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).

 

Quest for six complete

After taking a break from running for my shinnies and then slowly introducing it back into my life, I have finally achieved my quest for six miles!

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Surprisingly, it felt pretty good. I kept the pace slow and just enjoyed it. I ended up staying out after dark without my headlamp and in a not-so-great area, which was a little anxiety-inducing, but I was so glad and proud of myself for overcoming my six-mile mental block. I might have even been able to keep going!

These six miles came after two or three failed attempts on the treadmill and the pavement. I just couldn’t do it.

To enjoy a run, I feel like you need buy in from three parts: your legs, your lungs, and your heart/brain/guts/whatever. If any one of those things is off, the run won’t be as great as it could be. Perhaps the last is the running equivalent of getting your head in the game.

Of course, my next attempt at six miles was about a week after the first successful one. This time, I did a morning run. I ate a small carby breakfast, got my effects in order for the rest of the workday, and then drove to a nice 2-mile loop that is on the way to work. I had originally planned to do four loops, or eight miles, but four miles in, I was really hating it. I felt sluggish and lethargic. It was not a pleasant run, but I wanted to end on a good note, so I pushed through just one last loop. Weirdly, those were my best miles, for both pace and overall feeling. Maybe I need to do 4-mile warm-ups from now on! No. Also, when I got back into the car to go to work, this was what I saw…

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 Hey, someone in the Bay Area had to achieve the “quest for six” if the 49ers couldn’t…BOOM.

I take back that BS about not stopping

I posted a loooong time ago about pushing yourself and keeping yourself going, something that I have and probably always will struggle with. I painted a picture of runner who never stopped, not for aches or side stitches thirst or distraction.

And I’m full of crap. Forget that. If you’re running recreationally, there is never a reason to push yourself through pain (beyond the discomfort of just being out of shape). Pain means that something is wrong and running is the type of repetitive activity that can make it worse.

I’m guilty of pushing through pain. I did it even on the day I typed this post. Because even though I said you shouldn’t do it at all, there’s probably never going to be a day when everything is functioning properly. The trick is, find the balance. I’ve said “quality over quantity” so many times to myself that I should just tattoo it somewhere.

So if that means stopping to walk off a side stitch or stretch or tape up something, I’ll do it. If that means running 6 miles instead of 8 because I just don’t feel like it’s happening for me that day, I’ll do it.

I doubt my athleticism is going to suffer greatly because of this. I’m not interested in running any sub-4:00 marathons anytime soon. And you know what, if I absolutely need activity but I can’t run, that’s what cross-training is for.

As a recreational runner, I want to enjoy my runs. I want quality miles. I want running to be something that I do forever, until I can no longer put one foot in front of the other.

A new year

Me: “I think I’m gonna do some hill sprints once I’ve digested breakfast.”

Boyfriend: “I’m not.”

Incidentally, I spent the better part of the morning playing with a new sketching app, and I think I’ve really created a masterpiece. Or at least if I was 7 rather than 27, you’d think so. I think at this point my lack of artistic skills is just endearing rather than pathetic. I can tell myself that.

Anyway, it’s always amused me that I seem to take so much longer to get reday for a run than my boyfriend. While he’s literally just pulling on the first boardshorts he sees and cramming his toes into his Five Fingers shoes, I’m finding my inhaler, putting on sunscreen and deodorant, tracking down clean compression socks, any handy sports bra, and a hat and sunglasses. If it’s nighttime, I have reflector bracelets, reflective tape, and a headlamp. Is my phone charged so that I can run my RunKeeper app? Where are my armband and headphones? Where will I get water during the run? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY BANGS!?

Either I’m just a lot better at accessorizing or I bring too much things. Too. Much. Things.

Here’s a visual representation of everything I just wrote.

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Going out with a bang

A few months ago, I posted about The Blerch, a notion conceptualized by The Oatmeal’s intimate blog post describing the author’s personal trials and triumphs in distance running.  If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out–after you’ve read this blog post. 🙂

Naturally, The Blerch was a concept that many runners identified with. My own Blerch manifested less as the fat, lazy angel that taunts/distracts The Oatmeal dude, but kind of a prick whose favorite word is “can’t”. My Blerch loves to hold me back, loves to remind me that I’m slow and usually physically or mentally broken.  But that didn’t stop me from wanting a Blerch T-shirt.

Lo and behold, what do mine hands unwrap on Christmas Day but my very own “I Believe in the Blerch” running T-shirt! It automatically made the cut for my next running outfit selection.

I showed off the shirt in a rather out of character selfie on Instagram with yet another example of my pitiful attempts to understand and maximize the marketing potential of hashtags, including #theoatmeal….AND THEN THE OATMEAL LIKED MY POST AND I DIED INSIDE I DIIIIIIIED.

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a great, if not totally fangirlish, way to end a year. Happy New Year!

 

Cultivated skepticism

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Not going to lie–I remember this issue.

Now, I can’t pinpoint the origin of my tendency to gravitate towards quizzes and categories—possibly all those hours in my preteens poring over pilfered “Young and Modern” magazines of my sister’s to find out how gutsy I am with guys (was I a gutsy go-getter or a wary wallflower?) or what kind of guy I prefer to date (pretty sure there’s a virtually unbroken preppy streak starting around then), but I can’t deny that there’s some comfort in being able to say that I fit or belong in some kind of category, that I’m an ectomorph, a triangle body shape (more like a spoon, imo), with a BMI of XX or a competitive fitness personality type. It’s like being in an exclusive club where you can nod at other ectomorphs in solidarity/commiseration over our inhibited ability to gain muscle or consult other glutards (my very pc word for my gluten-intolerant or Celiac disease-ridden friends) for innovative recipes free of that foul toxin There’s some comfort in belonging to something. That categorizing happens in running a bit too, but I think there it’s really a matter of specialization. For example, you could be a sprinter, a 5ker, a 10ker, a marathoner, or crazy an ultramarathoner. Depending on what type of runner you are, you might train differently, but that’s really about the only thing that separates one runner from another. Maybe that’s why I like acknowledging and being acknowledged by other runners—because even if we’re going different distances at a different pace, we’re all out because we like to run.

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Ec-tastic.

This propensity toward self-categorization persists because people are naturally inclined to be curious about themselves and ever since that dude Adam came around, they love to put names to things. Sometimes these results can be personally meaningful. However, it can also be dangerous to pigeonhole yourself into one category or misinterpret the results, and because of all that, I have become more and more resistant to buying into any kind of self-categorization. The fact is that although people may share some common character traits, every person is different and has different goals. Something that I’ve been thinking about for a while now is the psychological theory of somatotypes. According to this theory, developed in the 1940s to equate physical attributes to mental temperament (which at first just sounded a little too much like the Hippocratic four humors but meh), there are three “pure” somatotypes: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. These types are characterized by physical traits such as a lean or slim appearance with little fat or muscle, a solid and muscular look but minimal fat, and a high storage of fat, respectively.  Although you may be predisposed to one type over another, your type may change as you age, and identifying your type is not as simple as looking in the mirror. Or so the theory goes. If I graphed the three somatotypes on a ternary diagram, there’s little doubt that I inhabit somewhere in the ectomorph region. I’m tall and lanky-ish with a normal female distribution of “insulation.” So what does being classified as an ectomorph actually mean for me? 

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As a self-identified ectomorph, I am supposed to avoid cardio, which will burn too many of the valuable Calories needed to build muscle. Rather, I’m meant to focus on strength training multiple muscle groups at the same time. This would no doubt help me (or anyone) build muscle, but I can’t help but ask what the point, then, would be? I’d likely have to keep up that regimen to maintain those muscles, and if my reason to build muscles in the first place is to be a better runner, then cutting out cardio just seems a little counterproductive. In this case, the advice I’m given does not jive with my goals. I’m not decrying the entire somatotype theory or any fitness theory for that matter. (So if you are the person who told me about it in the first place–you know who you are!–I am not attempting to debunk it or mock it or anything!) This could have just as easily been a post about how quizzes tell me to not wear prints on my lower half because it makes me look bottom-heavy(er) or how my exercise-induced asthma should restrict me to short-distance running unless I’m treating myself with meds like crazy. Like any knowledge, you can use it for good or evil. Will it push you forward or hold you back?

If what you do keeps you active, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, stop doing it. There has to be a certain amount of buy-in to following through with something that might be hard to start with, like exercising, especially if the efficacy of it is not readily apparent. That is, you have to believe that all that blood, sweat, and tears is achieving something. At the same time, don’t be afraid to challenge your own beliefs or challenge what you read, even stuff written by experts–because you are a person and not a category, fads are things that exist, and sometimes people have personal or professional agendas for saying what they say. Do not structure your entire life around an article you read in Women’s Health magazine. Challenging what you read is what one of my science professors referred to as a “cultivated skepticism.”

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A good, relevant example of a well-known, creditable scientist purporting a less-than-credible scientific theory is that of Dr. Linus Pauling and his megadoses of Vitamin C. It’s hard to say enough to contrast Pauling’s early and later professional career. A short laundry list of his accomplishments includes fleshing out the field of quantum mechanics as well as making every future high school chemistry student hate him for his work on the nature of the chemical bond (i.e. ionic, covalent, etc.), for which he won one of his two Nobel Prizes (the other was a Peace Prize in the 60s). Unfortunately, more people probably know him for his belief that Vitamin C was the panacea of all human ills. He insisted that Vitamin C administered to cancer patients actually cured them of the disease (another study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found no significant difference in recovery rates between patients taking Vitamin C and a placebo). Pauling himself took  something like 3 grams of Vitamin C every day to prevent colds, which is another claim that has been widely discredited by studies. (At least one study did suggest Vitamin C could lessen the severity of existing cold symptoms, but did not seem to prevent them altogether.) Despite the wealth of evidence suggesting otherwise, Pauling’s scientific credibility and his total insistence that Vitamin C boosts the immune system have created a market for products like Airborne. Even knowing that the science isn’t exactly sound, orange juice is still one of the first things I reach for when I get sick.

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My point in all this is that sometimes even experts can get things wrong, and the only reason I’m not out there tearing Airborne packets off the drugstore shelves  or ridiculing those who are taking 17 multivitamins a day is, really, what can it hurt to take extra vitamins? Perhaps Vitamin C isn’t helping you get better, but if you think it is, maybe the placebo effect might be worth something.

That said, I’m still into questioning everything. There’s no substitute to poking the poop.

As for me, I’ll still wear my galaxy leggings even though prints make my butt look big. Whatever.