Monday, July 30, 2012

San Francisco Won Me Over: San Francisco 5k

Saturday at the Golden Gate Vista Point

The getaway house

I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend in Los Gatos and San Francisco.  A friend from my running blogging community was in town for the weekend, and offered to pick me up from Santa Cruz and take me to San Francisco.  While I have spent now two summers in Santa Cruz, I had yet to visit SF, so I jumped at the opportunity.  Plus, the SF Marathon/Half/5k races were on Sunday.  The half was a bit expensive ($110), but I felt like I could afford the 5k.  Why not - it would be a great way to see the town and catch up with some friends.
We had an amazing weekend.  We spent Friday night and Saturday morning in Santa Cruz, and I got to show off my UCSC trails.  Then, we headed out to SF for the day, both to go to the expo and to do some sight seeing.  It was great going over the Golden Gate Bridge, and stopping to see the town.  So beautiful!  I had never been there before, and I really enjoyed exploring another new city and part of the country.
The Golden Gate Bridge was so beautiful!
It was also great at the house we stayed at.  My friend's brother-in-law has a lot of money and has built an ellegant summer home.  We enjoyed the hot tub, the view, everything!  It definitely allowed for a relaxing weekend, and got everyone relaxed and ready to go for the race.  We even did a pasta dinner (w/gluten free spaghetti), which was a lot of fun.
Look for the yellow shoes...working my way to the front
I woke up on my own just minutes before my 4:40AM alarm went off, which I took to be a good sign.  I was amazed at how just a couple of good nights sleep (improved from last week, which was very hectic at work) could do the trick.  We pretty much rolled out of bed and got in the car, and ate breakfast on the road.  I had more than enough extra time to warm up and get settled in.  The weather was perfect: 55, cloudy, a little misty, and just a little wind.  I got in my 2.5 mile warm up, and took my place at the start.  I had looked at the result times from the past few years, and figured that I was likely to place in the top 10, so I might as well take a spot near the front.  There were only a few girls who "looked fast," so I was fairly optimistic.  While I have been running regularly, I haven't done any track work and was not looking to PR.  After all, 19:39 only came after months of hard and intentional work.
The gun went off, and when I went to start my watch, the memory was full!  I had forgotten to clear it.  Silly me (seriously - this is the 3rd watch issue I've had in a race).  Oh well.  I decided to just run by feel, which has worked before, and see what happens.
I quickly found myself in about 5th place, and felt really good.  At this point, it was my goal to get in the top 3, and take it from there.  Within the first mile, I was in third, and feeling like I still had another gear to move.  Then, I moved to second place, and was within 100 feet of first.  Oh my gosh, could I actually win this race?  I've only won one race before, which was really cool, but it would be amazing to do it again.
I really felt that while the pace was hard, it wasn't grueling, and that I could shift gears a bit.  I finally pushed hard enough that about halfway through the race (remember, I am running by feel, not checking mile markers or anything), I took the lead.  Man oh man, I hope I can keep this, this feels awesome.  I could hear a woman breathing behind me, but she wasn't right on my shoulder.  I felt like rather than pressing the pace, I should just hold steady, and if she kicks, I'll have enough energy to respond.  But she didn't, and I could hear her less and less.  Finally, we had a turnaround, and at this point, I could see that I had at least 100 feet between me and the next woman.  And the people on the other side of the turnaround started to yell, "First woman" and clap their hands for me.  I'm not going to lie - that felt good and was encouragement for me to keep going.  I peeked back a couple of times (which I know tactically is bad, but I wanted to make sure I was keeping first place - I was not going to have anyone blow by me).  As I could see the finish line in the distance, I was getting excited, as I could actually envision myself winning the race.  And while there was no tape to hit as I crossed the finish line, I yelled out a huge "YEAH!" while I finished because not only did I win the race, I PRed!
19:33 (6:18 pace)
1st woman out of 618
19th overall out of 1018
A marathoner, a 5k winner, and a half marathoner all walk into a bar...
Oh my gosh, what a cool feeling!  I had won a race in San Francisco and PRed at the same time.  I was so happy.  There was no one at the finish who I knew, but it didn't matter - I was smiling all the same.  I then wanted to make sure that I got in my 12 miles for the day, so I ran around the pier/wharf area for over an hour.  No music, nobody else, just a little inner knowledge that I had accomplished something pretty cool in the morning.  It was my own private tour of SF, and I just took it all in, with a little smile. I then met up with some of my friends (including one who ran a 1:34 half), and gleefully told them about my victory.  We all went to the award ceremony, where I was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers, and an IOU about a plaque.  I've never won a plaque before, so that will be cool.  And Mr. Peanut presented me with my award.  After that, I caught up with more friends, including a breast cancer survivor who finished the marathon in 4:46.  We had a great time just celebrating each other's accomplishments.  After we left San Francisco, we did lunch at an In and Out (a burger place on the West Coast), which tasted so good!  Then when we arrived at the Los Gatos house, we did some relaxing in the hot tub and enjoyed a little California wine.
Big smile after the award ceremony
What an amazing experience.  One of my favorite things about a good race is then catching up with my important people: parents, grandparents, boyfriend, best friend - even though they weren't physically there to share in the experience, I chatted with them and they shared in my joy.  Somehow, it means more when others are excited too.  Having that support system in place can really make a difference.  I tend to make an effort to also talk to my loved ones the night before a race, in order to relax and settle down, and I do believed that it has helped my performances on race day.
It is hard to articulate in words how I am feeling right now.  There is a ton of joy.  My day turned out so much better than I could have expected, in part because I surpassed all of my own expectations.  The whole weekend was amazing.  San Francisco won me over...and I won it back!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Find your strength and the extra mile

You know I must be busy because it has been over 2 weeks since my last blog.  Ah well.  Some running stories got lost in the shuffle, others will fit in here.

The UC Santa Cruz campus is hilly...understatement of the year.  It is not a college on a hill, it is a hill.  Where I am staying is at the top, so, whenever you go down for a run, you always have to remember to save enough energy to come back up again!  Last year, when I first arrived to Santa Cruz, I struggled to adjust to the hills.  And I had done hill training before, but this was something new.  And I found an excerpt from a post I wrote last year:

But the hills I am dealing with here in Santa Cruz are like nothing I have ever seen before. In Boston, the hills are hard. I know this, I have conquered the Boston Marathon twice. But honestly, the hills in Santa Cruz make the Newton Hills look almost easy. I have now been humbled in California. To run the perimeter of campus, you both descend and ascend 600 feet during a 5 mile loop. I supplement this with a 5 mile out and back run to Wilder State Park and back.

The first few weeks I was here, I would get so fatigued from the climbs, that I would have to walk for a minute midway. Walk? Me? I haven't walked during a run for years. It seemed as if that was the only way: I just needed a moment's rest before continuing on.

But things have finally clicked! Conditioning takes time! And now, I can take to these hills with some semblance of speed. I have been here 5 week exactly, and it was just a week ago that I felt as if I finally got the hang of these hills.

This year, things have been a bit different.  While the hills presented some challenges in the beginning, it took much less time time to adapt to the hills.  I never needed to walk, and some of the long climbs have not proved to be as debilitating as last year.  The last year must've really helped condition me, because I thought I would need to re-learn how to train/run in Santa Cruz.  I really surprised myself - I did not expect that I would feel this good already.

I have been having some really good weekend runs.  As per usual, I do some sort of tempo run on Saturday and then a long run on Sunday.  On Saturday, I had a 10 mile run of 5 miles easy (8:30 pace), followed by 5 miles moderate (7:30ish).  Overall, I was pleased with the run - I felt like I was able to do the steep climbs with relative ease.  Last week, I had a good fartlek run when I was running close to 6:00 pace for 10 x 90 second bursts.  And likewise, this one felt strong as well.  While these paces, in terms of numbers, are nothing to write about, but the feelings of strength and power that accompany them do feel significant.

In terms of my summer camp, our first session ended on Friday and our second session began on Sunday.  The interim period, known as intersession, is really busy because within 48 hours, one session ends and another begins.  Nonetheless, the 10 mile run made it in (even after a late night showing of Dark Knight Rises), and I was hoping that on Sunday morning, I would be able to get in my 12 mile long run - the longest run I've done since April.  Saturday night workwise picked up considerably, and I kept looking at that 12 mile run on Sunday with some doubt and trepidation.  After all, I had to be at work for Opening Day at 9AM, could I really fit the long run in before then?  I was chatting about it with a friend/colleague, and was saying that I might just cut it down to 10 miles.  Her response: "What is the difference, really?  You just need another 15 minutes or so to get it done."  After all, I don't really ever chicken out on runs.  And while I knew I was going to be cutting sleep in place of the run, I didn’t want to chicken out.  I left my office at midnight, slept for about 5.5 hours, and then got up for the 12 mile run before Opening Day of Session 2.  6AM in Santa Cruz in not necessarily dark, but it is foggy.  It certainly made things feel extra quiet.  As I started to trot out, I felt tired and a little sore, and 12 miles seemed like a long way to go.  I got through my warm-up, running through the woods for 2.5 miles.  I then turned onto this really steep road – I tried to take a picture to show how steep it was, but it didn’t do justice.  I was really just hoping my quads would carry me through this part.  Parts were slow-going – I was not concerned about pace, but I was getting through it.  And I got so lost in the run tht in this stretch of the run (my long runs are run on a few parts of Santa Cruz: trails, roads, and the perimeter road of UCSC), that I added on a little bit extra.  I headed back to the woods for the 2.5 back, and felt like I was finally starting to wake up.
It is times like that when I know I am a distance runner – because it can take a few miles or up to 20-30 minutes for me to warm up or wake up.  For some people, that would be enough time of a whole workout, but for me, it can take a while to settle in.  I’ve had people ask, because on race day and speed workouts, I always do a 2.5 mile warm up (roughly 20 mintues), and people say, “isn’t that a bit long?” No – it really does do the job for getting my legs moving.
But I digress.  The last part of my run is the perimeter of the campus – 5 miles.  It goes downhill for 2.5, and then is followed by a steep climb back to the top for 2.5 miles.  I call it the anti-gravity campus: because what goes down must come back up.  I was really starting to move at this point, and felt like I was really conquering the run.  The whole thing felt so cleansing - I was working through stress from work and really putting it all behind me.  The climb to the top of campus is quite spectacular, and I was taking in all of it.  
I emerged from the run not having done the planned 12, which I had even thought of cutting down to 10...but 13.4 miles.  Over a half marathon done before 8AM, giving me more than enough time to clean up and go to work to open the second session of my camp.
All in all, I got in 45 miles - the most I've run in a week since April.  I found inner strength to take on the hills of Santa Cruz, and was rewarded with some spectacular views.  I really feel fortunate to be running here, because this job gives me 7 weeks of great places to train.  The hills are so hard, but they really do teach me a lot about conditioning and toughening up.  I found strength from within and went the extra mile, literally.  While the times and paces of these runs may not be especially noteworthy, they've taught me a lot about pushing through and finding new layers of strength and strong.  It is my hope that with more intentional speed work down the road (pun intended), it will all coalesce into some good fall races.
In the meanwhile, getting very excited about my Northern California running weekend!  Meeting up with some runners and running the San Francisco 5k on Sunday.  Looking forward to my West Coast/San Fran debut!
This was while kayaking in Santa Cruz

Me and my friend Katie on our day off
Finally, just putting in a few pictures from Santa Cruz, including of beach day and kayaking day (both a lot of fun).  Again, feeling very fortunate that I get to be here for 7 weeks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Base Training Camp and Olympic-Sized Dreams

Short of moving somewhere with altitude and an official olympic training center, I feel like I've hit the motherload in terms of places to run.  I arrived in Santa Cruz, California on June 24th for a seven-week stint.  I am the Academic Dean of a summer program for gifted children.  It is an awesome program, and this is my seventh year working for it.  Last summer, I had the opportunity to get transformed to our Santa Cruz site, and loved it so much that I requested to stay at this site.
I have to admit, things are going really well here.  The kids arrived on Sunday, and we have been very busy with classes ranging from engineering to writing to game theory to philosophy.  I've been really pleased with my staff and team, and while things are crazy busy, I also feel really fulfilled with my work.  It can feel stressful at times, but I also find myself so energized from it all.
And it doesn't hurt that Santa Cruz is absolutely gorgeous.  I feel bad saying this, since the rest of the country is burning up, but it is nice and cool here.  It has been in the 50s in the morning, with some fog, and then the fog burns off and the weather is beautiful.  And the view doesn't hurt either.  There are some amazing trails right on campus (we are operating out of UCSC and I am living on campus too), literally, right in my back yard.  I feel incredibly fortunate, because it seems like I moved into the sea-level equivalent of Mammoth Lakes (which houses one of the power-house running training camps).  Additionally, the gym facilities on campus are pretty good.  On Thursday I got into the outdoor pool for a nice 2000 meter swim.  While there is still that black line at the bottom, it is a lot more fun to swim in an outdoor pool.  I also even got a tan while swimming - I guess the sun reflected a lot.  But I was really loving it.
And I am getting in some good base miles.  While I didn't start official training until Monday, it has been great to just get in some good runs.  So maybe I have pretended that this is training camp for me.  After all, the kids are at camp for the summer - why shouldn't I?
I've also taken a lot of inspiration from the Olympic Trials as well.  I was so happy for Dathan Ritzenheim and Amy Hastings, who had both came in 4th at the Marathon Trials in January, that they finally punched their tickets to London.  They went back to the drawing board, trained and adjusted for 5 months, and then finally earned their Olympic status.  Talk about a dream come true.
Right before I left for California, I read Dara Torres’ book.  While I am a new swimmer and other than Michael Phelps, it is fun to read about a sport and hear someone describe the training.  Her story is really inspiring – she’s gone to 5 Olympic Games and earned 12 medals.  I was sad to hear that she didn’t qualify for London, but you can still take a lot from her.  She has made multiple comebacks, proving that despite aging, you can still compete with the best.

While I am just watching London from afar, I think we can all have Olympic sized dreams.  I am hoping for my own form of redepmption – particularly with my dissertation proposal.  I am currently back at the drawing board – doing some research and brainstorming.  I have no medal or ticket to ABD (all but dissertation status), but it is in the future, and like it must’ve been for Dathan and Amy, redemption will be so sweet.