March 22, 2015

You Gotta Be Ready For Magic

I didn't have high hopes for the Oakland Running Festival.

After the Kaiser SF half, I figured I needed to re-assess my fitness and be realistic for Oakland.

I fit in 6 weeks averaging 28.05 miles per week. This sounds reasonable.  Until you realize it includes quite a bit of walking.  When I can't fit in a run and a shower, I'll opt for a just-below super-sweat-paced walk, figuring 20-30 minutes walking between clients or even on the phone with them if I don't need access to documents (slower and rare, but appreciated) is better than nothing.  So, if I'm honest, close to 25% of my mileage and possibly more has been walking.

These six weeks also included a trip to the Canadian Tundra where work was demanding and the only running availability was on treadmills.  Plus, at the end of the "training cycle" there were three strenuous day-hikes and 10-12 miles very easy jogging with some strength intervals in the heat and humidity of Hawaii.  I wasn't sure how to treat that mileage, as the heat and humidity (and climbing on the hikes) made everything harder than normal.  I just tried to go by effort, count the mileage, and did my best not to cringe at the slow paces.

In terms of long runs, between work, travel, and the occasional effort at having a social life, I struggled to fit them in at all.  So, I made the classic BT compromise of "just get it done" -- the collection of long "runs" wasn't pretty:

Week -6: 7 miles (11ish/mile avg)
Week -5: 9 miles (13:18/mile avg -- but in town, including stoplights, water stops, and on a Wednesday AM carved out from all client demands, so despite the horrid pace, I was proud I found a way to fit it in before the week's travel, where I knew it wouldn't happen).
Week -4: 6.4 miles (12:51/mile avg)
Week -3: 8.1 miles (12:51/mile avg)
Week -2: 7.68 (14:14/mile avg)
Week -1: 10 (12:28/mile avg)

During this time, I ran some intervals in the 8s and 9s and maybe 10 percent of my miles in the 10s, but the rest was slow.  In short, this training cycle was mainly both low volume and low-quality.

And yet, somehow, magic happened.

Saturday around noon, I headed out for my standard day-before-race test run:  0.5 mile w/u.  1 mile at the pace I think I can sustain for the race (paying close attention to my breathing and heart rate -- if you're struggling at mile 1, it's *too* fast for a half).  0.5 mile c/d.  Much to my surprise, the 1 mile was comfortable at 9:55/mile in 78 degrees F and direct sun.

I figured Hawaii was partially to blame for this (thanks heat/humidity acclimatization!).  But I also started to do some last-minute re-thinking of my plan for Oakland.  Originally, I'd decided just to try to better Kaiser (2:35ish) and have 2:30 as a high end goal.

Walking home from that run, I remembered an interview I'd seen with Lauren Fleshman about being open to luck and possibilities and being your best own true authentic self that has inspired me every time I've watched it.  I decided to be open to the race day.  I know I'm not as fit as I could be.  I know I'm not genetically built to be fast.  And I know my life lately has put running onto a serious back-burner.  In fact, I wasn't really ready for a true "race" in the traditional sense at all.  But, I've got a good long-term aerobic base and things just seemed to be working out in a way that it seemed silly for me *not* to be optimistic and open to the best the Universe may have in store for me.

Much to our joy, friends who are getting ready to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (the *entire* PCT! that's 35 support boxes of food that have to be mailed and roughly 6 months of hiking an average of 20 miles a day!) were able to pull away from support box packing to come join us for pre-race noodle soup dinner at Kim Huong - the only Pho Joint in Oakland open past 7 PM.  We listened to their tales of planning and preparation and logistics and fit in many last this-is-a-big-deal hugs before they leave.  Their trek is so impressive and guaranteed to be full of adventure that I was even more inspired for race day heading to bed.  Talk about being open to luck and possibilities!

I slept fitfully, primarily because I was so well hydrated, but also because I'd had a wacky eye allergic reaction that freaked me out a bit. (Seriously, swollen eyeballs are gross.  If you aren't allergic to everything, be thankful.)  In keeping with the luck theme, my eye was merely acceptably red when I woke and my breakfast of coffee/juice plus AM detail execution went completely according to plan.  And then, it was 60F at the 9:15 AM start (this is one of the big risks of Oakland, with the late start, you can end up with direct sun and high temps on the half marathon).  I'd opted into a tank top and shorts and I was a little cold.  This was a good sign!  (I am *very* heat sensitive.)

The crowd was great (as always) and I headed out mid-pack by effort, hitting mile 1 at 9:56 and wondering briefly if I was going to blow up again.  I decided to enjoy the overcast skies and cool air as long as possible, but also to be smart.  I'd brought a large long hand-held gatorade to the start and I sipped it before and during the first 7 miles.  This helped me avoid the aid station slow-downs.

I'd noted Angela's recent success with "run low race high" and I figured, why not?  I'd run all those super slow long "runs" essentially fuel free.  Why not take advantage of the fact that my family can consume and keep down calories like nobody's business?  So, in addition to the large Gatorade, I took a walking Gu break at the water station at 4.2 miles, the water station somewhere after mile 8, and again at the aid station around 11.5 miles or so.

The weather, the fuel, the noodles, and life conspired to give me a much better day than I thought possible.

I hit mile 3 at 30:28.  I felt good.  Easy.  Like the effort wasn't that high.  So I just kept on that pace, more or less except for walk breaks (and except for the last few miles when the cloud cover burnt off and I let myself slow down to keep it in the medium-easy zone).  

I finished in 2:22:08, medium-solid effort and *very* pleased with the outcome.  Garmin claims it was 13.39 miles for an average pace of 10:39/mile (which includes all the walking gu breaks) -- I believe this is true because I suck at tangents and the Oakland course is full of right angles.

And what do you know?  Despite my doubt about how non-standard my training was, those six weeks actually *did* result in some serious fitness improvements.

Magic!  (Oh, and you know what else is magical?  Post-race TrueBurger.  True.)

The Magic is -- I never hurt.  Never felt like I was pushing too hard.  Just felt so happy to be running, consistently, in a fun race.

I also had a blast meeting up with Jen, Cat, Jess, KP, and Paulette and sincerely enjoyed cheering on all the youngsters running for Run For A Better Oakland -- Jen had volunteered with them a few years ago and helped train a young high school student and mentored him.  He's now in college and thanks her openly for her input on her Big Basin RBO Fundraising Page.  So, if you are looking for a good cause, I really couldn't recommend this one more.  I saw those kids out there today, and it's clear that this charity is helping middle-schoolers and high-schoolers in the Oakland community run farther and accomplish more than they ever thought possible.


Angela Knotts said...

Nice!! It's always cool when things manage to come together like that and you're not expecting it. I am also now a full-on train low/race high convert. Congrats!! :)

bt said...


This cycle was train low for a non-performance reason -- I'm trying to maintain a minor caloric debt and if I have to choose between a glass of wine or a gu, you can bet I'll chose the wine...

But, the side effects were wonderful. I think I may be a convert as well.

FL said...

Congrats on your solid finish!

bt said...

@FL -- thanks. It felt very good to be back in the swing of things!

Jen said...

Sounds like everything came together perfectly! I'm so glad we got to hang out after the race and enjoy the magic that is True Burger together. Thanks so much for posting the link to my fundraiser - much obliged. :)

Biting Tongue said...

@Jen -- It did! It was so nice to just sit back and enjoy it. Obviously nothing close to a PR, but definitely a best case outcome considering the variables I was dealing with. True Burger was magical. THANK YOU for introducing it to us.

My pleasure on the fundraiser -- as I told E that it was so inspiring to see the kids on the course. I could actually *see* the good the charity was doing while I ran. The only other similar charity I've encountered is Students Run LA -- a good friend volunteered with them years ago and I was similarly impressed.

Cathryn said...

So good to see you! The Dude was disappointed you didn't run with the tortoise....if you could work on that for next time, we'd be grateful :)