Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tri-Cities Marathon Race Report

Before I start recapping the actual marathon run, I just want to jot down some background.

I started training for my fall race in August, which would have given me about 16 weeks until the Seattle Marathon at the end of November. When I decided on the Tri-Cities Marathon for my fall race instead, that cut down my training to 12 weeks. I ended up not following any type of written training plan, but in my head I knew I had to run 3-4 times a week with a long run on the weekend. I averaged about 40-45 miles per week. I also mixed in at least 1 session of strength training, cross training, and yoga per week.

My goal for the marathon was to run a 3:50. There's nothing special about 3:50. It just seemed like a good target since my previous PR was 3:54:27. Going into the marathon I knew I could cover the distance, I just wasn't sure if I could hold the pace. On one hand I felt like it had been a good training cycle and my long runs had all gone well. But on the other hand I was worried that without following a plan I hadn't gotten in enough purpose-driven runs focusing on speed. Anyway, by marathon day there was nothing left for me to do but run.

Okay, so now let's get to race morning. I didn't sleep well for both nights before the race so it was good to have the race starting right at the hotel so I didn't have to wake up crazy early. I left the room at 7:45 and the race started at 8. I used that time to fuel with GU Chomps and do some leg swings and other light stretching. I lined up maybe a third of the way back, and before I knew it we were off.

The first mile was on the road, getting us from the hotel out to the river. Then in the second mile we ran up a hill, across the I-182 bridge, and back down. None of the "hills" on this course were difficult and I ran up with ease. Mile 3 was back on the road. My legs felt good right from the start and I was just trying to run comfortably rather than trying to stick to a pace, although I did glance at my Garmin to make sure I wasn't doing a completely crazy 7 min pace or something like that.

Mile 1 - 8:36
Mile 2 - 8:14
Mile 3 - 8:31

To run a 3:50 marathon, that's an average pace of 8:46. I like to factor in some wiggle room since my Garmin is never going to read exactly 26.2 at the finish line. So that meant aiming for an average 8:40 pace. I was slightly on the fast side those first miles but close enough, and in my mind it's better to be under than over.

After mile 3 we moved onto a paved path that ran along the Columbia River and stayed on the path for several miles. From here I started to look around and enjoy the scenery. There was the river on one side and some very nice houses on the other. With so few people around me, I felt like I was out for a fun run and not in the middle of a race with over 20 miles to go. I felt light on my feet and thought about a phrase I heard on the Runner Girls Podcast recently... I was "running like a ninja on eggshells"! Or at least in my mind I was. I'm not sure where the lightness came from because I sure don't run like that during training.

I had been running behind "gray shirt guy" for awhile but caught up to him and we had a brief chat. He'd run the race before and mentioned something that I'd also read online... that there can be a bad headwind on the later part of the course when we head back along the river to the finish.

Mile 4 - 8:19
Mile 5 - 8:27
Mile 6 - 8:30

I slowed down slightly to take my Clif Shot at mile 6 and gray shirt guy pulled in front again. I stayed close behind and used him as a pacer. I saw the average pace on my Garmin was about 8:25 and had a fleeting thought that I was running too fast, but then I decided that I as long as I felt good, I would go ahead and bank the time for the second half of the race. I know that you're supposed to aim for negative splits, but I didn't have enough confidence in my ability to run strong in the later miles and I was concerned about the potential headwind slowing me down during the second half as well.

Miles 7 and 8 were still on the riverfront path, then mile 9 took us over the blue bridge into Columbia Park. I liked that the bridge crossings added some variation to the otherwise flat course.

Mile 7 - 8:22
Mile 8 - 8:27
Mile 9 - 8:14

I was still following gray shirt guy and around this point I started noticing "green shorts lady" and "green shirt lady" slightly ahead of him. They made nice bright targets to keep within eyesight.

This part of the course was an out and back and I got to see a lot of the other runners which made for some good people-watching. There were also more spectators here. I took a GU at mile 11.5. 

Mile 10 - 8:15
Mile 11 - 8:22
Mile 12 - 8:31
Mile 13 - 8:25

I was behind gray shirt guy at the halfway point and then I must have zoned out because I realized I couldn't see him anymore. I could still see the green ladies so I figured he picked up some speed and passed them.

The course went past the blue bridge and continued on this side of the Columbia River to the third bridge of the race. In this stretch between bridges, which was miles 15 and 16, I noticed that my right hip was starting to feel tight. It wasn't painful, it just felt "off" to have one side of my body feel differently than the other. Kind of like when your shoes aren't tied at the same tightness. Speaking of which, my shoes were starting to feel loose even though I had double-knotted them. With 10 miles still to go, I decided it was worth it to take a short break to re-tie my shoes and there were some handy benches along the path. I did one shoe first, ran for a bit, then stopped for the other shoe. I also tried to a little stretch for my hip but it didn't really help. During this time I lost the green ladies but the gray shirt guy passed me during my second shoe stop. I don't know how I ended up ahead of him for a bit. The path across the cable bridge was a bit narrow, so I held back and saved my energy rather than trying to pass anyone here.

Mile 14 - 8:25
Mile 15 - 8:37
Mile 16 - 8:44

After crossing the cable bridge, it was a straight shot along the river, then one final bridge crossing and the last mile to the hotel. I don't remember too many details about this part of the race. Based on the course map, I guess I came down the bridge and then took a GU at mile 17. I passed gray shirt guy again and didn't see him again the rest of the race. I think I also passed a couple other people somewhere through here. Luckily the headwind that I was concerned about never made an appearance. I really lucked out with the almost perfect weather conditions for this race.

Mile 17 - 8:13
Mile 18 - 8:29
Mile 19 - 8:30
Mile 20 - 8:45

At mile 20, I remember saying to someone, "just 10k left" but I don't think I got a response. I wasn't feeling as light on my feet anymore, but overall I was feeling great considering I had already run 20 miles. My average pace was still under 8:30 here so I was pretty confident I was going to make my goal. I started thinking about if I might even be able to come in under 3:45. But at the same time I was wondering if I was going to hit the wall. Did I go out too fast in the beginning? I wasn't going to purposely slow down now so all I could do was keep running and see what happened. I took my final GU at mile 22.

Before the race I thought I would be bored on the back half of the course since it just looked like a long straightaway. But I actually didn't mind it at all. Running on a path next to a river is so much nicer than running down a long straight road. Plus there were little turns in the path so I couldn't really see that far ahead and that helped me stay in the moment.

Mile 21 - 8:24
Mile 22 - 8:36
Mile 23 - 8:42

By mile 23 I was finally confident that I was running a fantastic race and I wasn't going to hit the wall. My feet were hurting a little, but other than that I wasn't too tired and I think my form was still good. I still had the weird tightness in my right hip but since it didn't seem to be affecting my running I stopped worrying about it.

I could see the green shirt lady ahead of me again, but green shorts lady had disappeared. I caught up to green shirt lady at a water stop. We both stopped to walk through the water stop but I took off first and passed her. The final hill was a switchback and the guy in front of me must have seen me coming because as I went by he said "I knew you were going to pass me". It felt amazing to be running so strong up the hill and at this late in the race... even if it wasn't that steep. I passed a couple more people on the bridge and then flew downhill. Not going to lie, I loved that I was passing people and not the one who was being passed.

Mile 24 - 8:28
Mile 25 - 8:19

I skipped the water stop at mile 25 and decided to go for it and give it my all for the final mile of the race. Oh my goodness, this was definitely the hardest mile of the race. My lungs were burning and I had two thoughts. First to keep my legs moving as fast as possible, and second... where the heck is the hotel?

My boyfriend came out to play photographer for me. I was happy to see him, but would have to wait a few more minutes to say hi.

Mile 26 - 7:52

The last mile was my fastest of the entire race!!!

I could see the finish line over to my right, but that final stretch seemed to take forever since I had to follow the road until I reached the hotel entrance and then turn into the parking lot. With maybe 100 meters to go I saw the finish line clock and couldn't believe my eyes. I knew I had run much better than I planned, but I really had not been anticipating being anywhere close to a 3:41. I made it my final goal to cross the finish line before the clock ticked over to 3:42...

And I did it!

My chip time was 3:41:26. Eight minutes faster than my goal and a freaking 13 min PR! I was on cloud nine the rest of the afternoon.

I hadn't been expecting to place in my age group so when I checked the results I was excited to see I was second. Of course that meant we had to stick around for the awards. I was pleasantly surprised when I actually got called for first in the 24-29 age group... The girl who would have been first in our age group ended up taking third overall female. So that was a perfect ending to an amazing day.

I feel like I'm running out of adjectives to use. The Tri-Cities Marathon turned out to be such an incredible experience I'm still so thankful about how everything just came together perfectly to result in an amazing race.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tri-Cities Marathon - Race Review

In order to expedite this, I'm going to try and keep things simple with a pro/con list. The next post will be about the run itself.

  • Terrific course! We ran along the Columbia River and the majority of the race was on a flat, paved path. The only "hills" were the four times we crossed over the river. I liked that we had the bridge crossings for some variety so it wasn't completely flat the entire race. The view of the river was nice too.
  • The course support was great with water and Powerade every two miles. I think a couple of the stations had gels too.
  • I loved that the race started and finished at the host hotel. It made things so much easier, plus the hotel is in a great location. There's a grocery store, pizza place, and cupcake shop all within a short five minute drive. With the race starting at 8, I didn't get up until 6:30, and I could have slept in later if I was more efficient at getting ready in the morning. The hotel offered a late checkout for a $20 fee which I gladly paid in order to shower and have time to pack up after the race.
  • Chip-timing - even though it only took me 15 seconds to cross the start line, it's still nice to have my exact time from start to finish. There were three checkpoints during the race and it's fun to be able to analyze my stats. There were also touch screens at the finish so we could look up our results immediately.
  • The medal is nothing fancy, but the fact that this small race had medals puts it in the pro list.
  • Free post-race massages!
  • There was a photographer at one spot on the course and at the finish. All the photos taken on the course were displayed at the finish line and it was only $10 to purchase the print.

  • The registration fee was $70. It feels slightly high to me considering the size of the event, but given how well organized everything was and all the pros above, I think it was worth it.
  • According to the results, there were only 180 finishers. I've had other races where I couldn't even see anyone in front of me, but that never happened here, although I would have been fine if it did. I think this race confirmed for me that race size isn't a big factor for me when choosing a race, even at the marathon distance.
  • There weren't very many spectators, just those cheering on friends or family. More spectators would be nice, but I didn't need them.
  • The race "website" was really just a page on the 3 Rivers Road Runners website and I found it slightly lacking in information. However, when I emailed the race director he was very helpful and got back to me in a day.
  • The race shirts only went down to a small (no XS) and were unisex. They were also bright red with silver printing, which I didn't think was a very attractive combination. 
  • This is petty, but I'm disappointed that the age group awards weren't unique. We all got a pint glass with the race logo on it. I know a glass is more functional, but I honestly would have preferred a ribbon that said 1st place - Female 25-29. 
Overall I really thought this was a fantastic race and would definitely recommend it. I'm even considering running it again, despite the 5+ hour drive. I could see myself going back next year to try for a BQ.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wouldn't change a thing

This post is going to be about documenting the details of things that were under my control so that I can remember what worked and try to replicate it or improve on it next time.

Shoes: I've been running in Brooks Defyance shoes since February and they seem to really be working for me. Both of my pairs were getting up in mileage so I bought a new pair about three weeks before the race, and also started using a new set of custom insoles. At first the new shoes/insoles didn't feel quite right which was weird because it was the exact same as what I'd been running in, just newer. I had several debates with myself whether to wear my old shoes and insoles, the old shoes with the new insoles, or the new shoes with the old insoles. I finally went with all new because it just seemed too crazy to run a marathon in shoes that already had 395 miles of wear. The new shoes had 75 miles going into the marathon and I think it was the right choice. By the end of the race it definitely felt like I'd been on my feet for a few hours, but they didn't feel overly beat up.

Carbo-Loading: I mentioned in my pre-race post that I haven't been a believer in carbo-loading in the past. I guess I should modify that by saying it's not that I didn't think it worked for some people, but more that I didn't really see a need for me personally to put it into practice by doing anything that different before a race. But now I've realized that it really does seem to make a difference in my performance. The important part is to still keep my eating under control and not stuff myself to where I'm uncomfortably full.

I started my carbo-loading on Friday night at Chipotle. I've had Chipotle now before all three of my marathons so I think I'm going to have to make it a tradition. I don't really think of Chipotle as carbo-loading because it's basically rice, meat, and vegetables (I don't add beans, sour cream, or cheese)... the same thing I eat everyday but with Mexican instead of Asian flavors. But this time I also asked for the tortilla on the side and nibbled on it along with my typical carnitas bowl.

For lunch on Saturday I had quite a bit of bread, along with a slice of quiche and a bowl of tomato basil soup. Then finally for dinner on Saturday I specifically searched Yelp for a pizza place. Unfortunately the pizza wasn't that good, but it still did the trick. I guess I should also mention that I had a couple cupcakes on Saturday too, plus I drank a lot of water of course.

Race Fuel: I had my usual cool mint chocolate Clif Bar about 65 minutes before the race start. I like this Clif Bar because it tastes good, doesn't have nuts, and contains caffeine (50MG). About 15 minutes before I had a (sample) pack of strawberry GU Chomps (four pieces).

I carried four gels with me during the race. I could only fit three in the pocket of my capris, so the fourth I pinned onto the waistband. This worked really well and I didn't even notice it was there. At mile 6 I had a chocolate Clif Shot. Normally I don't use Clif Shots, but I think I got it as a sample from somewhere and it was the only gel I had without caffeine. I didn't like the consistency because it was thicker than GU and harder to squeeze out of the packet. But I'm not sure if that's because the Clif Shot was the gel I had pinned on while the other three were closer to my body and therefore warmer from my body heat. Anyway, at mile 11.5 I had a vanilla orange GU Roctane. I haven't gathered any personal evidence that GU Roctane is better than regular GU, but I'm choosing to believe the marketing and assume that it helps. At mile 17 I had a vanilla GU and finally at mile 22 I had a triberry GU.

I can't remember exactly what I did at my previous marathons, but during training I usually don't take more than 100 calories per hour. This leads to me sometimes feeling hungry during a training run, but my philosophy is that it's better to train on less fuel than I'm going to use on race day. During the marathon, there was only one point where I started to feel slightly hungry but I think it went away when I drank some water. I feel like I had a good fueling plan and adding in another gel would have been too much.

I switch back and forth between liking gels versus chews. I used to prefer chews because they're less messy, but lately it seems that GU Chomps are hard to get out of the bag. The gels worked really well for me this time. I had to slow down a bit to take them, but I liked that I could squeeze it out quickly and then focus back on the race.

Clothing: Of course I can't talk about clothing without talking about the weather. The forecast was something like 51 F at the start and 59 F at the finish. The decision between shorts and capris was pretty easy. I don't think I would have been too cold in shorts, but with capris I don't have to use body glide. The decision between short or long sleeves was harder. I don't usually wear race shirts to races, but somehow I'd gotten the idea in my head that I wanted to run in my Rock 'n' Roll Seattle shirt. In the end I went with long sleeves because I figured I could deal with heat better than cold. If it had been really sunny, I probably would have been okay in the short sleeves, but most of the race was cloudy and gray so the long sleeves ended up being the perfect choice. I never felt hot during the race, even at the end when the sun started to peak out and I was running hard to the finish.

I bought a new Moving Comfort sports bra on sale recently and wore it on a 13-ish mile training run without any problems so I decided to wear it for the marathon too since my other sports bras are getting old. Well Sunday morning when I put it on the shoulder straps felt extremely tight and I was kicking myself for not packing a second sports bra. There was nothing for me to do but put a ton of body glide on my shoulders and hope for the best. Amazingly, I ended up not even giving it a second thought once I left the hotel room.

My favorite brand of socks is Balega and I have these turquoise socks that are the perfect combination of cushioning without being too thick. I actually have two pairs of them and somehow I accidentally packed one older sock and one newer sock. It's probably hard to tell, but the sock on the right is a little more well-worn.

It's silly, but I had a slight moment of panic thinking that having different socks was going to throw me off my game because I hate to be "unbalanced". Once again though, I didn't give it a second thought during the race.

Finally, I wore one of my trusty white Road Runner Sports hats. I can't remember the last time I raced without one. Perfect for keeping my hair out of my face and (for the most part) the sun out of my eyes.

Looking back, there really isn't anything I'd do differently that would have led to a better race. It's awesome to have figured out what works for me after just three marathons, but then I've had a ton of half marathons to practice with. Maybe I'll learn some new tricks for the next race, but if not I'm confident that following a similar plan as this time will be successful.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Did that really happen?

Wow, so I set a new PR today by 13 minutes!!! I'm still riding a runner's high, but at the same time am already thinking about the next race and trying to break 3:40. And then maybe, just maybe, working toward a Boston qualifying time of 3:35. Before today I was fully expecting to wait another 10 years before trying to BQ, but now it actually seems possible in the next few years. I think the question is how badly do I want it? But figuring out the answer will have to wait for another time.

This and the next few posts are going to get into some pretty detailed, boring stuff about the race. This is purely so that I have a record for myself to look back at because as I was trying to figure out what to wear for the marathon I was wishing I had more info about how I felt at past races. For the rest of this post I'm going to take stock of how I'm doing post-race...

I'm still amazed at how good I feel right now. Not too much worse than after a long training run. I thought I might stiffen up after sitting in the car for five hours but I was still okay afterward. It probably helped that I wasn't driving so I could move my legs around a bit.

Immediately after I finished I had to stop and catch my breath, but after a few minutes of walking and drinking water I pretty much felt fine. It seemed like such a marked contrast between my other two marathons. After Route 66, I remember being so tired and walking so slowly and almost wanting to cry because I was there all by myself without anyone to help me. After Rock 'n' Roll Seattle I was in a better mood but still sore enough that walking, and especially sitting and stairs were difficult. Today I can even walk up AND DOWN stairs with ease. You know you're a runner when being able to carry your own suitcase downstairs after a marathon is a big deal. :-)

I have a few small aches and pains but nothing really worth noting yet. I think they'll go away with a good night's sleep or two. Also despite my liberal use of body glide, I have a couple blisters between the toes on my right foot but they don't bother me much.

Before the race, I was hoping to "empty my system" but my body didn't cooperate. I was worried that I might have GI issues during the race or that all the carbo-loading I did would sit heavy in my stomach, but luckily I didn't have any problems at all. It wasn't until afterward that my stomach started to feel a little funny. I'm not sure if it was from the stress of the run on my body or from something I ate, or maybe both.

I've noticed that I seem to get weird side effects from caffeine. I have pretty much no caffeine on a daily basis, aside from any minute amounts of caffeine that might be present in chocolate. Occasionally I'll have fuel with caffeine during a long training run, but I keep it minimal. That's because I don't want to build a tolerance to caffeine so when I have it during a race I get the maximum benefit. I used to think that the side effects were from the effort of running hard, but after doing some races with less or no caffeine, I realized it was the caffeine. While in the car on the way home, the way I described it was that it made my face feel dry. My skin felt hot and tight and I'm pretty sure my face looked flushed. I was constantly putting on chapstick. And I could also feel it in my nose... it's hard to explain, but it's sort of like when you go to the dentist and the anaesthesia goes all the way up to your nose. My nose wasn't numb, but it didn't feel normal. I think the warmth and stuffiness of the car made it worse, because I started to feel better as soon as I got home although it still hasn't worn off completely. The alertness and energy benefits go away pretty quickly while the side effects linger much longer. It's annoying, but I can put up with it in order to get the performance benefits.

Okay, time to sleep now and hopefully everything will feel better in the morning. I'm going to cross my fingers that I won't wake up stiff and sore tomorrow.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tri-Cities Marathon Goals

Well, tomorrow I'll be running my third marathon. This one is different than the first two because it's smaller and almost completely flat. I'm hoping the flat course will help with reaching my goal time, but I'm concerned that because I'll be using the same muscles the whole time that my legs will tire faster.

My goals are:
A- 3:50
B- 3:54 (new PR)
C- 4:00

I'm also a little concerned because I didn't follow a specific training plan and probably didn't do enough speedwork. But at least I think I did a pretty good job with the mileage. Two 18 mile runs, six 20+ mile runs, and several mid-week 13-14 mile runs.

A couple other things I'm doing differently this time around are that I got a massage yesterday and I'm going to carbo-load tonight with pizza. In the past I haven't been a real believer in carbo-loading, but lately I've noticed that my long runs seem to go better if I've had more carbs the night before. So hopefully it helps tomorrow.

I'm using the Blogger app so that's all I have the patience to type now. I'll report back after marathon #3!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Race for the End 10k

A couple weekends ago I decided to run a VERY last minute race. It was about 12:30am on Saturday night (technically Sunday) when I stumbled across a listing for the Race for the End 5k/10k on Sunday morning. Normally I'm not an impulsive person, but this race had all the right elements going for it... The course was around Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham and I've been wanting to get out and run in that area. The registration was only $15, even on race day. It was for a good cause - to promote awareness of and try to end domestic violence. And most importantly, it didn't start until 10am, meaning I could still get a fairly good night's sleep.

So I got there Sunday and registered, then had about half an hour to kill before the race started. I hit the bathroom twice and did a bit of dynamic stretching (mostly leg swings) but skipped doing a warm-up run. I ran 24 miles on Saturday, so my plan was to just take the 10k as a slow fun run. I ate a Luna bar at 9am and skipped my usual pre-race GU.

I thought I started out pretty conservatively, but my Garmin says otherwise with a 7:59 first mile. Both the 5k and 10k started at the same time so at first I didn't know who was running what, but the courses split fairly quickly and then things thinned out a lot. There was a turnaround about 1.5 miles in and that's when I realized that there were only a handful of people running the 10k. I also saw that I was the third female.

I still wasn't trying to race, but my legs felt good and the gab slowly started to close between myself and the two women ahead. I ran the second mile in 7:38. I passed one woman and then would have been content just staying on the heels of the first female and letting her set the pace. But as we were coming up on an intersection in the trail, I guess she didn't see the volunteer pointing us to the right and she overshot the turn. At that point I "took the lead".

I ran miles 3 and 4 in 7:40 and 7:03 according to my Garmin. For that fourth mile, either my Garmin was off or I did a great job taking advantage of the downhills because I almost never run a mile that fast. There was a lot of downhill the first portion of the race and I was constantly dreading the fact that eventually we'd have to climb uphill again.

By the time I reached the uphills, I'd put a pretty good distance between myself and the other women and I didn't think they'd be able to catch me. But I still made myself run the hills and not stop to walk. Somewhere on one of the hills I managed to pass a guy and I want to say that I don't think anyone passed me anytime during the race although I'm not positive on that. The fifth mile was my slowest at 8:33.

I got a bit frustrated during the sixth mile because the course met back up with the 5k and I was dodging walkers as well as people just out for a Sunday morning stroll in the park. I ran up on a family with two little girls on bikes right in the middle of the trail and yelled "watch out, watch out, watch out". I'm not sure why I felt compelled to say it three times... I guess to make sure they were paying attention because it's hard to tell what little kids might do. I also had to yell "on your left/right" several times. Afterwards, I wondered if I had been too aggressive in trying to run past everyone. I wasn't going for a PR and I was probably far enough ahead that I could slow down a bit without sacrificing my lead. I don't think I behaved badly, but maybe I could have been a bit more polite?

I ran the sixth mile in 8:11. The mile 6 marker was placed early so at first I thought the course was short, but in the end my Garmin read 6.21 so I guess the course was about right. I picked it up for the last bit of the race - thankfully it was flat - and ran the last .2 at a 7:12 pace.

My official finish time was 48:33 (7:50 pace). Even if I hadn't placed first female, I would have been extremely happy. I honestly did not think I had it in me to run under an 8:00 pace that morning. I felt surprisingly well considering that put me at 30 miles in a span of about 26 hours... although I was definitely more sore than usual on Monday.

There was a great post-race spread with bananas, oranges, bagels, bread, and gluten-free brownies. I got a ribbon for placing first in my age group and a $25 gift certificate to Fairhaven Runners for placing first female. The small turnout worked in my favor, but I felt bad for the organizers because overall it was a terrific event. I think they lacked publicity. If the timing works out, I would definitely consider running this race again next year.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tunnel to Towers Ferndale

In the 5 years that I've been running, I've rarely run the same race twice. Partly because I like trying new events, but mostly because I haven't lived in the same place long enough. The first race I ran last year after moving back to Ferndale was the Tunnel to Towers 5k. I didn't even know about it until the day before. Despite having run 14 miles on Saturday morning, I still signed up for the 5k on Sunday. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to run in my town and support a good cause. I finished in 22:55 and placed second female. Yay for small town races!

Tunnel to Towers Ferndale 2011

As you probably guessed, I ran the Tunnel to Towers 5k again this year. The race was on Saturday so this time I planned ahead and took Friday as a rest day and moved my long run to Sunday. The race was about a mile away from my house so I walked down as a warm-up. I arrived just in time to see them raising the flag...

Along with the race bib, I was super happy to get two coupons for free Baker's Breakfast Cookies. The cookies are really good, but have more calories than a Luna bar and seem less filling, so I haven't bought any in years. Now I have an excuse to indulge.

The race started a little after 9:30am. It was a loop course and the nice thing about the course is that the slight uphill is in the first mile and it's not even that steep. After that there's a downhill and then the rest of the course is flat. Even though I started at the front of the pack, I honestly didn't think I was going that fast. But when I checked my Garmin later, I saw that my first two miles were 7:06 and 7:02.

Going out too fast caught up with me during the third mile and I could feel myself fading, but I had good motivation to keep pushing... when I registered for the race at the Ferndale Street Festival, the guy manning the registration table was the race organizer (although I didn't know that at the time). He told me that this year they were giving out engraved fire axes to the winners. I was planning to race anyway, but that was an extra incentive to really give it my all. I didn't want to presume anything because there are a lot of women in the area faster than me. However one thing I had on my side was that there was another, larger race in Fairhaven (Bellingham) that I figured most of the fast runners would be at.

Usually the last mile of a race feels the longest, but luckily I knew the course well enough to not be wondering where the heck the finish line was. There were two guys in front of me battling it out for first (at least that's what I thought at the time). They were pulling away from me and I just kept telling myself to hang on. No stopping until the race is over. I knew I was the first female so all I had to do was not get passed. I ran mile 3 in 7:41 and then the final .1 in 0:41 (6:26 pace). It was awesome hearing the crowd cheer for me as I reached the finish line... first place female!

Despite the slower mile 3, that was one of my hardest running efforts ever. I actually had to sit down and catch my breath which I can't ever remember having to do. (Usually I keep walking until my heart rate has lowered sufficiently.) I felt bad because I initially walked away from the race organizer when he was trying to get my name, but I think he understood I was spent and we ended up chatting later. It turned out the overall first place finisher, and winner of the firefighter division was the race organizer's son. He's a high school cross country runner and fire cadet. He ran wearing full firefighter gear and still finished in 19-something minutes! He was so far ahead that I don't even remember seeing him off in the distance.

Here's me with the race organizer, his son in the back on the left, and the first place male finisher on the right (with his daughter).

Not going to lie, I was grinning from ear to ear during the awards ceremony when they called my name. Obviously I realize that in a more competitive event, the winners are going to be running sub-20 times and my measly 22:30 couldn't compete. But at that time and place, it felt great to know I was the fastest female there. And what an awesome "trophy". I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do with a fire axe (it's sitting in the corner of my bedroom right now), but it's definitely going to be awhile (if ever) before I get something that cool again from a race.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Virtual Games and Marathon Thoughts

I participated in the Virtual Games hosted by Run With Jess. The goal was to do the 8 Olympic running events over the course of 10 days. (The marathon could be split into multiple increments.)

Although I've done some speedwork in the past, I've never recorded my times before so it's great to have this scorecard as a baseline now. I hope it encourages me to get back to the track more often.

Does anyone else think that 1500m is an odd race distance? Why not just bump it up to four full laps? When I did my run, I hit the lap button on my Garmin at 1500m, then kept going because I wanted to check my mile time. The bad news is that even though I knew I had to tack on the extra 10m to make it a full mile, I wasn't thinking straight at that point and stopped at 1600m. The good news is that based on my calculations, I was at a 7:04 pace. That would have been a five second improvement over my last timed mile a little over a year ago.

Someday I want to get to under a seven minute mile. I know it's achievable because when I did the 1600m yesterday, it was with eight miles already under my belt. I really wanted to get in a long 15 miler, but also needed to wrap up the last three events, so I just threw them into the mix. I started with a 5.1 mile warm up. Then I did a couple tries of the 200m and one 800m, followed by an easy 2.2 mile interlude. And then it was time for the 1600m. Running fast is hard! I tacked on another 6.1 miles to finish out the morning and I was so wiped at the end. I haven't been that physically exhausted since RnR Seattle. At least it didn't take my legs long to recover... no issues with stairs yesterday or today.

Have I mentioned before that I've been using a great iPhone app called Runner's Log? It's super simple and I love being able to look back at my stats. Last week I ran a total of 33.7 miles. This week I ran 32.4. I'm trying to build my mileage back up because I want to run a fall marathon. I just haven't decided which one yet. I've got it basically narrowed down to two:

Seattle Marathon - 11/25/2012
Pros - Closer to home (about two hour drive), no need to spend money on a hotel, an extra month to train
Cons - Higher registration fee ($110), parts of the course are the same as RnR Seattle, hilly
Other - Larger event (17,000 people expected between full and half marathon)

Tri-Cities Marathon - 10/28/2012
Pros - Lower registration fee ($70), mainly flat course except for bridge crossings, convenient race start right outside hotel (no need to wake up super early, drive downtown, deal with crowds, etc.)
Cons - Farther away (about five hour drive), gas/hotel/food expenses, less time to train, no fuel on course
Other - Smaller event (222 finishers last year)

I'm not entirely sure that being a hilly course is a con, because I like having variety on the course to work different muscles. At least that's what I tell myself...

Variety is also why I'm leaning away from the Seattle Marathon. I have this mental image that it's going to be really similar to RnR Seattle and I don't want to do two similar events in the same year. The main thing that's preventing me from picking the Tri-Cities Marathon is that I'm concerned about having enough time to train. Luckily I have some time with both events before making a final decision so I'm going to wait and see how my long runs go. Either way, I'm excited to have another race to look forward to!

Which marathon do you think you'd choose? What factors influence your marathon decisions?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Single-leg running?

I was just reading an article on about anaerobic training and came across this gem:
Few runners care to make time to add plyometrics workouts to their training regimen. But you don’t have to. As an alternative, incorporate some single-leg running into one or two of the runs you’re already doing every week. Start by running on just your right leg for 10 strides and then on just your left leg for 10 strides. Gradually increase the number of strides you do on each leg until you reach 30 strides per leg. You will notice that it gets easier to go longer on one leg, which is a sign that your legs are adapting to the stress and your stride is becoming more efficient. Source
What the heck is single-leg running? Am I the only one puzzled by this? I'm picturing someone running on the track then throwing all their momentum to one side and sort of hopping on one leg until they fall over.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Switching gears - Lake Padden Duathlon race recap

A few housekeeping notes before I get started with the race recap... thanks to those who are still reading and commenting! I apologize for not responding to questions. To be honest, I'm not sure whether I'm cut out to be a blogger. I have a lot of thoughts that I want to share, but as you can tell by my lack of posts in recent months, I have a difficult time actually putting "pen to paper". I think part of it stems from the fact that I spend my entire workday at a computer so usually I'm not in the mood to sit down and do more "work". I've thought about shutting the blog down, but I'm not ready to completely give up on it just yet. However, posts will probably continue to be infrequent.

Anyway, after Rock 'n' Roll Seattle I switched gears for a bit. Going into the marathon I had a strained shin, so afterward I took some time off from running to heal and spent a lot of time on the stationary bike at the gym instead. Part of the motivation behind all the cycling was that I was hoping to do a duathlon on July 21.

I did my first duathlon back in 2009. It was a super short sprint event at Disneyland. (Not organized by Disney though.) I had a lot of fun and always planned to do another one but various life events got in the way. The duathlon on June 21 - the Lake Padden Duathlon - was only a half hour away from my house so I didn't want to pass up the chance to participate. It was a low key event which was perfect considering my lack of preparation.

Two weeks before the duathlon, I finally went around to the local bike shops to buy a bike. I hadn't done any research and was basically just looking for a road bike that was small enough for my 4'10" height. I ended up liking the frame on the Specialized Dolce the best, but they had to special order the "cheap" version for me. (The bike that I test rode was about $1,300.)

My new Specialized Dolce Triple

I picked up my bike nine days before the duathlon and managed to fit in five training rides. Enough to get comfortable with the bike and feel confident that I could cover the distance. The Lake Padden Duathlon is a 2.6 mile run, 14.5 mile bike, and 2.6 mile run. I also turned three of the training rides into brick sessions by tacking on a short run afterward.

Currently, I still don't have a way to transport my bike with my own car, I don't have a bike pump, and I don't know how to change a flat tire. Luckily for the duathlon, my awesome boyfriend came along and helped me with getting my bike to Lake Padden Park and making sure it was in good working order. And thankfully I still haven't gotten any flat tires (knock on wood).

Like I mentioned above, the race was pretty low key, which I enjoyed since I was just there for the experience and not to be competitive. I registered the day of for only $25. The only negative was that there was no split timing, but I think I did a decent job tracking my splits with my Garmin.

The first run was a clockwise loop around Lake Padden. I wasn't sure how much to push it. 2.6 miles isn't far, but I still had the bike and another run to do. I tried for a comfortable but slightly challenging pace and did the loop in 22:06.

Fueling for the race was a slight concern. I don't know how to eat or drink on the bike yet. Actually, I don't even have a water bottle holder on my bike. Even though I'd only been racing for 22 minutes, I took a Clif Shot gel and drank some water at the first transition. It seemed like the best plan since I figured I'd need some fuel for the bike. Aside from that, transition went pretty quickly since I wasn't switching shoes.

The bike portion of the race started with a long uphill for about two miles. I shifted to my easiest gear and just kept pedaling and pedaling until I reached the top. Then there was a nice downhill for something like another two miles. The road was a little curvy so I didn't let the bike really fly, but it felt great to be zipping along without any effort. The middle portion of the bike course had a bunch of rolling hills. It was a lollipop course so we had to go back up what was the long downhill on the way out. But at least it was a fun downhill back to transition. I think I did well based on what I was expecting from myself. I was probably passed by about 10-15 people on the bike portion. My time was 59:31.

For the second transition, I can't remember if I took a couple GU Chomps or not. But I did remember to take off my helmet!

Instead of getting the weird wobbly feeling from switching from bike to run, my legs felt really tired. Like I was putting in a lot of effort but moving in slow motion. I was happy to pass four people on the run, and not get passed by anyone, but overall that last run just felt hard and I couldn't wait for it to be over. When I checked my Garmin after the finish, I was surprised that the second run was faster than the first - 20:50! (It was the same loop around Lake Padden but in a counter-clockwise direction.)

There haven't been any results posted yet so I have no idea how I ranked compared to everyone else. But that really doesn't matter because I had such a great time challenging myself to do something different and slightly out of my comfort zone. I'm really looking forward to returning next year, hopefully with a lot more experience under my belt.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll Seattle - quick recap

Before I let too much time get away, here's a quick recap of Rock 'n' Roll Seattle last weekend. I did the half marathon during the inaugural event in 2009. Now that I'm a better runner and with the course change, I decided to do the full marathon this time around. It was my second time running a marathon.

My main goal was to finish in under 4 hours, which I would have been happy with. My secret goal was to set a new PR.

Just like at RnR Portland, I thought the event was extremely well organized. I liked the new start and finish at Seattle Center. There was so much room that even though it was a huge event, it didn't feel crowded at all. The bands, cheerleaders, and volunteers were great and there was plenty of water and GU. I liked the course and overall it wasn't too hilly. The run by the lake and in the park was the best part. Aside from the novelty of running on an Interstate, I didn't really like the out and back on I-90. The Rock 'n' Roll team did a great job setting up cones and maintaining separate lanes for the marathoners and half marathoners after the course split and met up again. I would have been extremely frustrated if I had to dodge and weave through all walkers for the last 6 miles of the race.

I ran a strong race and was very pleased with my overall performance. I fueled with GU Chomps/gel about every hour, and I took water at every station. I did my best to take it easy during the first half so that I would have energy left at the end. I could probably have held back a little more and tried for more even splits, but I'm not confident enough yet for that. I feel better having a little time banked.

I was so focused on the sub-4 finish goal that I didn't even know what I had to aim for to get a new PR. Once I started looking at the stats afterwards, it turns out that I have a new official PR, although it's not a distance PR. The thing is that during my first marathon, I ran 26.2 miles in 3:54:22. But the Route 66 Marathon has this unique .3 mile optional detour to earn an extra medallion, so since I took the detour my official time for that race was 3:57:07.

My official finish time for Rock 'n' Roll Seattle is 3:54:27, and I'm very happy with my results! 

608 out of 3089 overall
156 out of 1434 females
30 out of 270 in F25-29 age group

Right now I don't have any firm plans to do RnR Seattle again in the near future. I think I also said this in my review of RnR Portland... even though it's a terrific race, there are so many other events around this time of year that I'd like to try that I probably won't do any repeats for awhile. But I give the race a 9 out of 10 and would definitely recommend it to others.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday thoughts

  • I had a great long run on Saturday. I headed out to the Bellingham Interurban Trail again with a goal to finish at least 18 miles. I made it to 21 and felt like I could have kept going. With that under my belt, I'm feeling a lot better about Rock 'n' Roll Seattle. I'm going to keep pushing hard for the next couple weeks and then do a short taper.
  • At the end of my run tonight I headed to the track to give the concept of Yasso 800s a try. It was getting late so I only did 4, but I'm happy with how they went. My ideal goal for the marathon is to finish under 4 hours which means that I should be running the 800s in under 4 minutes. I didn't capture my time for the first repeat, but the other times were 3:31, 3:36, 3:40. If I backed off the pace a little, I don't think I'd have any problem doing 10.
  • Thanks to Jill at Jill Will Run, I got a free copy of the Runner's Log iPhone app back in March. I've been diligently logging my runs for the past couple months. While it's neat to look back and see what I've done, the most awesome feature for me is being able to easily track the mileage on my shoes. I never had a great method for this before and always ended up calculating it manually. Now I can simply open the app and know that I've run 299.75 miles in my "new" shoes. Wow! I need to start looking into getting another pair of Brooks Defyance. The question is... do I get them before or after the marathon?
  • I've always liked Luna bars, but I'm absolutely in love with the chocolate dipped coconut flavor. I used to buy Luna bars individually so I had a variety of flavors, but now I'm buying the chocolate dipped coconut bars by the box since they're a bit cheaper that way (at Target). It's interesting how my tastes have changed as I've gotten older. I didn't used to like coconut very much, mainly because of the texture, but it's really grown on me in the last year or so. The Clif coconut chocolate chip bars are also good.
  • I seem to be constantly behind the times on good reads. I didn't read the Hunger Games trilogy until the movie was about to come out, and I never even heard of A Song of Fire and Ice series before Game of Thrones became popular on HBO. But wow, am I hooked now. I've finished the first two books and am anxiously waiting for the third to become available from the library. I can't believe that there are still two books that haven't been released yet. The suspense is going to kill me when I get to the end of book five.
  • I also read Running on Empty by Marshall Ulrich recently. Of course the subject matter was interesting, but overall I found the writing to be a bit dull which made it feel almost like a chore to read. Instead of getting caught up in the adventure, it just seemed like a laundry list of aches and pains and other issues. I can't help but compare it to the books by Dean Karnazes. Even though both men accomplished amazing feats of endurance that I'll never ever come close to, somehow the Dean Karnazes books came across as more relatable and engaging to read.
  • I'll get around to wrapping up my Expedition Everest Challenge recap eventually, but right now I'm just not in the mood to work on it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll Portland Recap

Rock 'n' Roll Portland was an ideal weekend getaway. My boyfriend booked a surprise massage for me on Friday morning, and it was the perfect way to relax and start the vacation. On our way south we stopped in Mount Vernon for brunch. Then we drove straight through until we reached our hotel in Portland. I had my much anticipated sushi dinner at a random restaurant picked from Yelp and it was delicious.

On Saturday we had kolaches for brunch. They were good, but not as good as in Houston. Someday I'm going to have to run the Houston Marathon just so I have an excuse to go and visit all my favorite food spots.

Next up was the Expo. Packet pickup was a breeze - no lines at all. It's been over a year since my last Rock 'n' Roll race (Philadelphia 2010) and I'm so happy they've started offering women's cut shirts. (Now if only Disney would make the switch as well.) I can't remember if Brooks was a partner yet in 2010 or if it was still Sugoi, but this was definitely the first time I've seen the Brooks Run Happy Cavalcade of Curiosities. The carnival-like set up was a fun addition to the Expo.

I'm a fan of second (and third and fourth) opinions, so I did a gait analysis. It was a really neat set up where they used tablets to enter your info, capture the video, and show you recommendations. I even got a follow up email afterwards with images and a link to my video.

In the official merchandise area, we had a laugh at the Brooks fitting rooms:

The mirrors also had cute sayings:

Wow! That makes you look really fast!

I bought a commemorative pin for my collection, then we went to check out the rest of the Expo vendors. I picked up some BodyGlide and made the rounds collecting free goodies like Clif granola bars, coconut water, Larabars, Sport Beans, and Cascadian Farm granola. It was one of the best hauls I can remember getting from an Expo.

After leaving the Expo we decided to check out the Portland Saturday Market, which turned out to be in the same location as the race start. There were already signs and rows of port-a-potties set up in preparation for the next day. I was glad to have a chance to scope out the area. The market itself was more interesting than I expected. We didn't buy anything (aside from a sweet potato cupcake for me) but I liked looking at the variety of arts and crafts.

My boyfriend spotted one of the famous pink boxes and we realized that Voodoo Doughnuts must be close by. Like good tourists, we went and waited in line. Eventually we left with our own pink box full of treats.

There wasn't anything else I particularly wanted to see or do, so we just grabbed some dinner before heading back to the hotel. Based on another Yelp recommendation, we visited the Good Food Here street truck pod. Almost all the trucks had something that sounded good, but I finally settled on a pork meatball banh mi from Lardo. Oh my goodness, this sandwich was so flavorful and delicious... easily the best thing I ate all weekend.

Back at the hotel, I had a donut for dessert. The concept - yeast donut topped with chocolate, rice krispies, and peanut butter - was better in theory than in execution, but at least it satisfied my sweet tooth. I laid out my things for the race, then spent the last couple hours of the night relaxing and reading A Game of Thrones.

On Sunday morning I woke up around 6am and noticed that it was gray and cloudy outside instead of sunny as I'd been expecting. I made a last minute decision to wear capris instead of shorts, and grabbed a couple of the hotel towels to bring along with me in case it really started pouring. I let my boyfriend sleep in and drove myself downtown. I have to say that I really enjoyed the set up and location of the race. Personally I didn't run into any issues with traffic, closed roads, or parking. Also the start area didn't feel congested or crowded at all. Sure, there were the usual port-a-potty lines, but aside from that there was plenty of space to move around. There was no feeling of being herded along.

Before the race

I was assigned to corral 2, but decided to move back to corral 3 since I wasn't going to be racing the race. And if things went well, then it's nicer to be the one passing than the one being passed. I started out thinking I was going to run at a 9 min pace, but I ran the first mile in 8:45 and only got faster from there. I felt comfortable, but was constantly worried about hitting the wall. I guess I need to be more confident in myself because I actually ended up running a negative split. It also helped that the major hill was in the first half of the race.

Speaking of hills, there were a lot of them but overall it wasn't too bad. The major hill around miles 5 and 6 was long, but not that steep so I was able to run the whole thing. I was pretty annoyed at the two spectators at different points on the course who were yelling "this is the last hill" and "it's all downhill from here" when it really wasn't. People, unless you absolutely, 100% know for sure from running the course yourself, please just stick with the generic "lookin' good".

Overall I think I ran a strong, consistent race. I felt great the whole time. If I had wanted to, I could have pushed myself harder, but I wasn't out to set a PR. I just wanted to enjoy the race then get back to marathon training. I did pick it up a bit at the end once I finally realized that I wasn't going to hit the wall. Also I must have done an awesome job running the tangents because my Garmin was exactly at 13.1 when I crossed the finish line.

Time: 1:46:21
Pace: 8:07
Overall: 923 out of 11017
Gender: 298 out of 7733
Division: 49 out of 895

Everything about Rock 'n' Roll Portland was so well-organized from start to finish that I really can't think of anything about the race that needs to be improved or changed. Personally I probably won't run it again because the five hour drive is just a little too long. If I go that far south again I want to try a different race. But I would definitely recommend Rock 'n' Roll Portland as a great race worth running.

I didn't stick around very long afterwards because I wanted to get back to the hotel and see my boyfriend. I refueled with the chocolate milk that was handed out after the race, and the rest of the donuts.

I have to say that while the Voodoo donuts were good, and I give them points for creativity, they really didn't wow me enough to go back. Kind of like Doughnut Plant in New York. I'm glad I went once to give it a try and say that I've been there, but it's not worth waiting in line for overpriced donuts when I have access to a fabulous local donut shop.

Anyway, that basically wraps up the weekend since there's not much to say about the drive home. Rock 'n' Roll Portland is done and now there's just one month until I go for double the distance in Seattle.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Portland planning

I meant to blog yesterday, but I got caught up researching restaurants for this weekend's trip to Portland. I'm more excited about eating than I am about running. I've been craving good sushi for months, and I also stumbled across a place called the Happy Sparrow Cafe that makes kolaches! Back when my boyfriend and I lived in Houston, there was a Kolache Factory right down the street and we ate them practically every weekend. I'm also looking forward to checking out the Portland food truck scene.

Since it's my first trip to Portland, I tried looking for things to do besides eat, but nothing really stuck out to me as a must see attraction. Please me know if you have any recommendations!

For the most part, I think I'm recovered from the tendinitis in my left foot. I still feel a few twinges of discomfort every now and then, but overall I've been running pretty strong for the last three weeks. I don't have any concerns about being able to complete the half marathon on Sunday... I'm more concerned about Rock 'n' Roll Seattle next month. 

I don't have any plans to try for a PR in Portland. My goal is to finish in 1:50, which should be a slight challenge but achievable. I'll be happy with anything under two hours though.

After seeing the elevation charts for RnR Portland and Seattle, I figured I'd better leave the track and start working some hills back into my training runs. On Thursday I took a familar route near my house that includes a climb of about 300 feet in two miles. It's a gentle incline that I can handle without getting out of breath as long as I keep it slow and steady. On Sunday, I explored some new trails and unintentionally overdid it with the hills.

With the warm weather, I wanted to do my long run somewhere with shade so I drove to the Interurban Trail in Bellingham. I've only run the entire length of the trail once last fall and thought I remembered that there was a funky side path I had to take to get to the parking lot. I turned off at what I thought was that side path, but ended up being a trail up the mountain. I had no idea where I was going, but I decided to accept it as a good challenge and keep climbing. It took me about a mile to get to the lookout point where I was rewarded with a nice view of the bay.

From there I decided to follow the sign pointing me to Fragrance Lake, not knowing that it meant another uphill climb. Here's what the elevation chart for my run looked like.

It's a little hard to interpret because I can't figure out how to change the chart view in Runtastic to show distance instead of time. But basically it took me half an hour to cover two miles with a 900 foot elevation gain. Whew. There were definitely a lot of walk breaks thrown in there. I was happy to finally reach the lake and the flat trail that loops around the lake.

I thought the return trip would be easier, but I accidentally took a wrong turn away from the lake and ended up getting lost. I got a little scared being on unfamiliar trails, but thankfully I had my iPhone to tell me that at least I was heading in the right direction. With the help of some hikers I eventually found my way back to the Interurban Trail again. What was supposed to be a leisurely long slow distance run turned into a bit of an adventure, but it was fun and I don't seem to be suffering any ill side effects so far. The entire run was 15 miles and my legs felt like I could have kept going a little farther which is a good sign. I'm going to work my way up to 20 miles a couple weeks before Seattle and then taper.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Expedition Everest Challenge 2012 - Day 1 & Packet Pickup

I had such a fantastic vacation at Walt Disney World that I almost don't even know where to begin with this trip report. One of my goals for the trip was to go with the flow more and not worry about trying to fit everything in.  With that in mind, I didn't set a morning alarm at all during the trip. I think the first morning (Friday), I stayed in bed until around 10-10:30am. I thought about starting my day with packet pickup, but I was hungry so I went to Hollywood Studios to seek out some food instead.

I'd heard about something called a banana split from Starring Rolls Cafe that I never had a chance to try last year, so this time I made it my first "meal" of the trip. It's basically a creamy banana pudding on a chocolate graham cracker-like base with whipped cream on top. The textures and the rich banana flavor were incredible.

I picked up a fastpass for Toy Story Mania (for later that night), then figured I should get at least one attraction in while I was at the park so I waited in line and rode Tower of Terror. Then I stopped at Starring Rolls again and picked up a gigantic Butterfinger cupcake to take back to my hotel room for later.

From Hollywood Studios, I took the boat over to Epcot to look for more food. Actually, what I like to do is take the boat from Hollywood Studios to the Yacht & Beach Club stop, then walk from there to Epcot. That way I stay off my feet for the majority of the journey, but make it to Epcot slightly faster than the boat (because it makes another stop at the Boardwalk before finally reaching Epcot).

Friendship Boat at the Yacht & Beach Club dock

Epcot has so many great dining options that it's always hard to decide where to go. I swung by the bakery at the France Pavilion, but nothing appealed to me so I continued on to Japan where I tried the okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) from Katsura Grill.

I've had a Korean pancake with a firm, almost crispy texture that I really liked and I was expecting the okonomiyaki to be similar. Instead I was a bit disappointed that the inside was very soft, to the point where I was slightly worried that it might not be thoroughly cooked. (I didn't suffer any stomach problems afterwards so I guess that's how the okonomiyaki is supposed to be served.) What saved it from being a mushy disaster was the crunchiness of the cabbage filling and the tangy sauce on top. I liked it enough that I polished it off, but it's not something I'll probably order again.

I wandered around the rest of the World Showcase and caught a glimpse of some topiaries on my way out of the park.

I took the bus back to All Star Sports to drop off my cupcake, then another bus over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports for the Expedition Everest Challenge packet pickup. I was getting nervous waiting for the bus to arrive, but I made it just in time for the course talk at 4pm.

Ultimately there wasn't anything major discussed at the course talk that I really needed to know. But I did ask for clarification on whether we needed to look for scavenger hunt hints/clues during the 5k run, and the answer (thank goodness) was no. In the past, the 5k and scavenger hunt have always been separate components, but there was a change in the race description on the website this year that made it sound like we'd need to keep our eyes open for information during the run. While it would have been an interesting twist to the event, I'm glad that it was separate because usually when I'm running hard I don't pay that much attention to my surroundings.

After the talk, I went over to another area to pick up my race bib, shirt, etc. Unfortunately Disney race shirts are always unisex except for the female-focused events (Princess, Tinkerbell) so I've never been able to wear them. Since it's the 5th anniversary of the race, Disney threw in a dinky pin and temporary tattoo. The race packet also included a commemorative pin that I purchased, and a bracelet for the after party at Animal Kingdom. On the race bib there's a weird graphic that looks almost like a QR code except it doesn't scan. I didn't notice it until after I left packet pickup and I never did figure out what it was for.

Every year Disney has this giant graffiti mural for people to sign. I'm not really sure what the relevance is, other than it looks cool and gives people something to do. Next year I'll have to try and remember to ask what they do with it after the event.

I took a photo of myself with the sign listing all the people who have done the Expedition Everest Challenge every year. There's not that many of us! 

I also stopped by the solutions booth to get my special gift for being a 5-time participant. I had no idea what the gift would be, and I was happily surprised to get this little guy...

In case you can't tell, it's a stuffed yeti with Mickey ears. On the back of the ears, it says "2012 - Perfect 5th Adventure".

And that's pretty much it for packet pickup. Then it was back on the bus to my hotel where I spent some time in my room just hanging out for awhile and enjoying the butterfinger cupcake I picked up earlier. Eventually I headed back out to Hollywood Studios.

I used my fastpass for Toy Story Mania... so much fun! When I finished the wait time was only 40 minutes, which is pretty low for the attraction. I considered waiting for another go at it, but decided to watch the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show instead. Ariel's pitch was a little off that night, but overall it's a good show.

By then it was about 8:30pm. I'd been planning to go to Epcot for dinner and Extra Magic Hours anyway, and I realized if I left right away I'd probably be able to catch IllumiNations too. So I took another boat ride/walk over to Epcot. IllumiNations isn't my favorite nighttime show, but I'm glad I got a chance to see it. For dinner I had a lamb wrap with a side of couscous from the Tangierine Cafe in Morocco.

Then I headed to The Land Pavilion. The line for Soarin' was long enough that I decided to skip it, but I did ride Living with the Land and watched the Circle of Life movie for the first time. The movie was interesting enough, but probably not something I'll do again for several years. I always enjoy the Living with the Land boat ride though. It's fascinating to see the different types of fruits and vegetables being grown and the innovative techniques that are used.

It was around midnight by the time I got back to my hotel. I love nighttime Disney races and not having to worry about going to bed super early. I pretty much stayed on Pacific time throughout the whole trip.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Better than third

Of course I'll be posting a long and detailed race report later, but I couldn't help wanting to at least make a quick post... I took 2nd place in the individual female category at Disney's Expedition Everest Challenge. I have mixed feelings right now. I'm happy I placed but I'm a bit disappointed it wasn't first. It's hard for me not to keep replaying in my mind what I could have done differently. Don't get me wrong, I know that 2nd place is totally awesome and a lot of people would love to be in my shoes. But there was definitely a part of me that was hoping for first. Anyway, it's time to put that behind me for now and continue to enjoy the rest of my vacation. I'll try not to take too long after I get home to start writing the recap.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Let the magic begin!

The days leading up to a vacation are usually pretty stressful but I feel like this time it's been even more so than usual. I've had to deal with a lot of difficult clients at work and this time since two of my vacation days are basically full travel days, I didn't take off an extra day in order to prepare and pack.

Knowing that yesterday would be crazy, I made sure to get a long run in on Tuesday. 8 miles at the track followed by 4x400s. I ran some of the early miles at a slower pace with my boyfriend and picked it up for the last few miles after he headed home. Overall pace was something like 8:45 which I'm pretty happy with considering the lack of consistent running over the past 5-6 weeks. The 400s I threw in just to give myself a taste of what it's like to struggle during a run. My lungs were burning at the end of each lap. I didn't bother to time myself but I know the last 400 was pretty pathetic.

I have no idea what my goal pace should be for the Expedition Everest Challenge on Saturday. I don't feel like I'm in 5k shape right now. Well, there's no point worrying about it now. All I can do is try my best and see what happens. Besides I'm not sure what to expect from the scavenger hunt part of the race this year since I think they're changing it up AGAIN. Hopefully there will be good information at the course talk tomorrow.

Oh, on a related note... the unexpected benefit of having a boyfriend who's crazy about cars is that he has a bunch of extra tires around. I made him set them up for me the other day so I could practice running through them in case that's an obstacle again in the race. I know that's bordering on overkill, but I had fun doing it.

Anyway, after over 12 hours of travel today, I'm finally at Walt Disney World. I started this post on the Magical Express bus from the airport, took a break to unpack, and now it's time to get some rest. Tomorrow is when my vacation truly starts! It feels awesome to have (almost) no worries for the next four days and not have to answer to anyone but myself. Right now I'm thinking that my first action will be to hunt down a giant Disney cupcake and have dessert for breakfast!

I'll leave you with a photo from my hotel room. I'm at the All Star Sports Resort, hence the football Mickey picture in the background.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Foot updates and new shoes

I saw a new physical therapist who specializes in working with runners and he gave me some good feedback. By the time I saw him my foot wasn't hurting that much and he said I was probably at the tail end of recovering from tendinitis. He showed me how to tape my foot to give it some better support. I think it helped, but I haven't had a chance to buy my own Kinesio tape yet. Maybe this weekend. I took a lot of photos of my leg and foot as a reminder of how to do it myself, although I'm still a little worried about getting it right.

As I ease back into regular running I'm supposed to follow a progression of first increasing my mileage, then adding in hills, and finally speed work. I've been sticking to the high school track for all of my runs over the last week since it's a soft, flat surface. Some people probably equate running laps around a track to be about as boring as running on a treadmill, but personally I've never minded the track. Tonight I ran 7 miles with the last 4 or so in the rain. There were puddles starting to build up by the time I finished.

One other thing I talked to the physical therapist about was shoes. I told him that I've been running in stability shoes for about the last four years before switching over to neutral shoes in February. I'd been worried that maybe the change in shoes had an effect on my injury. But he said that the Brooks Defyance are good shoes for me and that I don't need stability or motion control shoes. I was glad to hear that because I didn't really want to retire the Defyance shoes after only 100 miles. He also mentioned that he wouldn't recommend minimalist shoes for me right now, but that I could probably make the switch over sometime down the road.

I asked about using minimalist shoes for just walking and he said that should be fine and a good way to ease into them. That was good to hear because I just bought a new pair of Brooks PureFlow shoes!

With my upcoming trip to Walt Disney World, I thought it would be a good idea to try touring the parks in something other than flip flops. Although it's never really seemed to affect my race performance, I have noticed in the past that my legs feel more fatigued from walking around the parks in non-supportive shoes than they do from running 13.1 miles. So the new shoes are going to serve as cute walking shoes for awhile and then I'll eventually transition them into running shoes.

I had been planning to get the PureFlow in white and purple, but REI doesn't sell that color combination and I wanted to use my 20% member coupon. I've never owned any shoes this bright before, but they're definitely starting to grow on me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Walt Disney World trip planning for races

With two weeks to go, I finished the last piece of planning for my trip to Walt Disney World by buying my park tickets. Now all that's left is figuring out what to pack for hot and humid Florida weather.

I know there are tons of WDW trip planning resources out there, but since I don't have much else to blog about at the moment, I'll share a few of my tips and preferences for traveling to WDW for a destination race. Note that this post doesn't apply to marathon weekend in January. Since 2008 I've been to WDW seven times for races but never for the marathon yet.

At WDW for the inaugural Expedition
Everest Challenge in 2008

The first step for me is always picking my dates. I've taken trips ranging from three to 11 days. In general, I prefer to plan my dates with the race falling in the middle of trip. That gives me enough time to get acclimated to the weather and be there for the first day of packet pick-up. I also like to leave at least a day after the race to eat whatever I want and enjoy the parks without worrying about tiring out my legs or getting back to hotel early enough for a good night's sleep.

The next step is usually the hotel. I've never actually encountered a situation where the hotel I wanted sold out, but I still want to get a reservation secured just in case. Since I always fly to WDW, I prefer to stay "on-property" and use Disney transportation rather than "off-property" where I'd have to rent a car. From my past experiences, there are at least three Disney-owned hotels that have been designated as "host hotels". The reason to stay at a host hotel is because there will be buses to take you to and from the expo and race. If you're not at a host hotel then you're on your own as far as transportation. I was at a non-host hotel once and took a taxi to the race. It wasn't too expensive (maybe $15-$20), but overall I just find it more convenient to be at a host hotel.

All Star Sports is usually a host hotel

There are special rates at the host hotels for race participants, however sometimes you can find better deals that are open to the general public. It all depends on your dates and length of stay. For example, with my upcoming trip if I was to stay only Friday and Saturday night then it would be best to go with the race rate of $95/night versus the $101.60/night that I'd get if booking under the Spring Room Only Offer that Disney was running. However, since I'm staying five nights I can get a better deal of $85.60/night for three of the nights. Doing the math shows that with the race rate it would be $475 ($95 x 5), but with the Spring Room Only Offer it would be $460 ($85.60 x 3 + $101.60 x 2). Sure it's only a $15 difference, but every penny counts.

Getting To and From Orlando
Like I mentioned above, my only experience has been flying into Orlando. I'm not going to get into finding the best airfare since that's not specifically Disney-related. But whether you're flying or driving it's good to think about what time you'll be arriving and leaving because it'll help determine how many days of park tickets to buy.

Most of the time I don't bother to enter the parks on my arrival and departure days. If the timing works out, I may go to the Expo that first day. Otherwise there are plenty of other things to do at WDW outside the parks. Some of my favorites include going to the monorail resort area for dinner at the Polynesian Resort, a viewing of the electrical water pageant, and a walk along the beach; going to the Boardwalk area for breakfast at Kouzzina or lunch at Beaches & Cream; shopping at Downtown Disney; or playing a round of mini golf.

The electrical water pageant from the beach
at the Polynesian Resort.

I guess one other thing I should mention is that when you fly into Orlando and are staying on-property, Disney offers free transportation to and from the airport. It does take a little longer but I like the convenience of not having to get a rental car or arrange transportation through another company.

Park Tickets
Another perk for race participants (and family and friends) is discounted park tickets. The only time I haven't found the discounted park tickets to be the best deal was during my 11 day trip when I went with my family and we took advantage of a special vacation package offer. After registering for the race, the confirmation email includes a code that you'll need to enter the online ticket store. I haven't asked recently, but I think you can purchase the discounted tickets up until something like a week before the race.

One thing to note is that in addition to being non-refundable, the discounted tickets are also non-upgradable. What this means is that you can't make any changes to the tickets after they're purchased so it requires a little more planning. That's why they're usually the last thing I buy. Unlike regular tickets, you have to decide ahead of time exactly how many days you need and whether you want to add on any options for park hopping or visits to the water parks.

When you purchase the tickets there's an extra fee to have them mailed to you in advance. I'm cheap so I always go with the free "will call" option instead. Plus that way I don't have to worry about losing them. In the fine print, it states that you have to go to one of the theme parks to pick up your tickets. But unless this has changed recently, you can also get your tickets from the Customer Service location in Downtown Disney. If you're planning to go to Downtown Disney anyway on your first night, this is a good way to save some time rather than waiting in line the next morning.

Race Registration
I probably should have included this earlier up in the post, but oh well. Even when I've made up my mind to run a race, I still like to hang on to my money as long as possible before registering. If you're like me, then there are a couple dates that you'll want to keep in mind. First, Disney uses a tiered pricing scheme for their key races so you'll probably want to register before the first price increase. Second, if you've already passed the window for the lowest registration fee, or if you're looking at the family fun runs which don't change in price, then make note of the last day you can register and still receive a personalized race bib.

Basically Disney has two types of restaurants - table service and counter service. Table service restaurants (which include buffets) are usually either better quality food or offer a unique experience that goes beyond just the food. If you have your mind set on going to a specific restaurant then you'll need to make a reservation in advance. That's not to say that you can't get into a table service restaurant without a reservation, but there's no guarantee. The good thing is that races are held during non-peak times of year so if you're flexible there should be something available except at the most popular restaurants.

Sushi at Tokyo Dining in Epcot

This time around I haven't made any dining reservations because I didn't feel like doing all the advance planning. Plus it's cheaper to stick with counter service, and there are a lot of good options around WDW, especially at Epcot. A tip that I just learned recently is that at counter service restaurants you can order menu items without sides for a slightly lower price. For example, if the menu shows a sandwich and chips for $10, you can ask for just the sandwich and it'll be something like $8 instead. I'm definitely going to be trying this because most meal combos are too much food for me and I'd rather save room for dessert!

Another good tip, especially for runners since it's important to stay hydrated, is that you can walk up to any location that has fountain drinks and ask for a cup of water. I like this better than carrying a water bottle around all day. Disney is also really good about having a lot of water fountains around the parks so if you do carry a watter bottle it's easy to fill up throughout the day.

Most recent trip to WDW for the
Expedition Everest Challenge in May 2011

So this was just an overview of some of the things I've learned over the past four years. If you're thinking about doing a Disney race or planning a Disney trip and have questions, let me know and I'll do my best to help!