or certainly at least felt like it:


It took me a few days to recover from Houston, physically. It took me more days to recover mentally. After a bad race, it is easy to be hyper critical of not only your running but also your life. I realized that my race was not a product of poor planning or training, it was just a fluke day and that I would just have to get back on the horse and try again. But when I turned and looked upon my life and questioned whether or not I was working hard enough, planning or training right to achieve the goals I wanted, I was faced with an answer I did not want to hear. I was not, unlike my training for Houston,  doing things that scared me or preparing in case my chance came. I was wishing and hoping and thinking and praying but not planning or preparing or creating the reality I wanted. I was caught in a life rut, a mental vortex of self-doubt, lack of direction, not sure what to do. When it came to my working life (which is what I am talking about here), I realized I was apathetic. And as an introspective, reflective person I find this absolutely weird. The positive side effect of this larger (and maybe more depressing) realization was that I was able to fully accept that the race was just a bad race and I was able to emotionally move on and set myself passionately on the next goal (more about that later...)

Last week, we watched a movie that my bestest everest friend Jonathan had given us for Christmas. It is called Happy, which is about the science of happiness and though I have read/heard/been exposed to most of the concepts in the movie, for some reason it was like a light switch was flipped. I woke up the next morning and all of my apathy was gone. I had motivation and energy and passion to take my business to the next level. Suddenly, it was as if I could suddenly see the path I wanted to take concretely were only vague shadows had been before. I could see my path and what I needed to do. Suddenly, I was as empowered by my working life as I was about my running life. In my running, I don't sit back and wait for things to happen, I go out day after day and make them happen. I control the part I can control and hope my preparation will move me towards my goals. I woke up last week and realized that the way I run is the way I can work. I don't need to shrink back into the shadows and take a desk job for security, I don't need some gigantic stroke of luck to fall in my lap, I just need to get out there and do what I am good at. I have never felt so excited about work before in my life. I feel empowered, I feel inspired, I feel excited. Momentum quickly builds when you get your energy behind it.

Momentum

Momentum is also something I am trying to keep in my running. After a bad race, it would be easy to lose it. It would be easy to be demoralized, to go back to the drawing board. But, as I mentioned above, I was able to shake off my Houston experience pretty well and pretty fully. I had a smart recovery, have listened to my body diligently and allowed myself some comfort and some exceptions. But I also still have the strong driving desire to pursue my Olympic Trials qualifier. I know I have it in me and though the reality may be that I will never make it to the Olympics, the opportunity to try, to be a part of the race that determines it, is absolutely not something I am walking away from. I am going for it.

The week after the marathon, I was looking at every possible race there is this spring to make another attempt at. I went a little marathon sign up happy for fast races this year, but none of them are soon enough to satisfy me. I am hungry now, I am ready now. Finally, I decided on my next attempt and I am very excited to race the LA Marathon on March 20th. I have 5 weeks until race day which means, with last weeks good training, I will be able to continue to capitalize on my great fitness leading up to Houston. I also have the added bonus of having the Houston experience. I was severely lacking in fast road racing experience going into Houston (hadn't done a road marathon in 2 years!) and even just this one experience helps me get closer to my goal and helps me better understand how to race a marathon. I am very very excited about the LA Marathon. I look forward to the training, I look forward to reflecting and sharing the journey towards this goal and I look forward to achieving my dream: seeing a sub 2:46 on that finishing clock.

Houston Marathon Race Report



Houston, we have a problem....


I am having a hard time being inspired to write this race report. It is weird. Yes, I am disappointed in my result but it is not because of that that I am uninspired. I am clearly very able to be inspired to right about disappointing days. I think that it was an uninspiring race in general and my uninspiring performance just means that the way I usually write a race report is not as applicable. My race reports are usually an emotional journey, I like being a story-teller and carrying you through the journey with me.  Houston was a very short story in a lot of ways. I did however, learn a great deal and I think that is much more of what I want to focus on and share. I didn't meet my goals, any of them, with the exception of the most basic one: whatever happens, just don't quit.

The story


Race week didn't go as planned. I had to fight off a virus/cold/flu (so I didn't miss my 4th race in 2 years because of illness) and took down heavy doses of vitamins. After seeing Dr. Maderas at Marin Natural Medicine for a immunity boosting IV push, I was feeling pretty darn good and was just a of a lingering tired feeling from the virus. I got it early enough in the week that I was hoping it wouldn't affect the race. I traveled to Houston on Friday, brought along a bunch of my own food and tried to stick to my own "safe" foods before the race and not start adding back anything too drastic, while still getting in my carbs before the race. But my stomach felt off Thursday, Friday and Saturday was a mess. I attributed it to a case of nerves, this was after all my first road marathon in over 2 years and I was looking to PR bigtime. I attributed it to the rice I ate with lunch since I hadn't eaten rice (or any other grains) in two months. By bedtime Saturday night, I was feeling ok and just figured that a bad race week usually meant a great race day. 


It is what it is ultimately and I didn't get too stressed out over how the week went. It is the breaks of the game. I was happy to have made it to race day, excited to see if I could achieve my goal of running the OT standard and just get back into marathoning. I am especially thankful for the Terranovas as they gave me a place to stay both Friday and Saturday night, let me follow them around like a puppy dog and comforted me after the race. Not to mention Paul was pacer extraordinaire for the 2:39 pace group!


When I woke up Sunday morning, I was very happy there was no lightning. They said that there was a high chance of thunderstorms and that would have meant the race would have been cancelled or delayed or stopped and restarted. We started on time, but the weather was not fantastic, it rained a pretty constant drizzle, there was a heavy downpour at one point and it was very very humid. Before the race I ate 2 bananas with peanut butter and hoped that my stomach problems had worked themselves out. I drank a cup of coffee and we headed to the elite starting area. I felt calm, ready to go but not exactly how I wanted to feel. My body didn't feel that energized. But I also reminded myself that I am in completely uncharted waters here. Heck, as good as my training was and it was very good and hard and on point, I was trying to run in a way my body had never really done. Go hard from the start, be uncomfortable and keep going. Ultras I am very comfortable, marathons are a whole different ball game.


What I really was hoping for was what Ellie Greenwood dubbed a "Devon day". I trained to have one, I am the fittest I have been that I can remember, I even achieved my goal race weight. I was ready to not only make the 2:46 standard, I was ready to push the limits and get close to 2:40. Or so was my thought, hope, prayer. As I warmed up, it started drizzling and my legs didn't feel like wild horses so energetic I needed to rein them in. They felt just fine. And then we were off into the early morning light, splashing in puddles, dodging raindrops but not lightning bolts. 


I ran a 6:18 first mile. There was an overpass about 200 meters in and the little climb kept everyone honest. Paul took off at his prescribed 2:39 pacer duties pace and I knew right away I wouldn't even try to hang on. I scooted ahead of the 2:46 pace group (6:18 pace) and ran my next mile in 6:00. From there, I ran virtually alone for the next 11 miles. Through the non-descript streets of Houston. We were in neighborhoods still sleepy with the early hour. We ran past Rice University. There were fans but when you are running alone, down (painful) concrete roads, it is lonely and hard to keep your own time. Which is why pacers are provided and why they are important. I was in the nether realm between the two OT qualifying standards pace groups. I knew if things started going wrong that I could slow up and hitch my wagon to the 2:46 pacers and cruise in with them. There were suppose to be two of them, one for the first half and one going the full distance.

I hit my splits pretty well for the first few miles, still feeling comfortable around 6:07-6:12 pace. I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard. I knew I would need to start challenging myself but one thing I couldn't figure out was when? When do I go? When do I push myself into the uncomfortable place and hold it? Pretty quickly there after, I had an answer, but it was not what I really meant. My stomach had felt disquiet but manageable during the first 5 or 6 miles. I hit the 10k at 38:45 which is 6:14 pace. But then my stomach started to go. I was drinking water but the disquiet became barfing. Not projectile, sweeping heaps but the small contents of my stomach, mostly liquid. I'd struggle to keep pace and my stomach would object. I had to utilize my ultrarunning skills and barf and run. Didn't even get it on my shoes. I was forced to back off. I was upset, I knew if I couldn't get my stomach under control then I would not be able to let me legs do their job. From mile 6 until 10, I tried to maintain but started to slow into the mid 6:20s and even 6:30s after mile 10. Just before the half way mark, the 2:46 pace group caught me. The pacer told me to jump in with them and I replied, "I've been waiting for you guys!" I was very happy to see them because I felt that I could just switch off my brain and tuck in and run the pace set by others. We ran through some bigger downpours but it stayed humid which I am sure didn't help my stomach.

We hit the half in 1:22:49 and the first half pacer peeled off. There was a pack of 8-10 ladies and we all looked around for the other pacer. No where. Not to be seen, no one had seen him at all that day though the day before he had introduced himself to all of us. Within a half mile the group obliterated and try as we might to hold ranks, the group fell apart. Only 1 out of the group made the standard. Let me tell you, running with a pacer really helps. The race provided pacers for 5 different elite women's speeds (3 of those speeds were basically personal pacers for the top 3 women) and it makes a difference. That is why I chose to do a big marathon, I wanted company. I didn't want to run alone (into the wind) like I did in Boston.

My stomach wouldn't settle. I would take nips of gel when I could, drank water but nothing helped. I got slower and slower. Once the group obliterated and I started hearing that I was on more than a 6:20 pace and slower and slower, I had a hard time convincing myself to do anything but run at a pace that didn't disturb my stomach. From miles 15-23 I pretty much just did everything in my power not to quit. I didn't push, I just ran. I just resolved to have pride and not step off the course despite being sick and not being able to achieve my goals.

I saw Meredith at mile 20 and I told her not to wait for me at the finish line and to go with Paul since I wouldn't be just a few minutes behind him. She cheered for me and I remembered that she had given me salt caps before the race to deal with the humidity, which up until this point I hadn't taken. After I ran by her, I decided, what the heck, I downed some salt caps with a swig of water. And then something weird happened, around mile 23, I started to feel a bit better. Not great but I was able to drop my pace back down to the 6:20 range instead of the upwards creeping 6:45, 6:50s I had seen in there. And I got my pride back. Damnit Devon, I said, even if you can't get the standard (I calculated quickly in my head), maybe you can still PR (my PR is a 2:49:51). I focused on the girl I was running close to and put a move on her. Then I focused on a guy ahead and reeled him in. I pushed and pushed and could tell by how easily my legs responded that it was clearly not my legs that had failed me on this day, it was my energy, it was stomach.

As I pushed the last miles, all those tempo workouts, all those track workouts proved their worth in gold. It felt effortless to push the pace, with the exception of the now intense gusts of wind that was hit us full on in the face every 30 seconds or so. I cranked and my stomach held. I couldn't do the exact math but I figured I would be close to my PR and would at least finish with my pride. I knew I would have to run nearly sub 6 to realistically make it but ran as hard as I could, without looking at my watch.

I hit downtown and spotted a string of 6-7 guys scattered various distances ahead of me, each looking tender footed and hurting. I passed them with such conviction not a single one of them even had a chance to try and keep up. I came down to the final turn and hit the home stretch. There was one more guy I could get. The announcer was calling marathon finisher's names and he recognized that I was in hot pursuit. "Andrew, andrew" he said to the guy in front of me, "Watch out Andrew you are about to be passed by a girl". I flew by him crossing the line in 2:50:55. My second fastest time ever in the marathon. I was 18th woman overall and have to be proud of my effort on a day that didn't unfold as I liked.

I was escorted back to the elite area, met up with Paul and Meredith, commiserated with my fellow 2:46 hopefuls who didn't make it and headed back to the hotel room. It took a long time before I could eat anything and my stomach refused to settle for days afterwards. I headed back to San Francisco that evening and am now considering the all important question: what now?


Checkpoints5k10k15k20kHalf25k30k35k40k
0:19:160:38:450:58:321:18:341:22:491:38:281:59:112:20:452:42:00
 Start OffsetPaceProj TimeOfficial TimeOverallGenderDiv
-0:06:32 2:50:5560188



Lessons learned

  1. Sometimes it doesn't matter how well you are prepared, your chance will come when it comes. Good days don't always fall on race day.
  2. Running at the edge of red line is very hard. It takes practice to know how to handle it. I am thankful for this race in that it gave me experience with feeling out my body at that speed.
  3. I need to get a flu shot and stop getting sick before races.
  4. Concrete hurts. Humidity sucks. Flatter is not always better. And everything is funner with another runner (pacer!).
  5. You can be thankful that lightning doesn't strike, but still get caught in the storm.
  6. I love love loved my training for this race and my nutrition plan too. I feel very fit and feel like I am moving in the right direction.
  7. Ultimately, missing a goal is not the end of the world. I have more chances to get there and it is still an adventure to see if I can do it. 
  8. Even when things aren't going your way, adjust and take pride in your effort. I would have felt a hell of a lot worse about the way things turned out if I had wallowed in things and slowed down or given up. Don't give up, unless of course they are putting an IV in... and even then, don't give up, just listen to the doctors orders.
  9. Remember it is suppose to be fun. The reality is that I am unlikely to make this or any Olympics (statistically speaking and realistically as well) and so I can set goals and pursue them whole-heartedly but also remember that this is my passion, my love and I am not defined by it. (And the same is true even if I do make the Olympics).
  10. There is always a next time. And the next time and the next time.


Watch on the right half of the screen, light blue top as I sprint past a guy and chick him 10 feet before the line. I am not very nice :)

Full moon and being seriously serious

Seriously beautiful. Alamere Falls in Point Reyes.
Fun Saturday run with friends.

My training for Houston has been serious. I have enjoyed the seriousness of it. I have done things that I am afraid of, I have been focused and committed in a way I, perhaps, have never been before. I have made sacrifices, worked very hard and am excited for race day.

Getting some serious air in Point Reyes.

Amongst all the seriousness, I have tried to not to become too serious or too wrapped up. I wanted to work hard and lift to myself to new heights, not plunge myself down into the space where the ultimate result becomes too important. I didn't want to lose myself in it all. When I decided to try and see what I could do at the marathon, my intention was to have a fun challenge, to push my limits and explore the question: how fast can I run? I define myself as someone who runs because I love it and I didn't want that to change just because I was setting my sights on the Olympic Trials. For the most part, I think I have done a good job.

My favorites on a fun weekend trail run. Nathan, me, Larissa and Brett.
Northside of Tam.

One of my strategies for keeping my perspective and my sanity is to include some fun running, some adventures and some group trail runs with my friends. In the past three weekends, I have explored the trails on my "recovery" days (Saturdays), run in some awesome places. Nathan, Larissa and Brett and I headed out the first weekend in January to run on the Northside of Tam. The folllowing weekend we headed up to Point Reyes and explore Alamere falls and followed the run with oysters from Hog Island. These runs were stout for a "recovery" day but we were out more for adventuring than hammering. It is a wonderful counter-point to hard track workouts, tempo runs and long runs that require strict focus and effort. I always wake up on Sundays looking forward to my long runs because I feel refreshed after a day on the trails. And my Sunday long runs have all been excellent, so I know that I have appropriately paced my Saturday recovery runs.

This past weekend, I was able to head down to SoCal to cheer and support my sister in her first 50 miler. I was glad it worked out for me to go because earlier in the month when I consulted my training schedule I knew it would be an important training week for me and that the runs I would do Friday-Sunday were not skippable runs despite it being my first taper week (well not really, since my mileage was as high as the previous peak week but was a step back in intensity from the previous week). But when I thought hard about it, I didn't want to miss out on a important occasion (and fun occasion) for her because I was being too serious or inflexible in my training schedule. I figured it out though and it turned out that I could have my cake (a good three days of training) and eat it too (be at my sister's race). I had to get up at or before 5am for several days in a row, but the exhaustion I felt from the schedule was far outweighed by the happiness and fun of being there.

Happy and tired sister after finishing her first 50 miler in 8:32, 3rd woman!

After a great training block that began in mid-December, I finished my last long run on Sunday with Jonathan and felt really good about my speed, endurance and training. We had knocked out 6:20 pace for the first half of the run including a final 1+ miles to the turn around point at sub 6 pace, and it all really felt comfortable. We cruised back home at a more "conversational pace" but still were pulling just under 7 min miles. I returned to San Fran feeling tired and happy. I went to bed on Sunday exhausted and looking forward to my "day off" on Monday.

I woke up on Monday exhausted and feeling like I was getting sick. I had no energy and had to spend the majority of my time with my trainer working out pretty easily. I felt like I could just collapse into a heap and go to sleep. I was not excited about how I felt and picked up some Quick Defense by Gaia to fight off any semblance of a cold. Tuesday was worse than Monday in every which way. My track workout was horrible, I felt dead and couldn't hit my splits. Everything about my day that could go wrong, did go wrong, including being rear-ended on my way to see my pal Krissy. I just wanted to hide and freak out and cry and gnash my teeth. I tried not to get too stressed but I was sliding into one of two taper weeks and this was not boding well. Everything in life just seemed to be a bit off. When my morning run on Wednesday didn't go well (just a 7 mile recovery run!), I was reduced to curling up in a little ball and acting like a big baby. But then I had a moment and I flipped the switch. It was nothing in particular said or done, nothing changed inherently in the world, I just realized that I seriously needed to get a grip. Whether it was the taper tantrums gripping me or the fact that there was a full moon, I didn't need to let myself be sucked underneath a wave of negativity or self-doubt just because I was having a few off days. I was making life too serious just because it is creeping closer to my race. I decided to look on the bright side of things and change my attitude, find humor in things and things got better. It is amazing how that works.

This training has taught me a great deal. It has shown me a great deal about what my body can do and the limits I can push. It also taught me that I am at a point in my life where I can do something passionately and put 100% into it, but at the same time not lose perspective (for too long at least), humor and balance.

Catalina run with Jonathan during Sarah's race. Miles and miles of fun.

And I apologize for the flagrant overuse of the word serious in this post. It was seriously necessary.

Exceptions and Rules

Sunrise on Tam. An exceptional day.

This morning I headed out to do my tempo workout of the week. I was scared, I was intimidated and nervous. I knew how significant this workout would be. It is a big week in my training for Houston which is just over three weeks away. I also knew that I had struggled through my "track" workout on Tuesday and been reduced to a crying, shaking bag of bones and not necessarily in a good way. Needlesstosay, I knew that this workout would be telling. The workout was a very stout 10x 1 mile tempo run at race pace minus 10 seconds. Ideally, I wanted to hold 5:58s or better. As I ran my warmup down to the polo fields in Golden Gate park, I pondered whether the paces I have been holding in previous weeks tempo workouts were the exceptions or the rule. I knew THIS workout would make that clear. And it did.

The main reason I had been contemplating the concept of exceptions and rules is because a friend of mine inquired about my reference to being on an athletic diet leading up to Houston and urged me to write a blog post about what that means to me. The friend is a world class Ironman athlete and even she says that she gets confused. I can relate to that, I think a lot of athletes understand a bit about nutrition but not necessarily enough to implement a plan for themselves that coincides with training.

I was hesitant to write this blog because I don't believe in defining myself strictly and also because in the past giving myself rules created a great deal of anxiety around my food choices, including peanut butter. In the past year, I have had the healthiest relationship with food in a long time and while that meant I raced slightly heavier in 2010, the reduction in anxiety and obsession and time spent thinking about nutritional content and quality was worth it. I raced well and learned to trust myself. I realized I eat very mindfully, healthfully and don't need to stress about my food choices, since even my indulgences are most people's health foods.

A morning on the trails, currently the exception in my training :(

My training for Houston has been different in a lot of ways as I have discussed. It is also significant because it is the first time I have put myself on a strict race related diet. As I prepared for this race, I finally was able to synthesize the idea of periodization for my food/diet just like I do for my running/training schedule. I made modifications to my diet, changed the rules and exceptions and even implemented some things with no exceptions. The final two weeks of December I transitioned to the eating plan but let Christmas eve/day include exceptions (after all, I needed a glass of wine-believe me and HAD to have a slice of my mother's Stollen on Christmas morning, it's tradition) but after that, it's been on the plan! So what does that plan look like? With the help of my trainer Josh and my friend Ronda and my own experience, experimentation (as well as a few tests which determined food intolerances/allergies), I developed the following plan, rules and practices.

Typical day:
Addendum (1/7/2011): This is the baseline plan, I don't weigh my food and add in additional items as I see fit based on hunger or need. I developed it as guidelines to help me with timing, general portion and content.

Example of a dinner from two nights ago: Ka Pra Grow (fresh ground pork, garlic, gluten free tamari, red chili, coconut oil), Quick cooked Asian Greens (cabbage, mixed braising greens, coconut oil and gluten free tamari) and a side of roasted carrots (for my starchy veg, while Nathan had rice).

Last nights dinner: Bacon, shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes and brussels sprouts topped with homemade fire roasted bell pepper one pan "stir fry" and roasted winter squash.


Rules and Practices:

DO NOT EAT
  • Wheat/Gluten
  • Sugar (refined)
  • Sugar (non-refined)/ artificial sweetners
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Grains (except oats), Sweets, pastries, cereals, or baked goods
  • Avocados, Pineapple (allergic)
  • No processed foods
Practices (notes from my trainer):


  • Practice a modified paleo type diet- focused on the vegetables and lean meats. 
  • Add back in a select few natural, starchy carbohydrate sources to support training. Time these to support workouts and recovery.  Still keep less ideal sources – sugar, juices, pastries, bread, pasta, flour, cereals, etc. OUT of the diet.
  • Starchy tubers would be a good choice – yams, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes. Corn tortillas and oats are other options. 
  • If carbs goes up, dietary fat should come down.  
  • Reduce added sources of fat (condiments, oils, nuts, seeds, etc.), and just get your dietary fat as by-product of your animal protein sources (eggs, fish, meat, poultry).
  • Spread food intake out over 5-6 meals. Drink lots of water.
  • Eat 1g of protein per 1lb of lean body mass.
  • Eat 1-2g of carbohydrate per 1lb of lean body mass.
  • Combine a serving of protein with a serving of starchy carbohydrate – both about the size of a deck of cards – with each meal and snack.
  • Starchy carbs (rice and potatoes) are better than fruits for athletes because fruits are sugars, natural sugar, but sugar nonetheless.  They are preferentially stored as liver glycogen whereas starch is preferentialy stored as muscle glycogen (which is what we want as athletes).
  • Continue to eat unlimited amounts of vegetables with any meal or at any other time.


My training and body have really responded to this nutrition plan and I feel great. It is not that terrific of a departure from how I normally eat. I normally eat approximately the lunch listed above, but was eating it in one sitting instead of split into two. I actually like splitting it up. My nutritional timing is way better and more effective. In fact, I have been more creative in the kitchen than ever before and plan to continue to eat this way long term but with room for exceptions. Outside of peak training, if I want something from the "no" list than I can have it, its a welcome exception as long as it is an exception. I have learned that peak training nutrition just means NO Exceptions and that normal eating whether during building phase or time off can be more flexible. As much as I joke about it, I am not chomping at the bit to have the foods I am currently excluding.  I look forward to a post-Houston treat, enjoying a celebratory toast but I also value how I feel currently and plan to continue to be a mindful eater. This plan is currently working for me, it is personalized to my needs and based on my own personal experience and understanding of how my body works. I don't for a second think that it would work for everyone, I don't believe in one size fits all nutrition. I also believe that being neurotic or a perfectionist about your nutrition intake is infinitely more harmful than helpful, so even in times of peak training nutrition a light hearted approach is encouraged. I think the one thing that everyone can take away from this is that peak nutrition is a time to eat a very clean healthful diet, it really does support the hard work you are doing out on the roads and trails. There is a time for (gluten free) muffins and a time for perfectly timed carrot sticks. Right now, I am enjoying food as much as I always do and loving just as much the nutritional benefits I feel.

Doing things that scare you


I don't normal consider myself someone who has many fears. In fact, I cannot bring to mind anything that I truly fear. I like to challenge myself, I like to try new things, I am unafraid to fail.

Since last Summer and even more intensely in the last month or so, I have been doing something that is a little scary to me. Pushing my outer limits. Practically this means, I am working on getting faster, digging down into that place of "I don't know how good I can be" and seeing what I bring up. Marathon fast running, try and make the Olympics fast running.

I came to running after a career as a basketball player and don't have a long legacy of track running or even shorter distance road running. I came into the sport, ran a marathon, ran two more and then started ultrarunning. I never really tapped my potential as a marathoner and I really like marathons. Short, fast and sweet. But running a 2:49 marathon (my PR) 3 weeks after a road 100k World Championship is not pushing that limit. That is pretty safe. In ultrarunning, even though I could blow up, DNF, lose or have a bad day that doesn't scare me. Running 50 miles fast in 6:28, finishing with sub 7 min miles doesn't strike me as pushing my limits (in fact it feels down right comfortable). What scares me is the red line. In my running, I tend to not red line. I have talked about this before a bit, about learning to that "this is so hard I don't know if I can hold it" and holding it place. It is an uncomfortable place, but for where I want to go, I must go there.

For Houston and the prospect of making the Olympic Trials, I happily go there. It has not been easy. Tuesday mornings I wake up nervous about the days track workout. I run my warmup not knowing if I can hit my prescribed paces, wondering if my lungs and legs will sustain me lap after lap. At the track, I cannot hide from my own progress. I can't just run by feel like I often do for ultras, I have to run by watch and splits and miles. It is a totally different ball game. It's hard but in a good way. It is pushing me to go beyond myself. I am becoming a different athlete because of it.

Looking back, leading up to Western States, I felt like I was all in, like I was doing everything to make that race be great. Barring the kidney failure, I think I would have run a great race. But I realize now, I was just doing everything I wanted to. There is more I could have invested, I could have worked harder at the gym, been better about race specific work and had a more athletic diet. I was committed, but I wasn't all in. I am all in for Houston.

Yesterday at the track, I had a moment of transcendence. I was pushing hard in my final 800 meter repeat, getting blasted in the face on the back stretch with wind, tired, pushing and wondering if I would be able to hold the pace. I came around the final turn and hit the straight away and instead of holding on for dear life, I suddenly found something: the next gear. I powered through the final 100 meters in my fastest split of the repeat and finished the 800 also with my fastest split. Then I followed it up with a 75 second 400 meter repeat hitting my prescribed split right on the head and utilizing the next gear again. It felt amazing. I was so tired and happily exhausted, drained in a good way that I don't often feel. That next gear showed me that the red line is something I can manipulate, I can work very close to it for a while (like I have been at the track and in tempo workouts), feel like I am going to run face first into it and then bam, the red line retreats a few paces and keeps me hungry for its pursuit. It is hardwork, it is scary, I could fall on my face and do horribly. But ultimately, the work itself is the reward and the race is just the victory. The things I am learning about myself as a runner right now are amazing and inspire me daily to keep after it.

Photos by Nathan.