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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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Imagine the satisfaction of completing your first half marathon. Then imagine the satisfaction of beating that finishing time and setting a new personal record. Then double all that satisfaction and you just might get to the level of satisfaction I felt as I watched my 14-year-old and my husband complete their first half marathons at the Fontana Days Run last weekend!

About five months ago I encouraged Mike and Shannon to start training for a half marathon. I chose the race, the Fontana Days Run, because it offered a gentle downhill profile, the timing was right with the race taking place on June 4 a week after Shannon graduated from 8th grade, it was inexpensive for a half marathon, it was just a 45-minute drive from our house, and we could pick up our race packets on race morning.

I wrote out a training plan for Mike and Shannon to incorporate into their busy tennis schedule. They play 10-15 hours of tennis per week, so I figured they could get by with three runs per week: two shorter runs of 4-5 miles (one easy, one with some hills or informal speed work) and one long run on the weekend that gradually built to a 13.1 mile training run and tapered to an 11.7-miler and a 6-miler in the two weeks before the race. Everything seemed to go well in training, although I had no idea what pace they should target for the race. Shannon set the pace for the long training runs, and that generally averaged out to about 11 minutes per mile. I knew Mike and Shannon wanted to break 2 hours for their finish time, and that would require a pace of about 9 minutes per mile. Could they really run two whole minutes per mile faster in the race than they ran in training? I encouraged them to go out at a comfortable pace and not let their legs fly too fast on the initial downhill (the race has a drop of 2,125 feet from start to finish).

Unfortunately, a heat wave hit Southern California in the week leading up to the race. The race day high was 100 degrees in Fontana. The temperature in the mountains at the 7:30 a.m. race start was about 68 degrees F and the temperature at the finish in Fontana at 9:30 a.m. was 82 degrees. That further muddied the waters as to what pace Shannon and Mike could be expected to run. Here’s a chart from Runner Academy that estimates the impact of hot weather on running pace:

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So I expected them to run about 30 seconds per mile slower in the heat than they could have if we’d had ideal race day temperatures.

 

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As you can see in this photo of me it was quite sunny at the start.

Without fanfare or much warning at all, really, the starting gun went off and Mike and Shannon set out at a comfortable pace. I carried my iPhone and used the MapMyRun app to keep track of our pace, but I kept the data pretty much to myself the whole race. The first few miles of the course run down the road through the San Bernardino National Forest and it’s simply gorgeous!

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After the first few miles though we were in full sun and by mile 5, I really started to feel it. There were adequate aid stations but some just had water and not Gatorade. Thank goodness I brought my own sports bottle and could refill it at the aid stations every 3-4 miles. Given the unusual heat that day, the volunteers drove around in a golf cart and handed out wet washcloths which I appreciated. I coached Shannon to run through the aid stations and just grab a cup of water and dump it on her head. Then I handed her my bottle of Gatorade to drink every mile or so. This worked very well.

 

Mike ran just slightly ahead of Shannon and me, and he seemed to have an internal, innate sense of pace. I mean, just look at the consistency of these splits!

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The course is downhill but it’s so gradual that it never feels taxing. The last seven miles are a straight shot into the town of Fontana, which means you don’t have to worry about running the tangents. It’s not the most scenic, but it’s fantastic for a PR attempt or a first-time race.

 

By about mile 10 I knew that Mike and Shannon could come in under 2 hours, and I started encouraging Shannon to keep up the pace and not let off. She had the best attitude the entire race and never complained. We caught up to Mike around mile 12 just as his calves started cramping due to not taking in enough Gatorade. I passed him my bottle and he was able to revive and keep running. Shannon sprinted to the finish to come in at 1:54:21. I was one second behind her with a huge grin on my face! Mike clocked 1:54:49.

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A happy Mike at the finish line (and some random guy’s rear end. My photography skills can use some work). 

I could not have been more proud of Mike and Shannon. They blew away my best hopes for them and did not seem at all affected by the heat. And for the icing on the race cake, Shannon came in first in her age group!

 

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Later in the week, I interviewed Mike and Shannon separately about their experiences. I probably should not have picked the day of their peak soreness (delayed onset muscle soreness peaks about two days after the race). They didn’t have much to say, but what they said warmed my heart.

Me: Are you glad you did the race?

Shannon: Uh-huh.

Mike: Yup.

Me: Did you meet your goals?

Shannon: Yeah.

Mike: Yes.

Me: Would you do another half marathon?

Shannon: Yup.

Mike:  Maybe.

Me: How did I do as your coach?

Shannon: [Thumbs-up.]

Mike: You were A+. It made it easy. It made it so we could not fail. We were going to meet our goals no matter what. I give you 99% credit.

 

Ahhhh! What a relief. They had a great race, came out of it uninjured, and were happy with the results. And for those wondering about whether or not it was a good idea for a 14-year-old girl to run a half marathon, I can say in our experience it was a very positive, safe, healthy experience for her. She had a checkup with her pediatrician this week including blood work done, and everything came back normal. And today, only 6 days after running the half marathon, Shannon won the Girls 14 and under division of the 18th Annual Laguna Niguel Junior Open Tennis Tournament!

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I’m still catching my breath after an amazing weekend in Boston. Some crazy person scheduled me to run a marathon on Monday, fly 6.25 hours home on Tuesday, and start my first day on my new job at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Oh wait, that crazy person is me! And I have a lot to say about the whole Boston Marathon experience!

So, first I must confess the fact that I missed my flight to Boston on Friday and added six hours to an already very long travel day. Add on top of that the cough and chest congestion that I managed to catch during taper, and it was a pretty rough start to the weekend. Thank goodness I had already planned to run to enjoy the experience and not to race for time, because I wasn’t doing myself any favors in the days before the race.

I got happily settled at the house of some long-time friends John and Christine and enjoyed catching up with them. My brother- and sister-in-law and nephew also came up from Connecticut and it was great to see them and have their support at the race!

On Saturday my family went to the expo with me at the Hynes Convention Center. What an amazing sea of people! I’m not a fan of expos but I have to give credit to the organizers. Any time I had a question a volunteer seemed to step forward and give the answer before I could even ask the question! In no time I had my bib and an exceptionally nice blue and yellow long-sleeved technical tee. I couldn’t leave yet though without finding my name on the wall of marathon participants.

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So happy to be listed on that wall among all of the 2016 Boston Marathon participants!

Once outside the expo we walked down the street to see the marathon finish line on Boylston Street.

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Tourists crowded around to see the Boston Marathon Finish line on Boylston Street.

We had to go across the finish line to get to our lunch restaurant but I refused to walk across it and made my husband carry me. I wasn’t going to cross that finish line on my own two feet until I raced across it on Monday!

On Sunday, the day before the race, I pretty much laid low and drank as much herbal tea as I could to try to get as healthy as possible! For the pre-race dinner my husband Mike cooked us all an amazing pesto pasta dish with portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and made a caprese salad and garlic bread. Carbo-loading like a boss!

After dinner I took a hot bath to relax and help ease the cough and congestion. Then it was early to bed at 9:30 p.m.! Click the link to the next post for my Boston Marathon 2016 Recap Part II!

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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 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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Me ready for spin class this morning in the cute race tank top (the men got short-sleeved shirts in the same color), minus the blue arm sleeves we also received.

Me ready for spin class this morning in the cute race tank top (the men got short-sleeved shirts in the same color), minus the blue arm sleeves we also received.

On Saturday, February 28, 2015, I joined the 1,881 men and women who conquered the Phoenix Marathon in beautiful Mesa, Arizona. I had trained for five and a half months for this race. I felt ready physically, and yet as I took the 30-minute bus ride from Mesa Riverwalk up to the full marathon starting line, I felt like I had my feet and hands braced against the open door of an airplane as a skydiving instructor tried to shove me out the door against my will. The thought of taking on my fifth full marathon intimidated me to the point that my teeth chattered with nerves and not just the cold.

After a 3:15 a.m. wake-up call (that’s 2:15 a.m. for this California girl), I’d hopped a bus at 4:45 and arrived at the staging area by 5:15. Conditions at the starting line turned out to be perfect in spite of the prior threat of rain. The temperature was in the 50s and the pre-dawn sky was overcast. The staging area boasted firepits and propane heaters to keep the runners warm, but I opted to find a place to sit and rest my legs after my first trip through the porta-potty lines. I hopped back in the burgeoning lines at 5:45 and tried in vain to will the lines to move faster. Only when the first set of fireworks went off did the line get moving, much to my relief. By 6:10 I was back out and changing out of my sweats, then slathering on sunscreen. I dropped my gear bag at the truck and walked to the starting line by 6:20. There were no corrals and I placed myself behind the 3:30 pacer but in front of the 3:35 pacer. The race started on time and we were off in the dark just as the sky started to lighten.

Miles 1 through 4 (Pace in minutes per mile: 8:01, 7:49, 8:07, 7:57)

The runners started out more slowly than I would have liked but that probably was a good thing, reining in my enthusiasm and adrenaline-fueled nerves. The course starts on a downhill grade but nothing that tempted my legs to really fly (it’s much less steep than the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon, which I loved). The pack of runners thinned after mile 2 or so and everyone settled into their own race.

Miles 5 through 8 (8:26, 8:33, 7:37, 7:55)

Miles 5 and 6 are uphill. I had done at least one hill workout per week in training so I was prepared for the hills and I tried to keep a steady effort and not stress when my pace slowed a bit. Mile 7 was the downhill reward for all that uphill. By then it was fully light outside and I enjoyed taking in some of the scenic desert landscape.

Miles 9 through 12 (7:56, 8:01, 8:03, 8:07)

The slight downhill grade continued through mile 12, and while the course declines in elevation after that I did not notice it. The course felt flat from there on out and unfortunately, we faced some wind on several of the miles in the second half of the race.

Miles 13 through 16 (8:10, 8:06, 8:17, 8:14)

I hit the half marathon mark at 1:45:39, right on pace for a 3:34 finish as hoped. However, at mile 15 I really felt the wind fighting me and I struggled to maintain my target pace of 8:07. This part of the course runs through more residential and industrial areas (meaning that the half marathon race course is not quite as pretty as the full course), but I remember passing many orange trees in bloom and the course smelled heavenly!

Miles 17 through 20 (8:03, 8:12, 8:10, 8:43)

Somewhere during mile 16 I distinctly remember thinking, “Okay, this isn’t fun anymore.” That’s not the kind of attitude that’s going to get you through 10 more miles of running, so I started working on my mental game. I remembered what my sleepy six-year-old had said to me as she asked for water at 3:30 a.m.: “Good luck Mama. You’ll do great because you’re a speedy mom.” I just started repeating “speedy mom, speedy mom, speedy mom” to myself, willing my legs to prove I was indeed a speedy mom. Unfortunately, in mile 20 I developed an odd, pulling sort of pain in my left buttock that made me have trouble convincing my leg to lift up and forward. I managed to work through it, thank goodness, but my pace never quite recovered. I didn’t hit the wall like I did at Mountains2Beach, but it was taking all of my mental and physical energy to keep racing. At some point my brain and my body had a conversation that went like this:

Body: “I would like to walk now.”

Brain: “I know, me too, but we can’t. Don’t give up now. Keep going! You’ve come this far.”

Body, “No really, I want to walk.”

Brain: “Sorry. Just run to the next aid station.”

And that became my mantra. “Run to 21. Run to 21.” When I reached the aid station at mile 21, it became “Run to 23. Run to 23.” Somehow the thought of running two miles until I could walk through the aid station was a lot less intimidating than running the whole remaining 10K. At every aid station (miles 3, 5, 7, 9 etc. until 23 when they were every mile), I took in two cups of Gatorade Endurance, lemon-lime flavor (my favorite!) The aid stations were well-stocked with Gatorade and water, and several stations had Clif Shots and/or oranges although I never took any of those.

Miles 21 through 24 (8:42, 8:45, 8:30, 8:51)

Spectators scattered themselves along the course in small packs. My favorite race sign of the day: “Don’t be the Seahawks. Run it in!” Around mile 21, one of my fellow Boston 2016 Facebook group members recognized me and encouraged me by name. I needed that boost then — there’s just something about someone saying your name that gives you that extra surge of energy and I appreciated that so much! I also loved all the kids on the sidelines who offered high fives, and the guy who had the “touch this spot for power” sign (you better believe I touched it)! He popped up on the course several times and I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad in addition to my husband and three girls waiting for me at the finish line.

During mile 23, the 3:35 pacer passed me. I felt both disappointed and inspired at the same time. I managed to pick up the pace to 8:30 as I chased him, but I soon lost sight of him. As my Garmin clocked mile 24 at an 8:51 pace, I decided to check my overall time: 3:20 and change. I realized that if I could just keep my pace under 10 minutes per mile for the remaining 2.2 miles, I could still break 3:40! My PR from Santa Rosa was 3:44:26 and I felt confident I could beat that.

Miles 24 through 26.27 (9:08, 8:29, .27 at 7:57 pace)

The thought of breaking 3:40 really lit a fire under me (not that you would know it from that 9:08 pace). It was clear that I hadn’t hit the wall and I still had some gas left in the tank if I could just convince my legs to go go go! I always joke that I can pick up the pace in the last mile when I realize that I’m not going to collapse on the course. Sure enough, I brought mile 25 in at 8:29. As I approached the final turn on the course, I came up on a girl who was pacing her friend to a Boston Qualifying time. She cheered her friend on as she called to the spectators, “This girl is going to qualify for Boston! Boston Qualifier, right here!” I smiled at her exuberance for her friend, and my cheeks flushed with pleasure as I knew at that point that she could be talking about me, too. As I picked up the pace in the final straightaway, I heard the announcer call my name and say that it looked like I was going to qualify for Boston, “Yes, yes indeed, we have another Boston Qualifier, Angela White!” I threw my hands up in the air with joy and relief!

Phoenix Marathon finish line

I had done it! I had hung on to break my personal best time by 7 minutes 28 seconds and qualify for Boston with 8 minutes 2 seconds to spare, coming in at 3:36:58 (which, let’s be honest, is SO much more satisfying than 3:37)!

My husband and girls had positioned themselves right after the finish line. I got kisses from all of them and they handed me the chocolate milk I’d begged them to bring to the finish (and thank goodness for that, because I got my medal, water, and a hand towel right away, but I didn’t see any food or other drinks right at the finish. I know there were tents with food elsewhere in the finisher’s area, but all I could think about was making my way to my family). We checked my time at the timing tent. I’m always so impressed when a race provides a printout right at the finish line. I learned that I came in 16th in my 40-44 age group out of 150 women. Dang those ladies are speedy! A full 29 women in that group qualified for Boston! That’s a tremendous percentage, and it either means that the course is “fast” and favorable, or lots of runners gunning for Boston targeted this race, or both. Either way, I recommend the Phoenix Marathon. I had a great experience before, during and after the race. Phoenix is beautiful in the winter and my family enjoyed making it a race vacation. And you know what my 10-year-old said when I crossed the finish line? “We’re going to Boston!”

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