Surf City Marathon (3:39)

Finished! Cool medal too

A few weeks ago was my third race of the year – Surf City, in Huntington Beach. I chose this race for a few reasons:

  • I was looking for a fast marathon
  • A friend suggested this one
  • It was close to my parents’ place, so I’d have a place to crash.

I’d been feeling pretty good about the race until the week leading up to it, when I got a light version of the flu. My sleep, nutrition, and hydration were pretty bad for the week ahead of the race, so I didn’t know what to expect on race day.

Also, California has been getting a lot of rain recently. The forecast for this one didn’t look great either.

The Day Before – Packet Pickup

This deserves its own section. As context:

  • The race is quite large – I want to say something like 25,000 people run some distance that day, with the vast majority – about 90% – running the half marathon. So, a lot of people were trying to pick up packets.
  • The race expo is in a tented structure in parking lot at the beach – near the start line. This makes access to it very challenging, since there’s pretty much only one angle of approach to get there.
  • To top it off, the weather was pretty nasty. Rain was coming down in buckets. Californians are not great drivers in the rain.

So we have a lot of people trying to get to an inconveniently located destination in really bad weather.

After narrowly avoiding a traffic ticket, I secured a place to pack in a nearby parking lot and headed to the packet pickup tent. It was windy and wet – I was holding my umbrella at a 45-degree angle to keep at least part of myself dry.

Inside the tent, everything was a little bit wet. The tent was set up directly on the concrete, so water was cascading through the structure in wide rivers. I blasted through as quickly as I could, picked up my bib, grabbed my shirt, snagged a taste of some decent-looking granola bar sample, and booked it back to the car. I really hoped the weather wasn’t going to be this bad the next day.

Pre-race

After a nice evening with my parents and my cat ZigZag, I woke up pretty early – maybe around 3:30 – and headed up towards Huntington Beach. I left plenty of time to park, since we needed to take a shuttle to the start. The weather was looking okay. Only a few little drops on the windshield on the way. I left my umbrella in the car and got on the bus.

I was fully prepared to freeze at the start line for a while, which is one of those painful rituals that doesn’t get better with time. I’d brought a lot of extra things to stay warm, such as chemical handwarmers and plastic bags to wear. However, I met a super nice woman on the bus who had run the race a number of times before, and she let me in on a secret – the hotel next to the start line opened up their bottom-floor conference center for runners to hang out in. So I hung out in a warm, carpeted conference hall until about seven minutes before the race started. Pretty luxurious, and I wasn’t freezing.

Start Of The Race (Miles 1-15)

My goal is to run a 3:30 marathon one day. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to happen this day, but you never know unless you try. A strategy I like to use is to start with a slower pace group, then try to catch up to my goal pace group. That way I know I have between several seconds and several minutes of buffer time to spare if the pace group is going slow and I fall back.

I started with the 3:40 pace group, and promised to not overdo it – I would stay with them for the first mile, then try to track down the 3:30 pace group. This was actually pretty challenging, since I felt like I had a lot of energy – staying with the 3:40 pace group really made me modulate my pacing quite a bit for that first mile.

After that mile, I picked up the pace, and I found the 3:30 pace group around mile 5 or so. I tucked in with the two pacers and cruised. I didn’t know if I’d be able to hold it, but it was fun to chat for a bit with them, and I was moving pretty quickly.

Around mile 9, we turned onto Highway 1, which goes right along the ocean. We’d run up north a ways, turn around and run back south towards the finish line, then make another hairpin turn, run up north along a beach trail, then turn around and head to the finish line. One of the pacers called this stretch “the treadmill,” as it’s supposed to be very boring. I didn’t think it was that boring – at least it was flat – but the view could have been better, since it was still quite overcast.

Around mile 11, we started getting some droplets of rain. We were a little nervous that the skies were going to open, like they had the day before, and we’d be drenched, but this was about as bad as it got that day.

At mile 13, the pacers started debating whether or not we were on track for a 3:30. One of them thought we were, and the other one thought that we were behind.

At mile 15, we went up a slight incline, and I couldn’t keep up – I fell back a bit. I think I knew at this point that a 3:30 was not in the cards. However, I did track my race on Strava this time, since I needed to bring my phone anyway. When I looked at the splits later, I saw there were a couple of 7:40/7:45 miles in this stretch. I’m pretty sure the pace group picked up the pace quite a bit here, and that could be why I fell off. Whatever the reason, I knew that 3:30 wasn’t going to happen this time.

Strava splits. Fast miles in here.

Middle Of The Race (Miles 15-22)

The course continued south, and around mile 17 or 18, we made our second hairpin turn and headed back north. I was going pretty slow at this point.

When we reached the next hairpin turn to head down the final south stretch, that’s when things got really hard. It turned out that, during that couple of miles of northward-facing running, a wind had picked up from the south. So now, as we headed back to the finish, we were facing a stiff headwind.

This was not awesome and I didn’t feel great about it. I also didn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank by this point.

End Of The Race (Miles 22-26.2)

Around this time, a woman caught up to me who wasn’t going that much faster than I was. I picked up my pace and tried to stay with her. We went through a couple of aid stations together – she would stop for water, then come catch me, and I’d keep trucking along. We didn’t say anything, but we were definitely pacing off of each other for a while.

Running towards the finish- you can kind of get a sense for the weather in this picture.

With about a mile to go, the 3:40 pace group – my original buddies – finally caught me. By this time, the crew had dwindled to one pacer and about three runners. I picked up the pace again to try to stay with them – I knew if I could finish with the pacer, I’d at least be under a 3:40. So that was the goal, and I basically sprinted the last mile (at least, if felt like that). I finished at 3:39 and some change.

Left hand side: me finishing (lower corner). Right hand side: half marathoners finishing (remember when I said there were a lot of them?)

After The Race

Even though it wasn’t a PR, or even a top three time for me, I felt pretty good. I’d worked hard on the course, and if my health/nutrition the prior week had been better, and I’d fueled better on the course, I probably could have gone faster. I worked hard and was proud of the outcome.

My Strava splits are here.

Close up of the medal – it was pretty neat!

There was a second race this day – the race to the airport. I finished my run around 10:30 or so, and I had a flight at 1:45. so I took a picture at the finish line, jumped on the shuttle, got in my car, and headed to the nearest 24 Hour Fitness, which I’m strategically a member of just for situations like this. (NB: Not a shill, just really appreciate how convenient this gym is). This particular one also happened to have a hot tub, and since I was actually a little ahead of schedule, I jumped in for a few minutes before heading to the airport.

Overall, this was a fun race. I’d probably run it again – next time with better preparation the week before!

Just after finishing

Barefoot Running – Not Actually that Great for You

So, it turns out running barefoot has no scientifically proven benefits. Not only that, barefoot running may actually cause you harm.

Vibram has been hit with a $3.75m lawsuit regarding the claims that their barefoot shoe  “reduce[s] foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles.”

However, the American College of Sports Medicine recently released a study that “showed that increases in bone marrow edema [the precursor to a stress fracture] are more common in subjects who were transitioning to the [Vibram FiveFingers]”

The study is specifically about running (aka my relevant sport and why I’m interested) rather than lifting or Crossfit.

My opinion – I bought a pair of Vibrams … because everyone else was doing it. (Weak, I know.) I tried one or two short runs in them, but it always felt uncomfortable due to the high impact. I was afraid I was going to get injured. So, I switched back to my normal shoes – because if it isn’t broke, why fix it? Running in normal shoes felt like being excluded from a cool club – but I guess it was worth it.

I’m one of the 1,200 runners participating in the ultrarunner health study featured in NYT

One of the things I struggle with as a long distance runner, especially a female one, is the lack of scientific research that’s relevant to this particular population niche. Specifically, there aren’t a lot of health studies, and there are basically zero nutritional studies, for ultrarunners to draw on. It’s hard to take a scientific approach to something that just hasn’t been looked at. When I ask doctors sport-specific questions (“How much iron should I be getting?”), it’s often hard for them to come up with good answers.

That’s why, when I was asked to be a part of a long-term study focusing on ultrarunners, I jumped at the opportunity. I was as curious about the results as anyone, and what better way to get answers about this sort of stuff than to be part of the study?

The Ultrarunners Longitudinal Tracking (ULTRA) study is a long-term research project investigating the correlation between running really long distances and health. The New York Times just wrote an article on the initial findings. If you haven’t yet seen it, here’s the article, titled What Ultra-Marathons Do to Our Bodies. The full text of the study is here.

Here are a few of the findings I liked:

  • Runners in the study ran about 2,080 miles in the last year. I ran about 1,000 over the course of six months – I was injured in the first half of the year.
  • Runners in the study completed about 3 ultramarathons and 3 marathons or shorter in the past year. However, apparently one respondent ran 40 ultras – that’s just amazing. I ran 5 marathons in six months – no ultras in 2013.
  • Mean (median) age [of first ultra] was 36.9 (36) years (IQR, 30–43 years), average 7 years of running before first ultra. 
  • About one in 4 ultramarathon runners had 3 or less years of regular running experience experience before their first ultramarathon, and that number is decreasing.

Overall, pretty neat stuff. If you’re a runner, I definitely encourage you to take a look at the full study – some very interesting findings. And this is just the beginning!

 

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!

The Game Theory of Weight Loss

A lean runner is a fast runner. While working out helps get there, a lot of being in good shape is about eating right – and it’s something most of us struggle with. I tried out a new strategy over the holidays – read about it below.

Crossposted from GameTheoryNinja.com.

The fun thing about Game Theory is that it can be applied to pretty much anything: buying decisions, Tic-Tac-Toe, traffic problems, etc. That means it can also be applied to dieting and weight loss.

That’s the premise behind DietBet. Here’s how it works: you bet $20 [or some other amount] that you can lose 4% of your bodyweight in a month. Other people also bet $20, and that money all goes into a pot. At the end of the month, whoever loses 4% splits the pot.

Early December of 2012, I decided to try it out for myself. I paid my $20, confirmed my weight, and off we went.

The psychology that’s at work here is called loss aversion: “people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” More simply – I really don’t want to lose that $20.

Throughout the holidays, I thought about that $20. Eggnog? No thanks. Is that extra serving of turkey worth $20 to me? I don’t think so. Delicious, delicious chocolate cake? So tempting … but so is not losing $20.

I also thought about my anonymous competitors. If that guy who thinks a 20-minute workout is good enough wins, and I don’t … well, that would just be silly.

Over the course of the month, I exercised and watched what I ate. Having money on the line made it a much more compelling prospect.

At the end of the month, I weighed in – and made weight. I split the $3,000 pot with several other winners, and got back $52. Not a bad return on investment.

The idea of betting a friend, or a few friends, to create an incentive to change behavior isn’t new. There are a lot of weight loss specific games like this out there – FatBetStikk andHealthyWage.com, just to name a few. I picked DietBet because one of my friends posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve put down money for a January weight loss bet, too. It will be a little more difficult this time around, as the “easy to lose” weight has already come off. But the stakes are higher this time. For January, I reinvested $50 of my $52 winnings. Now, I’ve got $50 to lose.

The pot for this game is obscenely high – around $65,000 (you read that right). So the upside is enormous, too.

That being said, I saw a game with a $300 buy-in. That’s a lot of money to have on the line … it sounds like a good incentive, but maybe too stressful to think about for a whole month!

Check out DietBet at dietbet.com. Post isn’t sponsored – just sharing a fun story. :o )

Siempre Quiero Mas – I Always Want More (Running)

Tango is serious business.

Outside of running, I’m a sometimes Tango dancer. Tango is a beautiful dance, although not for the reasons most people think. It is passionate, but subtly passionate. It’s energetic, but it’s a strained, unresolved energy. It’s tense, but the tension creates the sweet moments of relief – the occasional breaths between beats.

It’s fairly common for dancers – especially female ones – to have a strength imbalance in their legs. One leg is the “Support Leg” – the leg that holds and balances the body. The other leg is the “Flair Leg,” which is the one that embellishes with kicks, swirls, toe taps, and extensions.

My left leg is my Support Leg. It’s easier for me to balance on my left leg. The muscles in my left leg are thicker and denser than those in my right leg – every sports masseuse has said so, unprompted.

In comparison, my right leg is a weak excuse for an appendage. It’s skinny and weak. It’s also flexible; when I’m dancing, the toes of my right leg draw beautiful circles and swirls with exquisite timing.

Tango saved my running. Prior to dancing, I occasionally suffered from shin splints, which happen when calves get too tight and those muscles start to pull away from the bone. Tango is a dance that happens primarily on the toes, so that extra calf strengthening allowed me to combat shin splits and run farther.

Tango also ruined my running. Continue reading

Boston Marathon Race Report: It Does Not Matter How Slow You Go …

This is a picture of Smoot Bridge in Boston, the bridge measured in Smoots (the height of a guy named George Smoot. Read about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot )

Boston Marathon: I don’t even know where to start. In the style of Dickens, It was the hardest race I’ve run, and the easiest race I’ve ever run. It was the fastest, and the slowest. It was the most isolating race and the most friendly race.

To be sure, it was certainly the hottest race I’ve ever run. Temperatures were 90F towards the end of the race. The Boston Athletic Association offered an unprecedented option to defer racing due to the heat; about 4,300 people (15% of racers) deferred to run next year. 2,000 participants (10% of the field), received medical attention.

My finish time was 4:28 ish, which is about 2 minutes/mile slower than my qualifying time [3:35:05]. I’m just happy I didn’t end up on a stretcher. You can see my splits here (my bib number was 15030).

In terms of the actual race, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. I qualified at the Santa Rosa Marathon last year, with a time of 3:35:05. As mentioned, I had no plans to run Boston at a pace even close to that. Continue reading