April 26, 2010

Ragnarly Recap

I apologize in advance for a long, probably disjointed recap of this weekend.  The occurrence of events is a huge blur and I'm struggling to put it all into words - what a crazy experience!

I think my experience with the Ragnar Relay can be best summarized by their tagline: Run. Drive. Sleep? Repeat.

Going into this thing, I didn't think the running was going to be very difficult for me.  I was only doing a total of 14.6 miles, with a solid 8-12 hour break between legs - and turns out I was right!

Our team started at 7am in Ventura.  I started my first run just before noon, and it was a short 2.8 mile route through Camarillo.  Even though I promised myself I would take all of my runs easy with the marathon approaching, I started out pretty fast, because let's be real here, who wouldn't run fast for only 2.8 miles?  I finished the first mile in 8:17, and then I came to a hill and slowed down quite a bit.  All of the route distances, elevation profiles, etc were in the Ragmag, but the tiny bump in the elevation profile was deceiving, and the hill turned out to be a bit brutal, gaining 160 ft in less than half a mile.  Thank you trail runs!

The parrot all ready to go, and finishing my first leg!

My favorite run was my second leg that started at 12:57 in the morning.  This was a 6.1 mile route mostly through Beverly Hills.  I was a bit nervous for the night run since I had already heard a few horror stories about bums and running completely alone through wooded parks, but thankfully I had a pretty stellar route and I felt safe the entire time.  I was also slightly nervous for this run because it was part of the "hillier than thought" LA marathon route, and a girl in my van had run the LA marathon and was telling me how the hills I was about to run on totally sucked.

Here I am all excited to go at 1am! Reflective vest, headlamp, and blinking butt light for safety!

I took off fairly fast again, and was having a blast running in the dark.  There was something about running at 1am, in the dark, that was really exciting.  The few drunk people I encountered on Sunset Blvd were harmless and entertaining, and I was enjoying the surroundings.  Once I got to Santa Monica Blvd I came across another girl who was running about my pace and we decided to stay together for safety reasons.  We pushed each other up the hills (which weren't bad at all!), and she helped me keep my pace fairly fast and steady.  I also had additional motivation because I knew Nina was volunteering at the exchange until 2am - so I needed to get there before she left!  We passed 13 people, ran the last mile at 8:13 pace, and I made it to the exchange before 2am!  I still don't know exactly what it was, but this run make the whole experience worth it to me, and I had a mega runner's high.

By the time I had my last run around 9am the next morning, I was feeling pretty crappy, and dreading having to run again...but excited I was about to be done.  My last leg was a 5.7 mile route through Seal Beach.  Right as I was about to take off, I saw Andee, who then cheered for me when her team drove by to find their runner up ahead.  So nice to see her, and wow was her team fast!  They started 7 hours after my team and were passing us with about 1/3 of the relay left - amazing!  Anyway, like all of the other legs I had run, I started out a bit fast.  However, this time, my fatigued legs were not having it.  I totally shut down after about a mile.  Bonktastic.  I struggled to finish the last 4ish miles of this run and fought with myself not to walk.  

Finishing up my last leg - DONE!

A fun, and sometimes frustrating part of the relay was navigating the course in our huge 15-passenger vans.  Thankfully, I was able to program all of the GPS coordinates of the exchange locations into my GPS, and we only got slightly lost a few times.  I highly recommend doing this, and being very familiar with the route.  We saw a few runners who had gotten to the next exchange, but the runner they were supposed to hand off to (and van) were MIA.  That would totally suck!

One of my favorite parts of the relay was seeing all of the decorated vans with all of the creative team names. There were some great team names, and van decorations...everything from "The Vangina" to the "we eat our feelings" van with food wrappers attached to it.

Being the "Jungle Janes," we decorated our van with a jungle theme.

I am also very glad that each of our vans had a designated van driver, who drove the entire time so that none of us that were running had to worry about driving, too.

What sleep?  The lack of sleep was definitely what made the relay difficult, and is what took a toll on all of us.  I heard a few people say that this relay was harder than running a marathon, and I think the lack of sleep and sitting around in a van for hours has a lot to do with it.  

Thursday night, those of us in the first van that had to go to the starting line only got about 4 hours of sleep.  We didn't get everyone picked up, the vans decorated, and to the Motel 6 in Ventura until about 1am, and had to be to the starting line to check in at 6am Friday to be ready for our 7am start.  I was tired and we hadn't even started the relay yet!  Bleh!

People trying to get some sleep on the Santa Monica pier around 2am.

After everyone in the first van finished running, we met the 2nd van at the first major exchange where it would then be their turn to run, and we would get a break.  This exchange happened around 1pm - and were projected to be at the 2nd major exchange around 7pm.  This gave us about 5 hours of free time since we'd want to get to the exchange a bit early.  By the time we sat down and ate an actual meal, got to the house we'd be "sleeping" at, and factored in driving time to the next exchange, we were able to get about 2 hours of sleep.  And we had even less time before our 3rd and final van switch, resulting in about an hour of sleep.  So going into my last leg, you can imagine why I may have felt like total crap, and started having some pretty bad stomach issues.

Not a flattering picture, but I'm willing to sacrifice my good looks to sum up exactly how I was feeling at that point :-)

And to think I was on a SLOW team (aka we got a lot more rest time than fast teams)!  Not sure how they did it.  Kudoos to them.

I've been asked about 10 times already if I would do this again next year.  Heck yes!  So much so that I've totally lost my mind and want to be on a 6 person "ultra" team.  Recruiting in progress.  And now that I've done this once, I've learned some valuable lessons and hope to make the next time an even better experience.

The Finish.
My team ended up finishing the 200.6 miles in just a few minutes over 35 hours - making our average pace around 10:30 min/mile.  Not bad!  I'm extremely proud of our team for pulling this whole thing off.  It involved TONS of planning and we were able to make it to the finish pretty smoothly.  Our team was also very diverse.  Hardly any of us had ever met each other, only a few people had run further than a half marathon before, and we even had a girl who had never ran outside before, or more than 6 miles, and didn't know what a marathon was!  You can imagine the look on my face when I found this out as she was about to head out on her 7.7 mile run!  But really, super impressed with my n00b team's relay skills.

Here we all are at the finish with our wonderful van drivers!  Yeah Jungle Janes!

And I think this could quite possibly be the most amazing race medal ever!  Ragnar sure knows how to make their runners happy :-)

What an amazing experience.  There were some fantastic highlights, and definitely some low points, but it was all worth it, and I can't wait to do it again!

April 14, 2010

OMG, Shoes!

Yesterday, I bought new running shoes.  Not because I found a flashy new pair I wanted, or because I didn't like the ones I had, but because I actually wore them out!  This is a first for me, and it's also the first pair of shoes that mean something to me - as dumb as that sounds.

I found it a little annoying to buy the EXACT same pair of shoes, but I really liked them, and with the marathon in about 2.5 weeks, I had a slight fear of changing the shoes I had just spent 3.5 months training with.  Also, since they're an "endangered shoe," I got a sweet discount - looks like next time I'll have to try something different.

Leave it to a new, bright white pair of shoes to make you realize how worn and dirty the old ones have become.

Now, I've kept old tennis shoes before, but that's because they're still in fairly decent condition and I can use them for pick-up games of basketball, kickball, biking around, going for walks, etc, and when it gets to that point, I don't think I would have an issue throwing them away.  In this case, I feel like I'm in some weird limbo of not knowing if I should keep these shoes or get rid of them.  They're old, dirty, run down shoes that no longer serve much purpose, yet I feel some sort of nostalgia for them.  They were with me when I broke the 2 hour barrier in a half marathon, they took me up some ridiculous, beautiful, trails I never thought I'd ever be running on, and most importantly to me, they were the shoes I used to start training for my very first marathon.

After years of shaking my head, I think I finally understand why my dad still has t-shirts and shoes from significant marathons and various other races dating back to the 1970s, even though you can practically see through some of the shirts they're so old, and the shoes have ridiculous leather patches (if I remember correctly, he still takes these out for a run on occasion) or soles mended with a hot glue gun.

I remain in shoe limbo.  I feel too attached to my shoes to just throw them in the trash.  Yet it seems asinine to keep smelly, dirty shoes - and this is just one pair, what happens when I've accumulated dozens?!  Maybe I will use the old shoes for the occasional trail run I do, since they're already dirty.  Or maybe they'll find a permanent home in the plastic bin in my closet, taking up space...next to my dusty track spikes (hey, you never know when you'll need those again!).

Do other people feel this way?  What do you do with your old shoes?

April 12, 2010

Gearing Up for the Ragnar Relay

Next Friday and Saturday, I will be running the LA Ragnar Relay as part of a 12 girl team.  The relay starts in Ventura Friday morning and ends in Dana Point some time on Saturday depending on your pace, totaling 199.9 miles.  Each person runs three legs, with each leg ranging anywhere from just over 2 miles to just under 10 miles.  The minimum total mileage any one person will run is 12.4 miles and the most is 21.3 miles.  There are 282 teams registered this year - which include all girl teams, all guy teams, coed teams, old people teams, corporate teams, and there are also the crazy people who are on "ultra" teams of up to 6 people, who then cover about double the distance!  You'll also see the occasional nut case who decides to run the entire thing by their self - no thanks.

Since this is all taking place the week before my first marathon and I will be deep into taper madness, I opted for lower mileage and will be running a total of 14.7 miles - with individual legs of 2.8 miles, 6.2 miles, and 5.7 miles, which will take me through the cities of Camarillo, Beverly Hills, and Seal Beach at various hours of the day and night!

I'm super excited for this relay, but the whole thing is more complicated than you'd think, and has involved a TON of organization.  Props to our team leaders!  We've had to rent 2 vans and find van drivers, adapt to multiple changes in the route (which involved losing people, and finding new people last minute due to mileage increases), find ourselves 3 volunteers so we didn't have to pay extra money, organize all of our safety gear (reflective vests, headlamps, tail lights, etc.), find places to "sleep" along the course, determine an accurate estimate of how fast everyone will be able to run, and so on...but most importantly, we had to get our costumes all figured out!

My team decided on the theme "Jungle Janes" and we will all be dressed as a different jungle animal.  Now you don't have to dress up for the relay...but who wouldn't?!  Boring people, and we're not boring :-)  Also, when you're running, and sleep deprived, I bet watching monkeys and tigers and frogs running through neighborhoods at all hours of the day will be quite entertaining (it's not a closed course, and we probably won't be running with a ton of other people at any given time, so I hope to attract some awkward stares).  So please keep an eye out for a monkey, tree frog, butterfly, zebra, giraffe, peacock, turtle, avatar, lion, cheetah, tiger, and, my costume, a PARROT!  I'm not entirely sure if a parrot is a "jungle animal" but it sounded like a great idea at the time.

Last night, I realized I better get going with this whole costume making business and went to the local Jo-Ann and picked up some stellar supplies.  A few creative hours later, the parrot was born!  Feast your eyes on this epic creation.  I just realized I actually ate some crackers while wearing this, too.  How fitting!

Anyway, yes, it is ridiculous, but I'm okay with that!  The best part, is that the parrot masterpiece is not quite done!  I'm brainstorming ways to make "wings" and haven't quite figured out what color shirt I'm going to wear, or if I'm going to wear my black compression socks to look more like parrot legs.  You will just have to wait for the relay recap to see the final design!  In the meantime, I'm thinking about buying a webcam and wearing my masterpiece while I hang out on Chatroulette.  Might be a good warm-up for the reactions I'm going to get while wearing it running through Beverly Hills at midnight :-)

One day into my taper, and I may have already lost my mind.  Oh well.  Can't wait to share how the relay goes!

April 11, 2010

Twenty Great Miles!

Yesterday was my second 20 mile run, and last loooong run before the marathon!  Only 3 weeks away and I'm finally starting to get excited :-)

If you remember my first 20 mile run, it didn't go the greatest.  I took a lot of breaks, and although the running only took me about 3.5 hours, I was out on the "course" for almost 5 hours.  This time around went SO much better for various reasons.

First off, I ran the first 10 miles with a group of people.  Earlier this week, Dylan pointed me to a meet-up group called "OC Runners" who were planning to run 10 miles around the Back Bay Saturday morning.  Perfect!  I showed up Saturday morning and was welcomed by a group of about 10 friendly runners who were happy to hear I was there to run with them.

Most of the runners were a bit faster than me since I was going to be doing the 10 mile loop twice, so I stayed back a bit.  I started the run around 9:30 min/mile pace and realized I needed to force myself to slow down so I could make it the whole 20 miles without a ridiculous amount of stops again.  Remember, goal for this 20 was consistency, not speed.  There were two girls in the group running behind me at about 10:30 pace so after a few miles I dropped back and joined them.  They were a ton of fun to talk to (one lady just moved here from MN in July, too!) and the pace we were running felt very easy and comfortable.  Before I knew it, we were already back to the start!  My legs felt amazing at this point, and I couldn't wait to go back out for another loop.  I talked with the group a bit, ate a honey and peanut butter uncrustable, and headed right back out!

This leads me to reason number two this run went well.  I forced myself to run slower than my usual pace.  Unless I'm doing crazy trail runs, my natural, comfortable pace is around 9:15-30 min/mile.  When I go out for really long runs, I always tend to stick to this pace and forget I'm running way further than my usual 5-8 mile weekday runs.  Once I started running with the two girls, my pace slowed to around 10:30 and I maintained a 10:15-11:00 min pace for the remainder of the run.  I felt amazing until about mile 15 when my legs started to get fatigued, and the pain started kicking in about 3 miles later.  BUT, by going slower, I only made a total of 4 stops - none of which were because I felt like I couldn't run anymore.  Hooray!

Next, the trail runs I've been torturing myself with have made the "hills" on the road feel easy.  With the ridiculous hills I've been running on lately for all of these trail races I decided to do for some reason, the little hills I encountered on this route felt like nothing!  I hope to keep doing at least one trail run a week for this reason...and I have a goal to be able to do a whole run in El Moro without walking, but that may take a while.

Lastly, the weather was perfect!  When I did my last 20 miler, I didn't start until about 11 am, and it ended up being a very hot and sunny day with temps in the 80s.  Yesterday was overcast and cool.  The entire run I only drank one water bottle full, compared to 3-4 refills last time.  I think this definitely made a huge difference and I really hope the weather stays cool for the marathon!

I finished the 20.08 miles yesterday in 3:32:59 and only made about 20-30 minutes worth of stops.  I was so happy and felt great afterwards.  I know the last 6.2 miles of the marathon will be painful, and I will undoubtedly be slow, but after this run I'm finally confident that I can finish - it's a great feeling :-)

T-minus 3 weeks until the marathon; it's officially TAPER TIME!  I hope I don't go crazy!

Garmin Connect info: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/29697563

April 5, 2010

Sycamore Canyon 18k Recap

Since it seemed like everyone else was running the 30k or 50k at Sycamore Canyon this weekend, I thought I'd show the 18k some love and run that one...of course it had nothing to do with my physical capabilities, in fact, the bionic woman who got 3rd overall in the 50k with a time of 4:28:xx better be happy I didn't sign up!

In all seriousness, I was looking forward to this race more than any other race yet this year.  I was finally going to meet a lot of the people I talk to daily on Twitter, and I only had to run about 11 miles on a beautiful trail, where walking is justified :)  After swearing off trail runs after finishing the Buffalo Run, I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me that I keep signing up for trail races, and I think I figured it out: I can walk and not feel bad about it.  And, of course, the people are pretty awesome and chill.

I woke up not ridiculously early, around 6am, got ready and started on my 1.5 hour jaunt to Sycamore Canyon.  On my way out of the parking lot I found my first tweep, Stuart!  I was surprised to hear he had an accent, who knew?  I must not have downloaded that Twitter app.

Soon, everyone had congregated near the start, and I saw tons of familiar faces.  Billy got a random fella to take this picture of all of us!  And I have to agree with Billy, what a great looking group of people!

From left to right, Stuart, me, Dave, Billy, Josh, Emil, Kristin, Colin, and Andee

We were all so busy talking that we failed to realize it was 8:28 and the race started in 2 minutes.  Crap, I still had to go to the bathroom.  The race started, and I was just getting to the bathroom.  Because of this, I literally started the race dead last.  I've never done this before, and it wasn't a great feeling since I knew single-track was coming up within the first mile and I wouldn't be passing many people.  Oh well, next time I'll pay more attention, and I'm not really sure how or when passing many people happened, but I ended up finishing 54/80ish so I must've done something right!

The beginning of the first climb wasn't too bad.  I was still running, and my legs didn't have that awful heavy feeling they've had lately.  Nearing the end of the single track, though, the trail literally went straight up!  I started walking, and just walking was proving to be difficult - uffdah!  The guy in front of me was mumbling to himself, "this'll teach ya."  I had to laugh; true story.

We then ran on fire road for a while up to the Ray Miller Trail where I had gone hiking last weekend.  I was really excited for this trail - it's absolutely gorgeous and gives way to some breathtaking views.  I also knew this meant I was done with the first major climb - hooray!  I have to say, being a n00b trail runner, I think I'm pretty good at running downhill and managed to catch up to or pass a lot of the people who schooled me on the climb.

A few pictures I took from the Ray Miller Trail on my hike last weekend.

At the bottom of the trail was the first aid station, and also time for me to turn around and run the course in reverse.  I carried a water bottle and Sharkies, so I didn't stop at the station and turned right back around to save some time.  Thinking about climbing back up everything I just ran down was daunting, and I made a personal committment that I would run anything that was relatively flat or slightly downhill, and just walk the rest, and it seemed to work pretty well.  

Since I'm not the best at climbing, but do well on the descents, I had been playing a cat-and-mouse game with a few people, including this girl and her dad (or maybe grandpa?).  What was special about the girl with the old dude was that I could tell she was in my age group, and I was fairly confident that her or I would be in the 3rd place slot based on who I saw coming back up the hill when I was still going down.  My time was already becoming less and less impressive and definitely not brag-worthy, so the least I could do was place in my age group and get a kick-ass ribbon!  After turning around, I could hear her approaching me again, and tried incorporating more running into the routine.  This didn't work very well, and by mile 8 the girl and the old dude were probably 1/4 of a mile ahead of me and gaining, we were nearing the end of the climb, and I had pretty much convinced myself that I wasn't going to get the kick-ass ribbon.  Oh well, life goes on.

Soon enough I was back on the fire road and had about 2 miles of running downhill on the road to the finish.  Nobody was really around me at this point so I just did my own thing, took in the sights and sounds, and made my way back down and quickly and safely as possible.  With about a mile left, I could see the girl and old dude not far below me so I picked up the pace a bit.  Maybe I had a chance after all!

With about 3/4 of a mile left, a guy literally FLEW by me...turns out he was the leader of the 30k (he ended up finishing it in 2:15).  That's cool, dude.  It didn't phase me...and you too should just be happy I didn't sign up for that race!

Anyway, with less than a half of a mile left we were back on a flat dirt road, my legs were really feeling fatigued, and I could see the gates to the campground/finish area.  The girl and old guy were also only about 100 feet away.  I knew I could catch them.  I kicked it into full gear, used what I had left, and passed them both with about 50 feet to spare, finishing in 2:18:34.  I then got yelled at by the old dude about sandbagging, the race just being for fun, and that there was no "prize car" or anything for running fast across the finish line.  Thanks, man.  Maybe it's trail race etiquette not to kick it in at the end or something, but that's just how I've always been told to end races, it just kind of happens, and I had been trying to catch up to them for 3 miles!  I just wanted my ribbon!  And, for the record, I did end up getting 3rd in my age group and got my ribbon :-)

I finished just before 11am, but didn't leave the race until about 2:30.  Having only ran the 18k, I had the privilege of watching everyone else finish their races and had a great time just hanging out and watching everyone kick butt.  Josh finished the 30k soon after me, getting 2nd overall, and Colin and Kristin prove the be the nicest, cutest, and most amazing running couple ever and finished their first "official" (not to mention difficult w/about 6000' of climbing) 50k together in just under 5 and a half hours.  Great job everybody!

I stole this picture from Billy...seriously, they're awesome.

I then had the pleasure of ending my evening at the weekly s'moree at the Cooley's.  It was a great time with great company, and instead of drooling over the s'more pictures Colin always shares, I got to experience the wonder first-hand :-) I was not disappointed!

I also have to say, it was truly a great time meeting and hanging out with everyone yesterday.  I've never felt that welcomed by a group of people I've never met before - you all rock!  

Garmin Connect info if anyone is interested: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/29010987