30 August 2015

Hood to Coast 2015 Relay Recap

After three tries in the lottery, we finally got into Hood to Coast.  I was pumped - I've heard so many great things about this relay and couldn't wait to experience it myself. I'm not sure if it was that this relay has too much hype and expectation surrounding it, or if this year was different than past, but I ended Hood to Coast feeling more disappointed than energized.

It's really strange actually. Even at my most tired points, I've always LOVED relays and would return home chomping at the bit to plan the next one. I don't want to feel this way and most of all, I don't want my teammates to think it was the team. It most definitely was not! We had fantastic people, got along great, and I truly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.

Our team was comprised of people from a few different places and parts of life. The team name 'We're Feeling Lucky' (and team members: Kevin, Eddie, Jason, Amy, Kim, me) started with my first relay at Ragnar Napa in 2012, a team of mostly Googlers. Many of the above plus Derek ran on our team for Ragnar Napa in 2014. I know Jess from Oiselle team and Ragnar NWP in 2014, and her husband Gavan joined us for HTC too. I met Wes a few years ago thanks to the San Francisco Marathon Ambassador program and Ragnar SoCal, David runs with us in Go Far run group, and Eddie's friend, Steve, came all the way from Boston to join us. I had a really fun time with everyone, and I loved traveling together and having time to hang out before and after the race.

On Thursday, a few of us had the same flight to Portland in the morning, giving us time to enjoy the local food and beer. We started off with my favorite Oregon restaurant, Cafe Yumm!, for lunch. We then went for a beer at Bailey's Taproom, dessert at Voodoo Doughnut, and more beer and snacks at Deschutes Brewery. After taking a few hours off from eating, we went for a late dinner at Apizza Scholls, which was amazing. A big thanks to Jason and Derek for their food and beer research on this trip!

 Voodoo Donuts, hitting the touristy spots. (Me, Kim, Kevin, Jason, Derek)

Yum, huge pizzas. Amazing dough. (Kevin, Derek, Wes, Jason, David)

Moving on to race morning. We woke up in time to send Van 1 off to Mt. Hood and to wish them good luck.

Van 1 pre-race! (Amy, Derek, Steve, David, Kim, Eddie)

Those of us in Van 2 staying at the hotel had a low key morning and breakfast at IHOP. We then met Jess and Gavan around 2 pm to head to the exchange. After yet another great meal find by Jason and lunch at Bacchi's Italian Deli, we arrived at exchange 6 excited and ready to run!

Decorated and off to the exchange.

We headed over to the exchange staging area to find...basically nothing. It wasn't the upbeat and energized atmosphere I love about races, it was merely a couple of quiet food sample tents with no runners hanging around the area at all. We thought ok, everything must be somewhere else, so we followed the crowd to the runner exchange area to find...still nothing. There was no check in for Van 2 at all, which was incredibly strange to me. I asked at a couple of the tents to be sure, and not even the person with 'Race Official' on her shirt had a clue what I was talking about so we let it go. (Didn't we at least have to show our safety stuff? Apparently, no. I'd read everything online but had not come across mention of this.) I would have liked to have a printed Race Bible, but they would only give Van 1 a single copy because they were running out and they were not available at exchange 6 for Van 2.

This weirdly quiet state of affairs at exchange 6 took me by surprise. Where was the music? Where was that feeling of excitement that gets you going? Where were the energy and awesome atmosphere that differentiates a huge event from a regular weekday run? It was nowhere to be found. (Side note: if you saw my tweet about wanting my Ragnar Relay back, this was the cause of it.) I thought to myself, it's ok, no big deal. We'll make our own excitement. The race is what you make of it, after all!

 Kevin and I waiting for Van 1.

Van 2 ready to run! (Kevin, me, Gavan, Jess, Wes, Jason)

Soon we found Van 1 to say hello; they had rocked it and were 20 minutes ahead of our schedule by then. We grabbed our race bibs and timing chip from them and had a few minutes to talk while we waited on Eddie to run into the exchange. It sounded like the first set of legs went smoothly both from a running and exchange perspective, which was great to hear.

 Eddie coming into exchange 6.

And we were off! However, it turned out Kevin was off to a faster start running than our van was driving. Our printout of the online Race Bible had missed some numbers and lines of wording for some reason, and we hadn't gotten a real copy from the race as expected, so we resorted to the website and a miscalculation put us at exchange 8 instead of 7. Hood to Coast has absolutely no signage at the exchanges, so we didn't even realize we were at the wrong exchange until we got a call from Kevin wondering where we were. Back to exchange 7 we went to swap Kevin and Gavan, unfortunately adding an extra 30 minutes to that hand off by the time we got back there through traffic.

It was not our best start, but we shook it off. Things happen. I was irritated at the lack of signage that could have shown us our mistake before it was too late (we waited at exchange 8 for about 30 minutes and could have gotten back to 7 if we'd have known,) but it was our fault after all. Van 1 had a good printout and also the real Race Bible, so we grabbed one from them at the next major exchange to help our navigation situation. Gavan handed off to Jess and we continued on our way.

Jess starting leg 9.

The next four legs, 9 through 12, ran on a paved trail toward downtown Portland that was incredibly nice. It was dark by the time I started running as runner 12, and I love running the night legs so I was very happy about it. I ran the trail, then through a little neighborhood, and back on the trail again. People in the neighborhood were out cheering and there was even a little campfire cheer group on one street they had closed. Very cool! As I was finishing the 6.4 mile leg, we came into Portland and I loved the beautiful lights along the waterfront. I ended up loving all 3 of the runner 12 routes and really enjoyed handing off at the major exchanges.

Jason's warm up, complete with fake butt in the background.

Jess passing to Jason, who was running leg 10.

During our first break we grabbed food at McDonald's due to not having many options and went to exchange 18 to rest. There was an outdoor sleeping area at exchange 18, but by this point it was raining so only one guy wrapped in a tarp was using it. There were no indoor sleeping areas at this event that we'd found in the Race Bible, but Van 1 said there actually was indoor sleeping at exchange 17. I wish I had known! We attempted to sleep in the van, but I pretty much didn't sleep at all between being uncomfortable and the loudness of the number announcements for incoming teams being in close proximity to where we had found parking.

The rain fluctuated between heavy and light for the next few hours. Kevin picked back up for Van 2 and had a misty leg 19, then Gavan got pounded by rain on a very uphill leg 20. We almost missed Kevin's exchange again because traffic had gotten incredibly bad by this point; Gavan (and everyone running that leg from other teams) hopped out of the vans to run ahead to the exchange.

Our section of night legs continued like this: sit in long line of traffic for whole time between runners, make runner get out and run to the exchange, continue driving through exchange and pick up the runner who finished (or find them when they walk back to the van because we still hadn't gotten to the exchange), repeat. Anyone in the van who needed a porta potty had walk to the exchange while the van sat in traffic so they could stand in the excessively long porta potty lines. There was no drive to exchange-park-stretch the legs-foam roll-use a restroom time at this relay, and we didn't arrive ahead of the runner for any of the exchanges during leg 2. We were in the van almost the ENTIRE time of the relay due to the traffic situation. My left hip flexor is already making me pay for this one.

My second run was 4.87 miles on a country road, it wasn't particularly scenic but had a nice view overall. It was around 6 am by then so it was back to being light outside. I handed off to Amy, but I didn't get to see anyone else in Van 1 because they left ahead of her in an attempt to beat her to the exchange.

We left exchange 24 thinking we'd go straight to the next major exchange and grab food along the way. Well, the joke was on us. We sat in traffic along with other van 1s and 2s for hours until we finally got to exchange 30. I feel like there should have been a better way to go around the traffic, but the Race Bible was missing a page for 'Van 2 directions to exchange 30' like it usually has and we had no cell phone reception to use phone navigation or maps. So, in the relay traffic we continued to sit.

By the time we arrived at exchange 30, we estimated we had about an hour until Eddie would arrive and it wasn't enough time to attempt more sleeping. I was excited to get breakfast at the exchange fundraiser, but they sadly were out of almost all food when we arrived. They did the best they could and were making croissants dipped in french toast batter (i.e. the only things they had left), but I needed protein and that wasn't happening. It wasn't their fault, but it was a big bummer since we hadn't eaten a real meal in so many hours. If I were to do this relay again, I'd have a different food plan due to the lack of places to buy food through the middle section.

The weather had gotten pretty rough by this time, adding wind to the rain, so we once again stayed inside the van the whole time. The exchanges we went through on the relay had no indoor access at all; this was totally understandable due to the nature of the course, but it made the weather situation rougher. That said, it would have been nice if the porta potty lines would have not been so long in the rain. They needed many more for the number of people.

Around this time, we started hearing rumors that the finish line was closed due to the weather, they were pulling all course support but you could continue on your own, van 2 should consider dropping out, etc. We never heard an official announcement but decided we'd keep going and see what happened. It was fine; they didn't pull support or close the finish line, although they did have to move it off the beach and onto the sidewalk.

Moving on. Kevin took the slap bracelet from Eddie and off we went. Van 1 hadn't made it to the exchange by the time we left so we missed them again. Amazingly enough, we made it to the next exchange a couple of minutes before Kevin did and Gavan didn't have to run ahead to make it in time. Traffic was still extremely backed up, but we made a couple of the exchanges (still not all) during this cycle without runners having to hop out of the van. That was a nice change of pace.

The memorable part of this last set of legs was the WIND. To me, it was reminiscent of the wind on the Verrazano Bridge at the NYC Marathon last year. The kind of wind that stops forward movement when it's coming at you and causes your feet to land in unexpected places when it's coming from the side. We all had the chance to experience this craziness, but I have to say that the weather turned out better than I expected based on the forecast because the rain let up.

Waiting to head out on leg 36. You can't see it in the photo, but the wind was nuts.

After Wes faced a difficult and rocky 7 mile run into the headwind, he passed off to me for the final 5.19 miles of the relay. I felt really happy and good for this run and was very excited to have the finish leg for the first time ever in a relay! I enjoyed some of the rocky dirt road and had a tail wind to push me forward on it. But shortly after my start, I made a turn and found the headwind and crosswind that made the run a big challenge. I didn't mind it and sort of even enjoyed the craziness of the wind until I arrived at the coast, at which point the sand-to-the-face became a little painful (although cheaper than a facial, yes?) No fear, it was only about a half mile or so from that point to the 'new' finish line on the sidewalk. My team joined me when I got closer and we crossed the line together. Success!

Team We're Feeling Lucky at the finish! (Photo Credit: Gavan)

I was very happy to see Van 1 again because we'd seen them even less in this relay than we usually would. Hood to Coast had a contingency plan for the finish festival and moved it into the nearby hotel, so we were still able to hang out together for beer after the race. I don't think most teams took advantage of this space and it was more like going to a bar than a finish festival, but I'm really glad we went anyway. The finish festival is the only real time you get with both vans together, and I love that part.

The real finish area was destroyed by the wind, and I feel bad for the event organizers because they will have to replace so many damaged items. It looks like it would have been a fantastic beach party!

 Porta potty down. (Photo Credit: Kim)

The finish line party area. (Photo Credit: Derek)

We finished in 27:56:59, only about one minute off of our estimated finish time on the HTC website. Pretty impressive! We had a great group of people - thanks to all of you for joining this adventure!

Van 2 found a Sasquatch at the finish area.

Time for the race details. As you've likely gathered from this post, I wasn't a fan of the event itself for a few reasons. Now that it's a day later and I've had sleep, I think I've moved past 'never again' and would consider trying it again from van 1 to see the other part of the course. That said, I've had much, much better experiences at basically all of the other relays I've done (except maybe Ragnar SoCal, which had issues similar to those at HTC) so I'm not sure if I'd pick this one again over others. We'll see.

The Course. The course is scenic and very rural through the middle. I liked this about it because it made for cool run routes; however, this is also what caused there to be a lack of places to stop for food as we usually would during a relay. Now that we know this, it'd be easy to be better prepared. Not having a meal outside of van snacks for so long was tough - you can only eat so many bars and crackers. There is also no cell service for most of the time, which is good to be prepared for if you do this event.

I loved going through Portland at night, and I think we all enjoyed running on the paved trail. Van 1 said the sweeping views coming down from Mt. Hood were amazing, and the routes through the tall trees were great. There is a significant section of the course along two-lane highways with fast moving cars, which is less than ideal but doable. It's not my favorite relay course based on route (that's a toss up between Ragnar NWP and Wasatch Back) but it's a nice one for sure.

The Logistics. I'm sad to say it, but HTC gets a big, fat F from me in this category. Things that make a relay awesome to me include the start line/exchange 6 excitement, getting to stop along routes to cheer for runners, cheering at exchanges, and hanging out together at major exchanges. None of these things happened at HTC. There was no exchange 6 excitement, nor was there anything fun going on at other major exchanges. We were too tight on time to stop and cheer mid-run, and we hardly ever made it to the exchange before the runner to cheer there. We didn't get to hang out with our other van at major exchanges even for a few minutes because of traffic taking so long. Contributing to the overall meh vibe, basically no one was cheering for runners when driving by in the van, and we even got yelled at once by a volunteer (not during quiet hours or in an area marked as no cheering, either) for cheering from the van!

As you've already read a million times, traffic was terrible for essentially the entire length of the course. I felt like I spent a whole day sitting in Bay Area rush hour, and that is something I do way too often to handle it well when I'm supposed to be enjoying myself. I know HTC wants to add teams to make people happy they got in, but if this is the resulting experience I'd rather be told I have to wait another year or two to run it.

Signage at exchanges was another issue. I couldn't figure out where to go when we arrived at exchange 6 (in the end this was due to them not having check in), and not having number signs at the exchanges truly can cause trouble if you are in the wrong place and don't know it. Had we arrive to see an exchange 8 sign, we would have immediately left to go to 7. I resorted to asking volunteers what exchange number we were at to confirm. It's a little thing, but the reassurance that you're in the right place can go a long way in a logistically complex situation.

Porta potty lines were very, very long. Longer than I've personally experienced at any other relay exchange, and this was an issue for us at almost all of the exchanges. Considering we had no time at exchanges to wait in said lines due to traffic, I spent a hours holding it. Obviously, this is less than ideal and is rather uncomfortable, especially when you can't go before your run. You might say 'go use a bush!' but the race rules say you can get penalized for that, so...I didn't. I'm not sure why they had so few porta potties available at the exchanges.

Last, I think some issues would have been solved by us having an actual Race Bible from the beginning, but unfortunately they ran out and our own printout had missing pieces for some reason. Also, missing the page that should have told Van 2 how to get to the next major exchange in an area with no cell service was bad. The addition of sitting in Van 1 traffic to the major exchange and corresponding lack of sleep due to late arrival does not make for a happy relay runner...and may or may not cause a Twitter rant.

On the bright side, we did find Dutch Bros Coffee at one exchange. Yum. Who needs sleep when you can have good coffee?

The Dutch Bros lid told us to take a selfie, so we did.

The Weather. I'm adding a weather section because it's been talked about so much with respect to this race. Yes, we had heavy rain and crazy wind, but in all honesty I don't think it changed the logistics of the event aside from the finish area party. I also don't think this contributed to my overall feeling of apathy toward the event; I've run so many races in terrible weather (yes, even worse than this!) that I'm generally not bothered by it.

The Support. Course support from the volunteers was incredible! The had volunteers at every turn to let us know where to go on the course, which was amazingly helpful. At one point, a volunteer even ran with me for about 30 seconds to explain an upcoming turn that could be confusing. This was one of the big highlights of the event in my eyes; a huge thank you to all of the volunteers for being out there and for enduring the weather with us!

03 August 2015

The SF Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I ran the SF Marathon!

This particular race meant more to me than any other marathon I've run. I wanted it badly last year, and when I dropped to the half due to injury that made it even more enticing this year. Finally, I ran the main event of the race I love so much and it was everything I thought it would be: beautiful, challenging, and incredibly fun. I've never finished a marathon feeling so mentally AND physically happy.

Now, that doesn't mean I felt perfect the whole time, I didn't. I had a rough time in the middle miles of Golden Gate Park. The important thing is that I got through it and was able to recover the body back to a good state.

The race starts near the Ferry Building, and we stayed at the Hyatt practically right at the starting line. Kevin headed out earlier than me to start with wave 2, I grabbed hot water for my oatmeal at the hotel breakfast for runners and stayed in the room longer. I left the hotel around 5:30 am for my 5:50 am race start with wave 4, having plenty of time to get to the corral. I didn't use porta-potties or bag check because the hotel was so close.

I heard a voice calling my name in the corral and found Marcia, a friend from Go Far, nearby. We started out together and had fun chatting. I'm really happy she was with me for a good part of the race. I ran well for the first few miles and felt super happy, even the little but steep Fort Mason hill didn't phase me. Around mile 5 I took a porta-potty stop and was annoyed, but what can you do. We continued up the hills to the bridge, again feeling great and not needing to walk at all like I did in past years.

Cheesin' with Marcia for the photos near the beginning.

The bridge felt more crowded this year than in the past, but I was able to dodge people and run the pace I wanted. The time flew by and before I knew it, we were through the vista point aid station and going back across. Marcia and I were separated due to the congestion, but I found her again as we exited the bridge. 

At this point, we were heading into the part of the first half that I dreaded, the post-bridge hill and the Presidio. I've never felt good through this part and I've always ended up walking in the past. Much to my surprise, the post-bridge hill felt way less steep than in the past and I ran the whole thing! I owe this motivation to Marcia, and she helped me to discover a newfound strength in myself on that hill.

We continued over the top of that hill, enjoyed the Lincoln Boulevard downhill, and started climbing again in the Presidio. Similar to the post-bridge nemesis hill, I was able to keep running through the Presidio for the first time ever. Oiselle teammate Michelle was there to give me a high five that kept me going, and I let myself be motivated by Marcia to keep running the whole time. I realized I could do it, and that realization felt amazing.

Running the uphill grade into Golden Gate Park was rough as usual; we hit the marathon and half split and then had a slight downhill deeper into the park. I was initially SO excited to be staying with the marathoners, but shortly after my stomach started feeling a little off again. The park loops continued and I made another porta-potty stop around mile 15. Marcia went ahead around that time and I was sad to lose her, but slowing someone else down really stresses me out and for that reason I was glad. I took a few walk breaks but kept moving at a decent pace. I knew if I could push through this spot and get out of the park, I'd be good to go. The mental game of park-looping and seeing the half finish line (3 times!) was getting to me more than I could have guessed it would.

Finally, we passed the 1st half finish for the last time and continued into the rest of the park. Around mile 18 we exited the park and headed into the Haight, which I'd been looking forward to for a long time. The energy changed for the better and despite the rough miles in the park, I felt better than I ever had at that point in a marathon.

This part of the course has some flat and downhill that lets the legs relax a bit. Even with a couple of small hills, the second half is significantly easier than the first half of the course. That said, it's also much less scenic. Somewhere in the 20s, Oiselle teammate Christine, who was running the second half, came up behind me and we chatted for a bit. We ended up around each other for the rest of the race which was really helpful for me. 

Late in the race, I was still shocked at how well my body was doing. I remember many times where my muscles felt tight, locked up, sore...you name it...by mile 23. Not this time. I was getting more and more exited because I was going to finish the SF Marathon and I could still run.

We passed the Giants stadium parking lot, where we were cheered on by tailgaters and the November Project group. We continued around the stadium and turned onto the Embarcadero. This was it! 

Passing the Giants Stadium.

I had the biggest smile on my face the whole time we were on the Embarcadero. There were more people, we were along the water, and we were so close to the finish line. I was going to finish the SF Marathon! I finished in 4:38:43 - not a PR, but definitely a strong performance for a hilly course.

Smiling at the end of a marathon...?


I was so freaking happy. There's no other way to describe it. In 2005, I ran my first 5K during the SFM events. In 2009, I ran my first half marathon there. In 2015, I ran the marathon. 

Stupid excited after the race. (Honestly not sure how I could do this post-marathon.)

After going through the finish chute, I found Kevin near the exit to the finish area. He had a good race and finished long enough before me to already be showered. We visited with people in the SFM Ambassador tent for a while after the race and enjoyed a couple of beers.

 Lagunitas sponsored the beer, including sweat bands.

Way too soon, it was 11:30 and we needed to go back to the hotel for me to clean up and check out. What a fantastic day! 

I'm not going to go into detailed race logistics with this recap, although I feel it was well organized and had no complaints. Check out my past SFM recaps for more on logistics and organization.

Happy running!

25 July 2015

It's Time for SFM!

The day is almost here - the SF Marathon is tomorrow! I'm extremely excited now that the weekend has come and I've been to the expo. I didn't make it this far last year and dropped to the half due to injury, so I feel like I've been waiting to run this marathon for way too long.

As you may know, I'm an ambassador for this race and it was my very first half marathon ever in 2009. It was also my first 5K in 2005, before I can even say I was a runner. It's about time I run the main event! I loved picking up the marathon color bib and the marathon color shirt, not to mention my 52.4 club sweatshirt. Now I get to go out there tomorrow to earn it.

Loving the red shirts for the marathon.

All four of the events have sold out this year too, which I'm not sure they have in the past. That's pretty cool.

Kevin and I went to the expo on Friday night and then enjoyed dinner at Off the Grid, the food truck event near Fort Mason. Aside from the crazy parking situation, having the expo co-located with Off the Grid was awesome. We had pork skewers and garlic noodles from An the Go, a Vietnamese Fusion truck, and then I continued to carb load with one of the biggest sprinkle donuts ever.

Johnny Doughnuts is awesome.

Because we went to the expo on Friday, we could relax on Saturday and sleep in. It's been great, we should do it this way more often. Soon we'll be heading to Sophia's wedding to celebrate and then to SF for the night. 

But first, you should see the other awesome swag we picked up at the expo. SF knows how to do it right, yes?

Happy running and racing this weekend to all!

20 July 2015

Pacifica 30K Race Recap

My previous post mentioned running the Golden Gate 30K on July 11, but the weekend took an unexpected turn and I missed that event. We woke up on Saturday to a very sick kitty and made a trip to the vet instead. I'm happy to say after a week of worrying about her, Willow is going to be fine. She had an ulcer and bacterial infection that made her sick; luckily she did not have lymphoma as they thought she might based on early tests. We are so relieved! You could say I'm very attached to that little cat.

Guilty of photographing Willow at the vet with her little bandage. Such a sweetie.

Back to running. I was a sad about missing the 30K and even more sad about leaving poor Willow at the vet alone, so I went looking for other weekend trail runs in the area. The Bay Area has a ton, and we found a Sunday 30K in Pacifica that we were able to sign up for last minute. (A huge thank you to the PCTR race director for replying to me on Saturday afternoon and letting us know they had spots left!)

Although I love running in the headlands, I enjoyed checking out new trails in a new part of the bay. Both 30K courses were similar in total climb at 4000 feet, but I felt the Pacifica course had more extended climbing instead of the up/down/repeat I'm used to in the headlands. We started at San Pedro Valley Park, and the first loop of the course climbed to the top of Montara Mountain.

View from the Montara Mountain climb. 

From the top of Montara Mountain. 

From the top, the other direction. You can see runners coming up.

Quick photo of Kev running back down as we passed.

After descending the mountain we ran back past the start, then headed the other direction on a new loop that we ran two times. The second climb on that loop was particularly tough and resulted in a lot of power hiking.

During the first time on this loop, I was stung by something on the upper inside of my left leg that left a big red welt. Ouch! It was painful for about 20 minutes and then subsided enough that I could ignore it; I was going to be seriously mad if I had to stop the race because of a silly insect. It must have been a sweat bee or something nicer than a real bee, because the pain wasn't as bad as I remember from real bee stings. Thank goodness.

The second time I arrived at the top, I'd done so much hiking uphill that I stood still for a minute to gather my thoughts (legs?) before taking off on the downhill run. Once I started moving, all was well again. The other thought I had at the top of the loop that second time was 'Wow, this is so great. Let's go again!' Even though I was tired, I wanted more. More challenges, more trail running, more distance. Something about the 30K left me hungry for these things in a way I've not felt before. Now I have to reign myself in so I don't sign up for a second 50K before I run the first one and know how it really feels.

I finished the race in 4:18:19, which I admit is slower than I'd hoped. Based on my long trail runs in the headlands and other places, I was thinking I'd be about 15 to 20 minutes faster at the 30K distance. That said, I'm ok with it because it was hot that day and a very tough race. No matter what the time was, I felt strong and successful and that's what really matters.

Technically I was 3rd age group, although there were only 5 of us. Hence the ribbon.

Following the run, PCTR had tons of food including cheeseburgers and beer. It was a laid back event with fun people and easy logistics. I'll definitely do more PCTR races based on this one, and I'm happy this is the same company that organizes the Skyline to the Sea 50K.

 Medal close-up.

Beer me.

Love the soft cotton race shirts!

That's it. Bring on more trail running, please!

10 July 2015

My Fall Goal

It's been ages since I've talked about goals on the blog, but that doesn't mean I don't have a big one in mind. You may remember that I bailed on my main goal last year due to injury, and that's the one I'm chasing again for 2015: my first 50K.

I'm signed up for the Skyline to the Sea 50K on October 10, 2015. I chose this one because it's close to home (I can sleep in my own bed!), it's mostly single track trail through a canopy of Redwood trees, and it's a point-to-point journey. The fact that Kevin can take me to the start and pick me up at the finish helps a ton, and I'll know many people from the Bay Area run community there too. The course is a net downhill as the name suggests, with about 3000 feet of gain and 5000 feet loss. There are definitely rocky parts that make the downhill not so runnable, but I'll see more of what I'm dealing with in the coming weeks. People love and recommend this event so I'm excited!

While building mileage for the SF Marathon in the past few weeks, I've really had the 50K goal on my mind. Almost all of my long runs have been on trail with good climbing challenges, and I'm running a lot of trail for weekday runs as well. The trails are my happy place, so you could say I'm a happier person and runner overall! The SF Marathon on July 26 will be a long run for me but not a goal race; I want to keep the pace comfortable and have no plans to go after a marathon PR. My big hope is that running so far on pavement doesn't kill my recovery time too much. Perhaps I shouldn't be running a road marathon right now, but I love the SFM events and have yet to run the marathon so I want to run it already.

As part of training for the 50K, I'm planning to run the Headlands Marathon on September 12. I'll use that as a supported long training run, thought it could end up being harder than the 50K itself based on the 5000 feet of climbing! I know this going in, and my love of running in the Headlands has always made me want to do one of the long events there; this is one of the only marathon distances in that location that isn't a double loop of a half marathon course.

Tomorrow I'll be running the Golden Gate 30K as my last long run before the marathon, and I've enjoyed many trails in the last few weeks during SFM training. The scenery is nothing short of inspiring and I feel so lucky to live where we do. Here are a few highlights!

 Part of the Western States trail at Squaw Valley.

 Flowers along the trail at Squaw.

Nicole running at Squaw with mountain views.

 Along the Miwok climb during a Headlands long run.

 Catherine in Steven's Creek County Park.

 Kevin and Eddie in Fremont Older.

Kevin and I at the highest point of Fremont Older.

Phoenix Park in San Anselmo with a few Oiselle ladies.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?

29 June 2015

Ragnar Wasatch Back Recap

Ragnar Wasatch Back is now one of my favorite relay experiences ever. The views along the course were gorgeous, and it was very challenging. Between being at altitude, the hills, and the 90+ degree weather, it was definitely the hardest relay I've run so far. And I loved every minute of it!

I arrived in Salt Lake City on Thursday morning, where a few of my teammates met me at my gate because they'd arrived earlier. We greeted two more teammates, grabbed the vans, and headed over to our hotel to start the weekend. After a trip to Target for the essentials (you know, sunscreen, Cheez Its, Pop Tarts...) we relaxed for a while and then went to dinner downtown at Squatters Pub to try some Utah beer. It was great to stay at one hotel with the whole team and to have time with the van one ladies, who we wouldn't see much during the race itself.

I was in van two, so we were able to sleep in on Friday morning. And boy, sleep in we did! We didn't wake up until about 9 am, at which point we got dressed and went to Perkins for breakfast. We had plenty of time before we met van one to start running, so we hung out at the hotel until we had to check out at noon and then decorated the vans. We had lunch at a good deli near Ogden, took photos along the pretty road to exchange 6, and hung out for a while after we arrived. It was unbelievably hot, so we basically spent as much time in the van A/C as possible before going to wait at the exchange.

Stopping for the view while driving.

Exchange 6 in Liberty, Utah.

The handoff to Robyn. And off we went.

I was runner 8, and my first distance was 7.2 miles. It was still very hot, hot enough that I ran in a sports bra (highly unusual for me!) My route had nice views but was along a really busy road for a while. Overall I ran well for the heat and was happy with how it went. I handed off to Farron, who then got to climb a big hill up to the pass. 

 Loving the mountain views.

 Almost done!

And...done. Farron taking it away.

Our van headed to the next exchange, which was at the top of Snowbasin ski area. Farron had a 7.8 mile climb to get there, but the view from the top was awesome and she rocked it. 

Farron coming into the exchange.

From here Jess took on an 8 mile run back down from Snowbasin, but the darkness prevented any photos. Marilyn and Kate followed Jess, at which point it was finally time for food. FINALLY.

Thank goodness for the pizza being sold at exchange 12.

I couldn't believe our first round of running didn't end until midnight, but that's how it worked out. We drove to exchange 18 and had a rather luxurious sleeping arrangement for a Ragnar event; we were escorted into a classroom with carpet and had our own little corner and desks to keep important things (like glasses...) safe. It was fantastic.  We slept for about 3 hours before getting back up to start the next run. 

Our next set of legs was pretty short and it passed much faster than the first. I ran 2.9 miles just as the sun was rising, and I felt great. Again, the mountain views were making me a happy girl while running and even while driving.

 Jess coming into the exchange.

Matching hoodies by the van. 

Before we knew it, we were back on runner 12 and almost done with round 2. We met up with van one again at the exchange, and when they headed out we went to find a place to rest. 

Wendy, Marilyn, Jess, Farron, Robyn, Leana, and me at the exchange.

Kate bring it in for van two.

During our second break, we enjoyed the cheap breakfast of pancakes and eggs at exchange 25 and rested there for a couple of hours. By the time we arrived at exchange 30, it was a complete zoo. Exchange 30 was at Park City HS, and the runner coming in had some single track trail on their route. You could say I was a little...or insanely...jealous. As it turns out, a few people on van one had trails! Even though I enjoyed the overall course, my routes themselves were pretty darn boring in comparison.

Luisa arriving at exchange 30, teammates pointing. One of my fave photos.

From here, Robyn took off on the 10.7 mile 'Ragnar Hill' climb up to the pass. Driving up to the next exchange made me wish I'd run that leg despite how hard I'm sure it was - it was gorgeous and I would much rather climb than run the downhill that came next for me. Robyn did an awesome job and then handed off to me to take it back down.

One of the views up to the exchange.

My next leg was 4.2 miles all downhill, and it was miserable. It was way too steep and it was relentless; by the time I finished my body felt terrible. Even worse, the exchange where I started the run was a mess and I almost got backed over by a van when I was trying to run the stated route. Yikes! This was part of the change to this year's course, and I hope they do a better job with it next year. At least I had a couple of fun photos from the Ragnar photographer on this one.

Farron picked up where I left off and continued the steep downhill for a while. While waiting for her, I was on the ground with the Tiger Tail desperately trying to loosen the muscle in the front/side of my left shin because it was seriously cramped. I was actually angry at Ragnar for the dumb downhill at that point in time. Jess and Marilyn ran next, and then it was time for Kate to bring us into the finish line. 

Marilyn finishing her last leg.

After Kate started her run we headed straight to the finish line, but traffic was really tough. I honestly didn't think we'd make it before she finished (somehow we did!) In a frenzy, we met up with van one and managed to get to the arch with a few minutes to spare and were able to finish as a team. Our finish time was 32 hours, 52 minutes, 25 seconds. It's slower than any other relay I've done due to the difficulty, but that was true for all teams.

Team Bird Machine! (Left to right: Farron, Jess, Robyn, me, Marilyn, Wendy, Emily, Luisa, Jess, Leana, Kate, and Emma.)

At the finish, they gave us free Little Caesar's pizzas which van two happily ate. Van one had already showered and eaten before they came back to the finish area. We hung out for a little while, although not too long because it was once again very hot. 

Van two, they told us to flex.

The finish was at the cross country ski resort that held the Olympic Winter Games.

Following the race, all 12 of us stayed in a condo together at the Canyons Resort. I've never done this after a relay before, and I'm so glad we did; we had more time to spend with the other van and time to celebrate as a team. I hope to do this again in the future.

Hanging out at the condo for beer post-race.

Together, the medals make a design.

Overall, I loved the weekend with these ladies and the location of the relay. That said, the new course for Wasatch Back doesn't sound as good as the old one based on what I've heard. It had a lot of changes between the time we signed up and started, the final course not being set until 7 pm on Thursday. That was the day before the race! My total mileage dropped by about 3 miles which I didn't love either. The exchange after the new Ragnar Hill had serious traffic delays and no parking, and the traffic delays at the finish almost made us miss our team finish. Hopefully Ragnar will take feedback from the survey to improve these new elements before next year.

Now for the best part: we finished 7th overall for Women and 3rd out of 35 teams in Women's Open. That was completely unexpected and I'm pumped about it. I can't wait for the Ragnar prize relay batons to arrive!