Tuesday, July 27, 2010

San Francisco Marathon


Disclaimer: In spite of running with my camera for the entire race, there are no good pictures. It was way too foggy with poor lighting. Unfortunately you are all stuck with a few crappy shots and a typically long report.

Today I earned the title “Assistant to the assistant pacer” at the San Francisco marathon. I ran with my friend Jim, who was a co-pacer for the 3:50 group. Having run the Leadville trail marathon 3 weeks ago, this race was all about the city and experiencing a new race. I’ve always loved northern California, and this was on my “bucket list” of marathons (that bucket, by the way, seems to be bottomless).

Since this race wasn’t as monumental for me as Leadville or North Face, I compiled a lost of pros/cons for the SF Marathon (instead of making you read a long-winded report, though that report still exists for the most die-hard of race report fans). If any of you have been thinking about running it, hopefully this will give you a little more insight to the race.


  • San Francisco is a fun city and a great place to visit.
  • Start line was easily accessible.
  • Starting area wasn’t crowded thanks to the staggered waves. Very short port-a-potty lines!
  • Course had a great variety of scenery to include the waterfront, Golden Gate bridge, the Presidio, and the famous cityscape.
  • Perfect weather. 
  • Plenty of pace groups.
  • Plenty of water stops.
  • Race security was a local bike (motorcycle) crew… that was fun.
  • Very minimal spectator support…i.e. no screaming fans and cow bells (could be a con if you’re in to that sort of thing).
  • Finish area wasn’t too crazy, bag pickup was a breeze. All kinds of fun snacks to munch on after, including fresh Jamba Juice smoothies.

  • First half was really, really crowded. Had I started in wave 2 like I was supposed to, it might have been better. I haven’t run that far back in the pack in a while, so I’m not sure how it stacks up with other races. 
  • Pretty difficult course for a PR. Much, much hillier than Boston, with way more uphill.
  • Poor volunteer support (experience?).  Complete chaos Not enough volunteers to actually hand out the water at a few of the stops, so everyone would stop to grab a cup off the table at the very beginning of the aid station. Probably on-par for the worst aid stations I’ve ever seen.
  • Confusing course, route actually changed while running to accommodate traffic flow. I did not have a problem with this as I’m a big advocate of following the person in front of me, but a few people ended up being misdirected down the wrong street and having to turn around. Sort of a major snafu for such a major race.
  • Too foggy to get any good pictures :(

Review: I wouldn’t recommend this race as a PR effort unless you live in San Francisco-like hills, though it’s a fun run if you can ignore your watch and just enjoy the city. San Francisco is such a great place to visit, if you can stick around for a few days it’s totally worth it.

The trip got off to a rough start. Saturday morning I woke up to realize it was entirely too bright outside for my 5:00 alarm. Sure enough, it was 6:30 and my flight was scheduled to depart at 7:40. Errr, yeah….panic ensued. Bryan did an amazing job of keeping me calm and getting me to the airport with minutes to spare. I heard my name being called through the terminal and rushed to the gate. I made it! Yippee!

I met up with Angie at the hotel and we made our way to the expo. I think they intentionally put the expo in a TINY venue so it would feel like it was really big. The expo was every bit as crowded, maybe even more so, than some of the bigger races I’ve done. We got the heck out of dodge and made our way back to the hotel to relax a little. I was running off of 5 hours of sleep, AND I was on east coast time.  Angie had the great idea to hang out at the hotel “lounge” (which is a fancy word for bar in this sense). We had a glass of wine, and then another….before we knew it we had to high tail it to dinner where we were meeting other “virtual runner friends” and their families. We had a great dinner with Jim and his wife, and James plus his three lovely ladies (calm down, 2 are his daughters).  I was cajoled in to another glass of wine, though I wasn’t terribly reluctant about it because this was a fun marathon after all.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel room. I was counting down the minutes until my head would finally hit the pillow. Angie was sweet enough to french-braid pigtails for me. My hair turns in to a raging bird’s nest by the end of long runs, and it takes forever to get the knots out. I was in bed at 10:00 for a 4:15 wakeup. 6 hours of sleep is plenty the night before a marathon, who actually sleeps well anyways?

Race morning I woke up an hourish before the start. I quickly got ready, ate a bagel (non-toasted, mind you), and walked the 10 blocks to the start. I cannot express how amazing it is to be able to WALK to the starting line. It was a bit chilly out, something like 55 degrees and balmy. Perfect weather to run a marathon!

At the start I basically stumbled in to James, who was looking as chipper and cheerful as ever. We found Jim, who due to his pacing status had access to the “VIP area with bagels and coffee. James didn’t have anything to eat, again, and convinced Jim to swipe him a VIP bagel. I think part of the reason why I’m so fond of James is because he is so carefree about everything he does, to include trying to set a PR on a crazy hilly marathon. Anyways, on to the start…

First I should mention that I had no problems with port-a-potty lines. I think the way they stagger the start times is actually quite genius for logistical purposed. Instead of 20,000 people swarming to the start, they have a new wave going off every 10 minutes. That means the slower marathoners may start an HOUR after the first wave. It really helped with congestion and kept the starting line pretty manageable.

            I found Jim with his 3:50 pacer sign, and we waited around for our 23 minute delayed start (we were wave 4). I was a little annoyed by a 5:30 starting time, thinking that was entirely too early for a race, but it worked out great being so close. Thanks to the un-congested starting area, you really didn’t need to be there any earlier than 15 minutes before your wave went off. Which brings me back to my story….
            I shed my long sleeved t-shirt right before the countdown began. I should mention that I have been trying in earnest to get rid of this shirt for about 4 years. Every time I do a race, it somehow ends up with me. Either I decide not to wear it, or someone “saves” it for me after the race (in spite of my pleading to let it go). I considered this a successful shedding experience when it did not return to me at the finish.

Our wave started and suddenly I found myself running another marathon. My first thought when I’m running is always “I wonder if this is going to hurt….”. My second thought was “holy crap this is a lot of people”. I was surprised that there was so much congestion for the first couple of miles. I had a terrible time trying to keep up with Jim, who was dutifully plugging away at the necessary pace. People were weaving in and out, walking, doing all of the horribly obnoxious things that people seem to do in a race. I think a lot of the problem was that the half marathoners were starting with the full runners, and it added a few thousand more people on the course. I can’t even imagine how awful it would’ve been without the staggered wave.

We had a pretty good group of people running with us, though we didn’t have too much chatter going on. I was looking around anxiously for good places to take pictures, but it was soooo foggy nothing would turn out. Bummer L  Race reports are so much more fun with pictures. Anywhoo…
Coming up on mile 4ish or so we hit the first big hill. This was definitely a hill. Everyone stopped talking as we started our ascent, and the sounds of labored breathing reflected the challenge. I was very impressed with the San Franciscans (or wherever the other runners were from) because very few people walked. It was the kind of hill where you’d expect a LOT of runners to be walking. Not so in this city!

After the hill we wound our way through a park, where I was completely astounded to see runners cutting across the grass for a little short-cut. At one point, a girl who cut across the grass hopped on the road next to me, and I said with all of the sarcasm I could muster: “Nice shortcut…”. She said “I know, Right??!!”. Ummm, no. Not right. Anyways, I was soon forced to hop on the grass myself because the sprinklers came on and drenched the path we were on. Not wanting to get my camera wet I had to run around.

After a bit we made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was more the Covered in Fog and Haze Bridge at this point. Typical. 

After the last hill we came up, the bridge really wasn’t a challenge. We had some issues with crowd control as the lane was very narrow, but we managed to go over and back in mostly one piece. We did have a casualty who tripped, and it was a miracle it wasn’t me.  It was pretty chilly on the bridge, and I envied those with multiple layers. I definitely should’ve worn arm-warmers.

At some point approaching the bridge, Jim realized he had fudged his Garmin and didn’t have the accurate time/distance. He then realized he fudged his Timex, so he had no clue what we were doing. Oh Jim…I gave him my watch, and instructed him not to push any buttons this time. The 3rd watch did the trick, and he did a great job of pacing over the hills and on the flat/downhill portions. I could never pace like that…we were shooting for an 8:43 average, but nary a mile was flat enough to really hit that exact pace. We were either going much faster or much slower, but somehow it came out perfect.

Eventually we wound our way in to a park of some sort where the half runners would finally branch off. I was confused and amused when I looked over and saw a random group of bison just chilling in the park. Oh San Franny, you can be so silly sometimes. I thought of my husband, Bryan, who is like a little kid when we drive through the country. Every time we see cows that aren’t spotted he’ll yell “Bison!!!!”. Well babe, I finally found your bison.

The park was a little challenging because it seemed like a never-ending uphill climb. It wasn’t steep or anything, but it was a little annoying. Mind you my pace was completely comfortable and I had no trouble on the hills, but I really felt for the people in our group who were desperately going for a PR. This was NOT a PR course (later James proved me wrong).  Really though, it was rough. Way harder than Boston. Heck, Boston is cake compared to this. Well, maybe half-cake.

We finally came out of the park at mile 19 or 20, can’t quite remember. Our group did a great job of making it through the dreaded “wall” danger-zone. We were all chatting quite amicably by now, as if we suddenly realized we’d been running with the same group of people for nearly 3 hours. Unfortunately shortly after this, there were a couple more big hills that took out the majority of our group. Jim kept the pace perfect, but they were steep enough to where if you were tired, you were probably going to slow down a little too much.

After mile 24 we lost everyone. A couple of guys ran ahead, but most of them fell back. I was sad to see people struggling, but I suppose that happens. I honestly think the people who were going for a 3:50 probably should’ve gone for a 4:00 on this course. If you don’t live in these hills, it’s probably going to get to you.  I ended up running ahead for a bit with a guy, and we suddenly realized we were way ahead of the group. He stopped to walk, I slowly jogged along side. Eventually the almost non-existent group caught back up.

We finally passed mile 25, and then 26. Jim gave me the pacing sign to run through the finish, and I had fun chasing people with it and pretending like I was going to hit them on the head if they didn’t speed up. A couple of people did speed up, probably to get away from the crazy chick waving a sign at the back of their head. Jim was probably glad I didn’t take the sign before then, who knows what I would’ve done.

Jim and I crossed the finish line together, though he forgot to stop the watch so aren’t exactly sure of our time. 3:49:??. Perfect pacing, which I could not do if my life depended on it. The finish line chute was a breeze. Not too crowded, plenty of snacks and drinks. I scored a Jamba Juice smoothie (I know, right??!!) and some muscle milk. Jim and I finally parted ways so I could grab my stuff and get back to the hotel. It was pretty darn cold standing around in sweaty running gear. I walked the 10 blocks back to my hotel smiling to myself. This was my 7th marathon of 2010, and I have been very blessed to run in some amazing places.

And yes, for those who know me well, I had a luxurious Endurasoak bath as soon as I walked in the door.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Leadville Trail Marathon

Abstract version: heck of a race, beautiful scenery, finished in 5:18.

Long version (with a ton of pictures):
           For reasons I cannot remember, I decided it would be fun to run the Leadville Trail Marathon in Colorado this summer. I love Colorado, and hope to live there some day soon...but that really is no reason to sign up for such a ridiculous race. Nevertheless, when I told my family that I planned on running it, everyone scurried out to Colorado to enjoy a week in the mountains with me before the race (have I mentioned I have an awesome, supportive family?).

Normally I try not to post too many pre-race details, but there were a few things going on which prevented me from feeling entirely confident the night before the race. In order of events.... On Wednesday, I fell hard on a boulder in a stream and sprained my wrist (I know, it's just a wrist...I don't run with it). I continued to hurt it by accidentally putting pressure on it, and I was stuck with an ace bandage and a lot of aspirin. On Thursday, I went hiking and rolled my ankle, which left me cringing every so often if I put weight on it the wrong way. On Friday, my family and I headed to Rocky Mountain National Park which resulted in sitting 9 hours in the car, and dealing with a nasty stomach bug of some kind. Errr, we'll call it serious GI distress. Everyone knew my wrist hurt (duh), but I didn't mention my ankle because I didn't want anyone fretting over it...there was nothing to be done. I just had to hope and pray it healed. The stomach issues though were a serious problem. I drank 6 (20oz) bottles of water and didn't have to pee at all, thanks to being completed dehydrated. I was exhausted and felt horrible, a long day in the car not helping any. I finally managed to eat a legit pasta dinner and drink 32 oz of gatorade, which did not stay in my stomach for very long. I went to bed thinking that Saturday was going to be completely up in the air.

Saturday morning (race day): First things first, check the wrist....good!!! Not completely healed, but I don't think I need to wear the ace bandage...which means I can use my handheld instead of the camelback! Sweet. Ankle test: stand on bad foot for 5 seconds; fail. Bummer. I could tolerate it for about 3 seconds before it really started to hurt. At least it isn't sprained or anything. I down some pb&j on a bagel, and find myself rushing to the bathroom. DANG IT! I've never had tummy issues in a race, I really didn't want to start today. I just have to hope it calms down eventually.

Mommy drove me to the start of the race, which was less than 45 minutes away (35, the way my mom drives in the mountains!). I'm so thankful for her serious crewing abilities, she's always on the ball. I picked up my registration from the gym, hit the bathroom again (not good), headed to a grocery store to get a banana (which I forgot to pack), had to use the bathroom again (still not good), decided I couldn't stomach the banana, opted for some G2 instead. Headed to the starting line and waited in the longest porta-potty line ever for another shot at the bathroom (still bad news there). Alright, enough about going potty. I had my Garmin queued up, had to snap a picture of the elevation (10,201 ft).

Mom takes a  quick picture with the awesome mountains in the background

I made my way to the start line with about 60 seconds to spare. The race director started the race with...a rifle! Even though I listened to the countdown, the crack of the rifle still startled me.

And we're off! And it's uphill right away! I was so excited that I probably ran a little faster than I should have, but it didn't take long for the altitude to smack me back to reality. 

It wasn't very steep, or maybe it was...I don't know. I had to walk after about .5 mile.

The half marathoners peeled off after 1.25 miles, and the marathoners took a hard right which led straight uphill. There was hardly any running for the next few miles, it seemed like everything was straight up. My breathing was a little labored, but mostly I couldn't make my legs run up that steep of a climb. Everyone was walking, but they were walking a heck of a lot faster than me. How do they do that??

Mile 4 completely sucked, there was a really steep climb...which is probably why it took 17:19 to complete. Getting the gist of the race yet? Somewhere along here I got passed by an older lady who reminded me of Joan Benoit-Samuelson. She had short white hair and was wearing a hot pink shirt and a hat, which is exactly what she was wearing when I saw her in DC back in March. I decided to aptly name her "Mountain Joan" because she was kicking my butt.

Somewhere between mile 4 and 5 there was an aid station, which was set up exactly like an ultra-aid station with all real food and multiple beverages (to include flat coke). 

It was then that I realized my stomach was fine and I didn't have any more "emergency cramping" going on. I was hungry, so I took a banana. Very bad idea. The banana turned in to a giant ball of pain intent on ruining what little ability I had to breath. Thankfully there were no g.i. issues, but the cramping wasn't fun either.
 We really started seeing some amazing scenery, I just love being in the mountains. I made quick friends with a guy, and it happened to be his birthday. We snapped pictures for each other and continued onward. 

Birthday Dan and I talked about last year's winning time (3:30), and how frightening it is that both of our marathon PRs are faster than the winning time. Eventually I left birthday Dan (probably on the downhill) and was hit in the face with more uphill. It was absolutely beautiful though, hard to complain! 

It was scary seeing the little tiny dots of runners wayyyy ahead running uphill.

Snow! If we hadn't had such a bad winter in DC, I would probably be more excited by this. I tried to get a girl to go jump in it so I could take a picture, and she actually mulled it over (though later declined).

We headed through a single-track on the side of a mountain, which was absolutely terrifying to look down. Good thing I'm not afraid of heights, and I know how to tuck & roll! 

Booo on this climb...

Finally we had a nice 3 mile downhill section, and I took it for all it was worth (after turning around to take a picture, of course). I was surprised that I was passing pretty much everyone in sight, and no one was keeping up with me. Since when did I get so good at running down hill? Hmm. This must be recent. 

We hit the intersection which merged us back on trail with the half-marathoners, which meant we were beginning our ridiculous climb up to Mosquito pass (13,200ft elevation). I knew this was going to be tough, but I completely underestimated just how hard it would be. I thought it was only a 1.5 mile climb, but that's because I'm silly sometimes. It was definitely 3 miles, straight up to the sky. At first I felt like I could hold a decent pace (sub 19:00/mile), but it was exhausting. My legs were on fire and I was completely out of breath. The wind picked up and the temperature drastically dropped, as only mountain air can do. I was completely shivering, but I managed to focus on other things to keep my mind off of it (like all of the loose rocks I was tripping over...). The halfers were coming down the decent, so I tried my best to stay out of there way. I know how hard it is to run down a steep, rocky path with stupid runners unwilling to move over. Unfortunately, they ran all over the place and I couldn't tell which way to run in order to stay out of the way. I finally gave up and just walked straight up. 

I think I ended up around a 25:00 pace on this section, just looking at it makes my legs weep openly. Breathing wasn't an issue, I couldn't walk fast enough to get my heart rate up. The sky was playing tricks with me here, it was like someone was holding a flashlight and kept waving their hand in front of the light beam. One second it was sunny, the next instant it was cloudy, then sunny, then cloudy...you get the picture. Just a reminder, it was freaking cold!

It took me about an hour to get to the stop (miles 10-13), but I finally made it. Mosquito pass! Why it is named that, I do not know. I didn't see any mosquitos (thankfully). It was so sweet to see the little aid station at the top, I sighed with relief. 

Most people stopped long enough to have someone take their picture, it did feel pretty monumental to get up that beast. 

At this point I started thinking about how many women might be ahead of me, and I decided to run down and find out. I had been "chasing" (not that I was trying to catch them) 2 women on the way up, one was dubbed "Tights" due to her compression outfit choice, the other was "Skirt" (gee, wonder why). Tights was not very friendly at all, I tried talking to her and she had no interest. I happily left her behind and chased down Skirt, who was doing an impressive job of rock-hopping on the way down. It took me a full 1.5 miles to catch her, even though she was only 15 yards ahead of me. I rolled my bad ankle at some point, which was a little too painful. I sucked it up and kept going, and rolled it again about .15 later. Doh! Come on! I tried to shake it out, and just keep going. I was glad that I hadn't even though of my ankle up until that point. Good thing I didn't have to balance on my foot for 5 seconds (which is a terrible test for running, apparently). 
I started getting really pissed at all of the people who wouldn't get out of my way. There was very little terrain which was mostly free of rock, and they wouldn't give it up to the downhill runners. The rocks were so slippery. If your foot didn't slip on the surface of the rock, the rock would slide under the weight of your foot. I can't count how many times I rock-surfed. 

Pause for a scenic photo op...

I caught Skirt girl when it leveled out a little and there weren't many loose rocks to trip me up. We chatted for a bit, and she told me she's really good on the crazy technical stuff, but otherwise she isn't very fast. I wished her luck and sped on by. I made it all the way down somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 minutes, which was pretty sweet considering how long it took to get up there...and this CRAP we were running on!

After making it through an aid station the marathoners were on their own again. At this point, it got very quiet and remote. I didn't see very many people, though I somehow caught up to a lot of people. Miles 18-20 were completely awful. It was all uphill (remember that 3 mile section I flew down earlier? Hmph. Had to go back up). There wasn't any running until we hit the single track at 21, and even then the running was only for about 50 meters at a time. Every time I felt discouraged by how awful my legs felt, I would take a picture of something scenic. 



and then...

I paused to pick a wildflower (I know, bad Amy!). It made me feel better. 

We came to an aid station around mile 22, and I decided to put the camera away and focus on all of the downhill we were about to hit. Mind you, every mile still had some sort of climb in it which was rather discouraging. The entire race was either straight uphill or straight downhill, there was very little moderate ground. It was almost easier to deal with because I didn't have to think about whether I should run or not. If it was up, I walked...if it was down, I ran. A couple of times I ran a few yards on the uphill just to change up my stride and make my body appreciate the walking a little more :) 

Now we're talking! I was flying down the last 3 miles. My legs hated me, but they really had no choice. I consider my form more of a free-fall with really good brakes. We didn't have any more incidents (my feet and I), which was pretty miraculous. I passed a lot of guys who were either nursing a recent fall or running slow because they were so afraid of falling. Don't judge, it was rough stuff. I think I was pretty dumb and lucky for making it down the way I did. 

The pain in my legs was intense, the stomach cramp never quite went away. It may have been a cramp from lack of oxygen, which is somewhat believable given the ridiculous altitude. I felt more mentally strong at the end of this race than I have in a very, very long time. I obviously wasn't trying to snag a PR, so what happened? I think I realized why I picked this race... I want to know more about myself as a runner. I learn more about ME by learning more about my running. This was a very hard test for me, and there isn't a single thing I would've done differently (well, perhaps I'd skip the banana next time). I was in control of my race, even though the mountain was in control of my legs. Sometimes I really hate my big legs, but then I think about the fact they carry me through some ridiculous crap and are ready to go the next time the gun goes off. 

The last mile was an antsy mile. I just wanted to be done! We hit asphalt .75 from the finish, and it KILLED my feet. Holy crap. I'm starting to get why ultra marathoners hate the road so much. That sucked. Nevertheless, it was downhill so I obliged the hill master and let my legs roll. As I approached the finish I didn't hold back at all. They announced my name and everyone cheered. 

The second I crossed, my family was there waiting to fix whatever was broken. I am happy to say that I took more from this race than I gave, and I feel like a much stronger runner for it. 

I walked around later to figure out if I'd placed (2nd AG, 8th OA), and I saw a guy I'd been running with for a mile or two. His knees were covered in blood as he sat on the curb. I suddenly noticed that everyone who was sitting on the curb of the road had bloody knees and were waiting for medical attention. I love my legs even more for that. 

I probably won't ever do this race again, but it was a very special memory. It will be up there with my favorite races of all times, because it leaves a lasting impression of what I accomplished and how few would ever try.

Mile splits for those who are interested in just how ugly this looked: 
1- 10:16
2- 14:16
3- 13:14
4- 19:19
5- 13:05
7- 08:00
8- 08:13
9- 07:31
10- 9:54
14&15-17:03 (forgot to hit lap)
16- 8:15
17- 10:09
18- 15:57
19- 13:52
20- 15:47
21- 8:55
23- 11:08
24- 9:40
25- 7:45
26.2- 7:29 (totally ran mid 6's for the last mile!)


Friday, July 2, 2010

Pre-Leadville Anxiety

Well, it's Friday....I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Frisco, CO (elevation 9,100 ft) wondering why on earth I signed up for the race tomorrow. I usually have a "calm before the storm" type of feeling going on before a race, but this time I'm so fearful of what might happen tomorrow that I can't seem to find any positive thoughts. I know at the least I'll always be able to finish the distance, but tomorrow....all bets are off.

Perhaps my mistake was visiting Leadville earlier in the week. I was greeted by hard-packed orange dirt trails littered with rocks and debris, with zero shade and somehow heading up an incline in all directions. I got out of the car and walked around, we were somewhere close to 11,000ft at this point.

I took THIS picture and was completely out of breath by the time I made it back to the car.

Or maybe it was this particular piece of scenery that made me unsettled:

What makes this race so hard? Well, start with the elevation. When was the last time you were at 10,500ft elevation at a starting line? Ever tried running at that altitude? Yeah, me neither. I've been up here for a week with my family, and while I'm finally acclimatizing on my runs and hikes, it's still insanely hard. Add to that the lack of shade at that altitude and you're getting a serious smack-down from the sun. Oh, and did I mention there's a total of 6,000 ft of climbing? Sigh. At least the peak is only 13,500 ft at Mosquito Pass! (come on, pretend with me here).

I stopped in a local outdoor gear shop to find out a bit about the race, I figured if anyone had any sage words of wisdom it would be them. Sadly, one of the employees had entirely too much fun freaking me out. 
At first, it wasn't so bad...

Then he started showing me the "fun" parts...

And now I'm completely ready to pack it up and go back to sea-level:

I know, I'm being a big wuss. Not really though. We stopped by the race office where they still have the results from 2009 taped to the window. Average finishing time? 6:18!!!  6 HOURS and 18 MINUTES! For a MARATHON!!! I actually found a blog online and stalked the poor guy to put myself in comparison with his finish time, because I honestly have no idea what to tell my family. See you at the finish line, hopefully? At some point before dinner? Anyways, this guy ran a marathon in 3:15, lives in Boulder, and finished Leadville in 5:55. Ehhh? 

Alright, my musings/freaking out has to come to an end, heading up to Rocky Mt. National Park to see some moose/elk. And I don't mean my brother. Hopefully my name will make it on the finisher's list tomorrow...for the first time in my life, I'm not so sure.