May 29, 2011

What a Beautiful Bonk (Coeur D'Alene Marathon Race Report)

All in all, it was a great race -- friendly runners, well organized, gorgeous views at every turn. E and I already talked about coming back one day (although folks on the course spoke highly of Windermere as a local alternative, so perhaps I'll do that one next time).

The race was a great size -- only 2500 total runners (1/2, full, and 5K), and just 600 marathoners, including the walkers, who started 2 hours before the runners. At the 7 AM marathon runners start, it was a cozy group of 200-300. We had the course to ourselves until the half marathon leaders started passing us (staggered starts for appropriate space are such a nice perk that many races don't manage well).

One interesting difference between this race and others I've done, due to their local roots, there were many Marathon Maniacs on the course (seemed like at least 5% of the pack). They lent a fun spirit to the day, constantly cheering each other on when they passed one another and offering tips of the trade to us non-maniacs. At one point, I sided up to a black-jerseyed-maniac and asked him how many marathons he'd done.

This is my 161st. But, I'm trying to get back into shape, so I'm treating it like a nice easy training run.

So much for my plan of using him as a pacing buddy...his training run left my race in the dust shortly after that conversation.

So, as the title of this post might indicate, I hit the wall. Hard.

Before the wall, all seemed quite well.

The weather, despite predictions of showers, had changed to beautifully cool partly sunny skies just two days before the race. The views on the course of the lake were some of the best I've ever had on a race.

I'd had chips and salsa and pasta for dinner (I love me some excuses to carb load!) and had hydrated while watching The Fighter for inspiration before a bedtime of 11 PM.

I woke early, relatively rested, and ate a good breakfast of a banana, a waffle with peanut butter and honey, coffee, OJ, and water.

I jogged to the start, waited just 7 minutes in the cold, and we were off.

My original goal was to break 4 hours, or, if I couldn't do that, then to try to beat my PR of 4:04:27. I successfully reigned myself in on the early miles (partially thanks to the continuing digestion of breakfast -- a good trick if you, like me, have a habit of going out to fast). I finished the first 3 miles in 25:49.07, despite feeling like I could have gone much faster.

Even with the conservative approach, I felt good and strong, and hit the half marathon around 1:58:30 or so (I forgot to hit lap on the garmin, so I'm guessing by a few seconds).

I kept the pace, comfortably, enjoying the gorgeous views of the lake and the river, and I managed to hit mile 18 at 2:46:42 -- a 9:16 average pace, which would have put me at the finish line at 4:02:47 -- and there were some downhills left.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. My average pace for the next 8 miles shows the explosion I had no idea was coming -- 10:49.50. I wish I could blame it on hills... but no. The worst was definitely behind me. In fact, there were some very nice forgiving downhills in the last few miles. I just couldn't take advantage of them.


At one point, I reassessed my goals and tried to set 4:10 as a new finish goal. But, no, I couldn't muster the energy for that one either.


An average pace of 9:40.

Certainly, nothing to complain about. I'm healthy, which is always something to celebrate. It's the fastest time I've run out of all of my 5 marathons except for my PR, when I was almost 4 years younger and more than 6 pounds lighter on the awesomely downhill course of CIM.

Plus, my mom was able to come to the finish line since she was nearby to help with my sister's new baby. I never thought my mom would come watch me finish a marathon in Idaho, of all places. It was so fun to see her there and to enjoy lunch with her and E afterwards.

But, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, and I definitely learned a few lessons.

#1 -- It is not good to discover, the night before the race, after the expo has closed, that you forgot your preferred race fuel (in my case Gu). I read race reports and comforted myself with the claims that there were many aid stations and they were well stocked. Much better than nothing, but I would have preferred to bring my Gu. Next time, I will not make this mistake.

#2 -- Not all race fuels and sports drinks are equal (corollary -- it is not a good idea to learn how unequal they are during a marathon). For the first time in my life, I suffered a calf cramp on this run -- for about 4.5 miles from 19 - 23.5 I had to slow down by quite a bit to deal with the inability of my right calf to do its job. I was shocked. This is a very common runner's issue, but since I've never had one, I thought I was immune. My calves are kind of over-developed due to genetics, gymnastics, and diving (both sports in a past life, at this point) and I'm usually very good about making sure I've got my electrolyte intake nice and high, both before and during races.

This time I'd gone so far as to have a nice salty dinner and I'd eaten a banana before the race for potassium. During the race, I alternated the race-fuel options of Hammer Heed (not such a great taste) and Hammer Gel coupled with water at every other station.

To the race's credit, there were more aid stations on this marathon than any other race I've ever done. It seemed as if there was almost one every 1 - 1.5 miles. My experience would claim that this should keep me nice and well-fueled, especially given the pleasant temperatures of a start at 47F and a finish in the low 60s.

But, I sure didn't feel that way. From post-race research, I discovered 2 important differences between the Hammer products (which I'd never tried) and those I've used in the past: a) Hammer products have no simple sugars. They are sweetened with the no-cal sweetener Stevia and avoid glucose and sucrose. b) Hammer products have about 1/3 the sodium of other sports gels and drinks.

I can't be certain, but given how much I hit the wall, I think I'll err on the side of caution next time and be certain to stick to fuels with higher sodium and glucose/sucrose in addition to all the other goodies that Hammer's products contain.

#3 -- Racing experience can make up quite a bit of time. While this may be my 2nd fastest marathon, it did not feel that way. I hurt much more than I have in slower races. I was relatively well-trained, hitting a higher average weekly mileage than ever before during the marathon training cycle and thanks to the hills in Washington.

But, as I mentioned, I'm nowhere near my ideal race weight, and I've only been doing consistent longer distance weeks for 3-4 months instead of the more than a year of straight high mileage I've had under my belt for past marathons. I was pleased to see that these disadvantages were more than offset by my refusal to go faster than 8:45/mile (and my exception to the speed rule on downhills, where I let myself go as fast as I felt comfortable) and my refusal to walk without a very good reason -- I know I'm in good enough shape to run the whole 26.2, no use drawing it out.

So, I only stopped to walk through aid stations and once, on a hill during mile 26, when I was running on empty and it was apparent I wasn't going to break 4:10. I suspect that if I'd deployed these tactics in earlier races, those times may have been faster than this one, as I was lighter, younger, and had a better aerobic base. Chalk one up to age and deceit over youth and vigor [grin]!

May 26, 2011

A Short Rant

For the second time in a month, Southwest has no record of a flight I swear I booked.

Today, we showed up at the airport and tried to check in for tonight's flight to Seattle prior to our drive to Spokane to meet my new nephew! Woo hoo!

Last time I caught it the day of when I tried to check in online (which I don't always do).

Both times I had the flight info in my outlook calendar, where I always enter the appointment *post* payment.

Yet somehow, those awesome sale fares were never booked. Instead, both times, the last minute flight has been 3-5X more expensive than the on-sale fare I thought I'd booked.

Moral of the story?

With Southwest, make sure to note the confirmation code before you put the flight in your calendar (especially when booking southwest sale fares).

Note -- with Alaska, I have never had this problem. If I enter the flight info after payment, I'm always *somewhere* in the system.

OF course, once that somewhere was a state where I was "cleared to fly" but not "in a seat." Had the plane been oversold, I would have been screwed. It took an agent 10 minutes to even figure out what happened (and the delay could have meant I wouldn't have made it to the gate in time except my flight ended up being delayed by 2 hours). Once they figured it out, they smiled and said, "Oh good, there are still seats left, I've booked you for a middle seat in row 27." At the time, I was, as you might imagine, underwhelmed with his success. Today, after having to accept that we'd just book middle seats on a flight tomorrow at 12:30 because tonight's evening flight was oversold, I realize just how lucky I was.

Have I mentioned I'm excited that tomorrow's flight to SEA is my last flight for a while?

Also, I should give huge props to Hyatt. Despite calling 2.5 hours after the "cancel without fees hour" when I explained my situation, they were very happy to cancel my reservation. I reiterate my position: Airline rewards are worthless. Hotels are where it's at.

May 25, 2011

Touch and Go

A friend of mine was studying to get her pilot's license and often talked about "touch and goes." It sounded like a fairly complicated maneuver where one went through the mechanics of landing, rolled for a while and then went through the mechanics of take-off. You know, nothing but transitions, the hardest thing for humans to handle.

That's how I've felt for the last several months. Land in one city with just enough time to touch down, run around like a chicken with my head cut off, and then take off for another one.

Finally, as of last Wednesday (1 week ago already!) we only have one residence.

I've spent the last week enjoying the California weather, and tending to all of the things that were lost in the shuffle. Also, I was privileged to be the matron of honor in the gorgeous wedding of the friend I've had the longest out of all of my friends. It was very similar to my sister's wedding, in terms of my responsibilities and the number of familiar faces. This felt right, because in many ways, E2 feels like a sister as well.

Anyways, between the wedding, getting settled, getting the garden in the ground, catching up on bills and very busy clients, I've barely had time to come up for air.

Tomorrow evening, we head out for a road trip, where we visit my sister and her husband, I run my marathon, we visit Craters of the Moon and Yellowstone and on the way back we visit brother, mom and neice.

Except, of course, this is yet another touch and go -- my sister is being induced into labor tonight. So it's likely she won't be home yet or definitely won't want guests when we arrive.

No problem, we booked a room at the Davenport which was only $5 more than the Doubletree. Score! Hopefully we'll get to the meet the little man before we leave. Bonus, I'll get to see my mom as well.

This is the year that my travel planning has been epic in terms of timing. Between accidentally booking free hotels in Paris on Bastille Day and managing to plan a trip to visit my sister right when the baby is born before I knew she was pregnant, I'm thinking I may have missed my calling.

Anyways, that's a brief summary of where I've been and what I've been doing in the last few days. I can see a much more calm life and regular posting on the horizon and I'm excited to get there.

But, the excitement of my new nephew, the road trip, the marathon and the national parks calls for just one more lift off before I can touch down and relax for a more proper homecoming and rest.

May 18, 2011

Nostalgic Already

Washington brought out the big guns and treated us to gorgeous weather (the bay area does not have skies that blue or water that gorgeous or snow-capped mountains in the distance). Also, our local friends made themselves amazingly available to say goodbye and hangout over our last few days.

This resulting in me, today, walking back to the apartment after lunch in the park with friends, sad. Much more sad than I expected. It was only 3 months.

And yet, we tried on a different life, and there are many great things we will miss:

-walking distance to friends (as in 1 block to their building!)
-a gorgeous park across the street with a lovely 1/2 mile gravel loop
-All of the Happy Hours full of amazingly decadent food and drinks
-the blissfully cool temperatures and hills that made me a much better runner faster than anything I could have done at home
-E's new friends at MSFT and AMZN
-A slower life. With less friends and business obligations, we had much more time to hang out, just the two of us. We will try to implement that policy at home, but if history is any guide, it will be difficult. In Washington, it was guiltless -- no refused invitations to spend the third Saturday in a row with just us -- it just happened that way. At home... well, we are, for better and for worse, much more frenetic.

But, we are now home. And that, too, is a great thing!

May 13, 2011

My Next Long Run Will Be a Marathon

I switched up my training to add one more long run this week after I was unable to do the 20 miler last weekend. After reading about the Hansons' plan (which I may opt to do for my next marathon), I decided running on tired legs was a good thing. Especially if I had enough time to recover. And, of course, I was a little concerned about missing my last long run before the race.

So, today, the last predicted sunny day of our stay in Seattle, I decided to combine a friend's plan to run up Queen Anne with some additional mileage around Green Lake.

Wow. This was the hardest long run I'd done in a long time. It wasn't quite as bad as the training run from hell. But still -- starting with a warmup followed by a 1.6 mile climb up a large hill is a good way to tire yourself out long before the 16 miles are done. Oh, and when you do the 16 miles 5 days after the hilliest half marathon you've ever done (at marathon pace), you may not be totally recovered.

Plus, in my infinite wisdom, I had some wine while waiting for my delayed plane last night. I almost always choose to eat healthy and avoid alcohol the day before a long run. Today reminded me why.

Finally, I only brought 2 Gus. I really could have used 3 or 4. But, I was feeling like I could use some measures of caloric austerity after the wine last night. Note to self, skimp on the wine before the long run, not the Gus during...

Overall, I'm thrilled that I'm finally ready to taper. I'm tired. Literally. Lately, I fall asleep before the double digits on many nights a week. I've done more 40+ mile weeks in training for this marathon than ever before, and it is taking its tole on me, both physically and mentally.

Today, around mile 10, I experienced something I'd never experienced before. I just wanted to sleep on my run. I honestly considered whether I could fall asleep while running.

Thankfully, I pushed through, and now I'm on the downhill slope to the race. Nothing but 8 miles or less for 16 days (including some pure rest days!) and then I get to test my fitness against my old self.

Wish me luck!

May 9, 2011

My Husband Is a Genius

On technical matters, I never forget. He's a freak of nature in how smart he is.

But tonight, we had the best date night we'd had in a long time. And I'd forgotten -- he's also a genius when it comes to enjoying steak.

At least 2 months ago, he'd identified John Howie Steak as the one big celebratory date night splurge meal he'd like to do before we left the Seattle area.

We'd been a few times for their Happy Hour and while I agreed that their offerings were good, I was not sold.

First, their menu was *very* expensive.

Second, with such a great happy hour menu, I found it hard to justify going all out.

But, E was insistent. He'd scoured their ever changing menu and drooled over drying cuts in the cold cellar. This was his one request while we were here.

So, of course, we made plans to fit it in (and, we wanted to do so with enough buffer before our trip to Spokane/Coeur D'alene/Yellowstone that we wouldn't want to avoid steak on our trip -- 'cause if she hasn't yet popped out the Kid, my pregnant sister has plans to treat us to steak, too! Yay!).

Turns out, tonight ended up being the night for steak. So, we made reservations and walked on down.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Best steakhouse I've been to in the United States.

E knows how to pick them. That is no joke.

Plus, we deployed the trick we learned in Argentina and opted to share. The 3 (4 oz.) filet sampler. USDA prime vs. American Wagyu vs. Australian Wagyu. We blind tasted and laughed -- telling the USDA prime from the Wagyu was a piece of cake. Telling the Wagyu from each other was an acquired taste.

Add a glass of bubbly for me and a syrah for E plus a half bottle of Sequel 2006 Syrah, salads beforehand (plus a breadbasket full of awesomely decadent bread selections), and sides of macaroni & cheese (to die for) and polenta with American Wagyu bolognese (too much, to be honest, we didn't even pack it to go) and we were in heaven.

All in all, it was a perfect date night.
Oh My Aching Quads! (aka Kirkland Half Marathon Race Report)

Yesterday, I ran the most difficult half marathon course I've ever run -- the Kirkland Half Marathon.

It was near the top of my list in terms of total elevation change, but it was a road race instead of a trail run. The two other extremely hilly courses I've run were trail runs -- which are notoriously slower and less of a "race". Also, trails are much more forgiving on your feet, quads, and back when you are taking the extra force of the downhills.

Finally, several of the roads on this course were extremely banked. This meant that in addition to pounding on the pavement, at times, we were running at an angle, with one leg repeatedly hitting the ground lower and pushing off harder than the other leg. Unfortunately, this caused my running buddy to pull a muscle in her calf. (Poor thing! I'm so sad for her.)

The hills were placed such that there really weren't any long flats on the entire course. If you exclude an unscheduled walk break due to my running buddy's injury, I did the remainder of the course at 1 second/mile faster than my goal pace for the marathon (8:59). This felt great because the course was very difficult, so if all goes well, I feel confident that my marathon pacing goals are reasonable.

For example, while I hit my goal pace average with 1 second to spare, I only ran one split within 14 seconds/mile of goal pace (Mile 2, 9:00 on the dot). The remaining splits were all over the map including miles as fast as 8:03 and as slow as 9:42. The elevation chart from my Garmin explains why.

The first 1.3 miles were rolling hills with a net gain of over 270 ft. When we finally hit the crest of the final hill and could see the downhill, I looked at H and said, "Holy crap that was brutal. We're at least 30 seconds behind."

The next 2 miles (again rolling hills) had a net loss of 320 ft. So, we made up the lost time (and then some) and decided to try to hit our goal pace despite the surprise of the course difficulty. (Note to self, when races don't post pace elevation profiles, be very suspicious).

The next surprise was a 250 ft. climb over 0.7 miles for a 6.7% grade (9:24 for that mile). Followed by a 100 ft. drop over 0.5 miles, a 50 ft climb over 0.2 miles, and so it went...

From mile 5 to mile 7, we slightly rolled through a climb of 200 ft. The next downhill was my favorite (because I love downhills) but I heard the cursing and frustration of many whose knees, legs and backs did not enjoy it -- a 330 foot drop over 1.2 miles -- an average grade of -5.2%, which in reality was made steeper by the 2 sharp climbs of 30 and 20 feet they threw in the middle to break it up.

The remaining 5 miles of the race was nothing but a 50 ft climb, two 100 ft climbs, a 200 ft climb, and two 70 ft climbs plus the intermittent drops. Nary a flat to be found.

I was thrilled to open the elevation profile for my upcoming marathon and see that while there are some rolling hills with 20-30 ft climbs and drops none of them are particularly sharp, and there are only two serious climbs to consider. Both of them are around 100 feet in total gain (and loss) with an average max grade of 2.9%. Yes, I'm sure they will be difficult because a marathon always is, but at least the hills will be nothing compared with yesterday.

Due to H's injury, my plan of doing 7 out and back after the race turned into 1.5 out and back while she was in the medical trailer. My total mileage of 14.6 was nowhere near the 20 I'd hoped for. But, I didn't feel too disappointed. In fact, as the day wore on, and the physical side effects of the effort hit me, I realized it was probably for the best that I hadn't done the full 20 -- it would have likely beat me up a bit too much and this week's training would be shot.

So, I recorded the week's total mileage at 45.81 and moved things around this week to include a 16 miler instead of 12. Thankfully, I did fit in one 20 miler three weeks ago (I'd forgotten about it and was very happy to see it in my log), so I'll just have to make due with the late-stage sub 20 long runs and hope for the best.

3 weeks 'til the marathon (and the trip back to California where we can enjoy sunshine!)

May 2, 2011


This weekend, the weather treated us to gorgeous sunshine with a few clouds. So, in addition to enjoying my long runs and a barbeque with friends (and their chickens and kids). E and I drove out to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

There were rows of colors as far as the eye could see.

When the sun came out, the colors were almost too brilliant to bear.

They come in all shapes and sizes. This is one of my favorite tulips of the day, Claudia:

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me a book titled The Thoughtful Gardener. It is a hilarious collection of vignettes by a British Master gardner. I'm 3/4 through it, and only this week hit the first entry related to vegetable gardening. Previously, I enjoyed gardening for food. But this book (and the trip to the tulip festival) have broadened my horizons and I now have plans to plant bulbs and flowers for more than just attracting pollinating insects.

In running news, my mileage hit 47+ last week. I've never had a training week that heavy before, and this week's is scheduled to be even larger. So far, I'm holding up relatively well -- my legs are tired and tight from the weekend's long runs, but I feel strong and ready for today's 6 mile recovery run. 4 weeks 'til the marathon!