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!

Pain is Temporary

Lisa running along California’s coastline. Photo credit: Chris Chabot.

We push ourselves to the edge of our ability so we can learn. We learn how strong our persistence is, and how far we’ll go before we’ll let adversity beat us.

It was midnight in the middle of a forest in Texas, hours from appreciable civilization. I had just run 80 miles and had another 20 to go. I hadn’t slept for over 20 hours, and was still far from finishing my first 100-mile race.

I could head back to my hotel, or I could finish this race, this ultramarathon, this exercise in endurance that was roughly the equivalent of four back-to-back marathons.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to quit.

Just weeks afterwards, I met my manager and his manager in a conference room. We were preparing a quarterly business review. In that meeting, the entire vision of the presentation was changing again.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to quit.

These are frustrating experiences, and they share a commonality: difficulty on the home stretch. When the end is in sight and so much has already been accomplished, yet the goal posts seem so far away, it’s natural to think about giving up.

Will I let another 20 miles beat me? Will I let spreadsheet Cell B24 beat me? What about knowing that, tomorrow, I’m going to have to rework this presentation again?

At mile 80, in the dark Texan forest, as the clock ticked past midnight, I considered my options. Just as the presentation wouldn’t write itself, neither would this race finish itself.

The answer was clear. I’d already decided to keep moving several times during the day. This was just another decision point, and, really, that meant there was no decision.

I got up and summoned the courage to stumble back onto the course.

Those last 20 miles took a very long time. I had to walk most of them; unbeknownst to me, blisters were blossoming on every toe. My wet shoes squished into the mud, and my headlamp almost ran out of batteries several times, leaving me alone with the dark trees.

Finishing that 100-mile race is one of the moments I am most proud of. It taught me that giving up is not the answer. Even though a task – a race, a presentation, or a mathematical model – may seem insurmountable in the moment, it’s usually not as bad as we might think.

That presentation I worked on with my manager and his manager was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in my professional career. However, I also learned more from working on that presentation than on any other I’ve put together. From messaging to slide layout to the creative process, my presentation skills improved dramatically after that difficult week.

We push ourselves to find our limits, and, ultimately, to exceed them.

As runners say: pain is temporary. Pride is forever.

_Prompt: Show us an activity you enjoy doing. Tell us how you think it contributes to your personal and professional development_

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.

50k Fun Run (Lake Chabot 50k)

Scenic Lake Chabot! Credit to ebparks.org for the photo.

Some runs are quiet, pensive, and lonely. During some races, you might not talk to someone for hours.

Lake Chabot 50k on Saturday wasn’t like that at all. The scenic and flat course attracted a lot of runners; I don’t think I ran a single mile without conversation of some sort. Sometimes, the lack of alone-time while running can be difficult – it’s hard to get in the proverbial “Zone” – but, in this case, that friendly camaraderie was just what the day called for. Beautiful scenery and friendly runners kept me moving to one of my fastest 50k finishes ever.

Continue reading

And … we’re back!

First in age group for Horseshoe Lake 50k. #ComebackKid

My mom always told me to frame questions not as binary, Yes-No decisions, but as multiple-choice, A-B-C decisions. That is to say, there’s always more than just two outcomes for success. I’ve applied that to racing. Before I start a race, I set several time goals and give them each a letter grade. If I hit any of them, I still consider it a successful race.

Yesterday was my first 50k since my injury, and I was so excited to be back. I set these goals:

  • A: Finish in 6 hours (super stretch goal!)
  • B: Finish in 6:30
  • C: Finish at all!
  • F: Drop out. =(

Therefore, as long as I didn’t drop out, I was a winner. Continue reading

We Run in a Land Down Under (Sydney Marathon)

I took this picture last week at sunrise. This was along the last 10k out-and-back of the course.

This weekend, I ran a marathon on my fourth continent: Australia. Australia’s the only continent that’s a country, and it’s also the world’s biggest island.

This was my first marathon after my injury. I was tentatively aiming for a sub 4-hour finish, not for any reason other than it was a round number.  I had been running low mileage, but pain-free, so I was cautiously optimistic. For no apparently reason, I had also put a lot of weight on a sub 4-hour finish, so I was a little nervous going into the race.

To get to the start line, a coworker and I took the train across the Harbor Bridge. The start was on a field just underneath the north side of the bridge; we saw the sunrise casting a warm glow on the Sydney Opera House, just across the channel.

The day of the marathon is the only day out of the year that Sydney closes the Harbor Bridge. To me, that indicates that this race is kind of a big deal. However, a surprisingly small number of runners registered for the full marathon: 3,406. In comparison, 47,000 people run the New York Marathon every year. This Sydney event had several other distances, including a half marathon and several other shorter distances, totaling about 35,000 runners.

The start line felt fairly relaxed largely due to the staggered start times. The half marathoners took off an hour before the marathoners, and the marathoners were split into several groups by estimated speed. It made for a very peaceful start to the race.

The roughly 3,000 of us started out on the north part of Sydney, and looped around to cross the bridge. Just as we started running across the bridge, around kilometer 2, a man dressed in a full Spiderman suit passed me. I’d like to say that distraction is what caused me to face plant in the middle of the street, but really it was my clumsiness. I didn’t stop for bandages; I ran the rest of the race with blood oozing from my knees. Now I’ve got some excellent scrapes on to show for it. Off to a good start!

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Minimum Viable (Tri)athlete

Right before I wiped out – I look so psyched and have no idea I’m about to hit the pavement. Image c/o Chris Chabot

In the tech industry, there’s this concept of Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a really basic, stripped-down prototype of the ideal final product. It’s got just enough to work – barely.

Yesterday, I competed in my very first triathlon – the California International Triathlon. Summary: triathlons are awesome. This was an Olympic Triathlon, which means 1.5k swim, 40k cycle, and 10k run. I finished in 3:21ish, which was in the middle 1/3rd of my age group.

Triathlons are very tech and logistic-intensive. Having never done one before, I didn’t know if it was something I’d want to do again. As such, I adopted the MVA approach – Minimum Viable Athlete. What was the minimum amount of gear I could invest in while still competing in this event?

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