Into the Mist – San Francisco 50-mile race report

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After finishing!

As some of you know, I’m training for Pine Creek 100-miler, a flat 100-mile trail race in northern Pennsylvania in early September. As part of my training, I like to get in some long, hard runs – so the San Francisco 50-miler in the Marin Headlands seemed like a great fit.

The out-and-back 50-mile course covered some familiar ground in the gorgeous hills just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It also included quite a bit of climbing, with almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain over the 50 miles. Check out the course profile:

 

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My theory behind tackling this race was that if I could handle this much climbing over this distance, I’d be pretty well prepared for a flat 100-miler in September. For me, hill climbing can be psychologically devastating; you’re working very hard and moving very slowly. For this race, I was prepared for the worst.

There were 72 registered runners for the 50-mile race, and 18 runners taking on the 100-mile race. We’d all run together for the first 50 miles, after which the crazy people would stop, and the crazier people would keep moving for another 50 miles, on sightly different but equally challenging terrain, to finish their 100.

This was basically what it looked like at the start line. Our first ascent was up those hills on the far side of the beach. Source: http://forallmyfriends.com/page/309/

The morning was characteristically foggy. We followed our intrepid race director out of the parking lot, and he laid out two orange cones as our relatively informal start line while explaining how to follow the ribbons to stay on course. “We’ll have a mat at the finish line to record your time … we haven’t put it out yet, but it will be there.” “You’ve got plenty of time!” one of the runners called back. The course record for the 50-miler was just under 8 hours, which, while fast, certainly left them some time to set up.

We took off on a flat road, heading south into the fog. It’s always tempting at the beginning of a race to run quickly – after all, it is a *race* – but in ultras, speeding up that early can tire you out really quickly. I reigned in my enthusiasm for the first mile or so, listening to a couple of runners chatting behind me.

A few of them were using this race as a training run too, as they were preparing for various 100-milers around the same time as mine. Training for a 100 can logistically challenging, as there are very few people to compare training plans with. Marathon training plans are pretty well-established and straightforward in their mileage, frequency of runs, and distribution of long runs, but there’s no formula like that for a 100. It was good confirmation to hear that other runners had the same idea I did about this race.

Ultrarunners have a very particular way of running that is pretty easy to identify. There’s zero wasted motion, and the range of movement is also very tight – again, the goal is to conserve as much energy as possible. We spotted one runner way out in front – he had a big backpack on, and it looked like he had to overcompensate his body movement to keep it in place. I learned that he’d biked almost 20 miles to get to the start, and, today, was taking on the 100-mile distance. Internally, I raised my eyebrows (actually raising them would have taken up a lot of energy ;) and wished him luck. We passed him at one point, and despite much speculation amongst runners on the course, I’m not sure how he ended up.

In ultras, my mantra is “if it looks like a hill, walk it.” This gives me permission to interpret any surface as a hill – even if it isn’t one – and walk it. The surface only has to *look* like a hill, not actually *be* a hill. So, when we hit an easy hill very early in the course – it was a shallow, 200-foot climb – and I knew I could run it, I dropped to a brisk walk – I’d need that energy later.

One of the runners behind me caught up and started walking, as well. We shared the same hill philosophy – walk all of them. He introduced himself as Rick, and was using this run as a training run for the exceptionally challenging Wasatch 100; it has something like 27,000 feet of climbing at ~5,000 feet of altitude. This guy was a speed demon hiking up hills – I kept telling him to take off when he’d inch ahead, but we ended up running together for the rest of the race, which was really cool!

The first 8-12 miles weren’t bad at all. The fog was incredibly thick – one of my friends once likened these conditions to running inside a ping pong ball, because all you can see is the ground in front of you and a greyish orb everywhere else. Having run those hills before, I knew the views of the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge could be beautiful and expansive. However, it was a relief to not see the huge stretch of trail extending miles into the distance, knowing that I’d have to run it. Instead, I focused on the trail just in front of me and the deep, vibrant greens and browns around us.

As part of the race, we had to descend, then climb on the way back, this ladder, a famous feature of the Dipsea trail. Source: http://adventurerun.wordpress.com

Around mile 20, after a few aid stations and a lot of climbing, we hit a the high point of the course and an aid station. We then left the rolling hills and plunged into a wet, green forest. This was part of the infamous Dipsea Trail, which is known for its challenging climbs, including 688 steps over 7.5 miles.

The turn-around was at mile 27, at Stinson Beach. On the way in, we had some beautiful views of Stinson’s long stretch of white sand. While the sun was clearing out the clouds a bit, it still wasn’t too hot, which was also great.

Usually I carry an Amphipod water bottle, which has a hand strap and is curved to fit into a palm so the runner doesn’t have to squeeze to carry it. However, I’d left mine back in Philly – traveling with carry-on only isn’t conducive to toting around lots of gear. Instead, I was using a cheap 16-oz disposable plastic water bottle and refilling it at the aid stations, to the confusion and consternation of the aid station crew. I also didn’t bring a jacket, arm warmers, compression socks, or a Camelbak backpack; I was definitely (and proudly!) the runner with the least gear.

After taking a quick minute to refuel, Rick and I turned around, looking forward to retracing our steps along now familiar trails. We’d done the first 27 miles in 6 hours and 10 minutes; not bad at all.

The third quarter of the race is always the most challenging for me. It’s tough to face the fact that I’ve got to do double the mileage I’ve already done. While I’m more than half way, there’s still so far to go.

To compound that feeling, we faced one of the steepest climbs of the course on the way out of the turnaround. The course profile shows it as vertical line, which inspires little confidence. I remembered tackling that climb around the same mileage at Northface and feeling completely defeated. I assumed I was going to be wrecked on this climb, too. However, the combination of my summer training mileage and having a fellow runner along for the pain of the climb made it completely manageable.

We re-climbed Dipsea, which was conveniently shaded. Once we hit the aid station just after that, we had a 4-mile downhill stretch. This was the first time my muscles started really complaining – the downhill can be hard on quads, and I was just starting to feel it. We had some switchbacks on this portion that were really brutal – I had to take some downhill walk breaks. However, it meant that the biggest climbs were behind us.

I’d done no hill training in the past three months; New York City is pretty flat. I’d been very worried about how I’d hold up during this race, but all the climbing seemed okay; I guess running in crazy heat and humidity will train muscles pretty well, too.

The last few hills were challenging; we encountered freezing winds on the ridges, which we’d also found on the way in. This time, though, we were running downhill and looking forward to being done, so we stretched out our arms as if we were flying down the mountain.

That being said, miles are miles; 12 isn’t a lot, but you still have to run them. When we only had 8 to go, it seemed like we were almost done – but we still had to actually run the miles. Mile 42 to 43 seemed very, very long to me. I was so lucky to have found a compatible running partner; we’d been sharing stories throughout the race, and our chatter really motivated me through this tough spot. Mostly, we were looking forward to finding the final “shortcut.”

As mentioned, the turn-around was at mile 27, and this was a 50-mile race. So, we weren’t perfectly retracing our steps; the last few miles would take us off of our original path along a shorter trail to the finish line. Even though 50 miles is 50 miles, we – Rick especially – were really looking forward to finding this shortcut.

The last aid station was 3.2 miles before the finish line, and they pointed us to the shortcut. We left the original out-and-back and trotted on the final stretch to the finish line.

We ran as much of the last ~5k as we could. With a bit over a mile to go, we could see the finish line, and, while still moving, spent several minutes speculating how we’d get there and where the course would take us. At one point, a 50-mile runner *blasted* past us – he was seriously flying. “I’m trying to come in under 12 hours!” he shouted, and blazed down the hill. We didn’t know what mile we were at, but we estimated he’d have to be doing an ~8 minute/mile pace or so to get there, which is really fast after ~48 other miles before it. (He made it in 12:01:49 – very close!).

Rick and I agreed he’d have to really push it to make it, and we kept our steady trot.

We descended into the beach area and turned off the trail and onto the road. The fog was still blanketing the area, and it was getting a little darker – it was about 7pm now. There were two runners behind us as we took on the final stretch.

Motivated to not be passed within a half mile of the finish, we “picked up the pace” – i.e. didn’t walk – and made the final turn into the parking lot.  The timing mat had, as promised, been laid out. Rick and I crossed the finish line simultaneously at 12:07:54. Pizza, soup, and hotdogs waited for us at the finish line. Delicious.

Lisa and Rick just after crossing the finish line. That fog’s still out there!

One runner we’d been trading places with back and forth took off; he was a 100-miler.

Overall results: 7 of the original 18 runners in the 100-mile race finished. 7 additional 100-milers dropped to the 50-mile. Of the original 72 runners in the 50-miler, 61 (excluding the 100s) finished. I finished right in the middle of the women’s pack, and came in 2nd for my age group (… okay, there were only two of us. She was about 30-seconds per mile faster than me).

One of the hardest parts of running long distances is the psychological challenge. There can be some serious, serious lows, where you feel completely demotivated to continue and even doing another mile seems completely out of the question. I was fearing that I’d face that on this run, but this was actually one of the easiest races, mentally, I’ve ever run. I chalk it up to good company, good weather, great scenery, and long, solo training runs over the last several months.

I’m not quite sure what my training plan is for the next five weeks. I’d like to get a couple of 20 or 30 mile runs in without overdoing it. Since I’ll be traveling through the southwest with my equally crazy boyfriend, who is also training for this 100, I’m sure we can fit that in – the challenge will be making sure to get the rest and the taper.

Overall, great race – I feel well-prepared for what comes next.

Delicious post-race meal. California, you rock.

12 hours, one mile, as many laps as possible

Getting started – feeling good

 

About a quarter-mile into the loop

I ran my first 12 hour race yesterday with the Broadway Ultra Society. It was the 2014 Joe Kleinerman 12 Hour Run.

I’d never done a 12 hour race before, but I’d heard of them. It’s pretty straightforward: the course is a loop – often a half mile or a mile – and you run around it as many times as you can in the time allotted. I signed up for it because I needed a long run in preparation for some races I’m doing later this year, and this seemed like a good way to get miles.

Going into it, I was apprehensive. We had a 0.9704 mile loop – just short of a mile. I was sure I was going to feel like a hamster on a wheel, just churning around and around and around. On the plus side, however, we would get an aid station every mile, and access to our personal drop bag too.

My plan was to run all 12 hours. I thought there was a slight chance I could do 60ish miles in that time, and a better-than-good chance I could cross the 50-mile mark. Those were the goals going in.

Before the race, I was chatting with a few other runners. The New York ultra community is extremely strong, and close. Everyone seemed to know each other, and it was fun to see that camaraderie. I also noticed that, in comparison to the west coast ultra community, the New York community has so much history. Joe Kleinerman, after whom the race was named, was the founder of the New York Road Runners, the organization responsible for the New York Marathon. Several people present knew him or had run with him.

This sense of community was further reinforced at the start of the race. There were about 60 runners at the start – it was a pretty small race. Richie, the race director, made some announcements at the beginning, including introducing several of the other runners, many of whom had won this very race several times in previous years and had come back to run it again. It was a star-studded field.

And, with those introductions, Richie blew his whistle and the race began.

During the first loop, I followed the group to get an idea of what the course was like. I realized that I’d be seeing it many more times that day, but I’d only get one shot at seeing it for the first time. It was actually very pretty – it was a winding asphalt path through a grassy park, with many trees and ample shade. The park featured a couple of baseball mounds and tennis courts. Best of all, there was an actual bathroom along the course, which, as many runners know, is a true luxury when racing.

During the first lap, I encountered the race photographer, who was walking the course backwards – with a lot of camera gear. I joked with him – I said he’d be able to get all the runners in the first ten minutes of the race, then he could go home! He laughed and said he’d be here all day. (I was impressed – he actually ended up walking 16 laps – about 15.5 miles – with all of his gear!)

Lisa keeping a solid pace with this 6hr runner

I was running laps at just under 10 minutes each, which felt comfortable. After about ten miles, I feel in with another runner. He was a lap or two behind me and was planning to leave at the 6-hour mark for a family engagement. I learned that many runners were not planning to stay the entire time, instead opting to run for 6 hours or for some predetermined distance. One older gentleman’s goal was to walk a marathon, for example.

At mile 20, he and I went our separate ways. I was still keeping my 10 minute pace and feeling pretty good. The scenery still wasn’t boring, although now I could run the course on autopilot, which meant that navigating wasn’t a challenge.

However, it was warming up – the temperature would reach the low 80s. Also, the asphalt was really taking its toll on my feet. Each step felt like a challenge.

I still hadn’t taken a walk break during a lap, so I mentally committed to at least finishing a marathon before that happened. Once I reached the end of lap 27, I decided I would run four more – to get to 31 laps – which was the equivalent of 30 miles.

This guy lapped me billions of times - which strangely wasn't as demoralizing as it was impressive.

This guy lapped me billions of times – which strangely wasn’t as demoralizing as it was impressive.

At this point, we were a bit over 5 hours into the race, and I was feeling exhausted. I started thinking about changing my goals so I could get off the course earlier.

Ahead of me, I heard a few runners chatting. One woman was saying, “You’ll get a second wind – we always do in long races like this. Just wait a bit and you’ll feel better.” I knew she was right, but it just seemed impossible to believe.

At hour 6, I picked up my phone to leverage the musical glory that is Pandora. I’d planned to listen to something extremely upbeat and fast to keep me moving. But, when I thought about the prospect of music with so much energy, it seemed like it would be too irritating, and my brain would have to think too much about it to stay focused on running. I picked an 80s pop mix instead.

I was really struggling at this point. The idea of spending four more hours on the course to get to 50 miles seemed horrifying. I couldn’t even imagine it – it seemed like there could be no worse fate than needing to stay on my feet for another twenty miles.

I have a personal rule for running – no texting, phone calls, etc during the run or race. I feel that we’re so connected and plugged in every other time of the day, and running should be a time to be separate from that. This race seemed different, however – since we weren’t venturing off into the wilderness, it seemed like we weren’t that far away from civilization. Since I had my phone anyway, and I was feeling so disheartened, I broke my cardinal no-texting-while-running rule and sent a few messages to Will.

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I walked another lap, thinking hard about what to do. I’d set a couple of goals, and I really didn’t want to fail at meeting them. I knew I needed to get the miles in for training, too. But I really was feeling miserable, and I knew that there was no such thing as a DNF (Did Not Finish) designation for this race; they just counted the number of miles you ran and that was your score.

At that point, I decided it was okay to stop running.  I reached the end of my lap and broke another rule of mine by sitting down during a race. There was a very comfortable folding chair near the aid station, and I slumped into it, grateful to be off of my feet.

Lisa and new friend struggling through the late afternoon heat

I chatted with the man who was working the aid station. He’d brought a spray bottle, and had been spraying runners to keep them cool. I was a huge fan of this, and he told me that when he coached, he was known as the coach who brought the spray bottle. I asked what he coached, and he said he was the Head Coach of the Millrose Athletic Association, which is apparently kind of a big deal, since their yearly relay has its own Wikipedia page. He was pretty surprised (and maybe a little offended? I couldn’t tell for sure) that I hadn’t heard of it, and we agreed that my ignorance of this prestigious event indicated that I clearly wasn’t a very dedicated runner.

Running a race engenders a very strange psychology. Most of the time, runners actually really want to run and are just looking for an excuse to do it. That’s why runner encouragement works so well.

There was one runner who came into the aid station and announced he was going to walk a lap. I jumped up and said I’d walk it with him, because any forward movement is a win in a race like this. After one walking lap, we ran a few. Then I sat down again.

A few minutes later, a girl came into the aid station, and I tagged along with her. She was walking a third of a lap, then running the other two thirds. Before I knew it, we’d done several miles, and I was feeling much better. I’d crossed the 40 mile mark.

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I thought back to the woman from earlier in the race – this was clearly my second wind.

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At 10 hours and 37 minutes into the race, I’d just finished my 51st lap. 52 laps was the 50-mile mark.

In my my mind, a 50-miler under 11 hours is a respectable time, because it’s the qualifying standard for the prestigious Western States 100 race. I knew this race didn’t count as a qualification race, but I also knew that I’d be frustrated with myself if I finished 50 miles in over 11 hours, especially since I was close. I ran my 52nd lap, finishing in 10:49.

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About 1/2 way through the loop

With just over an hour to go, I gave myself permission to walk as much as I wanted – everything here was upside given that there was no chance of my crossing the 60-mile mark.

Partway through my next lap, I found a runner sitting on a bench. He looked wrecked, so I encouraged him to walk a bit with me – which he did. After the race, he told me he probably wouldn’t have kept going if it weren’t for that. Jut like me, he was another runner who really wanted to run, but just needed an excuse.

A bit later, I was chatting with a runner about Zipcar, which was how I’d gotten to the race that morning. A runner ahead of me was curious, so she and I talked about Zipcar for a few minutes. Then I asked her about her running, and was immediately humbled to be in the presence of such an amazing athlete.

Her name is Alicja Barahona, and she’s run 350 miles self-support across the Alaskan tundra – several times. She’s run350 miles across the Sahara, and she’s run 100+ mile distances two weeks apart. She’s come in first in some extremely grueling 100+ mile races, and she’s been the only finisher in some distance races where everyone else dropped out due to extreme weather conditions. She finished first, five consecutive years, in a 24-hour race. Needless to say, she’d run this 12 hour race before – and come in first, of course.

In any case, I was in awe of her accomplishments. She seemed happy to talk about her experiences, so I shut up and listened to her incredible stories. We parted ways after a bit.

Lisa feeling honored to run with this champion

After finishing my 55th lap, we only had 11 minutes to go, so I decided I was done – for real this time. Then, a woman came through the aid station and said there was no way I could stop now. She was right – I was still racing, and I really did want to keep running. She and I ran until the airhorn went off, making it almost a full lap around together.

I ran just over 54 miles.

It was a really, really hard race for me – much harder than I anticipated. The combination of the asphalt and the weather really pushed me, and I felt like giving up more than once.

One of the things I really liked about this race was the sense of camaraderie. This manifests itself in two ways: the fact that we all finish at the same time, and the fact that we’re all on the same course. This latter, specifically, means that you have a lot of opportunities to run with, and talk to, people who you wouldn’t encounter in the course of a normal race – because they’re either faster or slower than you. Because this is a lap race, you can sync up with people who are a couple of miles ahead or a couple of miles behind you and chat for a bit.

Also, it means that the finish-line is for everyone, from the guy who ran 84+ laps (he looked like a machine!) to the people who ran just under 40 laps. We all get to celebrate together.

I stayed for a bit to congratulate runners I’d met along the way, but didn’t stay for the awards ceremony – I had to return the aforementioned Zipcar, and was worried about traffic back to Manhattan.

Overall, though, this was a really fun race, even if it was really hard. I’d definitely run another timed race again.

Me on my last complete lap

Me on my last complete lap

Running around New York (literally)

Starting out in the morning. This GoPro is definitely a fashion statement.

Today is my Marathon Birthday – I’m turning 26.2 years old (the .2 is 20% of a year). To celebrate this holiday that I have made up, I decided to run around the island of Manhattan – about 32 miles. I also used a GoPro to make a video about it – check it out above!

I’d run many of the paths around New York before, but there were some parts I thought would be tricky from a navigational perspective. I conveniently found this grassroots ultramarathon organized last year – the Madhattan – where 50 people ran the the same self-supported ultra I was attempting. I used their map as a template to help me prepare for the tricker-to-navigate areas, especially the north east part of the island, where the trail on the east side of the island ends.

I’d read a trip report from someone who cycled it, as well. He put it reassuringly: “It’s an island. You won’t get lost.”

 

This is where I started. I took this with my Android phone!

With these encouraging words in mind, I started running from the West Village area about 5:15 in the morning. I’d decided early on to run counter-clockwise, because the Staten Island Ferry area – where people go to visit the Statue of Liberty – becomes impassible to pedestrians by about 8am on the weekends due to mass quantities of tourists. I also started early because this was my first time using a GoPro camera, and I wanted to capture pictures of the sunrise.

Heading north along the East River was gorgeous – the sun was just rising, and the first 7.5 miles were along a well-marked trail that I was familiar with. I had to jump off for a bit and onto 1st Ave due to construction, but was back on the trail within a mile or so. I also noticed a bit of a headwind, which I hoped would pick up on the way back down and give me a boost going the other direction. I saw almost no other runners or cyclists out.

Sunrise at the southern tip of Manhattan. Taken with GoPro and edited in Lightroom. This camera is legit.

After about 120th Street, the trail along the water ended and I moved onto the streets. It was still pretty early at that point, so there weren’t a lot of people or cars – I could basically jaywalk against red lights. I picked up the trail again and took it most of the way up to the northernmost tip of the island, where I ran an extra two blocks and almost crossed Broadway Bridge, leaving the island. Fortunately, someone gave me directions to Inwood Hill Park – northwest part of the island – which I immediately also failed to follow correctly. I somehow ended up on the wrong side of the fence protecting Columbia’s football stadium, and, instead of running around again, just climbed over to escape. Clearly, the well-meaning cyclist from above had never met someone with as bad a sense of direction as I have.

Inwood Park was beautiful. So lush and green – there was even a little part where I got to run on dirt trails for a bit!  This part of the run also threw into sharp relief the fact that New York City smells really bad in a lot of places. Inwood Park smelled fresh and foresty – such a nice change.

Trails at Inwood Park, next to Columbia University. I’d love to run more of these trails before the summer is over – so beautiful.

Shocking zero people, I got lost in the trails and asked a guy for directions to the Hudson River Greenway – the path that goes along the west side of the island. He pointed me in the right direction. I did this part a little differently than the Madhattan runners did – I ran about the same distance, but a slightly different route, due to my great navigational abilities.

The route I was attempting

The route I was attempting. Click to enlarge.

Immediately after leaving the park, just after mile 20, the battery on my GoPro died. Fortunately, I had been forewarned of the device’s short battery life, and had brought two backups. This also provided a good opportunity to eat my sandwich. Since I still wasn’t clear on where the Hudson River Greenway was, I looked around for someone I thought might give me some additional guidance. A woman on a bike was nearby, and, deciding she was a likely candidate for solid information about bike trails, I asked her. She gave very good directions. Once on the path, it was a straight shot back down to West Village.

The last ten miles weren’t overly challenging, although my feet were in a bit of pain from the sidewalk pounding. I was fortunately aided by a tailwind – the previously identified breeze had picked up quite a bit, and my speed picked up (a very small bit!) as well.

By this point, it was midmorning, and a lot of walkers, runners, and cyclists were enjoying the good weather. However, the trail was wide and I was familiar with it, so it wasn’t difficult to avoid other pedestrians.

Other pedestrians out in the wild.

About four and a half miles out, I passed the yacht club – I use that as a waypoint on a lot of my runs. There’s a family of Canadian Geese with two little baby goslings – they were swimming around in their normal spot.

The last two miles were probably the most difficult. This was territory I was familiar with, so, while I wouldn’t get lost, it wasn’t visually exciting. My ankles were also very sore by this point.

 

During these two miles, I really appreciated the loud city noise and the fact that it’s pretty par for the course for New Yorkers to talk to themselves; I made up some pretty terrible songs, which I sang to myself, during these last few minutes of running. My improvisational musical abilities spanned topics as diverse as the number of miles I had left, the neon yellow shoes of the guy who just passed me, the number of miles I had left, the kid on the bicycle who just passed me, and the number of miles I had left. I told myself that people were looking at my head-mounted camera, not my crazy talking-to-self tendencies.

I finished right back where I started, with a view of One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty.  After turning off my GoPro, I made a beeline to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.

Putting together the video was a lot of fun, too. Somehow adding music to pictures is weirdly inspirational.

Overall, this was a really fun run. For people interested in doing it, I’d advise you to spend some time with the maps of the area – that helped me avoid a lot of possible extra miles. As for me, I like getting back to leisurely long runs, where I don’t have to worry about time and can just enjoy the scenery and the feeling of taking on a new, and sort of crazy, challenge.

Check out the GoPro imprint on my forehead!

Delaware Marathon: There’s Only One

Here are a few things I learned over the weekend:

  • Delaware was the first state in the union.
  • The largest city, Wilmington, has about 70,000 people. That’s about the size of Mountain View, CA.
  • There’s a guy who’s run ~1,300 marathons in his lifetime. He’s 69, and ran 255 marathons in 2013. He’s still going strong .. .because I just saw him running at Delaware.

When I registered for the race, it asked for the number of states the registrant has run marathons in. (For me, it’s something boring, like five.) Some minor sleuthing uncovered that this Delaware Marathon is, in fact, the *only* marathon in Delaware. If you’re gunning for all 50 states, this race is a requirement.

Registration also asked for a nickname. Will didn’t realize it was going to be printed on his bib.

The two-lap race started at 7am. There were waves for the half marathon and relay teams; they started after us. They had to wear bibs on their backs that said “Half” or “Relay” respectively, which was actually really nice; when they blasted past us at what seemed like unreasonably fast speeds, we could tell they were in a different wave, and not overly enthusiastic marathon runners making the rest of us look slow.

The first couple of miles were nice; we ran on a boardwalk along the river. Around mile five, the course started getting hilly. Mile six/seven was all uphill – challenging, but not terrible, because it was all in shade and under trees. We passed a zoo at one point, but I didn’t see animals out.

Towards the end of the first lap, I saw Larry the 1,300 marathons guy. I’d seen him at another race earlier this year, but hadn’t been able to track him down – I found him by searching through the Delaware race results. Apparently he started running marathons at 52 years old, and now, at 69, is running marathons almost every day of the year. If you want to read about one of the craziest/most impressive endurance runners out there, check out this ESPN article. If you want to see the list of races he’s run, here’s his Marathon Maniacs profile, which lists them all.

Anyway, he remembered me from the other race, and I waved as I ran by.

I finished the first lap around 1:50. I was feeling pretty good about running a sub 4:00 race without needing to push it too hard. Around mile 16, though, my legs started feeling heavy – I popped a Gu and pushed on.

I was still tracking for a sub 4:00 around mile 20. I knew the big hill was going to make or break this goal, and I promised myself I wasn’t going to get frustrated – this was a pretty challenging course. As I trotted up the hill, I was still feeling sore, but passing a lot of other runners; they were struggling too. I passed the zoo again – and this time saw two ostriches!

My hill push wasn’t fast enough. General tiredness, combined with the heat and humidity, made the last 10k very challenging. Around mile 22/23, my pinky and ring fingers started tingling all the way up to my elbow, and I figured it wasn’t a good idea, given the heat, to go for an all out 5k sprint to the finish.

I finished around 4:13, which was in the top 1/4th of women – not bad, although clearly the last 10k was much slower than the rest of the race.

I’m feeling a big of “marathon fatigue” – my last 9 races have been road marathons. I’ve got my eye on a trail ultra or two in the next several months; I’m looking forward to being back out in nature. My last ultra was at the end of 2012, so hopefully I still know what to do! ;)

Post-race, outside of our hotel. Our hotel was at mile 25.9 of the course… I was definitely tempted to defect to a warm shower.

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