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.


  1. so very thrilled for you and so stinkin' proud of you. :) loved our time together, as usual! can't wait til the next one. btw, when is the next one?! :) xo

    1. Thanks so much! We did well this time around. :) And yes, we need to plan the next one! Should we both try for Boston 2015? Or some other one in early 2015?? I'll email you with ideas! Excited for it already! :)

  2. Congrats on yet another PR! The finish line situation with the oblivious walkers would have ticked me off, but luckily you got around them! I am working on just adding miles right now. Maybe I'll throw in speed work this winter to make a sub 3 attempt in the spring. Too afraid of injury at this point of my fall training. Congrats again.

    1. Thanks so much, Pete! Seems like you're doing a great job of adding miles and staying injury-free. Best of luck with your training for Chicago! Any ideas yet for a spring marathon?

    2. Thanks! I'm in Boston now, and by chance mile 23.5 of the Boston Marathon is right at my hotel front door. So, BM '15 is looming large right now, but most likely not an easy sub-3 course for me! I can't register until Friday, so I have a couple more days to wrestle with the decision.