Monsoon Marathon in Hilo, Hawaii

Part of the first half of the marathon in Hilo, HI.

This morning I ran my 34th marathon – the Big Island International Marathon, in Hilo, Hawaii.

Hilo, on the east coast of the Big Island, is one of the wettest places in the world. Some weather stations in Hilo report an average of 200 inches per year of rain. For comparison, Philadelphia, where I currently live, receives about 40 inches per year. Our marathon day in Hilo was predicted to be no different – serious downpour.

In the event of extreme weather conditions, my phone will send me a weather notification. The day before the race, this is what I got:

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From further down the page:

Winds this strong can result in damaged roofs. Broken and falling tree branches, downed trees, downed power poles and power lines resulting in interruptions to power. Flying debris if outdoor items are not properly tied down.

So, not only would we be running through pouring rain, but we’d be battling a very strong wind. And, in case it didn’t seem like this marathon would be challenging enough, there would be hill climbing – probably about 1,000 feet in total. All of it at the beginning, in the dark. Continue reading

Podium Finish!

I just got an email from McAllen Marathon team – apparently I came in 3rd! The listed 3rd place finisher didn’t actually finish the race, even though her chip triggered at the finish line. Kinda cool! Here’s the email. Text below.

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Congratulations Lisa!

After reviewing the final results from Sunday’s McAllen Marathon, we discovered an error. It seems the overall third place female finisher in the marathon did not complete the marathon. Her chip was somehow read by the sensors. She notified us of the error and we have removed her from the results.

You are now the overall third place finisher and winner of $250.00. Please complete the attached form so we can mail you a check.

Thank you for running the McAllen Marathon.

Thank You,
City of McAllen

Leslie A. Howland
Marketing & Events Coordinator
Parks and Recreation Department
(956) 681-3333

Running into the wind in McAllen, Texas

This weekend was an air drop mission. Will and I (see photo!) flew out of Philadelphia on Saturday morning, ran a marathon in McAllen, Texas on Sunday morning, and flew home Sunday evening. We got home around midnight.

The purpose of the mission was to run a really fast marathon. I was looking for a sub 3:35, which would be a PR and a Boston qualifying time. The course seemed perfect – super flat and fast, and not a lot of other runners – only about 200 running the full marathon. The weather was poised to be perfect as well – low 50s with clouds overhead.

I ran a 3:39 marathon at Philly just four weeks ago. With the additional speed training, better nutrition, and better tapering this time around, a sub-3:35 seemed like a very achievable goal.

Whenever I’m feeling good during a race, I always have to remind myself that there are still a lot of miles to go, and anything can happen. Even with all of these seemingly excellent conditions, this was a race that threw us a bit of a curve ball when we least expected it. Continue reading

Leave Nothing on the Table

I rarely plan races very far in advance. Usually, I’ll see a race happening in about a week, sign up, awkwardly taper for five days, then run it. This has the benefit of allowing for no anxiety buildup; because I wasn’t *really* training anyway, there’s no pressure to meet a certain goal. It’s just a fun run.

In organizational psychology, there’s a theory called normative influence. It’s a fancy way of saying that individuals get sucked into doing or thinking the same things as a larger group. Which is a fancy way of saying “peer pressure.”

I’ve been signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon for about five months, which is a lot of lead time. My fellow business school students have been training hard for this race. I found myself doing what they did: following a training plan, scheduling long runs, adding in speed work. This isn’t a bad thing – just a little unusual for me.

Probably due to training enthusiasm, I ran into several problems during this prolonged training period, most of which were related to injuries and nutritional deficiencies. On race day, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was very nervous. I was hoping to run a 3:35, but didn’t really know what that meant, especially given the speed bumps along the way.

Top of the Rocky Steps pre-race.

With most races I run, I have time to think during the race. Marathons are long, and relaxing into the distance is part of what makes them enjoyable. When I run for speed, there’s no relaxation. The race is stressful and confusing and I never feel like I’m running quite fast enough. Philadelphia was more like the latter.

We woke up in the dark and jogged a mile along the river to the start line. The day was perfect; cloudy and chilly, and the course was great.

We started out at the Philadelphia Art Museum (famous for the Rocky steps!) and headed across town, through the city. Once we reached the Delaware river, we turned around and shot back the way we’d come, along a different street. This was my favorite part of the race; I felt unstoppable, flying through the closed streets of the city I live in, right past my apartment. I understood at that moment that this was the feeling I’d been training for – this light, unstoppable immortality.

Miles 8 and 9 were tricky; lots of hills. I definitely need to do more hill work; I lost some time here. My 13.1-mile split was 1:49 or so. Aiming for a 3:35, I knew I’d somehow have to run faster on the second half than I did on the first half. For the next couple of miles, I picked up the pace – it felt very achievable.

Donchak running!

Around mile 20, I was in for a surprise: my left quad cramped. In over five years and 30+ marathons, I’ve never had a cramp during a race. I really felt like my leg could have fallen out from under me – which was a really fascinating and somewhat concerning experience. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I drank electrolytes, took some caffeine, stretched, and popped an ibuprofen, hoping one of those things would help. After about a mile or so, it cleared up – but I had lost a couple of minutes I was pretty sure I couldn’t make up.

Around the 23-mile mark, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make my 3:35 goal. I had two options: give up and take it easy for the last 5k, or see just how fast I could go – even though I wasn’t going to hit my time.

I played out the post-race thought-process in my head. If I didn’t run my hardest for the last few miles, I’d always wonder what I could have done. As a good friend said, “when you have doubt, there is no doubt.”

One of my first managers was a runner as well. In one our one-on-one meetings, we talked about managing energy. He said, “I know you’re good at this – you’re a runner. You know that in the final stretch, you don’t leave anything on the table. You go for it.”

I threw down.

The last 5k were very hard, but I felt strong. I finished in 3:39:24.

While I wasn’t thrilled that I didn’t meet my goal, it was my second-fastest marathon.

All in all, it was fun to train hard with my fellow students. It also put a lot of pressure on the race, and because I didn’t quite hit the goal I was aiming for, I felt a bit deflated afterwards. I run for the enjoyment of it; not for time. Putting time goals into a race takes some of the magic out of being out there.

That being said, I still think I can hit the 3:35 mark. So I’m signed up for another race … which is 21 days away.

At the finish line with another Wharton runner. One of us ran a 2:49 marathon … can you guess which one? (Hint: it’s him.)

Behavioral Contagion – or Why I ran a Solo Marathon this Weekend

I just ran a solo marathon. Google+ makes these gifs look good.

My usual training method is somewhat ad-hoc:

  1. Run a few miles a week
  2. Run a few more miles each week
  3. One day, notice I’m running a lot of miles
  4. Sign up for a 50k race that’s three days away.

This somewhat contrasts to my new Wharton MBA classmates plans. Several of us are running the Philadelphia Marathon; my classmates are following quite rigorous training plans, which involve increasingly long weekend runs: 18, 20, 22 miles. Out of laziness with regards to my own training plan, I’ve latched on to their long runs.

Behavioral Contagion is a fascinating type of social influence. It explains why members of a social group tend to do similar things , like all face the same direction in an elevator or all order diet-busting dessert at a restaurant. It also explains why I seem to be following a training plan for this race – everyone else is doing it.

Behavioral contagion played a part in my decision to run a solo marathon this weekend. Here’s how:

  • Hogfest. On Saturday, Wharton hosted an inter-collegiate rugby tournament. I know I would be celebrating with the team that evening, and I also knew they’d be glowing from post-tournament exhaustion.  I felt like I would be missing out if I weren’t also athletically drained and able to celebrate with them.
  • 20 miles is almost 26.2 miles. I also knew that my runner colleagues would be running about 20 miles this weekend. But, in my mind, 20 miles is just an hour short of a marathon. It seems silly to not just tack on an extra 6.2 and get the marathon.

Perverse logic. But, there it is.

I thought about all of this on Thursday. True to my historical training regimen, three days later, I woke up and ran a glorious, easy, solo marathon.

The weather was amazing – just around 50*F. I ran along the river, with a very slight breeze and the sun low on the horizon. There were a few stretches of gravel path with green branches arching up on either side. It wasn’t a redwood forest, but it was gorgeous nevertheless.

The geeky runner information: My goal was to run a 4-hour marathon without feeling terrible afterwards.  I was trying to run at a consistent pace – one that didn’t feel frantic, but also that was a bit of a push. I ran my first 13.1 in 1:59:53 (just under two hours), then finished the entire run at 4:04:22 – pretty close to goal. Legs were a little wobbly around mile 16, but a Gu helped with that. Overall, this wasn’t terrible – and I think I can improve on 4:04 for Philadelphia, especially since I hadn’t tapered at all for this particular run (the total mileage for the week was 56.2).

In summary: I was “contaged” to run a solo marathon. But it was the best kind of contagion – the kind that pushes you just a little farther than you would have pushed yourself.

Also – this happened to be my 30th marathon. Yay!

What I think about when I’m Running

Me running Boston … I think this was around mile 15.

Someone recently asked me what I think about when I run. I actually get that question a lot, so much so that I thought I’d written about it already. After digging through the archives, I realized I hadn’t – so here’s a sample of my thought process a little bit after the half-way mark of a marathon.

Okay, 14 miles in. Just 12.2 to go. That’s more than halfway done. I wonder if I can run the second half of this race as quickly as the first half. How fast did I run that last 0.8 of a mile? Like 8 minutes and 7 seconds? That’s pretty slow. What does that translate to for a full mile? Maybe 10 minutes and 13 seconds? That’s sort of like ten minute miles. That’s pretty slow.

I wonder if I can run my second half as fast as my first half. How was that last … I guess .9 of a mile? Now we’re at 8 minutes and 15 seconds? How is that possible? How does that compare to my average speed for the first 13.1 miles. I guess I could calculate that by taking whatever’s on my watch now … 8 minutes and 22 seconds … subtract that from my total time, then divide the remaining by 13.1?

But who divides things by 13.1? There’s no easy way to round that to something easy to divide by.

I wonder when the next aid station is. Maybe 3 miles. I’ll say three miles. So less than a half an hour away at my current pace. Maybe they have those chocolate Gu gels. Delicious.

Maybe I’ll work at it the other way. 12.1 miles to go, and if I run it in 10 minute miles or so, then that will take me 121 minutes or something? Is that even right? So two more hours? That’s slower than my first half I think. That’s pretty slow. Two hours is a long time.

But I’ve already been out here for about two hours. So it’s not that long. It’s less long than I’ve already been running.

I have a Gu with me right now. Maybe I should eat it. But the next aid station is probably pretty close. So maybe I should wait. Or maybe I’ll eat the Gu now, then get one at an aid station but not eat it at the aid station and just hold on to it, so I can eat it later.

Maybe I should run faster. If I run nine minute miles, I’ll get to the finish line about 12 minutes faster than if I was running ten minute miles. That’s pretty good. That’s almost fifteen fewer minutes of running overall. Think of all the things I could do with fifteen extra minutes at the finish line. I could … eat finish-line food. Get to my car faster and take my shoes off. Eat finish-line food.

I wonder if they have anything with peanut butter at the finish line. Or anything with protein really. Protein’s good after a race. But I really want a donut, like one of those Chocolate Glazed ones from Dunkin Donuts. I wonder where the closest Chipotle is to the finish line. Maybe they have cut up oranges and bananas at the finish line. I like Chipotle’s whole wheat tortilla … I wonder if they’ll have that at this store. Do they have Churros at Chipotle? Maybe I’ll treat myself to a Churro. Or maybe I’ll hold out for a Chocolate Glazed Dunkin Donut.

I wonder when the next aid station is. I think they said there was one at mile 16? Or maybe it was 17. So that’s like … less than 30 minutes away. For sure. Definitely less than 30 minutes, even if it’s at mile 17. Mile 17 would be a weird place to have an aid station though, so maybe mile 16. If I’m at mile … well, my watch says 14.2 now, but probably it’s ahead because of all that maneuvering through the start-line crowds. So probably I’m only at mile 14. Argh – that messes up all my time calculations. But two miles away from the next aid station. So twenty minutes – less than that for sure. So maybe 18 minutes, because I’m running nine minute miles now.

Well, my watch says 9:30. But that’s close enough to nine minute miles. So 18 minutes. But now I’ve definitely run farther than when I did the calculation, so probably like 17 minutes. That’s way less than 30 minutes. I think I can wait 17 minutes before eating a Gu.

I wonder what food is at the aid station. Does this one even have Gu gels? Did they say that in the race packet? I should really read those things. Remember that race that I didn’t read the race packet, and the race turned out to be 1.2 miles longer than they said it would be, but I didn’t find out until a mile from the finish line? Worst race ever. I should read the race packets.

I wonder what flavors they have at the aid station. Maybe I’ll get a chocolate one, because chocolate is delicious. But so is that weird strawberry flavor. But that one’s kind of sticky so you have to drink a lot of water afterwards. Ny hypothermia for me! Or hypertremia? What’s the one where you have too much water?

It would be great to just zone out for a bit. Maybe I’ll think about that book I’m reading for a while. They just got done with a family dinner in the book, I think. Someone cooked salmon and there were rolls. I’d like a bread roll right now. I wonder if the aid station has bread rolls.

That’s ridiculous. Why would the aid station have a bread roll?

That would be awesome if it did. Maybe with honey.

Okay, 11.9 miles to go. What’s that multiplied by 9 minutes and 37 second pace? That’s pretty close to 12 times 10, which is 120 minutes. That’s like two hours! Surely I’ve been running for longer than one minute. Definitely, because I’ve covered at least three tenths of a mile. At least. I wish I could run three tenths of a mile in one minute. That would be a really fast mile. I’d have finished this race already.

I wonder if they have baked potatoes at the finish line. Or donuts.

11.8 miles to go.

Pole Pole – Running (slowly) with the Kenyans.

Just after the marathon!

My watch alarm sang a gentle tingle. I quickly silenced it. I was already awake.

I lay in bed, warm under the Maasai blanket except for my nose. It was sticking out from my blanket bunker so I could breathe, smelling the cold wind, carrying smells of dew and nature and fire.

A much louder alarm sounded. Molly, a few feet away in her bed, turned over to silence it.

It was marathon day, in Kenya. We’d be running Lewa Marathon with the fastest people on earth.

“Ready?” I asked her, in the darkness.

“As I’ll ever be,” she said, her British accent surprisingly alert for 5:00 a.m. She’d been lying in bed since 3:00 a.m., unable to sleep; her husband had sent her a text message from Spain that morning, waking her up.

About seven months ago, I was running hills one morning as a training exercise. I tweaked something in my right knee on a steep downhill. I deserved it; just moments before, someone had warned me to take the downhills easy, and I had cavalierly ignored him. However, since then, I’d not run more than eight consecutive miles – the knee pain was unbearable. My last “long run” before coming to Kenya was maybe a 5k (3.1 miles) in March, along with a few more just a few days ago. I ran a total of seven miles on Wednesday before the race. That was it. Continue reading

We’re getting closer …

 

I’m leaving for Africa in *two hours!* My dad and I will be spending two photo-safari-filled weeks in Tanzania and Kenya. On June 29th (Happy birthday, G+!) I’ll be running a marathon in Kenya (also my 5th continent!).

So – I’ll mostly be out of communication for a few weeks … but I’ll come back with some great stories and pretty pictures. =)

I took this photo near Google’s campus in Mountain View one morning, along one of my absolute favorite running routes of all time. In my mind, this is what Africa looks like … Edited to www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsjFQMMU5Vg‎
#Africa #Kenya #Tanzania #running #marathon #travel #safari #photography #fathersday

(p.s. if you get bored, watch this video: www.weebls-stuff.com/songs/kenya/‎ )

Running a Marathon in Kenya – help me get there!

Hi y’all!

 I’m going to Kenya this summer to run a marathon. My goal is to run a marathon on every continent – and this will be continent #5.

I need your help! Runners are fundraising to protect the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, which is where the race takes place. The conservancy protects native wildlife (think epic animals: lions, elephants, rhinoceri, and more!).

My fundraising goal is $1,500 before the race (June). With your help I know I can meet that goal! Any amount that you are able to give will be appreciated. Lions are pretty badass … let’s make sure they have a place to live. :o)

Fundraising link is here:http://www.crowdrise.com/marathontourstravel2013/fundraiser/lisadonchak

Thank you so much. I truly appreciate your support!

Just keep Swimming … How to Finish a Marathon in the Rain

CIM startline. Look how reflective the pavement is – it was wet!

Yesterday, I ran California International Marathon, reputed to be one of the marathon fastest courses in the world. With gentle rolling hills and a net downhill elevation, runners sign up to run CIM in hopes of a PR, a Boston Qualifying time, or just a fast day.

Unless it’s raining.

The last week, Northern California saw unprecedented amounts of rain, and Sacramento was no exception. The start line was buffeted by wind, and runners were hiding against walls and underneath gas station awnings to stay dry. Thousands of trashbags glowed in the artificial light.

This marathon was a reunion of sorts – six of us who ran the Inca Trail Marathon converged on Sacramento in the hopes of running a race slightly easier than Inca Trail, and spend some time together. We’d eaten dinner together the night before and discussed race-day tactics, such as wearing trash bags, hiding in pace groups to block the wind, and wearing short sleeves, long sleeves, no sleeves, jackets … the permutations were endless.

Trashbags glowing in the pre-race artificial light.

Despite the rain, the start line was festive. 8000 runners couldn’t believe how ridiculous the weather was, and the only thing to do was laugh and run.

My goal in this race was to run somewhere in the 4:00 range. I’ve been running a 50k or marathon a month for the last few months, and I have another 50k in early January, so I didn’t want to go out too strong that I couldn’t recover in time.

The first few miles of the race featured the rolling hills, and we were fortunate that the wind wasn’t terrible. I dropped my trashbag around mile three, and was soaked through moments later. Running in the rain was actually exciting. A hat kept the water mostly out of my eyes, and, once I mentally committed to being soaked through for the next several hours, running through ankle-deep puddles didn’t seem so much of a hardship.

The strangest part of the race wasn’t the weather oddly – I grew to like that component. every so often, I would hear a dog barking … eventually, I realized it was a racer making those sounds. I was keeping pace-ish with a member of “Team Ah-some,” who was wearing a vibrant neon yellow shirt, and he seemed to be randomly barking every five or ten minutes. Around mile 18, I heard an actual dog barking, which was even more confusing.

Those cheering on the slidelines were amazing. Not only were they out in the rain, but they were creative and enthusiastic in their encouragement. One group was handing out beer. One woman was holding a “Just Keep Swimming” sign – so appropriate. My favorite was a guy who was yelling out things like “I’m making loud noises!” and “These are words of encouragement!” and “You are running, I am standing here watching you run!”

The last 8 miles were pretty rough. Road races aren’t my forte – the pounding of the pavement and the monotony of the terrain make it easy to get sore quickly (I qualified for Boston on a trail marathon – my favorite!). Around mile 21 I ran into one of the other Inca veterans, and we ran together for about a mile or so.

At mile 22, I saw a teeny tiny strip of blue in the sky.

A flooded Sacramento street a few blocks from the race.

The last three miles of a marathon, I don’t give myself any excuse to walk. Even slow running is better than no running.

Trail runners are strange creatures. Even though we run extremely solitary races with sometimes fewer than 60 runners, we tend to glom together for vast stretches, sometimes up to hours. We talk, exchange stories, and encourage each other to keep moving. This camaraderie doesn’t crop in in marathons; there are just too many people trying to go fast, and runners tend to keep to themselves and leave other runners to their own goals.

At mile 24.5, off to my right shoulder, I saw a runner slow to a walk. Without thinking, I turned to him and encouraged him to join me – the race was almost over, and he could definitely do this last bit. He fell into step with me and we started running.

The last few miles of a race are always a bit strange. I want nothing more than to be done with the race, but at the same time, once it’s over, it’s over, and gone forever. In my mind, I play this game where I tell myself it’s only forty more minutes of running … only twenty more minutes of running … only ten, five, three, two … and suddenly the finish line is there.

At the finish line!

This other runner and I kept each other going into the city, through tree-lined streets now streaming with shiny wet sunlight, and past the motivational music thumping through the air. He almost stopped twice, but we pushed through to the last 1/10th of a mile. When they split out men and women finishers, we grasped hands quickly and smiled, then split up to our respective finishing chutes. I didn’t see him again afterwards, and don’t know his name.

In elementary school, teachers say that when you point at someone, whatever you say to them comes back three times to you. Encouragement feels that way; sometimes, encouraging someone else is just as motivating to ourselves.

It was a mixed race for my friends. Several of them PRd despite the rain, and two of my girlfriends qualified for Boston. My Inca Trail team also did okay; a slow race for most of us, a DNF for one, and a wet (now non-functional) phone for another.

Overall, definitely a memorable, fun race. I finished in 4:06, which is close enough to what I wanted to do. The rain made it exciting, and getting together with friends, old and new, from all parts of my life, gave the weekend a festival-like feel. Not bad for marathon number 28.

Inca Trail Runners celebrating in Old Town Sacramento.

Inca Trail Runners celebrating in Old Town Sacramento.