training race

Oakland Marathon Race Report

At the start line with speedy friends. Caitlin, Penny and I.
Photo by Chris Jones.

When I couldn't run Napa Marathon a few weeks ago due to overwhelming stress with opening our business, I quickly changed my plans to run Chuckanut 50k last weekend and after the race hop in the car and help my sister and her husband with the drive from Seattle to San Francisco (they moved down which makes me so incredibly happy!!!). I also signed up for the Oakland Marathon when I signed up for Chuckanut. The way business has been going, I am never certain which race start line I will be able to show up at. So I wanted a back-up plan, just in case. Chuckanut went really well and I was very satisfied with my run and had a fun little road trip Bin-Yanko style.

My legs didn't feel bad after Chuckanut except for a little niggle in calf/ankle/foot that sent me running to Psoas Massage to see Scott, not once but twice this week. While my legs felt pretty good, my body in general didn't feel right. I had a laundry list of symptoms including massive water retention (like 15lbs) while not peeing. Coupled with all the other symptoms, I made a b-line for my doctors office on Thursday morning to make sure that my kidneys weren't shutting down. My doctor advised that I not run the marathon if we didn't get the bloodwork back. It would be dumb to run a marathon if I was having acute kidney failure. Obviously.

Thankfully, my bloodwork came back the next day and my kidneys were fully functional. The bloodwork did however reveal (especially when compared to my bloodwork from 6 weeks ago) that my symptoms are due to my thyroid swinging from hypothyroid (which I have been medicating for 6 years now & had dropped my TSH too low) to a more hyperthyroid state. This explains why I have been struggling to feel great since the beginning of the year. While my iron levels have improved, giving me more energy, I haven't felt right for nearly 3 months. I have had insomnia, been hyper emotional, intolerant to heat and extraordinarily hungry. I just figured that some of the symptoms (insomnia, anxiety, being emotional) were because opening a business is stressful. But after hearing from my doctor and understanding what hyperthyroid (even a temporary hyperthyroid like mine- my meds just have to be adjusted) means for my body.

After receiving clearance from my doctor, I decided last minute that I would run Oakland Marathon. I figured it would be an awesome way to see Oakland and even better, it would be a chance to hang out with my mom (who just moved to Oakland) and have her see me race! I didn't taper at all for this race. Yesterday on my 11 mile run, I pondered whether or not this might just end up being my slowest marathon ever. I was/am still retaining water weight (which makes you feel kind of gross/heavy), but I decided that I should give Oakland a go. After all, a week after racing a 50k and not tapering really put me in the mindset of "come what may". Given the nature of the course, I figured I could just run it as a workout. I knew it had the potential to be a long ride on the pain train, but I also knew that with no expectations, I might just have a flipping blast. And I did.

 Photo credit: San Jose Mercury News

I spent the evening in Oakland at my mom's house and made pre-race dinner for the two of us. The usual: greens, chicken and lots of sweet potatoes. Her new place was perfectly located to roll out of bed after a nice long sleep (9hr!!!) and run less than a mile to the start line. I ate a pre-race banana with sunbutter, lots of coffee and headed out into the perfect morning. It was clear and cool without being cold. I jogged over to the start line where I ran into Caitlin who was also running. I was excited to see her as I hoped it meant I might have a workout partner for the race. I knew from previous years results that the women's winner often ran the entire race alone. Knowing how speedy Caitlin is, I knew that I would have to have a pretty good day to bring home the win. As I warmed up with her and then with my good friend and training partner Liz (who was running as part of a relay), I wasn't sure how I felt. I didn't feel bad, but I wasn't sure how 6:xx pace was going to feel.

I had spent the evening before the race figuring out what 2:45-2:50 pace looked like and I hoped I was going to be able to muster then 6:29 min/mile average it would take to run 2:50. But I really wasn't sure.

I lined up a few rows back with Caitlin and my darling friend Penny (who wins pretty much every trail marathon in the entire bay area). It took me 3+ years to convince Penny to run a marathon, now she crushes dozens a year!

The gun went off and off we went. I went out comfortably, but was also well aware that my pace was ridiculously fast given my goal time. My first miles were 6:01 and 6:00 respectively and I knew that I need to pull back a little. The first half of Oakland Marathon contain pretty much all of the near 1,000 feet of climbing for the whole race and I wanted to be conservative until I was done with the hills at mile 11. The course pretty much goes uphill from mile 3 until mile 11, so it was unrealistic to maintain that pace, but I went with it to get my legs spinning. After two miles, I settled in to closer to 6:20 pace and made my way along. I was feeling good and happy. Just content to be "feeling" it. My body was allowing me to clip along without protest, despite all the demands I have placed on it over the last week.

I really wanted to negative split and have enough for a fast finish style long run, so I did not push too hard on the hills. I went comfortably through the Oakland hills, chatted occasionally with my two bike pacers (as the lead female I had a bike pacer) and tried not to get run over by any cars or miss any turns.

It was a strange thing, everytime we came to an intersect it was a question of whether or not the cops were actually going to stop traffic or if I was going to play a dangerous game of frogger. Thankfully my bike pacers did a good job getting ahead of me and making sure I didn't get creamed. But there were a few times when I literally was weaving through cars. The turns were not well marked as there were often cones in every direction. Again, thankfully my bike escorts showed me the way, but it was awfully strange to have the course be so unclear. In fact, with less a half mile to go we came off Lake Merritt and neither I nor my bike escorts could tell which way I was suppose to go! There were no race marshalls at the turn and I ended up back running traffic, scrambling to figure out which way the course went. Thank goodness we went the right way!

For much of the first half, Caitlin was about 20 seconds behind me. I knew she planned her workout to also be a fast finish long run, so I pressed myself to not let off the pace. Miles 7-11 averaged in the upper 6:40s, but I was feeling really comfortable and looked forward to flying down the hill on the other side. Mile 12 was a nice 400 foot loss of elevation and I picked up the pace dropping a 5:44. I let it out a little but didn't get to crazy as there was a lot of race left. It got my legs spinning again and I was able to drop 4 more miles at sub 6:10 pace.

By mile 20, I was feeling tired, but not anything worrisome. More like tired because I raced a week ago and didn't taper and was at mile 20 kind of tired. I resolved to just continue to maintain my pace and not worry about pushing it too hard. Around mile 21, one of the bike pacers told me my lead had grown to 2:20 over Caitlin. I knew that I couldn't let off the pace or do anything that would cause me to blow up, so I just dug in and maintained.

The last 4 miles seemed to take forever, but eventually I made my way around the Lake and closed in our the final stretch. Fittingly, the race finishes up a hill, so I pushed myself up the final hill and waved my arms to pump up the crowd as the announcer called my name. It was thrilling. I had started the day not even knowing if I would have the strength to finish the race strong and instead, I won. Even more satisfying, I set a new course record in 2:47!!

Photo credit: San Jose Mercury News

I think the most thrilling part of it all is the fact that this is the first time my mom has got to see me win a race. It was awesome to be able to give her a big hug just after the finish and see her so proud!

I am very pleased with how the race went, how I felt and how I handled the ups and downs of this week (heck of this year). It makes me very excited for the races to come this year and to see what I can do!

Napa Valley Marathon Race Report

Photo by Leigh Ann Wendling 

I never get too hopeful that I will actually make it to the line at Napa Valley marathon. Since winning in 2007, I have been signed up twice more and both times have been thwarted by serious illness. After spectating the race last year, I was excited to run the race again for myself. The timing of the race was perfect for my 2012 schedule. It allowed enough time for me to recover from the Trials and was a perfect lead up to first big race of the year: Two Oceans (April 7 in Capetown, South Africa).

I recovered well from the Trials and was back up to training hard starting about two weeks after the Trials. Since then, I have had some very confidence boosting workouts with Nathan and have sought to dig deeper than ever before. My coach Howard threw some of the hardest workouts I have ever done at me and I really have started to enjoy really really really pushing my own limits.

I came into Napa with a race plan that suited my continuing training schedule. I wanted to keep my training volume up before the race, so I only did a short taper. I ran 40 miles the week before the race and part of me was wondering if I had too steeply curbed my training. I didn't want to run the race rested, I didn't want to run the race tired, but I also didn't want to completely miss the mark and run it flat. I crossed my fingers the week of the race and hoped for the best. Nathan was racing again and I looked forward to getting dusted by him (he was 3rd last year in 2:33) or possibly, using him as a rabbit to pursue.

We headed up to Napa mid-afternoon on Saturday and enjoyed a nice dinner at Bounty Hunter in Napa. We had my favorite pre-race meal: steak, baked potato and green salad. And a glass of Pinot. I figured, why not? I am actively trying not to be on the "no fun diet" (aka what Nathan calls the way I eat leading up to a major race), so a glass of wine was a nice pre-race treat.

We woke up at 3:30 am and Nathan fired up the Jet-Boil to make a French Press of coffee. I was not feeling that good. I had all sorts of niggles in my legs, my breakfast had to be choked down and I was not feeling the way I would like to on race morning. It made me a bit worried of how the day would play out. Or more, it made me completely relinquish any pressure I put on myself for being the race favorite. I was just going out for a hard long run and focused on my plan.

It was cold and calm at the start and I was happy for my sleeves and gloves as we got ready to start at 7am. Nathan and I did a bit of a shake out run and lined up with the other 2,500 runners. Off we went. Three guys (who would finish as the top 3) shot out on mid 2:20 pace and I settled into a nice group with Nathan, Victor (fellow ninja), Elvis (aka Ian Sharman) and one guy I didn't know. It was like a fast, road ninja run! As soon as we started going I felt pretty comfortable, I think my body just found that switch and flipped it. We cruised out just about 6 minute pace and rolled our way towards Napa for the first few miles.

6 min pace felt effortless and I just tried to lock in and not be tempted to go any faster. I knew the course would keep rolling and I didn't want to push it too hard on any of the hills. 6's felt good but when we would let the pace creep down into the mid 5:40s, I could tell I was working harder (duh, I know).

My race plan was to run 6 min/pace (if it felt controlled and comfortable) until mile 20 and then push it if I could. I was rocking my new Timex Run Trainer watch and had it set to take mile splits (It was a fantastic watch and really easy to use/read). Even from the very first mile it was doing splits before the official race sign, but I didn't worry about it since my pace was showing up spot on and Ian, who is an absolute metronome, confirmed via his GPS we were right on pace as well. I had noticed that the start was moved back a ways since the last time I ran and there is a huge variance of tangents one can run to add extra distance.

Photo by Rick Gaston

Somewhere around mile 6 or 7, our group of 5 splintered as Nathan took off on what I would consider "his pace". I was actually surprised he was with us for so long but he soon disappeared down the road like he was riding a bicycle. Victor and the other guy gave a bit of chase and I consciously stopped myself from pursuit. I had a plan and I intended to stick to it. If I was feeling frisky at 20, then I could do all the chasing I wanted to. But until then, I held back and stuck with Ian, who is a fellow North Face teammate. He was going for the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon in an Elvis costume and needed to run a 2:42 to do so. He said he was planning on 2:37 pace as long as his fitness would allow him, so we carried on, chatting and rolling down the Silverado Trail. Every time we'd pass a mile marker, Ian would tell me what our pace was and what pace we needed to run to each break our respective records. Going in to this race I knew the course record was 2:39:42, so I used it as a motivator to not let up the pace just because I was far ahead of second place.

We made it through 10 miles on target in 1:00:xx and blasted on through the halfway mark without losing any ground in just under 1:19 (can't be exactly sure of the splits since my watch was not splitting on the mile markers as I mentioned).  I was still feeling really good and controlled at the halfway mark and was also feeling a bit antsy. My energy was good and my GU that I had taken was not bothering my stomach as it had in Houston and NYC. It was getting much warmer and I was really happy that I had shed my sleeves and gloves along the way. Around mile 17, I decided to put a bit of a move on for a bit and see if I could let the pace out just slightly to spice things up for myself. I knew there was a pretty big hill around mile 20 which would slow me down, so I wanted to let out a bit of the reins to see how my body handled it. It felt really smooth to transition to a slightly faster pace and I just went with it. I am really trying to experiment with my limits in the faster racing, so I figured if I was going to make a mistake, a training race was the time to do it.

 Mile 18, pulling away. Photo by Rick Gaston

I started pushing it a bit and Ian dropped off me a little bit, but not far. He would charge back on a downhill and we were still pretty close heading up the climb at mile 20. I came through mile 20 under 2:02 and figured that if I could just maintain or even speed up, I would make the record. I thought back to the hard long runs Nathan and I had been doing with fast finishes and the various hard tempo workouts I had done leading up to this race. I was confident that barring an epic blow-up, I could finish this race strong.

Around mile 20, I did notice that my left foot was hurting. I had once again tied my shoes in a way that was putting pressure on the top of my foot. I had done this in Houston as well in fear of a shoelace coming undo. Instead, it was hobbling me a bit and I tried to decide if I could make it the rest of the race without fixing it. I kept running trying to navigate pushing harder and overreaching. I was tired so "pushing harder" translated more into "maintaining earlier pace". I was close to 6min/miles as I hit the valley floor and started making turns to work my way to the finish line. 

It was gorgeous out and super sunny but it was also quite windy after leaving the Silverado Trail. I remembered from my previous run at Napa that the last 6 had a pretty steady headwind. I appreciated the wind only because it kept me cool, but it certainly did nothing for speeding up. At mile 23 I couldn't take it anymore and stopped to adjust the tongue of my shoe. I came to a complete halt, yanked the dang thing around and relieved the pressure on my foot. It was a risky move since I knew stopping meant my legs would have a chance to seize up. In the 15 or so seconds I was stopped, my legs definitely tightened and it took me another 30 seconds to get them moving again. My foot felt much better, so it was worth it to me to stop.

Throughout the race, I had a race marshall on a bicycle nearby and she would call in updates on my times to the finish. I was back cruising pretty hard, trying to calculate how close I was going to cut it to the course record with the stop. I passed mile 24 and a large group of spectators. I noticed that there were cones blocking off the streets where we weren't suppose to turn and I felt confident in the obviousness of the course. I ran passed one such intersection and was about 10 feet beyond it when the bicycle pacer screamed, "STOP!!! You missed the turn! Come back!" I screeched to a halt, about faced towards here, looked at the intersection where all the spectators were now yelling, "No, no, no keep going!". Even though it was obvious I was suppose to continue straight this was an official race marshall telling me I was about to go off course, so I had to take the time to make sure I did not in fact go the wrong way. Another 20-25 seconds lost. I sprinted off in the correct direction, now with no room for error. I was starting to doubt with the time lost that I would even make it under 2:40. I felt surprisingly calm about it. Found it humorous even. Sure I would have loved to run a PR, but circumstances were not in my favor and things had conspired otherwise. My effort was there to run a PR, so I was pleased with that. 
I really had to push it, I had less than 13 minutes to make it 2.2 miles to get the record. I was going to go for it and push out the run in the way I had intended to: HARD. Now that the record was in jeopardy, I wanted it even more. It stood for 20 years, I was so close, I could not let it go.

Photo by Rick Gaston

I hammered it home, making the final 5 turns towards the high school. I churned my legs as hard as I could and used my arms, glancing at my watch to see how close I was. I turned the final straight away and charged to the finish line, victorious. And with a new course record: 2:39:37. 

Thinking about it now, I am so pleased with how this race went. I got to run on a beautiful, challenging course on an amazing weather day. Face some random debacles to test my head (and stay unfazed). Try out a different race strategy and paces. Push myself. Wine a ton of wine. The rest of the day was filled with good friends, delicious food (at Oxbow!) and savoring our accomplishments (Nathan was 4th!!). I am now looking toward Two Oceans in a month with excitement and am hungry for the challenge!

  Nathan and I at the finish
Photo by J.L. Sousa/Napa Valley Register

And of course, the best part: Wine!
Photos by Rick Gaston