Two for the road- SF Marathon race report

Photo from the article about us in the SF Examiner
Copyright Cindy Chew/ SF Examiner

Last Sunday a great article about Nathan and I running SF Marathon came out in the SF Examiner. We had fun being interviewed and doing the photoshoot and were look forward to the first time actually running a race together. We have run the same race before, but we have never stuck together the whole time. We have run plenty of miles side by side, but I was curious to see how it would play out in a race circumstance.

I signed up for SF marathon quite some time ago as a training race for the upcoming WC100k. In years passed, I have run a marathon as training for other 100ks and like doing a hard "speed workout" by racing a marathon. I asked Nathan if he wanted to join me and he did so we got signed up as elites. I never was focusing on this race and neither was Nathan. For me, it was a part of training. The week before the race, I ran over 115 miles including a hard 42.5 mile run. The week of the race, I trained pretty well for the beginning of the week and did a mini (2 day) taper for the race. I wanted to go in tired, but not wrecked. Nathan has been in recovery for the past few weeks after Hardrock. He runs when he wants (still mostly every day) but without a specific race in mind, getting his legs back moving and feeling things out. Before the race, we discussed our goals. I wanted to run a low 2:50 (right about 6:40/mile pace), even though the course is very hilly and slow. Nathan had no specific time goal, didn't really know his legs would feel and thus, just wanted to hang with me. 

My mom was in town for the weekend, so I kept myself busy Friday and Saturday playing host to her and didn't get much into the race hype, except for a brief visit to the expo to get our packets. The SF Marathon is the 13th biggest marathon in the country (despite it being crazy hilly for a road race) and the energy from everyone involved was great. 

Marathon morning was way too damn early. Ultra early. We got up at 3am, ate and headed out in a taxi down to the Embarcadero. We headed into the VIP area and caught up with friend (and eventual winner of the marathon) Mike Wardian. We did a little shake out run down the embarcadero and were soon enough standing at the line ready to make our way into the darkness (5:30am start!). Even after the warmup, I was not really sure how my legs were feeling. They didn't feel great, but not horrible either, just kind of tired, without zip. I figured I would be able to tell soon enough how they were feeling. I looked around the starting corral at the other elite women and I didn't really feel like I was racing against them. Instead, I felt like I was focused on my goals to run my race.

Off we went and Nathan and I fell in to step quickly off the line and were joined by Scott Dunlap. He said his race strategy was to stay behind me. We chatted for a bit and I felt he and Nathan quickening their step a bit and I pulled back. Scott continued ahead and joined up with the lead female pack which was about 30 seconds ahead (5-6 women). I felt no desire to chase and figured that things would shake out with the first hills and the group would splinter. At which point, I would pick up the pieces.

Nathan and I just clicked along. I wasn't wearing my foot pod but checked the time on my Suunto T6c when we'd pass mile markers. I did the occasional lap to gauge a mile here and there. I felt like we were running pretty consistent and Nathan assured me we were running strong. With tired legs and "training through" a race, it is sometimes hard to gauge your own speed. What feels fast in a training run, might actually be quite slow comparatively. Luckily, we were right exactly where we wanted to be: clicking off the miles. I won't say it was easy, but it wasn't a struggle to maintain the pace. The hills, although quite challenging, actually felt fantastic to me and we would eat up ground on the lead pack and even started picking off women after the turn around on the bridge. 

Nathan was making it look easy and I wondered if he was having to work hard at all. Coming off the bridge we easily cruised up a decent grunt of a hill and found our way in to 3rd place (well I was, who knows what place Nathan was in). I was drinking water at all the aid stations and finally popped a GU at mile 11. I was looking forward to getting into the park and starting on the easier half of the course. We ran into friend Jimmy Dean, who was out to pace a friend to a BQ. He was a week out of rocking AC100 and it was great to have him cheering us on. Nathan and I had a lot of support out there. It is so much fun to run your hometown marathon!

 Cruising in the park. Photo by Paul Mosel.

Arriving in the park is a nice feeling because you get a good 2 mile gradual downhill before another extended (but very gradual) climb out of the park. It also marks halfway, with the "easier" half remaining, so that was good too. Nathan and I had discussed my race strategy before the race. I had decided that I would establish in the park whether or not I would actually start racing or if I would settle in wherever I was and just cruise. Hitting the bottom of the park, I was also hitting a lull in my energy. I was in the weeds and not feeling awesome. Nathan was feeling good, at least good enough to grab a beer at mile 16 from the Hash House Harriers, chug it and then catch up to me. I was not feeling good enough to be amused. I think he was actually a bit tipsy for at least a few miles. Running makes the alcohol get into your system quick! I started to feel better and though I could still see the lead two women, I was not feeling that I would give chase. I decided to stay consistent and let them come back to me in the waning miles if they faltered. I popped another gel to get me out of my funk and we worked our way around Stow Lake and out of the park. Reaching Haight St the crowds increased and I got to see my mom cheering for me. It is the first time she's seen me race, so it was as exciting for her as it was for me!

Nathan was still chugging along side me, steady and seemingly strong. He said that he was definitely feeling the lack of speed work and was tired, but I was confident he would hang with me. I was feeling less funky and we picked up the pace a bit as we rolled up Haight St. I was a good 3 minutes behind the lead women, but was unconcerned. We continued to cruise, rile up the cheering sections and thank all the volunteers who were out there.  Once we hit mile 20, the miles started to feel quicker and easier. I was coming in to my favorite part of the race: the furious finish! I could smell the barn and was certainly ready to be done, as was Nathan I think. We continued to pass guys, moving up past at least a dozen or so in the last 6 miles, if not more. We caught up to Scott again just before mile 24 as he was suffering from a foot issue. The last miles wind around Mission, Potrero, Dogpatch and then finally head towards the ball park and finally the Embarcadero and finish line. We zoomed through Dogpatch and were picking up speed passing mile 24. Then came the headwind. I wanted to push in the last few miles, but also was walking a fine line of not wanting to run too hard, especially since I couldn't see if there was any reason to chase. Near the ballpark, I could see one of the lead bike escorts and calculated she was a good 1:30 ahead of me. Not a distance I was going to make up in less than a mile (into a headwind). I was happy with the race we were running, it is exactly the race/pace/time I wanted to run. Nathan and I zoomed onto the Embarcadero together, enjoying the cheers of the crowd and passing a few more guys for good measure. With less than 100 meters to the finish line, I sped up to pass another guy (I am so nice) with Nathan on my heels. I made sure to get him next to me and we crossed the finishline holding hands in 2:53:55. Good enough for 3rd place.

This was a good race for me in my training and a good confidence boost. I have had some good long road runs, but there is nothing quite like a race to gauge fitness. 2:53:55 is a fast time and even faster considering how slow the long grinding hills make you. I am excited for the rest of my training in the next 6 weeks. I have some longer quality sessions remaining and some mileage to be done, I can't wait to see how things shape up on September 10th in the Netherlands! I finished the week at about 80 miles total with a few quality sessions and a good race. That is a very satisfying feeling. What's even more satisfying is running an entire race with someone you love. The first time I ran SF marathon it was with my sister and we crossed the line hand in hand. This time, I got to run my 4th fastest marathon time with Nathan and cross the line hand in hand with him. It was great to have his company, pacing and encouragement along the way. Even though I got a lot of attention for my third place finish, to me it is a shared victory because he was there with me every step of the way! 

Funner with another runner

Everything is funner with another runner. Particularly, well, running. While I am definitely not against running alone, running with training partners and friends can't be beat. Especially on long run adventures.
Clearly we are having fun. That or we picked a route that is uphill the whole way.

Nathan and I decided in the spring that we were going to set aside specific weekends over the summer to go on long running adventures outside of our usual routes. Once the snow melts in Tahoe and Yosemite (ha, someday), we will be heading up there to run and explore. In the meantime, we plan a little closer to home but find places to explore we've never been or rarely go. Nathan is training for Hardrock and I am training to, well, not die while trying to pace the speedy Baker at Hardrock. My next 'A' race isn't until September, so while I do a few targeted workouts towards that goal each week, the rest of the time I am getting in as much trail time as I possibly can. Over the past few weekends we have been doing some amazing trail runs both close to home and on some trails that we've never been. 

Over the past two years of knowing Nathan, we have been on many adventures and shared many long runs. Nathan is the perfect training partner for me because he has opposite strengths from me (and is faster than I am) and so I am pushed to improve those skills (like uphill running) to keep up. I feel like I have grown as a runner because of training with him and also a person. That is not some overly sentimental schmoopy-ness, I think it is a reflection of what one should get from a good training partner. I have had many excellent training partners in my time as a runner including my sister and bestest everest. It made me think, what are the fundamentals of a good training partner? And how can you be a good training partner?

Fundamentals of a good training partner

A lot of the time, training partners naturally emerge when you run with other people and larger groups. But there are a few more factors to think about than just someone of similar speed.
  • Relatively close speed and endurance. For both partners to get the most out of training and running together, being of similar speed is a primary thing. In hard sessions, you want to be able to push each other (speed) and in longer sessions, you want to be able to cover the same distance (endurance)- i.e. a 10k runner and a 100 mile runner might be poorly matched in a long training run. This past wednesday, Nathan and I met up with Brett, Peter and Mike for Strawberry Hill repeats and we all were able to stay within 5-10 seconds of each other on the repeats throughout the workout and push each other.
  • Communication and understanding. I personally think that before heading off with a training partner, that the rules of the game should be established. It is best to discuss the nature of the run (how hard you'll be running, mileage, intensity, etc), whether or not you will stay together the whole time (if one person is feeling good and the other not, for example) and also goals of the run (getting in miles, specific workout, specific distance, etc). It is good to be on the same page.
  • Patience and positive outlook. The perk of running alone is that you only have to listen to your own body and adjust to your own needs. When you run with someone else you have to adjust to their needs as well. They will need to eat, drink, use the bathroom, etc at different times. They will feel good and bad at different times. Having patience and a positive outlook (i.e. save the hyper intensity and strict commitment to time/pace for your runs by yourself) means those differences don't have the power to change how you feel about the run.
  • Positive, encouraging, mutual respect.  In my head, I am always worried that I am slowing Nathan down. I know this is an irrational, neurotic fear and is completely unfounded. I also know where that fear comes from (not from him that is for sure). Instead of fostering those kinds of bad feeling, a good training partner (like Nathan) will be positive and encouraging. They will lift you up, push you to better yourself and will be honorable and respectful partners. 
  • Desire to grow and to be pushed. I think running with a training partner is in part for the company (especially on the ultra long runs) and part for their capacity to bring out the best in you and you in them. When I played basketball, I always wanted to play against stronger players so that I could improve my skills. The same is true in running, I run with training partners because I want to grow and be pushed, but also to help my training partners do the same.
I think being a good training partner means adopting these good fundamentals and thinking beyond yourself and your own needs when running with a training partner. 

In the end running with a training partner or partner(s), can change a run into an adventure or a training day into something you will remember for a very long time.

To that end, our weekend adventures last week (in short):

Day 1: Big Basin

We ran from Park Headquarters in Big Basin (near Santa Cruz) and did a 34+ mile loop (thank goodness we had a map) which managed to be pretty much uphill the whole way with the exception of about 2 miles were we lost about 2000 feet. The first 18-20ish miles felt like a bit of a struggle to me. We both were feeling more tired than we'd like but then turned it around nicely once we hit Skyline-to-Sea trail and hammered it uphill for 10 miles back to the car.

That's what she said

We followed up the run with Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D and then an epic amount of sushi at Naka in Santa Cruz. It was an absolutely ideal day.

Day 2: Pine Mountain
Sunday we headed north to Marin to run on Pine Mountain. I have run the 14 mile Pine Mountain loop a few times with my good friend Penny but Nathan had never been there. Earlier in the week, I emailed Penny to find out ways to make the loop into a 20+ mile run. We added on a very steep (both down and up) loop to the beautiful Carson Falls. The run was about 21 miles and we had a lot of fun.

My latest obsessions are Salomon Buffs and Rudy Projects that weigh nothing. 

We followed the run with a trip to Sol in San Rafael and then went to see Pirates of the Caribbean in 3D.  All in all, it was a fantastic adventure weekend. We got a lot of running done, ate great food and stepped away from every day life and still got to sleep in our own bed! I am looking forward to more adventures this weekend and all summer long!