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!

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!

 

Investigative reporting

During this whole “fitness journey” thing, I’ve had to find out some things the hard way.

Like hey, did you know that taking ibuprofen for inflammation and an albuterol inhaler for asthma reduces the potassium levels in your blood?  As an electrolyte, potassium helps fight muscle weakness, fatigue, and cramping. And since it is partially responsible for regulating nerve and muscle cellular function, particularly heart muscle cells, say hello to a great risk of arrhythmias. Oh, and I’m not supposed to be using my inhaler every day or even preemptively before every run or I might destroy my body. I’m exaggerating, but the risk is there and no one (cough, my doctor, cough) told me which annoys me because what is the point of seeking medical advice.

It also probably doesn’t help my general well-being that both of these medications feature nausea as a side effect. Basically, ask about side effects and negative drug interactions. Sigh.

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This post marks the end of my inhaler. I’ll carry it with me (even though it takes 20-30 minutes to start working) if I remember, but I am not going to use it anymore if I can help it. Message received: damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

Update: I’ve run about 6 times so far without my inhaler and I haven’t died yet. If I sense a weird breathing thing, I walk for a little bit until I catch my breath. I can’t help but think this might be the equivalent of taking steps backward, but I also suspect that my breathing issues at this point might be a teensy bit mental–and I only mean half crazy.

Baby, it’s cold outside

It’s late fall and my home region has been slammed with an unseasonably cold chill. Combine that with the shorter days and running can seem like the least appealing idea ever.

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This is a selfie.

Now, I say “chill” but I feel the need to qualify that. I’m from California. We don scarves the second the thermometer dips below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. We dread frost on roofs and windshields like it’s the harbinger of death and destruction. If anything but a sunny 72 degrees persists for longer than three days, we become cranky and listless.

So the fact that the temperature has held steady just above freezing and just up to the low 40s has thrown us Californians into a bit of a hissy fit. It’s also forced me to get a little creative with my running wardrobe. Biggest lesson learned: even with the low temperatures, my predisposition to overheating means no additional layers are required. I burn up just thinking about zip-up track jackets and running pants. I appeased my boyfriend by wearing small cotton goves during one 36-degree run and wanted to diiiiie because I was so hot. Give me a headband, compression socks and shorts in any weather!*

For darkness, I went a little unconventional. I did buy a headlamp

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, which has red and white light settings, is decently bright and easy to swivel to illuminate whatever range of distance I want, and is reasonably priced. Even when my forehead gets super sweaty or I put it on over my bangs, this bad boy stays put. It’s also compact enough that I can wrap the strap around my wrist or stuff it in my little wrist wallet thing. Being able to see has made a world of difference to my pace (and ankles) to my pace while running at night.

Besides wanting to see in the dark, I also want to be seen. Unfortunately, although a lot of activewear is designed now with reflective trimmings and whatnot, I didn’t want to go out and buy a lot of new clothes. I did the next best thing I could think of, which was go to a sports store and see what kind of reflective tape or wrist bands were available. Overall, I went to one general sporting goods store and two cycling stores but didn’t really find what I was looking for (at least not for the price I was looking for), which was essentially this:

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My next stop was a craft store, where I found 9″ x 9″ sheets of reflective/sparkly sticky paper. At about 1/10 the price of the reflective cycling tape, I didn’t feel guilty about cutting up the sheets into different shapes or losing them on my runs if they peeled off (other than the obvious littering aspect).

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See and be seen!

If anyone else has better suggestions for running at night or in the cold without getting run over or overheating, I would love to hear them!

*I don’t understand my tendency to overheat. I have long limbs and not-so-great circulation, which normally means that I am always, always cold. It’s not unusual for my fingernails and toenails to turn blue from cold in the winter. Likewise, I can tolerate heat or hot weather almost without limit. So what gives?

Getting real part 2

I grew up with a friend who came from a musical household and was practically born holding a violin and bow. As we got older, he took lessons and performed in local recitals before deciding to major in music in college. Even before graduation, he was auditioning and fielding offers for entry positions in symphonies and orchestras across the country.

It inspired me to learn violin too. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to learn and it wouldn’t be long before I could audition for a local community orchestra–I’d attended many orchestral performances throughout the years, so I knew how a violin should sound, and I already knew how to read music, which is probably one of the bigger hurdles to learning an instrument. But to my disappointment, even playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” sounded scratchy and terrible, like a third grader’s playing. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t I play Beethoven yet? Why wasn’t I as good as my friend already?

If you think these questions are totally ridiculous, it’s because they are. This story is made up (except for the part about my awful violin playing, which is true), but illustrates a key point: I compare myself to other people constantly, even though we may not only have different goals but also a different foundation, which leads to unrealistic expectations about performance.

That is, we may be doing the same thing (e.g. strength training, running) but we may have started from different points (e.g. 5 pound or 10 pound dumbbells, a 12 min/mi pace or an 8 min/mi pace) and ultimately have different goals (e.g. run a 5k or run an ultramarathon). It’s silly to make comparisons between these scenarios, and yet I still do it all the time. And I doubt I’m the only one. It makes almost no sense.

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Why, yes, I do maintain an excel spreadsheet to track my pace.

I have a lot of friends who lift and/or run, which is great because that’s a huge, readily available mine of information or even just conversation. Many of them are proud of their accomplishments–and rightly so–and post updates or pictures about their workout regimen. Mostly I am in awe of my friends’ superpowers, but a small, small part of me is envious. Will I ever be able to run a 7-minute mile or a marathon? Will I ever be able to deadlift my own weight? Why can’t I be like “that”?

Then I remember that I am a unique person with challenges and successes that apply only to me. I can’t run a 7-minute mile yet, but I started at almost a 12-minute pace about six months ago and am down to about a 9-minute pace–that’s a result! See that trendline in the graph? It’s going down–that’s me getting faster! I have had results, but mine might take longer to achieve than they might for other people, either because I started with puny, useless muscles, no stamina, and old-man joints, because I eat like a 15-year-old boy (i.e. crap), or because my workday can be up to 13 hours a day with a commute. These aren’t excuses, but they’re reasons for why I shouldn’t make myself feel like shit for not being able to run a marathon in 20 minutes or having six pack abs, 6% body fat, and bulging biceps.

I also need to remind myself constantly that these things (i.e. muscles and body fat percentage) are not my goals but physical manifestations of my goals, and they should not be what I’m aiming for. Mentally, I feel like I’m getting closer to my personal goal of approaching fitness as a lifestyle and not something that promotes self-evaluation, but I know I won’t be there until I can look at fitspiration pics without wanting to hang up the towel in self-defeat because I don’t look like a fitness goddess.

About 90% of the time, I am okay with how I look and feel about myself. The other 10%, however, is scarily intense hatred of every part of my body and fitness aptitude. It’s more than having a “fat day” and there’s not much that treats it. More often than not the fitspiration pictures that are meant to, go figure, inspire fitness just exacerbate or even trigger the problem because I am subconsciously jealous/incredulous of the results other people are able to get. How do I fight my instinct to compete with this image of the ideal or avoid just waving the white flag and accepting my life as a lazy loser?  At the same time, motivation based on physical appearance scares me the way that hanging around smokers might be unpleasant for someone who has just quit. What if I slip back into my old ways of habitual self-evaluation/hatred?

I think the key thing to remember here, again, is to be realistic about foundation, goals, and results. I may think that fitspiration or progress pics are making jabs at my inadequacy, but I clearly don’t have the same level of investment as the people in the photos, so why should I expect the same results? Do I even want to have to make the sacrifices they must make to perform the way they do? Do I want to cut out carbs and sugar? Do I want to go to the gym for hours a day? Not really. I can only do what I can do, and focusing on making fitness a sustainable part of my life is all I can do for now.

I feel like this is a recurring theme that I keep coming back to, but I suppose it still requires a lot of reinforcement. I’m going to punch that 10% in the face once and for all!