22 November 2014

What's Next?

Now that my marathon goal race is over, I've been thinking about what I want to do next. This past year has been a struggle from a training standpoint due to a hip flexor injury, and I did hardly any speedwork or trail running. Both of those things are what helped me to be stronger and faster before, so losing them made a huge difference in my times. My best half marathon time this year was 2:04, a far cry from my 1:57 PR set in October 2013.

Celebrating my first and only sub-2 half to date. RnR St. Louis in 2013

What does all of that mean? My next goal is to run a faster half marathon! I want another sub-2 hour half, and I want a PR. I feel like I can get back there.

As of now, I have three half marathons coming up in early 2015. The Surf City Half in February will be a good tune up but I don't expect to be ready to PR. The Oakland Half in late March could work out depending on how training goes. When it's time for the SLO Half in late April, I hope to go for it.

I was considering the full marathon in SLO, and as an ambassador I thought it would be great to target the big event. But when it came down to it, I considered what I really want out of my next races and another marathon just isn't it. Training for a marathon needs extra weekly mileage and long runs that never seem to help me with getting faster.

I'm managing my training plan for the SLO Half via RunCoach.com, which I've been using for many months now. I was skeptical at first, but I've really come to enjoy my workouts being outlined by someone else. It makes it easy to figure out a schedule and I have it set to email me the workout each morning.

What April looks like right now.

I'm also interested in a book I read about on Nicole's blog, which I purchased and will be reading soon. The book is called 'Run Faster (From the 5K to the Marathon - How to Be Your Own Best Coach)' and talks about how training by specific pace is important. I admit I'm not someone who usually trains by pace; aside from speed workouts, I run whatever I feel like that day.

I'll be giving training updates on my SLO Half progress here so you can all hold me accountable for working hard and training at pace. Let's do this!

P.S. If you sign up for the SLO Marathon or Half, use my discount code FERAMB for $10 off!

17 November 2014

Farewell, Fitbit

I stopped wearing my Fitbit.

Why? I can't say for sure, but I had become increasingly annoyed with wearing a tracking device 24/7. The more tracking devices that entered the market, the less I wanted to wear mine. I realize this makes no sense; shouldn't I want to track my steps now more than ever because the devices keep improving? Won't having the data and understanding my habits continue to benefit my health? Maybe, maybe not.

I was an early adopter of fitness tracking, acquiring the original Fitbit in September 2010. At the time, I was working on the [no longer existing] Google Health product and we integrated Fitbit into our platform. The idea of quantified self was new to me and I was excited to check out the devices and the data. I ran a team challenge at work using our new Fitbits, complete with t-shirts and prizes for the most active people.

Even more important than having the data, I found myself changing behaviors to make sure I hit the 10K step goal each day. I took the stairs more, ran more often, and added mid-day walk breaks to my day whenever possible. Many of my friends became my 'friends' on the Fitbit platform, adding extra motivation to hit the goals and to 'beat' others that week. I was hooked.

I'm a data lover.

After about a year and a half, I found myself less interested in tracking and hated that I often forgot the Fitbit on my jeans when I went to workout. When my Fitbit charger broke, I didn't have it replaced and decided to forget about tracking for a while.

Fast forward to 2013. Fitbit was in v3 on the clip-on trackers and had added the hugely popular Flex wristband. I jumped back on the bandwagon and purchased the Fitbit One, which was definitely an improvement over the original. My favorite part? It counted flights of stairs - a really enjoyable metric after hard trail runs. 389 flights over 10 miles? Awesome.

Soon after, activity trackers started appearing out of the woodwork with each company creating its own version. While the new trackers added diversity to the market and choice for consumers, they also spread the users (and my Fitbit friends) more widely across platforms. Over time, many Fitbit friends migrated to other trackers or went inactive, which left me feeling less invested in using the app. I honestly didn't realize how much I cared about the social part of fitness tracking until this began to happen.

By the time fall 2014 came around, I still liked the overall Fitbit platform and the data it provided but my excitement for tracking every step had disappeared. Some friends had joined or re-activated their Fitbit use, but even that wasn't keeping me invested anymore. Add that to feeling annoyed with wearing the clip, and I found myself wondering why I continued to put it on everyday. So I stopped.

Every day since then, my brain has told me to put on the Fitbit, to move it to my running clothes, and to glance at the app to see how many steps I've taken. I didn't realize how much I thought about the Fitbit until I stopped wearing it - I've realized I literally thought about the Fitbit all the time. Isn't it funny how such a little, optional activity tracker can start to rule day-to-day thoughts?

That said, I'm happy about the thoughts and behaviors that have become second nature because of this device. I almost always take the stairs to my third floor office, I walk to cafes that are farther away at lunch, and I make sure to get some activity in on non-running days. I'm extremely aware of my daily activity level in a good way.

Going forward, I have yet to decide if I'd rather have an open platform tracking device or if I want to be completely free of activity data. Would integrating all fitness tracker brands into one social platform be more engaging? What if a single company could import fitness data from all tracking platforms, allowing users to interact regardless of which tracking device they chose?

Even if I don't go back to wearing a tracker in the future, I'm glad I used one for so long. My behavior has truly changed over time thanks to the Fitbit.

Tell me: Do you wear a fitness tracker? Does the social part matter to you? Do you think it changes your behavior? 

11 November 2014

SLO Marathon Ambassadors

I've mentioned this on social media a bit, but it's time for the official blog announcement.

I'm honored to be a San Luis Obispo Marathon Ambassador for 2015!

The race is in San Luis Obispo, a beautiful wine country area, on April 26, 2015. This is a new race for me and I always love the scenery in wine growing regions. I haven't decided if I'll be running the half or full yet, although my successful marathon in NYC makes me lean toward the marathon. That said, it's a little close to SFM (I'm already signed up) so I have some thinking to do before I finalize the plan.

Another fun part of this is that I'll be ambassador-ing with a few friends I met from the SFM Ambassador group: Erin, Laura, and Charles.

Kevin is already signed up to join us in SLO, and you should come too! Hit me up in the comments with any questions.

Happy running!

06 November 2014

NYC Marathon Part Two: The Race

The New York City Marathon: wow. I've never run anything like it. There was so much crowd support along the entire route; if spectators were allowed to be there, they were there. We ran through all five boroughs, so I was able to see more of the city than ever before. I loved every minute of it.

As I mentioned in the pre-race post, I slept very well the night before. The fall back time change was an added bonus because it gave me more sleep time before I had to head to the bus at 5:30 am. I woke up excited and nervous, got dressed, and headed out the door. Everything had been set out or packed in my start village bag the night before; I made sure I could wake up as late as possible. I wasn't starting to run until 10:30 am, so I knew I'd have plenty of time to prep and eat after arriving at the start village.

Race clothes ready.

Race morning was cold and windy. I went to the bus in three throwaway layers on top and one on the bottom, and I was worried it wouldn't be enough. The ride to Staten Island took longer than it should have with traffic, but that was fine with me because we were on a heated bus. The sooner we arrived, the sooner we were outside. After exiting the bus, I followed the herd of runners through security (metal detectors and bag check) and into the village. The start area was crowded with people sitting and laying on blankets or old race heat sheets, and they had covered the muddy grass with straw.

Race morning at Central Park.

As a charity runner, I was lucky to have access to the charity village which was much less crowded. We had tents over our head, although they didn't have walls so we still got the wind. I had a small cup of coffee and used hot water to make my usual race day oatmeal. We huddled together under our tent wrapped in heat sheets, blankets, plastic bags, and anything that might help block the wind. This sounds really terrible as I write it, but in reality it was cold but manageable. Having my EMC teammates there for support made all the difference.

My biggest source of anxiety for NYCM was the wait time to start, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. In fact, it went really quickly and fueling was fine. I had a Picky Bar on the bus, oatmeal shortly after we arrived, and half of a peanut butter sandwich closer to my start time. NYCM provided coffee, hot water, and bagels to all runners. Dunkin Donuts was handing out pink and orange fleece beanies, but I missed them in the start village and had a hood so wasn't too concerned.

When they announced opening of the Wave 3 corrals, my stomach lurched. I hit the porta potty line once more and headed over. We had to be in the corral at least 30 minutes before our start time. I heard that some people who headed to the corrals near the 30 minute time were blocked out and made to start with the next wave; something to keep in mind if you run this one. I had no problems at all going over right when they opened and felt everything was very smooth.

At 10:30 am we heard the gun go off and started moving toward the start line. I was in Orange Corral F, so it took me about 10 minutes to get to the start line itself at the entrance to the Verrazano Bridge. I turned to the person next to me and said 'This is going to be awesome!' He gave me an inquisitive look and said it was his first race of any distance ever. I told him how excited I was to run this marathon and for the crowds and how impressed I was that his first race was a marathon. That takes serious guts.

We crossed the start and up the Verrazano Bridge we went. I expected this to feel like a big hill but it didn't, likely because I was preoccupied with not blowing over. The wind on the bridge was intense. There were times when my foot landed in a different place than I thought it would because the wind moved me. My ponytail was whipping around and the hair tie almost came out, so I wrapped the tie around my finger and grabbed a Dunkin Donuts beanie from the side of the road to tame my hair. Yes, I know I'm not supposed to pick up the donations but...it worked like a charm. I think the wind on the bridge is the worst I've run in, although I experienced some comparable wind at Big Sur Hurricane Point in 2012 and heavy wind+rain at CIM in 2012

The top of the bridge incline rewarded us with a jaw-dropping view of the New York City skyline. It was absolutely gorgeous. Once we came down the other side of the bridge, the wind situation improved. Don't get me wrong - there was still a lot of wind, but I think being a middle-of-the-pack runner in the crowd helped to block it. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be out there on your own or in the lead pack. I also suppose it's helpful to have the aforementioned bad race weather experiences in my past because I was able to draw on those memories to improve my mental state. I kept repeating to myself 'remember [insert bad weather memory here]? You can handle this.' We've all had our tough weather days, and I highly recommend this strategy for dealing with less-than-ideal weather. 

As soon as we left the bridge and entered Brooklyn, the crowds started. Brooklyn was out in droves to watch the race and everyone was cheering like crazy. We were in Brooklyn for a long time and I enjoyed the scenery and the people. I re-donated the Dunkin Donuts cap, put my hair back in a ponytail, and ditched my first layer of gloves. People were cheering for me by name (taped on) and by yelling 'Every Mother Counts' and I loved it. I tried to wave at each person who called out to me.

The miles kept flying by and soon we were crossing the Queensboro Bridge, a very quiet and difficult part of the course. I was struggling but still moving along at a decent pace. Luckily, I came up on a guy wearing a Google shirt and discovered he also works in Mountain View, on the same overall team, and in my building. Go figure! We chatted for the rest of the bridge and into First Avenue until I lost him at a water stop.

One of the bridges, funny face. 

The First Avenue crowds were the biggest and loudest yet, and they were right where I needed the encouragement. I usually hit a big 17 or 18 mile wall so I was expecting to feel awful, but the excitement kept me going this time and there was no wall. I knew I was approaching my cheering friends and was thrilled to see Kevin and Megan around this time. At around 101st and First Avenue, the Oiselle ladies were loud and awesome. That was the push I needed to stop worrying about why I hadn't hit a wall (was it still coming?) and to get to mile 20. 

The course headed into the Bronx where there were less people cheering but still way more than other races. I knew my friend Alisha was out with a sign for me around mile 20 and sadly I didn't see her, but knowing she was there and being distracted by looking for her helped me push through those miles. I was now solidly into the twenties and still hadn't hit the dreaded wall. We turned back toward Manhattan where we had to tackle a long, slow uphill around miles 22 and 23. This was another low point for me, but I saw the Oiselle cheering section again in this stretch and was incredibly happy to see them. I high-fived Beth and perked up, plus Stephanie got a few fun photos of me. Kevin and Megan were in this area too, but I missed them this time.

Spotting the Oiselle ladies.

 OMG I'm so tired and so happy to see you guys!

And now I keep going uphill...

The next thing I knew were were turning into Central Park and we were within 2 miles of the finish. I still felt strong and hadn't started to do a walk-run like I have during each of my other marathons. That in itself was a huge accomplishment for me. Aside from quick water station walks to drink and one or two other 30 second walk breaks to eat, I ran. Anytime I thought I couldn't keep running, I thought about the women we were supporting with team EMC and kept pushing on.

Feeling good at 40K!

The next miles along Central Park were filled with even more people cheering, and finally we climbed the last small hill to the finish line. I did it! I ran 4:35:36. Although not a PR, this race was by far the strongest I've felt during a marathon and I'm thrilled. It's easily my favorite marathon so far both for the course and for how I felt running it.

 Big smile in the finish chute.

 Finished! Looking tired.

And apparently I was unclear if I could walk...

 After crossing the finish line, the crowd of runners kept moving slowly forward. We collected our medals and I remember saying to an amused volunteer 'It's so beautiful!' They handed us heat sheets and taped them so they would stay on. We each received a bag with food and drinks and I was pretty sure my shaking legs were going to give out while I waited a few minutes for that bag. At least after that I had Gatorade, water, and recovery drink to keep me going.

Finish line on Friday, as seen during the Strava group run.

Beautiful medals.

Volunteers continued to usher us through the park, separating us based on if we had checked a gear bag or not. Runner who didn't check a bag would get a fleece poncho. I was very cold and it felt like we walked forever to get to the ponchos, but finally a volunteer wrapped me up in fleece and everything was so much better.

I kept walking toward the family reunion area, where volunteers along the sides were keeping us moving and congratulating us. Bart Yasso was one of the people, and I stopped to say hi-remember-me-we-had-beer-together-in-SF. Surprisingly, I was the only one I even saw talk to him; he was pretty incognito in his race employee gear. He meets a ton of people and I know he probably doesn't remember me, but it was fun to say hi anyway.

From there I continued through the crowded family area and met Kevin at our planned spot, a Starbucks on 58th Street. He took everything I was carrying and escorted me the last few blocks to our hotel. That was one LONG post-marathon walk; it took about an extra hour of slow walking to get from the finish line back to the hotel.

Documenting the poncho!

 Happy to be back at the (warm) hotel post-race.

After I showered, we had a beer in the hotel, grabbed pizza by the slice, and then went to the theater to see Wicked. What a great show! I knew beforehand that it was related to the Wizard of Oz but nothing else about it, and I really enjoyed the story line and how it tied the two together.

Race Details:

The course. I loved running this course and seeing so much of NYC. It's not an easy course, which I'd been told but understand more now that I've run it. It isn't hilly compared to something like SF, but it has noticeable grades and many turns that will slow you down. Although I didn't feel crowded the whole time, there were many people to dodge and I was held up a few times for that reason especially in the last 10K. The crowds were amazing and lined almost the entire course, plus there were people with music, marching bands, and jazz bands out to entertain us.

The support. I give this race an A+ for support! They had porta potties about every mile and water/Gatorade stations at a similar frequency. I took water at every other station because I didn't need it every time. They handed out Clif gels at mile 18 and bananas at each aid station for the last 6 miles or so. The fluid stations were on both sides of the road and long, so they weren't as congested as I would have expected for such a big event. 

The finish line. The finish line was very organized, but runners moved through very slowly. They had told us to expect 30-45 minutes from finish to exiting Central Park and it definitely took that long. I loved that they taped the heat sheets on us and everyone was very nice and helpful. The food bags included water, Gatorade, recovery drink, an apple, pretzels, and a Power Bar. Getting from our park exit to the family reunion area took a few more minutes of walking, and the family area was very crowded. I'm glad Kevin and I picked a meeting spot away from there for that reason. 

The swag. The race shirts were long sleeve Asics shirts and I love the colorful ribbon on the medals.

 Medal, shirt, and bib.

It's hard to believe my marathon goal race is over for this year! I'll be glad to change up the workout routine a bit and to take some recovery time. Happy running!

04 November 2014

NYC Marathon Part One: Pre-Race Fun

The New York City Marathon is hands down my favorite of the races I've run. The city, the crowds, the course, the organization - all of it was amazing. I loved being part of the Every Mother Counts charity team and running for a cause; this was the first time I'd ever fundraised for a race. Many of you donated to my EMC fundraiser, and I want you to know that both I and Every Mother Counts are exceptionally grateful for your contributions. The team has raised $335K so far and some donations are still coming in!

Kevin and I arrived in NYC on Thursday evening, and on Friday morning we joined the Strava group shakeout run at Central Park. I'm a big fan of using Strava to track workouts, and it was fun to meet a few of the employees plus many other runners. We did a 3.6 mile loop in Central Park and then headed to coffee together. Strava also gave out awesome swag from their Sprinter van near the expo!

Kevin and I in Central Park.

 Strava group. (Photo from Strava Run)

Oiselle team and flock ladies at the Strava run (Chloe, Beth, Aysha, and me.)

Headsweats visor, Swiftwick socks, and gloves!

Later that day, we headed to the expo at the Javits Center. It was huge. The set up allowed people to get bibs and shirts quickly once inside and I was surprised how efficient it was. That said, there was a very long line to get inside the expo. I'm not sure why because they weren't regulating the entrance at all, but I suppose if everyone arrived at the same time it just happened to form a line.

Kevin was running the 5K on Saturday, so he picked up his race packet there too. They had a big section of NYC Marathon gear for sale, although I didn't purchase anything and the line for the register looked like it would take at least 30 minutes. I bought a cute NY Running Company T-shirt, some Nuun to get the special NYC bottle, and a Sparkly Soul 'Run NYC' headband; kudos to me for getting out of there without more shopping!

Expo entrance banner.

Course map.

Cool NYC Nuun Bottle.

On Saturday, Kevin ran the 5K in the rain and I went out to spectate with a few other Oiselle ladies. I didn't take any photos in the rain but had a great time cheering for everyone! Race cheering is so much fun. After that I headed to the Every Mother Counts office for the team brunch, where I picked up my EMC gear and met many of the people I'd been chatting with on the internet for the past few months. I enjoyed the people and hope to see some of my new friends again someday.

Kevin's 5K shirt, which was a nice tech shirt.

I love my new EMC hoodie. 

Later I headed back uptown to meet a bunch of Oiselle team ladies for coffee in the Time Warner Center. I loved seeing many people I had met previously and meeting new ladies. Quite a few of us were running the marathon but others would be out cheering for us the next day, some who came to NYC just to cheer! By that point, it was really setting in that I was to run 26.2 miles the next day and I was getting anxious about how much I'd been on my feet.

Oiselle Meet Up. (Photo from Kristin at Oiselle)

Kevin dealt with my anxiety about not walking anywhere else and met me in the Time Warner Center Whole Foods for a late lunch. The Whole Foods had a pub inside called On Tap, which served craft beer and food. How great is that? The burgers came on pretzel buns and the fries were excellent; a perfect pre-marathon day lunch. The rest of the day was spent resting my legs in the hotel and watching football, then getting Chipotle (conveniently across the street from our hotel) for dinner. I slept very well from 10 pm on that night, pretty unbelievable considering I usually don't sleep well at all the night before a race. 

Stay tuned for Part Two: The Race...

27 October 2014

NYCM Race Week

It's NYC Marathon race week!

I can't believe it's finally here. I'm running a marathon in a few days and I couldn't be more excited. I feel like I can't contain myself. Ask me about this statement around mile 18 and I'm sure I'll have a different take on the whole situation...

Everything I've heard and read about the NYC Marathon makes me excited for the experience, and I'm really ok if it doesn't end up being a PR race. I'm running this event to support Every Mother Counts and to relish in the awesomeness of the city. I've met my fundraising goal (thanks to many of you!) and this will show in the Crowdrise widget soon when my company match finally comes through.

In case you want to follow along, my bib number is 48111. I'm starting at 10:30 am in Orange Wave 3, Corral F. That means I'm in the third wave, Orange group (top of the bridge), and the sixth corral of that wave. The detail that goes into the start planning is pretty crazy. I'm lucky to have access to the charity tent too, especially because I'll be at the start village for about 3 hours pre-race.

The start village and corral set up. (Photo from the NYC Marathon site.)

The current weather is currently showing a high of 47 and sunny. If it stays like this, I'd be a very happy camper. My past four marathons have definitely not had decent weather, and I'm ready for a good day. I'll be stalking this for the rest of the week. 

I'm looking forward to many pre-race festivities as well. On Friday, Kevin and I plan to attend the Strava shake out run and then the expo. Kevin is running the 5K on Saturday morning, which I'll follow with the Team EMC Brunch and then a Oiselle coffee meet up. The rest of Saturday I plan to rest the legs and to watch football. We also have tickets to Wicked for Sunday evening.

It'll be an action packed weekend! Can we leave for NYC now?

20 October 2014

Nike Women's Half Marathon Recap

This race was fantastic. I love running in SF, I felt good running at marathon goal pace, the weather was cool, and I was strong on the hills. This was a really good tune-up for my confidence going into NYC in only two short weeks!

My opinion on the NWM event has changed a lot over the past few years. When I ran it in 2011, I found it to be a logistical mess and was highly disappointed in the whole thing. I vowed never to run it again. (But of course, I did because it's local and they give out Tiffany bling!) In 2012, I had a great time but still found many things to be annoying. The third time must be a charm; this year I found it to be much more organized, not as crowded as I remember, and overall a fantastic event.

It's worth noting that the race made two major changes this year. They did away with the marathon and made this a half marathon only, and in doing so they completely changed the route. From my perspective, these were both huge plusses. The focus on one event seemed to improve the logistics overall, and the new course was great. I loved it because it's different than other races in the city, and variety is fun. Finishing at Marina Green was much easier than finishing at Ocean Beach because we could walk back to Union Square. It's much harder to get back from Ocean Beach.

We stayed in the city on Saturday night partly to make it easier in the morning for the 6:30 am start and partly because we love an excuse to stay in SF. The race starts in Union Square, and different start corrals enter from different streets. I was in the 9:00-9:59 start corral which entered from Grant Street, and I had no trouble finding it. Each corral has its own porta potties and gear check, and they make sure you go to the right corral by checking wrist bands. The porta potty lines were huge (not shocking with so many women) but I'm not sure they could have fit more of them. I was able to move around in the corral much more than in past years.

 Start line, as taken by my friend Ann who was spectating.

 Big banner by Macy's, also from Ann.

They said the start time was 6:30 am, although in reality they started the fastest corral at 6:30 and put a few minutes between each one. That worked well and was a great idea, but knowing about the delayed corrals would have been helpful ahead of time. My corral was going off at 6:50 am, and luckily I was able to duck into the 8:00-8:59 corral porta potties when we began moving because they had already started running. I made it back into my corral before the people in back finished crossing the start, whew! I was assuming I'd have to go on the course because I'd skipped the long lines in fear of missing the start (I would have had plenty of time, hence wanting to know about the delayed corral starts.) 

We started running and I felt good right away. My body was cooperating, my sore foot warmed up and didn't bother me, and the weather was fairly cool. We ran on some streets that no other course uses, which was fun. There were gradual uphills and downhills almost the whole time, but I love a rolling course. We ran by Alamo Square and eventually into Golden Gate Park to make a big loop of the park. Running in the park was foggy and gorgeous. I was happy to have run a couple of the longer gradual climbs during my 17 mile training run because I had a reference point of when it had felt much harder. 

We exited the park, headed through the Presidio, and then descended to the bottom of the big Lincoln Boulevard climb I'd been waiting for. Running up Lincoln Boulevard is hard, that's all there is to it. It's long, some is steep, and it takes effort. I felt good and I was thrilled with my stamina on the hill, plus there were tons of people cheering there to keep us going. I've also run this hill during recent long training runs, which of course helped a ton. Unfortunately, we didn't get the Golden Gate Bridge  and bay views at the top because it was very foggy.

Finishing the climb and immediately starting the downhill portion gave us a nice recovery period. We took the steeper route down to water level and followed the road back to Marina Green for the finish. After running up and down so much, the flat felt like it took a lot of effort. Before I knew it, I was at the finish chute to find Ann and Kevin cheering for me. A quick turn of the corner and I passed under the pink finish arch feeling awesome at 2:09:06. Perfect marathon pace training run.

Ann's photo of me in the chute.

The finish area on Marina Green felt larger than the one at Ocean Beach and was nicely done. We walked through the area to get food, water, and of course the coveted Tiffany necklace. However, the necklaces were NOT handed out by Firefighters, they were handed out by volunteers. I kind of missed the Firefighters in tuxes with the silver platters...but what can you do. I have a feeling this was a much better way to regulate people and how many necklaces they tried to take. There were still firefighters nearby for photo ops if you wanted to wait in line. 

I found Kevin and Ann, and then met up with two Oiselle flock ladies for a few minutes. They had a family meet up area with letters and it was easy to find everyone there. The finish area also included a Nike shopping boutique, massage, booths, and probably things I didn't see; I didn't check out any of those.

Tiffany box!

Ann, Kevin and I headed straight to brunch at The Square in North Beach where I enjoyed beer and eggs benedict made with crumpets. So good. It was there that I finally opened my necklace, and I love it! Easily my favorite one of the three I have.

Brunch and Tiffany.

Celebratory brunch and drinks with Ann!

Race Details.

The Expo. The expo is held at Union Square in a big tent. I picked up my packet at the Nike store in Palo Alto the week before; it's much less crowded and I hadn't found the expo to have much to see in the past. Bib pick-up at the store was easy and quick. We walked through the expo on Saturday afternoon when we were showing Ann around a bit, and I found it to be the same as before. They don't have shops and booths like other expos; they have places to do hair, fit Nike shoes, and try Nuun. Rumor has it bib pick up for this event can take hours on Saturday, but I have never gone then to know firsthand.

 Expo tent.

Posing with the big 13.1 banner.

The Swag. The race is expensive, but they truly gave us good swag. We received black tank tops as the race shirt, plastic refillable water bottles at the finish, reusable shopping bags filled with snacks at the finish, and of course the Tiffany necklaces.

 Tank top.

Necklace close up.

The course. I loved the course. It was unique and there were fun surprises along the way such as a gospel choir, marching bands, the We Run SF statue, and banners. There were a couple of spots with cameras to wave to and another spot with screens that showed our names as we passed by. They handed out chocolate around mile 12 and Clif shot blocks around mile 8. I'm pretty sure they had Nuun on the course, but I only found water when I went through the aid stations. There were aid stations and porta potties about every two miles. At one point I remember thinking there were so many porta potties along the course that I couldn't believe it, and I'd definitely never seen that many at other races. I suppose they are trying to keep 25K women happy?

Improvements to note. I mentioned being annoyed in past years, so I want to outline the big changes that have made this race better for me. 

First, start corrals. In 2011 they didn't have the wristband and enforced corrals, and I ended up starting behind people who intended to walk the whole thing. Getting through the first mile was difficult and people were tripping over one another. This improved with the addition of enforced start corrals in 2012, but it still felt incredibly tight. This year, I think the additional separation of start corral times helped. I didn't have issues getting around people and it flowed well from the start. 

Second, crowding. In the past, I found myself dodging groups of people walking or slowly running three to four wide, which was terrible. That also improved in 2012, but this year I didn't find it to be bad at all. Naturally there are many people and you do some dodging, but it wasn't worse than any other large race. I have no idea what fixed this, but I'm glad it's better. It could be as simple as people starting in the right pace groups.

Third, in past years I saw many people drop throw away clothes in places that were tripping hazards (like the middle of the road.) This year they had many, many labeled clothing drop bins spaced out along the first few miles and people used them. 

Fourth, water stations. I remember water stations being very crowded and not keeping up with the flow of runners. This time around, they were longer and on both sides of the street. It was easy to grab water and go without waiting on it to be poured.

All in all, a fun race and great weekend in the city. I wish this one weren't so hard to get into!