Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chasing Unicorns

If you’ve run a marathon or know someone who has, then you know that it’s an emotional experience. Ask any of us why we started, and usually, the story is never simply, “Because I like it.” Rather, the story is usually centered around a charity, a bucket list item, or the challenge. In other words, something bigger than ourselves. 

With the Boston Marathon, the emotional experience is just that much more magnified. It’s one of the oldest marathons in the country (119 years and still going strong), and the only ways to get in are by qualifying in a previous marathon or by running on behalf of a charity (and raising a minimum dollar amount for said charity). That being said, part of the emotional experience is actually running it, and part is getting into it.

My journey (from when I first started trying to qualify to when I actually ran the race) was 3+ years — 1.5 years and three attempts to merely qualify, another year of waiting to apply, and then another seven months of preparing to run it. For me, running Boston has always been a dream. When I first started running marathons (in 2007), I never imagined that I’d meet the stringent qualifying standards, so qualifying at Marine Corps (in October 2013) was about succeeding at a challenge that had once seemed impossible, and more importantly, about all of those people who believed in me and kept reminding me that anything is possible. In other words, something much bigger than myself.

The application for the Boston Marathon opens in September, and by the time I qualified, the 2014 marathon had already sold out. As a result, I had to wait until September 2014 to apply for the 2015 running. In those 11 months, I was able to improve my finishing time for submission by 3 minutes and improve my chances of getting in. (Because of the increasing number of people who qualify and apply, the BAA can’t accept everyone who meets their standards.) So when I received the acceptance notice from the BAA, I was on cloud 9. 

Unfortunately, the next seven months were not as magical. Achilles’ tendonopathy and plantar fasciitis forced me to seek chiropractic care, and sidelined me for nearly two weeks of my training cycle. Worse, it took another couple weeks to safely build up my mileage enough to be able to do long runs, and while I know that patience is required for injury recovery, it isn’t one of my strong suits. In addition, I had to readjust my training plan to accommodate this forced time off. And when I finally did rebuild my mileage, I had to cut one of my 20-mile runs short because of dehydration. All of that was really discouraging, and I started doubting whether I’d be able to train sufficiently to complete Boston. But the last few weeks of my training cycle were good, and by the time I started tapering (16 days pre-marathon), I felt like my pie-in-the-sky goal of running a sub-3 hour marathon was within reach. Six days later, I developed an ear infection that required seven days’ worth of antibiotics and a decongestant. Additionally, I was supposed to have a massage eight days pre-race, but the LMT got sick and had to reschedule it to five days pre-race, and because of that, he didn’t feel comfortable doing as intense of a massage as I probably needed. As the saying goes, “It’s always something.”

As I mentioned previously, I was oddly calm in the days leading up to the race. This was odd because of that recent series of events, and normally, I’m a giant ball of stress and a nervous wreck. But as I also mentioned, I had received so much encouragement from my family, friends, and coworkers that I felt like I won without having actually crossed the starting line. The day I left for Boston, my coworker Mandy left blue and gold balloons at my desk, along with one of her favorite Clif bar flavors. My colleagues are a pretty wonderful bunch. I think it also helped that I had a pretty busy schedule, and subsequently, events to keep my mind off of the marathon.

Balloons and Clif bar at my cube

I started the carb loading process on Friday (three days pre-race), and soon noticed that my skin was drier than usual. Which is bad because “drier than usual” for me is “cracking and bleeding, even after applying moisturizer several times a day.” (Is dry skin a known side effect of eating too much sugar? If not, I want to conduct this study.) But I digress. Breakfast was steel cut oats with a banana, honey, nuts, and cinnamon-sugar, lunch was a chicken burrito bowl from one of the food carts with a side of corn tortillas, and dinner was vegetable fried rice with chicken. Unfortunately, I think the chicken had been marinated in normal soy sauce, despite the clerk’s insistence that it was gluten-free. (Earlier, he tried saying that the yakisoba noodle dish was GF, even though “enriched wheat flour” was the first ingredient in the yakisoba noodles that they use.) I also consumed some other snacks (including baby carrots, leftover chick peas and Sriracha, a Clif bar, a GF granola bar, Gatorade, and coffee with sugar).

My cousin suggested I take melatonin to help me sleep on my red eye flight, but because I had never taken it before (I know, I know — nothing new in the days leading up to the race), I didn’t know how much to take. So I popped 6 mg about 30 minutes before my flight, but that didn’t seem to have much of an effect, so I took an extra 3 mg. Between that, the sleep mask from JetBlue, and using my jacket as an extra face covering (because the guy across the aisle from me seemed to be the only nocturnal fool on the plane who thought that 2am was a great time to have his reading light on so he could read a book), I was able to doze off for about 3-4 hours of fragmented sleep (which somehow felt like hours of quality sleep). During my layover in NYC, I snagged some oatmeal and a large amount of coffee (with added cinnamon and hazelnut syrup) from Starbucks. 

As expected, my flight to Boston included several other marathoners (one of whom was from Oregon and on my flight from Portland). Once I arrived, I had to make my way into the city and get to my friend Cai’s place (and ate a Clif bar en route). Cai is one of my dear friends from grad school, but left Portland for Boston and now lives very close to the marathon finish line. After having more coffee with sugar and a shower, her boyfriend Tim and I decided to do brunch at Tico, where I ate a breakfast burrito (sans tortilla) with potatoes. (In hindsight, I should’ve ordered extra potatoes, but what’s done is done.) After brunch, I ventured to the Adidas tent (to buy the official race jacket) and then to the expo (to get my race stuff and check out the vendors). I anticipated spending a couple hours there, but after walking around once, I was overwhelmed. There were a lot of vendors crammed into a relatively small space, which made it difficult to navigate. So I left and did my pre-marathon grocery shopping (sugary lemonade, bananas, and other sugary/salty junk that I don’t normally eat), and went to drop everything off at Cai’s before the DM runner/Strength Running meet-ups that were happening that afternoon (they were both at Dillon’s). 

At the Expo

Goals. (The deal with the unicorns is that the Boston Marathon's logo is a unicorn.)

The unexpected pit stop afforded me extra time to catch up with Cai, who I hadn’t seen since August. I got hungry (damn sugar and its effects on insulin levels), so I ate a GF granola bar en route to Dillon’s. The meet-ups were great — it was wonderful to see Meredith, meet a whole entourage of runners I knew from DM in person, and finally meet Jason (the founder of Strength Running, co-founder of RYBQ, and one of the most instrumental figures in my development as a runner).

While I was out, I received a text from my friend Ellen, saying that she finished her last long run for Eugene '15, and that I was an inspiration and helped her push through her last few miles. That made me feel amazing! I was touched.

Dinner that night was with Cai and Tim at City Table, where I ordered vegetable risotto (sage, butternut squash, wild mushrooms, and parmesan) with a side of Brussels sprouts and bacon. We also shared a half-dozen oysters. Everything was delicious — I can see why it’s one of Cai and Tim’s favorite restaurants. We enjoyed a nightcap of David’s Tea (Forever Nuts flavor) at Cai and Tim’s. If you haven’t tried this tea yet, do yourself a favor and order some. It tastes delightful, and all of their flavors (at least the ones that Cai had) smell wonderful.

Sunday morning (Marathon Eve), I ended up sleeping in until 7am (a change from my usual 4:45am wakeup call), and joining everyone and their mother for a shakeout run on Storrow Drive. Alright, let me clarify. I ran by myself, but lots of other marathoners were out there doing shakeout runs. I ran for 20 minutes, and ended at Dunkin Donuts, because I felt like I should get the quintessential New England experience and have Dunkin at least once on my trip. The last few times I’ve had Dunkin coffee, I’ve been disappointed, but this time, it was really good! I’ve concluded that Dunkin coffee requires sugar to taste good. I returned to Cai’s, and prepped my millet porridge for race morning (along with some extra to eat as breakfast), foam rolled, and showered before meeting my friend Melissa, her boyfriend, and a friend of her’s (who’s originally from Portland) for brunch at Sonsie. Brunch was a smoked salmon plate with extra GF toast (I wasn’t in the mood for eggs, and that was the only non-egg, non-salad dish on the menu) and more coffee with sugar. Great food. I also answered their many questions about running, including “What do you think about when you’re running for that far?” (I think I need to start an FAQ list.)

After brunch, I trekked out to the burbs to my cousin’s house for some family time and a homemade pre-race feast with my mom, my mom’s friend, my cousin’s boyfriend, my cousin’s friend Melissa, and Melissa’s family. My mom and cousin cooked, and I watched. I figure that since they would be watching me work the next day, that was a reasonable trade-off. I also read the lovely unicorn books that Erin shipped to my cousin’s house. Anyway, the feast was fantastic (as homemade family cooking usually is), and to top it off, my cousin and mom surprised me with GF, DF, marathon-themed birthday cupcakes (my birthday and the marathon were within days of each other) from Augusta Street Kitchen (a gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and nut-free bakery in the area)! And to top it off, Shanel (the baker) went above and beyond and put a little runner on top of one of them and used Portland’s area code as his bib number. Such a nice personal touch! All of Shanel’s products (we had some cookies of her's as well) taste amazing, so if you live in the Boston/Providence area and need food-allergy friendly desserts, check her out. 


More feast

Marathon birthday cupcakes

After dinner, my family kindly drove me back to Cai’s so I could get to sleep in time for the marathon morning wake-up call. I had some trouble falling asleep because of pre-race excitement, but once I got to sleep, I slept okay. Of course, I only ended up sleeping about 4-5 hours. 

My alarm went off at 3am, and remarkably, I got right out of bed. As I usually do, I took my pharmacopeia of vitamins (iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, probiotic, and magnesium), and started getting dressed for the race. About an hour later (because my body needs time to absorb the iron), I ate my millet porridge (millet with dried cranberries, honey, cinnamon, and walnuts) and drank my coffee, while I listened to music to help get me in the zone. For some reason, 16 oz of coffee didn’t seem to wake up my GI tract. Sometimes, that much coffee stimulates it, and sometimes, it doesn’t. I feel like my GI system is one big enigma. Anyone else have a similar experience?

I was in wave 1, so I needed to be on the bus to Hopkinton between 6 and 6:45. Therefore, I left to head to Boston Common around 6. Because wave 1 didn’t start until 10, I brought some garbage bags to sit on, a bottle of water, a Clif bar, banana, and some Jelly Belly sport beans with me (in addition to my four gels). I opted to not check a bag because I would’ve had to walk an extra half-mile to retrieve it and then walk that same half-mile to get back home. Extra mile of walking after a marathon…umm, how about no? To help prevent any communication issues after the race, my cousin loaned me her iPhone armband (yeah yeah, I know, I broke the “nothing new” rule once again!). Once I got to Boston Common, I used the porta-potty, and then boarded the bus. I sat next to a rather reticent guy from DC, and I was grateful that he was so quiet because it let me sleep a little more on the trip to Hopkinton.

Selfie in the Starting Village

The huddled masses, yearning to stay warm

While waiting to get funneled into the starting corrals, all of us runners huddled under these massive tents and tried to stay warm and dry (the forecast called for temperatures in the 40s, some rain, and some ridiculous headwinds, and it was already windy and drizzly when we were waiting). I managed to score a spot in the middle of the tent, which meant that everyone else helped shield the wind. I didn’t see anyone I knew (not that I planned on it, but I thought I might run into at least one runner I knew), so I ended up talking to a group of three first-timers (one from Calgary, one from Minneapolis, and one from LA). During this time, I ate my Clif bar and drank some of the water. Despite the cold, rainy conditions, we saw one runner with a chiseled physique wearing nothing but shorts that resembled a Speedo, shoes, and his bib. Showoff.

Around 9:15, they summoned all of the runners from my corral (corral 5). So I switched my phone to Do Not Disturb (I didn’t want it vibrating and dinging during the race), and headed over. While en route, I used the porta-potty again (I’m assuming that peeing three times in as many hours was an indication that I was sufficiently hydrated). Around 9:45, I stripped down to my race outfit (LS tech, North Face shorts, and gloves) and ate some of the banana, and then went to my corral. At 10, they fired the guns and we inched our way to the starting line. I crossed the starting line about two minutes after the gun went off. 

One of the major challenges with Boston is that the first mile is a drastic downhill, so you need to control your speed if you want anything left at Heartbreak Hill. According to my pace bracelet, I needed to do a 7:18 on that first mile. Fortunately, the crowds were so thick that it forced everyone else to go a little slower, and I was able to hit that pace. Somewhere in the first mile, a runner informed me that I knocked my salted caramel Gu out of my back pocket. I didn’t think that was worthy of turning around, going back to grab it, and stopping to stuff it in my back pocket (especially since I was still holding onto the sport beans), so I cut my losses. Shortly after that, I managed to knock the cold brew Gu out of my back pocket. The caffeine from that one was essential to my strategy (take it at mile 18, and hope that the caffeine kicks in by the time I needed to power up Heartbreak Hill), so I backtracked to grab it, and ended up holding onto that and the sport beans.

Mile 2 was a couple seconds off of my target pace, which wasn’t too alarming since I had to backtrack. Mile 3 was way faster (about 10-15 seconds faster) than my target pace. The crowd support during the first few miles was much larger than I expected, given how small the towns of Hopkinton and Ashland are. But the whole town must come out to watch the race (especially since it’s on Patriot’s Day, which is a Massachusetts state holiday).

Awesome New Balance ads. Specifically, the blue one above the Red Line and Orange Line signs

Around mile 4, I caught up with Ken (one of the DM runners I met on Saturday) and we exchanged a few words before I went ahead. I was still feeling good about averaging sub-7 minute miles. However, I was getting annoyed with the pace bracelet because the font was a little small and it made it difficult to read. At the mile 6 water stop, I grabbed some Gatorade. Just before mile 8, I started chomping on the sport beans, and washed them down with water. By mile 10, I felt like I was losing steam and was hating life. To make matters worse, it started raining and the wind was blowing in my face. It was also around this time that Lynton (another DMer) passed me. To keep myself encouraged, I broke the race into smaller segments — one mile until I saw Kelly, two more until I saw my friend Jessalyn, four more until I saw my family entourage, three more until I saw my friend Steven, and another six until I got to the finish. Once I saw the 11 mile marker, I knew I had to look reasonably strong and look for Kelly at the water station. When I found her, I yelled for her (and snagged some Gatorade — thanks so much, by the way!). The next mile or so were fairly quiet, and I realized that I forgot to attempt to read my pace bracelet. I attempted to read it again at mile 12. I ran some more, and then reached Wellesley and the scream tunnel (i.e., all of the girls at Wellesley screaming and willing to dole out kisses). They also had some great signs — among them, “Kiss me if you’re an Oregonian” and “Kiss me if you’re gluten free”. I didn’t look for a kiss, but I did give out a few side-5s and get a good laugh out of their signs.

Shortly before mile 13 (I wanted to make sure I ate my gel by the time I hit the water station), I took gel #2. I meant to grab the vanilla bean Gu, but I grabbed the Honey Stinger one instead. Wasn’t the first time I deviated from my gel plan. Anyway, after I hit the mile 13 marker, I was on a mission to find St. Paul’s Church (where my friend Jessalyn was standing). While looking for her, I passed the halfway mark in about 1:31, and just told myself that I only had about an hour and a half left. Part of me also knew at this point that sub-3 was out of the cards, and given the Newton hills, a PR was a long shot too. I passed what looked like a church, but no sign of her. Eventually, she yelled for me, and I turned to see her and yell back. Yay, 2/2 on seeing people!

Once I hit the 14 mile marker, I attempted to read my pace bracelet one last time, and caught the paces for miles 14 and 15. This ended up being the last time I tried reading it. I knew that around mile 15 or 16, there would be a significant downhill, and then the Newton hills would start. For those of you unfamiliar with the course, the Newton hills are a series of five hills between miles 16 and 21, the last of which is known as Heartbreak Hill. I also knew that my family would be somewhere in the beginning of that series. I started looking for them, and got elated when I found their sign that said “RUN TIN RUN!”

Family with signs

After that, I just told myself it was one more mile to cold brew gel, two more to Steven, and six more to the finish. During mile 17 is the turn onto Commonwealth Avenue, which is one of only five turns on the course. Shortly after that turn (and by shortly, I mean that it could've been during miles 17 or 18), I hit what I think was the third (and steepest) of the five Newton hills. I remembered thinking to myself, "These Newton hills are no joke!" I also took my cold brew gel at mile 18. After 18 miles of holding onto that thing, my hands were finally free!

During mile 19, I heard somebody scream, "Go Front Runners!" I turned to see three guys from Front Runners NY on the side. Not sure who the three were, but yay for seeing my old running crew! Around this time, "Austin", "Awesome", and "Boston" all sounded the same. Probably an indication that I was half-delirious, but I really just felt like everyone was cheering especially for me. 

I reached mile 20 in about 2:21:00, and knew that even re qualifying was a long shot. But I still trudged up Heartbreak Hill and kept my eyes peeled for Steven. (I didn't see him, but he saw me and got some good photos.)

Going up Heartbreak Hill

I saw the top of Heartbreak Hill and just reminded myself that it was all downhill into Boston. I reached the top and was greeted by screaming BC students. Everyone talks about how loud the Wellesley girls are, but nobody talks about how the BC kids are just as loud. And right then, I needed those extra loud cheers. The rain returned, and it suddenly felt colder than it did at the start. At mile 23, I took my last gel (vanilla bean Gu), and could barely grab it because my hands were frozen. At that point, the main thing helping me out was that I was only about 5K from the finish line. 

Around mile 25, I reached Kenmore Square and started trying to find my family. Sadly, I didn't see them. I saw the "One mile to go" mark, and knowing that I was fewer than 10 minutes away from finishing the race I always wanted to run just made me emotional. But it wasn't over yet, so I funneled all of my energy into getting to Boylston and Exeter (the finish line). In the process, I missed Cai and Tim, as well as Melissa and her crew. They all saw me though. 

Melissa with her sign and marathon bingo card. For more information on marathon bingo, please consult her.

I made the infamous right on Hereford and left on Boylston, and just did everything I could to get to the finish. And that third of a mile seemed SOOOO LONG. As I approached the finish line, the announcer called my name and I threw my hands in the air and took those final steps. Once I finished, I just lost it. I may have caught the sub-3 unicorn, but I caught the unicorn that I had been chasing for so much longer. In my tired, sore, delirious state, I knew that was the bigger deal. And dare I say bigger than myself?

I navigated the finish area so I could get my medal, poncho, and recovery food. I got my medal, and then the paparazzi started snapping photos. Okay, maybe I'm being dramatic, but they took a bunch of photos, and I look like a basket case in all of them. It's as if I were either overwhelmed with emotion or pain. Oh, who are we kidding? Both are accurate.

Eventually, I got this poncho. Thankfully, they helped me put it on, because I was too cold and sore to do anything unassisted. And then the paparazzi snapped more photos. I found the food, and finally switched my phone off of Do Not Disturb. Over the 3+ hours, I received 15 texts, with exactly what I needed to hear (namely, that I may not have run that sub-3 marathon, but I still ran my dream race). I also had several Instagram notifications waiting for me, 3 tweets, and 40+ Facebook notifications. So much social media love!

I tried calling my mom and cousin because they weren’t at our meeting spot. Because it was raining, I sought shelter under the awning of some fancy apartment building. The doorman must’ve taken pity on me, because he let me inside the lobby so I could have a dry place to make my calls. I later learned that they were stuck in a detour, so I hobbled back to Cai’s. I was so thankful I didn’t check a bag, because my three-block walk probably took about 15 minutes, and I can only imagine how much time an extra mile would've added.

Little burrito
The rest of the evening consisted of showering, eating (massive shrimp salad with sweet potato fries, sangria, and Pinkberry), hanging out with my family, and having celebratory cocktails with Cai. Just a few of my favorite things. :) 

Shrimp salad

Sweet potato fries


Netflix time!

To all of you who helped make this possible and who encouraged me along the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Calming Down During the (Taper) Storm

For those of you who’ve known me for longer than about 5 minutes, you know that I’ve had my sights set on Boston for years. And in a matter of DAYS, I’ll be making that dream a reality. For those of you who’ve known me for a little longer than that (maybe 10 minutes), you know that I’ve also had my sights set on a sub-3 hour marathon. I'd be lying if I said I weren't scared shitless. Scared shitless of what? Stumbling. Starting out way too quickly and bonking. Not getting sub-3. Disappointing all of my friends and family who will be watching from Boston and elsewhere. I know they'll all say that it's merely an honor to even toe the starting line. And rationally, I know they're right. But just toeing the line isn't enough. There's that fervor in me to give it everything that I possibly can. Because the reality is that there's no guarantee that I'll qualify again. No guarantee that I'll get a second shot at running Boston. So I have one chance to run the best that I can in the best race in the world. 

Throughout this training cycle, I dealt with Achilles tendonopathy and plantar fasciitis and started doubting myself. Even with the outpouring of support, I was still wondering, "What if I fail and let everyone down?" I started pondering this on one of my runs (go figure), and ended up asking myself, "You have all these people who believe in you. Why don't you believe in you?” My subconscious made a good point. So often, I find myself advising others to stop the negative self-talk. But yet, I can’t seem to take my own advice. 

Dailymile has been a great source of encouragement over the last 3+ years. But this training cycle, I found myself logging on, reading everyone's workouts, and feeling like I wasn't doing enough to get ready. I think this was more when I was injured, but regardless, I was doing just about everything I could do. That never-good-enough feeling never seems to do anyone any good. And so I tried to tune out dailymile as best as I could. I dealt with that injury in February, and managed to log 177 miles in March and have a good experience racing the Shamrock 15K in the rain. 

Toward the end of the race

While my goal of sub-3 is scaring me, I'm also strangely calm. I can't explain it. I remember feeling this way before MCM, and the only thing I could attribute the calmness to then was the feeling like I had already won. I know, I know, it makes absolutely no sense to feel as though you've won before you've crossed the starting line. But all of the love and support I received just made me feel so happy. Plus, I got to catch up with some incredible friends during that weekend. So far, this marathon trip looks like it'll be very similar. I've received so many well-wishes from friends and family, and even tips from a few. I have plans to see friends who I haven't seen in over a year (some even longer). I'll be staying with one of my best friends from grad school (who lives super close to the finish line!). I'll be having pre-race dinner at my cousin's house. But what's most touching is that my mom will be making the 3,000 mile trip to merely WATCH me run. (Okay, maybe she's tacking a family visit onto her vacation plans, but the primary purpose of her trip is to watch me run.) How awesome is that?

Over the last few weeks, I've also received so many words of encouragement from my coworkers. Even they know this is a big deal for me. Now I may have sent them all an Outlook invite with my bib number so that a notification pops up around marathon starting time, but they started asking me about Boston before I did that. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. 

As the saying goes, "the hay is in the barn." In other words, what's done is done, and I can't do a damn thing to change it. It won't help me any to worry about it either, because that'll just translate to me being a nervous wreck for the next 4-5 days, coming out of the barn way too quickly, and then running out of steam. The level of support I’ve received from everyone is helping to keep me calm during a time that I’d otherwise be ready to jump out of my skin. And that makes me feel like I’ve won, whatever the outcome of Monday’s race may be.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Shakin' Up the Wine (Country)

You guys, I'm so far behind on posting. Alright, let's be real. I'm so far behind on the rest of my life too. But I suppose I should start filling you in on everything. First things first -- the Santa Rosa Marathon! (Since I left off with my race week thoughts.)

I heard about this race from an expo for another race, and among other draws were running through Sonoma (an area of CA that I had never been), a bottle of wine for all runners, and a finisher party involving wine, pancakes, and watermelon. I suggested it to Erin when we were planning our 2014 rundezvous calendar. She signed up, and it was like, "Oh crap, guess this means I better sign up now." I eventually did...on New Years Eve after sent me a $10 coupon for registration.

So Race Week kicked off with a massage. I initially scheduled a 60 minute massage, but about 45 minutes in, he asked if I wanted to do the 90 minute massage because he "wouldn't be able to do everything that he wanted to in 60 minutes." Okay, maybe that was his polite way of expressing pity for my legs and feet, but who am I to turn down an extra 30 minutes of massage?

The rest of that week entailed some shakeout runs, a big presentation at work, quite a few coffee stops, and plenty of carb loading (burrito bowl, dairy-free milkshake, shrimp fried rice, and so on). Oh, and packing for the trip. I have a list of race essentials (shorts, shirt, compression socks, and some other gear), and I just go off of that. This time, I just set everything out on the bed, and then packed it all into my gym bag and backpack.

And before we knew it, Race Eve hit. I woke up at 4am to get ready to head to the airport for my 7:30am flight. I'd say that that's an ungodly hour, but compared to my usual wake-up call of 4:30am, it wasn't that bad. But I'm sure it was ridiculous for my work spouse Leah, who kindly agreed to pick me up at 5:30am to drive me to the airport.

Once I was at the airport, I snagged coffee, went to the gate, and got myself "upgraded" to an exit row seat (and by that, I mean that I asked and they moved me - where do they get off making those premium seats anyway).

Erin picked me up at the airport, and we made our way toward Santa Rosa. However, we didn't exactly listen to Google Maps (we were catching up and just tuned it out), and ended up missing a turn. So we decided to get off the next exit and turn around. Except we found Denny's when we got off the freeway, so we decided to seize the opportunity to stop off for a carblicious breakfast. Denny's BYO Grand Slam for the win! (Mine consisted of eggs, hashbrowns, grits, and oatmeal. Photo not taken because I didn't think it was necessary. Yes, I'm aware that oats aren't exactly GF, but I didn't think of merely getting a double order of grits until after our food arrived.)

Upon leaving, we decided to take another detour to Safeway (it was down the street) for race eve/day provisions (bananas, sugary lemonade, and a slew of other salty and sweet snacks).

After all of our detours, we made it to SR around 1:45, and just went straight to the expo at DeLoach Vineyards (the premier sponsor of the race). Mile 10 of the race goes through DeLoach's barrel room.

Made it to the Expo!

Picking up my bottle of wine. Photo courtesy of Erin
We checked in with E's pacer crew (including Ko, who would be camping out with us at The Sandman Inn), and then I proceeded to get my swag. E and I then did a shakeout run in the area. Unfortunately, the country roads did not make for the safest running conditions, so we just stuck to four loops around the same cul-de-sac.

Around 5, we checked into the hotel. I had a near panic attack because I couldn't find my millet porridge in my bag, and so I immediately thought I left it in Oregon. (Spoiler alert: It was in my bag, and I only found it after buying backup instant oatmeal and KIND granola. Story of my life.) Shortly thereafter, we headed to Ko's friends for dinner and more eating. Seriously, I felt like I was eating nonstop. Chips and salsa, sugary treats, fruit, pasta (note: TJs GF rice pasta is a tasty and, at $1.99/lb, a relatively affordable option), potatoes, and some beef and salad. But the food was good, and the company was fantastic. We left around 9, and we were all in bed by 10 (despite our trip to Safeway for the oatmeal and granola that later became unnecessary).

Pre-race fiesta. Photo courtesy of Erin
Eating time! Photo courtesy of Erin

Race Morning
Because of the 6am start, we set the alarms for 3am. Popped my iron and vitamin C (along with vitamin D, because otherwise, I won't remember to take it) pills, and then plugged in my headphones to listen to my prerace music. At 3:20, we felt the room start shaking. Yes, that's right, folks - earthquake! (I should also add that because we were on the second floor, its effects were much more pronounced.) Each of us reacted in a different way. Erin, having never experienced one before, applied her tornado training and huddled on the floor in the bathroom doorway (distanced from the windows). Ko crawled underneath the table. And what did I do? Stood there unphased because I figured it'd be over in about 30 seconds. (Signs I may belong in CA - I hate the cold and the gray, and don't mind earthquakes.)

After the rockin’ party, I ate my millet and drank my coffee. One cup did not seem to wake up my GI tract, so I ended up having two. I took a banana to-go and ate that shortly before the race began.

At the starting area, ready to tackle SRM! Photo courtesy of Erin

Race Itself
I'll have you know that I made sure to do a dynamic warmup before the start of this race! I may not have always remembered this while training, but I remembered this time.

I wore the fellrnr pace bracelet (as I did with MCM and Newport). What I did differently was wait until after hitting the mile marker to compare my watch time to the target on the bracelet. I was between the safe and target zones for the first 20-21 miles of the race.

We started out by winding through downtown Santa Rosa, but after mile 2, turned onto a bike path. At this point, I was by myself and able to get into a good zone. The first four miles were in the dark (in case the previous photo wasn't an indication of that), and given the scenery, I expected a brilliant sunrise. Nope, not so much. But what I lacked in beautiful sunrises, I made up for with epiphanies. Such as my theory that the Boston Marathon has a unicorn logo to signify that running it is a dream for many runners.

Since I was by myself, I was able to appreciate the scenery on the course, which was nothing short of beautiful! Tree-lined bike path, vineyards all around. It reminded me of the back half of the Eugene course. Except that the Eugene course did not run along any vineyards. I had to stop around mile 4.5 to tie my shoe. Well, it was either that or risk tripping over it. I figured tying it was worth the 30ish seconds. I also felt like I had to poop, but that urge didn't feel major enough to merit stopping. (Fortunately, I made it through the whole race without that urge returning/getting worse.)

At mile 8, we turned off of the bike path and onto country roads. My plan was to take gels at miles 8, 13, 17, and 22.5 (in line with water stops). Took #1 (salted caramel Gu) at mile 8, except the next water stop was Gatorade only.

The barrel room run was a new addition to this year's race, and surely a unique one at that.

It was a rager in that barrel room. Photo courtesy of SRM

Between miles 12 and 13, I heard, "Water and Gatorade up ahead!" And used that as an opportunity to take gel #2 (Honey Stinger vanilla. The same thing happened around 17 and 21. (Gel #3: Pocket Fuel mocha cold brew. Gel #4: Honey Stinger original.) At those last two, I had the gel in one hand and the water in the other. Double-fisting, runner style.

Once I hit mile 19, I started experiencing some runner's knee pain in my left knee. I reminded myself to just keep pushing, and that you don’t always do what you want to do, but you always do what you have to do. I hit mile 20 in about 2:17, so I needed to run the last 10K in about 42-43 min to hit my goal, and 46-47 min to PR. Considering that I had yet to run any 7+ min miles according to Garmin, the latter seemed super feasible.

With 6 miles left to go, we veered back on the bike path and merged with the half-marathoners. I thought I was going quickly, because I was passing all of them. However, my perception was skewed by the fact that these people were going at a 10-12 min pace. It didn't help that the path was completely clogged. So ultimately, these were my slowest miles of the race. It was around 21-22 that the sub-3 started slipping away from me.

Faking happiness at mile 24. Photo courtesy of SRM

Just before mile 26, we turned off the bike path and onto the roads. I knew that once I hit the mile 26 marker, I just had one turn and then it was straight to the finish. I reached the 26 mile mark in just over 3 hours, so I knew that a sub-3 wasn't possible, but a sub-3:02 and PR surely were. Once I made that turn and saw that the clock had just hit 3:01, I just gunned it. The way they had the finish line structured, it seemed like marathoners and 5K runners were supposed to finish on the right and half-marathoners were supposed to finish on the left. Unfortunately, there was a group of about 4 women nearly blocking my path. I was able to swerve around them, but the thought of them preventing a sub-3:02 finish caused a few seconds of anxiety. The announcer called out my name, and I crossed the finish line with the clock reading "3:01:47”.

Me and the group of women. Photo courtesy of SRM

I was just floored. My tenth marathon was in the books, and I clocked a two minute PR (and extended my marathon PR streak to 8). I got my medal and some post-race food. I saw someone with a Portland Marathon space blanket, and my thought was, “Aww, my people!” Moments later, I saw volunteers handing out these blankets to runners. Yes, I traveled 500 miles to get paraphernalia from my home marathon.

I talked to a couple other runners who I saw on the course, and they echoed my thoughts on the last 10K messing with our perception of speed.

In addition to the race shirt, Santa Rosa also distributed full-zip hooded sweatshirts to all finishers. The sweatshirt is really nice, but the process of distributing/retrieving them was a nightmare. They tried to group everything by runner’s last name, but all of the lines still ended up merging together and snaking around the finisher area. (My recommendation is to follow the Portland Marathon’s example and hand them out with the medals, and mark everyone’s bib as he/she receives it.). I digress though.

While waiting in that crazy long line, I talked to another runner and his wife. He had just PRed by about 10 minutes and BQed, and she was kind enough to look up my finish time on her phone. Net time: 3:01:41!!

Over the next 20-30 minutes, I got my finisher sweatshirt, made a pitstop, got my and Erin’s stuff from bag check (as we did at Newport, we checked our stuff in the same bag), and video chatted with my mom. By then, Erin and Ko made it to the finisher area, and I learned that they led the 3:35 pace group to a 3:34:38 finish, and as a result, led several runners to new PRs and BQs. How awesome are they???

Erin and Anil

Erin, Ko, and their pacer sign. Check out those fine space blankets! Photo courtesy of Erin
Erin and me, keeping it real with the Porta-potties in the background

We didn't stick around for the post-race party, because it was super crowded and we had to check out of the hotel. So we headed back, showered, and then Erin and I drove back to her place in the Bay Area.

I'm sure I was smiling like crazy for the next few days after that. I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again now. When I started this marathoning business in 2007, I never believed that I'd run a marathon in under 3:10 (the Boston Qualifying standard at that time), let alone under 3:02. At initial glance, the race went off with unnoticeable errors. I ran the race pretty evenly (first half: 1:29:48, second half: 1:31:53), executed my fueling plan the way that I intended (i.e., taking gels with water), and just pushing through. It all made for a nice runner's high. However, I knew there had to have been something I could do differently, because nothing is perfect and I missed that goal by 1:41.

What to do next time:
It was hard to pick apart a race that went very well, but once the runner's high started wearing off, I was able to identify a few things that I could do differently next time around.

  1. Run more miles. This seems simple, but mileage is required for any marathon training program. And  I ran more miles during my Newport training than I did during my SR training.
  2. Do more speed work. Over the twelve weeks of training, I only did two legit speed sessions (and by "legit speed session", I mean track workout).
  3. Work on form. At times, I started hunching and had to tell myself, "Back straight, eyes forward, and fly."  
And what is next, you ask? Currently, I don't have any races on my calendar. After the last 10+ months of having at least one race scheduled, it feels so weird to have NOTHING on my calendar. It's refreshing, but also weird. But more on that later.