Friday, May 14, 2010

Back of the Pack

Well, this isn’t a race report…or anything that I would normally want to blog about. I felt so compelled to share this, so here I am.

I’ve been cycling a couple of times a week to try and supplement my running with some non-impact exercise. Pretty much every time I get on the bike, my legs are already dead. I’m not a very strong cyclist, though I think I gave myself even more credit than I deserved.

Last night I went for my first group-ride with the Reston Bike Club. There were about 80 people lined up with their bikes hoping to get in a good ride. They had 5 levels, 1 being the hardest and 5 being the easiest (you know, the slow-pokes). My neighbor had been hounding me to come out and ride, but he thinks I’m some studly athlete or something. Yes, I run…but that’s about the extent of my non-dimensional “talent”.  I signed up for group 5, as they advertised their average pace to be 14-15 mph. While I typically ride a little faster than that, I didn’t want to risk being dropped. My lovely neighbor harped on me pretty bad and convinced me that I’m definitely level 4, if not level 3. I told him it was my 7th workout in 3 days, and I really didn’t feel like I had a good ride in my legs for the night. He introduced me to a woman who rides in the 4s, and she said she would stick with me. I grudgingly switched to the 4’s, which was the stupidest decision I could possibly make.

As we all filed off, it was evident that the 4’s were the biggest group. With well over 40 people, the average speed was SUPPOSED to be 17-18mph. We took off going well over 20, and I tried my best to stay level with the back of the pack. For those who aren’t familiar with the accordion effect, I spent 2 miles being the end of a slinky continually trying to catch up with the main pack. I was going 24-25mph on the flat areas, and struggling like crazy going uphill. At last, it happened. The group made it through a light and I did not.

I was feeling completely defeated as I made my way through the intersection. I peddled around for a few minutes, feeling the tears start to well up in my eyes. I got dropped. I was alone. I had no idea where I was, and I had this ridiculous “cue sheet” that supposedly tells you the route. What the hell is a cue sheet anyways? I start to peddle back the way I came, and the heavens opened up and a shining light descended over 3 lone cyclists heading towards me. Ok, that’s not entirely accurate, but I was very happy to see them. They were group 5. The slow-pokes. The 5 hour marathoners (if you are a 5 hour marathoner, I mean no offense. You know that you’re slow).  I spun my bike around and joined their group. I explained that I got lost, and was mercilessly dropped. One of the girls said that group 4 always rides fast, typically well over 20 mph.

I spent the next 20 miles laughing, grunting, cursing up hills, and laughing some more. We had a great time. I have never been so happy or so proud to be riding with the slowest people in a group. I will be back next week, and I will proudly take my place at the back of the pack. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Boston 2 Big Sur, but mostly just Big Sur.

It was the best of times, and really just the best of times.

I was talked in to running Boston by my wonderful group of online marathon training pals, and headed to Bean Town with the full expectations that I would not enjoy Boston, would have a miserable race, but would form lasting friendships nonetheless. Amazingly enough...I was only right about that last part. Running Boston this year was purely magical. I could go on and on about the wonderful experiences surrounding the events of the weekend, but heck…most of the people who are going to read this were there, so I’m going to stick to the 2nd part of the story. Just know that I did by some miracle run a small PR of 3:12:51.  I headed home on Tuesday night, went swimming and biking once, and before I knew it Bryan and I were on a plane heading to California on Friday.

As we drove down Highway 1 from San Jose to Monterey, Bryan and I took a trip down memory lane. We lived in Monterey for 2 years, which is actually where we first met and fell in love (((sigh))).  Since we know the area pretty well, all of our dining options were mapped out in advance. We stopped off at my mom’s hotel to pick here up and headed to the Fishwife for a delicious seafood meal with Ron, arguably the man responsible for having signed up to run B2BS in the first place.  We had a wonderful dinner and headed off to the mall as Amy conveniently forgot all of her pants at home. Literally. I was wearing Nike athletic pants to dinner, and had nothing else to wear. I recalled Apollo lying on my pile of jeans on the bed at home, and realized I never convinced him to move off of my clothes so I could finish packing. Anywhoo…back to Big Sur.

Saturday morning Ron, Bryan and I headed to Pebble Beach to meet James for a trial run. You know, the kind of run where you see if your legs are actually still working and if indeed they can run a marathon the following day. It was surreal how picturesque it was running along the coast, laughing and joking the entire way. My legs felt surprisingly fine at our break-neck 9:15 pace. The laughter was surely a sign as to what would be a joyous event the following day.

After the run we headed to brunch with Team Reeve at our favorite spot, First Awakenings, where they serve the best pancakes you will ever eat in your entire life. If you think you’ve had the world’s best pancakes, you are wrong. Period.  Bryan and I spent the rest of the day sightseeing, hit the expo, and wandered around Fisherman’s wharf (perhaps enjoying a margarita or two). Eventually we headed down to Carmel with my mom and 2 Marine pals who are in the area for a pre-race pasta dinner. Somehow we ended up at an Italian restaurant that had no pasta, but the chef was kind enough to whip up something delicious for me anyways. From the restaurant, Bryan headed off with our friends to enjoy a night out and I headed back to the apartment to get ready for bed. I couldn’t quite fall asleep as early as I’d have liked, but some time after 10:30 I finally passed out.


3:30 am the alarm goes off and I’m up and off. I tried to wake up Bryan to take me to the busses, but he was in such a deep sleep the only thing that would wake him up was a super-soaker, and I don’t think our hosts own any such devices. I drove myself the hotel to meet Steve and Ron before loading the busses. Steve sees me right away and waits patiently while I get a cup of coffee and a giant bottle of water from the hotel lobby. We’re the first ones to board our bus, so we head to the very back row where they have 3 seats together. We weren’t sure whether being next to the bathroom would be a good thing or bad thing, but it turns out it was irrelevant as the bathroom was locked shut. After everyone finished downing coffee and water, we were desperate for a bathroom. We spent a while driving down to the start, but to be honest I wasn’t paying attention to the time so I don’t know how long the ride was. About 5 minutes before we get to the starting line, Ron starts getting desperate and tries to pick the bathroom lock. I’m sandwiched between him and Steve, wondering what’s going to happen when we get caught for breaking in to the bathroom. Fortunately we arrive at the starting line fairly soon, and they abandon their efforts as we file off the busses.

The starting area was a complete mad house. There weren’t nearly enough port-a-johns, and the “staging” area was entirely too small for the amount of people who were running. I saw another Marine friend of mine that I hadn’t see in years, gave him a quick hug and headed off to wait in lines. Steve, Ron, and I waited for what felt like forever for our turn in the potty, but eventually are turn did come. We then headed to the gear-check area which was also entirely too crowded. Steve and Ron travel with a ridiculous amount of gear and take about an hour to get everything set (I love them even if they’re high maintenance), but finally we checked our bags and found James right at the front of the starting line. We watched Michael Wardian do a few strides, and then found our place at the start. It was amazing how refreshing it felt standing at the start of a race that no one was stressing about, and the only thing between us and the finish was 26.2 miles of breathtaking scenery. The weather was perfect, probably in the high 40s or low 50s, and not a drop of fog or humidity.

I don’t even remember hearing the gun go off, I just remember we all started running. Our “9:09” goal pace was screwed from the get-go. We just ran. Nice, easy, long run pace. Being in God’s country kind of pace. The first mile Ron was bouncing all over the place shouting “Today’s the day!” and James was giggling in a way that only James can do. We know it’s going to hurt at some point, but for now…it’s just a beautiful day to go for a run with 4,000 or so fellow runners. We’re getting passed by runners, and I’m trying my best to let people get around me as easily as possible. I spotted Dean Karnazes up ahead, who apparently ran the 26.2 miles from the finish to the start at 2am and then turned around to run the race. Steve and I pull ahead to catch up to him, and I play photographer and attempt to get an action shot of Steve and Dean running together. Unfortunately the lighting was still too dim so my camera’s shutter speed was too slow for action shots and everyone was just a blur at this point…or maybe Steve is always just a blur on cameras when he runs by :) After the meet and greet we drop back and re-join our group of crippled runners.

At this point the pictures will really have to speak for me, as no words can capture how breathtakingly beautiful this part of the coast truly is. You don’t need to go to New Zealand to be amazed at God’s masterpiece. We were running it every step of the way.  The pictures became clearer as the lighting improved, and the mood remained light and cheerful. 

We saw 2 miniature horses on the side of the road, I was so tickled that I had to go pet them. The white one gave me big kisses :) 

Eventually realization set in when we heard the drums..this marks the bottom of Hurricane Point, which is not exactly the most pleasant of hills if you've run a marathon the weekend before. Since we took it nice and slow, it really wasn't all that terrible. I still think it gets way more hype to its name, but it's definitely memorable. 

And up Hurricane Point...James has his fist-pump thing going on here. Probably shouting "Today's the day"...which became our mantra (joking that today would be the day that we would set a huge PR). 

The miles were going by terribly slow at an 8:50 pace (compared to my 7:22 pace 6 days prior), but by mile 17 my legs were starting to feel it. All of a sudden the down hills were almost unbearable. My muscles were just giving out; gravity was both a blessing and a curse. The up hills were no easier, but at least they weren’t painful. We saw many B2BS’ers struggling with the hills, and we all took turns running up to people who looked like they were hurting and chatting them up a bit.  You could see the relief on their faces as a complete stranger took the time to strike up a conversation with them. Even something as simple and cliché as “nice view, ehh?” could evoke a smile. Also, I tried to keep track of how many times Steve stopped to take a pee break but lost count after 5. I suppose I should cut the guy a break, he was out there for an hour longer than his Boston marathon time.

Around mile 22 (maybe?) we hit the strawberry stand. 

Rows of volunteers were working diligently to remove the green leafy parts of the berries and place the fruit in bushels for runners to grab as we went by. I grabbed a handful, and then another. My stomach was growling like crazy since about mile 10. Those were the most plump and juicy strawberries I’ve ever tasted. The marathon is almost worth running for the strawberries alone. 

My legs stopped hurting, or maybe I was just so numb I didn’t notice, and I suddenly felt rejuvenated and ready to go. We kept to our pace, and all seemed in disbelief that we were indeed going to complete our 2nd marathon in 6 days. As we approached the finish line, we clasped our hands together over our heads; Ron, James, Steve and I, along with a 2nd Ron we picked up around mile 5(and apparently charmed with our winning personalities for the remaining 21 miles).  3:51:35 (with the exception of Ron #1, who decided to be one second slower), and loving every minute of it.

As we were greeted by the volunteers who were placing medals around our necks, I realized that I felt better than I ever have at the end of a marathon. There was no shaky-leg syndrome- you know- that feeling when you aren’t quite sure if you’re going to fall over or if perhaps the ground is moving in strange ways under your feet. I saw my mom and walked over with ease and gave her a big sweaty hug. After all, this was her 2nd Big Sur watching me cross the finish line. I know she was thinking the same thing I was :)

After hanging out in the B2BS’ers finisher’s tent we headed back towards Monterey. James drove himself home, and my mom and Bryan had the pleasure of driving our tiny little compact rental car with Steve, Ron and I crammed in the back seat. Boy we smelled purdy! After stopping at our favorite deli for a gigantic sandwich, everyone went to their respective rooms to take an Endurasoak bath. I was in heaven in my lavender lemongrass infused mineral bath. 

Later on, we all met up at James’s beautiful home in Carmel and ate delicious Forno Bravo homemade pizza. With this kind of treatment, I think I’m going to have to go back again next year. After eating a substantial amount of pizza and drinking a couple (or few) glasses of wine, we convinced Steve and Ron to follow us to a Korean massage parlor that we found on a reconnaissance surveillance to get me a foot massage. For $30, you got an hour of pure relaxation. That was the best post-race day I think I’ve ever had. I fell asleep soon after the massage with what I’m certain was a huge grin on my face.

I wish I had the endurance for writing as I do for running, sort of lost steam at the end :P