I Survived My Second Half Marathon

Trigger warning: This is going to be a whiney post.

Once upon a time, I ran my second half marathon race. And was totally freakin’ over it before I even started.

Let me go back. When I had first signed up for this race through the streets of San Francisco, I was stoked. I had a few friends signing up, San Francisco felt like home, and I couldn’t wait to run past more iconic landmarks than those of downtown San Jose.

I kind of trained. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was focusing more on strength training than running, partly to stave off shin splints. In retrospect, I feel like I was setting myself up for intervals rather than static endurance running. As the day itself approached, I made sure that I had everything in place and all logistics thought out. Learning lessons from the first half marathon last October, I had actually completed my distance prep runs, I worked out my energy strategy, and I was generally stronger than when I had gone into the first race.

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But something was off. My friends couldn’t make the race anymore, and I was feeling more and more “meh” about it as race day crept steadily forward. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Ultimately, I decided that since I’d already paid for it and I couldn’t think of a legitimate reason to not do it, so I might as well go run 13.1 miles with several thousand other people.

So here’s how it went down. Everything that went wrong:

  1. I stayed over at a friend’s house the night before the race because the starting time was an ungodly 6 a.m. I got up around 5:15, not feeling very rested, and started to get my things in order. Upon going to cut the moleskin that I had bought specifically to prevent my regular blister, I couldn’t find the regular cutting scissors. Because I didn’t want to wake up my friend to ask her where she kept her scissors, I resorted to using the herb cutting scissors (ssssssh), and shock of shocks, they didn’t really do the job. So, no moleskin, which meant yes blood blister.
  2. I did have my compressions socks, but because I am a lame-o, I did my 11- and 12-mile practice runs in the same trail running minimus shoes that I ran in during my first race. They’re not terrible shoes, and obviously I still use them a good deal, but they’re not a very supportive racing shoe and I almost never run in them for exclusively paved courses like the race was going to be. My feet were hurting pretty bad by about mile 8.
  3. I didn’t check out the course ahead of time. Okay, I did look at the course map and I think to some extent I considered that third dimension known as topography, but it was more like “Oh yeah, San Francisco has hills, whatever.” Had I actually walked or driven the course before race day, I would have known that I was in for probably the most topographically challenging run of my entire life. I hadn’t really trained for hills, aside from a few sporadic hill sprint workouts. Honestly, this course sucked. A half marathon is about 13 miles. I don’t even understand how this is possible, but about 9 miles of this race were uphill. I’m not kidding. Two of the four relatively flat miles were over the Golden Gate Bridge and back. By about mile 10, about 90% of the people around had basically given up and were walking, which was somewhat discouraging.
  4. I don’t know what the race organizers were thinking when they set up the aid stations. Water/Gatorade stations tend to be placed every two miles or so. Most people start taking their gels (with oodles of water) or Gatorade around 60 minutes. For me, that’s like 6 miles in; however, the aid stations were at 4 mi and then not again until 8 mi. Writing this now, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but 4 mi in the middle of the race is a long way to go without water or gels.
  5. Last I checked, this was a “Rock n’ Roll” half marathon. Where the crap were all the bands? I mean, yeah, jugglers are pretty cool I guess, but I can’t exactly crane my head to watch as I’m running past. The one band I saw was good… The best part of the Rock n’ Roll series is supposed to be the entertainment, and this one really didn’t cut it.
  6. I also almost didn’t get a ride to the starting line and was pretty close to just throwing in the towel.
  7. Most of the photographers I passed were not actually photographing anything. I saw at least three that were texting on their phones as I was passing. I know you don’t do races for the race pics, but…yeah.
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  8. I rolled my ankle in a crack on the Golden Gate Bridge. Because the race course was an out-and-back across the bridge, all runners were squeezed into two lanes totally about 15ish feet across. There wasn’t really anywhere for walkers, so people would just stop running wherever they were, and when I rolled my ankle, even though I tried to move off to the side, there wasn’t really anywhere for me to stand. Also, since this was essentially the flattest part of the course, I had been planning to make up some time during these three miles, but nope. We were all just pushed along herd-like.

All right, I am done with the whining. Here’s everything that went right:

  1. The weather conditions weren’t bad. It was sunny but not too hot.
  2. I got to run on the Golden Gate Bridge and along Ocean Beach and in the Financial District!
  3. My hips didn’t hurt!
  4. I wasn’t nauseated the entire time!
  5. Once I decided that I wasn’t really racing, I actually enjoyed myself a lot more. It was quite a pleasant 13.1-mile run that I did with several thousand other people that day!

Despite all of the pain and general meh-ness, I am still glad that I did it. Probably wouldn’t recommend this race to a friend, but that happens. Onward and upward!

Crossfit has ruined me for other forms of exercise

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Last month, I decided to give crossfit a whirl. I was finding my usual circuit training bootcamp class to be less and less challenging and wanted to step up the weightlifting a bit. Plus, the gym I was interested in had a groupon deal: $68 for one month of unlimited crossfit and yoga classes. In the Bay Area, where monthly crossfit memberships ring up as a cool $200 easy, this was definitely a steal for getting my feet wet. What I didn’t expect was to really friggin’ love it.

I’ve been cautioned not to strength train too hard in the weeks leading up to a big race because it can lead to excessive muscle fatigue and hating your life, etc. However, since I am a runner and not a racer, I didn’t see any harm in tipping the cardio-strength scale a bit more to the strength training side for a bit. My biggest worry, as I’ve said before when it comes to crossfit, is/was injuring myself via the dreaded but all too common too-much-too-soon scenario.

After one month of 4 days/week of crossfit*, here’s my take on my experience at San Jose Barbell in San Jose, California.

The coaches: 5/5

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One of the coaches, Ranbir, teaching me the form for some Olympic lifts with a pvc pipe.

Perhaps I am biased, since I was friends with one of the coaches/founders to begin with, but they’re all awesome, knowledgeable, and encouraging. The ratio of coaches to classmates was 1:4 at the most, so I definitely felt like I was receiving personal attention and I never felt like I was in danger of injuring myself by performing a movement incorrectly. Most of the coaches were dudes, but the gym did hire at least one female intern, who led quite a few warm-ups and demos. Perhaps the coolest part of having these coaches as a resource is that they hear your problems and try to suggest a solution to personally help you. For example, I’ve complained a few times about my tight hips and how they can swell up during longer runs. I’ve tried all sorts of stretching and yoga to some effect, but they’re tight all the time. One of the coaches gave me some other exercises to do, like holding a low lunge and kind of rocking back and forth, and it has definitely made a world of difference. My hips don’t swell up anymore–huzzah!

The classes: 4.5/5

The classes are divided up into sections: warm-up, strength, and conditioning. The coaches go over all of the movements with the group before we even touch a barbell, and absolutely everything can be modified to anyone’s personal fitness level. The warm-up usually includes a jog and some cross-the-floors reminiscent of dance class to get the blood pumping.

During the strength section, we would usually single out a specific move, like strict/military press or front squats, and focus on getting in a few (~3-5) sets of low reps and high weight. Often, this would involve building up to a target weight, so sometimes you’d end up having done something like 8 sets. The down side to this approach is that there is limited time to complete the strength part, because the next part of the workout is conditioning, and that requires quite a bit of time itself. The advantage definitely goes to the person who has a clearer idea of what his or her target weight is–usually measured in reference to your one-rep max, the highest weight with which you can complete a single rep of that movement. If you don’t know your one-rep max, you have to guess and work up or down from there.

The final workout element is conditioning. This would vary from partner work, trading off static movements like wall sits with dynamics movements like bicep curls, to AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts, to a laundry list of movements (like a chipper, ugh) with a time cap. There is no room for complacency in crossfit.

I’m personally curious about the thought process behind designing the workouts. It’s different than other approaches to strength training, where you trade off targeting certain muscle groups, since not every person comes every day.

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Are we crazy? Post-workout planks!

The atmosphere: 5/5

I’ve whined before about my fragility when it comes to talk of diets and weight loss. That kind of talk can become a slippery slope for me, so I try to avoid it altogether. What was great about SJBB was that there was a pretty even split between the genders, but I never heard any talk amongst the classmates about losing weight or Calorie counting. There was a transformation campaign going on gym-wide, but I chose to selectively interpret it as being focused on performance. Overall, everyone was super supportive and I felt like I could ask any one them for lifting advice.

Personal Improvement: The biggest challenge was fitting it all in (that’s what she said). I want to do and try everything, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day (that’s what she said, that’s what she said). It is certainly possible that doing so much crossfit detracted from my running time, although I was certainly making some headway in conditioning and it definitely gave my shins a break, so perhaps it all balances out.

One personal milestone I achieved during this month was my very first REAL (unmodified) push-up. Might not seem like a big deal to you, but if your nickname growing up was Scrawny Ronnie, you can probably empathize with my joy and pride.

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Baby’s first crossfit bruise. Can you see it?

All in all, I’m really glad and surprised at how much I enjoyed crossfit. If I am allowed to toot my horn a little bit, I am also somewhat impressed that I was able to do it at all. My biggest disappointment is that I cannot permanently join the SJBB family, as I’ll be moving. And now I feel like I’m ruined for other gyms. But the great thing about the gym is their free Saturday classes and inclusive monthly Fit Mob events! See you at the next one, guys!

 

* My weekly workout schedule consisted of one rest day, 4 days of crossfit, and 2 running days (one short, one long).