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I learned many lessons from the virtual marathon last Saturday, February 6:

  1. Waking up at 4 a.m. for a virtual marathon felt silly and ridiculous and foolish. I had to keep reminding myself that I had chosen to proceed with a virtual race to raise funds for the food bank when the Death Valley Marathon got canceled.
  2. Fundraising is hard. It’s easy to ask people for money, but it’s a very vulnerable feeling to put yourself out there to say, “This cause is important to me. I hope to raise X amount of funds. Please support me and the cause.”
  3. People are generous and kind. Donations trickled in slowly at first, but as of today, 21 people donated for a total of $1,434.70, enough to provide over 4,300 meals to the hungry. That blows my mind. I’m still waiting for the total to update and I am leaving the fundraiser open until the end of February in case anyone else would like to contribute and/or create their own fundraising teams for the virtual Brea 8K (sign up and run any day in February!), so donate here if you want to push the total over $1,500!
  4. Running a virtual marathon is hard. Any marathon is hard of course, and I knew a virtual one would be difficult, but I didn’t know just how difficult. I had run a virtual half, and that was challenging but manageable. The full 26.2 was torture. I didn’t realize how much I would miss the support of volunteers and spectators. Thank goodness for the random people who saw me struggling and called out “Good job!” or “You got this!” The Santa Ana River Trail follows a gentle, overall downhill grade as the river runs to the Pacific Ocean, but it has several underpasses (which means a lot of mini hills along the way) and some bridges.
  5. My family is the best. My husband Mike woke up at 5 to drive me to the start, and later brought two of my girls to the finish to meet me and go for gelato to celebrate.

Here are some photos with a brief description of how it went.

Blurry photo of my supportive partner, riding next to me at dawn

Mike and I arrived at the start around 5:50, but the gas station we were counting on being open was closed. With no porta potties or gas station bathrooms in sight, we had to drive all the way to another gas station. We ended up starting at 6:30 (technically the trail is not open until 7 a.m. — shh! It was all for a good cause!)

Beautiful morning, intimidating hill coming up

It was chilly at sunrise and Mike was freezing on the bike in spite of his gloves. I warmed up quite quickly running at a 9 minute per mile pace.

Sunrise

Even after the sun came up it remained chilly. Lucky for me, not so much for Mike.

Angel Stadium on the horizon and a preview of the fog I was about to enter

Just before the 9-mile mark, Mike handed off some extra Gatorade to me and he turned back to go to the car. I felt great at this point and continued to feel good until the half marathon point. That’s when it got hard, as it usually does in any marathon. You’ve put in a lot of miles by then and still have that same distance remaining. It got harder to keep up the pace.

Perfect running conditions in the fog

I enjoyed running through the fog as I listened to podcasts. Many cyclists shared the trail with me, and I saw a few other runners and some dog walkers.

One of the bridges crossing the Santa Ana River

I love the artistry of this bridge! The trail is beautiful and there was plenty to entertain me along the way. I spied many birds — pelicans, egrets, herons, and turkey vultures!

I started to struggle around mile 18, and by mile 20 it was a full struggle-fest. While I tried to fuel properly along the way, I suspect the beginner marathon training plan I had chosen (because who wants to train harder than that during a pandemic?) simply did not put enough miles on my legs to sustain me at the pace I had attempted. My legs turned to lead, and I walked for a bit while I tried to get some more calories in.

Full sun again as I approached the beach

I managed to pick the pace back up into the 12-minute mile range when I told myself the faster I ran, the faster I would be done, haha! Plus, my family was on the way to meet me at the end and I didn’t want them to have to wait. I also reminded myself (again) of all the people who had donated to the food bank, and how I had committed to run for the cause.

The palm trees on the horizon mark the finish line!

I felt better at mile 25 than at mile 20, so that was good news! I could see the finish, and knew I was going to make it if I simply kept on trucking.

Huntington Beach – the finish line

And this was the view at the end! After 4 hours 31 minutes, I was so happy to be standing on a bridge over the river, looking at the ocean as my kids and Mike ran to hug me. They helped me walk to the car, and whisked me away to Fashion Island for gelato.

I felt really great for the rest of the afternoon. As usual it was hard to get walking after any rest (sore quads and hamstrings) but Mike said I looked better than I had after many other races. And I ended up being a lot less sore than usual (which only makes me wish I would have been able to push a little harder on the course).

So, marathon #10 is in the books! I’m glad I did it and I’m glad it’s done. I have a credit that I can apply toward the 2022 (!) Death Valley Marathon, but at this point I am not sure I want to run another marathon. I do need to get on some sort of training plan soon for another adventure — trail race, century ride, hiking trip — because it’s the training I enjoy and that keeps me sane.

One last reminder: donate to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County here!

Miles for Meals virtual marathon route on the Santa Ana River Trail

Just two more days until I run 26.2 miles down the Santa Ana River Trail to raise money for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County! Thank you to all who have donated to the fundraiser so far. Donations are still desperately needed though with less than 1/4 of the goal reached at $602 of $2,620. If you have the means, please consider donating here. Remember, every $1 donated provides at least three meals for those facing food insecurity during the pandemic.

Training has been going very well. It’s been four long months of five workouts per week — a speed workout, a tempo run, a long run, and some combination of biking and rowing on two other days. Here’s a peek at the last month of training leading up to Saturday’s virtual marathon:

Marathon training log from January/February

I had to shift some workouts around — even moving my 20-mile long run to a Friday instead of Saturday — but I managed to get them all done. I feel ready, although I have the usual butterflies in my stomach now that the big day is so close. I definitely am at the “what have I gotten myself into” stage! For today’s taper run, the last run in the training plan, I ran three miles at 6.6 mph pace. It’s a little crazy that on Saturday I will run 26.2 miles (8.73 times longer than today’s workout, to be exact) at that approximate pace. I am reminding myself to trust the training and remember that the magic (okay, fine, science) behind tapering will help carry me through the additional miles in the marathon.

I don’t have a particular time goal in mind, although I do want to stay around a 4-hour marathon time. We’ll just have to see how I feel and how much time it takes me to stop and refill/mix my own Gatorade bottles along the way. My husband Mike will help for the first leg, and meet me with two of my girls at the end (I’ll have to FaceTime my college daughter from the finish!) but I’ll be on my own the rest of the time.

I plan to listen to podcasts and audiobooks to entertain me. But the main thing that is going to power me through is the thought that donors generously gave money to the food bank, and I want to honor their generosity. One last plea to please donate to the Second Harvest virtual food drive here!

Miles for Meals fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County

It’s very bad form not to post for six months and then pop back up and ask for charitable donations. But hey, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s for a worthy cause. Plus, if you’re looking for a reason to swim/bike/run/walk/paddle etc., you can form your own team and raise funds as well! Check out the Miles for Meals fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, and read on for more details.

After the virtual Fontana Days Half Marathon last June, I kept on training and participating in virtual events such as the 1,000-mile Run Across California and the Coronado 130 team event. Starting in September, I got on a marathon training plan — a beginner one, nothing too crazy. I just like to have a plan to follow. In November, I took the bold step of signing up for the Death Valley Marathon. It would be my 10th marathon, and I wanted a small, local race in an epic place. At the beginning of November, Los Angeles County (where I live) was averaging 1,200 confirmed coronavirus cases per day. Now two months later, our average daily cases over the last week are 12 times that number! So I knew deep down that the marathon was going to get canceled, but it sure was disappointing when the cancellation email arrived this weekend. With a little over a month to go until the race date of February 6, I have done the bulk of the training. In fact, I had run 18 miles a few hours before the organizers canceled the race.

I want to run my 10th marathon, but I need a cause to get me through 26.2 miles on my own! What better cause than Miles for Meals — running to ease food insecurity during the pandemic. Every dollar donated provides at least three meals through Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County! I have done in-person volunteer work for the food bank both before and during the pandemic. I know it does amazing work and puts any funds raised to good use. Please help me by donating here. And if you cannot donate (times are tough – I get it!), please consider forming your own team and sharing your mileage and fundraising goal with family and friends. Just leave me a comment using your real email (it doesn’t display) and team name, and I’ll set up a page for you. The Miles for Meals virtual food drive runs (ha ha) through February 14, 2021, so you have plenty of time to set and meet your goals.

I also would love to hear from you all in the comments. How are you? Have you stayed well or dealt with illness? Are you training at all or has it all gone out the window as other things take priority right now? I need the miles to keep me sane, so I’m doing my best to keep moving forward.

When the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon got canceled due to the pandemic, I chose the virtual run option as a way to stay motivated and keep up the exercise. I feel a million times better physically and mentally when I am on a training plan and working out about six days per week (three days of running, two of biking, and one strength training only, plus an extra strength workout on one of the biking days). I switched a lot of my training to indoors on the treadmill and spin bike and I started using the free trial of the Peloton app to do guided strength workouts in my bedroom with hand weights.

Race day on Saturday June 6, 2020, quickly approached at the end of 14 weeks of training. It surprised me how real this “virtual” race felt. I had major race jitters the day before the race and the morning of, just like any other race. I had worked hard on the training and I wanted to push myself on the race course. I went to bed early at 9:30 p.m. the night before, and woke up with my alarm at 3:45 a.m. to have a banana, whole wheat peanut butter toast, and coffee. I packed a bottle of UCAN to drink on the hour-long drive. My husband and two of my kids got up at 4:45 to take me to the race start in Fontana. They were so awesome to support me that way. I couldn’t have done it without them and their presence at the start, water drop at the half way mark, and pick up at the finish, all made the day extra special.

The race normally starts on Lytle Creek Road near Applewhite Campground. We arrived around 6:20 a.m. and one of my kids hopped out of the car into the sprinkling rain to take a photo of me.

Fontana race before

I walked around the entrance to the campground to “warm up” — I put that in quotes because it was in the low 50s and windy and rainy, as you can see from this photo they took of me from inside the car:

Fontana race warm up

After a short jog, I decided it was better to simply get going and warm up on the course. Race day adrenaline felt exactly the same — I couldn’t help going out too fast, even without anyone else around me! I consciously worked to slow my pace to my goal pace of 7:43 or so. The course is downhill and those first miles felt easy. It sprinkled lightly for the first three miles or so, and my race bib disintegrated in the wind and rain. I stuffed it in my fanny pack and kept going. Here is a video clip of me somewhere around mile three or four I think? It’s not riveting stuff but I think it’s fun to demonstrate what the weather was like, what it felt like to be out on the course alone, and how great my cheering section was (“Let’s go Mama!”):

The rain had stopped by then but the wind kept blustering until I left the San Bernardino National Forest around the 6-6.5 mile point and started approaching the town on Sierra Avenue. Then it was perfect racing weather (low 50s to 60s and overcast). I ate a Trader Joe’s organic fruit strip, my new favorite race fuel. My family met me just after that so I passed them my water bottle and trash and got a new water bottle. It was getting harder to keep up the pace at that point. I worried about dealing with traffic in town. In the hills there were many cars on the road but they were very respectful of me and most pulled into the center of the road to give me room. In town, I would have to cross major roadways including freeway on ramps. At the first one, I held up my hand to ask cars to stop, and they did! I was so grateful. I didn’t want to have to stop my Garmin and deal with the ethics of that. I mean, it’s a virtual race, and we’re on our honor, and it doesn’t really matter, but it mattered to me. Luckily I never did have to stop my Garmin. I hit one red light and turned left for a short out-and-back until the light changed. And I waited three seconds (my Garmin tells my “moving time”) at another light. Other than that I kept right on trucking until I hit 13.1 on my watch. My pace had slowed to the low 8s by the last miles and I ended up averaging 7:50 pace for a finish time of 1:42:43.

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 12.01.57 PM

I love to geek out on the numbers after a race. I find that cadence and stride information particularly interesting.

My family met me in downtown Fontana with an open single-serving size of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream.

post race cookie dough ice cream Fontana

How did they know that was the perfect post-race food?! It truly was. I was sweaty but happy, and relieved and proud.

Post race face Fontana

I had finished in a time 45 seconds slower than my half marathon PR from six years ago at the old (no longer in existence) REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon. I am happy with the result. (Fun fact: my unofficial half marathon PR is somewhere around 1:37:09 when I ran the first half of the REVEL Canyon City Marathon at 7:25 average pace — no wonder I hit the wall at that race! That’s a super downhill course but there’s no way anyone should hit their half marathon PR in the first half of a marathon. Oops. I’ll take it though!)

It took me a week to write up this recap because — full disclosure and too much information — I woke up the day after the race with a kidney infection. Ladies, change out of your sweaty running clothes immediately after a race! And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Nothing like going to urgent care in a coronavirus pandemic (actually, it was eerily deserted). Later in the week I broke out in a rash from the antibiotic (not hives, not an allergic reaction, just my body’s way of saying, “You idiot, stop poisoning me with bacteria and extra-strength antibiotics”).

On a happier note, I have settled on my next challenge! Anyone, anywhere in the US, want to join me in the virtual Run Across California (my referral link)? You get to count all running, walking, biking, swimming and paddling miles toward the 1,000 miles from San Diego to the Oregon border (or there are 150, 260 and 345 mile options) from now through December 31, 2020. The event is put on by a long-time, reputable SoCal race organizer so you know you’ll get your t-shirt and medal if you complete the race, and it is fun to log your miles each day and see your progress on the map. I ran 6 miles on the treadmill plus walked 0.5 miles for a warm-up and cool-down, so I am a whole 0.7% of the way done, haha!

I hope any readers of this post understand that in this crazy world of racial injustice, political unrest, and the COVID-19 pandemic, running remains one of the things that helps my mental and physical health, and that’s why I am writing about such a seemingly trivial thing as a canceled race and my plans to run a virtual race instead. I mean it when I say Black Lives Matter. Please vote. Wear a mask or face shield where appropriate, socially distance, and wash your hands. And in general, make good choices that support your own mental and physical health and the health and safety of others.

I raced in the Brea 8K on Sunday, February 28, 2020, probably one of the last handful of races to proceed in person before such events shut down due to coronavirus.

IMG_5050

The race was hard — it felt uphill the entire five miles even though it wasn’t — but it went well. I immediately looked for the next challenge (and registered that afternoon! Runner’s high at work!) I debated whether to go for full marathon #10, but couldn’t see myself committing to the training just quite yet. In retrospect, thank goodness for that! Instead, I signed up for the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon, scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 6. I had enjoyed this race when I ran it with my husband and eldest daughter in 2016.

Three weeks into training in mid-March, as all the local schools in Southern California went to distance learning, it became clear there was a chance the race would be canceled or postponed. I had to make a decision whether or not to continue with the training. I enjoy being on a training plan. It keeps me accountable and helps me commit to exercise when I might not feel like it some days. I was seeing results and feeling good, and decided to stick to it. That’s why, when the race organizers e-mailed the cancellation announcement on April 20, I had just completed a 10-mile tempo run on my treadmill at home. Yes, a 10-mile tempo run. On the treadmill. I had never done such a long tempo run before (I am following a training plan that calls for three runs a week – a tempo run, a speed workout, and a long run – along with two days of 20-30 mile bike rides, plus two days of core work).

The race organizers generously offered three options: (1) run a virtual race, (2) defer entry to the 2021 race, or (3) get a full refund. I sat on the decision for a week. In general, I don’t run races for the bling. I treasure a few of my medals for the memories they represent, but I would rather organizers put that money into ice-cold chocolate milk and warm cookies and potato chips and trail mix at the finish line, ha ha! In the end, though, I decided that I wanted to support the organizers by choosing the virtual race option. They get the money, and I get a chance to challenge myself with a virtual race. And as it turns out, the medal and other swag they mailed to me in a box turned out to be pretty fabulous!

IMG_1141

I love the socks especially, and the lapel pin, and the stretchy workout band. I am glad I chose the virtual race option, even as my race jitters are starting to kick in two days before the race. Participants can run the virtual race anytime from June 6-21, but my plan has primed me (so to speak) to run on June 6 and there’s no reason for me not to do it that day. The weather is looking relatively good for SoCal with starting temperatures in the mid-50s and a high of 73 for the day (given that we’ve had a day in the 90s recently, that’s pretty darn nice). My husband has agreed to be my support crew. I have a race plan and goals but I have no idea how it will be out there. I am a little worried about crossing roads that are open to traffic (both for safety reasons and for having to stop. Question: Pause the Garmin at stops? Keep it running? I think pause it.)

Were you signed up for a race that was canceled? If you had the option of a virtual race, did you choose that? How did it go? And did you pause your running watch at any forced stops?

It’s been nearly two months since I ran the REVEL Big Bear Marathon on November 9, 2019! Usually after I race I can hardly wait to summarize it and capture the memories in a blog post. This time though, I felt a need to savor the experience and keep it to myself for a while. The race felt surreal the second I finished it.

Going into the race I had the usual A, B and C goals. C was to arrive at the starting line healthy and finish uninjured. Check! B was to beat my 4:28 time from the Death Valley Marathon, which I unknowingly ran while deficient in vitamin D, B12 and iron. Yeah, I definitely did not want a repeat of that. I had the all-clear from my doctor, and check! I managed to break 4:28. My A goal was to break 4 hours. That’s never easy (for most of us anyway) and it gets harder the older I get (I’m 48 now). But check! I did it! And the best part is I even met an A+ goal — I finally negative split a marathon, on my 9th try! Three things helped me run the second half of the race faster than the first: (1) I went out slow at the start and resisted the urge to “bank” time while I had fresh legs. This time I was invested in saving my energy for the final miles, and I didn’t get carried away in the excitement of the race. A lot of people passed me in the first half of the race, and I just stuck to my plan, thinking I would pass them back in the second half (which did not turn out to be true, by the way – Big Bear is a “fast” downhill course and a lot of runners choose to run hard to go for a BQ or PR — so when people passed me I rarely saw them again! Good for them! But I’m glad I stuck to my plan of going out slower than my goal race pace). (2) I wrote out a pace band for myself using the negative split pace band feature for Big Bear from FindMyMarathon. And (3) REVEL Big Bear is a course that is set up perfectly for a negative split. I highly recommend this race. It’s well-organized, it’s a pretty course (until the last few miles) and it’s got a great course profile with some gentle rolling hills in the first half followed by an advantageous elevation decline from mile 9 on. And it’s not so downhill that it kills your quads or calves (if you’ve put in some downhill training and/or done strength training). This course replaced the old REVEL Canyon City (which I liked but it killed my calves) and I like this one better.

I had paid extra to pick up my bib on race day so I didn’t have to drive out to the expo. On race morning my husband got up early and drove me to the bus pickup. I wrote this note on the bus, which is a good thing because I don’t remember it:

2:25 up

2:30 out of bed

2:50 on road

3:40 arrive

3:50 porta potty

4 packet pick-up

4:12 on bus

It was about an hour drive to the staging area on the 38 highway south of Big Bear so I arrived about 45 minutes before the 6 a.m. start. It was cold at that elevation but not uncomfortable. Ideal really – somewhere in the 40s at the start (warming up to the low 80s by the time I finished). There were plenty of porta potties and not a long wait. I went through the line once, bagged my warm throw-away clothes, and got in place between the 3:50 and 4 hour flags. I kept my gloves and hand warmers (genius if I do say so myself). I ended up ditching them around mile 8 (mistake – I should have kept them until the half-marathon point – it was still cold at times until then!)

I had tried out UCAN for fueling during training and used it for the race. I took a scoop before the race and carried another small bottle with me for the first 6 miles or so. It worked great until about mile 11 when I felt the need for a quick boost – whether that was physical and/or mental I don’t know, but I ate a Trader Joe’s fruit strip – 80 calories, easy to carry in the pocket of my running pants, easy to open on the run, and delicious to consume.  I drank Powerade at the aid stops. I also took a Clif Shot Energy gel with a small amount of caffeine at mile 18 (hoping not to hit the wall at mile 20, and I didn’t). I ate two more fruit strips as needed toward the end of the race. It all worked out great! Those last 6.2 miles were really hard (both due to racing hard and due to the mild heat) but I stayed strong and focused and kept doing the mental math to stay on pace to come in under 4 hours. On the long straight-away at the end I saw my husband and two youngest girls. The girls ran along the side of the course as I ran down the finish chute. I was so focused on finishing strong that I forgot all about smiling for a finish line photo! So here is a photo from earlier in the race, when I was still smiling!

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 9.45.04 PM

It was a good thing the girls met me right away at the finish and I could lean on them for support. Crazy how you can go from running faster than 6.5 miles an hour to barely being able to walk. As we all know, the mind is a powerful thing. My mind convinced my body to run across that finishing mat and the second I crossed it, my mind said, “Okay, my work here is done.” And that’s when everything felt surreal.

Mike joined me and the girls and they helped me pick up my results: 3:57:52, for an average pace of 9:04. It wasn’t an overall PR but it was a PR for me in the 45-49 age group, and I am so pleased to have negative split the race. When I try to think of a word to sum up the race for me, the word that comes to mind is “validating.” That finishing time and negative split validated that I had trained hard and raced smart. This wasn’t an easy year for me to stick with a marathon training plan (the college application process for my oldest, and getting her settled in for her first semester, and having her living away from home — all of those put an emotional strain on me that made me extra proud that I didn’t get side-tracked from training). So, after the race I just reveled (ha ha, pun intended) in my personal, positive experience at REVEL Big Bear.

Now the big question in my mind is, do I go for marathon number 10? Marathons are hard (duh) and I don’t take the training or racing lightly. We’ll see!

It’s been over two years since I ran the Death Valley Marathon, which is a lovely race on a spectacular course but was a very difficult race for me. I later discovered I had low levels of iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Once those levels got back to normal, I finally felt like I wasn’t running into a constant headwind. I managed to train up for the Yosemite Half Marathon in May 2018, and climbed Mt. Whitney in August 2018. Then that fall got swallowed up by life outside of running, which included helping my oldest daughter, who decided to skip her junior year of high school and homeschool for a year while she applied early to college. I continued to run and exercise five days a week, but didn’t have the energy or desire to put a race on my calendar. I’m happy to report that my daughter got into UC Berkeley and will be heading off in August to study biology there! And now that that’s settled I finally feel ready to get another race on my calendar for the fall of 2019. In fact, I feel more than ready. I love having a race on the horizon to motivate me and give me a goal to focus on.

How did I choose which race to run for marathon #9, you ask? I ran my half marathon PR (1:41:58, for the curious) at the 2014 REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon. I liked that course so much I ran the REVEL Canyon City Full Marathon in 2015 (in 3:39:08). That was a tougher race with all of the downhill running in the first half (but I learned a lot in that race and feel better prepared to train for a downhill course). Shortly after I ran that race though, REVEL discontinued Canyon City for its Southern California race and switched to REVEL Big Bear instead! I heard great things about that race from another runner, and all the reviews I read online said it’s a gorgeous course, so that will be marathon #9 for me! I have driven the marathon route on CA-38 in a car and am really looking forward to the privilege of running it on Saturday, November 9, 2019!

Of course, on the day I hit “Register” on my computer, the temperature in Southern California jumped from the low 70s to the high 90s! Training through the summer in SoCal for a fall marathon can be a challenge. But it’s what works for my schedule and it keeps me on track (no pun intended!) during the summer heat.

Which do you enjoy more: training for a race or running the race? I’m one of the oddballs that actually enjoys the training more than the race itself. But as I said, I do like the motivation and focus that having a race on the calendar gives me.

What’s your favorite marathon course? I liked the Phoenix Marathon and Santa Rosa Marathon quite a bit. Of course the Boston Marathon is amazing for its history and spectator support, but it wasn’t my favorite course (I’m a fan of smaller races in less urban places). Death Valley Marathon (link to the 2020 race information) was the most spectacular, and I wouldn’t mind running it again someday to redeem myself on that course.

I got back into running when my daughters were ages 3, 6 and 9. At that time, it made the most sense for me to run in the morning, either before my husband left for work or right after I dropped the kids off at pre-school and elementary school. Now that my kids are 10, 13 and 16 though, I have realized that I’ve transitioned into being an evening runner! I make the most of the hours they are in school by getting things done at home, because after 3 p.m. it’s a rush of driving kids to various activities, cooking dinner, and helping with homework until I drop into bed around 10 p.m. So how and why do I get in those evening runs? I have learned that the best way to spend an hour while a child is at gymnastics, ballet or tennis lessons is to get in a workout! I can tell you where the park with a quarter-mile dirt track is next to the gymnastics center, how to sneak onto the high school campus near the ballet studio to run on the rubberized track, or where to run through the neighborhood near the tennis center to get to the half-mile paved path! It’s not easy to run in the late afternoon or evening, but I have learned some tips to make the most of it.

  1. Slow down and lower your expectations. This is one of the hardest things to do. I’m a type-A runner who generally likes to keep an eye on my pace and on my mileage. But I’m also a morning person. By 4 p.m. my get-up-and-go has all but gone. So I do what I can, and I don’t push the pace if I’m not feeling it that day. That’s especially true in the heat of a Southern California afternoon, when I have to pay particular attention to staying hydrated and not overheating. Three to four slow(er) miles is better than no miles at all, and in fact I give myself bonus points for completing a tough run. Those late-day and hotter-temperature runs might not be building speed, but they are building mental toughness and preparing you for less-than-ideal race day conditions.
  2. Throw in hill work, fartleks or quarter-mile repeats. For days when you find yourself with a little more energy or your training plan calls for some speed work, there are a few good ways to do that in the afternoon or evening. Hill work is speed work in disguise, so head to the nearest hill. On your way up you don’t have to pick up the pace to get in some of the same benefits of faster-paced run, and on the way down you get to practice your leg turnover when it’s easier to run faster down the hill! Fartleks also work well — even after a long day you can run a little faster to the next stop sign or the next turn on your route. And I use the motivation of the time crunch (“Only 40 minutes to get a run in before the 45-minute lesson is over, I’d better run faster!”) to run as fast as I can for some quarter-mile repeats with quarter-mile rest intervals in between.
  3. Stay safe. This should go without saying, but it does bear repeating. For those afternoon and evening runs, it’s particularly important to wear brightly colored and reflective clothing and, if it’s really getting dark out there, run with knuckle or shoe lights, a flashlight, or the light on your phone. And if you’re running in a new area, make sure you have a map and keep your wits about you. No headphones in the ears, and no wandering off the beaten path. Tell someone where you’re going and when you will be back. Take advantage of places where people tend to congregate in the evenings — I often feel the most safe at the track where kids are practicing for after-school sports under the stadium lights, or at the park where people gather on a Friday night for a family barbecue.
  4. Enjoy new routes if possible. If you’re planning an evening run after work, try getting in a run by your workplace before heading home, or map out a loop that starts out from the day care center where you will pick up your kids. After years of running the same loops around my neighborhood, I’m enjoying the opportunity to explore new running routes in areas I wouldn’t typically drive to for a run. If I’m a 20-minute drive from my house for my daughter’s music lesson, it’s an opportunity to explore four miles of new terrain! If I’m an hour drive from my house for my other daughter’s ballet audition, you can bet I’m going to run on the nearby river path I scouted out on my computer before I left home!
  5. Appreciate the perks of night runs! One of my favorite runs ever was the night leg I did for the Napa Valley Ragnar when I ran past the cemetery at 3 in the morning! It was so peaceful and quiet and so different from my usual running experience. And check out this view from a recent after-dinner run:

    Southern California sunset

    I love the silhouettes of the trees against a gorgeous Southern California sunset!

6. Bring a change of clothes and a snack. If your evening run does not end at your doorstep, consider packing a clean change of clothes. I don’t know about you but I cannot stand being in sweaty running clothes for a second longer than I have to. And I like to refuel within half an hour of running so if I won’t be home within that time, I bring along a nutritious snack.

7. Plan your post-workout routine to help you wind down before bed. An evening run can rev you up and keep you from falling asleep at night. If you can, plan to get in your run a least an hour or two before bedtime. I confess I’ve gotten in workouts from 8-9 p.m., which is cutting it a little close to bedtime for me. In those instances, I make sure to relax with a cup of tea and a hot shower, if not a hot bath. Those nighttime rituals, combined with the satisfaction of getting in my workout for the day, help me prepare for a good night’s sleep and enough recovery before the next day.

Are you a morning runner, evening runner, or both? Any tips or tales to share?

Hiking Mount Whitney

I don’t even know how to talk about my recent experience hiking to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. It was amazing, challenging, surreal, and, in a word: epic. It ranks as one of the hardest physical challenges I’ve ever faced, and that’s saying a lot after running eight full marathons. As my husband Mike said, I wouldn’t call it “fun,” although it was euphoric when we reached the top. The problem is that when you reach the top, you still have 11 miles to hike back down to the bottom. I’m glad we did it. I’m glad we learned some things along the way.

This adventure all started when my oldest daughter Shannon declared her desire to climb Mount Whitney (and then graduate to climbing all of the seven summits — the highest peaks on all seven continents, which she set her sights on after reading the wonderful book No Summit Out of Sight (Amazon affiliate link, but I highly recommend this book for girls and boys ages 10 and up and all adults)).

Road to Whitney Portal

The road to Whitney Portal — mixed emotions as we faced hiking that mountain range!

I was intimidated by the thought of climbing Mt. Whitney, and rightly so. We had climbed Mt. Baldy twice (10,064 feet), including a night hike to see the Perseid meteor shower and watch the sunrise on the peak. We hiked Mt. San Jacinto (10,833 feet). And we would have hiked the other of the big three peaks in Southern California — Mt. San Gorgonio — if the entire wilderness area had not been closed due to fire damage (it’s since been reopened). We ran the Yosemite Half Marathon as part of our training. We attended an REI class (no affiliation) as part of our preparation. I read the book One Best Hike: Mount Whitney. We entered the lottery in February/March to get a permit to climb the mountain, but we didn’t win a permit (only 35% of applications are successful). Finally as the date neared and other people canceled their reservations, Mike secured three overnight permits to hike the Mt. Whitney Trail (and then we showed up at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center to trade for a same-day permit to enter the area on Monday, August 27 and summit on my 47th birthday, Tuesday, August 28).

Mount Whitney view from parking lot

The intimidating view from the parking lot at the Mount Whitney trail head at Whitney Portal.

After securing our permit at 11:30, getting lunch and driving up to Whitney Portal, we hit the trail at 1 p.m.

hikers on Mt. Whitney trail

Mike, me and Shannon on the trail

We hiked the first 3.8 miles slowly to start, knowing that the elevation gain from 9,000 feet at the Whitney Portal to 10,400 feet at Outpost Camp could be hard on people coming from sea level. We reached Outpost Camp around 4 p.m. and felt great. In retrospect, we should have camped there for the night, but we figured we might as well continue on to Trail Camp at 12,000 feet another 2.3 miles up the trail. (In hindsight, if we had had more time, we should have acclimated at 10,000+ feet for 1-2 days before heading out on the trail — we didn’t realize how much we would be affected by altitude sickness). Unfortunately, the next two challenging, technical miles took 2.5 hours, and we ended up stopping just short of Trail Camp to camp at Consultation Lake, a gorgeous spot that’s not nearly as crowded and I highly recommend, as long as you have the right tent and sleeping bags to withstand any wind and cold at that location.

Consultation Lake hiker August 2018

Shannon at Consultation Lake on the Mt. Whitney Trail

We set up camp alongside the lake. It was cold at 6:30 p.m. and we were all feeling the effects of mild altitude sickness — headache and slow moving.

tent at Consultation Lake

Our solo campsite at Consultation Lake as the sun set on the mountain range.

In our altitude sickness haze, Shannon and I thought Consultation Lake was actually called “Consolation Lake,” as in the lake was the consolation prize if you did not actually make it to the peak of Mount Whitney! It was such a gorgeous spot to camp and I’m glad we stopped there before hiking another half a mile to Trail Camp.

We slept fitfully at altitude and waited until sunrise to get going.

Sunrise consultation lake

Sunrise at Consultation Lake, looking back toward Lone Pine.

Moon set over Mt. Whitney range

Moon setting over the mountain range at dawn.

In retrospect we should have awoken at 4 or 5 a.m. and gotten on the trail. We thought we’d have plenty of time to hike 5.4 miles to the summit by 1:30 p.m. (the recommended turn-around time if you haven’t made it to the summit).

We stopped at Trail Camp to filter some water for the ascent. A clever chipmunk outwitted us and snuck into one of the open back packs, which led to the best quote of the hike: “A chipmunk stole my birth control pills!”

Chipmunk at Trail Camp I guess the little critter had been conditioned to learn that food comes in plastic containers, and the white plastic pack looked as good as any other food. We managed to move some rocks and rescue the pills before the guy had a chance to gnaw his way through the pack! We also saw marmots and a pika on the trail!

The mountain range became more and more intimidating and impressive.

Whitney range

Impressive mountain range with amazing deep blue skies.

Whitney over Trail Camp

View from Trail Camp

On the way up the infamous 99 switchbacks, we saw icicles on the rocks and pink snow pack on the mountainside.

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We could see back to Consultation Lake as we gained elevation.

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One of my favorite parts of the hike was just after the Trail Crest, when you enter Sequoia National Park and look over parts of the park that you can only see from the Mt. Whitney Trail or John Muir Trail.

Trail Crest Mt. Whitney

Shannon and me at Trail Crest, overlooking Sequoia National Park.

Finally at 1 p.m. we reached the summit, 14,505 feet.

Mt. Whitney summit plaque

Me, Shannon and Mike by the plaque at the summit.

I asked everyone at the summit (about 10 people) to sing Happy Birthday to me. Mike gave me a special birthday gift, a Mt. Whitney survey medallion to hang on the Christmas tree. Shannon took this photo of me with a sign that happened to be made by another Angela who was also turning 47 in another two weeks!

Mt. Whitney summit hiker

Mount Whitney, 14,505′, August 28, 2018

We were the 88-90th hikers of the day to sign the log book at the Mt. Whitney summit shelter.

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There are no photos of us hiking the 11 miles down the mountain. We reached Consultation Lake again around 5 p.m. and packed up camp. Unfortunately, I would have liked to have been done with the hike right about then. We still had another 5.6 miles to go, though. It went considerably slower than we anticipated, due to continuing altitude sickness and just plain tired legs. The problem was that we went slower due to altitude sickness (both to try to prevent it and to fight it off) and that meant more time on our legs. I think we trained adequately for the hike but would have been much happier had we acclimated for a day or two at 10,000+ feet before starting the hike (given that we live at sea level). But we only had two days to do it (thank you Grandma for watching our other two girls for two days while we hiked!) and we did the best we could with the time we had. I’m still sore a week later (calves mainly) but am back to working out and have my sights set on San Gorgonio and Half Dome next!

Have you hiked Mt. Whitney or is it on your bucket list? What other hikes are your highest and/or most recommended? Whitney was amazing and I’ve never seen the sky look so blue. I’d say go for it if you’ve always wanted to climb it, just make sure to do your homework and spend time acclimating first if you need it!

Did you ever sign up for a race months in advance, and then those months flew by and you wondered what you were thinking when you signed up for that race? That happened to me when I signed up for the Yosemite Half Marathon.

Yosemite Half Marathon 2018 logo

Had I known months ago that May was going to be so busy for me, I wouldn’t have signed up. And yet, I’m so glad I did, because I loved the race and I loved spending Mother’s Day weekend with my husband and three daughters in Yosemite National Park!

On Friday afternoon we drove seven hours up to the historic Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wawona Hotel) inside the park. We used our fourth grade “Every Kid in a Park” national park pass to get into the park for free, saving $30, hooray!

Wawona Hotel Big Trees Lodge porch view

After sitting out on the 2nd floor porch and admiring the night sky, we got to bed by 10:30 p.m. and got a whole 4.5 hours of sleep before our race day alarm went off at 2:50 a.m.! I was running the race with my husband Mike and oldest daughter, 16-year-old Shannon. We needed to leave by 3:20 a.m. to make the 35-minute drive to the shuttle bus parking lot at Sierra Star in Oakhurst by 4 a.m. There wasn’t a coffee maker in our hotel room but thankfully the Big Trees Lodge staff agreed to have the night manager make us some coffee at 3 a.m.! He insisted that we take a whole thermos and a cup of cream! I was so appreciative. We ate muffins and bananas in the car on the drive.

We arrived at Sierra Star by 4 a.m. but faced a line of cars waiting to park in the field. It took 15 minutes or so for us to get parked. I was happy to see a row of porta potties set up in the field, along with very nice buses equipped with toilets. We got on a bus by 4:20 a.m. for the ride to the starting line. Unfortunately, our bus driver got lost, we took a 25-minute detour out of our way, and the ride ended up taking 1 hour 20 minutes total. I didn’t mind waiting on a warm bus (and Mike and Shannon both slept), but we got to the starting area around 5:40 a.m. and still had to pick up our bibs and drop our gear before the 6 a.m. start! (Can you hear my famous last words on Friday night, “Oh, we don’t need to go to the expo at Bass Lake Recreation Area; we’ll have an hour at the starting line to pick up our bibs”?) I waited in line to pick up our bibs while Mike hit the porta potties, then he grabbed a gear bag for drop-off at the starting line and we rushed over there with literally 45 seconds to spare. The race was chip timed so it would have been absolutely fine to miss the 6 a.m. start for the first heat (unless you were competing to be a top finisher and wanted an overall award based on your gun time — that wasn’t us!), but we were eager to go.

Race day weather could not have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s at the start and warming up as the time progressed and the course descended in elevation to the finish at Bass Lake Recreation Area. I think the temperature must have been in the high 60s when we finished just after 8 a.m. I wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and wish I would have worn some gloves but my husband and daughter were perfectly fine in shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt (go figure).

The course runs outside the national park itself but has its own spectacular scenery. I loved running through the woods on the dirt fire road for the first five miles of the course. It’s not an “easy” course by any means — the road was rutted and rocky in places but I thought that made it interesting and fun and the miles clicked by faster than any other race I’ve done. The mountain dogwoods were in full bloom and were so beautiful scattered among the pine trees. The only problem (and it wasn’t really a problem) was that my Garmin lost reception for about 0.4 miles among the trees so it wasn’t recording my mileage or split times accurately, saying we were running a slower pace than we actually were. Then we hit a downhill section from miles 6-10 on a paved road. My daughter and I both loved that section best. We cranked out mile splits in the low 8s and it felt easy. Then we hit the flat and rolling section from miles 10-13.1 and it got tough, as any half marathon gets tough at that point. The race director had warned us that we would hear the finish line across Bass Lake when we still had a ways to go, so we were prepared for that. I loved running in to the finish at the lake. Shannon and I crossed the finish line together at 2:04:50 and 2:04:51, earning her 2nd place in her 15-19 age group out of 9 runners! Unfortunately, in the rush at the starting line to get my bib, use the porta potties, and drop my gear bag, I had pinned on my husband’s bib instead of mine! So as I crossed the finish line, a very confused announcer read out, “And here are Shannon White and, um, Michael White, from La Habra!” Yeah. Oops. Thank goodness I had not run fast enough to qualify for an age group award and the correction of my time did not mess up the awards for the first five to finish in the 45-49 age group. Mike finished a few minutes later after a couple of porta potty stops along the course.

At the finish we received a huge, really nice medal with an image of Yosemite on it, along with a cold protein shake (choice of three flavors) and a box of post-run and hiking snacks.

Yosemite Half Marathon 2018 finishers medals

Me, Mike and Shannon in line for the shuttle bus back to the parking area. You can see Bass Lake behind us. Mike has on the technical shirt given out at the race. And yes, Shannon is wearing my Kappa Kappa Gamma sweatshirt from 1989!

If you wanted to make the weekend even more challenging you could participate in one or more of the official race “club hikes” and earn an extra medallion for taking those hikes and sending in photos. Instead, we rented bikes and road around the park with our younger children.

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Mike and my younger daughters even braved the 45-degree water in the river.

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We also drove up to Glacier Point, stopping at this lookout for my 13-year-old ballerina to pose in an arabesque.

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It was sunny and gorgeous in the valley but cold with even a few snow flurries at Glacier Point! The cool thing is that Mike and I cross-country skied to Glacier Point in 1998 before we had any children. It felt surreal to re-visit that spot 20 years later with our three daughters.

I usually do not do the same race twice, but I’d do the Yosemite Half again for sure. If you want to do it, sign up early enough to decide if you want to reserve a spot to camp at the finish line at Bass Lake, and then train on some trails and downhill runs to get ready for the course. Decide if you’re going to run it for fun or run it to race, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Have you visited Yosemite? Have you run this or any other Vacation Races half marathons?