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If you are lucky enough to get to participate in a Ragnar Relay, these 20 tips can help you get the most out of the experience. It takes a lot of planning, coordination and cooperation to get 6-12 runners happily across the finish line of a 200-plus mile relay race!

Finish line arch at Ragnar Napa Valley 2014.

Finish line arch at Ragnar Napa Valley 2014.

Before the race, take these 10 steps to prepare you and your teammates to tackle 200+ miles!

1. Form a Facebook or other networking group with your teammates. Before I ran Ragnar Napa Valley I only knew one of my teammates, my college roommate and sorority sister Renée. It was very helpful and fun to get to know the other 10 runners and two drivers through our “secret” Facebook group in the months before the race. Communication is the key when planning a relay race, and it is extremely helpful to have a system set up so that everyone’s on the same page.

2. Be honest about how many miles total you think you can run, and help your team captain make runner and van assignments appropriately. Legs on Napa Valley ranged from 12.3 miles total to 26.3 miles total. That’s one of the great things about a Ragnar Relay — that it allows runners of all abilities to come together as a team. If you can train up to run a half marathon, you can run a Ragnar Relay. The team captain assigns legs to each runner, and runners 1-6 go in the first van, and runners 7-12 go in the second van (or if you’re on an ultra team, all 6 runners go in one — sometimes two — vans). It’s helpful to realize that you will spend the vast majority of time with your van mates, and you will only see the runners from the other vans at major exchanges (6, 12, 18) — which is why it’s also fun to room together the night before the race and the night after, if possible.

3. Estimate your predicted running pace as best you can. When you log in to the Ragnar website, it asks you to enter your 10K pace. The Ragnar calculations assume that you’ll run your first leg at about that pace, the second leg 5% slower than that, and the third leg an additional 5% slower. Be careful not to put in a 12-minute mile pace when you actually run 3 minutes per mile faster than that (which you might very well do when the adrenaline of the event hits!) Ragnar uses your estimated time to assign your team’s race start, and your teammates use your estimated time to predict when to meet you at the next exchange. It can be tricky to manage the timing (I confess that van 2 was late to TWO exchanges — not enough to make a difference in our final race standings, but certainly frustrating to the runners waiting to pass off the slap bracelet to the next runner).

4. Pack wisely and store your clothes and gear in Ziplock bags for each running leg. Consult one of the many Ragnar packing lists available on the web and make sure to pack the essentials. The trick is to pack everything you’ll need while still saving as much room in the van as possible. By packing your clothes for each leg in a Ziplock bag, you’ll have a place to put your sweaty, stinky clothes when you’re done with each leg.

5. Pack cellphone chargers and car accessories for charging your team’s cellphones on the go. As I said, communication is the key, both before and during the leg. While you might not always have cellphone reception when you’re on the course, it is a good idea to have your phone with you at all times so you can communicate from van to van and runner to runner. It’s unlikely the cellphone battery will survive the number of hours you’re away from an outlet, so having a way to charge your phone in the van is very helpful.

6. Print and laminate your running leg maps. The Ragnar Relay courses are well-marked with large signs and even flashing lights for the night legs. However, it’s a sad fact that sometimes signs get stolen, or you mis-read the directions. The best tip I heard from the Ragnar staff: follow the directions on the sign at the point at which you could actually hug the sign — so don’t turn left on the street before you cross the street and reach the sign, but rather, cross the street to reach the sign — almost hugging it — and then turn left. I didn’t heed that advice one time and I started to go off course in the middle of the night, and thank goodness another runner called out to me. If she hadn’t though, at least I would have had a small, laminated map in my running belt. To laminate the leg maps I could have gone to Kinko’s or the like, but I just used my home printer and clear packing tape.

We did have another runner on our team get lost in the middle of the night and add nearly a mile to her total (another good reason to carry a cellphone with you, along with fresh batteries in your headlamp).

7. Share cellphone contacts. As I said, you’ll want to be in contact between your vans and between runners at various points over the two days. One of our team members put together a list of all 14 cellphone numbers so we could plug those into our phone contacts list in advance.

8. Divvy up the duties for creating running costumes, planning how to secure and decorate your team vans, buying food, and arranging lodging. Who’s in charge of renting the team van(s) (or who has an SUV to loan to the cause)? Who will order the matching costumes (come on, you’ve gotta have costumes — that’s half the fun of a team relay!)? Is each person in charge of his or her own food and sports drinks, or is someone willing to make a Costco trip for the group?

9. Buy real food! Speaking of food, it’s great to bring your typical running fuel to recover after you finish a run, but you cannot survive an overnight relay race on protein bars and sports drinks alone. Some of the best food I ate on the journey was what I call “real” food: a plain mini bagel with natural peanut butter; beef jerky; coconut water; oranges and apples.

10. Type in the addresses of the exchanges into the van navigation system and/or a couple of team cellphone map apps. Of course you can do this while you’re on the road or waiting at various exchanges, but it helps if you take the time to plug in the exchange addresses in advance. Ragnar Relay exchanges are well-marked and the directions in the race bible are excellent, but in the excitement of the race it’s easy to get off track. In Van 2 at Ragnar Napa Valley, we were navigating our way to the next exchange when we saw a crowd of runners congregating around a Ragnar sign and we assumed that was our next exchange point. We pulled up to park, only to discover we were at the wrong exchange and we should have continued another mile down the road to the correct one! We ended up making a runner wait, and that’s not a good feeling (but see number 12 below — it’s all part of the adventure and you definitely need to go with the flow and shake off any mishaps. It’s all in fun!)

Once your relay adventure begins, these next 10 tips will help you have the most fun!

11. Be a team player. Normally when you run a race it’s all about you. Ragnar is all about the team! Cheer on your fellow runners. Be waiting at the end of a leg with water and a snack for the runner coming in. Share your baby wipes and toothpaste (the toothbrush might be going a little far….) Be considerate and extra kind. You’re in close quarters with several tired and hungry people. It makes for great bonding but it takes great investment, too!

12. Expect the unexpected! You never know what’s going to happen on a Ragnar relay — that’s part of the adventure and the fun! Never did I think I’d be out running past a cemetery at 3 in the morning, but that’s what happened on my second leg! Just a little incentive to make me run faster, right?

13. Turn on your cellphone in the van, and remember to turn off your cellphone during any precious opportunities to sleep. Gosh I wish I’d known about “sleep mode” on my iPhone (and I bet my teammates wish I had too). You might be conked out at 10 p.m. on a sleeping bag in a park, but your family and friends will want to check on you. Just make sure your phone won’t ring or ding when they do!

14. Never pass up an opportunity to use a restroom or porta potty. Seriously. Don’t.

15. Stay hydrated and well-fueled. Seriously. Do. Running three times over the course of 30+ hours makes for a definite challenge in the fueling and hydration department, especially when you’re trying to eat and drink on the go with less-than-ideal food choices. Pack some staples that you know work well for you — as I said above in tip #9, a plain bagel and peanut butter worked well for me. Make sure in all the excitement that you are taking the time to drink some sports drink or coconut water and eat enough food to fuel your for your next leg.

16. In between your running legs, stretch and use a “stick” or other tool to roll your muscles. It can be especially difficult to stay limber when you finish your run and hop right back in the van to drive to the next checkpoint. A small “stick” or even a rolling pin can provide much-needed relief on the go!

17. Take pictures whenever you can. Ragnar is all about the experience. Capture the journey on your cellphone or digital camera and upload the photos to the community you’ve created with your team (see tip #1 above!)

18. Cheer on the other Ragnar teams and runners, not just your own. Ragnar is a giant people-watching fest! Many of the teams get exceptionally creative with their costumes and decorating their vans. Some even go the extra mile and create magnets to use to “tag” other vans. It’s all in good fun, and cheering on other teams gives you a boost of energy, too!

19. Catnap. A little sleep goes a long way (pun intended) in covering 200+ miles of the Ragnar journey. A neck pillow can help you sleep in the van, and earplugs and a good sleeping bag will help you catch some ZZZs at the major exchange points.

20. Celebrate your achievement! Gather your team together just before the finish line to meet runner 12 so you can all run to the finish line as a team. If you can, have everyone stay at a hotel or house for an extra night of camaraderie after the race.

Do you have any tips for a Ragnar relay race?

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I have mixed feelings when it comes to my recap and review of the 2015 REVEL Canyon City Marathon, so I’m going to break it down by the race elements.

Race Expo

I love a relatively small marathon (1,199 finishers) and a small marathon expo is just fine with me. I want to be in and out and not on my feet for a long time. This expo was held at a company warehouse in Azusa with ample parking. I had no trouble picking up my bib, gear bag, and t-shirt. This race offers a lot of runner-friendly features, one of them being a t-shirt exchange at the expo — if the size you ordered doesn’t fit you can trade yours for another size, or you can pay to upgrade to a long-sleeved shirt or tank top!

Flattering gray and blue shirt shown with my marathon finisher's medal

Flattering gray and blue shirt shown with my marathon finisher’s medal

It was nice to be able to check that my timing bib was working and that my name, age and gender information were correct in the database.

The timing mat at the expo confirmed that my bib timing chip was working and my information was correct in the database.

The timing mat at the expo confirmed that my bib timing chip was working and my information was correct in the database.

Race Day Parking and Buses

The race did a good job communicating the with runners about the location of the parking lots and bus pickups for this point-to-point course. Unfortunately, while the parking map said we could just plug “701 E. Foothill Blvd” in Azusa into our navigation system to get to the full marathon parking, when I did that on my iPhone it directed me to a dead end in a new subdivision of homes! And I know I wasn’t the only one, because there were at least four cars driving around that subdivision at 4:30 a.m. and a lot of runners panicking about making it to the buses before the last one left at 5:00 a.m.! I plugged the address into my car navigation system and that took me to a road that was blocked off for the finisher’s chute! I drove around in a big circle and in a stroke of luck eventually made it to the right entrance. The irony of the whole thing is that I’d written down directions on paper before I left and I had them in the car with me, but I couldn’t see them in the dark and just blindly relied on the iPhone. Never again! I boarded the bus at 5 a.m. (there were still several other buses so I know people were able to board after that time) for the 1-hour bus ride up to the race start in the San Gabriel Mountains. Tip: Make sure to board a bus with a bathroom! It’s a long ride to the start and the race nerves can get the best of you. Plus, it’s nice to use the warm facilities on the bus before you step out into the cold at the top of the mountain.

The Marathon Starting Line

It wasn’t as cold at the top as I’d expected, maybe 45 degrees? The race goodie bag included gloves and a mylar blanket. I brought hand warmers (a brilliant suggestion by Hungry Runner Girl) and those kept me toasty and happy.

It looks colder than it was. Plenty of people were shivering but I think that was more out of nerves than cold. A hat, sweatshirt, sweatpants, gloves and hand warmers kept me plenty warm before the race.

It looks colder than it was. Plenty of people were shivering but I think that was more out of nerves than cold. A hat, sweatshirt, sweatpants, gloves and hand warmers kept me plenty warm before the race.

As you can see it was a gorgeous day for a race. There were plenty of porta-potties and I never waited in line more than five minutes, even as it got close to the race start. I ditched my sweatclothes in my gear bag and had that in the truck by 6:45 for the 7 a.m. start. At the very last minute I tossed my hat and mylar blanket but kept my gloves and hand warmers (tossing those at mile 3). It was so warm I decided not to wear my arm warmers and just went with shorts and a t-shirt.

The course starts at the Crystal Lake Cafe at the top of the 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. It’s just a spectacular location for a race.

Out of respect for those in the campground next door to the start (I assume) there was no music at the start and not even a bullhorn for announcements, a national anthem, or starting horn. We started at exactly 7:00 a.m. with a countdown by the race director and the crowd.

The First Half (Average Pace 7:25)

I love running downhill and the speed that comes with it, and the first half of the marathon course is a downhill lover’s delight with over 4,000 feet in elevation drop. While I practiced on the course in training (see my 20-miler REVEL Canyon City course preview for more photos of the course), in retrospect I should have practiced the downhill running at race pace. As it turns out, running those 20 miles at a 9:00 easy pace did not prepare me at all for running the first 13.1 miles at a 7:25 pace! While people warn you that downhill running will trash your quads, I didn’t find that to be true at all. What hurt were my calves! Perhaps my form changed as I ran faster, or perhaps I just wasn’t well-trained enough to hit that pace during the race. I took a calculated gamble on letting my legs fly on the downhill, and I paid for it. Every race is a learning opportunity and now I know what I would do differently for a downhill race: in addition to doing wall sits to strengthen my quads, I would do lots of calf raises, and I would log several downhill miles at race pace. This course could offer a huge PR if you train properly for it.

I wasn’t the only one who got chewed up on the first half and spit out on the second. I bet if you looked at the race results you’d see a lot of positive splits by a huge margin. Many people were walking up the hills around miles 14-16 and 19 and even on the slight downhill in the last 5K of the race.

I should mention here that every single runner in the full marathon cut the course. You’re supposed to stay to the left of the cones (the right lane was open to occasional traffic guided by police cars), but I did not see a single runner adhere to that. I tried but gave up.

Miles 13.1 to 23.1 (Average Pace 9:10 for those 10 miles)

The aid stations in general were well-stocked and manned by enthusiastic volunteers, which is especially important on this course since spectators are not allowed on course until about mile 23. However, the aid station at the half marathon point (which you’d expect to be very well supplied since it was the start for the half marathon race) was lacking. A few volunteers held out cups of water and one cup of sports drink. I reached for the sports drink just as a guy behind me was calling for sports drink. When I took that last available glass, the guy yelled, “F***ER!” That took some of the wind out of my sails for sure, but I shook it off as best I could. I’m hoping karma took care of that guy.

The course hits some rolling hills over the next six miles, nothing too troublesome as long as you run by effort and not by pace. As I said though, several people chose to walk those hills, including me at some points.

The 3:25 pacer passed me at mile 16.4. I wasn’t surprised and didn’t even try to keep up. I did hope to keep ahead of the 3:35 pacer.

Miles 23.1 to the Finish (Average Pace 9:43 for that last 5K)

The 3:35 pacer passed me around mile 23. It was very motivating to me to see him holding up that 3:35 flag and I hung on behind him for dear life. I wanted to come in under 3:36:58 — my PR from the Phoenix Marathon last February — and I thought if I could just keep him in my sights I would be okay. WRONG! The 3:35 pacer completely fell off the rails and started walking in the last 5K. He finished behind me, and I finished in 3:39:08. I sure could have used his help in those last difficult miles. The last mile or two of the course was different than last year’s and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t an improvement. I ran the 25th mile okay but the 26th felt uphill until the last two turns into the finisher’s chute.

Overall I’m happy with my time, especially given that I qualified for Boston 2017 with 15:52 to spare (I’ll be in the 45-49 age group for that race and the women’s standard is 3:55). I really had high hopes for this race though and I wish I had done a few things differently. It just wasn’t the joyous experience I’d had at the 2014 REVEL Canyon City Half last year, or on my 20-mile training run. I can finally admit to myself that if I want to run a BQ effort, it’s going to take a level of mental and physical output that takes everything I have, to the exclusion of a joyous race. Which leads me to the conclusion that I’m going to run Boston 2016 for fun and for the experience! Thank goodness I have that on the horizon. I can enjoy a month of recovery workouts on the bike and in the pool and on the roads, and then training for Boston begins in December.

The Verdict

Would I discourage someone from running the REVEL Canyon City Marathon? Absolutely not! It’s a gorgeous course and a well-run (no pun intended) event. But if you’re going to go for the full, take my advice and strengthen your calves and quads. Practice downhill running like I did, but take it a step further and practice downhill running at race pace. And then go out and get that PR!

Would I encourage someone to run the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon? Absolutely. It remains my favorite race ever to date. All the fun of the downhill and the views without the punishing of the extreme elevation loss.

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I ran the REVEL Canyon City Marathon this morning and while I didn’t PR in the full, I clocked a PR in the half if you count my chip time at the 13.1 mark (which I don’t, but for the record it was 1:37:19 compared to my actual half marathon PR at the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon last year — 1:41:58). I took a gamble on letting my legs fly on the 4,000 feet of elevation loss in the first half, and it didn’t pay off. On my 20-mile training run on the course I didn’t get sore muscles when I ran at a 9:00 pace, but when I ran the first half of the race at a 7:25 I could feel it in my calves. My quads were fine, but my calves started feeling sore by the half marathon point and got more and more sore as the race progressed. I also developed a quarter-sized blister on the ball of my left foot. That’s never happened to me before in these shoes and socks, so I was surprised, but in retrospect I think the downhill running contributed to that and I wish I’d used some Glide on the bottom of my feet.

By the next checkpoint at mile 23.1 my time was 3:09:00, still on track to beat my PR of 3:36:58 from the Phoenix Marathon if I kept up the 9:10 pace I had run for those previous 10 miles. But my pace dropped to 9:43 for the last 5K of the race and I finished in 3:39:08. The good news? That is a Boston Qualifying time for me for Boston 2017 by 15 minutes and 52 seconds! While I am 44 years old today, I will be 45 for Boston 2017 and that puts my qualifying time standard at 3:55. So I’m thrilled overall!

By the numbers:

Chip time: 3:39:08
Pace: 8:21
Overall place: 293rd of 1199 finishers (top 25%)
Overall female: 85th of 536 finishers (16%)
Females 40-44 age group: 12th of 109 (11%)

I’ll be back later with a more comprehensive race recap. Right now I’m busy icing my calves and contemplating pizza for dinner!

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It’s the last week of taper here and I got in a nice four mile run on Monday morning — two easy and two at marathon pace. And it was a good thing I wore my new Garmin 220 to pace myself because I realized that when I originally set the data screens, I chose “average pace” (average pace for the entire four miles) instead of “average lap pace” (average pace for the mile you are currently running). For marathons I like to keep an eye on my average lap pace, and that will be particularly important for this downhill marathon, REVEL Canyon City, because I expect the pace to be faster in the first half than the second. In fact I used the pace band feature at FindMyMarathon.com to create a free pace band that is specific to the REVEL Canyon City course. Other marathons I’ve generally tried to run an even pace, but that doesn’t make sense for this course. It’s nice to see what the predicted adjustments to pace are for the hills — both up and down — for this specific marathon.

Yesterday I did an easy three-miler that nearly undid six months of marathon training when I got distracted and rolled my ankle on this sucker:

Marathon killer: the magnolia seed pod of doom, next to my Brooks Adrenaline for size comparison

Marathon killer: the magnolia seed pod of doom, next to my Brooks Adrenaline for size comparison

In the instant my left foot rolled on the pod, pain shot up my left ankle and the marathon flashed before my eyes. My run came to a screeching halt. I quickly took a tentative step and tried to walk off the injury. By some miracle it felt a million times better after a minute of walking and I was able to finish the run. Throughout the rest of the day it stiffened up and became sore, but I iced it before bed and this morning it’s almost back to normal. Every taper has its aches and pains and this one is no exception. Now I just need to do one more easy three miler (including three strides and not including magnolia seed pods of doom) on Thursday and I’ll be ready for the race on Saturday.

While I ran on Monday I listened to an inspiring Runners Connect podcast interview with Olympic medalist Deena Kastor. Usually before a marathon I watch the movie Spirit of the Marathon again to see Deena race at the Chicago Marathon, but this time it was nice to listen to her advice for getting ready for a big race. She suggested that a runner list five reasons why the upcoming race should be successful. That helps calm your nerves and gives you things to draw upon during the race if and when your confidence falters.

So, here are five reasons my sixth marathon could/should/will go well:

1. With my switch to a traditional training plan that had me running five days a week, I managed to hit my highest mileage week ever (40.5 miles) and highest mileage month ever (156.3 miles in October). Not exactly numbers to write home about but pretty darn good for a 44-year-old mother of three.

2. I had that successful and joyful practice 20-miler on the course in the San Gabriel mountains.

3. I looked back over my training log (I keep one on my paper training plan and one on MapMyRun) and reminded myself that I kept consistent with the training. I didn’t miss a single run. Several times when the plan called for cross-training or rest, I rested, but I did every prescribed run. One 16-miler I cut short at 10.6 miles because I felt dehydrated and under-fueled and it was more important to set my ego aside and call it a day than continue and risk injury just to hit that 16 mile number. Sure enough I went on to have several confidence-boosting long runs after learning from my mistakes on that one “bad” run.

4. I made sure to keep up with the strength training at least twice a week. If you asked me the one thing I would recommend to other runners to improve their marathon performance, it would be to add strength training if it’s not already a part of their regimen. As little as 20 minutes twice a week can pay off tremendously in better running form and ability to hold pace in the final miles of a race when your primary running muscles are tired.

5. I nailed down my carbohydrate loading plan and race day plan. It’s not easy to consume over 600 grams of carbohydrates a day but I’m doing my best. I didn’t mind the whole wheat pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast this morning!

So, if you want to see if my ankle cooperates for the race, if my training plays off, if the carbo-loading prevents me from hitting the wall, you can track me on race day (Saturday November 7 starting at 7 a.m. PST) through my participant tracking link. The tracking registers my time at the half marathon point, 5K to go (mile 23.1), and the finish. I expect the first half to be significantly faster than the second given the 4,000+ foot elevation drop in the first half, so don’t be surprised if it takes me a while to pop back up at the 23.1 mark. Cross your fingers for a sub-3:55 (BQ) and better yet a sub-3:36:58 (PR)!

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It saddened me to read today of the plans of Black Lives Matter St. Paul to disrupt the Twin Cities Marathon this coming Sunday, October 4, 2015. The protest organizers say they hope to block the road at some point on the course to prevent runners from finishing the race.

Runner’s World article: Black Lives Matter Says It Plans to Disrupt Twin Cities Marathon
Statement by the Twin Cities Marathon: Updates on the Twin Cities Marathon event page
Black Lives Matter Facebook Event: Black Lives Matter St. Paul Press Release of September 25, 2015

It’s hard for me to come up with coherent thoughts on this, so I am just going to post the thoughts that ran (no pun intended) through my mind as I read the articles, the comments, and the Facebook replies.

– I cannot see the link between police violence against blacks and the Twin Cities Marathon. Yes it’s a high profile event. Yes it is something that runners are privileged to do. But if you wish to highlight and protest police violence against blacks in your community, why choose an event at which the police will be ensuring the safety of the community? Disruption of such a positive community event is not likely to garner support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
– Why target a sport in which so many of the professional athletes are black? Twin Cities Marathon does not yet have up the profiles of the professional athletes running this particular race, but you only have to look at the finishers of the world marathon majors and Olympic races to know that the sport of running benefits many blacks.
– And forget about all the professional athletes, what about the ways in which running benefits the everyday athletes of all backgrounds? Don’t the protesters know that Black Girls RUN!?

At any rate, my thoughts will be with all of the runners and the protesters on Sunday. May the runners finish safely without interruption and may the protesters stay safe as well.

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I crossed another item off my bucket list recently! It wasn’t a marathon, half marathon or any other goal race — it was volunteering at a race! On Sunday, September 20, 2015, my three girls and I got up at 5:45 a.m. to drive out to Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California to volunteer at the Girls on the Go Los Angeles Half Marathon, 10K, 5K and 1K races. What a fun morning in a gorgeous setting!

Not a bad place to spend a Sunday morning -- Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California

Not a bad place to spend a Sunday morning — Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California

In a stroke of good luck we got the best assignment in my opinion: handing out the medals at the finish line! But first we had to unwrap hundreds of individually plastic-wrapped medals. I had no idea the medals came that way. Of course it makes sense, you wouldn’t want those shiny medals clanking against each other and getting dinged up before race day, but I never gave it any thought before. Which is exactly why every runner should make the time to volunteer at a race — to better understand and appreciate all the volunteers who make it happen!

If you are looking to boost your mood and your sense of community, get out to a local race, volunteer your time, and watch a few finishers come in at the finish line.

Happy finisher at the Girls on the Go race

Happy finisher at the Girls on the Go race

The Girls on the Go race series is particularly fun because many of the runners come in costume — I even saw a man in a tutu (what a good sport!)

While we could normally expect pleasant weather in September in Southern California, the heat wave here continues and we all roasted. That didn’t diminish the joy of the runners though and if anything, it enhanced the sense of accomplishment. Besides, who wouldn’t smile at the finish line when they receive a medal from one of these three beauties (their mother is just a little biased, no apologies there):

My long-haired lovelies handing out medals at the finish line

My long-haired lovelies handing out medals at the finish line

As an unexpected side effect/reward for volunteering, my 13-year-old got inspired to sign up for her first half marathon. We’ll build up to it by running the Brea 8K in February, maybe the La Habra 10K in March, and then a half marathon (still to be decided — her dad needs to help choose the race for his first half marathon too!) in the spring.

Have you ever volunteered for a race?

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On a whim I decided to enter a contest for a free entry to the Shoreline Half Marathon from RaceGrader.com (a great place to check for reviews of Southern California races and to find registration discount codes for many popular local races). I’m always looking for someplace new to run and 13 miles along the beach sounded spectacular. Of course as soon as I typed in my email address and hit submit, I had second thoughts. How far exactly is Ventura from my house? Two hours. How early would I need to get up for the race? 4 a.m. Ugh, that seemed a little early for what would basically be a training run for the REVEL Canyon City Marathon in November. But what are the chances I’ll win anyway? Pretty darn good, apparently!

So that’s how I found myself lined up at the start of the 2015 Shoreline Half Marathon on Sunday July 12. And what a gorgeous shoreline it was!

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

Part of the course runs along this promenade in Ventura

I had arrived at 7 a.m. and parked for $6 at the public parking structure next to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, an easy walk to pick up my race bib and nice grey technical shirt at Promenade Park. There were plenty of porta potties and also some public restrooms on the beach path (oh the luxury!)

The half marathon started promptly at 8. I loved how the race director asked people to self-seed in the corral by pace and sent us off in waves every two minutes. It’s an unusual way of doing it but it makes perfect sense to avoid a crowded mass start along the beach path and the chip time doesn’t begin until you cross the starting line.

I wore my Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS watch but vowed not to look at it for the entire race. Mike didn’t think I could run “naked” (he knows how I love my data!) but that made me all the more determined! I wanted to practice running by feel and not by the watch. I hoped to go out at a steady pace, slower than marathon or half marathon pace but not exactly an “easy” pace — just a pace I felt I could sustain comfortably for 13.1 miles. I guessed that would be in the low 9-minute mile range.

The first part of the course runs five miles north along the bike path and the wide shoulder of the 101 overlooking the ocean. As always in a race I felt grateful for the privilege of being there and being healthy and able to run. The course is nearly all flat with just a few dips here and there, less than 100 feet of elevation change. Around mile 4 I could see the leaders of the race coming back along the course after the turnaround at mile 5. It was fun to cheer them on and marvel at their speed! The north-and-back and south-and-back layout of the course meant that there was plenty of opportunity for people watching with the 664 participants in the half marathon and the people on the boardwalk. Somewhere in the first five miles I passed the 2:00 pacer so I knew my pace was faster than I had originally thought it would be.

Pace miles 1-5: 8:54, 8:37, 8:29, 8:32, 8:22

The course then runs the five miles back, past the start/finish line, a couple of miles out under the Ventura Pier and around Ventura State Beach Park, and back to the finish line along the promenade.

Around mile 8 the pace stopped feeling comfortable and started getting tougher. The 8 a.m. start time meant that we faced some serious heat on the course in the later miles (73 degrees and humid by the time I finished). I wore a visor and sunglasses and stopped at the aid stations every 1-1.5 miles for Gatorade and water. The volunteers were hustling and did a good job helping the runners.

Pace miles 6-10: 8:29, 8:38, 8:27, 8:26, 8:36

The last 5K of the race was a challenge. My training plan only called for 11 miles for my long run so when I passed the parking structure after mile 12 the temptation to call it good was strong! The plan also called for a “fast finish” though, so I picked it up for mile 13 and brought it home strong.

Pace miles 11-13.1: 8:24, 8:52, 8:30

Chip Finish Time: 1:52:15, 8:34 average pace overall

Females 40-49 age group: 9 of 113

Females overall: 33 of 408 (Interesting that there were more women than men in the race! Go ladies!)

All finishers: 94 of 664

I enjoyed the bananas, oranges and Gatorade at the finish line while I waited in line for the free tacos. There was free beer too but I wouldn’t have survived the drive home with that!

It was an interesting experience running the race “naked.” I ended up running faster than I would have had I been looking at my watch, and yet the pace felt easier. I found that when I run by effort, the pace feels more comfortable than if I try to “force” myself to hit a certain pace on the watch. Now would I pace a marathon goal race this way? Not likely. That would take a lot more practice for me and a lot better sense of how to run 26.2 by feel. Would I pace another half this way? Absolutely, especially if I wanted to use the race to gauge my current level of fitness. For not tapering (and for spending several hours the previous day cleaning and priming my daughter’s bedroom to paint), I was very happy with how the race went. I recommend the course for the views, the smaller size of the field, the ease of parking and same-day packet pick-up, the nice race t-shirt, finisher’s medal, and free tacos and beer at the finish. Just a few tips if you plan on going for a goal time on this course: place yourself toward the front of your wave at the start, be prepared to dodge a few runners and people on the boardwalk (which isn’t closed to the public), and dress for the heat. With early bird registration starting at $45 for the half and going up to $75 in the months before race day, it’s a great value for a well-run (no pun intended), gorgeous race!

Have you ever run a race “naked”? Do you find it easier to run by feel or by a GPS watch?

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I love running new-to-me races and the 16th Annual Downtown Anaheim 5K Race did not disappoint!

The race offered free race morning packet pickup in addition to early pickup, which meant that I could sleep until 5:15 a.m., scarf down some oatmeal with brown sugar and a cup of coffee with milk, and hit Harbor Boulevard at 6 a.m. for the straight shot south to downtown Anaheim. I arrived at one of the two parking structures on Oak Street that had free, ample parking and I had no trouble finding the check-in table by 6:25 and the porta-potties by 6:30. No waiting in any lines!

Registration cost $35 but only because I was too chicken to sign up before May 1. Normal registration is $30 and there are discounts for teams and even a $20 early bird discount fee for those on the race director’s email list. Registration comes with a nice white cotton tee which I confess I used for a sweat rag after the race (what, it will wash clean!) and which I prefer over a technical tee if it keeps the cost down (same with the fact that there was no race medal – I don’t need more bling although I mention it because I know that’s important to a lot of people). Tons of great vendors lined the expo and offered free samples of everything from vitamin water to protein recovery drinks and bars. My favorite vendor though? The one offering two-minute lessons on hands-only CPR, something every runner (every person!) should know. Check out this demonstration video from the Boston Athletic Association, the American Red Cross, and the American Heart Association:

What the lesson taught me today is that to help you figure out how many chest compressions to do in a minute, you can perform them to the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive.”

For more information on the cardiac risk associated with endurance events you can also listen to this great Runner Academy podcast: How Safe Is Marathon Running for Your Heart? (And when I say “cardiac risk” I am not talking scary hype, just the facts about the actual low level of risk and how to assess your personal cardiac profile).

Speaking of hearts, mine was beating pretty quickly with race jitters as I waited on the starting line. After a live rendition of the national anthem, the race began promptly at 7:30 a.m. under gloriously overcast skies, 63 degrees and 80 percent humidity.

I hope next year the race director has volunteers holding up minute-per-mile seeding suggestion signs in the self-seeding corral because I highly doubt the dude in cotton Bermuda shorts (no joke) who tried to place himself in front of me five rows from the start could run 7-minute miles. And I’ve never experienced more jostling at the start of a race. If I wanted to be elbowed I’d do an Ironman swim. Anyway, it is thankfully a relatively small race at about 850 participants and it soon thinned out on the wide straight streets of Anaheim. Unfortunately one of the train track crossing bars was stuck down and the course police directed us on the slightest jog around that. The announcer assured us the course wouldn’t run long and indeed, my Garmin measured 3.13 miles. Besides, this year’s winner clocked a course record so who am I to complain?

In spite of my best intentions and 1-minute warm-up intervals at race pace, I started the race a little too fast and had to settle into a 7-minute pace. The first mile seemed to fly by. My goal then became to “maintain.” Funny how mantras just pop into your head as you run. Mile two was good but getting harder, and mile three was a real challenge. I tried to walk (run) that fine line between leaving it all on the course and actually blowing up on the course. I did pretty well but my pace slipped a little. Perhaps I was demoralized by the woman who passed me as she pushed a jogging stroller (I joke — I wasn’t demoralized, I was awed!) I ended up finishing in 22:19, a PR by 1:25 over the iCureMelanoma 5K last May.

Gorgeous palm-lined finish with the American flag and balloon arch

Gorgeous palm-lined finish with the American flag and balloon arch

Turns out my time was good enough for second place in my age group!

Chip time: 22:19
Pace: 7:11
Overall: 136/851
Females: 25/434
Females 40-44: 2/36

I stuck around to collect my award but the timing company experienced a glitch and it couldn’t confirm the official results in time. Those came out at about 5 p.m. today and the awards will be put in the mail on Monday.

Overall I definitely recommend this race! The parking and packet pick-up are a breeze, the course is well laid out and flat, the finish line is beautiful and the expo has a real community feel. The race director gave out prizes from some of the sponsors and it was fun to watch a little kid get four tickets to an Angels game and an adult get a two-night stay at the Anaheim Marriott! One lucky lady with size 8 feet won a pair of Skechers running shoes (I curse you, size 11s! Actually I take that back — my size 11s have given me many happy miles.)

Racing a 5K was quite the experience after all my marathon training and racing. I followed this 5K training plan for advanced runners from About.com and I feel like it did the job well. I was surprised to note that my lungs gave out before my legs, and my arms were sore. Man I must have been pumping to keep up that pace!

What’s your favorite race distance? I like to mix it up. I would like to run another one-mile race some time but there aren’t too many around and the local ones haven’t fit in my schedule. I love an 8K — I feel like that is a nice middle distance race. My favorite race of all so far though has been the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon, just because the course was so spectacular in the San Gabriel Mountains, and I felt like I was flying down the course.

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I had a fantastic morning with my family and friends at the iCureMelanoma 5K in Fullerton, California today! It’s a great community event for runners, walkers and anyone interested in supporting melanoma research.

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What started last year with our core group of book club members on Team BookIt! grew this year to 53 people on Team Beckman Coulter. With the generous help of the Beckman Coulter Foundation, our team raised $5,418 for melanoma research at University of California, Irvine (UCI)! We won the top prize for fundraising, and it felt really great to contribute towards the $100,000 that was presented to UCI at the end of the race. We thought we were in the running for the prize for largest team but Team Mac came in first with an amazing 107 members who came out to honor the memory of Michael Gerard MacDonald, a man lost too soon to melanoma in 2009. So really Team Mac’s victory is a huge win-win and it’s simply wonderful that so many people participated to support much-needed melanoma research!

My eldest daughter and I ran the race in the competitive wave that started promptly at 7 a.m. The course runs over challenging terrain — a mix of grass, road, and dirt. It forms a lollipop shape as it runs out to and around gorgeous Laguna Lake, which shades you with beautiful trees along the park path. I cannot say I’d recommend it as a “fast” course but man you wouldn’t know it when you look at the finishing times. The winner came in at a blazing 18:54! I managed to pull off a PR of 23:44 for 1st in my 41-50 age group of 33 women. And my daughter also set a PR (by 4 minutes!), coming in at 24:11 for 3rd in her age group!

My husband and middle daughter had fun on the course in the 8:00 a.m. open wave with many of our friends. There were tons of great vendors at the finish line and we feasted on pizza, Italian ice, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and protein bar samples. Of course there were also sunscreen samples on hand, and my girls were thrilled to find free nail polish samples at the Solfingers booth. I am definitely going to check out the Solfingers line of sun protection gloves and arm sleeves. I’ve been wearing my plain blue Phoenix Marathon arm warmers for sun protection but the Solfingers sleeves and gloves offer several super cute designs.

I’ve got my sights set on another 5K at the Downtown Anaheim 5K Run on June 13, 2015, and we are already planning to come back next year for the 10th Annual iCureMelanoma 5K!

What do you use for sun protection? In addition to wearing a visor, sunglasses and as much clothing as I can tolerate, I like Coppertone Sport sunscreen. The dermatologist Dr. William Baugh who puts on the iCureMelanoma 5K recommends Neutrogena as his favorite brand. (Tip: he says it does not matter whether you use the spray or cream formula of sunscreen — the best sunscreen is the one you will use! If you have trouble with sunscreen running in your eyes he recommends a silicon-based sunscreen for athletes). I also try as much as possible to avoid peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and I choose a shady route whenever possible (not always easy in sunny Southern California).

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We interrupt this Santa Rosa Marathon recap with the least original thing said after a marathon, ever: I am so sore. It’s been 48 hours since the race ended. I feel pretty good if I keep walking around, but as soon as I sit down for any length of time, or worse yet, sleep? I can barely get moving again. My quads are so sore that it took me three tries to get up off the couch this morning. Finally I succeeded by doing a newborn giraffe move involving spreading my legs wide and using my arms to press myself up to standing.

If you missed the thrilling first installment of the race recap — Earthquake! Axe murderer! — you can read Part 1 here. I left off at the starting line.

Start: 6:03 a.m.

You might recall that one of my goals was to go out slow, up to as much as 40 seconds slower than marathon goal pace, in the hopes it would help me keep from bonking later in the race like I did at Mountains2Beach when I went out too fast. I had written up a marathon pace band starting at 9:10 for mile 1, 8:50 for mile 2, 8:40 for mile 3, 8:30 for mile 4, and 8:25 for every mile after that. Assuming I could run the tangents well enough to run 26.4 miles total (just 0.2 over the plotted course), that would bring me in at the finish line at exactly 3 hours 44 minutes. The night before the race I decided I couldn’t quite bear going out 40 seconds slower, but I would try to go 15-20 seconds slower for that first mile, and then ease into marathon goal pace over the next three miles.

Miles 1 to 3 (8:43, 8:33, 8:32)

I loved starting out at an average 8:43 pace for the first mile. My legs felt fresh from taper but I didn’t make the mistake of going out too fast because of that. I found that I wasn’t huffing and puffing, and the first mile felt like a nice warmup. The whole field of runners set off in harmony and I easily settled in without having to dodge around other runners as is often the case at larger races.

The first 2.5 miles of the race wound through the city streets of downtown Santa Rosa. It seemed like a lot of turns but it went by quickly as I focused on running the tangents (running the most direct route possible). I knew that those 2.5 miles would help spread out the field of runners so that when we hit the narrower greenway path at 2.5 miles it would not bottleneck and back up. Thank goodness that was indeed the case. It didn’t feel crowded on the greenway and I didn’t feel any frustration with my position in the trail of runners. I did worry that at some point I would want to pass the 3:45 pacer and the pack of runners clustered around him, but — spoiler alert — that didn’t happen until mile 15 when we were out on the road.

The greenway is just that: green and beautiful and mostly flat. Note that for safety reasons, runners are only allowed to have one earbud in while they are running on the greenway (that was the 2014 rule anyway). I choose not to listen to music while I race. I can listen to an audiobook during training runs, but during a race I like to focus on my surroundings, on how my body feels, and on my pace and form. I don’t mind if others listen to music as long as they are aware of others around them.

Miles 4 to 6 (8:30, 8:27, 8:24)

Aid stations popped up every 2 miles or so on the course. They were well stocked with Gatorade Endurance and water. (Only once did I suspect my cup of Gatorade had been watered down a bit. The lemon-lime flavor that tastes like liquid gold when I need it tasted more like Gatorade-flavored water that time. Overall though the aid stations and volunteers get a big thumbs-up from me). The best stations were the ones that had water on the left side of the course and Gatorade on the right. That made it easy to grab the correct cup from the volunteers. I also saw volunteers handing out oranges, bananas, and gels at aid stations later on the course. I did not carry any fuel with me and I relied solely on the course aid stations. I had practiced this at the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon in May and on interval workouts during training. I knew I needed to get 6-8 ounces of sports drink at each aid station, which meant asking for two cups and taking about 8 gulps as I walked. I burn over 3,000 calories during a full marathon and I wanted to take in at least 1,000 calories on the course. Ten minutes before the race I had gulped 16 ounces of Gatorade (enough to prime the system, taken in close enough to the race start that it did not make me have to stop at a porta potty along the course. There were plenty of those but I’m grateful I didn’t need one).

Miles 7 to 9 (8:24, 8:22, 8:28)

Just after mile 8 the course leaves the greenway path and hits the road. There are some rolling hills, never more than 30 feet of elevation gain and loss. Any potholes were marked with yellow spray paint around them. The course was marked in green sticker arrows and white chalk (blue arrows for the half marathon). I never had any problem navigating the course.

Miles 10 to 12 (8:23, 8:25, 8:27)

Around mile 10 the course veers into beautiful DeLoach Vineyards, one of the sponsors of the race. That’s the one hiccup on the course — you have to run on a very short section of dirt road, just a few hundred feet. I wouldn’t have minded it but the runners ahead of me kicked up a lot of dust. The reward for running over that stretch though is getting to run through the barrel room at the winery. Watch out for runners stopping to take photos at this point and of course if you are one of those stopping to take a selfie, remember to be considerate and step all the way to the right to stop. The course heads back out past the rows of grapevines. The vines were dripping with full clusters of grapes at this time of year. Some of the trees on the course were already starting to blush with fall color even though it was only the end of August.

Mile 13 and 0.1 – The Half Marathon Point (8:30)

At the half marathon point by the distance shown on my Garmin, my time said 1:51:05. The race timing mat at the actual half marathon point registered my chip time as 1:51:48. That was just 3 seconds slower than the target time I had written on my pace bracelet: 1:51:45. Things were looking good, but I knew from experience that the race really starts for me around mile 18. Only then would I know if I could break through the proverbial wall and run on pace to qualify for Boston with a 3:45 or less. And now, Part 3, the thrilling conclusion!

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