Friday, June 6, 2014

Life Lessons on Success

In college, you take a course for 10-15 weeks (depending on what type of calendar your university runs on), then you take the final exam, and then you receive your grade, which offers some high-level feedback on your performance. Running is very similar - the training is the course itself, the race is the final exam, and your posted time is the grade. To analyze my whole performance in "Newport 101", I need to look at both the race and the work I did throughout the term. If there's anything I learned from my educational programs, it's that the grade you earned matters less than the knowledge you acquired. So if you just want to know that information, scroll to the end for my "report card." Otherwise, read on.

I signed up for this race in November at the recommendation of a few friends from the Portland Frontrunners. It's an extremely small race (capped at 1,000 runners), and because most of the course is along the water, it's incredibly scenic. Plus, a few of them had already signed up, and I convinced Erin to sign up, so I knew I'd be in for an awesome weekend with friends.

After Erin's numerous endorsements of it and stumbling upon a copy of "Advanced Marathoning" in Powell's, I decided to give Pete Pfitzinger a try. His plans had all of the components that I was used to -- recovery, speed, long runs, general aerobic/medium long runs. Worth a shot, right?

Sometime during the first quarter of the year, things began to fall apart. Alright, I'm being a little dramatic here. But when you're healthy as can be, and then get some abnormal lab results (low iron levels, high liver enzymes), and then feel like you can't go as fast as you used to, you can't help but feel a little broken. The dietary fixes that my doctor and supporters recommended (nix gluten and dairy, cut back on coffee and tea) hadn't seemed to help either, which made the whole thing even more frustrating.

Race Week
In an effort to keep myself from freaking the eff out, I tried to relax as much as possible, and squeeze in a few recovery runs. (I still had to work, but fortunately, the Memorial Day holiday made for a short work week.) So I did the following:

-Mon: 6M run; wine tasting
-Tues: massage; started getting some head cold
-Wed: 3M dress rehearsal run; haircut
-Thurs: 3M am run; leisurely evening stroll through the neighborhood 
-Fri: 2M run

Stretching our arms out across the big gates. A for effort, right?

Carb-Loading (Wed-Fri)

Right before the carb loading process started, my doctor received my latest batch of lab results, and the celiac panel came back negative. Once he ruled out celiac, I decided to incorporate more gluten into my diet/the carb loading process. I'm not sure if it were the wheat, the increased sugar, and/or the increased salt, but my skin started drying out. Funny -- I think I have a love-hate relationship with carb loading. It always sounds like a wonderful thing (because you get to eat all the processed, sugary crap that you avoid the rest of the time. However, by Friday, I was over it. My stomach just felt bloated and uncomfortable, and I just wanted the race to be done so that I could get back to my normal diet.

Race Eve
I still had to go to work on Friday. (Relaxing? Yeah...notsomuch.) But I took a half-day, so I brought my luggage with me. Including my foam roller. And so this day came to be known as "Bring Dr. Noodle to Work Day".

Erin, Kelly, and Traci were kind enough to pick me up from work. After that, we stopped at Fred Meyer to get groceries, dropped Traci off, and made our way to Newport.

From L-R: Me, Traci, Erin, Kelly. Note that I still have my work ID clipped to me.

The rest of the evening involved checking into our incredible vacation rental, packet pickup and pasta dinner with the Frontrunners.

View from our balcony. VRBO for the win!
Runners! (Photo credit: Erin)
We ended up turning in (or attempting to turn in) around 10:00, so that we could be up in time for the early 7am start.

No matter how late you set the alarm, it always seems to go off way too early. Even more so when you have four different alarms going off almost simultaneously. So at the ripe hour of 4am, Erin and I forced ourselves to wake up and eat some breakfast. I started with the iron supplement and vitamin C tablet, and then waited about 30 min to eat my combo of millet porridge (millet with dates, almonds, and agave) and coffee. Erin and I ended up having a fantastic chat as we ate, got ready, and drew on each other with Sharpies.

Around 6:15, Erick drove Erin, Daniel, Richard, and me to the start. On our way, my mom called to say good luck. 6am calls like that warm my heart. I also ate a banana.

The race starts from Yaquina Bay State Park, which is along the Pacific Ocean. I wish I could say more about it, aside from that we got to breathe in fine, salty ocean air as we waited to start.

See that ocean behind us?? From L-R: Daniel, Richard, me, Erin

PFRs with our honorary member! Photo credit: Erick
 I warmed up with some dynamic stretching (you know, lunges, mountain climbers, etc.). A few minutes later, Erin and I exchanged a pre-race fist bump, and then headed to the starting area. The start of the race was no-frills (I think because of the size of the race). After the race director made a couple announcements (none of which were the singing of the national anthem), they fired the gun and we were off. 

Miles 1-5 (6:36, 6:44, 6:50, 6:43, 7:02)
During mile 1, I met Adam, a 20-something runner from Seattle who was also shooting for sub-3. As soon as I saw my split for the first mile, I knew that I started out way too quickly. I tried to rein it in, but when you're super-competitive and running with other people, pacing becomes a challenge. Over the next few miles, we built up a good group of runners who were gunning for sub-3s as well. I also saw Kelly and Erick around miles 1 and 3.

Adam (in white singlet) and me. Photo credit: Kelly

We ran by the condo where we stayed, and also along the ocean. Around mile 4, we turned onto Bay Blvd, which is where most of the race takes place. After running on the boardwalk for a bit (I know, how quintessential), we ran by the finish line and up the biggest hill of the race.

Awesome race photo, in my opinion.

Miles 6-10 (6:52, 6:59, 6:56, 6:53, 6:49)
By this time, we (the sub-3 group and I) fell into a good groove, which I think helped keep our paces pretty consistent. Once we hit mile 8, I took my first Gu (Hammer vanilla). By mile 10, my quads started feeling tight, and I started questioning my mistake of starting too quickly. For some reason, I also felt like I needed to shit. (There were other points where I felt like I had to pee or vomit. I didn’t actually stopped, but I’m sure it rattled me.)

Miles 11-15 (6:55, 6:46, 6:46, 6:58. 7:03)
I kept up with the sub-3 group until the halfway point, and then they started slipping ahead. I hit the halfway point in 1:29:30, which made me feel like I was still on-track for a sub-3 marathon. Shortly after that, I took my second Gu (Salted Caramel gu) and some water to wash it down. Shortly after that, I started hating life. Which, when you have 13 miles to go, is not the best feeling to have. I had to tell myself such things as "Eyes on the prize", "You have worldwide supporters" (thanks to dailymile, etc.), and "Only 2.5 miles before you get to turn around and head back home."

Miles 16-20 (7:12, 6:58, 7:04, 7:07, 7:00)
Mile 15.5 marks the turnaround point on the out-and-back portion of the course. After turning around, I saw Daniel, Erin, Michael, Steve, and Jose (and exchanged a side-5 with Erin). Seeing Daniel and Erin gave me this adrenaline rush that I think helped me run a sub-7 mile. As I did in MCM, I took my beloved chocolate cherry Clif Gu with two shots worth of caffeine (Gu #3) at mile 18, in hopes that it would kick in at mile 20. Kelly drove by me, which helped push me along. Somewhere between miles 18 and 20, I began to wonder why we do these things. When you're in the midst of what feels like personal hell and don't want to talk to anyone, you don't really have a good answer to that.

Miles 21-26.2 (7:10, 7:04, 7:25, 7:17, 7:20, 7:29, 6:33 for 0.2)
Once I hit that mile 20 marker, I started whispering to myself out loud, "It's just a 10K..." Also, I started doing math. I knew that sub-3 was out of reach, but after hitting the mile 20 marker in 2:18 (first-ever sub-7 min 20 miler!), I realized that I could do the next 10K in 47 min (about 7:30 pace), and still PR. That's doable. I kept doing math after I hit each mile marker, just to keep my mind occupied and give myself an approximation of how much longer I had left.

I reached the 21 mile marker and thought, "Where the fuck is that caffeine from the Gu?!" because it hadn't kicked in yet. Around mile 22, some spectator yelled out, "You're almost there!" Lesson on race etiquette - unless there's less than a mile left, I am not "almost there."

My initial plan was to take my last Gu at mile 23, but because I didn't feel like Gu #3 ever kicked in, I took #4 (Honey Stinger) a quarter-mile ahead of schedule. Thank God, because I started feeling the effects of that Gu at mile 24 (with about 15 minutes to go). All I could think about when I got to mile 25 was, "Only 8.5 minutes left. Now where's that damn hill to fly down?!" Around mile 26, I knew that I had secured a PR. I finally summited the hill, and just had to get down it. Once I hit the top, I could hear Kelly and Erick, and I just picked it up as much as I could (without losing control on the downhill).

To the finish! Photo credit: Erick

I rounded the corner for the finish, and bolted for it. I stopped my watch, saw "3:04:03," and said, "Oh fuck! I didn't break 3:04?!" Two seconds later, the announcer called my name and said, "coming in at 3:03." After catching up with all the people I saw on the course, I walked over to the results table. I told the volunteer that I thought I PRed, and he said, "If you needed to break 3:04, then you did." He then handed me the little printout.

Time: 3:03:48 (7:01/mi)
Place (A/G/O): 2/26, 20/444, 23/789
9th marathon
7th consecutive PR (Personal Record)
2nd consecutive BQ (Boston Qualifier)

After seeing that, I was floored. I definitely wasn't expecting second in my age group. And given how I felt during the middle of my training, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have doubts about beating my previous personal best.

I made my way to the recovery area, got my T-shirt, some food, and my and Erin's bag. After that, I decided to go back to the finisher area to see if I could catch any of my friends, and I managed to run into (like that pun there???) Erin. Though she didn't PR, she got second in her age group too, and seventh female. Rock star!

The two of us eventually reunited with Daniel, Richard, Erick, and Kelly, and basked in the sun. I commented that my upper body felt more sore than my lower body, which was exactly the opposite of what I felt after any of my previous marathons. Hmm. In any case, we took a bunch of photos, and then headed back to the condo so that we could shower and get ready for the awards ceremony.

Runner love!

The boys

The girls. I already had on my compression socks at this point, and didn't want to deal with the pain of peeling them off and forcing them back on.

Post-race Celebration
The awards ceremony was pretty cool. It was definitely bare bones/no frills, but just knowing that I earned something made it special.

Companion second place plaques

After the ceremony, we said goodbye to Erin and Kelly, and then proceeded to enjoy the rest of the weekend. And by enjoy, I mean check out Newport, eat, drink, and be merry.
Daniel and I


Bacon-wrapped tuna mignon. Amazing.
Enjoying more celebratory drinks with the Frontrunners at Rogue Brewery. Top L-R: Richard, Tyson, Steve, Steve, Steve. Bottom L-R: Me, Jose, Daniel, Erick

Over my years of marathoning, I've learned that the run is about way more than just the miles themselves. (Chicago '12 was about the ALS Association, Eugene '13 was about the disappointment of missing goals/how far I've come as a runner, and MCM '13 was about coming home to the city where I got into this stuff and making dreams come true.) Newport, for me, was about community. While I achieved great things in Newport, what made the experience even more special was being able to celebrate those achievements with my runner family.

I also thought about the various supportive communities in my life. Frontrunners holds a significant place in my heart -- I joined Front Runners NY and PFR soon after moving to each city, and both offered me welcoming, accepting environments in cities where I knew hardly anyone. The dailymile community helped me believe that I could survive the inexplicable ailments, and reminded me to focus on the small wins. And of course, my community of family and friends, that believe in me even when I don't believe in myself. I may have passed the course, but I don't think I could've pulled any of this off if it weren't for their love and support. Therefore, I dedicate Newport to the incredible community I've been able to develop and maintain.

How has community influence your successes?

PS I did a race analysis, but because that didn't seem related to the theme of this post, I'll be making that into a separate post.


  1. So much I could say here but I think the most relevant is for me to simply sing your praises. I am so very happy and proud of you and had just an amazing time with you (as always!)!! The run-love feeling and experience is just otherworldly. We are so very lucky to belong to such a very special community. Looking forward to our next adventure here in... oh... 12 weeks :) xoxo

    1. Thank you! So glad you could come up and run this race, and be there to experience all of the awesomeness! Can't wait for Santa Rosa! Fewer than 12 weeks to go!! :)

  2. Congrats on the PR! I'm looking forward to your race analysis. BTW I don't think Erin had too much trouble getting up at 4am! :)

    1. Thanks, Pete! And you're absolutely right on Erin being able to handle the predawn wake-up call! :)