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Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get some great free stuff to review. StrideBox kindly sent me two boxes full of running goodies over the last two months. Let me just say straight up that I’m a pretty thrifty (okay fine, call me cheap) person and usually I would not sign up for a subscription service like StrideBox. But I also believe that money spent on fitness is money well spent, and at the current price of $15 per month, I can see how StrideBox is a good value for the avid runner. I particularly love that there are various gift subscriptions available (hint hint) without any long-term commitment.

First of all, it was a delight to receive a box in the mail. There’s something so fun and indulgent about receiving a package and opening it up to see what’s inside. And the great thing about StrideBox is that you’re bound to find at least one or two gems in each box. Not everything is going to be a winner, but that’s okay! It’s worth it to find out you didn’t like that particular protein cookie, but you really loved that flavor of protein bar.

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I wonder what’s inside this carefully wrapped StrideBox?

My first box contained lots of wonderful goodies.

 

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My absolute favorite, and something that I wouldn’t have found on my own, were the iGloves. They are the perfect weight for a chilly SoCal morning and they actually work when I try to start a podcast on my iPhone. No more tearing off my gloves in frustration when I want to answer a text or open the MapMyRun app.

I was surprised to find that I liked the Yogurt Berry PR Bar better than the Peanut Butter Granola one (which was also good, but both my 8-year-old and I preferred Yogurt Berry).

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Can’t forget the sports detergent that was in the box too.

In the second box, I found a few more favorites.

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Lots of goodies, treats and tips.

I am already a fan of Honey Stinger Waffles in my marathon training, and I am excited to try the Wildflower Honey flavor. And the morning I opened the box, I used the new-to-me Escape SPF 50 lip balm – a must-have in sunny Southern California. I look forward to having the HyperGo After Sports Wipe when I am out and about, trying a new trail somewhere while one of my kids is at ballet camp or tennis camp this summer and I’m squeezing in a run while waiting to pick her up. Love the massage tool too – that will really come in handy after a long run.

All in all I recommend StrideBox for a fun treat for yourself or the passionate runner in your life!

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On a cool and beautiful Saturday morning in February, 87 hearty souls raced through the desert to complete the 2017 Death Valley Marathon. The course runs through spectacular Death Valley National Park along the same road traveled by the infamous Badwater 135 ultra marathon.

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View of the starting line on Highway 190.

Instead of the national anthem, the race director led us all in a more appropriate and moving rendition of America the Beautiful.

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Marathoners and their friends gathered for the 8 a.m. start. You can play “Where’s Angela” and find me in the purple top toward the front of the group.

Before the race, I worried that the out-and-back course might be a bit dull, with the same view for miles. I needn’t have worried, as the park is gorgeous and the course winds through the valley with ever-changing views of mountains to the east and west. Also, while the course boasts less than 325 feet of elevation gain, that number is deceptive. It felt to me like we were usually on a slight uphill or downhill grade on rolling hills and rarely running on just flat pavement.

The course roadway is open to park visitors, but I found the vast majority of drivers to be extremely respectful of the runners. We ran on the west shoulder at all times, and while that meant a little jockeying for position at the beginning of the race, the runners soon spread out and by the second half, I often found myself running alone through the desert. Spectators are not allowed on the course, and aid stations are only every three miles. The stations were well-stocked but I thought the Gatorade was a little too watered down (that is foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch that).

I really enjoyed the first half of the course. The problem for me came around mile 16 when my calves started cramping. I can only speculate that I undertrained for the race or underfueled during the race, or some combination of the two. I had brought my own homemade sports drink that worked fine for me in training but obviously did not do the trick in the race, and the Gatorade on the course didn’t make up for it in the final miles. My splits went from a super-consistent 8:52.6 and 8:52.4 in miles 8-9 and 8:58.8 and 8:58.9 in miles 14-15 to 13:56 for mile 21 and 15:03 for mile 24! At one point I considered whether I wanted to drop out of the race (that might have been the time I heard the raven caw above me and wondered if that was a vulture coming for my carcass when I dropped to the ground. I might have gotten a tad bit dramatic in my suffering). I asked myself if I was going to injure myself by continuing. When the answer was no, I asked myself if I would feel better if I stopped, or better if I finished. I knew for certain that I would feel better if I finished, so I set my mind to it. I decided that I needed to take the focus off my cramping, painful calves, and concentrate on something that didn’t hurt. Somewhere after I really hit the wall in mile 20, I started counting my arm swings. My arms didn’t hurt, and I felt more powerful and in control as I counted each time my right fist punched forward. Long story short, by the time I finished the race, I had counted over 4,200 swings of my right arm. I got into a zen zone by the final miles, and brought my pace back down from 15:03 to 12:38 for mile 25 and 11:37 for mile 26! Mike brought the girls to the finish line, and they gave me a burst of energy as I ran the final 0.33 in a pace of 9:46.

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The most special moment of the race, as the girls ran with me to the finish.

I finished in 4:28:01, a full 51 minutes off my PR of 3:36:58 (recap of the Phoenix Marathon here). I had hoped to come in under 4 hours, but no such luck. My final stats:

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The first place male and female finishers came in at a blazing 2:49:40 and 3:21:08 respectively. Including all of the 87 finishers, the average finish time was 4:39:40.

If I had to do it over, I would train harder (though I thought I had trained well, with 3 20-milers under my belt), and carry Gatorade instead of my homemade sports drink. Or perhaps, knowing what I know now, I would have opted to do the half marathon and had more time to view the rest of the national park, which truly wowed me with how beautiful it is in the winter. [Edited to add: a couple of weeks after this race, I ended up getting some blood work done and I found out that I had iron-deficiency anemia. No wonder my race time was significantly off my best time! I’m happy to report that my running has started to get back to normal after some iron supplements prescribed by my doctor.]

I was very happy to find that the finish line fare included trail mix with nuts, raisins and M&Ms (heaven!) and a pretzel mix too. I picked up my cotton race t-shirt, which I will wear with pride. While I didn’t finish anywhere near the time I hoped, I am unusually proud of myself for finishing this race. The marathon always has something to teach me, even in my 8th one. This time I learned that the mind really can control the body. My mind carried me through 10 miles after my legs started cramping. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a pretty impressive display of sheer determination.

It’s been three weeks since the race and I’m back up to running 10 miles for my long run this weekend. I am still thinking through what I’d like to take on next. Do I choose another marathon after three particularly hard experiences (REVEL Canyon City, Boston and this one)? Or turn to a different challenge? All I know is I like having a big goal, so I’d better start planning.

What was your hardest race and why? Have you been to Death Valley? (If not, you should go — in the winter!)

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It’s about time I updated on how the 30-day push-up and abs challenges from darebee.com went for me. I completed them “successfully” in that I stuck to the plan of doing the assigned workouts every day for 30 days in a row. It wasn’t easy by any definition — it took 10-20 minutes per day and if I didn’t combine it with my run or cross-training, then I got sweaty twice a day! I liked to do the strength training in the morning because I found if I waited until the end of the day, not only did it weigh (ha ha, no pun intended) on me throughout the day, I also had a harder time doing the work because I was worn out from the day. So I’d wake up, do just enough strength training to work up a sheen of sweat, hop in the shower to rinse off, and get ready to take the kids to school.

The last day of the abs challenge called for 70 full sit-ups, 300 flutter kicks, and a 4-minute plank! That plank wasn’t pretty (picture me trembling through the last minute that felt like forever) but I did it! The push-up challenge was even harder though. I did every workout, every day, until the very last day. I was supposed to do 50 push-ups in a row on day 30, and I could “only” do 30. I finished the remaining 20 in 4 sets of 5.

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Ha ha – check out my notes on the particularly hard workouts: “tough!!” “wow” and “killer”

It’s been a month since I finished the challenges and I’ve kept up with the strength training about three days per week. I’m really pleased with the results. I still can’t do 50 push-ups in a row, but I feel stronger (mentally and physically), my body shape changed (no six-pack, but I do have more muscle tone), and I notice a difference in my endurance on runs (it feels easier to hold good form toward the end of a run). I’ve long been a believer in strength training and these challenges just affirmed the power of what a short time investment in body weight workouts can do for your overall fitness.

I’m in my third week of training for the Death Valley Marathon and there are just over 16 weeks to go until the big day on February 4. Last week I ran 38.75 miles but only because I did my 12-mile long run on a Sunday instead of Saturday and then the next 14-mile long run on the following Saturday. Usually I only run 3 days per week and cross-train on 2-3 other days. This week I did an 8-mile tempo run, in the evening, in the unrelenting heat of Southern California. That’s when I really felt like I turned a corner and got back on track (so to speak, again no pun intended) with my marathon training. And then yesterday I did 5.0 miles of hill work. I dropped my 11-year-old at ballet and drove with my 8-year-old to the park. While she played on the playground, I ran half-mile laps around the park on the grass, then ran up and down the hill that’s in the middle of the park. While I was there, the cross-country boys and girls teams from a local high school were training there too. Imagine the lithe, nimble bodies of 15-year-olds, contrasted with my 45-year-old mother-of-three body. But you know what? Instead of being humbled by them, I was proud! Go me for putting myself out there and running hard. And you know what else? One of the cross-country coaches gave me the best compliment. He asked:

What are you training for?

I just love that question/compliment. It’s the question I got when I was training for my first half marathon and someone caught up to me at a stoplight and asked me that and it finally made me feel like a “real” runner — when another runner recognized that I was training for a race.

Anyway, I told him I was training for the Death Valley Marathon, and he told me I was “looking good” and gave me a high five. Totally made my day.

Do you do strength training? Do you have any links to share to core workouts posted online? I like Core H (13 minutes) and 8-minute abs.

 

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Continuing from Part I and Part II….

Spirits were high among the runners in wave 3, corral 5 as we trotted across the starting line timing mat at 10:50 a.m. on Monday, April 18, 2016. No one said much as we tried to navigate the pressing crowd of runners, pretty much running in lockstep and not trying to bump into anyone else. However, the spectators were already making plenty of noise to make up for our silence! The entire Boston Marathon was just a fantastic experience, and I mean FAN-tastic! The spectators could not have been more welcoming and encouraging along the entire route. The race course runs through eight cities: Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston. Each community managed to extend its own unique form of hospitality. As a runner, I could tell that the spectators genuinely wanted the race to run through their town, and they not only welcomed the marathon itself but each and every runner that passed by. The spectators all along the way somehow managed to make each runner feel like a rock star, like we all mattered just as much as the elite athletes! That outpouring of support makes the experience of running the Boston Marathon a good one regardless of the runner’s finishing time.

Speaking of time, while I had said before that I had not planned to run this race for time, that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to pay attention to my pace. I had run the Phoenix Marathon in a PR time of 3:36:58 with an average pace of 8:16 per mile. Every article I had read on Boston warned not to go out too quickly on the early downhill miles on the course or you would regret it around mile 20. So I planned to stay between 8:45-9:00 per mile for those early miles and I thought I might finish in a total time somewhere around 4 hours.

Miles 1-3 (8:52, 8:42, 8:44)

I certainly didn’t want to waste any energy dodging other runners so I just tucked in the crowd and maintained my pace. That became easier said than done though when I factored in walking through the aid stations. In light of the high temperatures forecast for the race, the organizers had sent out an email advising runners to pay close attention to hydration, and indeed I needed to stop at the first aid station at mile 2 along with nearly every other runner. The volunteers did a great job, but there’s just no managing that volume of runners (27,491 runners total). I couldn’t use my usual technique of speeding up a bit before the aid station to “bank” time to walk through the aid station because other runners blocked the way. It was also hard to get going again, and it was odd to run on the road completely covered in Gatorade and cups. Once the road cleared, my shoes were sticky for about another 100 yards! My advice to runners wanting to race Boston for time? Especially in the early miles, skip the aid stations on the right and go for the less crowded ones on the left. Don’t stop at the first Gatorade table — there are 4 at each station (followed by 4 of water).

Miles 4-6 (8:35, 8:50, 8:43)

In mile 4 in Ashland, don’t be alarmed when the course splits in two to go around some cement traffic islands. Volunteers make it clear you can run on either side. Running the tangents on this course is hard due to the crowds and features (spoiler: my “marathon” ended up being 26.74 miles instead of 26.2).

In rare quiet moments along the course, the runners’ footsteps sounded like the pattering of raindrops. The sheer sea of runners in front of me again reminded me of a zombie apocalypse! I kept waiting for the crowd of runners to thin, but it didn’t let up as much as I expected (I might just be a bit biased given that the other six marathons I have run have each had 1/10th the number of participants as Boston). All I know is I got elbowed by other runners right up to mile 25 and even in the finishing chute! No one was particularly aggressive, there were just a lot of people on the course.

Miles 7-9 (8:45, 8:47, 8:48)

In Framingham, the winds picked up, especially by Lake Cochituate at mile 9. At first I appreciated the cool breeze, but then there were times where I felt the need to draft off runners to protect myself from the wind (for once I was grateful for the crowded pack of runners!)

Miles 10-12 (8:49, 8:54, 8:38)

The course enters Natick and I took in the sight of yet another town common with a beautiful clock tower. There are also digital clocks at every mile marker along the race, which is helpful if you can do the math to figure out how that time compares to when you crossed the starting line.

When I entered the town of Wellesley, I kept an eye out for a Wellesley girl to kiss. As I said, I came to this race for the experience and I wasn’t going to miss out on any of it! You could hear the girls screaming before you could see them! I rounded the bend and saw a girl holding a sign that said, “Kiss me — I’m from Cali!” I knew that was my girl and dodged over to the side, pointed to my cheek and asked for a kiss. She kindly obliged, and I ran on with a smile and renewed energy. Later though I thought maybe I should have stopped for the girl whose sign said “Kiss me or I’ll vote for Trump!”

Miles 13 – 15 (8:43, 8:47, 9:12)

The half marathon point is in Wellesley and I passed the timing mat at 1:55:41. I remember my energy dipping a little at that point. I don’t know if was the relief of passing the halfway point, or if the noise of the Wellesley “scream tunnel” took a little out of me, but I felt a change in my ability to keep pace.

Miles 16-18 (8:43, 10:09, 9:41)

The course enters Newton next and the hills begin in earnest. Frankly the whole course felt like rolling hills and I had a hard time distinguishing one from the other. A lot of people on the course started suffering at this point. Talk about the zombie apocalypse — I’ve never seen so many people walking on a race course! I suspect that a lot of runners trained hard to qualify and ended up injured, or got injured in training for Boston itself, but they didn’t want to miss out on the experience running Boston so they vowed to get to the finish whether they had to walk or crawl to get there. Heck, I even saw a girl in the first mile wearing the kind of boot you need for a stress fracture! And as I passed Newton-Wellesley Hospital somewhere between the 16 and 17 mile points, I watched grimly as someone was wheeled off the course and into the hospital on a stretcher.

Miles 19-21 (9:25, 9:45, 10:33)

My family and friends were waiting for me at the mile 20 marker. You can see that I picked up the pace a bit in anticipation of seeing them! The kids made these awesome signs for me out of pipe cleaners, beads, and blue glitter.

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I grabbed some Gatorade from the aid station and then braced myself for Heartbreak Hill. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize that particular hill was THE Heartbreak Hill until I saw a spectator holding a sign! It was just another hill, and I’d done a pretty good job of training on hills in my hilly neighborhood. I never walked (except through aid stations) and kept on trucking. My pace certainly slipped in that mile though.

Miles 22-24 (9:26, 9:31, 10:05)

Honestly in these miles through Brookline and into Boston, I was simply focused on running and keeping my legs moving. The crowd support became more important than ever. Not only their cheers, but their offers of ice, flavored ice pops, orange slices, banana slices (watch out for those peels on the course — I’m not kidding!), jelly beans, pretzels and M&Ms. I could have even had a full can of beer if I’d wanted one, and I was sorely tempted, not so much by the beer but by the idea of grabbing the can and stopping to walk along and enjoy it!

My favorite bit of course support though was when people had set up their hoses to spray the runners. While the temperatures did drop a bit the closer you got to Boston and the ocean, much of the course this year (at least for those in the later waves like me) was uncomfortably warm.

Miles 25-26.74 (9:45, 9:25, 6:39 pace for 0.74 miles)

Two things encouraged me in these final miles — the sight of the Prudential building (Boston! A building in Boston!) and the sight of the Citgo sign. I used to be able to see that sign outside the window of my on-campus apartment at MIT, so that held special significance for me even beyond the fact that it meant the final miles of the race.

I really picked up the pace when my Garmin beeped to say that I had run 26 miles. At that point I knew I had it in me to sprint and I really wanted the race to be over! So funny that I paid for the privilege to run this race, but I was just so ready to be done at that point. I sprinted for nearly 3/4 of a mile. There’s a little hill when you turn up Hereford but you are rewarded by the sight of the finish line when you turn left at the top and look down Boylston Street. Once again I could hear the absolute roar of the spectators and I felt like a rock star! Could they really be cheering that loudly for middle and back of the pack runners? It was amazing and it made my heart swell. I received a lot of support along the way, from my family, from readers of this blog, and from the race volunteers and spectators, and I was extremely grateful. I came in at 4:05:09 with my arms in the air as I finally crossed the Boston Marathon finish line.

It’s a long walk in the finishing chute. I almost didn’t grab a space blanket to keep warm because I was so heated from the race. Thank goodness I did though because by the time I reached the family meeting area and my family arrived to walk me to the T, my lips were blue! I felt really good though — sore but not injured — and just happy to have come full circle on four years of marathon training from my first marathon at Santa Barbara in 2012 to my seventh marathon at Boston in 2016!

I’ve never been particularly excited about race medals, but this one just symbolizes so much.

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Two more weeks until Boston! What happened to March and how can it be April already? The past three months since I started working part-time as a substitute aide in the special education classrooms have gone by in a blur of working and training. I think I’m ready for Boston but it doesn’t feel like I’m ready because I’ve squeezed in my training around a very erratic, unpredictable work schedule (if I leave my phone on overnight I will often get a call at 5:30 a.m. to work at 8:30 a.m. that same day). Training has been a priority, just not top priority and that seems to be allowing the taper crazies to get to me a little more this time around (Boston will be full marathon number 7 for me).

Last week was spring break and I took the week to focus on a very important part of my training — altitude training! I’m kidding — my family likes to ski so we went to the mountains in Whistler, British Columbia.

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Apparently I’m not the only one who likes to joke. I saw this sign on my run through Stanley Park in Vancouver.

I skied for four days and got in some pretty serious workouts trying to keep up with my kids (ages 13, 11 and 7), all of whom are better skiers than I am. This was one of my favorite trails, a traverse along the Whistler Peak:

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Swapped a gorgeous ski trail for a running trail that day!

I made sure to get some running in though too. Check out the moon above Whistler just as the sun was rising over the Valley Trail:

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Five miles at an 8:15 pace along the Valley Trail. The cold morning encouraged me to run at a brisk pace!

I also ran 10 miles on the Seawall Trail in Vancouver.

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What a treat to do a long run as a tourist in beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia. I saw many other runners that Saturday morning and I wondered how many of them would also be going to Boston in a couple of weeks!

Now I’m back home and back to reality. I started a second part-time job grading online California state assessment tests. Good thing the training schedule is lighter in these last couple of weeks before Boston! One six-miler for my long run this weekend and before I know it, I’ll be back in Beantown. (I lived there for two years when Mike went to business school at MIT Sloan. It’s where my 13-year-old was born, and where my 11-year-old took her first steps when we went back for a visit 10 years ago!)

Do you like to ski? Have you ever been to Boston? Where should I go to eat when I’m there? We have our old favorites and are definitely planning to go for brunch in the South End (Aquitaine. [ETA — closed for renovations! We now have reservations at Gaslight.]) and Italian in the North End (not sure which restaurant yet. [ETA: Rabia’s!]).

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Six more weeks exactly until Boston! Yesterday I got in my second 20-miler of this training cycle. It rained in the early morning but I knew it was going to be a good run when the rain stopped the second I stepped out my door at 7:15 a.m. Perfect running weather — dry, overcast, and 61 degrees for the entire run.

Distance: 20 miles plus a quarter-mile cool down walk

Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes plus 6 minutes of cool down walk

Pace: average 10:00 minutes per mile (6 miles per hour) not counting water stops and stoplights

Water stops: three (one at a park, one at a high school, and one at an elementary school)

Ounces of sports drink consumed: approximately 75 ounces (about half a gallon plus 1.25 cups)

Other runners I saw: 3 total, but not any until about mile 18.5! And then two of them passed me and I was a little bummed and kind of wanted to say, “But I’ve already done 18.5 miles!” Silly I know, a training run isn’t a race. Actually I hoped they’d stop and tell me what they were training for because I often see this woman running in the morning and I know she’s got to be training for a marathon. But she had her earbuds in and I didn’t want to shout after her.

Animals I saw: 4 — 2 very healthy coyotes who were more scared of me than I was of them, one rabbit, and one tiny snake.

Calories burned: approximately 2,434 according to MapMyRun.

Calories consumed in the form of powdered Gatorade: approximately 360.

Memorials I saw to cyclists and motorists killed on the route: 3 😦

Elevation gain: 1,266 feet

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Putting in some serious hill work in preparation for Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon!

Times I thought about Boston while running: eleventy billion

Number of podcasts I listened to: 3 (Another Mother Runner, Runners Connect, Run Buzz Radio)

Number of cities I ran through: 5

Number of donut shops I passed and had to resist stopping in for a maple bar: 2. I’m not kidding. I had $5 in emergency money in my running pack.

Mile at which it started to get pretty difficult to keep running: 16

Mile at which I really wanted to be done: 18.5. That’s when my husband and 13-year-old passed me in their car on the way to a tennis match, and I wished they could have scooped me up and driven me home. My husband reports that I looked hunchbacked at that point (a sure sign of my being tired). But of course I’m really happy I kept going and finished strong.

What’s your favorite donut? What’s your favorite podcast or other choice to listen to? 

 

 

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The newest race on my calendar is one of California’s oldest races — the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon, which was first held in 1955.

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The race takes place on Saturday, June 4, 2016. That’s over five months away, so why have I already registered? Well, a few reasons. (1) Registration is (relatively) cheap right now — just $50 plus the online registration fee. (2) I am a planner. I like crossing it off my to do list and not having to remind myself all the time to register before the race sells out (the horror!) And (3) — this is the big one — I also registered my husband and my oldest daughter for the race! For each of them it will be their first half marathon. I feel if you are going to take on the 13.1 race distance, it’s very motivating to commit to the race, not just wait and see how the training goes. Having that race on the horizon holds you accountable and makes it more likely that you will get out the door and complete the training miles.

We’ve already started training together — not so much following a half marathon training plan but a training plan I put together to get them building up to running enough miles each week that they are ready to start the 8-week training plan in April.

So far the farthest my daughter has ever run/walked in one workout is 5.5 miles. Come to think of it though, she has run a 5K (PR of 24:11) and then gone right back out on the course to run it again about half an hour later — so you might count that as a 6.2-mile run. That was last May though, and now she’s working up to running about 11-12 miles per week and slowly building from there over the next five months. By June my daughter will be 14 years old and my husband will be 45. I’m proud of them both for taking on this half marathon challenge!

Have you run a half marathon? I’ve run five half marathons over the last four years.

When was your first half marathon and what was it? My first half marathon was the OC Half in May 2012.

What’s your favorite half marathon course? I loved the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon in 2014 and the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon has a very similar course — a beautiful run down a mountain through a national forest.

 

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