Howdy, it’s been a while! Let’s see, for the last couple of months I’ve been taking it pretty easy with 30-40 mile weeks, with lots more focus on my family life, and my high school student-athletes, and generally trying to support my fellow runner friends with their training for various races. On my radar were the CIM marathon relay and Christmas Relays in SF’s Lake Merced, both in December.
At the beginning of November (first weekend of November, I believe), I ran the Alameda Holiday Kick-off 5k in 18:27. While I could call it a PR, because based on the official results it would be, the course measured a little short by my watch – I got 3.05 and my teammates had 3.04/3.06, so…close enough? True proper distance or no, I’ve dropped my 5k race PR from 19:40 in June to 18:59 in July to now 18:27, so that was pretty nice. It felt less like a rust-buster sort of a run, and instead a good little mind and body boost to get some of the FOMO I had been feeling from not having anything to officially train for. It was also my son’s first race – 3/4 of a mile! There’s a recap I need to post for a different day!
This last Sunday, I had the California International Marathon (CIM) Marathon Relay Challenge with Arete teammates from all over NorCal, and that’s what I’ll be spending most of my recap on. There were a number of friends and teammates looking to post some pretty fast times at the full marathon. Our club team, Arete, also had a number of relay teams participating a field of 56 women’s teams. Meg, Steph (the SF-Peninsula Chapter leader), and Leslie of Santa Cruz ran legs 2 through 4, respectively. Our team, “Arete-Oakland”, would ultimately place #2 overall!
The day before the race, I drove my friend Erin up to Sacramento to hit the expo around noon. I needed to drop off a box of cowbells (Arete cowbell swag) and do some last minute confirmations for my relay team. A quick snap at the expo with Arete co-founder and coach Mary, and Erin and I left to try to get into our hotel and grab a bite to eat. Since our room wasn’t ready, we headed over to a Costco about 5 blocks away and went to town on some pizza and smoothies. Erin doesn’t eat cheese, and I eat pretty much everything, so I got some extra gooey, fatty deliciousness. We walked around Costco to let the food settle a bit to kill time until we could get into our hotel room.
Once in the room, Erin got to work figuring out last minute logistics for race morning with some friends, while I coordinated more cowbell/bib pick-up stuff for my teammates. Dinner was Japanese at Mikuni – because Japanese food before Santa Rosa worked out so amazingly well – with Erin’s old friend, Meredith. She is amazing and lives in nearby-to-me Berkeley, and now I have another run-friend, yay!
After dinner and back at the hotel, we were joined by Meg, who took a while to find our room. Like, literally, found the hotel, but couldn’t figure out the elevators to our room. She’s got a PhD, so I feel like I have a little more wiggle room to tease her about room numbers like that. Anyway, since she was leg 2 of the relay, she decided against driving up to Sac-town in the wee hours of the morning to figure out a bib situation. Like Santa Rosa Marathon Eve, I braided Erin and Meg’s hair, and we dove for our beds and books and were lights out before 9:30.
We all woke a little after 3 to start the morning. While my leg was 7.3 miles, I figured I would stay in longer – at least till 13.1. The week leading up to CIM I started my Boston Marathon training on a whim to try a 20-week build-up, so my scheduled long-run was going to have to be 11-13 miles anyway. At the expo, Mary had said lightly that if I felt good, I should stay in longer with her. Full disclosure, a little over a week before, I had caught a stomach bug while on a family vacation in Puerto Vallarta that had left me weird with food for over a week. It wasn’t the water, the city’s water is fine and filtered – it was something my son caught and efficiently pumped out of his little body, while I was left struggling with vomit for what felt like forever (throwback to all of my Boston 2017 feelings). This meant that I figured that 7.3 miles was fine. Any longer, and I’d just literally take everything in stride with whatever my gut felt cool with. The following is TMI, but whatever, you’re here cuz you are curious about the endurance running thing or an endurance/endorphin junkie yourself, so you get it. Poops are important. I didn’t poop the morning of, but I wasn’t sure I needed to (I never did need to, which was weird in of itself), so I let it go.
At about 4:30 the next morning, Erin and I headed out so that I could drive us to the shuttle transport to the start line. I didn’t realize that that bus ride would be about 50 minutes long. I vaguely thought that it would be “nice to pee” getting on the bus. About 20 minutes into the bus ride, I realized that I SHOULD HAVE FORCED OUT ALL LIQUIDS BEFORE GETTING ON THE BUS. I started whining to Erin, who of course, was probably mentally getting ready for her full marathon slog, and really didn’t need to hear about my bladder control problems. She asked me to activate my kegel muscles, and I told her that ALL muscles – kegel and not – were basically doing all they could to hold my pee in. I was basically giving our shared bus seat a lap dance with my holding-in-pee dance. Also, if you’re postpartum, just practice the kegel stuff. It generally helps with all the pee leaking post-baby.
About 10 minutes from our destination I lost it. Like, literally lost it, into the bag that held my extra cowbells that I was checking in with my sweats to gear check. THANK GOD FOR THAT EXTRA BAG. Now, let me just point out that NONE of the bus passengers seemed to realize I was peeing like a fucking ninja into a bag on a moving bus, because they were chatting about cowbelling BECAUSE they were prompted by the sound of the cowbells that I was shaking out of the bag. MORE COWBELL ftw. ERIN, I’m so sorry you had to sit next to my sorry urinetown ass.
Anyway, off the bus, two more non-bag pees, one lost and then found relay ankle monitor + glove fiasco, warmup, and good-luck-hug to Erin later, I was off with the Arete ladies I saw near the corrals, and I joined teammate Becky, who would be running with Mary for the full 26.2 in her debut marathon. I decided pretty much in that moment that I would 200% hold on as long as I could be useful with them in their race, even after my relay hand off. Mary went off for one last bathroom stop, and Becky and I lost her. I suggested pressing forth towards the front, because that’s where Mary would ultimately want to be.
Because Becky is nearly a foot taller than me, and I’m really loud for a small person (like Monica, from Friends), I told Becky to scout while I yelled for Mary before and after the start horn went off. Sure enough, about a quarter of a mile in, I saw Mary, and screeched like a banshee for her attention while also urging Becky to shift right towards her. Woohoo!
Once together, the three of us settled into our pace. Mary asked for 6:40-6:43s consistently, so that’s what I aimed for. As the pacer, I just did the work in calling out our paces, mile splits, and noting when we were working too hard or not hard enough. I’ve only paced workouts for teammates and my student-athletes, so this was a first. I loved every freaking moment of it. Never have I enjoyed the time calculations of a race so much, and it was because I didn’t have to do it for myself. Other runners around us paused to chat a bit, and I think get a sense of pacing. I did most of the talking to strangers so that Mary and Becky could focus on what they needed to. At some point some guy ran right behind Becky and clipped her from behind, taking her down. The guy was not super apologetic about it, but at least stayed long enough to see her get up and back on her feet, though with both knees torn and heel of her palm smarting. Mary and I reassured her that she was fine and that we’d be fine, and we continued along.
Now, it’s important to note that CIM is net-downhill, which many love because it’s a course that results in fast-times and BQs for many. I have only run four marathon courses in my 7-marathon running history, and lemme tell you how much I hate net-downhill races. They are a mind-fuck (pardon my French), because they can lull a person not only into a false sense of security that it’ll be easy to run, AND I’ve always found downhill running SO MUCH HARDER on my quads and hamstrings and butt. Boston, with all of it’s famed climbs for example, is net-downhill, and it’s the downhills that shred my legs, not the uphill climbs.
So the first leg felt fast, because it was, and that first mile basically pitches you downhill and fast. It was hard not to work too hard going up on the rolling uphills before rolling right back down for the next block only to start another brief climb. All the effort going up would inevitably turn into a too-fast pace going down, and holding back was quite the mental challenge. Uphill stretches we’d hit 6:40-6:50, which would turn into 6:20-25s if I wasn’t careful.
At a little over 6 miles, I told Mary and Becky that I would be leaving them briefly to hand off to Meg at the first relay exchange. I planned to speed up around mile 7, so that I could get the darn ankle monitor off of my ankle to strap onto Meg, and hop back in to pace and not have to play catch up. (I consider catching up so much harder). So that’s what I did. at 7, I picked up the pace to a sub 6-min mile, and started screaming Meg’s name as I approached the handoff at 7.3. Unfortunately, the announcer’s voice blocked my voice (and Meg’s), so I ran past her a bit, and had to backtrack a bit to make the handoff happen.
After the handoff, I jumped back in about 20 seconds behind Meg. However, I was ahead of Mary and Becky by about 20 seconds, so I slowed for them to catch me. I paced them right through some more neighborhoods, and started warning them that I’d drop out around halfway. Mary said she wanted to stay really relaxed until 15, so I decided to stay until 14, basically continuing my pace-calling and reining in the downhill paces when necessary, and asking the ladies to keep it easy. Had I been more physically prepared to take the gu I packed into my shorts, I would have stayed in. As it was, I didn’t trust that gu wouldn’t result in gastric distress after the stomach flu (and remember, I hadn’t pooped!), and I wasn’t in the training to go much beyond the my original plan of 13.1 miles.
At mile 14, I said a reluctant goodbye, promising to hop back in around mile 20 for the last handoff, and headed back towards the 13.5 handoff to find teammates and shuttle transportation. I saw Saige and Erin, and a bunch of other Arete teammates right on pace on the marathon course. I didn’t find Meg, and it took me a while to find the shuttles. Unfortunately, I thought the shuttles could take me to the 3rd to 4th leg handoff, which wasn’t true. I lost my shit around the shuttles because of this late-in-the-game discovery and then went even more bonkers when I discovered that the shuttle would not head off towards the finish until 9. OUR RACE STARTED AT 7, I WOULD NOT GET TO MARY AND BECKY IN TIME TO SUPPORT THEM IN THE LAST STRETCH. So, of course, I started messaging like crazy to Meg and Melissa (Arete co-founder, and She is Beautiful founder/race-director) that I’d not get to the last handoff to help Becky and Mary, despite figuring that they wouldn’t see my messages. Melissa, Mary’s husband Andy, and Lily and Brooke Santa Cruz (Arete teammates) had been zipping around to cheer at multiple stops throughout the course. They would hit 5 or 6 cheer locations, total. INHUMAN.
The bus was freezing, but then I figured that whenever we arrived at the finish, I would run the opposite direction on the race route from the finish to catch whoever I could. After de-bussing, I ran to about mile 25, and caught Becky and Mary. Becky was ahead of Mary by nearly a block, and so when Mary motioned for me to jump in, that’s just what I did. We finished that last mile together – though I really didn’t mean to go through the finish chute. I forgot that the last two turns are solidly fenced in, so I veered off towards the right for Mary to have the cameras for her marathon PR moment. (Mary and Becky ran impressive 2:57 and 2:56 times, respectively, cuz they’re SO FUCKING BALLER.) After which, she of course went on to cheer and bear hug so many of our teammates and so many other women. Erin, came through with a PR, and saved her friend Robin at the finish from collapsing into nothingness/pavement, because that’s Erin. All heart.
Honestly, I loved Sunday because of the team-ness of the day. It was a wonderful way to end the year with so many Arete teammates from all over California, and with witnessing so many instances of women supporting women to and across the finish. Leslie, our relay team anchor, helped a struggling runner in her leg of the race, and still closed us out for a 2nd overall female relay finish! So many women PRed, including Saige, who cut 15 minutes off her marathon PR. Running for a relay TEAM success AND helping teammates in their races was the icing on the cake for why it was absolutely the right thing to do to join a club team this year.
I’m literally running right into the end of the year so much fuller and happier and feeling more fulfilled and empowered because of the kind of way that I’ve seen our ladies lift each other up. I am basically a cheeseball about all of it, and it’s a high that’s lasting far longer than any kind of post-race glow I’ve experienced all year.
Next up, Christmas Relays at Lake Merced in SF next weekend. It should be excellent to close out 2017 with a bang.